The Epic Crime That Dares Not Speak Its Name

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A
Royal Air Force officer is about to be tried before a military court
for refusing to return to Iraq because the war is illegal. Malcolm
Kendall-Smith is the first British officer to face criminal charges
for challenging the legality of the invasion and occupation. He
is not a conscientious objector; he has completed two tours in Iraq.
When he came home the last time, he studied the reasons given for
attacking Iraq and concluded he was breaking the law. His position
is supported by international lawyers all over the world, not least
by Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, who said in September last
year: “The US-led invasion of Iraq was an illegal act that contravened
the UN Charter.”

The
question of legality deeply concerns the British military brass,
who sought Tony Blair’s assurance on the eve of the invasion, got
it and, as they now know, were lied to. They are right to worry;
Britain is a signatory to the treaty that set up the International
Criminal Court, which draws its codes from the Geneva Conventions
and the 1945 Nuremberg Charter. The latter is clear: “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 the whole.”

At
the Nuremberg trial of the Nazi leadership, counts one and two,
“Conspiracy to wage aggressive war and waging aggressive war,"
refer to “the common plan or conspiracy." These are defined
in the indictment as “the planning, preparation, initiation and
waging of wars of aggression, which were also wars in violation
of international treaties, agreements and assurances." A wealth
of evidence is now available that George Bush, Blair and their advisers
did just that. The leaked minutes from the infamous Downing Street
meeting in July 2002 alone reveal that Blair and his war cabinet
knew that it was illegal. The attack that followed, mounted against
a defenseless country offering no threat to the US or Britain, has
a precedent in Hitler’s invasion of Sudetenland; the lies told to
justify both are eerily similar.

The
similarity is also striking in the illegal bombing campaign that
preceded both. Unknown to most people in Britain and America, British
and US planes conducted a ferocious bombing campaign against Iraq
in the ten months prior to the invasion, hoping this would provoke
Saddam Hussein into supplying an excuse for an invasion. It failed
and killed an unknown number of civilians.

At
Nuremberg, counts three and four referred to “War crimes and crimes
against humanity." Here again, there is overwhelming evidence that
Blair and Bush committed “violations of the laws or customs of war”
including “murder… of civilian populations of or in occupied territory,
murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war."

Two
recent examples: the US onslaught near Ramadi this month in which
39 men, women and children — all civilians — were killed, and a
report by the United Nations special rapporteur in Iraq who described
the Anglo-American practice of denying food and water to Iraqi civilians
in order to force them to leave their towns and villages as a “flagrant
violation” of the Geneva Conventions.

In
September, Human Rights Watch released an epic study that documents
the systematic nature of torture by the Americans, and how casual
it is, even enjoyable. This is a sergeant from the US Army’s 82nd
Airborne Division: “On their day off people would show up all the
time. Everyone in camp knew if you wanted to work out your frustration
you show up at the PUC [prisoners’] tent. In a way it was sport…
One day a sergeant shows up and tells a PUC to grab a pole. He told
him to bend over and broke the guy’s leg with a mini Louisville
Slugger that was a metal [baseball] bat. He was the fucking cook!”

The
report describes how the people of Fallujah, the scene of numerous
American atrocities, regard the 82nd Airborne as “the Murdering
Maniacs." Reading it, you realize that the occupying force
in Iraq is, as the head of Reuters said recently, out of control.
It is destroying lives in industrial quantities when compared with
the violence of the resistance.

Who
will be punished for this? According to Sir Michael Jay, the permanent
undersecretary of state who gave evidence before the Parliamentary
Foreign Affairs Committee on 24 June 2003, “Iraq was on the agenda
of each cabinet meeting in the nine months or so until the conflict
broke out in April." How is it possible that in 20 or more
cabinet meetings, ministers did not learn about Blair’s conspiracy
with Bush? Or, if they did, how is it possible they were so comprehensively
deceived?

Charles
Clarke’s position is important because, as the current British Home
Secretary (interior minister), he has proposed a series of totalitarian
measures that emasculate habeas corpus, which is the barrier between
a democracy and a police state. Clarke’s proposals pointedly ignore
state terrorism and state crime and, by clear implication, say they
require no accountability. Great crimes, such as invasion and its
horrors, can proceed with impunity. This is lawlessness on a vast
scale. Are the people of Britain going to allow this, and those
responsible to escape justice? Flight Lieutenant Kendall-Smith speaks
for the rule of law and humanity and deserves our support.

October
28, 2005

John
Pilger
was born and educated in Sydney, Australia. He has been
a war correspondent, filmmaker and playwright. Based in London,
he has written from many countries and has twice won British journalism’s
highest award, that of "Journalist of the Year," for his
work in Vietnam and Cambodia. His new book, Tell
Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and Its Triumphs
, is
published by Jonathan Cape next month. This article was first published
in the New Statesman.

©
John Pilger 2005

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Pilger Archives

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