Our Dad’s Pledge to You, the Reader

“The core responsibility of a journalist is to have an open mind toward any information you might find, to have no agenda, and to have no preferred outcome. In other words, I don’t care what the truth is. I just care what the truth is. That’s the deal you make with your readers.” – Robert Parry, accepting the I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence, October 22, 2015

That was Dad’s defining philosophy as a journalist and his commitment to you, the Consortiumnews.com reader. And it remains our guiding principle as we move forward and continue to produce independent, fearless reporting that takes on the establishment’s often dangerously flawed conventional wisdom.

It is with Dad’s spirit and solemn commitment in mind that we are asking you today to donate to our Spring Fundraising Drive. And to encourage you to make a donation today, the Toledo Community Foundation is honoring our work by offering a $5,000 challenge grant through their Seed-to-the-Sower Fund, which supports several “fields of interest” including “excellence in journalism” that “raises the intellectual standard of news and information media.”

Please make a donation today and help us reach our Spring Fundraising Drive goal and unlock the $5,000 Seed-to-the-Sower Fund challenge grant.

In the months since Dad’s sudden and untimely passing, we have been blown away by the outpouring of support and appreciation so many of you have shared on the site, through social media, and with blog posts and articles of your own. It has lifted our spirits and helped us all remember Dad as the trailblazing journalist he was.

Now with a new editor, Joe Lauria, and with us serving on Consortium’s Board, we remain as committed as ever to Dad’s vision. For him, it was never about one person. It was always about creating a platform and a community that welcomed reporters of all backgrounds who are willing to challenge the dangerous group think that predominates so much of our mainstream media.

This is a community dedicated to truth and independence. This is a community guided by a rebellious, skeptical spirit and committed to reaching a deeper understanding of world events and to hold the powerful people and institutions to account. We don’t see a world in the sharp black and white, good vs. evil simplistic narrative so prevalent in our mainstream press. Truth is always found in the grey areas that a more well-rounded, balanced, skeptical point of view makes possible. That’s what this community is about.

You have made this work possible with your past support. And we ask you to step up again to help drive Consortiumnews.com forward into a new era, one that will always remain true to Dad’s pledge to provide our readers with the truth.

Please donate today to our Spring Fundraising Drive and unlock the $5,000 Seed-to-the-Sower Fund challenge grant.

Thank you,

Sam and Nat Parry




On This Date in Consortium News: May 4, 2004, Apocalypse Again

We begin a new feature, looking back at articles published years ago on Consortium News on the current date. This article by Nat Parry, published on May 4, 2004, is about the madness of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The original version of this article can be found here.

By Nat Parry

Marlon Brando’s Col. Kurtz character in “Apocalypse Now” applied crystal logic to the madness of the Vietnam War, concluding that what made sense was to descend into barbarism. The U.S. military hierarchy, judging Kurtz’s tactics to be “unsound,” ordered the colonel eliminated to keep at least a façade of civilization.

A reprise of that tragedy — a kind of “Apocalypse Again” — is now playing out in Iraq, with U.S. soldiers sent halfway around the globe to invade and occupy a country supposedly with the goal of protecting the world from violence and introducing democratic freedoms. As in Vietnam, there is a widening gap between the uplifting rhetoric and the ugly facts on the ground.

On April 30, for instance, with previous claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein’s supposed links to al-Qaeda no longer tenable, George W. Bush touted a humanitarian justification for the invasion. “There are no longer torture chambers or rape rooms or mass graves in Iraq,” Bush told reporters as he retreated to this latest line of defense. But now even those minimal standards don’t appear to be true.

The year-long occupation of Iraq – like the war in Vietnam – has led some U.S. troops to engage in behavior that much of the world views as madness or war crimes.

The U.S. assault on Fallujah in April transformed a soccer field into a fresh mass grave for hundreds of Iraqis – many of them civilians – killed when U.S. forces bombarded the rebellious city with 500-pound bombs and raked its streets with cannon and machine-gun fire. There were so many dead that the soccer field became the only place to bury the bodies. Supposedly avenging Saddam Hussein’s old mass graves of the 1980s and 1990s, Bush’s policies have opened up new ones. 

Rape Rooms

Even Bush’s oft-repeated assertion about closing Hussein’s torture chambers and rape rooms no longer can draw a sharp line of moral clarity.

As Bush spoke, worldwide press attention was focusing on evidence that U.S. guards had tortured and sexually abused Iraqi prisoners held at the Abu Ghraib prison, the same prison that Saddam Hussein’s henchmen used. U.S. guards photographed repulsive scenes of naked Iraqis forced into sexual acts and humiliating postures while a U.S. servicewoman gleefully gestured at their genitalia, according to pictures first shown on CBS News’s “60 Minutes II.”

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh disclosed in The New Yorker‘s May 10 issue that a 53-page classified Army report concluded that the prison’s military police were urged on by intelligence officers seeking to break down the Iraqis before interrogation. The abuses, occurring from October to December 2003, included use of a chemical light or broomstick to sexually assault one Iraqi, the report said. Witnesses also told Army investigators that prisoners were beaten and threatened with rape, electrocution and dog attacks. At least one Iraqi died during interrogation.

Numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted on several detainees,” said the report written by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba. In other words, Iraq’s torture and rape rooms were open for business, only under new U.S. management. One victim who faced torture at Abu Ghraib under both Saddam Hussein’s regime and the U.S. occupation said the physical abuse from Hussein’s guards was preferable to the sexual humiliation employed by the Americans. Dhia al-Shweiri told the Associated Press that the Americans were trying “to break our pride.” [USA Today, May 3, 2004

After the publication of the Abu Ghraib photos, Bush said he “shared a deep disgust that those prisoners were treated the way they were treated.” He added that “their treatment does not reflect the nature of the American people.” One would hope not.

But Bush’s protest was reminiscent of the senior officers in “Apocalypse Now” condemning Kurtz’s atrocities and extrajudicial killings, when Kurtz’s barbarism was only the logical extension of that war’s excessive violence. The generals created Kurtz and then had to disavow him. 

In a similar line of argument about Iraq, many people around the world are asking whether Bush should be held accountable for the policies that led to war crimes. Bush ordered the invasion in defiance of the United Nations, deemed his Iraqi enemies to be “evil,” and brought to bear massive firepower against both military and civilian targets.

Restaurant Bombing

Possible war crimes attributable to Bush date back to the conflict’s earliest days. For one, Bush ordered the bombing of a Baghdad restaurant – a civilian target – because he thought Hussein might have been having dinner there. As it turned out, Hussein wasn’t among the clientele, but the attack killed 14 civilians, including seven children. One mother collapsed when rescue workers pulled the severed head of her daughter out of the rubble.

As the official who ordered the invasion, Bush also must bear ultimate responsibility for excesses blamed on U.S. troops who were put in an extraordinarily difficult and dangerous position of both conquering and then occupying a country with a different language and an alien culture. Bush’s invasion plan left U.S. forces stretched thin as they tried to establish order after toppling Hussein’s government in April 2003.

Jittery U.S. soldiers opened fire on demonstrations, inflicting civilian casualties and embittering the population. In Fallujah, some 17 Iraqis were gunned down in demonstrations after U.S. soldiers claimed they had been fired upon. The city has been a center of resistance ever since.

Over the past year, the insurgency has spread across Iraq, even uniting age-old religious enemies, Shiites and Sunnis, in the common cause of ending the U.S.-led occupation. More than 720 U.S. soldiers and thousands of Iraqis have died. By casting the war in Iraq as a clash between good and evil, Bush also arguably created conditions for justifying the humiliation of Iraqi prisoners who supposedly represented the “bad guys.”

Politically, the bloody occupation also has been a disaster for U.S. international standing, fuelling anti-American anger across the Middle East and around the globe. Spontaneous demonstrations have descended on U.S. embassies in many cities.

Even traditional U.S. backers are becoming unnerved at the image of a Christian zealot who thinks he’s guided by the Almighty inflicting death and destruction on an Islamic nation. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, considered one of the staunchest U.S. allies, cancelled a meeting with Bush and declared that current U.S. policies have created “hatred of Americans like never before in the region.” 

There was no hatred of Americans,” Mubarak said, but “after what has happened in Iraq, there is unprecedented hatred.” He said, “the despair and feeling of injustice are not going to be limited to our region alone. American and Israeli interests will not be safe, not only in our region but anywhere in the world.”

Angry Demonstration

I recently witnessed some of this hatred and anger on the streets of Copenhagen, Denmark, a marked contrast to the unprecedented outpouring of solidarity for Americans after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York and Washington. As in other cities around the world, residents of Copenhagen filled the sidewalks outside the U.S. Embassy with flowers and other displays of sympathy for the terror attacks.

On April 16, however, I came across a demonstration of thousands of people, overwhelmingly Arab and Muslim. I walked along, trying to get a feel for the tone. The banners and signs were typical enough, with demands for Denmark and the U.S. to leave Iraq and calls to “Stop Bush’s Massacre.” But there was a militancy and a strident anti-Americanism, unusual for traditionally mild-mannered Denmark.

A sound truck led the march, and when the leader called out a chant, the crowd answered in a deafening response. Chants included, “Jihad!” “Down, down, USA!” and “USA! You will pay!” Some demonstrators displayed an open animosity toward non-Arabs. One Arab man gestured to me with his head, as if to say, “Get out of here.”

The occupation of Iraq may be the most visible reason for the increased anger around the world, but Bush’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is stirring possibly even deeper animosity. By endorsing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to dismantle a few Jewish settlements in Gaza while keeping other parts of the occupied territories, Bush gave America’s stamp of approval to what many around the world see as clear violations of international law.

Until Bush’s endorsement of Sharon’s plan, the U.S. had maintained, along with the European Union and other leaders around the world, that Israeli settlements beyond the 1967 borders were illegal and presented “obstacles to peace.” But in a drastic change of course, Bush essentially legitimized those settlements, buying into Sharon’s view of a “Greater Israel.”

Beyond reversing 37 years of U.S. government policy towards Israel, Bush gutted his own “road map” to peace by eliminating the core principle that the final status of the territories will not be determined by unilateral action. Bush also has refused to join in denunciations of Israeli “targeted” killings of Palestinians, including Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the quadriplegic spiritual leader and founder of Hamas. EU foreign ministers said the killing of Yassin was “extrajudicial” and had “inflamed the situation” in the Middle East. 

Bush said he found the Israeli attack “troubling” and called the Middle East a “troubled region,” while stressing that Sharon had the right to “defend” Israel against terrorism. The Bush administration also vetoed a Security Council resolution that would have condemned the Yassin assassination as a setback to the peace process. The U.S. explained that the resolution didn’t condemn Hamas by name, although it did condemn terrorism.

Soon after the Yassin assassination, Hamas said the U.S. and American leaders should be considered legitimate targets for revenge, reflecting the widely held perception that Israel only carried out the attack after receiving a green light from the Bush administration. Yassin’s successor as leader of Hamas, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, called Bush “an enemy of Muslims” and said Bush, together with Ariel Sharon, “declared war against Allah.” But, he added, “Allah declares war against America, Bush and Sharon.” [BBC, March 28, 2004]

Israel then assassinated al-Rantissi, an act also widely condemned by world leaders, including Bush’s closest ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The EU’s External Affairs commissioner Chris Patten reiterated the EU’s position that “We believe that targeted assassinations are wrong, illegal and counterproductive.”

Again, the Bush administration declined to criticize the killing, saying Israel had a right to defend itself.

Policy Shift

The U.S. has always maintained a close strategic relationship with Israel and has frequently acted as an extension of the Israeli government in the U.N. Security Council. But under Bill Clinton and previous presidents, the U.S. worked as a broker seeking settlement to the long-running Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Bush changed that.

Ten days after his inauguration, at the first meeting of the National Security Council, Bush shifted to a more “hands-off” policy, according to Bush’s first Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill whose insider account is presented in Ron Suskind’s The Price of Loyalty.

Bush is quoted as saying, “We’re going to correct the imbalances of the previous administration on the Mideast conflict. We’re going to tilt it back toward Israel. And we’re going to be consistent.” Bush’s analysis of the situation was that Clinton had “overreached,” causing negotiations to fall apart. “That’s why we’re in trouble,” Bush said. 

Recalling a helicopter trip he had taken with Sharon over Palestinian refugee camps, Bush remarked, “Looked real bad down there. I don’t see much we can do over there at this point. I think it’s time to pull out of that situation.”

Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed strong misgivings, predicting that U.S. disengagement would unleash Sharon and lead to “dire consequences,” especially for the Palestinians. But Bush shrugged off the concerns, saying “Maybe that’s the best way to get things back in balance.” 

Elaborating on this theory, Bush said, “Sometimes a show of strength by one side can really clarify things.”

So years of diplomatic efforts to resolve the Middle East conflict came to an end. Sharon launched some of the deadliest attacks ever seen in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Palestinians countered with suicide bombings that killed Israeli civilians. The cycle of violence spiralled out of control.

Another early part of Bush’s Middle East strategy was the ouster of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. O’Neill, who served on Bush’s National Security Council, said invading Iraq was on the new administration’s agenda from the start. Then, the Sept. 11 attacks gave Bush the political opening to lead the United States into Iraq in March 2003.

After a three-week war that drove Hussein’s government from power, however, U.S. forces struggled to bring order to Iraq and soon were facing a stubborn insurgency. As in Vietnam, the frustration of fighting a shadowy enemy that moves among the population has led to violent excesses, both in battlefield tactics and in interrogation of prisoners.

When Iraqi insurgents killed four American security contractors in Fallujah and a mob mutilated the bodies, Bush ordered Marines to “pacify” the city of 300,000 people. According to some accounts, more than 800 citizens of Fallujah have died in the assault and 60,000 fled as refugees. Now, Arabs are calling Fallujah the “new Jenin,” a reference to Israel’s deadly assault on the Jenin refugee camp in April 2002.

War Crimes?

In attacking Fallujah and in other counter-insurgency operations, the Bush administration again has resorted to measures that some critics argue amount to war crimes. These tactics include administering collective punishment against the civilian population in Fallujah, rounding up thousands of young Iraqi men on the flimsiest of suspicions and holding prisoners incommunicado without charges and subjecting some detainees to physical mistreatment. 

During the siege of Fallujah, British human rights worker Jo Wilding said it was impossible to deliver food and medical aid to besieged civilians because of the threat of American snipers. She said everyone in Fallujah has lost at least one close friend or relative to the American onslaught.

Though U.S. forces insisted they were targeting only armed insurgents, international shock at the heavy firepower against a densely populated city contributed to the Marine decision to forego a full-scale assault on Fallujah. Instead, Marine commanders agreed to send in a former general from Hussein’s army to co-operate with city officials in restoring order.

There have been allegations of war crimes elsewhere in Iraq. In the city of Kut, American soldiers allegedly beat an Iraqi man to death because he refused to remove a picture of wanted Shiite Muslim leader Moqtada Sadr from his car. “After the man refused to remove Sadr’s picture from his car, the soldiers forced him out of the vehicle and started beating him with truncheons,” according to Agence France Press.  He was taken to a hospital where he died from wounds sustained in the beating.

Meanwhile, Bush has continued to insist that the U.S. has eliminated a source of “tyranny and despair and anger” in the Middle East by overthrowing Saddam Hussein.  In a press conference on April 13, Bush stressed that the war in Iraq is not only part of the struggle against “terrorism,” but is part of an epic battle between the “civilized world” and “Islamic militants,” “radicals,” and “fanatics.” It is a struggle in which “we are changing the world,” Bush said.

The world may indeed be changing, though not exactly in the way Bush suggests. Rather than becoming safer, it appears to be growing less safe. Instead of seeing the United States as a beacon of liberty, more and more people around the world are viewing Americans as arrogant bullies. 

Presidential Race

In Europe and elsewhere, many people – from government leaders to common citizens – have become convinced that Bush is so inextricably tied to the failed policies in the Middle East that new leadership in Washington is a prerequisite for a solution. Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee, is likely not exaggerating when he says that many world leaders are rooting for his victory.

What is less certain is whether even a Kerry victory would create the conditions to reverse Bush’s policies. On the campaign trail, Kerry has insisted that he would not abandon Iraq though he says he would reach out to the world community to share the responsibilities for bringing order.  Kerry has even advocated committing 40,000 more troops, about a one-third increase in the 135,000 U.S. soldiers currently there.

As for the Iraq invasion, Kerry told Time that he “might have gone to war, but not the way the president did.” Kerry also said he is prepared to act unilaterally in defense of U.S. interests if a situation demands it. “But there is a way to do it that strengthens the hand of the United States,” Kerry said. “George Bush has weakened the hand of the United States.”

Some opponents of the Iraq War have criticized Kerry for not going further. They contend that his position constitutes “Bush-Lite,” although it is possible that Kerry is simply playing it safe, trying not to alienate swing voters who see a danger in a rapid U.S. withdrawal but also see a risk in Bush’s tendency for rash actions and “us-against-them” rhetoric.

At the very least, Kerry might know better than to paint the U.S. into corners with language about a clash between the “civilized world” and “fanatics.” He also might avoid quasi-religious language that casts the struggle as a “crusade” between “good” and “evil.”

The logic of Bush black-and-white world view eliminates the gray areas where political compromise is possible. The “bad guys” must be crushed. “Our side” must be victorious. Anyone not “with us” is “with the terrorists.” Drawing such lines in the sand can have the unintended consequence of pushing some people repulsed by U.S. actions to side with the terrorists when otherwise they would have stayed neutral.

Also, when U.S. soldiers see themselves as confronting “evil” and defending “good,” virtually any tactic becomes justified, whether blasting apart a rebellious city, torturing a suspected enemy or subjecting prisoners to sexual and physical humiliation to “soften them up” for interrogation.

Bush’s Iraq War is forcing Americans to relearn the hard lessons of Vietnam. Like Col. Kurtz in “Apocalyse Now,” U.S. forces are trapped between the unrealistic expectations of politicians back at headquarters and the harsh reality of a counter-insurgency war on the ground. Caught in that paradox, with no reasonable way to achieve the lofty goals, it cannot be surprising that one reaction from at least some soldiers in the field would be a descent into barbarity.

While punishing individual offenders is necessary in such cases, the larger question is: Who among the higher-ups also should be held accountable?

Nat Parry is co-author of Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush




May Day ‘71: When Bob Parry Went to Jail in the Biggest Mass Arrest in U.S. History

In 1971, Bob Parry, the late founder and editor of Consortium News, traveled to Washington to take part in an anti-Vietnam War protest. Here published for the first time in 47 years is Bob’s account of that day.

A note from Nat Parry: In the spring of 1971, with war raging in Vietnam, the U.S. peace movement hoped to shut down the federal government in an audacious mass civil disobedience action. Under the slogan “If the government won’t stop the war, then the people will stop the government,” tens of thousands of protesters set out to block major intersections and bridges to bring Washington, DC, to a halt.

A young Robert Parry, then a student at Colby College, drove down from Maine to participate in the demonstrations and ended up arrested along with thousands of other protesters who were swept up in the largest mass arrest in U.S. history. He later wrote about the protests and their significance in the Colby Echo, where he was Editor-in-Chief.

Marking the anniversary of these events, we republish Parry’s article for the first time in 47 years, with an introduction from his classmate Stephen Orlov, who attended the demonstration with him.

By Stephen Orlov

It was with a heavy heart that I read Nat Parry’s moving tribute to his father, Robert, on his sudden passing.

Bob was my closest friend at Maine’s Colby College during the turbulent Vietnam War years, when Bob was Editor-in-Chief of our student newspaper, the Colby Echo. He rarely talked with family and friends about his time at Colby, given the enormity of the important issues of the day he addressed tirelessly during his distinguished career. So Nat asked me to share a few anecdotes about Bob during his student days, when he began honing his muckraking journalistic skills and demonstrating to our campus community his inspiring strength of character in speaking truth to power.

I worked with Bob at the Echo, writing anti-war articles as an Associate Editor and Student Government President. We helped lead with a handful of activists the Colby strike against the Vietnam War in May of 1970, following Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia and the National Guard’s killing of protesting students at Kent State. Bob played a key role in our successful lobbying campaign that convinced the Colby Faculty to pass a resolution supporting our student strike. 

We replaced classes with a counter-cultural-curriculum of daily workshops led by students and professors on the mass movements that were engulfing America in a tidal wave of social protest—anti-war and nuclear disarmament, civil rights and black power, feminism and gay rights, the American Indian Movement and United Farm Workers Boycott, anti-poverty and pro-environment. 

Bob and I drafted a telegram on behalf of student government heads of 16 college and university campuses in Maine to Senators Edmund Muskie and Margaret Chase Smith, which forced them to fly to Colby within days for an all-state anti-war rally that would “give the students of Maine the opportunity to confront you.”

We devoured the non-violent civil disobedience writings of King, Thoreau and Gandhi, discussing for hours how to best apply their theory and practice to our plans for being arrested together at anti-war demonstrations in Washington DC that spring. And a year later at the May Day demonstrations in 1971, the friendly elderly stranger arrested next to us turned out to be Dr. Benjamin Spock, who had penned the classic baby-care “bible,” we both would later rely on as parents.

At a speech to Alumni donors during the strike, Colby President Robert

Strider attacked Bob’s editorial stewardship of the Echo, decrying “the uncontrollable barbarism, with its obscenities, libel and innuendo, of the college press.” The following semester, Strider moved to end the College’s near century-old sponsorship of the Echo because of Bob’s editorial choices.

Strider wrote to Bob officially demanding the removal of the Colby name from the Echo and he convinced the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees to propose at a Board meeting we attended a resolution to disassociate the College from its student newspaper. Strider had highlighted swear words and an Echo photo of students frolicking “au natural” as just cause, but we countered that the heart of the matter was Bob’s anti-war editorial position. Bob refused to remove the Colby name from the Echo and he delivered an unflinching defense of freedom of the press, convincing the Trustees to reject the censorship resolution of their Board Chair and College President.

On a personal note, Bob lamented a painful rift with his father, William, who was the publisher of the Framingham News, nearby Boston. He told me how his dad had always preached to him the need to consider multiple points of view for every story, a principle Bob embraced throughout his career, and yet William dogmatically dismissed off-hand Bob’s anti-war position as being anti-American, and he ardently supported the war effort in his paper. Perhaps that personal experience later helped Bob emotionally confront the surreptitious maneuvers by government and media power brokers to blacklist him within the Washington press corps for his courageous reporting.

Bob and I remained in close touch during our first few years after graduation. We traveled together to Miami in 1972 for anti-war demonstrations at the Republican National Convention, sleeping in a pop-up tent in the protester’s camp at Flamingo Park, where we bathed in the Park swimming pool. We drove there from Mass. to Florida in a car Bob had recently bought. He was rather proud of the fact that he had tuned it up himself after studying an auto-maintenance manual.

After I moved to Montreal and he to Virginia, regrettably we rarely saw each other, occasionally catching up on work and family life from a distance. I can still remember decades ago, Bob describing passionately his visionary plans to begin publishing an online investigative journal in the tradition of his hero, I.F. Stone. I was thrilled to learn that Bob was honored in 2015 with Harvard’s Nieman Foundation I.F. Stone Prize for Journalism, and later with the Martha Gellhorn Award. Ironically, when the Colby Trustees refused forty-five years earlier to back the Board resolution disassociating the College from the Echo, they appointed Trustee Dwight Sargent, the curator of Harvard’s Nieman Foundation of Journalism at the time, to head a study committee, which never censored Bob or the Echo.

Throughout his life’s journey, Robert Parry cast the shadow of a giant, and on his path he left a signature footprint marked by strength and integrity. Bob’s passing is a personal loss of a friend I’ve admired my entire adult life, a loss of far greater magnitude for his loving family. His legacy shall endure, inspiring investigative journalists the world over.

Stephen Orlov is an award-winning playwright, who recently co-edited with Melbourne-based Palestinian playwright and poet, Samah Sabawi, Double Exposure: Plays of the Jewish and Palestinian Diasporas, the first English-language anthology worldwide in any genre of drama, prose, or poetry by Jewish and Palestinian writers.

 

May Day”

By Bob Parry

(Originally published in the Colby Echo student newspaper in May 1971)

There was the air of a mighty athletic contest about it. A super bowl played out in the streets of the nation’s capital. And the news media always alert for any incident that will appeal to America’s sports-minded viewing public played the athletics of the situation to the hilt. To the media, it was the kids coming off several big seasons of demonstrations against the seasoned veterans of the Washington police force. The demonstrators with their potent offense trying to throw the city into chaos; the cops, led by their elite Civil Disturbance Unit and backed up by thousands of Marines, Army, and National Guard, putting up a great defense to maintain social order.

It was to be the biggest story of the week, perhaps of 1971, and the participants’ temerarious victory predictions and scoffs at the strength of the opposition reminded some viewers of Joe Namath psyching the Baltimore Colts out of the ’69 Super Bowl. The demonstrators had stated, “If the government won’t stop the war, then the people will stop the government.” And President Nixon had countered with assurances that he would not be intimidated. Chief of the D.C. police, Jerry Wilson, who would guide his team on the field, went on saying that the demonstration would be only a minor “nuisance.”

So the lines were drawn and the kids readied themselves for game time Monday morning. But the police started things early with a foray into the demonstrators’ home base at dawn Sunday. At that time, 41,000 people were camping at West Potomac Park. The police dispersed them hoping that many would go home, but most remained in Washington and others, like the nine members of the Colby contingent, had been staying elsewhere.

But with the thrust into the park, the police had taken the play away from the offense-minded demonstrators. The kids charged foul, but their cries went unheeded. Rules for the week’s struggle were fuzzy at best, and with their early move, the police gave warning that many of the fair-play guidelines were out the window for as long as threats of disruption continued. The lack of rules reflected an even greater confusion which would plague observers and commenters throughout the week – how could anyone tell who won.

Nine of us from Colby – Steve Orlov, Dick Kaynor, Bob Knight, Lyndon Summers, Ken Eisen, Joel Simon, Andy Koss, Peter Vose and me – had come to Washington to commit civil disobedience. Most of us expected to be arrested; some were prepared to be clubbed. We had come because we opposed the war and wanted to demonstrate through the power of non-violent civil disobedience that our commitment to the war’s end went beyond placards and petitions to congressmen.

We had come expecting to engage in Gandhian civil disobedience (passive non-violence); we learned, however, on meeting up with our regional group Sunday afternoon that the tactic now being favored was “mobile non-violence.” Apparently because of fears that the numbers of demonstrators had been significantly reduced by the park clearing and because of a greater concern for the ends (who would win the “Stop the City” Bowl Game) rather than the means, regional leaders favoring “mobile” tactics had prevailed over others wanting more passive disobedience. Gandhi was to be mixed with Abbie Hoffman and the result would be a kind of touch football in the streets.

The kids were up early Monday but, as the slogan goes, the police department never sleeps. The cops and the troops were out in force and they had already had the four bridges from Virginia to D.C. neatly in their pockets. Ken and I drove our cars into the city before six. Our job was to use the cars for blocking and slowing down traffic. Steve and Peter stayed with us in case of trouble and the others disembarked on the D.C. side of the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge. From the beginning it was clear that things were not going our way.

Steve and I drove around participating in and occasionally starting traffic jams. Scenes from Godard films met us at nearly every corner. Police charging and swinging into clumps of demonstrators, police cars chasing kids across parks, the grey smoke of tear gas rising everywhere, troops in their full, khaki battle gear lining the city’s bridges. The government had responded to the threats of a shut-down with force and throughout the morning they had the kids running from their attacks and reeling from the tear gas. Traffic was snarled (some places for hours) but as the government pointed out, the workers got through.

When the Colby contingent returned to Ken’s house in Arlington, we evaluated what had happened and discovered that Jody and Lyndon had been arrested. Everyone at the Eisen’s was disappointed with how the demonstration had developed. We had come to be arrested and instead spent the whole day avoiding arrest. All of us agreed, no more of the same.

That evening, however, Bob, Steve and I talked with Hosea Williams, a leader of the SCLC, and he told us that his organization would lead a march to the Justice Department Tuesday afternoon which would end in a mass sit-down and, almost certainly, arrests. Six of us decided to go; four of us (Ken, Steve, Dick and I) got arrested. (Bob and Peter had taken a lunch break during the speeches and when they returned from their “Justice Department” sandwiches, they found four rows of police blocking off access to the several thousand demonstrators.)

The demonstrations at Justice were what we had been hoping for. When the police arrived, the two or three thousand protesters sat down and pulled out handkerchiefs to use in case of tear gas. The police moved toward us in rows, a tear gas canister was set off accidentally. The people didn’t panic, they didn’t run, they stayed together. The police began the arrests. At first, there were some incidents of violence, police clubbing and macing demonstrators, but when the cops realized that there would be no resistance, the arrests came orderly and peaceful.

The arrested demonstrators were taken in buses to areas of detention. The four of us from Colby and about 800 other people were placed in the U.S. District Court cell block. We were held in a cell (50’x20’) with 100 other protesters and later in a cell (15’x15’) containing 66 people.

The over-crowding, the oppressive heat, and the bologna sandwiches served with rancid mayonnaise made life in the cells difficult. But it also served as a crucible test for the principles of communal living. When food was provided for us, we asked to be allowed to pass the food back to the back of the cell in an orderly way. The people sitting against the back wall ate first. We overcame the difficulties of too many people by communicating with each other and arranging shifts for sleeping (while some slept, others stood or sat uncomfortably). In short, we survived by learning to live with and care for each other.

At 10:30 Wednesday morning, I was taken in a bus to court. Ken, Steve, and Dick had to remain in an even smaller cell (8’x12’) with 33 people until five that evening. Dick, Ken, and I were fortunate to be arraigned before Judge Halleck, the judge most sympathetic to our cause in the city. Halleck was accepting pleas of nolo contendere (no contest) and giving sentences of two days or $20 (the two days considered already served). Steve and Jody were released on bond and the charges against Lyndon were dropped.

People have asked us since we’ve returned to Colby what was accomplished in Washington. The media, knowing that nobody likes a tie game, had ruled that the police had won. And indeed there are strong arguments to support that conclusion: the city was kept open, the government did function, and the war still continues. The police statistics were also impressive: virtually all government employees made it to work and almost 14,000 demonstrators had been arrested. And the people who watched on their sets at home saw the police always on the offensive and the demonstrators on the run.

But one thing that the media seemed to forget was that the shutting down of Washington was only one of May Day’s aims. The demonstrators were designed to project an image of Washington, D.C., to the world as the scene of social chaos brought on by the country’s involvement in Indochina and the problems of racism and poverty at home. By forcing the government to line its streets with thousands of soldiers the demonstrations created an image not easily washed away.

But more importantly, May Day was the first large-scale application of non-violent civil disobedience by white Americans. The arrest tallies which are pointed to with such pride by Chief Wilson stand perhaps as a greater monument to the determination and will to sacrifice of the protesters. As we were being taken away from the Justice Department in a bus, the cry of the people with us was not of defeat but of victory. As we passed people on the streets kids leaned out the windows shouting “We won, we won.”

But the greater measure of victory of defeat had to lie in the effect the actions had on those not participating. The initial reaction from television commentators and politicians indicated that the demonstrations were not well received, but other adults who were more immediately involved with the May Day occurrences felt differently. For instance, a reporter for the Washington Star who was arrested at Justice and served time in our cell block wrote on Thursday, “I … was radicalized, but not just in the political sense. When I was separated from the group in the cell block, I told them I didn’t know whether to flash a V sign for peace or a fist for power. ‘Give them both,’ said a friend. I did.”

The spirit, he wrote, comparable to that of the “Britons in their bomb shelter during World War II or civil rights workers in the south” – was the feeling of men and women with a vision of a new society that is coming. Everyone I’ve talked to who experienced that feeling left Washington knowing that they had found 14,000 brothers and sisters by being in jail. The whole question of victory or defeat became submerged under all of us win or all of us lose.




A Celebration of the Life of Robert Parry

 

VIDEO: A memorial service for Robert Parry, the founder and editor of Consortium News, was held in Arlington, Virginia on April 14.

Bob’s wife, Diane Duston, introduced friends and colleagues to recount their memories of Bob, whose work impacted the nation.

The speakers were Lynn Neary, the NPR broadcaster; Spencer Oliver, a former Congressional staffer and one of Bob’s then unnamed sources; Jill Abramson, the former New York Times executive editor and a long-time neighbor of Bob and Diane’s; Brian Barger, Bob’s partner at the AP on many Iran-Contra exclusives; Joe Lauria, the Consortium News editor-in-chief who also read a tribute to Bob from legendary journalist John Pilger, who was unable to attend; a video tribute from Oliver Stone, the filmmaker, and Bob’s two sons, Sam and Nat.

We present here a video of the entire memorial for the many admirers of Bob who were likewise unable to attend. It runs one hour and seven minutes. Broadcasters can request an abridged version or individual speakers by writing to info@consortiumnews.com .

 

A Celebration of the Life of Bob Parry

 




In Case You Missed…

Some of our special stories in March discussed recent changes in the Trump administration and examined the lasting impact of the U.S. invasion of Iraq as that event reached its 15th anniversary.

Italy’s Choice: Shock or Stagnation” by Andrew Spannaus, Mar. 2, 2018

Katharine Gun’s Risky Truth-telling” by Sam Husseini, Mar. 2, 2018

Why Putin’s Latest Weapons Claims Should Scare Us” by Jonathan Marshall, Mar. 3, 2018

How ‘Operation Merlin’ Poisoned U.S. Intelligence on Iran” by Gareth Porter, Mar. 3, 2018

The Rise of the New McCarthyism” by Robert Parry, Mar. 9, 2018

The Illusion of War Without Casualties” by Nicolas J.S. Davies, Mar. 9, 2018

Who’s Afraid of Talking With Kim Jong Un?” by Jonathan Marshall, Mar. 10, 2018

Gang of Four: Senators Call for Tillerson to Enter into Arms Control Talks with the Kremlin” by Ray McGovern, Mar. 10, 2018

Torture-Tainted Nominations Recall Failure to Prosecute Bush-Era Abuses” by Nat Parry, Mar. 14, 2018

Acceptable Bigotry and Scapegoating of Russia” by Natylie Baldwin, Mar. 15, 2018

‘Hostiles’ and Hollywood’s Untold Story” by Jada Thacker, Mar. 16, 2018

Behind Colin Powell’s Legend – My Lai” by Robert Parry and Norman Solomon, Mar. 17, 2018

McCabe: A War on (or in) the FBI?” by Coleen Rowley, Mar. 18, 2018

Iraq +15: Accumulated Evil of the Whole” by Nat Parry, Mar. 19, 2018

Senate Votes to Continue Yemen Devastation” by Dennis J. Bernstein, Mar. 22, 2018

The Iraq War and the Crisis of a Disintegrating Global Order” by Inder Comar, Mar. 22, 2018

How Many Millions of People Have Been Killed in America’s Post-9/11 Wars? – Part One: Iraq” by Nicolas J.S. Davies, Mar. 22, 2018

6,700 More U.S. Missiles for Saudi Arabia to Shoot at Yemeni Kids” by Ann Wright, Mar. 24, 2018

Trump Should Withdraw Haspel Nomination, Intel Vets Say” by Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, Mar. 25, 2018

Same Old Media Parade: Why Are Liberals Cheering?” by Jeff Cohen, Mar. 26, 2018

The Rush to a New Cold War” by Robert Parry, Mar. 30, 2018

The Bolton Appointment: How Scared Should We Be?” by Daniel Lazare, Mar. 30, 2018

America’s Complicated Relationship with International Human Rights Norms” by Nat Parry, Mar. 30, 2018

To produce and publish these stories – and many more – costs money. And except for some book sales, we depend on the generous support of our readers.

So, please consider a tax-deductible donation either by credit card online or by mailing a check.




America’s Complicated Relationship with International Human Rights Norms

The U.S. has long had a love-hate relationship with international norms, having taken the lead in forging landmark human rights agreements while brushing off complaints over its own abuses, Nat Parry explains.

By Nat Parry

American exceptionalism – the notion that the United States is unique among nations due to its traditions of democracy and liberty – has always been the foundation of the nation’s claim to moral leadership. As a country founded on ideals that are today are recognized the world over as fundamental principles of international norms, the U.S. utilizes its image as a human rights champion to rally nations to its cause and assert its hegemony around the world.

Regardless of political persuasion, Americans proudly cite the influence that the founding principles laid out in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights have had on the rest of the world, with 80 percent agreeing that “the United States’ history and its Constitution … makes it the greatest country in the world” in a 2010 Gallup poll. Respecting these principles on the international level has long been considered a requisite for U.S. credibility and leadership on the global stage.

Much of this sentiment is an enduring testament to U.S. leadership following World War II, a period in which international legal principles of human rights and non-aggression were established, as well as the four decades of the Cold War, in which the “free world,” led by the United States, faced off against “totalitarian communism,” led by the Soviet Union.

During those years of open hostility between East and West, the U.S. could point not only to its founding documents as proof of its commitment to universal principles of freedom and individual dignity, but also to the central role it played in shaping the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Fourteen Points and Four Freedoms 

While the U.S. didn’t fully assume its position as moral arbiter until after the Allied victory in World War II, its role in these matters had already been well-established with Woodrow Wilson’s professed internationalism. As expressed in his famous “Fourteen Points,” which sought to establish a rationale for U.S. intervention in the First World War, the United States would press to establish an international system based on “open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.”

Wilson had seen the First World War as evidence that the old international system established by the Europeans had failed to provide necessary security and stability, and sought to replace the old diplomacy with one based on cooperation, communication, liberalism and democracy.

Speaking on this issue throughout his presidency, he consistently advocated human rights and principles of self-determination.

“Do you never stop to reflect just what it is that America stands for?” Wilson asked in 1916. “If she stands for one thing more than another, it is for the sovereignty of self-governing peoples, and her example, her assistance, her encouragement, has thrilled two continents in this Western World with all the fine impulses which have built up human liberty on both sides of the water.”

These principles were expanded upon by subsequent American administrations, and especially by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In his January 1941 State of the Union address, Roosevelt spelled out what he called “the Four Freedoms,” which later became the foundation for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“In the future days,” he said, “which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.”

He continued: “The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way – everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want – which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants – everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear – which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor – anywhere in the world.”

Following the Allied victory over the Axis powers, FDR’s widow Eleanor Roosevelt took her late husband’s vision and attempted to make it a reality for the world through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Chairing the Commission on Human Rights, a standing body of the United Nations constituted to undertake the work of preparing what was originally conceived as an International Bill of Rights, Eleanor Roosevelt pushed to ensure that FDR’s “four freedoms” were reflected in the document.

Under Roosevelt’s leadership, the Commission decided that the declaration should be a brief and inspirational document accessible by common people, and envisioned it to serve as the foundation for the remainder of an international bill of human rights. It thus avoided the more difficult problems that had to be addressed when the binding treaty came up for consideration, namely what role the state should have in enforcing rights within its territory, and whether the mode of enforcing civil and political rights should be different from that for economic and social rights.

As stated in its preamble, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.”

Much of the language in the Declaration echoed language contained in the founding documents of the United States, including the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. Whereas the U.S. Declaration of Independence articulates the “unalienable right” to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”

While the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits Congress from “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble,” the UDHR provides that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression” and that “everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.” Whereas the Eighth Amendment forbids “cruel and unusual punishments,” the UDHR bars “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

Although the United States made it clear that it could not support a legally binding UDHR, it readily endorsed the final document as a political declaration, one of 48 nations to vote in favor of the Declaration at the UN General Assembly in December 1948. With no votes in opposition and just eight abstentions – mostly from Eastern Bloc countries including the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Poland – the Declaration served as a defining characteristic of the contrast between East and West in those early days of the Cold War.

A Small Problem 

There was of course one small problem. Despite the United States formally embracing “universal human rights” on the international stage, its respect for those rights domestically was considerably lacking. Throughout the country and especially in the South, African Americans endured racist segregation policies and were routinely denied the right to vote and other civil rights.

Lynching, while not as pervasive as its heyday earlier in the century, was still a major problem, with dozens of blacks murdered with impunity by white lynch mobs throughout the 1940s.

In 1947, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) filed an “Appeal to the World” petition in the United Nations that denounced racial discrimination in the United States as “not only indefensible but barbaric.” The American failure to respect human rights at home had international implications, argued the NAACP. “The disenfranchisement of the American Negro makes the functioning of all democracy in the nation difficult; and as democracy fails to function in the leading democracy in the world, it fails the world,” read the NAACP petition.

The NAACP’s appeal provoked an international sensation, with the organization flooded with requests for copies of the document from the governments of the Soviet Union, Great Britain and the Union of South Africa, among others. According to NAACP chief Walter White, “It was manifest that they were pleased to have documentary proof that the United States did not practice what it preached about freedom and democracy.”

The U.S. delegation to the UN refused to introduce the NAACP petition to the United Nations, fearing that it would cause further international embarrassment. The Soviet Union, however, recommended that the NAACP’s claims be investigated. The Commission on Human Rights rejected that proposal on December 4, 1947, and no further official action was taken.

According to W.E.B. DuBois, the principle author of the petition, the United States “refused willingly to allow any other nation to bring this matter up.” If it had been introduced to the General Assembly, Eleanor Roosevelt would have “probably resign[ed] from the United Nations delegation,” said DuBois. This was despite the fact that she was a member of the NAACP board of directors. While Roosevelt’s commitment to racial justice may have been strong, it was clear that her embarrassment over the U.S.’s failures to respect the “four freedoms” at home was even stronger.

It was in this context that the United States endorsed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. That year also marked the beginning of tentative steps the U.S. began making towards respecting basic rights within its borders.

On July 26, 1948, President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981, which ended segregation in the U.S. Armed Forces. The next month, the Democratic Party included a civil rights plank in its platform. “The Democratic Party,” read the platform adopted at the 1948 Democratic National Convention, “commits itself to continuing its efforts to eradicate all racial, religious and economic discrimination.”

While there was clearly a domestic motivation for embracing the cause of civil rights (presidential adviser Clark Clifford had presented a lengthy memorandum to President Truman in 1947 which argued that the African-American vote was paramount for winning the 1948 election), there was also a strong international component to the Democratic Party’s support for civil rights.

UN Bragging Rights 

In addition to its civil rights plank, the 1948 Democratic platform included a wholehearted endorsement of the recently established United Nations, and expressed “the conviction that the destiny of the United States is to provide leadership in the world toward a realization of the Four Freedoms.” But the Democrats recognized that the U.S. had a long way to go to realizing those four freedoms at home.

“We call upon the Congress to support our President in guaranteeing these basic and fundamental American Principles: (1) the right of full and equal political participation; (2) the right to equal opportunity of employment; (3) the right of security of person; (4) and the right of equal treatment in the service and defense of our nation,” the platform stated.

The Democratic platform also proudly pointed to the accomplishment of organizing the United Nations: “Under the leadership of a Democratic President and his Secretary of State, the United Nations was organized at San Francisco. The charter was ratified by an overwhelming vote of the Senate. We support the United Nations fully and we pledge our whole-hearted aid toward its growth and development.”

For its part, the Republican Party also embraced the fledgling UN, stating in its 1948 platform that “Our foreign policy is dedicated to preserving a free America in a free world of free men. This calls for strengthening the United Nations and primary recognition of America’s self-interest in the liberty of other peoples.” While the Democrats pointed to the president’s leadership for helping establish the UN, the Republicans also wanted to make sure that they received due credit. Their party platform listed “a fostered United Nations” as one of the main accomplishments of the Republican Congress, despite “frequent obstruction from the Executive Branch.”

As “the world’s best hope” for “collective security against aggression and in behalf of justice and freedom,” the Republicans pledged to “support the United Nations in this direction, striving to strengthen it and promote its effective evolution and use.” The UN “should progressively establish international law,” said the Republicans, “be freed of any veto in the peaceful settlement of international disputes, and be provided with the armed forces contemplated by the Charter.”

As a major component of the progressive establishment of international law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was to be codified into legally binding treaties.

Although the Declaration was endorsed by the U.S. and 47 other countries in December 1948, the two corresponding legally binding covenants to define the obligations of each state required another two decades of work. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights were ready for ratification in 1966, some 18 years later.

The United States became a signatory to both covenants on Oct. 5, 1977. It ratified the ICCPR on June 8, 1992, but to this date has not fully subscribed to the ICESCR, one of just seven countries in the world not to ratify the agreement.

Cold War Context 

Throughout those years, the U.S. was engaged in an intense ideological battle with the Soviet Union, in which human rights were used as a rhetorical weapon by each side against the other. While American leaders chastised the Soviets for their failures to respect fundamental liberties, including freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of association, the USSR could readily point to the blatant institutionalized racism that plagued American society.

Racial discrimination belied America’s rhetoric about democracy and equality, making the U.S. cause of freedom look like a sham especially to people of color in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The Soviets enthusiastically exploited the issue, imbuing their anti-capitalist propaganda with tales of horrors suffered by African Americans.

So, in 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Brown v. Topeka Board of Education that segregated schools were unconstitutional and ordered that school integration proceed “with all deliberate speed,” the case was trumpeted by the American establishment as evidence of the great strides being made toward full equality for all citizens.

At times, racial discrimination in the United States caused such international embarrassment that the State Department would pressure the White House to intervene. In 1957, for example, when a Federal District Court ordered the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, to allow African-American students to attend, Governor Orval Faubus declared that he would refuse to comply with the decree. Several hundred angry and belligerent whites confronted nine African-American students who attempted to enter the school on September 4, 1957.

The National Guard, called up by Faubus, blocked the students from entering the school. Pictures of the angry mob, the frightened African-American students, and armed National Guardsmen were seen all over the world, and the Soviets eagerly seized on the propaganda.

Secretary of State John Foster Dulles informed President Dwight Eisenhower that the Little Rock incident was damaging the United States’ credibility abroad, and could cost the U.S. the support of other nations in the UN. Eisenhower attempted to negotiate a settlement with Faubus, but when that failed, he sent in federal troops. The nine African-American students were finally allowed to attend Central High under the armed protection of the United States military.

The developing international human rights project led to deep ideological divisions in the United States, with some conservatives, especially in the South, concerned that the national government would use international human rights law to promote national civil rights reforms. Arguing that the civil rights question was beyond the scope of Congress’s authority and concerned about the constitutional power of treaties, conservatives launched several attempts in the 1950s to amend the U.S. Constitution to limit the government’s ability to subscribe to treaties.

Those failed efforts to amend the Constitution were based on the premise that the federal government had no say in the matters of states and localities in regulating race relations, and that since Article VI of the Constitution provides treaties the status of “supreme law of the land,” the U.S. would find itself subjected to the whims of the international community on these matters.

Those fears would prove unfounded, since the U.S. didn’t formally subscribe to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights until 1977, long after most of the relevant domestic civil rights legislation had been adopted, but the right-wing opposition to U.S. submission to international norms had become thoroughly established as American conservative orthodoxy.

Nat Parry is co-author of Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush




In Case You Missed…

Some of our special stories in February focused on the release of the so-called “Nunes Memo”, the US system of perpetual warfare, and the growing risk of confrontations in Syria, North Korea and Iran.

Outpouring of Support Honors Robert Parry” Feb. 1, 2018

U.S. Media’s Objectivity Questioned Abroad” by Andrew Spannaus, Feb. 2, 2018

Nunes Memo Reports Crimes at Top of FBI and DOJ” by Ray McGovern, Feb. 2, 2018

‘Duck and Cover’ Drills Exacerbate Fears of N. Korea War” by Ann Wright, Feb. 3, 2018

Do We Really Want Nuclear War with Russia?” by Robert Parry, Feb. 4, 2018

Recipe Concocted for Perpetual War is a Bitter One” by Robert Wing and Coleen Rowley, Feb. 4, 2018

WMD Claims in Syria Raise Concerns over U.S. Escalation” by Rick Sterling, Feb. 4, 2018

Connecticut Court Decision Highlights U.S. Educational Failures” by Dennis J. Bernstein, Feb. 5, 2018

Understanding Russia, Un-Demonizing Putin” by Sharon Tennison, Feb. 6, 2018

Did Al Qaeda Dupe Trump on Syrian Attack?” by Robert Parry, Feb. 6, 2018

No Time for Complacency over Korea War Threat” by Jonathan Marshall, Feb. 7, 2018

‘This is Nuts’: Liberals Launch ‘Largest Mobilization in History’ in Defense of Russiagate Probe” by Coleen Rowley and Nat Parry, Feb. 9, 2018

A Note to Our Readers” by Nat Parry, Feb. 10, 2018

Donald Trump v. the Spooks” by Annie Machon, Feb.23, 2018

How Establishment Propaganda Gaslights Us Into Submission” by Caitlin Johnstone, Feb. 12, 2018

Budget Woes Sign of a Dysfunctional Empire” by Jonathan Marshall, Feb. 13, 2018

The Right’s Second Amendment Lies” by Robert Parry, Feb. 16, 2018

NYT’s ‘Really Weird’ Russiagate Story” by Daniel Lazare, Feb. 16, 2018

Russians Spooked by Nukes-Against-Cyber-Attack Policy” by Ray McGovern and William Binney, Feb. 16, 2018

Nunes: FBI and DOJ Perps Could Be Put on Trial” by Ray McGovern, Feb. 19, 2018

U.S. Empire Still Incoherent After All These Years” by Nicolas J.S. Davies, Feb. 20, 2018

Time to Admit the Afghan War is ‘Nonsense’” by Jonathan Marshall, Feb. 22, 2018

Selective Outrage Undermines Human Rights in Syria” by Jonathan Marshall, Feb. 23, 2018

The Mueller Indictments: The Day the Music Died” by Daniel Lazare, Feb. 24, 2018

Growing Risk of U.S.-Iran Hostilities Based on False Pretexts, Intel Vets Warn” by Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, Feb. 26, 2018

Who Benefits from Russia’s ‘Peculiar’ Doping Violations?” by Rick Sterling, Feb. 26, 2018

 

To produce and publish these stories – and many more – costs money. And except for some book sales, we depend on the generous support of our readers.

So, please consider a tax-deductible donation either by credit card online or by mailing a check. (For readers wanting to use PayPal, you can address contributions to our PayPal Giving Fund account, which is named “The Consortium for Independent Journalism”).




Iraq +15: Accumulated Evil of the Whole

Brushing aside warnings that he was about to unleash Armageddon in the Middle East, George W. Bush launched an unprovoked attack on Iraq on March 19-20, 2003, the ramifications of which we are still grappling with today, Nat Parry writes.

By Nat Parry

Robert Jackson, the Chief United States Prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals, once denounced aggressive war as “the greatest menace of our time.” With much of Europe laying in smoldering ruin, he said in 1945 that “to initiate a war of aggression … 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 whole.”

When it comes to the U.S. invasion of Iraq 15 years ago today, the accumulated evil of the whole is difficult to fully comprehend. Estimates of the war’s costs vary, but commonly cited figures put the financial cost for U.S. taxpayers at upwards of a trillion dollars, the cost in Iraqi lives in the hundreds of thousands, and U.S. soldier deaths at nearly 5,000. Another 100,000 Americans have been wounded and four million Iraqis driven from their homes as refugees.

As staggering as those numbers may be, they don’t come close to describing the true cost of the war, or the magnitude of the crime that was committed by launching it on March 19-20, 2003. Besides the cost in blood and treasure, the cost to basic principles of international justice, long-term geopolitical stability, and the impacts on the U.S. political system are equally profound.

Lessons Learned and Forgotten

Although for a time, it seemed that the lessons of the war were widely understood and had tangible effects on American politics – with Democrats, for example, taking control of Congress in the midterm elections of 2006 based primarily on growing antiwar sentiment around the country and Barack Obama defeating Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primaries based largely on the two candidates’ opposing views on the Iraq War – the political establishment has, since then, effectively swept these lessons under the rug.

One of those lessons, of course, was that proclamations of the intelligence community should be treated with huge grain of salt. In the build-up to war with Iraq a decade and a half ago, there were those who pushed back on the politicized and “cherry-picked” intelligence that the Bush administration was using to convince the American people of the need to go to war, but for the most part, the media and political establishment parroted these claims without showing the due diligence of independently confirming the claims or even applying basic principles of logic.

For example, even as United Nations weapons inspectors, led by Swedish diplomat Hans Blix, were coming up empty-handed when acting on tips from the U.S. intelligence community, few within the mainstream media were willing to draw the logical conclusion that the intelligence was wrong (or that the Bush administration was lying). Instead, they assumed that the UN inspectors were simply incompetent or that Saddam Hussein was just really good at hiding his weapons of mass destruction.

Yet, despite being misled so thoroughly back in 2002 and 2003, today Americans show the same credulousness to the intelligence community when it claims that “Russia hacked the 2016 election,” without offering proof. Liberals, in particular, have hitched their wagons to the investigation being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is widely hailed as a paragon of virtue, while the truth is, as FBI Director during the Bush administration, he was a key enabler of the WMD narrative used to launch an illegal war.

Mueller testified to Congress that “Iraq has moved to the top of my list” of threats to the domestic security of the United States. “As we previously briefed this Committee,” Mueller said on February 11, 2003, “Iraq’s WMD program poses a clear threat to our national security.” He warned that Baghdad might provide WMDs to al-Qaeda to carry out a catastrophic attack in the United States.

Mueller drew criticism at the time, including from FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley, for conflating Iraq and al-Qaeda, with demands that the FBI produce whatever evidence it had on this supposed connection.

Today, of course, Mueller is celebrated by Democrats as the best hope for bringing down the presidency of Donald Trump. George W. Bush has also enjoyed a revival of his image thanks largely to his public criticisms of Trump, with a majority of Democrats now viewing the 43rd president favorably. Many Democrats have also embraced aggressive war – often couched in the rhetoric of “humanitarian interventionism” – as their preferred option to deal with foreign policy challenges such as the Syrian conflict.

When the Democratic Party chose Clinton as its nominee in 2016, it appeared that Democrats had also embraced her willingness to use military force to achieve “regime change” in countries that are seen as a threat to U.S. interests – whether Iraq, Iran or Syria.

As a senator from New York during the build-up for military action against Iraq, Clinton not only voted to authorize the U.S. invasion, but fervently supported the war – which she backed with or without UN Security Council authorization. Her speech on the floor of the Senate on Oct. 10, 2002 arguing for military action promoted the same falsehoods that were being used by the Bush administration to build support for the war, claiming for example that Saddam Hussein had “given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al-Qaeda members.”

“If left unchecked,” she said, “Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons. Should he succeed in that endeavor, he could alter the political and security landscape of the Middle East, which as we know all too well affects American security.”

Clinton maintained support for the war even as it became obvious that Iraq in fact had no weapons of mass destruction – the primary casus belli for the war – only cooling her enthusiasm in 2006 when it became clear that the Democratic base had turned decisively against the war and her hawkish position endangered her chances for the 2008 presidential nomination. But eight years later, the Democrats had apparently moved on, and her support for the war was no longer considered a disqualification for the presidency.

One of the lessons that should be recalled today, especially as the U.S. gears up today for possible confrontations with countries including North Korea and Russia, is how easy it was in 2002-2003 for the Bush administration to convince Americans that they were under threat from the regime of Saddam Hussein some 7,000 miles away. The claims about Iraq’s WMDs were untrue, with many saying so in real time – including by the newly formed group Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, which was regularly issuing memoranda to the president and to the American people debunking the falsehoods that were being promoted by the U.S. intelligence community.

But even if the claims about Iraq’s alleged stockpiles were true, there was still no reason to assume that Saddam Hussein was on the verge of launching a surprise attack against the United States. Indeed, while Americans were all but convinced that Iraq threatened their safety and security, it was actually the U.S. government that was threatening Iraqis.

Far from posing an imminent threat to the United States, in 2003, Iraq was a country that had already been devastated by a U.S.-led war a decade earlier and crippling economic sanctions that caused the deaths of 1.5 million Iraqis (leading to the resignation of two UN humanitarian coordinators who called the sanctions genocidal).

Threats and Bluster

Although the invasion didn’t officially begin until March 20, 2003 (still the 19th in Washington), the United States had been explicitly threatening to attack the country as early as January 2003, with the Pentagon publicizing plans for a so-called “shock and awe” bombing campaign.

“If the Pentagon sticks to its current war plan,” CBS News reported on January 24, “one day in March the Air Force and Navy will launch between 300 and 400 cruise missiles at targets in Iraq. … [T]his is more than the number that were launched during the entire 40 days of the first Gulf War. On the second day, the plan calls for launching another 300 to 400 cruise missiles.”

A Pentagon official warned: “There will not be a safe place in Baghdad.”

These public threats appeared to be a form of intimidation and psychological warfare, and were almost certainly in violation of the UN Charter, which states:  “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

The Pentagon’s vaunted “shock and awe” attack began with limited bombing on March 19-20, as U.S. forces unsuccessfully attempted to kill Hussein. Attacks continued against a small number of targets until March 21, when the main bombing campaign began. U.S.-led forces launched approximately 1,700 air sorties, with 504 using cruise missiles.

During the invasion, the U.S. also dropped some 10,800 cluster bombs on Iraq despite claiming that only a fraction of that number had been used.

“The Pentagon presented a misleading picture during the war of the extent to which cluster weapons were being used and of the civilian casualties they were causing,” reported USA Today in late 2003. Despite claims that only 1,500 cluster weapons had been used resulting in just one civilian casualty, “in fact, the United States used 10,782 cluster weapons,” including many that were fired into urban areas from late March to early April 2003.

The cluster bombs killed hundreds of Iraqi civilians and left behind thousands of unexploded bomblets that continued to kill and injure civilians weeks after the fighting stopped.

(Because of the indiscriminate effect of these weapons, their use is banned by the international Convention on Cluster Munitions, which the United States has refused to sign.)

Attempting to kill Hussein, Bush ordered the bombing of an Iraqi residential restaurant on April 7. A single B-1B bomber dropped four precision-guided 2,000-pound bombs. The four bunker-penetrating bombs destroyed the target building, the al Saa restaurant block and several surrounding structures, leaving a 60-foot crater and unknown casualties.

Diners, including children, were ripped apart by the bombs. One mother found her daughter’s torso and then her severed head. U.S. intelligence later confirmed that Hussein wasn’t there.

Resistance and Torture

It was evident within weeks of the initial invasion that the Bush administration had misjudged the critical question of whether Iraqis would fight. They put up stiffer than expected resistance even in southern Iraqi cities such as Umm Qasr, Basra and Nasiriya where Hussein’s support was considered weak, and soon after the fall of the regime on April 9, when the Bush administration decided to disband the Iraqi army, it helped spark an anti-U.S. insurgency led by many former Iraqi military figures.

Despite Bush’s triumphant May 1 landing on an aircraft carrier and his speech in front of a giant “Mission Accomplished” banner, it looked as though the collapse of the Baathist government had been just the first stage in what would become a long-running war of attrition. After the Iraqi conventional forces had been disbanded, the U.S. military began to notice in May 2003 a steadily increasing flurry of attacks on U.S. occupiers in various regions of the so-called “Sunni Triangle.”

These included groups of insurgents firing assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades at U.S. occupation troops, as well as increasing use of improvised explosive devices on U.S. convoys.

Possibly anticipating a long, drawn-out occupation and counter-insurgency campaign, in a March 2003 memorandum Bush administration lawyers devised legal doctrines to justify certain torture techniques, offering legal rationales “that could render specific conduct, otherwise criminal, not unlawful.”

They argued that the president or anyone acting on the president’s orders were not bound by U.S. laws or international treaties prohibiting torture, asserting that the need for “obtaining intelligence vital to the protection of untold thousands of American citizens” superseded any obligations the administration had under domestic or international law.

“In order to respect the President’s inherent constitutional authority to manage a military campaign,” the memo stated, U.S. prohibitions against torture “must be construed as inapplicable to interrogations undertaken pursuant to his Commander-in-Chief authority.”

Over the course of the next year, disclosures emerged that torture had been used extensively in Iraq for “intelligence gathering.” Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh disclosed in The New Yorker in May 2004 that a 53-page classified Army report written by Gen. Antonio Taguba concluded that Abu Ghraib prison’s military police were urged on by intelligence officers seeking to break down the Iraqis before interrogation.

“Numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted on several detainees,” wrote Taguba.

These actions, authorized at the highest levels, constituted serious breaches of international and domestic law, including the Convention Against Torture, the Geneva Convention relative to the treatment of Prisoners of War, as well as the U.S. War Crimes Act and the Torture Statute.

They also may have played a role in the rise of the ISIS terror group, the origins of which were subsequently traced to an American prison in Iraq dubbed Camp Bucca. This camp was the site of rampant abuse of prisoners, one of whom, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, later became the leader of ISIS. Al-Baghdadi spent four years as a prisoner at Bucca, where he started recruiting others to his cause.

America’s Weapons of Mass Desctruction

Besides torture and the use of cluster bombs, the crimes against the Iraqi people over the years included wholesale massacres, long-term poisoning and the destruction of cities.

There was the 2004 assault on Fallujah in which white phosphorus – banned under international law – was used against civilians. There was the 2005 Haditha massacre, in which 24 unarmed civilians were systematically murdered by U.S. marines. There was the 2007 “Collateral Murder” massacre revealed by WikiLeaks in 2010, depicting the indiscriminate killing of more than a dozen civilians in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad – including two Reuters news staff.

There is also the tragic legacy of cancer and birth defects caused by the U.S. military’s extensive use of depleted uranium and white phosphorus. In Fallujah the use of depleted uranium led to birth defects in infants 14 times higher than in the Japanese cities targeted by U.S. atomic bombs at close of World War II, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Noting the birth defects in Fallujah, Al Jazeera journalist Dahr Jamail told Democracy Now in 2013:

“And going on to Fallujah, because I wrote about this a year ago, and then I returned to the city again this trip, we are seeing an absolute crisis of congenital malformations of newborn. … I mean, these are extremely hard to look at. They’re extremely hard to bear witness to. But it’s something that we all need to pay attention to, because of the amount of depleted uranium used by the U.S. military during both of their brutal attacks on the city of 2004, as well as other toxic munitions like white phosphorus, among other things.”

A report sent to the UN General Assembly by Dr. Nawal Majeed Al-Sammarai, Iraq’s Minister of Women’s Affairs, stated that in September 2009, Fallujah General Hospital had 170 babies born, 75 percent of whom were deformed. A quarter of them died within their first week of life.

The military’s use of depleted uranium also caused a sharp increase in Leukemia and birth defects in the city of Najaf, which saw one of the most severe military actions during the 2003 invasion, with cancer becoming more common than the flu according to local doctors.

By the end of the war, a number of Iraq’s major cities, including Fallujah, Ramadi, and Mosul, had been reduced to rubble and by 2014, a former CIA director conceded that the nation of Iraq had basically been destroyed.

“I think Iraq has pretty much ceased to exist,” said Michael Hayden, noting that it was fragmented into multiple parts which he didn’t see “getting back together.” In other words, the United States, using its own extensive arsenal of actual weapons of mass destruction, had completely destroyed a sovereign nation.

Predictable Consequences

The effects of these policies included the predictable growth of Islamic extremism, with a National Intelligence Estimate – representing the consensus view of the 16 spy services inside the U.S. government – warning in 2006 that a whole new generation of Islamic radicalism was being spawned by the U.S. occupation of Iraq. According to one American intelligence official, the consensus was that “the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse.”

The assessment noted that several underlying factors were “fueling the spread of the jihadist movement,” including “entrenched grievances, such as corruption, injustice, and fear of Western domination, leading to anger, humiliation, and a sense of powerlessness,” and “pervasive anti-U.S. sentiment among most Muslims all of which jihadists exploit.”

But rather than leading to substantive changes or reversals in U.S. policies, the strategy agreed upon in Washington seemed to be to double down on the failed policies that had given rise to radical jihadist groups. In fact, instead of withdrawing from Iraq, the U.S. decided to send a surge of 20,000 troops in 2007. This is despite the fact that public opinion was decidedly against the war.

A Newsweek poll in early 2007 found that 68 percent of Americans opposed the surge, and in another poll conducted just after Bush’s 2007 State of the Union Address, 64 percent said Congress was not being assertive enough in challenging the Bush administration over its conduct of the war.

An estimated half-million people marched on Washington on Jan. 27, 2007, with messages for the newly sworn in 110th Congress to “Stand up to Bush,” urging Congress to cut the war funding with the slogan, “Not one more dollar, not one more death.” A growing combativeness was also on display in the antiwar movement with this demonstration marked by hundreds of protesters breaking through police lines and charging Capitol Hill.

Although there were additional large-scale protests a couple months later to mark the sixth anniversary of the invasion, including a march on the Pentagon led by Iraq War veterans, over the next year the antiwar movement’s activities steadily declined. While fatigue might explain some of the waning support for mass mobilizations, much of the decline can also surely be explained by the rise of Barack Obama’s candidacy. Millions of people channeled their energies into his campaign, including many motivated by a hope that he represented real change from the Bush years.

One of Obama’s advantages over Clinton in the Democratic primary was that he had been an early opponent of the Iraq War while she had been one of its most vocal supporters. This led many American voters to believe in 2008 that they had elected someone who might rein in some of the U.S. military adventurism and quickly end U.S. involvement in Iraq. But this wasn’t to be the case. The combat mission dragged on well into President Obama’s first term.

War, War and More War

After its well-publicized failures in Iraq, the U.S. turned its attention to Libya, overthrowing the government of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 utilizing armed militias implicated in war crimes and backed with NATO air power. Following Gaddafi’s ouster, his caches of weapons ended up being shuttled to rebels in Syria, fueling the civil war there. The Obama administration also took a keen interest in destabilizing the Syrian government and to do so began providing arms that often fell into the hands of extremists.

The CIA trained and armed so-called “moderate” rebel units in Syria, only to watch these groups switch sides by joining forces with Islamist brigades such as ISIS and Al Qaeda’s affiliate the Nusra Front. Others surrendered to Sunni extremist groups with the U.S.-provided weapons presumably ending up in the arsenals of jihadists or sometimes just quit or went missing altogether.

Beyond Syria and Libya, Obama also expanded U.S. military engagements in countries including Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, and sent a surge of troops to Afghanistan in 2009. And despite belatedly withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq, with the last U.S. troops finally leaving on December 18, 2011, Obama also presided over a major increase in the use of drone strikes and conventional air wars.

In his first term, Obama dropped 20,000 bombs and missiles, a number that shot up to over 100,000 bombs and missiles dropped in his second term. In 2016, the final year of Obama’s presidency, the U.S. dropped nearly three bombs every hour, 24 hours a day.

Obama also had the distinction of becoming the fourth U.S. president in a row to bomb the nation of Iraq. Under criticism for allowing the rise of ISIS in the country, Obama decided to reverse his earlier decision to disengage with Iraq, and in 2014 started bombing the country again. Addressing the American people on Sept. 10, 2014, President Obama said that “ISIL poses a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria, and the broader Middle East including American citizens, personnel and facilities.”

“If left unchecked,” he continued, “these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region, including to the United States. While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies.”

Of course, this is precisely the result that many voices of caution had warned about back in 2002 and 2003, when millions of Americans were taking to the streets in protest of the looming invasion of Iraq. And, to be clear, it wasn’t just the antiwar left urging restraint – establishment figures and paleoconservatives were also voicing concern.

Retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, for example, who served as a Middle East envoy for George W. Bush, warned in October 2002 that by invading Iraq, “we are about to do something that will ignite a fuse in this region that we will rue the day we ever started.” Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser in the first Bush administration, said a strike on Iraq “could unleash an Armageddon in the Middle East.”

No matter, Bush was a gut player who had made up his mind, so those warnings were brushed aside and the invasion proceeded.

Campaign 2016

When presidential candidate Donald Trump began slamming Bush for the Iraq War during the Republican primary campaign in 2015 and 2016, calling the decision to invade Iraq a “big fat mistake,” he not only won over some of the antiwar libertarian vote, but also helped solidify his image as a political outsider who “tells it like it is.”

And after Hillary Clinton emerged as the Democratic nominee, with her track record as an enthusiastic backer of virtually all U.S. interventions and an advocate of deeper involvement in countries such as Syria, voters could have been forgiven for getting the impression that the Republican Party was now the antiwar party and the Democrats were the hawks.

As the late Robert Parry observed in June 2016, “Amid the celebrations about picking the first woman as a major party’s presumptive nominee, Democrats appear to have given little thought to the fact that they have abandoned a near half-century standing as the party more skeptical about the use of military force. Clinton is an unabashed war hawk who has shown no inclination to rethink her pro-war attitudes.”

The antiwar faction within the Democratic Party was further marginalized during the Democratic National Convention when chants of “No More War” broke out during former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s speech. The Democratic establishment responded with chants of “USA!” to drown out the voices for peace and they even turned the lights out on the antiwar section of the crowd. The message was clear: there is no room for the antiwar movement inside the Democratic Party.

While there were numerous factors that played a role in Trump’s stunning victory over Clinton in November 2016, it is no stretch of the imagination to speculate that one of those factors was lingering antiwar sentiment from the Iraq debacle and other engagements of the U.S. military. Many of those fed up with U.S. military adventurism may have fallen for Trump’s quasi-anti-interventionist rhetoric while others may have opted to vote for an alternative party such as the Libertarians or the Greens, both of which took strong stances against U.S. interventionism.

But despite Trump’s occasional statements questioning the wisdom of committing the military to far-off lands such as Iraq or Afghanistan, he was also an advocate for war crimes such as “taking out [the] families” of suspected terrorists. He urged that the U.S. stop being “politically correct” in its waging of war.

So, ultimately, Americans were confronted with choosing between an unreconstructed regime-changing neoconservative Democratic hawk, and a reluctant interventionist who nevertheless wanted to teach terrorists a lesson by killing their children. Although ultimately the neocon won the popular vote, the war crimes advocate carried the Electoral College.

Following the election it turned out that Trump was a man of his word when it came to killing children. In one of his first military actions as president, Trump ordered an attack on a village in Yemen on Jan. 29, 2017, which claimed the lives of as many as 23 civilians, including a newborn baby and an eight-year-old girl, Nawar al-Awlaki.

Nawar was the daughter of the al-Qaeda propagandist and American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in a September 2011 U.S. drone strike in Yemen.

Normalized Aggression

2017, Trump’s first year in office, turned out to be the deadliest year for civilians in Iraq and Syria since U.S. airstrikes began on the two countries in 2014. The U.S. killed between 3,923 and 6,102 civilians during the year, according to a tally by the monitoring group Airwars. “Non-combatant deaths from Coalition air and artillery strikes rose by more than 200 per cent compared to 2016,” Airwars noted.

While this spike in civilian deaths did make some headlines, including in the Washington Post, for the most part, the thousands of innocents killed by U.S. airstrikes are dismissed as “collateral damage.” The ongoing carnage is considered perfectly normal, barely even eliciting a comment from the pundit class.

This is arguably one of the most enduring legacies of the 2003 invasion of Iraq – an act of military aggression that was based on false pretenses, which brushed aside warnings of caution, and blatantly violated international law. With no one in the media or the Bush administration ever held accountable for promoting this war or for launching it, what we have seen is the normalization of military aggression to a level that would have been unimaginable 20 years ago.

Indeed, I remember well the bombing of Iraq that took place in 1998 as part of Bill Clinton’s Operation Desert Fox. Although this was a very limited bombing campaign, lasting only four days, there were sizable protests in opposition to the military action. I joined a picket of a couple hundred people in front of the White House holding a hand-made sign reading “IMPEACH HIM FOR WAR CRIMES” – a reference to the fact that Congress was at the time impeaching him for lying about a blowjob.

Compare that to what we see today – or, more accurately what we don’t see today – in regards to antiwar advocacy. Despite the fact that the U.S. is now engaged in at least seven military conflicts, there is little in the way of peace activism or even much of a national debate over the wisdom, legality or morality of waging war. Few even raise objections to its significant financial cost to U.S. taxpayers, for example the fact that one day of spending on these wars amounts to about $200 million.

Fifteen years ago, one of the arguments of the antiwar movement was that the war on terror was morphing into a perpetual war without boundaries, without rules, and without any end game. The U.S., in other words, was in danger of finding itself in a state of endless war.

We are now clearly embroiled in that endless war, which is a reality that even Senate war hawk Lindsey Graham acknowledged last year when four U.S. troops were killed in Niger. Claiming that he didn’t know that the U.S. had a military presence in Niger, Graham – who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs – stated that “this is an endless war without boundaries, no limitation on time or geography.”

Although it wasn’t clear whether he was lamenting or celebrating this endless and borderless war, his words should be taken as a warning of where the U.S. stands on this 15th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq – in a war without end, without boundaries, without limits on time or geography.




Torture-Tainted Nominations Recall Failure to Prosecute Bush-Era Abuses

The declining human rights standards on display with the Haspel and Pompeo nominations are the latest in a long line of policy failures that include the Obama administration’s lack of prosecutions of Bush-era torture, Nat Parry notes.

By Nat Parry

President Donald Trump’s nominations of Gina Haspel to lead the CIA and Mike Pompeo to be America’s top diplomat are the latest indications of steadily eroding human rights standards in the United States and the rollback of the rule of law that has characterized U.S. counterterrorism policies since Sept. 11, 2001.

Haspel, a CIA operative who oversaw the torture of terrorism suspects at a secret prison in Thailand and then helped destroy tapes of the interrogations, and Pompeo, who has made statements in support of torture and mass surveillance, are both expected to be confirmed by the Senate with little fanfare.

After all, when Pompeo was nominated for his current post of CIA Director his confirmation sailed through the Senate on a vote of 66-32. This, despite what Human Rights Watch’s Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno called “dangerously ambiguous” responses to questions about torture and mass surveillance.

“Pompeo’s failure to unequivocally disavow torture and mass surveillance, coupled with his record of advocacy for surveillance of Americans and past endorsement of the shuttered CIA torture program, make clear that he should not be running the CIA,” Sanchez Moreno said in January 2017.

Shortly following Pompeo’s confirmation, his deputy director at the CIA was named as Gina Haspel, who “played a direct role in the CIA’s ‘extraordinary rendition program,’ under which captured militants were handed to foreign governments and held at secret facilities, where they were tortured by agency personnel,” the New York Times reported last year.

She also ran the CIA’s first black site prison and oversaw the brutal interrogations of two detainees, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. In addition, she played a vital role in the destruction of interrogation videotapes that showed the torture of detainees both at the black site she ran and other secret agency locations. The concealment of those interrogation tapes violated both multiple court orders as well the demands of the 9/11 Commission and the advice of White House lawyers, as Glenn Greenwald has reported.

Despite these serious misgivings, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he is not currently urging Democrats to oppose Pompeo’s nomination to be Secretary of State or Haspel’s nomination to lead the CIA. So much for the #Resistance.

The Democratic acquiescence follows a long pattern of tolerating human rights abuses and normalizing torture. When President Barack Obama declared that he wanted to “look forward, not backward,” and to close the chapter on the CIA’s torture practices under the Bush administration without allowing any prosecutions for crimes that were committed, he ensured torture would remain a “policy option” for future presidents, in the words of Human Rights Watch.

Tortured Debate

We began to see this play out during the Republican primary debates in 2016, when the GOP contenders were all jockeying for the pro-torture vote. At the time, Trump made clear his unambiguous support for the use of torture. When he was pressed on his statements about bringing back waterboarding and devising even more brutal torture methods, Trump decided to double down rather than backtrack.

On Feb. 7, 2016 candidate Trump appeared on “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos. “As president, you would authorize torture?” Stephanopoulos asked.

“I would absolutely authorize something beyond waterboarding,” Trump said. “And believe me, it will be effective. If we need information, George, you have our enemy cutting heads off of Christians and plenty of others, by the hundreds, by the thousands.”

When asked whether we “win by being more like them,” i.e., to mimic the tactics of Islamic State terrorists, Trump stated flatly, “Yes.”

“I’m sorry,” he elaborated. “You have to do it that way. And I’m not sure everybody agrees with me. I guess a lot of people don’t. We are living in a time that’s as evil as any time that there has ever been. You know, when I was a young man, I studied Medieval times. That’s what they did, they chopped off heads.”

“So we’re going to chop off heads?” Stephanopoulos asked.

“We’re going to do things beyond waterboarding perhaps, if that happens to come,” Trump replied.

Trump even insinuated that his competitor in the GOP race Ted Cruz was a “pussy” for hinting that he might show some degree of restraint in the use of torture. Alarmed, several human rights groups jumped in to remind the U.S. of its moral and legal obligations not to engage in sadistic and cruel practices such as waterboarding.

Amnesty International’s Naureen Shah issued a rebuttal to the debate over waterboarding, which she described as “slow-motion suffocation.” She pointed out the obvious that “the atrocities of the armed group calling itself Islamic State and other armed groups don’t make waterboarding okay.”

Policy Option

What the “debate” over bringing back torture highlighted, and what the current nominations of torture advocates to lead the State Department and CIA drive home, is why prosecutions of the Bush-era CIA torture program were essential, and why it was so damaging that the Obama administration shirked its responsibilities in this regard for eight years.

As human rights advocates have long maintained, prosecuting Bush administration and CIA officials involved with the torture of terrorism suspects in the post-9/11 period was needed so that torture would not be repeated in the future by subsequent administrations who may consider themselves above the law.

Indeed, this is precisely why there is a requirement under international law for allegations of torture to be investigated and prosecuted – so that torture does not become a policy option to be utilized or shelved depending on the political whims of the day.

This is a point that UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counterterrorism Ben Emmerson made following the release of the Senate’s torture report in late 2014. Senior officials from the Bush administration who sanctioned crimes, as well as the CIA and U.S. government officials who carried them out, must be investigated and prosecuted, Emmerson said.

“It is now time to take action,” Emmerson said on Dec. 9, 2014. “The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today’s report must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes. The fact that the policies revealed in this report were authorized at a high level within the U.S. government provides no excuse whatsoever. Indeed, it reinforces the need for criminal accountability.”

International law prohibits the granting of immunity to public officials who have engaged in acts of torture, Emmerson pointed out. He further emphasized the United States’ international obligation to criminally prosecute the architects and perpetrators of the torture methods described in the report:

“As a matter of international law, the U.S. is legally obliged to bring those responsible to justice. The UN Convention Against Torture and the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances require States to prosecute acts of torture and enforced disappearance where there is sufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction. States are not free to maintain or permit impunity for these grave crimes.”

Zeid Raad al-Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that it’s “crystal clear” that the United States has an obligation under the UN Convention against Torture to ensure accountability.

“In all countries, if someone commits murder, they are prosecuted and jailed. If they commit rape or armed robbery, they are prosecuted and jailed. If they order, enable or commit torture – recognized as a serious international crime – they cannot simply be granted impunity because of political expediency,” he said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed hope that the release of the torture report was the “start of a process” toward prosecutions, because the “prohibition against torture is absolute,” Ban’s spokesman said.

Needless to say, these appeals largely fell on deaf ears, with no criminal investigations launched whatsoever. Instead, the U.S. Congress responded with a symbolic “reaffirmation” of the ban on the torture – a largely redundant and unnecessary piece of legislation since torture has long been unambiguously banned under international law, the United States Constitution and U.S. criminal statutes.

For his part, Obama used the publication of the Senate report as an opportunity to tout the virtues of the United States, and actually praised the CIA for its professionalism in carrying out its responsibilities.

American Exceptionalism

Following the publication of the Senate report, in a statement obliquely trumpeting the notion of “American Exceptionalism,” Obama said: “Throughout our history, the United States of America has done more than any other nation to stand up for freedom, democracy, and the inherent dignity and human rights of people around the world.” He went on to offer a tacit defense of the torture techniques while touting his own virtue in bringing these policies to an end.

“In the years after 9/11, with legitimate fears of further attacks and with the responsibility to prevent more catastrophic loss of life, the previous administration faced agonizing choices about how to pursue al Qaeda and prevent additional terrorist attacks against our country,” he said. Although the U.S. did “many things right in those difficult years,” he acknowledged that “some of the actions that were taken were contrary to our values.”

“That is why I unequivocally banned torture when I took office,” Obama said, “because one of our most effective tools in fighting terrorism and keeping Americans safe is staying true to our ideals at home and abroad.”

He went on to claim that he would use his authority as President “to make sure we never resort to those methods again.”

But clearly, by blocking criminal investigations into the policy’s architects, Obama did very little in a practical sense to ensure that those methods are not used again. And now that we are faced with the prospect of torture-tainted heads of the CIA and State Department, we are reminded once again of the importance of upholding the laws of the land.

Nat Parry is co-author of Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush




In Case You Missed…

Some of our special stories in January highlighted misrepresented historic events, analyzed shortcomings of the Democratic Party, and remembered Robert Parry’s legacy.

Giving War Too Many Chances” by Nicolas J.S. Davies, Jan. 3, 2018

Missing the Trump Team’s Misconduct” by J.P. Sottile., Jan. 9, 2018

Pesticide Use Threatens Health in California” by Dennis J. Bernstein, Jan. 10, 2018

Trump Lashes Pakistan over Afghan War” by Dennis J. Bernstein, Jan. 11, 2018

The FBI Hand Behind Russia-gate” by Ray McGovern, Jan. 11, 2018

Haiti and America’s Historic Debt” by Robert Parry, Jan. 12, 2018

Why Senator Cardin Is a Fitting Opponent for Chelsea Manning” by Norman Solomon, Jan. 16, 2018

Trump Ends Protections for El Salvador” by Dennis J. Bernstein, Jan. 18, 2018

An Update to Our Readers on Editor Robert Parry” by Nat Parry, Jan. 19, 2018

Regime Change and Globalization Fuel Europe’s Refugee and Migrant Crisis” by Andrew Spannaus, Jan. 20, 2018

‘The Post’ and the Pentagon Papers” by James DiEugenio, Jan. 22, 2018

Foxes in Charge of Intelligence Hen House” by Ray McGovern, Jan. 22, 2018

A National Defense Strategy of Sowing Global Chaos” by Nicolas J.S. Davies, Jan. 23, 2018

George W. Bush: Dupe or Deceiver?” by Robert Parry, Jan. 23, 2018

Tom Perez, the Democratic Party’s Grim Metaphor” by  Norman Solomon, Jan. 25, 2018

The Struggle Against Honduras’ Stolen Election” by Dennis J. Bernstein, Jan. 26, 2018

Unpacking the Shadowy Outfit Behind 2017’s Biggest Fake News Story” by George Eliason, Jan. 28, 2018

Robert Parry’s Legacy and the Future of Consortiumnews” by Nat Parry, Jan. 28, 2018

Assault on the Embassy: The Tet Offensive Fifty Years Later” by Don North, Jan. 30, 2018

Will Congress Face Down the Deep State?” by Ray McGovern, Jan. 30, 2018

Treasury’s ‘Kremlin Report’ Seen as Targeting Russian Economy” by Gilbert Doctorow, Jan. 31, 2018

Mass Surveillance and the Memory Hole” by Ted Snider, Jan. 31, 2018

How Trump and the GOP Exploit Israel” by Jonathan Marshall, Jan. 31, 2018

To produce and publish these stories – and many more – costs money. And except for some book sales, we depend on the generous support of our readers.

So, please consider a tax-deductible donation either by credit card online or by mailing a check. (For readers wanting to use PayPal, you can address contributions to our PayPal Giving Fund account, which is named “The Consortium for Independent Journalism”).