Monday, June 07, 2004

Political Dynamite: The Opening Sign In The Media

Dear Colleagues:

On prior occasions it has been suggested here that the media should investigate and discuss the possibility that Bush, Rumsfeld and others may be guilty of war crimes because they were aware of what was being done to prisoners and condone it in order to get information. It has also been suggested that, if war crimes have been committed, the existence of these violations cannot be evaded by the transparent expedient of giving prisoners one label rather than another. Another finally it has been suggested that the possibility of high-level culpability for war crimes is potential political dynamite. Can we really have, and reelect a President who was guilty of war crimes, if such crimes were committed by him? Or indeed, and both conveniently and perversely, might Americans perhaps flock to reelect a President accused of war crimes because of citizens’ possible anger that an American President could be accused of such acts by foreign officials or members of our own media?

In any event, on Saturday the media showed the first sign that I have seen of that it is beginning to dip a toe into the political dynamite that these matters raise. Warren Hoge of The New York Times wrote a page five article saying that the UN’s top human rights official, Bertrand Ramcharan, wrote in a 45-page report [linking to actual doc at] that the abuses at Abu Ghraib could be war crimes and grave breaches of international law. With an apparent bar to certain political realities, Ramcharan also said that “Everyone accepts the good intentions of coalition governments.” But many of us would regard the latter comment as only a dubious bow to the international power of the United States.

Hoge also pointed out something I had previously missed: that last month Newsweek uncovered a January 2002 memo by Bush’s White House counsel, Albert Gonzales, urging that captives be “declared exempt” from the Geneva Conventions lest Americans be the subject of “unwarranted charges” of war crimes. This is further evidence of the Administration’s notion -- apparently furthered as well by disgraceful Department of Justice memoranda -- that one can escape criminality by calling an act or a person by a new word or name. One can just imagine the response if we who are mere everyday citizens were to say we had not committed murder because the killing was not murder but the “desirable dispatch of a bad person.”

Hoge having discussed the subject of war crimes in the media, one desperately hopes the media -- and some Democrats too, for God’s sake -- will pursue this trail to find out whether it leads to guilt or innocence in high places, and to make this determination long before November. We do not, after all, want to wake up after November, do we, to find out, as we did months after reelecting Nixon, that a criminal has been reelected President? Lots of us think Kerry is no great shakes, and that once again, as so often before, we are faced with an awful choice. But the idea that we may reelect a President who is guilty of war crimes is just too much. So let’s have this question be largely determined before November: at least in the public mind (albeit a judicial decision would be impossible in so short a time). The media, and the Democrats, and Ralph Nader too, should take special cognizance of the need for a determination of the question.

There are at least three factors that are truly terrible in this country, because they lead to war after war. One is that our leaders are never punished for their violations of international criminal law. The second is that it is never the leaders nor their children who fight wars -- it is the poor and the lower middle class. The third is that we put into office war hawks who have never or almost never been in combat -- Johnson, McNamara, Nixon, Kissinger, Reagan, Clinton, Bush II, Cheney, etc. -- and who, never having seen combat, are all to ready to send other people’s children off to die. Until these factors change, we are likely to keep getting into wars. The truth, harsh as it is, and unpalatable as it is to the American ear, is that we still should put to likely war criminals like Kissinger and McNamara no matter how old they are, and, if Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and the rest of that crowd appear, after ample investigation and discussion, to be guilty of war crimes because they knew of, condemned and did nothing to stop war crimes, then they too should be put in the dock international peace will likely be a chimera until leaders are punished for their transgression against international criminal law. That was certainly our theory in the mid 1940s, wasn’t it? That theory underlies current prosecutions like that of Malosevic, doesn’t it?

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