Friday, July 13, 2007

Will our leaders be charged with War Crimes?

Called to Account

The BBC has a must-listen show on radio tomorrow titled Called to Account (times noted further below) offering a theatrical version of Tony Blair's indictment for Iraq War-related crimes. This may inspire many on this side of the Atlantic pond to think about various strategies to hold America's current political leadership accountable for duplicity and mismanagement of America's national security portfolio -- and particularly for the Iraq War.

Democracy = Western Duplicity

Democracy has become a term derided in much of the world today because for many beleaguered peoples it has come to mean Western duplicity, uneven standards between the mighty and the weak, an excuse for invasion and occupation, a code word for regime change, or obsessive focus on ballots rather than healthy civil society institutions like courts and a free media that help to keep power accountable.

If 'Democracy' is ever going to shed its bad name, accountability must be one of its fundamental pillars in any genuine system of checks and balances. There should be a price paid for serious errors by national leaders -- and an even higher price paid by those who wield power with impunity and who lie to their publics in so-called democracies.

When the revelations of Abu Ghraib became public, Donald Rumsfeld should have resigned. The fact that he did not and was not fired did more to undermine the American brand than virtually anything up until that point.

If there was no accountability for crimes of that scale, why should other foreign states abroad empty their torture prisons or work against corruption or not falsely promise reforms to their people while engaging in self-dealing for themselves or their sectarian interests?

America is struggling with the mess it is in and trying to figure out the power dynamics of fixing blame and responsibility for the Iraq War on national leaders. The current reality is that there is little stomach among moderates and conservatives in the United States to impeach Cheney or Bush for lying America into a war whose end one way or another has disastrous consequences for the nation. This may change -- and certainly the calls for an impeachment process against Cheney have picked up some momentum.

But BBC Radio 4 will be broadcasting a play titled Called to Account this Saturday, 14 July 2007, at 2:30 pm UK Time and at 9:30 am EST. This can be listened to over the web live or downloaded to a podcast for later listening.

One of the principals involved in this production is British barrister and writer Philippe Sands whose book, Lawless World: America and the Making and Breaking of Global Rules -- From FDR's Atlantic Charter to George W. Bush's Illegal War, exposed the important fact that Prime Minister Blair and President Bush decided on war with Iraq in January 2003 no matter what the outcome of diplomatic efforts.

Sands is a very serious and thoughtful legal commentator who is part of the "reasonable middle" of British political society -- and the BBC's support of such a provocative legal simulation is something that might inspire similar exercises -- even in theatrical form if not real -- in the United States.

Philippe Sands: when Bush and Blair set off to war

An updated version of international lawyer Philippe Sands’ book, Lawless World, details of a memo of a meeting between George Bush and Tony Blair’s drive to go to war against Iraq without a second United Nations (UN) security council resolution or any evidence of weapons of mass destruction was revealed last week.

The memo shows that George Bush had decided to go to war without a second UN resolution and Tony Blair was “solidly” behind him.

Philippe Sands told a press briefing last week, “A very important meeting took place between Bush and Blair on 31 January 2003 – a two hour meeting referred to in Bob Woodward’s book Plan of Attack by George Bush as the ‘famous second resolution meeting’.

“It is abundantly clear from the material I’ve seen, which was prepared by one of the very small number of people who attended that meeting, that two significant factors stand out.

“Firstly, president Bush had explicitly decided to go to war without a second resolution and he made that view clear to the prime minister.

No evidence

“The prime minister’s response was that he was ‘solidly’ with the president. That indicated that in terms of his own personal decision making the prime minister had decided to go to war with or without a second resolution.

“The second element is that the material that I have referred to is that these two gentlemen were not in possession of hard evidence of weapons of mass destruction, which would give them any degree of confidence that they would get a second resolution and hence the discussions on what some would refer to as ‘dirty tricks’.

“The prime minister wanted a second resolution for political reasons – an ‘insurance policy’ he describes it. The view was that if anything went wrong with the military campaign or Saddam increased the stakes by burning the oil wells, killing children, or fomenting internal divisions within Iraq, a second resolution would provide international cover, including with the Arabs.

“The president tells him: ‘We’re going to go without one and the starting date is pencilled in for 10 March. The diplomatic strategy has to be worked around the military planning but I’ll help you get that. We’ll threaten and twist arms.

If Saddam fires

“‘And we are thinking of taking US spy planes with fighter cover, painting them in UN colours and sending them over Iraq. If Saddam fires on them he’ll be in material breach.’

“If you have hard evidence of weapons of mass destruction you do not have to engage in this.”

Sands continued, “An early decision was taken by the prime minister. He had not by that point had legal advice. The attorney general had been told by the prime minister not to give advice at that time, presumably to give the prime minister a reasonably free hand in his decision making.

“The prime minister is 100 percent behind the US president and looking for ways to deal with difficult domestic issues.

“President Bush didn’t think there was going to be an insurgency. He tells Blair, he ‘thought it unlikely there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups’.

“One would have expected the prime minister to say, ‘Hang on a second I’m getting different advice.’ But there is nothing in the memo that indicates that the prime minister said, ‘I think you might be wrong.’

“The two of them had concocted a strategy as far back as March/April 2002. It was to go down the UN route.

“They then concocted a plan to do that but that went belly-up because they had no evidence and from their perspective [UN inspectors] Blix and El Baradei didn’t deliver the smoking gun and Iraq was cooperating.”

Sands new revelations reveal that the push for a second resolution was at best an attempt to get an “insurance policy” and at worst a facade.


Philippe Sands said, “From a political perspective of two leaders’ personal decision to commit troops to war everything that followed was a sham.

“The prime minister still had the problem of delivering troops as a domestic political issue – this was before the marches and the debates in parliament.

“He couldn’t deliver troops without overcoming significant domestic obstacles. But I think he had made up his mind and any language which suggested he was dependent on a second resolution had gone. His decision was to proceed.

“George Bush had decided much earlier he could live without a second resolution. He has been straighter than the prime minister. His view on international law is that it’s all nonsense. It wasn’t a domestic issue for him. Bush had the freedom to go politically, Tony Blair was subject to enormous political constraints.

“Bush genuinely wanted to help Blair if he could get the second resolution. If Tony Blair had a quiescent media and population, no parliament to get through, the situation would have been very different.

“People ask why is this important? We face other serious challenges, such as Iran which is on the cusp of going off to the UN security council.

“What this material tends to indicate is that we cannot have a high level of confidence in the US president and the British prime minister’s ability to take hugely important decisions in an informed and sensible way.”

State of War
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Lucid, balanced and brimming with surprises, this is a-to borrow a notorious phrase-slam dunk exposé of the CIA's recent snafus. New York Times reporter Risen is broadly sympathetic to the CIA, and his tactful use of inside sources shifts much of the blame away from field agents and toward the brass in Washington, where CIA Director George Tenet's eagerness to please his political masters and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's bureaucratic skills create the conditions for a perfect storm of intelligence failures. The book's disclosures about secret prisons, "renditions"-the transfer of suspects to countries which may torture them-and domestic wiretaps are likely to be talking points for some time, but its lasting value will be as a record of how the CIA came so tantalizingly close to the truth about Iraq's nonexistent nuclear arsenal. The retelling of one undercover operation shows the agency had direct evidence that there was no nuclear program in Iraq, but chose to doubt its source. Other scenes from the secret war on terror make novelist John Le Carre look like a timid plotter: a single misdirected message in 2004 brings down the agency's entire spy network in Iran, four years after a harebrained scheme had given Tehran flawed blueprints for a nuclear weapon-hoping to sow confusion, but possibly helping Iran to arm itself faster. Risen has written a thrilling, depressing and worrying book.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

The Assassins' Gate : America in IraqFrom Publishers Weekly
Reviewed by Christopher Hitchens

It is extremely uncommon for any reporter to read another's work and to find that he altogether recognizes the scene being described. Reading George Packer's book, I found not only that I was remembering things I had forgotten, but also that I was finding things that I ought to have noticed myself.

His book rests on three main pillars: analysis of the intellectual origins of the Iraq war, summary of the political argument that preceded and then led to it, and firsthand description of the consequences on the ground. In each capacity, Packer shows himself once more to be the best chronicler, apart perhaps from John Burns of the New York Times, that the conflict has produced. (I say "once more" because some of this material has already appeared in the New Yorker.)

A very strong opening section traces the ideas, and the ideologists, of the push for regime change in Iraq. Packer is evidently not a neoconservative, but he provides an admirably fair and lucid account of those who are. There is one extraordinary lacuna in his tale—he manages to summarize the long debate between the "realists" and the "neocons" without mentioning Henry Kissinger—but otherwise he makes an impressively intelligent guide. Of value in itself is the ribbonlike presence, through the narrative, of the impressive exile Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya, upon whom Packer hones many of his own ideas. (I should confess that I myself make an appearance at this stage and, to my frustration, can find nothing to quarrel with.)

The argument within the administration was not quite so intellectual, but Packer takes us through it with insight and verve, giving an excellent account in particular of the way in which Vice President Cheney swung from the "realist" to the "neocon" side. And then the scene shifts to Iraq itself. Packer has a genuine instinct for what the Iraqi people have endured and are enduring, and writes with admirable empathy. His own opinions are neither suppressed nor intrusive: he clearly welcomes the end of Saddam while having serious doubts about the wisdom of the war, and he continually tests himself against experience.

The surreal atmosphere of Paul Bremer's brief period of palace rule is very well caught, but the outstanding chapter recounts a visit to the northern city of Kirkuk and literally "walks" us through the mesh of tribal, ethnic and religious rivalry. The Iraq debate has long needed someone who is both tough-minded enough, and sufficiently sensitive, to register all its complexities. In George Packer's work, this need is answered. (Oct. 15)Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair. His book Thomas Jefferson: Author of America (HarperCollins) was published last week.

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