How Team Bush Escaped Justice Over Iraq

For 20 years the leaders of the U.S. and the U.K. have avoided criminal accountability, writes Marjorie Cohn. But just one year after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the International Criminal Court charged him with war crimes.

Nov. 24, 2004: U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld applauding President George W. Bush during his remarks at the Pentagon on a military spending bill. (DoD, Helene C. Stikkel)

By Marjorie Cohn

On March 20, Iraqis marked the 20th anniversary of the horrific U.S.-U.K. bombing of Baghdad, dubbed “Shock and Awe.” In rapid succession, “coalition forces” dropped 3,000 bombs, including many that weighed 2,000 pounds, on Baghdad in what The New York Times called “almost biblical power.”

Although they launched an illegal war of aggression and committed war crimes in Iraq, 20 years later the leaders of the U.S. and the U.K. have never faced criminal accountability. By contrast, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has already charged Russian President Vladimir Putin with war crimes just one year after his unlawful invasion of Ukraine. He is the first non-African leader to be charged by the ICC, which frequently succumbs to pressure from the United States.

In what came to be called “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” 173,000 troops from the United States and the United Kingdom invaded Iraq. During the eight-year war, about 300,000 Iraqis and 4,600 Americans were killed. The United States spent $815 billion on the war, not counting indirect costs. It plunged the country into a civil war and millions of Iraqi refugees remain displaced. Two decades later, not one of the officials responsible has been brought to justice.

Act of Aggression

Sources within his administration have confirmed that George W. Bush was planning to invade Iraq and execute regime change long before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The U.S.-led invasion violated the United Nations Charter, which authorizes countries to use military force against other countries only in self-defense or with approval by the UN Security Council.

Sept. 12, 2001: President George W. Bush, center, with Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice looking over a brief together in the White House. (U.S. National Archives)

The attack on Iraq didn’t satisfy either of these conditions and was therefore an act of aggression. After the Holocaust, the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg wrote, “To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

Like other U.S. military interventions, the rationale for this illegal aggression was based on a lie. Much as President Lyndon B. Johnson used the fabricated Tonkin Gulf incident as a pretext to escalate the Vietnam War, Bush relied on mythical weapons of mass destruction and a nonexistent link between Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks to justify his war on Iraq.

Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice falsely warned that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and Rice invoked the image of a “mushroom cloud” to justify the impending invasion of Iraq. Secretary of State Colin Powell shamefully presented false information about Iraq having WMD to the U.N. Security Council in February 2003.

Secretary of State Colin Powell at the U.N. Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003, presenting what turned out to be false claims about Iraq’s WMD. (U.S. government, Public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

In 2002, former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter confirmed that Iraq had destroyed 90-95 percent of its WMD and there was no evidence that it had retained the other 5-10 percent, which didn’t necessarily constitute a threat or even a weapons program.

[Related: WATCH: Scott Ritter Opposing Iraq Invasion, August 2002]

Indeed, no WMD were ever found by the U.N. weapons inspectors before or after Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Moreover, the Bush administration fabricated a connection between Iraq and Al-Qaeda notwithstanding the intelligence to the contrary.

The Downing Street Minutes, a transcript of one of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s briefings with British intelligence that The Times of London published in 2005, demonstrated that the Bush administration had decided by July 2002 to invade Iraq and carry out regime change. The “intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy,” the minutes revealed.

Sept. 4, 2004: US Vice President Dick Cheney speaks to troops at lmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. (U.S. National Archives)

Even a 2005 congressional report prepared at the direction of former Rep. John Conyers, Jr. concluded that in spite of intelligence information to the contrary, members of the Bush administration made false statements before the invasion about Iraq having WMD, and linkages between Iraq and al-Qaeda.

Although Team Bush urged the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution authorizing its attack on Iraq, the council refused. Bush and his allies instead cobbled together prior council resolutions, none of which — individually or collectively — authorized the invasion of Iraq.

Bush justified the attack with his doctrine of “preemptive war.” But the U.N. Charter only allows a country to use military force in response to an armed attack by another country or with permission of the Security Council. Operation Iraqi Freedom violated the U.N. Charter and constituted an illegal war of aggression.

War Crimes by the Bush Administration

Mar. 25, 2003: President George W. Bush with his team at a Pentagon briefing on his $74.7 billion wartime supplemental budget request for “Operation Iraqi Freedom” and the continuing global war against terror. (DoD/R.D. Ward, Public domain)

U.S. forces committed many other war crimes in Iraq, including extrajudicial killings, torture and the targeting of civilians, which are prohibited by the Geneva Conventions; the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Torture and abuse conducted at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq included the stacking of naked prisoners on one another; photographing prisoners who had been forcibly arranged in sexually explicit positions; keeping prisoners naked for days; forcing male prisoners to wear women’s underwear; using snarling dogs; punching, slapping and kicking prisoners; and sodomizing a prisoner with a chemical light and broomstick.

Civilians were targeted as U.S. troops operated under rules of engagement that directed them to shoot everything that moved. In these “free-fire zones” the U.S. also bombed civilian areas and used cluster bombs, depleted uranium and white phosphorus, resulting in massive civilian casualties.

April 27, 2006: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld address the media at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. (U.S. Navy/Chad J. McNeeley)

The most notorious free-fire zone was in Fallujah. In April 2004, U.S. forces attacked the village and killed 736 people, at least 60 percent of whom were women and children. In another attack the following November, U.S. troops killed between 581 and 670 civilians in Fallujah.

Another infamous example of extrajudicial killing was the Haditha Massacre in November 2005, when U.S. Marines killed 24 unarmed civilians “execution-style” in a three-to-four-hour rampage. The U.S. covered up the massacre until Time magazine ran a story about it in March 2006.

Documented extrajudicial killings also took place in the Iraqi cities of Al-Qa’im, Taal Al Jal, Mukaradeeb, Mahmudiya, Al-Hamdaniyah, Samarra, Salahuddin and Ishaqi.

These war crimes are not only abhorrent, but punishable under the U.S. War Crimes Act and the U.S. Torture Statute. Yet, although it has been 20 years since the invasion of Iraq, no U.S. leaders have been indicted. The Obama administration’s Department of Justice actively decided not to prosecute anyone for the torture and abuse committed during the Bush regime. Yet it only took one year for the ICC to charge Putin with war crimes in Ukraine.

Last May, George W. Bush accidentally admitted that his decision to invade Iraq was unjustified. While addressing a crowd at the Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, Bush decried “the decision of one man to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq. I mean, Ukraine.” He then added under his breath, “Iraq too.”

Speaking about the war in Ukraine, President Joe Biden recently declared the apparent absurdity of “The idea that over 100,000 forces would invade another country — since World War II, nothing like that has happened.” Biden apparently forgot about “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

Marjorie Cohnis professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and a member of the national advisory boards of Assange Defense and Veterans For Peace, and the bureau of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Her books include Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral and Geopolitical Issues. She is co-host of “Law and Disorder” radio.

This article is fromTruthout and reprinted with permission.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

19 comments for “How Team Bush Escaped Justice Over Iraq

  1. vinnieoh
    March 24, 2023 at 16:53

    Thank you, Marjorie, for reminding us of the multiple war crimes committed against the civilians of Falluja. I remember seeing reporting during one of those assaults of US and allied forces refusing Iraqi civilians access to medical care or transport/admission to hospitals. I did not realize the nature/origin of the complaint being made by the US, et. al. concerning Putin and Ukraine. Truly, the US has turned justice on its head.

    Re GW Bush: “He then added under his breath, “Iraq too.”” Wow, I didn’t know that either, and I thought I’d been paying attention.

  2. lester
    March 23, 2023 at 14:04

    Actually, nearly every US President since about 1950 deserves to hang at least as much as did Tojo or Yamashita.

  3. Atul
    March 22, 2023 at 20:32

    It’s time to wake up, all you liberals.
    We do what we want, when we want, however we want, as much as we want, and 100 years of hand wringing hasn’t changed a thing.
    We won’t stop until there’s nothing left to take, and no one has the ability or power to stop us.
    We play hard, we play dirty, and we play to win, and if you’re not willing to the extra million miles, you will lose.
    So stop with the complaining, and understand that the USA cannot be stopped internally or externally by any power. Ever.

  4. Barbara
    March 22, 2023 at 17:56

    Follow the money. Who made millions from the Iraq war? How many billions did the Military Industrial Complex make?

  5. RomeoCharlie29
    March 22, 2023 at 17:49

    Australia’s Prime Minister, John Howard was a leading member of the Coalition of the willing. And here we are, 20 years later, being led into another potential U.S. war, this time against China and this time by a Labor Prime Minister. We never seem to learn that the good old US of A has been one of the most war-mongering nations in the world over the past 80 years and Australia has mostly followed along behind.

  6. A Boyles
    March 22, 2023 at 15:05

    This again shows the hypocrisy of the USA. Putin looks like a model citizen compared to all US Presidents who have committed illegal wars of aggression since WWII. Noam Chomsky has made that point innumerable times yet the MSM never paid any attention. The entire media, justice and elected system of representatives are corrupt.

    • Blessthebeasts
      March 22, 2023 at 17:14

      I hope Chomsky has finally realized the error he made in urging everyone to vote Biden.

  7. Jeff Harrison
    March 22, 2023 at 13:32

    Patrick Lawrence has this up over on his website, The Scrum.
    “There was talk among the Western powers for most of last year, readers may recall, of the U.N. forming a special court to try Putin and other Russian officials on charges of war crimes allegedly committed in the course of the Ukraine conflict. But Washington and its allies overestimated international sentiment: They could get no useful degree of support among member states for any such project. They similarly failed when, as an alternative, they tried to get the U.N. General Assembly to authorize the ICC, a U.N. body, to investigate the numerous allegations of war crimes leveled since the start of hostilities in February 2022.

    It was at this point that the West—reportedly led by Britain—began an intense lobbying campaign at The Hague to get the ICC to act even without a U.N. referral behind it. The arrest warrant announced last Friday appears to be the result of this pressure.”

    The “war crime” that the ICC indicted Mr. Putin with is the rescuing (or in the ICC/Ukrainian narrative, kidnapping) of children from an area of active combat operations and removing them to Russia and out of harms way. Unless, of course, the Ukraine starts shelling where they have been relocated to (they’re pretty infamous for shelling civilians). The other question is why haven’t we heard any complaints from the families of these children? I suspect it’s because they were living in a former Ukrainian province that voted to rejoin Russia and their parents were happy to see their children out of harm’s way or they were orphans (probably made that way by 8 years of Ukrainian shelling of where they lived). Now that’s what I call a humanitarian intervention – nobody got killed, unlike Libya or Serbia for example.

    Frankly, the US and UK and the EU for that matter, have no remit to complain about war crimes. In the infamous My Lai massacre, US troops slaughtered 500 odd unarmed, innocent old men, women, and children. Lt. William Calley, the commanding officer, was the only person to face any charges and he spent all of three months in the brig.

  8. Otto
    March 22, 2023 at 13:24

    I wold have thought the US would stop any ICC indictments of Putin as it shines a spotlight on the US war crimes – as it hasn’t shows the US can act anyway it wants with no blowback at all. I have heard absolutely nothing about US war crimes since this ICC statement. – that is supreme power, no?

    When there was a rumour about the ICC looking into US war crimes some time ago I read that the US threatened them with dire consequnces if any did.

  9. Blessthebeasts
    March 22, 2023 at 12:13

    The simplemindedness and short memory of Joe Biden is rampant in the population in general. The illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq has been largely whitewashed and sanitized by the media as a series of mistakes made by our well-meaning criminal leaders. And hey, Saddam was a “bad guy.”

  10. Riva Enteen
    March 22, 2023 at 11:27

    “…ICC, which frequently succumbs to pressure from the United States.”

    Quite the understatement. This might be the moment to ponder if the ICC has ANY legitimacy. Does it just give an aura of legitimacy to countries that commit war crimes? If yes, it does more harm than good.

  11. Packard
    March 22, 2023 at 09:41

    Never mind criminal prosecution.

    Please count me as being grateful if anyone (ANYONE) in the Bush, Obama, Trump, or Biden Administrations had ever lost even their jobs for the two decades worth of utter incompetence in running in our Iraq & Afghanistan military adventures.

    Who in the entire US State Department, CIA/DIA/NSA, or Pentagon ever paid a price for getting both 3rd world countries so wrong? Who was ever brought to book for their incomprehensibly bad foreign policy diplomacy, for their amateurish intelligence gathering & analysis, or for their ill informed military execution? Who got fired for the twenty years of wasted American blood and treasure, only to see it all collapse in Afghanistan’s case in just ten short days?

    Yet, now we are supposed to trust the very same unelected Jingbows, ballyhoos, and ne’er do wells who are advising President Joe Biden as they begin to manage our sleepwalking into Ukraine’s war with Russia. D*mn!

  12. charles
    March 22, 2023 at 00:02

    Every time our leaders lie, every time we murder, torture, maim, and every time we follow the words of Pompeo “We lie, we cheat, we steal”, we debase our country in the eyes of the world. Anyone who has lived through the last 75 years in our country has witnessed our leaders of lying, saying that we are a “rules based nation” or a nation to be looked up. The people in our country have been hurt by these twisting of facts. When I saw the murdering of JFK, RK, MLK etc and realized that our own people had done this and no matter how they tried to conceal these facts with absurd theories, it did not work. Our leaders set the tone for our demise. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Blair know what they did. The world knows what they did. We lost the oral high ground many years ago.

    • Steve
      March 22, 2023 at 10:26

      Agreed. And, this was a great recap of what was initiated by the neo con artists, their helpers at Isreal hellish apartheid Mossad and Zionist government, the compromised investigating AG in New York Elliot Spitzer, and more. The corruption is almost unbelievable but it’s out there in your face.

    • March 22, 2023 at 11:48

      War Criminals in the US ; President Bush 2 , Cheny , Rumsfield , and Colen Powell . America must give them up for it to come clean . All ” Trust ” in America is ” Gone Today ” , the Lies , the Deceit was Poured on just like as if it’s 1846 and the US wants Mexican Land that saw the US kill tens of Thousands of Innocent Mexicans . Same in Iraq and Afghanistan . America after just a little back checking its very clear the Rule of Law is One Sided and Immoral . America is a Country built on one Lie after another.

  13. Andrew Thomas
    March 21, 2023 at 23:23

    The ICC is just a tool of the US Empire. As is the OPCW, and the entire lawless ‘rules based order’. Once you grasp that essential fact, it all makes sense.

    • Daniel Guyot
      March 22, 2023 at 03:12

      Exactly. The ICC is no more than a kangourou court controlled by the West (USA and vassals). There is nothing good to expect from that kind of “court”. Nothing to do with real justice.

    • Scared Person
      March 22, 2023 at 03:17

      It does indeed.
      So, what do we do next?

  14. Graeme
    March 21, 2023 at 21:18

    Hans Blix – 22 March 2023 – said that, “in principle”, Blair and Bush should have faced consequences for their invasion … there should be a penalty for breaking the “principle rule” of the United Nations charter – not to “use force against the territorial integrity and independence of other states”.


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