By Marjorie Cohn, t r u t h o u t | Report
The International Commission of Inquiry on Crimes against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration convened last weekend in New York City’s Riverside Church. Martin Luther King Jr.’s portrait hangs in the foyer. Dr. King delivered his historic 1967 speech, “Beyond Vietnam: A Place to Break the Silence,” opposing the war and calling for the removal of all foreign troops from Vietnam, in that same church.
Center for Constitutional Rights President Michael Ratner, who delivered a keynote address to the commission of inquiry, invoked Dr. King’s words from 1967: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” The following year, the Bertrand Russell War Crimes Tribunal put the US government on trial for “crimes without precedent” it was committing in Vietnam. In the tradition of the Russell tribunal, the panel of judges at the commission of inquiry heard evidence of George W. Bush’s war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Iraq, Afghanistan, GuantÃ¡namo Bay, and elsewhere.
Ratner said that Bush openly and notoriously “laid the plan for coup d’Ã©tat in America” with a small paragraph in his “signing statement” attached to the McCain anti-torture amendment. Bush wrote that his commander in chief power allows him to do anything he thinks is necessary, including torture, notwithstanding the amendment passed by Congress. Ratner called that a “historic, unprecedented grab for power” that spells the end of checks and balances in our government. Bush, according to Ratner, has declared that George Bush is the law.
Harry Belafonte gave the other keynote address. “When a government fails to protect justice,” Belafonte declared, “it is the responsibility of the people to rise up and change the guard, change the regime.” In a hoarse voice, the legendary singer charged, “Those who fail to answer that call should be charged with patriotic treason.”
T r u t h o u t writer Ray McGovern, a CIA analyst from 1961 to 1990, took the testimony of Scott Ritter, a senior United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998. The allegation that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction was the only justification on which George W. Bush’s war in Iraq was based, McGovern said. He cited statements by Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice before September 11, 2001, that Saddam Hussein had no WMDs and was unable to pose even a conventional threat to his neighbors. After September 11, however, Donald Rumsfeld expressed “no doubt” that Hussein had WMDs. “A trained ape knows that,” Rumsfeld said.
Ritter noted that Rumsfeld knew Iraq had disarmed and had no ongoing weapons program. By 1998, the weapons inspectors had accounted for 95 to 98 percent of Iraq’s WMDs, Ritter said. “No nation had hard factual data that Iraq retained or was reconstituting WMDs,” Ritter added. “No nation had those facts.”
The Bush administration willfully misled the American people about Iraq’s weapons programs, Ritter charged. When Dick Cheney said that Iraq was constituting its nuclear program, he “was lying,” Ritter said.
From 1991 to 2003, the United States policy in Iraq was regime change, according to Ritter. The US and the United Kingdom sought to maintain the public perception that Iraq was not complying with its obligations to disarm, in order to justify regime change. The US never intended to disarm Iraq; it would have had to lift the sanctions, which were aimed at undermining Iraq’s welfare, weakening the government, and facilitating regime change.
“Intelligence” in the George W. Bush administration “was being fixed around the policy of regime change,” Ritter maintained. “What passes for intelligence is nothing more than politically motivated propaganda.” He said, “There was no intelligence failure because the policy wasn’t disarmament; it was regime change.”
Another witness, David Swanson, from www.afterdowningstreet.org, detailed the Downing Street Minutes, which were prepared in March 2002 and July 2002, but were leaked to the public last spring. They disclosed that Bush was determined to go to war and was building a case to accomplish that goal. “Intelligence was being fixed around the policy,” the minutes reveal. “Going to the UN was an attempt to legalize a war that had already been decided upon,” Swanson testified.
Dahr Jamal, who spent 8 months in occupied Iraq as an independent journalist, also testified at the commission. He charged that the US military carried out collective punishment in Fallujah in violation of international law. Snipers engaged in targeted killings, and troops prevented ambulances from reaching the wounded and prevented the wounded from receiving medical attention, violations of the Geneva Conventions.
The United States decided that the entire city of Fallujah, with more than 350,000 civilians, was “a free-fire-zone,” Jamal said. In the attack on Fallujah in November 2004, between 4,000 and 6,000 civilians were killed. The US military employed illegal weapons, including cluster bombs, depleted uranium, and white phosphorous.
Jamal accused the media, including CNN, Fox, Judith Miller, Thomas Friedman, Bill O’Reilly, and Rush Limbaugh, of aiding and abetting the Bush administration’s war crimes and crimes against humanity in their coverage of the US assault on Fallujah.
Another eyewitness to the occupation, journalist Jeremy Scahill, testified about the targeted killing of independent journalists by the US military. He cited the killing of an Al Jazeera reporter and the bombing of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, both on April 8, 2004. More than 100 unembedded journalists were in that hotel, and the US knew it, Scahill contended. The attack killed two cameramen.
Scahill said the Pentagon warned unembedded journalists, “Baghdad is not a safe place. You should not be there.”
The Bush administration has consistently attempted to link Iraq with the September 11 attacks. Scahill observed, “There is a connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. It’s called Washington,” he said.
Challenging the Democrats to end the war, Scahill alleged: “We can’t be vegetarians between meals. A loyal opposition is not going to end this war.”
Craig Murray, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, testified before the commission. Murray charged that Uzbekistan practices torture on an industrial scale. He cited a UN investigation that concluded torture was widespread and systemic in that country. Thousands of people are tortured every year, Murray said. This includes rape with objects like broken bottles, smashing of limbs, pulling out of fingernails, and immersing people into boiling liquid.
Uzbekistan, Murray said, is a US ally in the war on terror, a member of the coalition of the willing. Murray displayed a letter on the big screen. It was from Ken Lay, former chairman of Enron, to then Texas Governor George W. Bush in April 1997. It began, “Dear George” [“Look who’s boss,” Murray noted], and continued, “You will be meeting with” the Uzbek ambassador to the United States to discuss Enron’s $2 billion oil and gas contract.
The real reason underlying the war in Iraq, Murray testified, was oil and gas. So “they needed false intelligence from torture chambers,” he said, in order to justify the war on terror. Sir Michael Wood informed Murray that the official position was that it’s not illegal to get information from torture provided they do not themselves torture or direct that a specific individual be tortured.
“You can’t build security on evil,” Murray said. “I don’t believe torture works,” he concluded. “But even it if did work, I’d rather die than have anyone tortured to save my life.”
I presented the testimony of Janis Karpinski, a brigadier general who was assigned to Iraq in July 2003 to oversee 17 prison facilities, including Abu Ghraib. Karpinski described how General Geoffrey Miller transferred the interrogation techniques he had instituted at the US prison at GuantÃ¡namo Bay to Abu Ghraib.
Miller was specially selected by Rumsfeld and sent to Iraq to run the interrogations operation, to work with the military intelligence personnel and teach them new and improved interrogation techniques to obtain more actionable intelligence from their interrogations.
When Miller arrived at Abu Ghraib, he said, “It’s my opinion that you’re treating the prisoners too well. At GuantÃ¡namo, the prisoners know that we are in charge, and they know that from the very beginning.” He said, “You have to treat the prisoners like dogs, and if you think or feel differently, you’ve lost control.”
Miller declared, “We’re going to Gitmo-ize the operation” (referring to the techniques they used at GuantÃ¡namo Bay).
Karpinski thought Miller came with the authority of Rumsfeld because General Ricardo Sanchez, who was a 3-star, deferred to Miller, although he was only a 2-star. Even though Miller told Congress he was sent to Abu Ghraib merely in an assisting capacity, Colonel Thomas Pappas furnished Miller with a daily report detailing the results of interrogations at Abu Ghraib.
Sanchez himself signed an 8-page memorandum with a laundry list of harsher interrogation techniques, including the specific use of unmuzzled dogs, Karpinski said.
Control of cellblocks 1-A and 1-B, “the hard sites,” was transferred to military intelligence. Karpinski didn’t learn of the torture and abuse until January 12, 2004. In fact, she never attended any of the meetings in which the progress of interrogations was discussed. Sanchez said, “We scheduled them specifically when she would not be available to attend.”
When Karpinski was told about the photographs and the abuse, she prepared to hold a press conference and tell the Iraqis in Arabic that there would be a full investigation. But Sanchez warned her off. “He looked me dead in the eye and said, ‘absolutely not. You are not to discuss this with anyone. And that’s an order.'”
Karpinski discovered that all personnel and documents relating to the scandal had been removed from Abu Ghraib. The only thing that remained was a memorandum signed by Rumsfeld. It was called, “Approval of Harsher Interrogation Techniques,” and listed sleep deprivation, stress positions, playing loud music, insulting religious beliefs. In the margin, there was a note in Rumsfeld’s handwriting. It said, “Make sure this happens.”
Sanchez would not have implemented the techniques without the approval of Rumsfeld, and Rumsfeld would not have authorized them without the approval of the vice president, Karpinski testified. “And so it filtered down, and it never filtered down to me because I wasn’t even responsible for interrogations.”
Ultimately, however, Karpinski and 7 low-ranking soldiers were made the scapegoats. Karpinski was demoted to colonel. “I believe the Pentagon wanted to put this into a nice little package, 7 so-called bad apples, out of control on the night shift, and a female officer. They wanted to put that in a package, tie it up in a bow, and sink it forever, to make people believe we got it under control, we solved the problem.”
Karpinski also testified that American female soldiers in Iraq were assaulted or raped by male soldiers in the women’s latrines, and an alarming number committed suicide. “Because the women were in fear of getting up in the darkness [to go to the latrine], they were not drinking liquids after 3 or 4 in the afternoon,” Karpinski said. “In the 100 degree heat, they were dying of dehydration in their sleep. Rather than making everyone aware – it was shocking – they told the surgeon not to brief on the details, and don’t say specifically that they were women.” Karpinski identified the commander who ordered that the cause of death of the women not be listed on the death certificates. It was General Sanchez, she said.
The commission heard testimony about the Bush administration’s criminal responsibility for indefinite detention, rendition for torture, destruction of the global environment, attacks on global public health and reproductive rights, and actions and inactions leading up to and following Hurricane Katrina. The panel of judges will consider the testimony and release its findings.
Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, President-elect of the National Lawyers Guild, and the US representative to the executive committee of the American Association of Jurists. She writes a weekly column for t r u t h o u t.