Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This list, compiled by David Swanson, was published by After Downing Street
Compiled below, in hopes that it may be of some assistance to Eric Holder, John Conyers, Patrick Leahy, active citizens, foreign courts, the International Criminal Court, law firms preparing civil suits, and local or state prosecutors with decency and nerve is a list of 50 top living U.S. war criminals. These are men and women who helped to launch wars of aggression or who have been complicit in lesser war crimes. These are not the lowest-ranking employees or troops who managed to stray from official criminal policies. These are the makers of those policies.
The occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan have seen the United States target civilians, journalists, hospitals, and ambulances, use antipersonnel weapons including cluster bombs in densely settled urban areas, use white phosphorous as a weapon, use depleted uranium weapons, employ a new version of napalm found in Mark 77 firebombs, engage in collective punishment of Iraqi civilian populations -- including by blocking roads, cutting electricity and water, destroying fuel stations, planting bombs in farm fields, demolishing houses, and plowing down orchards -- detain people without charge or legal process without the rights of prisoners of war, imprison children, torture, and murder.
The list below does not include those responsible for war crimes prior to 2001. Nor does it include those currently in power who are making themselves complicit by failing to prosecute or cease commission of these crimes. The list could be greatly expanded. It could also be narrowed. I would argue, however, that it presents a more reasonable starting place than Holder's reported proposal to investigate only CIA employees who failed to comply with criminal torture policies, of whom there are no doubt more than 50.
Because each of the people on this list should be nonviolently protested everywhere they go (more on that below), I have organized them by location. Please post updates on where they are as comments at http://afterdowningstreet.org/warcriminals CALIFORNIA 1. John Yoo: Professor of Law at Boalt Hall School of Law in Berkeley, California, with house at 1241 Grizzly Peak Blvd., Berkeley, (but a lawyer with the Pennsylvania bar from which he should be disbarred and would be if enough people demanded it) counseled the White House on how to get away with war crimes, wrote this memo promoting presidential power to launch aggressive war, and claimed the power to decree that the federal statutes against torture, assault, maiming, and stalking do not apply to the military in the conduct of the war, and to announce a new definition of torture limiting it to acts causing intense pain or suffering equivalent to pain associated with serious physical injury so severe that death, organ failure or permanent damage resulting in loss of significant body functions will likely result. Yoo claimed in 2005 that a president has the right to enhance an interrogation by crushing the testicles of someone's child. Yoo has been confronted in his classroom: video, and defended by the Washington Post, and again confronted in the classroom.
Additional collaborators: 2. Robert J. Delahunty, Yoo colleague, should be disbarred in NY 3. Patrick F. Philbin, Yoo colleague, Deputy, should be disbarred in D.C. and MA 4. Jay Bybee: federal judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, headquartered in San Francisco, California (but Bybee based in Las Vegas), counseled the White House on how to get away with war crimes, including by helping Yoo draft the memo linked above. He signed not only torture memos but also a memo purporting to legalize illegal and unconstitutional wars. BYBEE SHOULD BE IMPEACHED. He works, among other places, at the James R. Browning Courthouse, 95 7th Street, San Francisco, CA 94103, -- This is a giant marble building in the center of the city represented in Congress by the Speaker of the House. 5. William J. "Jim" Haynes, II: was General Counsel to the Department of War ("Defense"). He is now Chief Corporate Counsel at the Chevron Corporate Office in San Ramon, California. He counseled the White House on how to get away with war crimes, including by drafting memos for Yoo. Works at Chevron Headquarters, 6001 Bollinger Canyon Road, San Ramon, CA 94583. Member of bar in GA, NC, DC.
More collaborators: 6. Major General (Ret.) Michael E. Dunlavey, (now Judge, Erie County Court, Common Pleas, Erie, PA 7. Diane Beaver, top military lawyer at Gitmo 8. Jack Landman Goldsmith, III, [the illegal transfer memo in March 2004], DoD General Counsel's Office at Pentagon 9. Ms. Eliana Davidson, International Law Division, Office of the General Counsel, Office of the Secretary of "Defense" 10. Colin Powell: strategic limited partner with Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm, appears as a speaker in a series of motivational events called Get Motivated, board member of Revolution Health and of the Council on Foreign Relations, took part in White House meetings personally overseeing and approving torture by authorizing the use of specific torture techniques including waterboarding on specific people, lied to the United Nations about the grounds for war in a failed attempt to legalize a war of aggression, and was in fact a leading liar in making the false case for an illegal war of aggression. NEW YORK 11. Henry Kissinger: lives in Kent, Connecticut, and works at Kissinger Associates, 350 Park Avenue, New York, N.Y., had a resume envied by other war criminals long before he advised George W. Bush to commit war crimes. Here's a partial list of his crimes. 12. Nicholas E. Calio: Citigroup's Executive Vice-President for Global Government Affairs served as a member of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG) which planned the marketing of an illegal war of aggression on the basis of lies 13. Michael Mukasey: works in New York, N.Y. Some of his crimes are detailed at DisbarTortureLawyers.com. TEXAS 14. George W. Bush: lives at 10141 Daria Place, Dallas, Texas. His crimes are described at http://afterdowningstreet.org/bush and at War Criminals Watch and at The 13 people who made torture possible. 15. Karen Hughes: lives in Austin, Texas, served as a member of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG) which planned the marketing of an illegal war of aggression on the basis of lies. 16. Paul Bremmer lives in Chester, Vermont, and also works in Austin, Texas. His crimes are listed at War Criminals Watch WASHINGTON, D.C. 17. Dick Cheney: The former vice president lives nextdoor to CIA headquarters at 1126 Chain Bridge Road, McLean, Va. His crimes are documented at http://impeachcheney.org and at The 13 people who made torture possible and at War Criminals Watch. 18. John Rizzo: The General Counsel for the CIA (then and now) works nextdoor to Dick Cheney's house at the headquarters of the CIA in McLean, Va. His crimes are described in The 13 people who made torture possible.
More collaborators: 19. Robert Eatinger, CIA lawyer 20. Steven Hermes, CIA's National Clandestine Service (NCS) 21. Paul Kelbaugh, Deputy Legal Counsel, CTC, CIA 22. Steven Bradbury: also of McLean, Va., is described along with his crimes at SourceWatch, DisbarTortureLawyers.com, and The 13 people who made torture possible. 23. David Addington: was chief of staff to Dick Cheney in Washington, D.C., counseled the White House on how to get away with war crimes, including by helping Yoo draft the memo linked above, and drafted signing statements for Bush declaring the right to violate laws redundantly banning war crimes including torture and the construction of permanent bases in Iraq and efforts to control Iraq's oil. Lives at 103 W Maple Street, Alexandria, VA 22301-2605 -- This is a few blocks from the King Street Metro Stop. 24. Condoleezza Rice: served as Secretary of State in Washington, D.C., and can be found frequenting shoe stores, served as a member of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG) which planned the marketing of an illegal war of aggression on the basis of lies, took part in White House meetings personally overseeing and approving torture by authorizing the use of specific torture techniques including waterboarding on specific people, lied about mushroom clouds, and was in fact a leading liar in making the false case for an illegal war of aggression. 25. Donald Rumsfeld: lives in Washington, D.C., and at former slave-beating plantation "Mount Misery" on Maryland's Eastern Shore near St. Michael's and a home belonging to Dick Cheney, as well as at an estate outside Taos, New Mexico. He took part in White House meetings personally overseeing and approving torture by authorizing the use of specific torture techniques including waterboarding on specific people, and was in fact a leading liar in making the false case for an illegal war of aggression, and pushed for wars of aggression for years as a participant in the Project for a New American Century. 26. George Tenet: Distinguished Professor in the Practice of Diplomacy at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., took part in White House meetings personally overseeing and approving torture by authorizing the use of specific torture techniques including waterboarding on specific people, oversaw the Central Intelligence Agency as it engaged in illegal renditions, detentions, torture, murder, and coverups of crimes, as well as helping to build a false case for an illegal war of aggression. 27. John Ashcroft: has his own lobbying company through which to profit from his government connections: The Ashcroft Group, LLC, 1399 New York Avenue, N.W., Suite 950, Washington, DC 20005, Phone: 202.942.0202, Fax: 202.942.0216, firstname.lastname@example.org took part in White House meetings personally overseeing and approving torture by authorizing the use of specific torture techniques including waterboarding on specific people. 28. Alberto Gonzales: has hired a criminal-defense lawyer George Terwilliger, partner at White & Case, to defend him, while others have created a trust fund to help pay for his legal expenses, meanwhile Gonzales has been unable to find work as a lawyer himself, so his income comes from speaking engagements, then White House counsel, wrote a memo on January 25, 2002. It explained that under the 1996 War Crimes Act, U.S. officials might be prosecuted for violating the Geneva Conventions for actions in Afghanistan (and future parts of the "war on terror"), with penalties up to and including death. He suggested that Bush declare that the Taliban and Al Qaeda weren't covered by Geneva, to be on the safe side. Bush did so. Gonzo now has a job at Texas Tech, but not teaching law. Help this effort to boot him! Remember that we drove him out of office by almost impeaching him. 29. Paul Wolfowitz: lives in Chevey Chase, Maryland, and is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., advocated illegal war of aggression, and pushed for wars of aggression for years as a participant in the Project for a New American Century. 30. Doug Feith: serves on the faculty of the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., as a Professor and Distinguished Practitioner in National Security Policy, manufactured, cherry picked, and distorted information, and pressured others to do the same, to help build a false case for an illegal war of aggression, and advocated early and openly for an illegal war of aggression against a "non-al qaeda target." Also works at Hudson Institute, 1015 15th Street, N.W., 6th Floor, Washington, DC 20005, three blocks from the White House. 31. Elliot Abrams: served as Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy in Washington, D.C., and wherever he can do the most damage around the world, was a well-established war criminal even before he pushed for wars of aggression for years as a participant in the Project for a New American Century, helped to build a false case for attacking Iraq, and supported a failed coup attempt in Venezuela. 32. Karl Rove: owns million dollar houses in Washington, D.C., and Florida, and works for Fox News, Newsweek, and the Wall Street Journal when not testifying to congressional committees or federal prosecutors about his numerous unindicted non-war crimes. He served as a member of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG) which planned the marketing of an illegal war of aggression on the basis of lies, and took part in exposing an undercover agent as retribution for exposing one of WHIG's lies.
(According to Star80 at DemocraticUnderground, Rove "can be found stuffing his fat pasty little face with crab meat at Cafe 30A in Santa Rosa Beach FL: http://www.cafethirtya.com - 3899 East County Highway 30A Santa Rosa Beach FL 32459.")
(Citizens arrest of Rove attempted in Iowa, and in California, and in New York.) 33. I. Lewis Libby: lives in McLean, Virginia, and has been disbarred in Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, served as a member of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG) which planned the marketing of an illegal war of aggression on the basis of lies, took part in exposing an undercover agent as retribution for exposing one of WHIG's lies, has already been convicted of obstruction of justice for interfering with investigation, and pushed for wars of aggression for years as a participant in the Project for a New American Century. 34. Mary Matalin: married to James Carville, both of them addicted to Washington, D.C., served as a member of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG) which planned the marketing of an illegal war of aggression on the basis of lies. 35. Stephen Hadley: served as National Security Advisor to the President in Washington, D.C., served as a member of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG) which planned the marketing of an illegal war of aggression on the basis of lies, and took part in exposing an undercover agent as retribution for exposing one of WHIG's lies. 36. James R. Wilkinson: worked for Bush as Deputy National Security Advisor for Communications in Washington, D.C., served as a member of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG) which planned the marketing of an illegal war of aggression on the basis of lies. 37. John Bolton: lives in Bethesda, Maryland, is a member of a Lutheran Church, works for the law firm Kirkland and Ellis LLP, 655 Fifteenth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005-5793, T: +1 202-879-5000, F: +1 202-879-5200, is associated with the American Enterprise Institute, Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, Institute of East-West Dynamics, National Rifle Association, US Commission on International Religious Freedom, and the Council for National Policy, helped to launch an illegal war of aggression by disseminating false claims through the State Department while he was under-secretary of state for arms control, and pushed for wars of aggression for years as a participant in the Project for a New American Century. 38. Michael Chertoff: works in Washington, D.C. Some of his crimes are detailed at DisbarTortureLawyers.com. 39. Timothy Flanigan: works in Washington, D.C. Some of his crimes are detailed at DisbarTortureLawyers.com. 40. Alice Fisher: works in Washington, D.C. Some of her crimes are detailed at DisbarTortureLawyers.com. 41. John Bellinger works in Washington, D.C. His crimes are listed at War Criminals Watch. 42. John Negroponte works in Washington, D.C. His crimes are listed at War Criminals Watch. 43. Jonathan Fredman was a top torture lawyer under John Rizzo at the CIA: details. 44. Scott Muller was general counsel at the CIA: details. 45. Kyle D. "Dusty" Foggo was instrumental in setting up illegal secret prisons. NEBRASKA: 46. Andrew Card works in Omaha, NE. His crimes are listed at War Criminals Watch. AFGHANISTAN: 47. Stanley McChrystal has been promoted as reward for his war crimes. UNKNOWN LOCATION:
48. James Mitchell: From The 13 people who made torture possible:
Even while Addington, Gonzales and the lawyers were beginning to build the legal framework for torture, a couple of military psychologists were laying out the techniques the military would use. James Mitchell, a retired military psychologist, had been a leading expert in the military's SERE program. In December 2001, with his partner, Bruce Jessen, Mitchell reverse-engineered SERE techniques to be used to interrogate detainees. Then, in the spring of 2002, before OLC gave official legal approval to torture, Mitchell oversaw Abu Zubaydah's interrogation. An FBI agent on the scene describes Mitchell overseeing the use of "borderline torture." And after OLC approved waterboarding, Mitchell oversaw its use in ways that exceeded the guidelines in the OLC memo. Under Mitchell's guidance, interrogators used the waterboard with "far greater frequency than initially indicated" -- a total of 183 times in a month for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and 83 times in a month for Abu Zubaydah.
More on Mitchell and Jessen. 49. Tommy Franks: His crimes are listed at War Criminals Watch. 50. Michael Hayden: His crimes are listed at War Criminals Watch. Heck, let's make it a full deck of 52, by including Bruce Jessen mentioned above and Erik Prince of Blackwater.
*** No Justice, No Peace Judge's comment on Rove's citizen arrest in Iowa: "It's about time."
We encourage you to nonviolently protest these people and insist that they be given what so many of them have denied others: a fair trial. We encourage you to attempt to make citizen's arrests, after consulting lawyers and learning how to avoid any unnecessary criminal risk to yourselves. It is possible to confront a war criminal at a public event and announce a "citizen's arrest!" without actually touching (or handcuffing) the criminal.
You may want to avoid announcing that you're coming, because the war criminal may choose to escape.
Your team should include one or more people who can produce an excellent video and be extremely fast in editing and posting it online. Your team should ideally include a lawyer. And, of course, people who can read the charges and question the suspect. Everyone on your team should be able to keep a secret while you're planning your arrest or protest.
Read the war criminal their rights, rights they have denied others:
"You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to have an attorney present during questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you."
Read the war criminal the charges against them.
Ask the war criminal if they would like to say anything.
Once you have good video footage, your top priority becomes immediately getting it edited (if necessary) and online.
If possible, turn the war criminal over to the police.
Pass out flyers to passersby.
Send statement to the media and/or have the media present.
Consult a lawyer to avoid unnecessary risks of violating laws while enforcing the law. According to Wikipedia, "A citizen's arrest is an arrest made by a person who is not a sworn law enforcement official. In common law jurisdictions, the practice dates back to medieval England and the English common law, when sheriffs encouraged ordinary citizens to help apprehend law breakers. Despite the title, the arresting person does not usually have to be a citizen of the country where he is acting, as they are usually designated as any person with arrest powers.... Each state with the exception of North Carolina permits citizen arrests if the commission of felony is witnessed by the arresting citizen... The application of state laws varies widely with respect to ... felonies not witnessed by the arresting party. American citizens do not carry the authority or enjoy the legal protections of police, and are held to the principle of strict liability before the courts of civil- and criminal law including but not limited to any infringement of another's rights. Though North Carolina General Statutes have no provision for citizen's arrests, detention by private persons is permitted and apply to both civilians and police officers outside their jurisdiction. Detention, being different from an arrest in the fact that a detainee may not be transported without consent, is permitted where probable cause exists that one has committed a felony, breach of peace, physical injury to another person, or theft or destruction of property ... A person who makes a citizen's arrest could risk exposing himself to possible lawsuits or criminal charges (such as charges of impersonating police, false imprisonment, kidnapping, or wrongful arrest) if the wrong person is apprehended or a suspect's civil rights are violated." In the case of the war criminals we propose detaining, they are most if not all public figures and we have all witnessed their felonies, as detailed above.
Be prepared to post your video online in multiple places: Youtube, Google, and After Downing Street.
Known upcoming public appearances of war criminals who should be protested and citizen arrested: List. Map. See also: War Criminals Watch.
For more on holding the biggest criminals accountable, see http://prosecutebushcheney.org *****
See also: "Crimes and Misdemeanors: Slate's interactive guide: Who in the Bush administration broke the law, and who could be prosecuted?" by Emily Bazelon, Kara Hadge, Dahlia Lithwick, and Chris Wilson. This guide includes some of those complicit in crimes other than war crimes, such as DOJ hirings and firings, destruction of CIA tapes, and illegal spying. (Of course, Karl Rove shows up in every part of every list.)
This article, by Alan Koenig, was publishedin the CUNY Graduate Center Advocate, February 2009
“I admire President Nixon’s courage. It is difficult for me to understand . . . why people are still criticizing his foreign policy — for example, the bombing in Cambodia.” — Lt. John McCain, 1973
“Collective guilt is . . . partly constituted by individual shame.” — Peter Forrest
In the aftermath of Barack Obama’s exhilarating victory, many on the Left are wondering how much of their agenda he’ll fight for, and as the early exaltations cool, progressives and militant liberals are staking positions, mustering arguments, and searching for the pressure points necessary to impel President Obama to hold war crimes trials for the Bush administration’s most appalling deeds. How far President Obama is willing to go in battling the inertia of a political culture that never seems willing to confront the sins done in its name is not yet clear, but the early signs don’t look promising. As Newsweek recently reported, “Despite the hopes of many human-rights advocates, the new Obama Justice Department is not likely to launch major new criminal probes of harsh interrogations and other alleged abuses by the Bush administration.”
As far back as July, Cass Sunstein, an informal Obama advisor, set off progressive alarms by warning The Nation magazine that war crimes prosecutions against the Bush administration might set off a “cycle” of criminalizing public service, and that only the most “egregious” crimes should be pursued. Faced with such early hedging, those dedicated to pursuing war crimes against American officials must fight a two-front war: the first against those timid moderates within the center-left who shy away from the political costs of war crimes prosecutions, and the second against the reactionary nationalism of the American right, which still needs to be persuaded as to the moral necessity of such a campaign.
Integral to both fronts will be a task requiring unusual imagination and finesse, framing the issues surrounding war crimes in such a way that a majority of the American public feels a collective sense of responsibility to redress them. Developing a narrative to inspire the American public to hold war crimes for its own elected officials treads on some exceedingly difficult ideological terrain, for there are no readily accessible frames to incorporate such a dark history of America into a positive sense of contemporary patriotism. An effort to introduce the public to the repressed regions of its historical consciousness all at once would shut down discussion. What, for instance, is the worst atrocity America has perpetrated since World War II? The question doesn’t inspire easy conversation; even asking can invite reproach for being rude, jarring, perhaps challenging to one’s patriotism. There’s no polite way to ease into those vile parts of American historical memory that most citizens don’t dwell on as they go about their days. Many people, however, on some level of consciousness, are aware and that might be the place to start.
Students from the seventies onward have graduated from liberal arts colleges having learned the whole Leftist litany of American war crimes and atrocities, and that horrific history is extremely depressing to ponder: coups, assassinations, massive bombing campaigns against neutral South East Asian countries, Central American death squads, ad nauseum. What is one to do with this knowledge? Or, more importantly, what is one to do with it upon realizing that the public doesn’t want to hear about—and our politicians don’t want to deal with—our shameful history of atrocities?
In puzzling through this dilemma, the genocide scholar Ernesto Verdeja uses an important distinction between public knowledge and acknowledgment first made by NYU’s Thomas Nagel. While the raw information about official complicity and culpability is readily available in a robust historical record, Verdeja sees the difficulty of pursuing higher justice less in the dissemination of that knowledge than the moral awareness that follows.“The problem,” he told me in a recent interview, is not public ignorance, rather it is
“the assumption by many human rights activists and critics of the administration that knowledge equals acknowledgement; in other words, that when people know how bad things are, they will ‘do something’ about it, or demand that something be done. Acknowledgement implies moral awareness, a willingness to reflect on the moral consequences of actions and behavior and take responsibility—or demand accountability—for the commission of violations.”
Until that connection is developed on an explicitly moral basis, all sorts of crimes can fall through the cracks—and already have.
Back in December of 2000, while the Supreme Court was still deliberating over who would be our next president, Bill Clinton took a farewell tour through South East Asia. As a diplomatic gesture, Clinton released previously classified Air Force data to the Cambodian government about the true extent and targets of the so-called “secret” bombing campaign conducted by the Johnson and Nixon administrations. According to an article written by two members of the Yale Genocide Studies program for The Walrus, the tonnage of bombs dropped on neutral Cambodia was five times greater than previously realized, and exceeded the combined tonnage of bombs dropped on both Germany and Japan during World War II—including the two atomic bombs: “Previously, it was estimated that between 50,000 and 150,000 Cambodian civilians were killed by the bombing. Given the fivefold increase in tonnage revealed by the database, the number of casualties is surely higher.”
Though Clinton’s revelatory report was briefly covered, no major news media or watchdog group paid sustained attention to the new bombing figures or what the moral implications might be. What does it mean that massacres on an industrial scale can be committed by American democracy and the perpetrators go…unpunished? Or, like Henry Kissinger, are feted as the wise old men of America’s foreign policy establishment? There’s a certain futility in posing these questions. Since Vietnam, there has been no place to go with a politics that seeks justice for American war crimes at the highest levels of the government. To broach these topics is to touch upon larger questions of democratic culpability and national shame, and avoiding such themes has been a political no-brainer. Shame does not sell in American politics.
Indeed, in America, the cachet of war crimes can even provide fleeting glamour. Against the wishes of much of the Army brass, President Nixon pardoned Lt. William Calley, the officer convicted in a military tribunal of the command responsibility for mass rape and slaughter of hundreds of defenseless old men, women and children in Vietnam’s My Lai massacre. Calley, while awaiting trial, appeared in an issue of Esquire; the cover shot showed him in dress uniform, grinning like a demonic chipmunk while holding a lapful of Asian children. According to Time magazine, after details emerged about the atrocity during his trial—and his own soldiers testified that he personally shot a child attempting to crawl out of a trench of corpses—Calley was flooded with thousands of letters of support, personal checks, and flowers. Though controversial, the President’s decision to commute his sentence proved popular, as an overwhelming 79 percent of Americans polled disapproved of Calley’s conviction. Upon being partially pardoned, Calley enjoyed a brief stint as a minor celebrity, a far right rallying figure and lecturer, before slipping into wealthy obscurity.
The journalist and polemicist Christopher Hitchens notes a somewhat similar phenomenon in the career of Henry Kissinger, in that the hints of shamelessness and past atrocities adds a bit of bad boy swagger or frisson to Kissinger’s persona. It’s the kind of buzz that’s good for both cocktail parties and TV appearances with Jay Leno, and the ancient guru’s reputation remains exalted enough that this year’s first presidential debate showed both candidates’ efforts to claim his ideas as closer to their own brand of foreign policy. Even Hitchens’s endeavors to popularize Kissinger’s crimes have run afoul of this bizarre resiliency, providing another cautionary tale of thwarted accountability. Hitchens’s The Trial of Henry Kissinger, a concise and scathing indictment of the former Secretary of State, was released in May of 2001 and was soon followed by a by-the-book BBC documentary. The charges range widely: sabotaging President Johnson’s peace negotiations in Vietnam; cynically leading the Nixon administration’s escalation of bombings throughout Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia; plotting the overthrow of a democratically-elected government in Chile; complicity with the Greek Colonel’s regime and their nefarious machinations in Cyprus; tacitly backing Pakistan’s genocidal civil war against Bangladesh; and giving the go-ahead to Suharto’s atrocity-ridden invasion of East Timor. Written to inflame moral outrage, Hitchens’s slim book portended a long campaign, but 9/11 ripped apart American politics and Hitchens broke with his narrow vision of the American Left in order to embrace the Bush administration and its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. After five years of praising various “Pentagon intellectuals” (and somehow missing the presence of Kissingerians like L. Paul Bremer and John Negroponte throughout the administration), Hitchens was devastated to discover in late 2006 that Bush still took advice from the old monster himself. Kissinger still had the ear of the president. “Will we never be free of the malign effect of this little gargoyle?” Hitchens wailed in a Slate column.
Aside from the relatively rare Hitchensian amputation of Leftist sentiment and sense, and those limp moderates fearing a cycle of prosecutions for unspecified future crimes, Leftists concerned about American war crimes must trim another untidy feather of their own right wing; a Left interventionism that grew up in Bosnia and Kosovo and flew on to Iraq. Not all Left interventionists took this bellicose flight path, but a predominate form of Liberal hawkishness arising in the ’90s focused on the exigency of foreign atrocities at the price of forgetting the dark side of American military might, and too many ended up supporting the crusades of the Bush administration with too few caveats. The Canadian parliamentarian Michael Ignatieff, a prototypical Liberal Hawk, wrote in The Warrior’s Honor, that for the interventionist the mid-90s NATO incursions into Bosnia were:
“a theater of displacement, in which political energies that might otherwise have been expended in defending multiethnic society at home were directed instead at defending mythic multiculturalism far away. Bosnia became the latest bel espoir of a generation that had tried ecology, socialism, and civil rights only to watch all these lose their romantic momentum.”
Many of those Left hawks, like Ignatieff, who joined forces with neocon intellectuals over the “bel espoir” of Bosnia, rode that “romantic momentum” all the way to the Iraq War—only to later recant. (Ignatieff finally retracted his own support in 2007). Some of these Left hawks, in the first years of the Iraq War, got flirtatiously close to supporting the efficacy of torture as a means to combat a greater evil. In 2005, Hitchens praised Terrorism in the Grip of Justice, a ghoulish Iraqi TV-reality show featuring the renunciations of various battered insurgents and terrorists—some of whom, as the journalist Peter Maas has reported, turned up dead after their confessions were broadcast. Hitchens, while acknowledging in Slate that “the possibility exists that other confessions are either staged or coerced,” and that “[the] United States could not have put any of these people on television, because the Geneva Conventions forbid the exhibiting of prisoners,” nevertheless boldly concluded: “[in] my opinion, at any rate, the elected Iraqi authorities are well within their rights in using this means of propaganda.” Evidently snuff films are wrong for America, but some exceptions can be made for allied countries on the battlefront. For his part, Ignatieff wondered in The New York Times in early 2004 to what degree “[to] defeat evil, we may have to traffic in evils: indefinite detention of suspects, coercive interrogations, targeted assassinations, even pre-emptive war,” before disavowing torture much more forcefully in The Prospect in 2006. Regeneration of liberal energies and policies starts at home and has a lot of housecleaning to do before it can confidently travel abroad. While the lesson may be learned, that doesn’t mean it won’t have to be repeated.
Aware of such fissures, how can the Left cultivate the moral awareness necessary to bring more attention to war crimes and call their perpetrators to justice? When it comes to questions of collective shame, the American media environment has always been awful, and since the rise of right-wing radio, FOX News and the trogosphere, the Left must contend with an even more amplified caricature of the shrieking liberal. Condemned by the Right for an apparent lack of sound bite patriotism, and for only harping on the ugly side of American politics that no one wants to see, the Left lacks a compelling frame to raise such dire issues, and it has been a surefire recipe for political disaster when it comes to electoral politics. John Kerry touched this third rail when the Bush campaign merely reminded voters of Kerry’s youthful participation in the Winter Soldier Project, a protest group in which the young Lieutenant acted as a spokesman for veterans who publicly admitted to atrocities in Vietnam. Attacked in the Swift Boat ads, Kerry could never construct a convincing narrative that bridged his youthful anti-war activism and his evolution into a bland US Senator, and his campaign sunk between those contradictions. Indeed, Kerry appeared so spooked by attacks on his past denunciations of American atrocities that he never made Abu Ghraib a major campaign issue.
Clearly then, American queasiness over confronting war crimes doesn’t have to emerge solely from the unhealed scars of the ’60s and ’70s in order to be politically perilous. In June of this year, Major General Anthony Taguba, the officer tasked with investigating the Bush administration’s culpability in the Abu Ghraib horror, publicly accused the sitting president of war crimes in a preface to a Physicians for Human Rights report. Taguba’s bold, declarative statement of guilt once more pointed to the gap between knowledge and acknowledgement:
“After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.”
Now, if you were a foreign journalist covering American politics you might think this political bombshell would searingly seal the gap between knowledge and acknowledgement and become a major issue dividing the nation in the 2008 election. No such luck. Taguba’s report received little sustained attention, and though candidate Obama critiqued Bush for his torture policies and vowed to end them, he was protected on his right flank by John McCain’s rhetorically similar position, and Obama never combined the words war crimes and prosecution in the same sentence. After all, he wanted to win. Having won, his administration will have to decide whether Taguba’s unequivocal statement rises to the standard of what Sunstein labeled “egregious” enough for prosecution.
A potential frame that is truly interested in “change” may reside not in the standard repertoire of Leftist tactics, but deeper in America’s Christian heritage—if moral awareness is to breach the stultifying cloud of cheap patriotism. Some genocide scholars, like Verdeja, remain cynical about the ability of the Left to strengthen its own resolve and win over the American public as to the necessity of pursuing war crimes. “The Left can’t touch these people [perpetrators],” he asserts. “The Right will have to do it, for only Nixon can go to China. It will take a rising, younger generation of conservatives. This has to be a self-critique within the Right, has to be a movement from the Right and this can only happen after a schism.” If there is to be a schism, and that looks tantalizingly apparent, there must be some way for the Left to win over the schismatics, the whole gamut from anti-war libertarians like Justin Raimondo to social conservatives truly concerned with moral values—perhaps like the conservative intellectuals Rod Dreher and Ross Douthat.
The renowned Christian political theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, in his Moral Man and Immoral Society, recognized the value of patriotism but cautioned that American Christians must put their first allegiance above any worldly nation bounded by geography and time and dedicate themselves to the community of Christ. Niebuhr preached the necessity of using power to confront evil, but the wielder of that power must be constantly aware, as if through spiritual exercise, of how easily power corrupts and how badly it is perceived by those it is used against, no matter the moral claims. Christians must fight against the profound selfishness and delusion that accompany patriotism, and guard constantly against the imperial impulse that so easily flows from national self-righteousness. Obviously, this is not Sarah Palin’s Christianity, but the potential tools to bridge the gap between public knowledge and acknowledgement could reside in the broadly ecumenical Christian theology practiced by the majority of Americans. Leftists interested in advancing the moral imperative of bringing war crimes trials home would be negligent to overlook these opportunities. Conceptions of shame and redemption are present all throughout most Christian denominations, and a first step to utilizing them would be familiarity, while a second lays in making such appeals to audiences that claim to hold them. Successful examples of progressive moral movements run all throughout American history from the abolitionists to Martin Luther King Jr. and shouldn’t be forgotten in a more secular age.
If this really is a bridge too far, a rearguard strategy would be a prophylactic one of simply ending criminal policies such as torture, even if their perpetrators go unpunished. Verdeja notes that Americans
“have no history or stomach to put our leaders on trial for this sort of behavior, and clearly there will never be an international tribunal to hold them accountable. Nevertheless, it is important that we don’t simply assume that nothing can be done: we need to continue forcefully discussing and criticizing these policies, with the aim of putting an end to them under the new administration.”
By this logic, bruiting about the sins of war crimes, even if we never hold actual trials, could focus moral awareness to a degree that future crimes can be prevented at conception. A public campaign of shaming would be needed, and while it would require a new cultivation of moral awareness, it’s the least we could do.
If, however, the bridge between knowledge and acknowledgement is never built on Christian ethics, and waiting for a new generation on the Right willing to countenance criminal prosecution is futile, and promises of future abstention are not preventative enough, then maybe a thought experiment is in order. What if the Left were to encourage President Obama to just pull the trigger: institute war crimes tribunals for past officials through constitutional means and just eat the backlash as the price of higher justice? After all, if “we are the change we’ve be waiting for,” then who are the reactionary politicians—or what really are the political considerations—to say otherwise? As Niebuhr himself noted:
“Politics will, to the end of history, be an area where conscience and power meet, where the ethical and coercive factors of life will interpenetrate and work out their tentative and uneasy compromises. The democratic method of resolving social conflict, which some romanticists hail as a triumph of the ethical over the coercive factor, is really much more coercive than at first seems apparent.”
There are many forms of coercion. Coercion wielded through democratically attained political power, constitutionally undertaken and with a full Niebuhrian awareness of its dangers—though never an unalloyed good—may be a necessary one. Arrest and prosecution are forms of legal coercion, and if the longstanding critique is that the Left never knows how to wield power to protect or enact what it holds dear, then demanding the exercise of our political power on an issue of such import and moral clarity would be a strong proclamation of political arrival. It might even provide “change we can believe in,” as other progressive causes could be weighed in relation to the shame not solely of war crimes, but of poverty, inequality, or that of our vast and reprehensible prison-industrial complex. The precursor to this legal and political clash between conscience and power is that the moral exigency of prosecuting war crimes rises to the level of social conflict. The payoffs for such a mobilization and contestation might not be all bad. After all, nothing helps to advance previously resistant conceptions of shame quite like a conviction.
Maybe. While tempting, such an optimistic scenario cannot account for the shock waves sure to follow from the psychic detonation of seeing a former President of the United States in the dock. Or looking bewildered in a prison jumpsuit. This would be so startling, so previously unimaginable, that there’s no telling how the public would react or what the political reverberations might be. While a great precedent in terms of the power of the constitution, many Americans would view it as an assault on patriotism, on the pervasive view that America is fundamentally good. Would such an astonishing event be seen by the majority as a great cleansing, a release from past sins, or an egregious national humiliation enforced by a puritanical few?
It would be the emotional equivalent of regicide, and while our political ancestors, the British, beheaded their king only once in their history, they’ve been pretty uptight about it ever since. If we successfully pressed for war crimes trials for America’s former leaders, we’d have to accept the consequences that go along with a brand of justice for which the public is not yet prepared. Perhaps then, the best way to prepare would be start small, a few degrees of distance from the present regime. Henry Kissinger still breathes in freedom and that could be corrected.