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The Case for Revisiting Nuremburg - George W. Bush, War Criminal? - Book Review by Paul Balles
Tuesday, 22 September 2009 10:09
by Paul J. Balles

Following the antics of George W. Bush during his eight-year presidency was something of a roller-coaster ride at times. Believing that it was right to invade Afghanistan after 9/11 to locate, capture and prosecute Osama bin Laden made sense. However, that sensibility went downhill when it seemed the coalition forces weren’t even looking for bin Laden.

At other times, Bush’s arrogant aggressiveness in foreign policy was simply disgusting, leading me to write numerous articles critical of his foreign policy. There was no doubt in my mind that Bush was a war criminal. Now, a notable scholar has written a great book giving credence to what I simply believed.

In the Bush administration, the US lost its traditional respect for the rule of law. In his book George W. Bush, War Criminal?: The Bush Administration's Liability for 269 War Crimes, Michael Haas makes the case for prosecuting Bush for 269 war crimes.

Despite the fact that the attacks on 9/11 were monstrous unprovoked crimes that left everyone feeling vulnerable, the US Senate rejected Bush's request for unlimited war powers. As Haas points out, the Senate passed the Patriot Act, which Bush used as an excuse to take action that was clearly illegal.

According to Haas, "In the process, the Bush administration unnecessarily violated American statutes and international treaties that establish the law of warfare."

Bush, Vice President Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld believed that international law placed unrealistic restrictions on the U.S., about which Bush commented, "I don't care what the international lawyers say. We are going to kick some ass."

Of course, Bush and his administration, with his approval did much worse than "kick some ass." They committed wars of aggression, took prisoners, paid bounty hunters for captures of innocents and tortured prisoners.

The torturers were looking for information about al-Qaeda. Many of the prisoners created fake scenes only to satisfy their torturers. Haas writes, "Some fantastic plots...were fabricated by suspected terrorist leaders who were being tortured and wanted the cruelty to end."

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Adds Haas, "Bush's violations of the Constitution as well as domestic and international law have besmirched the reputation of the United States. In so doing they have accomplished a goal of which the al Qaeda terrorists only dreamed--to transform the United States into a rogue nation, feared by the rest of the world and loved by almost none."

There's no better reason to bring Bush and his guilty minions to trial than this. A simple reversal to civilized behaviour is not enough. The barbarians must be exposed and punished if America ever hopes to regain its status as a respectable leader.

Growing support for impeaching Bush has appeared on the Internet over the past six years. Congressman Dennis Kucinich introduced a resolution in Congress. More than 2 million Americans signed petitions demanding Bush's impeachment.

This movement, which lacked enough support for impeachment proceedings to materialise, has now morphed into a movement to indict Bush for war crimes. President Obama has said "nobody is above the law."

In the opening chapter of his book, Haas identifies the background to the "Bush doctrine"--which Bush and his advisors used to consider 9/11 an act of war (illegally) justifying pre-emptive strikes and invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Almost all of the advisors from Cheney on down, including justice department lawyers involved in implementing the "Bush doctrine" are listed in this first chapter along with full delineation of the elements of the "war on terror" as the basis of Bush's illegal actions. Many of these have been successfully challenged in court since 2004, but some of the primary elements have not.

The "war on terror" has been the most misused and terrifying label to emerge from the last decade--from the era of the George W. Bush presidency.

Unchallenged to date have included "Countries allowing terrorist organizations on their soil may be attacked." (the justification for the invasion of Afghanistan). Then there was the justification for invading Iraq: "Hostile countries with weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) may be attacked preemptively." Of course, there were no WMDs.

Haas has almost three pages of elements of the "Bush doctrine" like "Bold unilateral action deters terrorism," and "the US must refuse to talk with countries that follow 'bad policies', and democracy must be imported abroad." More than 20 elements of the Bush doctrine have never been challenged in the courts. An equal number have been successfully challenged.

In June 2006, the tide of the untouchable Bush monarchy began to change. The Supreme Court ruled in Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld that Bush had authorized war crimes. Bush and his cohorts began to panic, though they kept it concealed.

Haas concludes the opening chapter with a one-paragraph outline of the book: "...to ascertain whether George W. Bush and members of his administration could be charged and convicted as war criminals.

Accordingly, the four chapters in Part II delineate 269 war crimes, citing documentary sources. The two chapters in Part III indicate which tribunals might place those accused on trial, who might be tried, and whether war crimes trials are desirable."

In Part II, Haas defines four types of war crimes. He says, "They focus on (1) the legality of war, (2) the conduct of war, (3) treatment of prisoners, and (4) the conduct of the post-war occupation."

The first crime taken up in the book is Crimes of Aggression. Haas explains the concept of "just wars"; and he traces the history of international law of warfare. "International law allows a right of reprisal and a right of self-defence," writes Haas.

However, Bush was guilty of committing the basic war crime of aggression. That included the waging, threatening, planning and preparing for wars of aggression in both Afghanistan and Iraq. It's also illegal to aid rebels in a civil war and to produce propaganda for a war.

All of these are designated war crimes because they violate international conventions, precedents set by the Nuremburg trials following WWII, civil rights covenants, international agreements or the UN Charter. The book is thorough in citing the laws and agreements that apply to each type of war crime.

Haas devotes a chapter to "Crimes Committed in the Conduct of War". He makes one of many interesting historical references in the opening, noting that the Chinese president gave Bush a book by Sun-Tzu on the 'Art of War, written in 1600.

If Bush had read the book, he would have learned that the pernicious "shock and awe" attacks violated the principle that violence used in war should be no more than necessary to win. Instead, he committed 36 war crimes related to the conduct of war.

Haas even refers to how "in the seventh century, the prophet Mohammed counselled warriors not to harm innocent women and children and not to destroy the homes and livelihoods of those conquered.

As the book points out, "The basic principle of humane warfare, avoidance of unnecessary destruction to persons and property has been repeatedly violated." Prohibited targets and weapons, misconduct by soldiers and commanders, as well as the use of mercenaries, have all violated the laws of war.

The treatment of prisoners has involved the commission of 175 crimes. This has involved everything from locking people up in secret prisons outside of the US to terrible mistreatment in Abu Ghraib, some of which has been captured on film, and wrongful imprisonment and torture in Guantanamo and other secret prisons in countries abroad.

General Tommy Franks ordered troops in Afghanistan and Iraq to follow the Geneva Conventions whenever they encountered enemy personnel. However, Bush would have none of it. The “gloves came off,” and thousands of prisoners were improperly treated.

Haas devotes 112 pages to describing the crimes against prisoners. He provides irrefutable evidence in support of the crimes he identifies with complete reference to the documents, laws and agreements violated.

If Bush comes to trial for his war crimes, as he should, this book would provide enough evidence to convict him. Saddam Hussain was hung for his crimes. Bush hasn't even been arrested.

One of the worst outcomes of having this criminal free and untried for his crimes is "The experience of being brutally treated in an American prison outside of the United States has served to recruit many more terrorists." Haas also reports that many countries have decided to emulate Bush's practices with prisoners.

Haas starts the chapter on Crimes Committed in the Postwar Occupations with a salient comment on histories of occupations: "Although victorious armies throughout history have often treated vanquished people unjustly, benevolent occupation was considered desirable in ancient India.... The prophet Mohammed urged his warriors to treat conquered people mercifully."

Whereas international law regarding aggression, the conduct of war and treatment of prisoners is relatively straightforward, war crimes related to occupation lack clarity. There's no doubt that the failure to re-establish public order and safety is a war crime.

Haas identifies 50 Bush war crimes related to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, including crimes like failure to protect civilians and journalists, stop looters, denial of access to Red Cross and humanitarian agencies, handling of prisoners and mistreatment of women, children and the elderly.

All told, Haas provides clear descriptions of each of 269 war crimes committed by George W. Bush including sources for the supporting evidence for each along with complete bibliographical references. The book is incredibly well researched.

Part III is devoted to The Prosecution of War Criminals. The last two chapters identify where and why lawsuits may be filed against members of the Bush administration and against George W. Bush himself.

Haas makes it clear that civilization itself is on trial when major war criminals go about their business with impunity. That was the sentiment expressed by Justice Robert Jackson at Nuremberg.

The need for Tribunals for War Crimes Prosecution arises from American and international law that provides the basis for lawsuits. However, sitting presidents cannot be brought to court on criminal offenses. Chapter six indicates which tribunals have been and could be used for trials. Legal penalties are identified.

Haas wisely points out, "the potential for allowing a superpower to perpetrate war crimes with impunity would not only bury the concept of war crimes and trivialize Nuremberg, but might usher in a new era of international barbarism wherein a lone superpower could operate unchecked as a world tyrant."

The sixth chapter examines American and international tribunals as well as national tribunals outside of the US where prosecutions could take place.

The final chapter takes up The Bush Administration's War Crimes Liability. Some will argue that Bush is not directly responsible for every war crime identified in the analysis, so an assessment is made of his culpability because of his command responsibility. This principle was clearly established at Nuremberg.

The last chapter poses the question of whether Bush and his cohorts should be held accountable under domestic or international law. Some famous war criminals are identified and Bush's liability is examined. The arguments for and against his prosecution are made.

Useful appendices have been included covering (1) Legal Opinions and Executive Orders of Questionable Legality, (2) International Agreements Outlawing Aggressive War, (3) International Agreements Covering the conduct of War (4) Treatment of Prisoners, (5) Permitted Interrogation Techniques, (6) Forms of Abuse at American-Run Prisons, (7) Guidelines for Defining Torture, and (8) Who in the Bush Administration is Culpable for Each of the 269 War Crimes

Michael Haas is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Hawaii and the Chairman of the International Academic Advisory Board of the University of Cambodia. He played a role in stopping the secret funding of the Khmer Rouge by the administration of President George H. W. Bush.

He has taught political science at the University of London, Northwestern University, Purdue University, and the University of California, Riverside.

He is the author or editor of 33 books on human rights, including International Human Rights (2008), International Human Rights in Jeopardy (2004), The Politics of Human Rights (2000), Improving Human Rights (Praeger, 1994), and Genocide by Proxy (Praeger, 1991).
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