Imperial legalities

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“Progress” was the byword in Washington the day after Saddam Hussein’s two sons were gunned down. “Make no mistake,” said Paul Wolfowitz, “we are making a great deal of progress.” The president concurred in remarks offered in the Rose Garden: “In the 83 days since I announced the end of major combat operations in Iraq, we have made progress, steady progress, in restoring hope in a nation beaten down by decades of tyranny.” If Vietnam taught a generation one thing, it was: when you hear the word “progress,” duck and cover.

Still the president and his trans-Atlantic buddy Tony Blair (“Great news”) were elated. You had two dead sons and a gleeful one barely restraining himself: Relief was written all over this administration’s official face when the news of the killings came in. Admittedly, the operation against Uday and Qusay, holed up in a villa in Mosul, seemed like a distinct rush past justice. Though an Iraqi need to have such human monsters brought before some bar of justice may have been strong, the urge to kill, to obliterate, was evidently well nigh overwhelming. More generally speaking, the urge to bring to justice has been minimal for an administration intent on readjusting justice to fit its particular needs. (See below.)

I can’t help thinking that, were any of the top Baath Party leaders, the murderous, torturing, brutal sons of the tyrant included, brought to justice in an honest court procedure, the result could be beyond embarrassing for a striking list of American governmental figures, including men like the vice president, who did business with Saddam, or others who supported him through his worst brutalities back in the 1980s, and after Gulf War I allowed him to crush the Shia revolt that might have toppled him and so create the mass graves that our leaders are now shocked, shocked to discover.

In Washington, you could sense that, after a few increasingly bad weeks, top officials felt they saw in the mangled bodies of Saddam’s sons a glimmer of that famed light at the end of the tunnel (a tunnel that, until just weeks ago, they didn’t know they were in). And the New York Times among other major papers leapt to the possibility. (“With Hussein’s Heirs Gone, Hopes Rise for End to Attacks” read the Times headline Tuesday.) But I suspect the light at the end of the tunnel is, in fact, the headlight of a train — possibly several — bearing down on them.

Bush, the Father, was the first of the family to personalize the struggle with Iraq. During the lead- up to the first Gulf War in his comments Iraq became a one-man land and in our media, Saddam’s face came to stand in for the whole country, creating an upside-down version of the soaring cult of personality imagery that engulfed Iraq itself. Bush, the son, has followed suit. He has seen his “war against terrorism” since the beginning as High Noon in the 21st century, a showdown on Main Street between Saddam and him, Saddam’s sons and him, the bad guys generally and him. (This, after all, is a president who claims to have in his desk drawer a list with photos of the worst al Qaeda members, whose faces are ready to be crossed out as we rub them out or capture them.)

However, disappointment is sure to follow, and not just become three Americans died today in an ambush near Mosul where Uday and Qusay were gunned down. (A Times subhead only two days later: “Attacks on Americans spread from central to northern Iraq.”) A process has started that, like many processes, is gaining a momentum all its own, a process that we hardly understand, that they understand even less, and that, I suspect, will be nearly impossible to stop — in Iraq, in London or in Washington.

Let’s just start with Iraq where the dream that unwilted flowers are still in the pockets of terrified Iraqis just awaiting one more death — Saddam’s — to be strewn in our path is likely to prove exactly that, a dream. Robert Fisk, the British Independent‘s man in Iraq, has been canny on events there from the beginning. In a recent piece (His sons are dead but Saddam lives), he suggests a very different scenario:

“[T]there is a fundamental misunderstanding between the American occupation authorities in Iraq and the people whose country they are occupying. The United States believes that the entire resistance to America’s proconsulship of Iraq is composed of ‘remnants’ of Saddam’s followers, ‘dead-enders’, ‘bitter-enders’ Their theory is that once the Hussein family is decapitated, the resistance will end.

“But the guerrillas who are killing US troops every day are also being attacked by a growing Islamist Sunni movement which never had any love for Saddam. Much more importantly, many Iraqis were reluctant to support the resistance for fear that an end to American occupation would mean the return of the ghastly old dictator.

“If he and his sons are dead, the chances are that the opposition to the American-led occupation will grow rather than diminish – on the grounds that with Saddam gone, Iraqis will have nothing to lose by fighting the Americans.”

(In another recent piece [Guerrilla war in Iraq is out of control], he discusses the latest attacks on American troops and Iraqi supporters, then adds: “But the message of all this information – most of it unreported by the media – is that the Americans are no longer safe anywhere in Iraq: not at Baghdad airport, which they captured with so much fanfare in early April, not at their military bases nor in the streets of central Baghdad, nor in their helicopters nor on the country roads. A regular guerrilla war has broken out in Iraq. And it’s getting ever more out of control.”)

Zvi Bar’el, Middle East commentator for the Israeli paper Ha’aretz tends to agree, offering the following on the “various political factions that oppose the U.S.” (Death of Uday and Qusay won’t end resistance):

“These factions are not necessarily comprised only of former members of the ruling Ba’ath party or disgruntled military commanders and soldiers who have lost their jobs. They include important religious elements, such as the Shi’ite learning centers in the cities of Najaf and Karbala, the Sunnis of Baghdad and Mosul, and even the Kurds who are miffed at having been shut out of control in Kirkuk and surrounding towns. All these forces have reason to continue opposing U.S. occupation, regardless of their attitude toward Saddam’s regime. The establishment of a private militia, the “army of the Mahdi,” by Shi’ite leader Muqtada al-Sader who opposes the Americans presence, was not for love of Saddam. And fanatical members of religious groups who are not waving the Ba’ath party flag, are hoping for a religious revolution, or at least continuing strikes against Americans.

“The mopping up of former regime activists cannot soften the public’s sense of being occupied, especially when most Iraqis have yet to witness an improvement in the economy and in the functioning of social services.”

The problem, put simply, is that, the Iraqi war was the gamble of a small group of global dreamers, and the occupation’s very funding seems likely to turn out to be a dream within a dream. The dream — a fabulous, privatizing one at that — was that Iraq’s occupation and reconstruction would float on a sea of Iraqi oil. Before the war, sober analysts insisted that the flood of oil would arrive no time soon. Given the resistance and chaos, the looting and sabotage, it will evidently arrive even less soon (although the Americans are already considering ways to mortgage the country’s oil future to pay for the present). Right now, the occupation authorities may not have the money to make it to the end of the year, no less supply significant numbers of jobs to an almost totally unemployed populace. Without the money to pay for an occupation that would wow the Iraqis, with a Congress sinking deep into the quagmire of deficit-spending, and with the allies who largely paid the tab for the last Gulf War alienated, Iraq is not likely to float to the top of anything on a flood of oil, but to drown, which ensures resistance.

CBS news correspondent David Hawkins just met three Iraqi resisters “somewhere in Iraq,” men who claim they’ve participated in ambushes of Americans and they offer little comfort to the dreamers in Washington. (Iraqi Fighters: Yankees Go Home):

“‘Why do you fight? Why do you attack American soldiers?’ Hawkins asked.

“‘This is occupation, so we fight against the occupation,’ said a fighter.

“‘You’re very upset the Americans are here,’ asked Hawkins, ‘but are you glad Saddam is gone?’

“‘We feel happy now because we can speak freely, but at the same time we don’t want Saddam neither, or America. We just want the American soldiers to leave our country,’ reported the translator.

“The Iraqi fighters chose the meeting spot in the middle of the desert — in the middle of nowhere really, because they felt safe there. They said they know the territory well and the Americans don’t.

“‘All of them will die here. We advise them that they have to leave Iraq before they die here,’ stated one fighter.

“Threats from these men won’t frighten anyone away, but their fanaticism and fervor suggests that they’ll put up a fight — for some time to come.”

In a lead editorial on the deaths of Saddam’s sons (Silence of the grave), the British Guardian sums up the other, non-Washington view of how things stand:

“Iraqis’ frustrations over a basic lack of security and functioning infrastructure is growing. This will not be diminished by events in Mosul. Nor will a keen and spreading resentment that the occupation seems to be stretching out indefinitely, that real political control remains firmly in American hands, and that promises of a swift handover have not been honoured. The new, US-approved governing council has yet to demonstrate independence of action to Iraqis or even agree on a leader.

“Perhaps the most significant Iraq-related event this week occurred not in Mosul but in New York, where Kofi Annan warned the US that ‘democracy cannot be imposed from the outside’ and that a ‘clear timetable’ was required for a restoration of sovereignty. ‘Iraqis need to know that the current state of affairs will come to an end soon,’ said UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello As he blows away the smoke from the barrel of his six-shooter, Mr Bush would do well to heed those words.”

And then, of course, there’s the matter of imperial overstretch — or simply where will we get the troops to garrison the world when Iraq alone takes us to the edge? The Detroit Free Press reports (Joseph L. Galloway, Deployment Plan: U.S. to send 10,000 Guard troops to Iraq) that:

“U.S. Army leaders are to announce as early as today a plan to start relieving exhausted troops in Iraq with thousands of soldiers from U.S.-based units and an additional 10,000 National Guards members who will be called to active duty The scramble to find replacement units for Iraq duty is stark testimony to just how thinly the 480,000-strong U.S. Army is stretched.

“Of the Army’s 33 active-duty brigades, 21 are deployed overseas — 16 in Iraq, two in Afghanistan, two in South Korea, and one in Bosnia. All but three of the rest are either preparing for one of those missions, recovering and retraining after one of those missions or held in reserve.”

Next only to instituting a draft, drafting the National Guard and the reserves, our “weekend warriors,” into six month or year-long tours of duty in Iraq will drive this war and the administration’s growing problems deep into heartland America before the election of 2004. And yet the choices available to the administration are nil — and ironically the unpopularity of all this will make recruitment for the military, the National Guard, and the reserves harder yet (and should ensure that reenlistment rates sink). This is why this administration so badly needed those 17,000 Indian sepoys for Iraq. Someone has to patrol our new empire — and the American military isn’t going to do the trick for long.

Meanwhile, in London, where Tony Blair had his first good hair day in some time, the news quickly turned grim again. For there, too, a process was underway — fingers pointing, previously silent officials leaking and blabbing, resistance rising, the government shaking, and, the British paper the Independent reporting ominously that in the struggle between the BBC and the Blair administration over who was responsible for the suicide of David Kelly, “The BBC says it has a tape recording of David Kelly voicing serious concerns over the role of Downing Street in the disputed Iraq dossier.” What could be worse for Tony Blair than having a respected weapons inspector and bioweapons expert, driven to the grave, openly finger the government from the Great Beyond. This could indeed turn into Tony Blair’s political night of the living dead.

In Washington, it’s not quite clear yet who’s “beyond the grave,” though the CIA’s Tenet still looks to me like a good bet to go (as I predicted weeks back). But upbeat as everyone’s sounding today, don’t expect this to last long. Already, still this side of the grave, Tenet has struck back at the White House and his CIA is leaking like a sieve. In the process, having gone into inside-the-Beltway war mode, some in the CIA have managed to point the loaded gun of well-kept documents directly at the White House. As a result, Steve Hadley, Condi Rice’s deputy, has fallen on his carefully blunted sword. (The only thing anyone’s yet willing to take responsibility for is having looked the other way at the wrong moment.)

Dan Balz and Walter Pincus recently summed up the situation in the Washington Post (Why Commander in Chief Is Losing the War of the 16 Words):

“If President Bush’s White House is known for anything, it is competence at delivering a disciplined message and deftness in dealing with bad news. That reputation has been badly damaged by the administration’s clumsy efforts to explain how a statement based on disputed intelligence ended up in the president’s State of the Union address.

“White House finger-pointing in turn prompted the CIA’s allies to fire back by offering evidence that ran counter to official White House explanations of events and by helping to reveal a chronology of events that forced the White House to change its story.

“When the White House attempted to portray Tenet’s intervention in that episode as solely a technical matter involving intelligence sourcing, the CIA responded by letting it be known that Tenet had objected to exactly the same language that was in the State of the Union address.

“The fact that it was backed up by memos forced the White House to go through the embarrassment of having Hadley publicly acknowledge he was at fault for not remembering in January that the White House had removed the same language just three months earlier.”

And rumors have it that you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Josh Marshall, of, who watches the Washington scene with an eagle’s eye (and so a reliable one), offers a taste of what’s to come by quoting the following passages from the insider Nelson Report:

“[T]he war [in Washington] has just begun, intelligence community sources warn. The Iraq/Niger debacle is but one of ‘a whole series of stories which are ready to break’, a source told us today, adding, ‘I’ve never seen such hostility and disdain as now being expressed between the White House and the CIA. Never’

“As we reported on July 17, Tenet’s lengthy, closed Capitol Hill testimony ‘outed’ not just NSC non-proliferation staffer Bob Joseph, but also Deputy National Security Advisor Steve Hadley, and, by implication, Condi Rice, and Vice President Cheney, if not Bush himself.

“– yesterday, Hadley performed a virtual repeat of Tenet’s highly qualified ‘taking responsibility’ pose by making it clear that if he has to take a fall, then Ms. Rice needs to explain why she didn’t read the memos he gave her. As one Administration source put it, privately, today: ‘Between Tenet and Hadley, Condi now has the choice of saying she’s a fool, or a liarif not both.'”

Now, that’s progress.

Imperial legalities:

On those trials of Baathist criminals (and they have committed something like “crimes against humanity,” even if that humanity was their own people), I hate to think of what a pottage of semi-legality we’ll concoct or help the Iraqi Governing Council concoct in order to bring them before a “court of justice” of our own choosing. Certainly, the one thing we’re not likely to do is turn them over to the International Criminal Court.

If the world were anything like a legal place, as David Scheffer, former US ambassador at large for war crimes issues, makes clear in a piece in the British Financial Times, the United States might soon enough find itself hauled into court for its actions in the occupation ( legal minefield for Iraq’s occupier’s):

“The deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein will provide a welcome morale-boost for the Anglo-US forces in Iraq. It has become all too clear in recent weeks, as casualties have mounted and budgets escalated, that America and Britain gravely underestimated the task awaiting them in post-war Iraq. What the occupying powers may not yet fully appreciate, however, is the extent of their long-term liability under international law. Occupation law imposes high performance standards on an occupying military power and liability can arise quickly. This is particularly so in cases where an occupation and its many responsibilities were readily foreseeable – as is the case in Iraq, whose invasion was planned for a long time.”

Amnesty International in a new report has suggested the kinds of things that might, in a different world, already be bringing the occupiers before some court or other (Iraq: Continuing failure to uphold human rights):

“After more than 100 days of occupation, the promises of human rights for all Iraqis have yet to be fulfilled, Mahmoud Ben Romdhane Amnesty International’s head of delegation to Iraq said. Speaking at the launch of a Memorandum on concerns relating to law and order, he continued: ‘The Iraqi people have suffered for long enough – it is shameful to still hear of people who are being detained in inhumane conditions without their family knowing where they are and with no access to a lawyer or a judge – often for weeks on end.'”

But of course our men in Washington could care less about what an Iraqi — of all the ridiculous things — might charge us with. At the moment, in fact, they are trying to make sure that impunity reigns from Iraq to Latin America, New York to San Francisco. I don’t even mention Guantanamo, that Bermuda Triangle of justice that is not Cuba, nor the United States. It’s a prison base located nowhere in this world, legally speaking, but also at the heart of our new imperial system of justice — where military executioner’s courts rule and people can be kept imprisoned without charge forever and a day. This week, law professor and sometime columnist Jonathan Turley wrote an appropriately savage piece on the “wartime” dismantling of our legal system in the Los Angeles Times which I include below (even though it’s information on what’s going to happen to two British subjects to be brought up before military tribunals in Guantanamo is now a little out of date).

Of course, the Bush administration is intent on establishing its own norms for justice and in doing so on changing the nature of justice globally and domestically. Let me just end by offering two other pieces on imperial legality, the first from the American Prospect magazine on how we’re attempting to pressure all of Latin America into giving us immunity from prosecution for war crimes. As the author Benjamin Lessing says, “Humiliating our own allies may seem counterproductive (not to mention just plain surly), but it fits into a larger strategy for remaking the way the United States relates to the rest of the world.”

Finally, Marc Schultz, a freelance writer who works in an independent bookstore, offers a charmingly modest piece at the website (but picked up by me from about how imperial legality is filtering back into the “homeland.” Tom

Naked Power, Arbitrary Rule
By Jonathan Turley
The Los Angeles Times
July 21, 2003

Washington is a city that strives to satisfy every tourist want, from faux pictures with the president to tours of our most cherished scandal locations. Before coming to town last week, however, British Prime Minister Tony Blair made it clear that he would not be satisfied with the usual knick-knack souvenirs. He wanted something a bit more tangible: two British citizens scheduled for trial before U.S. military tribunals. It appears that he succeeded, though President Bush may soon regret that he could not pawn off a couple of snow globes and a T-shirt instead.

For 18 months, Bush has rebuffed growing British demands for the right to try their own citizens – a serious blow to Blair, who faces an increasingly anti-American public and a recent motion by 200 members of Parliament, mostly from Blair’s own Labor Party, calling for the return of the men for trial in Britain.

Jonathan Turley is a law professor at George Washington University.

To read more Turley click here

Court Order
Bush is trying to bully Latin America over the ICC, but he’s not getting anywhere

By Benjamin Lessing
The American Prospect online
July 21, 2003

QUITO, Ecuador — Give it to the members of Bush’s foreign-policy team: They certainly aren’t loafers. While American citizens spent the days leading up to July 4 stocking up on burgers and bottle rockets, the Bush administration was hard at work offending 35 of our remaining military allies and removing any annoying last traces of international credibility we might still have had. On July 1, the White House unexpectedly announced that it would be immediately cutting off all military aid to certain countries unless their leaders signed bilateral agreements guaranteeing the total immunity of all Americans (military and civilian) before the International Criminal Court (ICC). This bald-faced threat does not, of course, apply to our NATO allies (none of whom signed such agreements) or to other major aid recipients such as Japan, Israel, Jordan and Egypt.

Benjamin Lessing is a writer based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

To read more Lessing click here

Careful: The FB-eye may be watching
Reading the wrong thing in public can get you in trouble
By Marc Schultz
Creative Loafing
July 17, 2003

“The FBI is here,”Mom tells me over the phone. Immediately I can see my mom with her back to a couple of Matrix-like figures in black suits and opaque sunglasses, her hand covering the mouthpiece like Grace Kelly in Dial M for Murder. This must be a joke, I think. But it’s not, because Mom isn’t that funny.

“The who?” I say.

“Two FBI agents. They say you’re not in trouble, they just want to talk. They want to come to the store.”

I work in a small, independent bookstore, and since it’s a slow Tuesday afternoon, I figure, “Sure.” Someone I know must have gotten some government work, I think; hadn’t my consultant friend spoken recently of getting rolled onto some government job? Background check, I think, interviewing acquaintances … No big deal, right? Then, of course, I make a big deal about it in front of my co-workers.

Marc Schultz is a freelance writer in Atlanta. The Weekly Planet happens to be Creative Loafing’s sister paper in Tampa.

To read more Schultz click here