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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

An Illegal Anniversary

An Illegal Anniversary

By Robert Jensen
Dissident Voice
March 20, 2013

On the 10th anniversary of the United States’ illegal invasion of Iraq,
we can expect the war’s supporters to argue that military action
seemed necessary at that moment, while critics will remind us of the
suffering that resulted from that tragic miscalculation.

But amid the rationalizations and critiques, we should linger on this
uncomfortable term: “illegal invasion”.

No matter how much we all ignore it, here is the reality:

The U.S. invasion of Iraq was unlawful.

The leaders who planned and executed the war are criminals.

U.S. citizens bear some responsibility for not holding those leaders accountable.

The charter of the United Nations is clear about when the use of
force in international relations is legal.

War must be authorized by the U.N. Security Council, and in this
case the council rejected a resolution authorizing war.

The only other condition under which a member state can go to
war is in self-defense when attacked, a principle that is extended
to the right to respond to an imminent attack, what is sometimes
called “the customary right of anticipatory self-defense.”

The basic principles are uncontroversial and clearly articulated
in articles 39 and 51 of the U.N. Charter, though there is debate
among legal experts about interpreting terms such as “imminent”
and “anticipatory.”

But whatever one’s position in those debates, there is no way to
stretch the facts of this invasion to justify a self-defense claim.

At this point, many people respond by dismissing international law
as irrelevant. Because U.S. policymakers’ first job is to protect
Americans, they argue, our leaders shouldn’t be constrained by
international law—the Constitution trumps international law or
treaties.

But a small problem arises:

Article VI of the U.S. Constitution states that “all Treaties made, or
which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States” are
part of “the supreme Law of the Land.”

Since the United States signed the U.N. Charter (and, in fact, wrote
most of it), to reject international law in this matter is to express
contempt for the plain meaning of the U.S. Constitution. No patriot
would dare.

So, back to those uncomfortable conclusions:

A decade ago, U.S. leaders launched what under the principles of
the Nuremberg Tribunal is called a “crime against peace.”

Whether in the course of that crime, U.S. forces also committed
war crimes can be debated.

For example, should the deliberate bombing of the civilian
infrastructure of a country be considered a war crime?

What about the use of cluster munitions in ways that predictably
kill civilians?

I believe both are criminal, but let’s put those more complicated
issues aside. The illegality of the invasion itself is not a tough
question.

In my travels outside the United States, I have found that the vast
majority of people agree that the U.S. invasion was unlawful. Within
the United States, mentioning this worldwide consensus typically is
considered idealistic and irrelevant.

But while we can ignore evidence and logic, and even ignore
the world, we can’t escape the implications of those choices.

The moral force of law, domestic or international, lies in the
consistent application of clear standards.

When laws are applied only to the poor and the rich act with
impunity, for example, we understand that as a perversion of
the law.

Over and over in the United States, we proclaim our commitment
to the rule of law—we are a nation of laws not men.

If that were the case, we would turn over to the International Court
of Justice high-ranking figures from the Bush administration, which
initiated the war; from the Obama administration, which continued
the war; from Congress, which enabled the war; and from the
military, which prosecuted the war.

We would determine the amount of reparations we owe Iraq
and begin to make payments.

And we would apologize to the Iraqi people, and to the world.

Why is that unthinkable in our political culture?

Perhaps it is because we worship power rather than respect law.

Perhaps it is because we have no intention of acting on the moral principles we routinely impose on others.

Perhaps it is because we are not the people we tell ourselves we are.



Robert Jensen is a professor of journalism at the University of Texas
at Austin and and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource
Center in Austin. His latest book is We Are All Apocalyptic Now: On
the Responsibilities of Teaching, Preaching, Reporting, Writing, and
Speaking Out (Monkey Wrench Books). Jensen is also co-producer of
the documentary film Abe Osheroff: One Foot in the Grave, the Other
Still Dancing (Media Education Foundation, 2009), which chronicles
the life and philosophy of the longtime radical activist.

http://dissidentvoice.org/2013/03/an-illegal-anniversary

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