They just got a different tool to use than we do: They kill innocent lives to achieve objectives. That's what they do. And they're good. They get on the TV screens and they get people to ask questions about, well, you know, this, that or the other. I mean, they're able to kind of say to people: Don't come and bother us, because we will kill you. Bush - Joint News Conference with Blair - 28 July '06

Friday, June 02, 2006

Robert Parry: Bush's My Lai

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek.

alarab: The new U.S. atrocity in Iraq, the alleged murder of two dozen Iraqis by revenge-seeking Marines in the city of Haditha, appears likely to follow the course of other Iraq war-crimes cases, such as the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib - some low- or mid-level soldiers will be court-martialed and marched off to prison.

George W. Bush will offer some bromides about how the punishment shows that the United States honors the rule of law and how the punishment is further proof of America's civilized behavior when compared with the enemy's barbarity. It's also likely the U.S. news media won't place too much blame on Bush.

But the common thread from the bloody invasion of Iraq in 2003 through Abu Ghraib to Haditha is that Bush cavalierly sent young Americans into a complex and frightening conflict with false and alarmist rhetoric ringing in their ears.

Through clever juxtaposition, Bush's speeches linked Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and later blurred the distinctions between Iraq's home-grown insurgency and the relatively small number of al-Qaeda terrorists operating in Iraq.

Again and again, in 2002-2003, Bush rhetorically fused the names Saddam Hussein and Osama bin-Laden, as Bush rushed the United States into war. Then, in fall 2005 - around the time of the alleged Haditha atrocity on Nov. 19, 2005 - Bush was framing the Iraq conflict as a war to stop terrorists from creating "a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia," which would threaten the American mainland.

Though these claims lacked credible intelligence - Hussein and bin-Laden were bitter enemies and al-Qaeda remains a fringe player in the Muslim world - Bush's messages apparently sank in with impressionable young soldiers and Marines trying to understand why they needed to kill Iraqis. [See's "Bush's Latest Iraq War Lies."]

As a result of Bush's incessant propaganda, a poll of 944 U.S. military personnel in Iraq - taken in January and February 2006 - found that 85 percent believed the U.S. mission in Iraq was mainly "to retaliate for Saddam's role in the 9/11 attacks." Seventy-seven percent said a chief war goal was "to stop Saddam from protecting al-Qaeda in Iraq."

Bush had not only misled the American public, but he had confused the American troops assigned to carry out the complicated occupation of Iraq, a nation with a history, language and culture foreign to the vast majority of U.S. soldiers. By exaggerating the threat that Iraq posed to the United States, Bush also set the conditions for atrocities.

Milosevic Precedent

While every soldier is responsible for his or her own actions in a war, it is the duty of the top levels of the chain of command - including the Commander in Chief - to take every possible precaution to ensure that troops on the ground do not commit war crimes.

Indeed, commanders and politicians who lay the groundwork for abuses often are held responsible along with the actual perpetrators. The late Yugoslavian leader Slobodan Milosevic was put on trial at the Hague not for direct participation in the slaughter of Bosnian Muslims and Croats in the 1990s, but for aiding and abetting the crimes.

Milosevic's violent rhetoric and deceptive propaganda were two factors cited in his indictment. One count alleged that the fiery Serb leader "controlled, manipulated or otherwise utilized Serbian state-run media to spread exaggerated and false messages of ethnically based attacks by Bosnian Muslims and Croats against Serb people intended to create an atmosphere of fear and hatred among Serbs."

In Bush's Iraq case, his legal responsibility is parallel though the facts are far from identical. The Yugoslavian conflict was essentially a sectarian civil war which involved ethnic cleansing and massacres.

Bush's Iraq invasion violated international law and longstanding principles, including the Nuremberg ban on aggressive war and a similar prohibition in the United Nations Charter to which the United States was a founding signatory.

In 2002, however, claiming a unilateral American right to invade any country that may pose a threat to U.S. security in the future, Bush took the law into his own hands. He brushed aside requests from allies, even from British Prime Minister Tony Blair, to get clearance from the U.N. Security Council before launching the invasion.

Bush and his neoconservative advisers judged that U.S. military preeminence in the post-Cold War world put them beyond the reach of international law - and that public acclaim for a successful conquest of Iraq would silence any remaining critics. R

But Bush's actions put U.S. troops in a particularly difficult and dangerous predicament. Not only would the entire U.S. chain of command be implicated in an illegal aggressive war, but there would be fewer legal safeguards in the event civilians were killed, a certainty given the level of firepower. Read more