LVIII – War Crimes Trials and Errors

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Years
ago, a news story reported thefts of inmates' personal property
at a state penitentiary. The prisoners held an impromptu meeting
in the cafeteria, at which one of the convicts declared: “men, we
have a thief among us!” I recalled this story as I watched the television
agents of disinformation and sophistry chortle over the capture
of Saddam Hussein, and then announce that Hussein would be prosecuted
for “war crimes” or “crimes against humanity!”

Satire
has never been more fully expressed than in the institution of “war
crimes trials.” Such extravaganzas seek to bestow legitimacy upon
the act of punishing the losing side in wartime for having done
the very acts engaged in by the victors. Such charades remind me
of the posturings in the Godfather
movies, with organized crime leaders embracing and sanctimoniously
pledging their mutual honor, while their operatives are out on the
street killing one another.

After
cutting through self-serving legal definitions and distinctions
that obscure the fact that all wars are crimes against humanity,
the essence of a war crime comes down to this: the winners get to
beat up and/or kill the losers. For all the gilt-edged window-dressing
and black-robed magistrates with which “war crimes trials” are conducted,
their underlying logic is no different than when our ancient ancestors
placed the severed heads of vanquished leaders on pikes and rode
through the streets to cheering throngs.

We
delude ourselves that we are too “civilized” to engage in the barbarities
of “victors' justice.” Like members of a lynch mob who, after the
fact, are embarrassed to admit to themselves that they were capable
of having their fears mobilized into angry and murderous expressions,
we must rationalize our support for wars. The fear and hatred of
a foe that was skillfully nurtured by statist propaganda is not
easily dissipated once reason and intelligence returns to our minds.
We need to convince ourselves that there was some noble purpose,
some abiding principle that drove our fury. If there is to be a
“war on terror” with which to frighten men and women into submitting
to state authority, there must be horrible terrorist acts to be
punished. What better mechanism for the completion of this cycle
of self-deception than a “war crimes” trial?

You
can see how such trials are crucial to the state's efforts to rationalize
its viciousness to an otherwise decent public. Lopping off the heads
of the conquered will no longer be acceptable to men and women of
enhanced sensibilities. In a legalistic age, the appearance of due
process must be adhered to, even if the guilt of the accused is
a foregone conclusion. The proposition was never better stated than
by Lewis Carroll's Queen of Hearts who intoned: “sentence first,
verdict afterwards.”

Before
joining with the Bush administration and its media flunkies for
another round of boob-hustling, bear in mind the wholly one-sided
nature of “war crimes” prosecutions. Had there ever been a sincere
effort to punish those who intentionally inflicted needless death
and suffering upon civilian populations, Winston Churchill and Harry
Truman would have ended their careers on the hangman's scaffold
(as would Roosevelt, had he survived the war). It has been estimated
that British and American terror bombings of German cities — directed
not at military installations, but civilian targets — killed over
half a million people. The fire bombings of Dresden — a city with
no more military significance than Beverly Hills — led to the deaths
of anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 or more persons. The attack on
Hamburg killed some 40,000; Wurzburg added another 6,000 dead; while
the massive raid on Cologne (Kln) added more victims.

The
British openly defended such attacks as a way of terrorizing the
German people into demanding a surrender. The head of the RAF Bomber
Command, Arthur “Bomber” Harris, confessed to even more brutal purposes
in declaring that bombing raids on German cities occurred simply
because the allies had run out of other targets to bomb! Harris'
statement that “bombing anything in Germany is better than bombing
nothing” summarizes the purpose of such raids. (I am amused by Anglophiles
who hold up the British as an example of a “civilizing” influence
in the world!)

Nor
can we overlook what may be the most grievous war crime and act
of state terrorism: the American nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and
Nagasaki. Some 105,000 were estimated to have been killed outright
by these bombs — including American prisoners of war being held
in a nearby prison camp — with many more than that number who subsequently
died from radiation burns and secondary diseases. That many Americans
continue to assuage themselves with the lie that these bombings
brought about an end of the war — the Japanese had been trying to
surrender before the attacks — reflects the same need of people
to distance themselves from the wrongs of their government as is
found in the oft-cited statements of Germans who “didn't know” of
the vile practices being engaged in by their Nazi leaders.

If
the prosecution of government leaders for the fomenting of war was
a truly principled undertaking, the United States could have added
more war-crimes defendants to the docks as a result of the Vietnam
War. Presidents Johnson and Nixon, and such administration officials
as Robert McNamara and Henry Kissinger, would have had much to answer
for when it comes to the intentional infliction of death and suffering
upon humanity.

And
now we come to the Bush administration's efforts to sanitize its
wrongs by prosecuting Saddam Hussein. Was Hussein a butcherous tyrant?
Of course he was. His record for viciousness was a matter of record
even during the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W.
Bush, when the United States cozied up to this thug and authorized
the sale of deadly weapons — including chemical and biological agents
— to his regime. The Washington Post reported that Iraq was
using chemical weapons on an “almost daily” basis when Donald Rumsfeld
was meeting with Hussein in December, 1983. During the prolonged
debate over whether Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, I kept
expecting George Bush to announce: “we have the evidence; we have
the original invoices!” Photos of Rumsfeld shaking hands with Hussein,
in 1983, reflect the Janus-faced nature of enemies and allies in
our world.

If
Hussein is to be prosecuted for employing chemical or biological
weapons against his foes, will Bush I and Rumsfeld be indicted as
co-defendants? Mr. Reagan is apparently in no condition to stand
trial, but ought not these other men who aided and abetted Hussein's
efforts by helping the United States supply him with his weapons?
If not, will they be permitted to testify as character witnesses
on behalf of Hussein?

And
what about the current President Bush? Will he be made to answer
for his crimes of making unprovoked attacks upon Afghanistan and
Iraq? Will his administration's cascades of lies and forged documents
be introduced into evidence to support the charge that Mr. Bush,
like “Bomber” Harris before him, was intent on bombing any plausible
target? And should Mr. Bush plead his “war on terror” as a defense,
will he be compelled to confront the fact that the United States
has been, for decades now, a leading practitioner of state terror
against other nations? Even the Bush administration's prolonged,
heavy bombing of Baghdad was an admission of this fact: aptly named
“Shock and Awe,” this deadly campaign was designed to do to Iraqis
what the allied bombing of Germany had sought, namely, to terrorize
people, and for what purpose? If, as the neocons and Bush-leaguers
had maintained, the Iraq people lived under the tyranny of Saddam
Hussein — which, indeed, they had — and eagerly awaited our rescue
efforts, then to what end should the Iraqis experience “shock and
awe” over their alleged “liberators?”

Rather
than continuing our participation in these periodic self-righteous,
farcical “trials” for “war-crimes” or “crimes against humanity,”
let us acknowledge that all political systems war against
humanity, for they seek to compel people to be what they do not
choose to be and to act as they do not choose to act. Every state
is a “terrorist state,” for each, in varying degrees, threatens
people with the infliction of violence or death for failure to abide
by its demands.

It
is time that we gave up our illusions about “good” guys and “bad”
guys in our world, and recognize that political thinking and the
systems it spawns will always be destructive of human well-being.
The earlier photo of Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein
is but one exhibit tending to show the symbiotic relationship that
unites all statists in a conspiracy against the human race. Such
evidence ought to be carefully considered by a jury of humanity
itself in a trial of more encompassing dimensions, namely, mankind
versus the state.

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