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Let history judge

By Scott Ritter

02/27/06 "
AlterNet" -- -- Stung by growing criticism of his Iraq policy which has manifested itself in all-time low public opinion ratings, President Bush last month embarked on a tour in which he delivered five speeches outlining his "Plan for Victory" in Iraq, as well as offering a defense of his decision to invade Iraq. "It is true that much of the intelligence [used to justify the invasion] turned out to be wrong", Mr. Bush said in the fourth of these speeches. "As President, I'm responsible for the decision to go into Iraq."

While taking responsibility for his actions, Mr. Bush has not taken well to any criticism of his role in over-selling the case for war, and in his speech was quick to attack those who dared hold him to account. "Some of the most irresponsible comments about manipulating intelligence", he said, "have come from politicians who saw the same intelligence we saw, and then voted to authorize the use of force against Saddam Hussein. These charges are pure politics."

But it is the President, through his speeches, who is engaged in politics of the most puerile sort. Mr. Bush failed to address his role in the Niger yellowcake forgery, the aluminum tube exaggeration, the rush to embrace "Curveball", or any of the myriad of politicized intelligence pushed by the White House in the lead up to war with Iraq. The President continued to exploit in the basest fashion the death of nearly 3,000 people on September 11, 2001. As has been his style since that horrible day, Mr. Bush hid behind the memory of so many fallen to mask his administration's shortcomings and disguise its true intent.

"Given Saddam's history", the President said (conveniently omitting that the CIA today states that Iraq had destroyed all of its WMD by the summer of 1991), "and the lessons of September the 11th, my decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision. Saddam was a threat -- and the American people and the world is better off because he is no longer in power." But even the CIA's National Intelligence Estimate of October 2002, used by the Bush administration to sell its Iraq war to the US Congress, failed to identify Saddam Hussein as a threat.

The White House pushed hard to find intelligence information that backed the assertions made by President Bush in the fall of 2002 that Hussein's regime was an "ally of al-Qaeda" and posed a direct terrorist threat to America. "This is a man that we know has had connections with al-Qaeda," he said, referring to Saddam Hussein. "This is a man who would like to use al-Qaeda as a forward army. And this is a man that we must deal with for the sake of peace."

But neither the FBI nor the CIA were able to produce any intelligence to back up the President's rhetoric. Indeed, both agencies provided assessments that directly contradicted the claims of Mr. Bush, noting that any alliance between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden was highly unlikely. These findings were included in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, a classified document kept secret from the American public and most members of Congress. However, in a declassified version of the NIE made public, all mention of the de-linking of Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda were excised, freeing up the President and his administration to sell the Iraqi war on the basis of not only the existence of WMD in Iraq, but also the probability that Saddam Hussein would transfer these weapons to his ally, Osama Bin Laden, who "on any given day" could unleash hell on American soil.

"And when the history of these days is written", the President said, concluding the fourth and last of his Iraqi policy speeches, "it will tell how America once again defended its own freedom by using liberty to transform nations from bitter foes to strong allies. And history will say that this generation, like generations before, laid the foundation of peace for generations to come."

History will tell another tale. Far from the revisionist and heavily redacted version of events offered up by President Bush, historians will write of an America which squandered the good will of the world in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, to instead push aggressively for a policy of pre-emption and hegemony. In a speech made before the graduating class of the United States Military Academy at West Point in 2002, the President told the future officers of the US Army (many of whom have gone on to fight and, tragically for some, die in Iraq) that, "Our security will require all Americans to be forward-looking and resolute, to be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives." He went on to say that "America has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenge."

These twin policies of hegemony and pre-emption went on to be codified in the National Security Strategy of the United States, published by the White House in September 2002. The 33-page document outlined a new and muscular American posture in the world -- a posture that relied on preemption to deal with rogue states and terrorists harboring weapons of mass destruction. It stated that the United States would never allow its military supremacy to be challenged as it was during the Cold War, noting that when America's vital interests are at stake, it will act alone, if necessary.

President Bush has tried to justify his embrace of hegemony and pre-emption as a tragic necessity in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001. But the facts do not add up. The triple-threat outlined by the Bush administration as the justification for this new policy -- Saddam Hussein's WMD, the Hussein-Osama Bin Laden alliance, and the transfer of WMD technology from Iraq to Al Qaeda for the purpose of attacking America -- could not be backed up either in the form of intelligence data or intelligence analysis. The fact that the Bush administration pushed so aggressively for pre-emptive war in the face of no viable threat speaks volumes about the nature and intent of the President and those who advise him.

In 1946, the Nuremburg Tribunal rejected the German defense of pre-emption when it came to the invasion of Denmark and Norway in 1940. The Germans had cited the imminent occupation of these two nations by the armed forces of France and Great Britain, which would have threatened the German northern front, as just cause. This defense was rebuked by the tribunal, led by US Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, who instead identified the German action as constituting a "war of aggression." Judge Jackson went on to say that "To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."

Judge Jackson's words, and my steadfast allegiance to the Constitution of the United States of America, motivated me to give testimony [mp3] this past Saturday at the International Commission of Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration, in particular in support of the first count put forward by the commission: that the Bush administration authorized a war of aggression against Iraq.

I'm not a big fan of un-mandated tribunals, but given the absolute lack of attention on the part of Congress regarding the decision to invade Iraq (a lethargy encouraged somewhat by Congress' own culpability in abrogating its responsibilities under the Constitution when it comes to war powers and holding the Executive Branch in check), I felt that my participation in the Commission's work would help create a record that might someday in the future motivate the representatives of the American people who occupy the Legislative Branch of government to carry work that not only serves the interests of their respective constituencies, but also defends both the letter and intent of the Constitution they are sworn to uphold and defend. America should not be looking to any international commission or tribunal to hold President Bush and his administration to account; that is the job of the American people.

When historians look back on the policies enacted by the Bush administration in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, starting off with the decision to invade Iraq in March 2003, they will be passing judgment on a United States that has violated international law as egregiously as any power in modern history. The final chapters have yet to be written on the Presidency of George W. Bush, but even if time stopped still at the present, the crimes of America and its leader are many, and terrible.

Iraq today is very much a nation under foreign occupation, which makes the very processes of democracy the United States seeks to impose on the Iraqi people questionable from a legal basis, as it is a violation of international law for occupying forces to impose their will on the processes of law and self-governance of an occupied people. It would be tragic comedy of the blackest sort for anyone to try and make a case that the Bush administration has not imposed itself in a significant and meaningful fashion regarding the drafting of the new Iraqi Constitution, the conduct of Iraqi elections, and the formulation and implementation of the Iraqi court system (especially as it concerns the ongoing trial of Saddam Hussein).

The end result of all of this illegitimate intervention on the part of the United States in Iraq is the creation of a failed nation state in Iraq today. Legal niceties aside, the end result of the American invasion and occupation of Iraq are a human and social disaster of enormous scale, where unified central governmental authority is not only non-existent, but unachievable under current conditions.

Civil war is ongoing, and threatens to explode to levels of violence several orders of magnitude greater than the horror already unfolding in Iraq on a daily basis. Those who postulate the "what ifs" of American policy ("What if democracy takes root, the Iraqi economy turns around, the insurgency fades away, and Iraq emerges as a symbol of freedom for the Middle East") have just had the nails hammered into the coffin of their false hopes. The Bush administration's refusal to continue funding of Iraqi reconstruction programs has thrown into the trash bin any hope of building an Iraq that could withstand the stresses of occupation and insurgency by winning over the hearts and minds of a deeply traumatized Iraqi populace.

This action by the United States not only seals the ultimate defeat of America in Iraq by guaranteeing the increase in chaos and anarchy upon which the insurgency thrives, but also certifies yet again the status of the Bush administration as a violator of international law, in this case Hague Regulations and Geneva Conventions to ensure the well-being of the occupied population by respecting their rights to life, health, food, education, and employment. Having invaded and destroyed Iraq, the United States now adds insult to injury by walking away from its responsibilities to rebuild Iraq at least to the standard that existed under Saddam Hussein's rule before March 2003.

While emotionally one can state that getting rid of Saddam Hussein bettered the lot of the average Iraqi citizen, intellectually this is a case that is unsustainable by fact. On every benchmark used to judge the effectiveness of a nation state, Iraq under American occupation fails to meet even the mediocre standards of Iraq as governed by Saddam Hussein, both before and during the time of sanctions. Iraq's education, health, transportation, security, infrastructure (especially water and electricity) and economy have all digressed since the US-led invasion.

Finally, I would be remiss not to comment here on the Bush administration's record of suppressing freedom of speech and expression, especially when it comes to the issue of Iraq. Within the United States we have the ongoing saga surrounding the President's decision to authorize unwarranted wiretaps, enabling the secretive National Security Agency to monitor and record the conversations and communications of American citizens without first going through special courts established for this purpose.

The President has justified his actions by noting that the courts in question imposed a dangerous time impediment, which impacts America's ability to rapidly respond to any emerging terrorist threat. He also emphasized that such intercepts only involved communications between US citizens and known Al Qaeda connections. The legality of the President's actions are questionable, and under current review by members of Congress.

However, given the Bush administration's proclivity to use the Al Qaeda label freely and often without cause (witness the repeated efforts to link Saddam Hussein's regime to Al Qaeda, and the ongoing description of Arab media outlets critical of US policy in the Middle East, such as Al Jazeera, as being propaganda organs of Al Qaeda), the scope of justification of these wiretaps could go far beyond any real threat that might exist from Al Qaeda, and include any anti-war movement in America that has communicated with citizens inside Iraq, or any journalist or columnist who communicates with or writes for Al Jazeera, or anyone who questions or opposes the policies of the Bush administration when it comes to the war in Iraq or the Global War on Terror.

Far from protecting America, the President Bush's frontal assault on the freedoms and protections afforded by the US Constitution have placed the United States, and indeed the world, in greater peril than any terrorist plot could ever aspire to.

If, by writing a book exposing the lies about Iraqi WMD or submitting an essay to Al Jazeera (or for that matter, to AlterNet or any other outlet that publishes a dissenting view), the Bush administration construes my actions as representing a threat to the United States and as such worthy of covert monitoring, so be it, for it is their actions that are seditious to the ideals and values set forth by the Constitution, not mine. When faced with the scale of the criminal activity undertaken by the Bush administration in the name of bringing freedom to the Iraqi people or defending America, the only real sedition I could commit would be to remain silent.

Scott Ritter served as a Chief UN Weapons Inspector in Iraq from 1991 until his resignation in 1998. He is the author of, most recently, Iraq Confidential: The Untold Story of the Intelligence Conspiracy to Undermine the UN and Overthrow Saddam Hussein (Nation Books, 2005).

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