Monday, October 25, 2010

US Should Admit Wrongdoing In Iraq

This opinion published in Arab News on the 26/10/2010
ANYONE who has been following the shameful Iraq saga since the 2003 invasion knows that US forces sometimes crossed modern-day warfare’s red lines. There has been a wealth of anecdotal evidence to support claims against the invaders of abuse, torture and a lack of concern for civilian deaths; allegations that have mostly remained unproven. 

The Pentagon insisted that the horrors of Abu Ghraib was the work of a few bad apples and maintained there had been no body counts of Iraqi victims. But, now, thanks to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who, on Saturday, released 400,000 classified US military Iraq War logs written-up by American military personnel, there is absolute proof of the coalition’s disdain for international rules of war and the Geneva Conventions.

For a World War I country like the US, which leans on other countries to adopt its so-called moral values, the facts are shocking.

Between Jan. 1, 2004 and Dec. 31, 2009 there were 109,032 conflict fatalities, which exposes the “no Iraqi body count” assertion as an outright lie. Worse, over 60 percent of those fatalities were civilians. Some 700 civilians including pregnant women being transported to hospital to give birth, children and a number of mentally-ill individuals were gunned down at checkpoints.

Civilians whose lives were lost during US airstrikes hardly figure in the above statistics as pilots regularly logged “zero casualties” despite having released their bombs on heavily populated areas where it was believed insurgents might be hiding. For example, one F-15 bomb was recorded as having successfully hit a target in Fallujah but no casualties were mentioned. In reality, according to sources on the ground, there were eight victims of the blast including four women and two children.

The Iraq War logs also prove that the Pentagon ordered its personnel in Iraq not to investigate over 1,000 allegations of abuse by Iraqi soldiers, police and prison guards. The US knew that detainees were being tortured with whips, electric drills, electrodes and subjected to rape or sexual abuse. It was known that prisoners were hung on hooks attached to ceilings and beaten on the soles of their feet with cables, yet consciously did nothing to stop the torture and continued to hand over prisoners into Iraqi custody.
It’s one thing to feel that an occupying force has been particularly brutal and quite another to know for certain that its despicable actions were blessed by the highest political and military echelons as a matter of policy. It is clear that the Bush administration has much to answer for but it’s more than probable that its officials will never be held to account.

In the first place, George W. Bush made sure that the US military would not fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague by refusing to ratify the Rome statute. Moreover, the UN Security Council cannot refer American officials to ICC prosecutors without the agreement of the US which holds a power of veto.

More importantly, the current administration and the American people have little appetite to hang up their country’s dirty laundry. Within the US the WikiLeaks revelations made headlines for only one day and were hardly discussed in the right-wing media, which is more concerned with praising the Tea Party mob or bashing Obama.

Unfortunately, a large proportion of the American public possess an almost cultish reverence for their “nation’s finest” which leaves them with a blind spot when it comes to assessing their military’s moral record. They lap up feel good stories of troops handing out sweets to kids or soldiers bringing shipping home stray Iraqi dogs, who became heroes for sniffing out IEDs. But when it comes to hearing about soldiers turning their guns on Iraqi kids or helicopter squadrons like “Crazy Horse18” that killed two Reuter’s journalists and 10 Iraqi civilians including one child while laughing and joking, they would either prefer not to know or, quite simply, don’t really care.

The Obama administration is equally culpable. President Barack Obama who came out strongly against the invasion of Iraq represented himself as an ethical man who believed in fairness and justice during the early days of his presidency. Yet, until now, he has been deafeningly silent on the WikiLeaks expose while his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has chosen to shoot the messenger without any attempt to address the message, which she says endangers US troops and civilians.

Clinton has willfully missed the point. If Americans are, indeed, endangered it is because of the previous administration’s disgraceful policies that flouted international norms. Instead of condemning the leak she should censure Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, apologize to the Iraqi people and make financial reparations to the families of the 60,000 plus innocent victims.

UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak says the Obama administration has both a legal and moral obligation to investigate credible claims of its military’s complicity in torture as per UN human rights treaties and America’s obligations under international law. If the Obama team ignores Nowak’s reasonable demand, it is just as blameworthy for abuses committed in Iraq as Bush and Co.

Judging by the war logs, the hands of the British military aren’t exactly clean either and, like its US counterpart, Britain’s Ministry of Defense was quick to slam WikiLeaks for setting truth free. British soldiers are far more exposed to justice than their American comrades in arms because the UK is a signatory to the ICC and Britons who were overwhelmingly against the war are not imbued with the same reverence for their army as Americans.  There is a slew of lawyers preparing to pursue the perpetrators of abuse in British courts and many Britons would be delighted to see Tony Blair answering to judges in The Hague for his part in the debacle.

As embarrassing as the WikiLeaks revelations are, there is one British politician standing firmly for truth and justice. Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal-Democrat Party Nick Clegg who believes the invasion was “illegal” is calling for an investigation into claims that British troops covered-up the unlawful killing and abuse of Iraqi civilians.

“Anything that suggests basic rules of war, conflict and engagement have been broken or that torture has been in any way condoned are extremely serious and need to be looked at. People will want to hear what the answer is to what are very, very serious allegations of a nature which I think everybody will find shocking,” he said. At last, an honorable voice in a culture of whitewash and excuses.
Is there even one similarly decent individual in Obama’s Cabinet willing to place truth before election hopes, career or political expedience? I doubt it!

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