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The Vietnam War was justified by the U.S. government as necessary to save the Vietnamese people from a tyrannical communist regime. After a U.S. attack which killed many Vietnamese civilians, an American soldier remarked, "We had to destroy the village to save it." George W. Bush, addressing U.S. troops at the Central Command center at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, declared that in Operation Iraqi Freedom, "We have no ambition in Iraq, except the liberation of its people."
The Bush administration believed that Iraqis would welcome America’s bombs to free them from Saddam’s tyrannical rule. But a British officer who is helping the U.S. bring freedom to the Iraqis was surprised at what he found. "It seems as if many people do not even want to get rid of this brutal dictator," he said in the Financial Times of London this week. "This is not what we expected."
Myriad atrocities have been attributed to Saddam Hussein, almost as many as were perpetrated by the Shah of Iran during his bloody 25-year rule. The U.S. government installed the Shah as leader of Iran in 1953, because he was sympathetic to U.S. corporate and oil interests. Dr. Mohammed Mossadeq, the democratically elected Iranian president who preceded the Shah, had just been assassinated by the CIA.
Perhaps the reason Iraqis are not receptive to "coalition" forces is fear that the U.S. will set up a government supportive of U.S. interests. Or perhaps the rising number of civilians killed by U.S. bombs and troops has angered Iraqis. Bush’s claims that laser-guided bombs hit their military targets with "lethal precision" ring hollow to the Iraqi people.
Television viewers in the United States have seen a sanitized version of this deadly war. Most broadcasts feature what resembles a fireworks show over Baghdad. The director of photography for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram said on NPR that he made an editorial decision not to run a photograph that depicted two dead, evidently decapitated Iraqis in a foxhole with a white flag protruding from it. Two British soldiers stood over them.
But Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television has shown a child with his or her head blown off and bloody people being treated on the floor of a hospital. "It’s a huge mass of civilians," said one woman standing amongst the wounded. "It was a massacre." Al-Jazeera isn’t the only media outlet showing the gruesome side of this war. A correspondent for FSN radio in the U.S. reported, "I’ve never seen anything like this. There are bodies everywhere. You can’t tell if they’re soldiers or civilians. There are skulls, bones, ribs all over the roads." The front page of the Los Angeles Times portrayed a wounded 9-year old girl rendered motherless by the bombs in Baghdad, and an inside page depicted the rubble of a civilian neighborhood.
The International Committee of the Red Cross reported that electricity cables in Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, with a population of over 1 million, have been rendered inoperable. The United Nations has warned that damage to the electrical generating plants will adversely affect water, sanitation and health. This damage was not the result of an errant bomb.
Indeed, in the U.S. Air Force’s own "Strategic Attack - Air Force Doctrine Document 2-1.2," prepared in 1998, and available on its website, "Elements of Effective Operations" are described. On page 26 of that document, Richard G. Davis renders an assessment of "Desert Storm: Impact of Strategic Attack on Electrical System." He writes: "The electrical attacks proved extremely effective…CNN reported that Baghdad had completely lost commercial power…The loss of electricity shut down the capital’s water treatment plants and led to a public health crisis from raw sewage dumped in the Tigris River…In the following week, Tomahawk land attack missiles and coalition aircraft reduced every major city in Iraq to the same unhappy situation."
The Air Force is well aware of the devastating health effects of destroying Iraq’s electrical system. The May 2001 Contributor’s Corner of the U.S. Air Force’s Air and Space Power Chronicles, p. 1, par. 2, says: "A key example of such dual-use targeting was the destruction of Iraqi electrical power facilities in Desert Storm…destruction of these facilities shut down water purification and sewage plants. As a result, epidemics of gastroenteritis, cholera, and typhoid broke out, lead to perhaps as many as 100,000 civilian deaths and a doubling of the infant mortality rate."
The targeting of electrical facilities constitutes a direct violation of Protocol No. I to the Geneva Conventions. Article 52 specifies, "Civilian objects shall not be the object of an attack…Attacks shall be limited strictly to military objectives." Article 54 prohibits attacks on "drinking water installations…for the specific purpose of denying them for their sustenance value to the civilian population…whatever the motive…"
Intentionally directing attacks against civilian objects, i.e., electrical generators, constitutes a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions. This is prosecutable as a war crime by the newly established International Criminal Court. Bush sought to insulate his administration from such prosecutions when he took the unprecedented step of trying to remove the United States’ signature from the Court’s treaty last May.
A recent report on Al-Jazeera claimed that coalition forces dropped cluster bombs over Basra. U.S.-led NATO used cluster bombs in Kosovo. Cluster bomb cannisters contain tiny bomblets which explode and spread over a vast area. Unexploded cluster bombs are frequently picked up by children; they then explode, resulting in death or serious bodily injury.
Article 35 of Protocol I to Geneva prohibits the employment of weapons "of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering." Cluster bombs fall into this category.
The Pentagon has accused Iraq of violating the Geneva Convention by displaying images of captured U.S. troops, who are in the custody of Iraqi forces. Bush demanded that U.S. POWs be treated humanely, and he warned that anyone who mistreats them will be tried for war crimes.
The New York Times has characterized the Pentagon’s allegations of Iraq’s violation of Geneva as "a parallel public relations campaign" – parallel to the United States’ "fierce campaign in Iraq." The Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War does not prohibit the broadcast or display of images of POWs. Article 13 does, however, provide that prisoners of war must be protected "against insults and public curiosity."
Iraq’s release of humiliating photographs of U.S. POWs violates the Geneva Convention. But the Pentagon didn’t complain when American media outlets featured Iraqi prisoners down on their knees, blindfolded and handcuffed. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
Indeed, the U.S. government’s allegations against Iraq are doubly hypocritical. When the U.S. brought prisoners to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba more than a year ago, they were continually shown kneeling, with black hoods over their heads, in clear violation of Geneva. And John Walker Lindh was displayed repeatedly, naked and taped to a board as he spoke to CNN under heavy sedation.
Moreover, the Geneva Convention explicitly provides that the determination of whether a prisoner should be classified as a prisoner of war, and thereby entitled to the protections of Geneva, must be made by a competent tribunal. The Pentagon has consistently insisted there is no doubt about the status of the Guantanamo prisoners. They have been detained in inhumane conditions and subjected to coercive interrogations, also violative of the Geneva Convention.
The Pentagon has unleashed overwhelming firepower at the Iraqis. But the purpose is not liberation from Saddam Hussein. Rather, Bush is taking advantage of the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001 to re-draw the map of the Middle East to conform to the interests of his neo-conservative advisors. Even The New York Times describes Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz as "the intellectual force behind the attack on Iraq." Wolfowitz’s blueprint for preemptive war beginning with Iraq is well-documented in Patrick Buchanan’s March 24 article in The American Conservative, entitled, "Whose War? A neoconservative clique seeks to ensnare our country in a series of wars that are not in America’s interest."
Only a month after September 11, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld revealed what was in store for Iraq and beyond. He said the September 11 attacks created "the kind of opportunities that World War II offered, to refashion the world." Unsolicited American bombs are refashioning Iraq by destroying it. This constitutes a crime of aggression, which, in the words of Chief Nuremberg Prosecutor Robert Jackson, is "the greatest menace of our times."
Marjorie Cohn, a Professor of Law at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, is Executive Vice President of the National Lawyers Guild. Copyright M Cohn 2003. For fair use only/ pour usage équitable seulement .