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History Won't Absolve Mr. Bush
July 23, 2002
By Luciana Bohne

The Nuremberg War Crime Tribunal, set up to try Nazi-era war criminals, concluded in 1950 that "individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligation of obedience. Therefore, individual citizens have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring." Since President Bush's September 11 speeches, Americans have been encouraged to wear patriotism on their sleeves and not to question their leaders. Obedience, however, is not a quality by which democracy thrives. Obedience is the bedrock of tyranny. A day will come when the actions of the Bush administration will stand trial in the courts of world history - or even at the International Criminal Court, which the Bush administration presciently rejects.

At that time, the kind of knee-jerk, unthinking patriotism that is demanded of us will not constitute an internationally legal defense. We might well reflect now on what some of the charges will be and decide whether our patriotism resides in seeing that our country act according to its constitutional principles of justice, fraternity, and equality or according to the dictates of an un-elected president and business-first entrepeneur with little more than cents for brains.

In the future trial by history of how the Bush administration obstructed the cause of peace and humanity in the world, one piece of evidence against it will be this: in March of 2002, an ice-shelf in Antarctica, the size of England's Wales, fell apart in a month. Weighing 500-million-billion tons, it broke off the continent and splintered into thousands of icebergs as a result of climate changes. Scientists had long noted that Antarctica's temperature had risen by 2.5 centigrades in 50 years, and, although scientists could not explain why the rate of increase in temperature was five times greater than in other places, they could not deny that global warming was a major cause of climate change. An excess of greenhouse gases, it is agreed, causes temperatures to rise. Greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide from fossil fuel and deforestation; methane from farm animals; and nitrous oxide from vehicles. These gases trap much of the energy that the earth radiates out toward space. More gas, more warmer-temperatures. On Mount Everest, in Tibet, entire glaciers are melting, causing the extinction of villages. China experiences terrifying floods. Colorado's droughts envelop the state in frightening fire bursts. In my own native Alps, sudden lakes are appearing, threatening to overflow and drag down to the valleys the houses and bodies of people. Yet, when President Jacques Chirac alluded to the necessity of finding alternatives to fossil-fuel energy, President Bush, then visiting in Paris, responded with a blank and puzzled stare, as French newspapers noted. Why, history (and our grandchildren) will ask did we not protest our government's refusal to co-operate with the Kyoto Protocol? After all, the US is 4% of the earth's population and is responsible for 20% of greenhouse-gas pollution.

Another charge against the Bush administration will be the Patriot Act. This evidence will suggest that some people in the United States were considered more equal than others, thereby violating the International Declaration of Human Rights which guarantees protection, among other things, from detention without trial as a fundamental human right of any inhabitant of the globe whose country has signed the Universal Declaration.

Furthermore, in accusing the Bush administration, history will ask us why we didn't notice that Section 802 of the Patriot Act created a bogus new crime - the appearing-to-be-intending-to-harm-people-for-the-purposes-of-subverting-the- government crime. How, we will be asked, could we allow our legislators to pass a law which left the state free to criminalize anyone for an appearance of intent? And how could we allow this paranoic travesty of law to translate into foreign policy? To Mr. Bush, Iraq appeared poised to be intending to harm people outside its borders.

Mr. Hussein's neighbors hadn't felt threatened. Turkey, in fact, had lost $40 billion in trade with Iraq over a decade of sanctions. Ironically, Turkey took this punishment with a stiff upper lip while Mr. Cheney cynically led Halliburton to some unscrupulous profits by trading with the enemy, Iraq, in spite of the sanctions. As a result of decreased trade, Turkey had to pander to the IMF for loans. The required "re-structuring," exacted by the international usurers, was dutifully performed. Result? One million Turks out of work. ( Put yourself in Prime-Minister's Ecevit's shoes: if he "does" Iraq, the Turkish economy will not recover but will be rewarded with further indebtedness; if he doesn't "do" Iraq the economy will not recover and the IMF won't come up with a cent.)

Anyway, wasn't the reasoning behind Section 802 of the Patriot Act the same reasoning that planned to bomb the people of Iraq? Viz., the appearance of Mr Hussein's intent to harm as subjectively perceived by the US, alone on the globe, with the exception of the Blair clique, which announced that British participation in the war on Iraq would not be discussed in the British Parliament? Indeed, the Jose Padilla (aka Abdullah al-Mujajir) case will become paradigmatic in the history books as a signal example of Machiavellian distortion of law in the service of force. The case will be thrown into our faces as the evidence of our abject cowardice before the unchallenged, illegal detention of an American street punk for the hitherto unfamiliar crime of talking.

The Bush administration will be charged with crimes against humanity for waging illegal wars. For the Nuremberg trials, an illegal war was the supreme crime - the one from which all others derived. How come, we will be asked by the International Criminal Court, or its historical equivalent, that, since 1945, the US had not waged a single, constitionally declared war? Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Kosovo - for example? The Bush administration was not at war when it bombed Afghanistan. Congress had denied President Bush a declaration of war. Besides, wars are not metaphors or advertising slogans: they require a provocation, preferably an aggression, by a state - not by a state where the provocateurs are hiding. Wars are not waged against terrorist tactics perpetrated by criminals - the September 11 action was a huge, unforgivable crime by murderers. Why, we will be asked, were we so bamboozled that we considered ourselves at war against no army, no border, with no demands, and no negotiations? How was that being at war? Did we just want an international, self-proclaimed license to kill? If the only legal war is a defensive one, by what right did we call our unjustifiable murder of civilians in Afghanistan a war?

And without pausing to address these questions, we went on planning to bomb Iraq. Here, history will remind us that the right to self-defense by war is only legitimate as a temporary measure, undertaklen to repel an attack until the Security Council of the United Nations can intervene. The right to self-defense must be directed at the actual state that launched the armed attack; the attack must be proportionate to the threat and not constitute overkill. Considering that nothing links Iraq to September 11 (even if that act could conceivably justify a World War on a protean and stateless target) in what way does Iraq warrant a defensive war? Did it attack us?

History will not find the US a law-abiding nation under President Bush. And yet, the 1990s had been the decade celebrating International Law. Had the people of the US not been informed of that? The objectives of the decade of International Law had been to promote acceptance throughout the globe of the principles of International Law; to promote the peaceful settlement of disputes, including greater use of the International Court of Justice; to encourage the teaching, studying, and disseminating of International Law. Instead, President Bush unsigned the charter of the International Criminal Court.

No, history won't be kind to the Bush administration nor to our silence before the victims of his policies. Except for September 11, Americans don't know what aerial bombardments feel like. We don't even try to imagine 42 days of September 11s. That's what the people of Iraq went through. However, most of the people of the world know bombs. That is why Europe, for example, after centuries of internal butchery, hasn't had a war since 1945. The atomic bomb ended all that free-for-all pathological warmongering. That's when a respect for international law was born - and all its formalization into the human rights conventions, the non-proliferation treaties, the no-first-strike agreements, the arm reduction talks - everything, in fact, that the Bush administration has been shredding under the incredulous, astonished gaze of the people of the planet.

Oh no Mr Bush, they don't hate us for our freedom. They hate us because we are trampling over the very principles of freedom we spent half a century indoctrinating them to respect. They hate us because they are discovering, on the ever-growing scale of mockery of their human rights, that the obsessive teacher of democracy, the democratiae magister par excellence, is a fraud.

Luciana Bohne teaches film and literature. She can be contacted at

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