On Native Ground
GULF WAR II: U.S. AND BRITAIN DEFY INTERNATIONAL LAW
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Picture President Bush and Saddam Hussein sharing a cell in The Hague after they have been tried and convicted for crimes against humanity.
Maybe the bunking up in the cell part is improbable, but the words "war crimes" and "President Bush" are starting to be uttered in the same sentence with total seriousness in the wake of Persian Gulf War II.
The United States, aided by Britain and a smattering of Australians, invaded Iraq on March 20. The world has been able to see that when confronted with America's awesome military might, Iraq is barely able to defend itself, let alone threaten other nations.
It is telling that the much-ballyhooed "coalition of the willing" turns out to be a vapor. Few nations are providing substantial military assistance for Gulf War II.
Poland and Spain each offered 200 troops. Denmark offered a submarine and a destroyer. Turkey and Italy, is allowing U.S. planes to land or fly in their airspace. The countries of "New Europe" - such as the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Hungary, Ukraine, Slovakia and Romania - have offered to help with the post-war cleanup.
And there are the great world powers such as Afghanistan, Albania, Azebaijan, Columbia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Honduras, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Mongolia, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Palau, Philippines, Rwanda, Soloman Islands, Uganda and Uzbekistan. They've all offered moral support, but little else. In the words of London's Daily Mirror newspaper, they're a "coalition of the bribed, bullied and blind."
Then there are the "secret admirers" list of pro-U.S. nations in the Persian Gulf - Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan, Oman, Bahrain and United Arab Emirates - that have refused to associate themselves publicly with the war. Israel is supporting the war, but the U.S. is trying to keep that fact quiet.
Contrast the members of "coalition of the willing" with the list of the nations who aren't on it. Canada and Mexico have refused to support this war. Likewise for France, Russia and China. Germany has offered help in dealing with the postwar chaos, but isn't participating in the invasion. Japan bankrolled a significant part of Gulf War I, but they're sitting this war out.
There is a reason why so many nations are not wholeheartedly embracing the invasion of Iraq. They don't want to find themselves in violation of international law.
When President Bush declared on March 17 that "the United States of America has the sovereign authority to use force in assuring its own national security," it sounded good on the surface. A closer examination suggests otherwise.
According to the United Nations Charter - a treaty signed by 192 of the world's 196 sovereign states - it is a crime for a nation to attack another nation unless there is a clear and present danger to that nation's security.
This principle of waging war only in self-defense or with the explicit approval of the UN Security Council has been occasionally evaded, but never ignored outright. And when it comes to justifying an invasion, there's a huge difference between attacking an enemy that has troops massed on your border, and attacking an enemy that has never overtly threatened you (except in response to your own threats) but may possibly pose a threat in a few years.
In the view of President Bush, the U.S. reserves the right to attack any nation it perceives to be a present or potential threat. The U.S. alone reserves the right to determine the risk and dictate the remedy, and the president will have the sole discretion to make the decision to go to war.
This policy, which is getting its first test in Iraq, stands in direct violation of international law.
UN Security Council Resolution 1441, adopted last fall, ordered Iraq to begin disarming. For the most part, Iraq had complied with the terms of 1441. The inspections were working, weapons were being dismantled and no weapons of mass destruction had been found.
That was good enough for the rest of the Security Council, but not good enough for the U.S. and Britain. They claimed Iraq was in "material breech" of 1441 and claimed the right to forcibly disarm Iraq.
But if you read the text of Resolution 1441, there is no specific authorization in it for the use of force if Iraq was in non-compliance. It states only that it's up to the Security Council alone to both determine the extent of compliance with the terms of 1441 and the actions to be taken if there was non-compliance.
After failing to convince the Security Council to see things their way, the U.S. and Britain decided that two Gulf War I-era UN resolutions, 678 and 687, could be used to justify the current war. Unfortunately, neither can be directly applied to the present circumstances. Resolution 678 authorized military action against Iraq in 1990, but only to force it to abandon its occupation of Kuwait. As for 687, the 1991 resolution that established the ceasefire that ended Gulf War I, it doesn't authorize any use of force.
Does it not strike one as ironic that after dismissing the UN as "irrelevant," the Bush administration has to defend itself against charges of waging an illegal war by trotting out a pair of UN Security Council resolutions from more than a dozen years ago? No less ironic than hearing the Bush administration complain about Iraqi mistreatment of U.S. prisoners of war while running a detention camp for alleged Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba - a camp that is in blatant violation of the Geneva Convention. But that's a topic for another day.
Irony aside, we can now see why the Bush administration refused to allow the U.S. to be subject to the jurisdiction of the newly-created International Criminal Court. They probably believed that they might eventually be standing in the dock facing a Nuremburg-style war crimes trial as a result of a preemptive invasion of Iraq.
The Nuremburg Tribunal, which dealt with German war crimes after World War II, determined that the planning, preparation or initiation of a war that was contrary to the terms of an international treaty was a "crime against peace" and that "to initiate a war of aggression ... is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime." This principle is the bedrock that the UN Charter rests upon.
There is no argument that Saddam Hussein and his inner circle, if they survive the war, should be put on trial for crimes against humanity. But one can easily argue that President Bush and his inner circle, as well as British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his cabinet, should face a similar fate.
The U.S. and Britain have launched a war that is in violation of the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions. They have lied to the world about the weapons capabilities of Iraq and lied about Iraq's connections to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. They undermined and sabotaged the UN weapon's inspection program. They bullied and bribed other nations into supporting an invasion of Iraq.
Put these things together, and it adds up to an embarrassing situation for the United States and Britain. The two nations that helped to forge the principles of international law in the years after World War II now stand in violation of those principles.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).