It was a historic moment at the National Press Club in Washington,
only blocks from the White House. On February 2, the preliminary findings of
the International Commission on Crimes Against Humanity were read out by Ajamu
Sankofa, executive director of the Physicians for Social Responsibility-NY and
former national secretary of Blacks for Reparations in America.
Listening to the verdicts, Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst and founder
of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, exclaimed: "This is what
our German forbearers in the 1930s did NOT do. They sat around, blamed their
rulers, said 'maybe everything's going to be alright.'... That is something
we cannot do. Because I don't want my grandchildren asking me years from now,
'why didn't you do something to stop all this?'"
The findings were based on five days of public testimony in New York in October
and January. The work of the Commission brought together a unique combination
of former government officials, experts in international law, human rights monitors
in the relevant areas, and victims of the crimes under investigation. It was
a Commission of great legal, ethical, and moral credibility based on its integrity,
its rigor in the presentation of evidence, and the stature of its participants.
On the first charge of committing wars of aggression, the Commission
found: "The evidence is overwhelming that the Bush Administration
authorized and is conducting a war of aggression against Iraq in violation of
international law, including The Nuremberg Principles, Geneva Conventions of
1949, the United Nations Charter, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In doing so, the Bush Administration has committed war crimes and crimes against
Former United Nations weapons inspector Scott Ritter was a compelling witness
before the Commission on this issue. Ritter led the investigation into the defection
of Sadam Hussein's son-in-law, Hussein Kamel:
"Dick Cheney said because of Hussein Kamel's defection the United Nations,
indeed the United States, received evidence that Iraq was actively reconstituting
its nuclear weapons program... Dick Cheney was lying. Dick Cheney knew that
he was lying.... But it is evidence that the Bush administration willfully exaggerated
the threat posed by Iraq's WMDs, thereby negating any case they might make about
the existence of a clear and present threat that warranted pre-emptive attack."
The actual conduct of the war was also a major issue investigated by the Commission,
especially the destruction of the city of Fallujah using white phosphorous and
hyperbaric bombs. The Commission saw film of the bombing of civilians in Fallujah
that was truly damning. Shown was the pilot's camera trained on the ground where
people were running in the street. The pilot asks his controller, "shall
I take them out?" And the controller says, "Yes." The pilot kept
a laser focused on the crowd until a guided bomb exploded in the middle of the
The destruction of Fallujah, a city of over 300,000 people, in retaliation
for the death of four U.S. mercenaries, was a vivid reenactment of a historic
war crime — the destruction of the Czechoslovakian village of Lidice in
1942 by the Nazis in retaliation for the assassination of a high Nazi official.
On the indictment for illegal detention and torture, the Commission
found: "There was substantial evidence submitted through testimony
and documents that the Bush Administration committed war crimes and crimes against
humanity in conducting its 'War Against Terror.' It did this by developing and
implementing policies and practices that violated international law and international
human rights to force information from detainees and to punish those whom it
believes may be 'enemy combatants.'"
Barbara Olshansky, from the Center for Constitutional Rights, told the Commission
of an August 2002 memo written for Alberto Gonzales, now Attorney General: "It
talks about what the traditional definitions of torture are... and it says that
a very good case can be made for redefining torture. And the definition that
is recommended in that memo is that torture really is only when someone is at
the risk of complete organ failure or death. And that is a new definition of
torture in the United States according to this administration. Then the memo
proceeds to...examine all the ways that the government could avoid liability,
even if its actions meet that definition of torture. It is a staggering document..."
The results of such "legal theories" by the U.S. government at the
very top were described by Brig. General Janis Karpinski (U.S. Army ret.), the
former commandant of the infamous Abu-Ghraib prison in Iraq. After photographs
of the torture of prisoners there were revealed, Gen. Karpinski entered the
cell block where this happened and found a memo attached to the wall calling
for harsher interrogation techniques and signed by Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld. In the margin was handwritten: "Make sure this happens!!"
Karpinski went on to testify that a high-ranking general demanded that Iraqi
prisoners be "treated like dogs."
Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, provided particularly
chilling testimony on the horrible forms of torture used by the U.S.'s 'Coalition
of Willing' and declared, in a very moving moment, "I'd rather die than
have someone tortured to save my life."
On the indictment for destruction of the global environment:
"The testimony of scientists and the scientific reports and other documents
submitted during the inquiry support a conclusion that the Bush Administration
has committed crimes against humanity by its environmental policies and practices."
Daphne Wysham, from the Institute for Policy Studies and the Sustainable Energy
and Economy Network gave a searing example: "On June 8, 2005, the New
York Times, through whistle-blower Rick Pilz, exposed [White House official
Philip] Cooney as the primary censor of climate change policy documents at the
highest levels of government. Two days later, Cooney resigned... Cooney and
his staff's edits were pervasive with 100 to 450 changes per report, and shameless.
Among the topics the government doesn't want you to know about are the national
and regional impacts from climate changes, consequences like glacial melting
On the indictment for the destruction of New Orleans: "The
evidence of the Bush Administration's conscious and deliberate failings in preventing
the foreseeable devastation, including death toll, caused by Hurricane Katrina,
particularly in New Orleans, and its failure to respond efficiently and appropriately
after the Hurricane was overwhelming. Its failures constitute crimes against
The Commission heard stunning testimony that the government knew full well
that New Orleans would be inundated in a major hurricane, and the President
himself knew two days in advance that Katrina would hit New Orleans. But no
efforts were made to evacuate the predominantly poor and Black masses of the
city. As a result, over 1,300 people died on the Gulf Coast with over 3,000
Annette Addison, a Katrina survivor, told her personal story to the Commission:
"So many Army trucks just was driving past us. We even waved for the Army
trucks to help us because we were so desperate. We was dehydrated. They did
not give us any assistance. We even asked the police for water, and where we
could get gas to get out of the city. The police just looked at us like we was
nobody, as though we were nothing. Many were going into the stores, and they
said they were looters. But to be honest, they was going into stores to survive.
It was people helping people.It was not the Army, it was not the police. It
was not the ones that were in authority to help us. It was just the community
helping each other to survive."
At the February 2 press conference to release the Commission's preliminary
findings, three of the five Commission judges were present, along with Commission
Convener C. Clark Kissinger. In presenting the preliminary findings (more findings
will be presented later), the judges were emphatic about the criminality of
the Bush administration.
Judge Ann Wright, 29-year Army reserve colonel with 16 years in the State Department
as former deputy ambassador in Afghanistan, Mongolia, Sierra Leone, and Micronesia:
"I believe the Commission is incredibly important for the future of the
United States and really the world, because it's the people of America who are
speaking to these very serious indictments. It's the people who are coming forward
with evidence, their personal testimony in many cases of things that have happened
to them, or cases of their lawyers, cases they have worked, the human face of
what torture is all about, what detention is about, what war is all about —
a war that's conducted the invasion and occupation of a country that did nothing
to the United States of America."
Judge Abdeen Jabara, board member of the Center for Constitutional Rights and
past president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee:
"People who launch a war of aggression are in violation of international
law, have committed crimes against humanity, and that is the kind of discourse
we need to introduce into the United States... the use of torture in the press
often reported as "abuse" rather than torture. Of course, there is
no international convention for the prevention of abuse, but there is an international
convention for the prevention of torture. So we need to change the way in which
these items are talked about in order to get people to face up to the fact of
what this government is doing."
Judge Jabara closed by pointing to the profound significance of what Craig
Murray, the British ambassador to Uzbekistan, had said. Murray testified that
his government and the American government were OK with receiving intelligence
reports that had been obtained by torture in Uzbekistan. His superiors in the
British foreign service said to him that, "we don't mind as long as we
didn't ask them to do that. We can still receive this information." Murray
then added, "After I heard that, I understood how some clerk could sign
off on these cattle cars that were going to Auschwitz." That's really what
is at stake, Jabara pointed out. "The use of this torture, the beginning
of all these black sites — all of these things are the road to Auschwitz."