IRAQ: MEMOGATE AND THE COMFORTS OF VINDICATION
Yeah, Bush Lied--So What Do We Do About It?
by Bill Weinberg
Two years and counting after the invasion, a year after the official transfer to Iraqi "sovereignty," and two months after the formation of an elected government, Iraq remains a classic counter-insurgency quagmire. And irrefutable documentary evidence has now emerged that Bush lied about his intentions in the war. We—the anti-war forces who warned of all this back in 2003—are vindicated. Just as the so-called "Memogate" revelations have come to light, global activists are gathering in Istanbul for a self-declared "tribunal" on US war crimes in Iraq, which is reiterating our all too obvious vindication.
This may make us feel good about ourselves. It may even be helpful in documenting US war crimes in a visible forum. But does that, alone, in any way help the people of Iraq? No. Does it even necessarily hasten the day when US troops will leave? If we merely gloat at the agony in Iraq and fail to grapple with the tough questions—again, no.
YES, IT'S A QUAGMIRE
The Bush administration itself issues statements on the state of the war laden with contradictions, a sure sign of the beginnings, at least, of official panic. Vice President Dick Cheney tells us "the insurgency is in its last throes." Defense Secretary Rumsfeld paradoxically defended this statement, even while warning June 26 that "Insurgencies tend to go on five, six, eight, 10, 12 years." He assured, however, that the fighting would eventually be left to the Iraqis. "We're going to create an environment that the Iraqi people and the Iraqi security forces can win against the insurgency."
President Bush's address at Ft. Bragg on June 28 was assailed even by Republicans for its repeated invocation of 9-11, another sign of waning confidence in public support for the war. Said Bush: "The only way our enemies can succeed is if we forget the lessons of Sept. 11, if we abandon the Iraqi people to men like Zarqawi and if we yield the future of the Middle East to men like bin Laden." The obvious response is that it is the US occupation that lured al-Zarqawi to Iraq in the first place, and made the country a hotbed of Islamist terrorism.
On June 25, the UK Independent provided a survey of how the insurgency has fared over the past year since the official transfer to Iraqi sovereignty:
"Car bombers have struck Iraq 479 times in the past year, and a third of the attacks followed the naming of a new Iraqi government two months ago, according to a count compiled by the Associated Press news agency and based on reports from police, military and hospital officials. The unrelenting attacks, using bombs that can cost as little $17 (£9.30) each to assemble, have become the most-favored weapon of the government's most determined enemies, Islamic extremists. The toll has been tremendous: From 28 April through 23 June, there were at least 160 vehicle bombings that killed at least 580 people and wounded at least 1,734. For the year from the handover of sovereignty on 28 June 2004, until 23 June, 2005, there were at least 479 car bombs, killing 2,174 people and wounding 5,520. Altogether, insurgents have killed at least 1,245 people since the government of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari took over on 28 April. There were 77 car bombs in May, killing 317 people and wounding 896. Last month was the most violent for Iraqi civilians since the US-led invasion to remove Saddam Hussein from power in March 2003."
On May 27, New York's Spanish-language daily El Diario/La Prensa noted a study by Puerto Rico's government finding that "US government reports on soldiers under U.S. command killed in Iraq are so fragmented that they account for less than half of the total number." This analysis was confirmed by El Diario/La Prensa's review of multiple documents, including official releases by the Department of Defense, the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior and more than 230 battlefront reports, which reveal that over 4,076 troops under US command had been killed in 799 days of battle. The official toll reported in the US papers—counting only US troops, as opposed to all troops under US command—was 1,649. (It has since gone up to 1,736.)
Military affairs expert José Rodríguez Beruff from the University of Puerto Rico told El Diario that the figures showing more than 4,000 dead indicate that, far from winning the war in Iraq, "what is happening is that the troops are being worn down." He said that traditional theorists calculate that for an occupation force to win a guerrilla war, its casualties should be one to ten of its enemy's. In this case, that would require 40,000 casualties among the insurgents.
There is still more confusion when it comes to the wounded, which US authorities put at 12,600 and counting. But El Diario cited the German Press Agency (DPA), which ran a story reporting on US Army documents putting the number of US soldiers with war-related mental ailments at 100,000.
The figures came to light in the course of an ongoing investigation by El Diario/La Prensa into the number of Puerto Rican and Latino casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. That inquiry prompted Rep. José Serrano (D-NY) and Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, then resident commissioner of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, to request a full casualty report, which yielded a partial list of 200 Puerto Rican losses, including battlefield deaths, wounded and medical discharges. After his election as Puerto Rico's governor, Acevedo Vilá renewed his request to the Defense Department for a total and specific accounting, but has yet to receive an answer.
According to documents reviewed by El Diario, in addition to the 1,649 fatalities among US uniformed troops, there were 88 from the UK, 92 from other coalition member countries, 238 reported by private contractors, and at least 2,000 from members of the Iraqi army. The biggest gap in the published counts is that of Iraqi troops under command of the occupying forces.
Meanwhile, as we watch the corpses pile up, the basics of ordinary life still haven't been restored to Iraqis. In a July 1 statement, Baghdad's mayor decried the capital's crumbling infrastructure and its inability to supply enough clean water to residents, threatening to resign if the government won't provide more money.
The statement from Mayor Alaa Mahmoud al-Timimi was a signal of the daily misery still endured by Baghdad's 6.45 million people. In addition to the unrelenting bombings and kidnappings, serious shortages in water, electricity and fuel continue to make normal life untenable. "It's useless for any official to stay in office without the means to accomplish his job," said al-Timimi, who is seeking $1.5 billion for Baghdad in 2005 but so far has received only $85 million.
Just as al-Timimi released this statement, one of Baghdad's central water plants was shut down by a fire, possibly resulting from insurgent mortar fire, leaving millions in the capital without water.
And, like the West Bank, Baghdad is now divided by a "security fence"—actually a huge concrete wall—that separates the Green Zone, where the US authorities and their client state have set up shop in Saddam's old palaces and ministry buildings, from the rest of the city. The wall draws mortar and rocket fire, and the shops around it have become targets for suicide attacks, making life in central Baghdad more dangerous, not less.
YES, BUSH LIED
In his official final word in April, Charles Duelfer, the CIA's top weapons inspector in Iraq, said that the search for weapons of mass destruction had "gone as far as feasible" and resulted in nothing. "After more than 18 months, the WMD investigation and debriefing of the WMD-related detainees has been exhausted," wrote Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group, in an addendum to the 1,500-page final report he issued last fall.
In the 92-page addendum, Duelfer gave a final look at the investigation that employed over 1,000 military and civilian translators, weapons specialists and other experts. Duelfer said there is no purpose in keeping the detainees who are being held because of their supposed knowledge on Iraq's weapons, although he did not provide details about the current number of such detainees.
This little-noted embarrassment was shortly followed by the Downing Street Memo revelations, which have made something of a bigger splash. Leaked by a "British Deep Throat" to reporter Michael Smith of the London Times in mid-May, the secret document, slugged "eyes only," summarizes a July 23, 2002 meeting of British Prime Minister Tony Blair with his top security advisers, in which Richard Dearlove head of Britain's MI-6 intelligence service (referred to by his code-name "C") reported on a recent visit to Washington. The memo notoriously reads:
"There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action...
"It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.
"The Attorney-General [Lord Peter Goldsmith] said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action. There were three possible legal bases: self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC [Security Council] authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case. Relying on UNSCR 1205 of three years ago [November 1998 resolution calling on Saddam to cooperate with weapons inspectors] would be difficult. The situation might of course change."
These words were written at a time when the Bush administration was still insisting that military action would be a "last resort" against Iraq.
The London Times also reported May 29 that MPs from the UK's Liberal Democrats had received information from the Royal Air Force showing that the bombing of Iraqi targets dramatically escalated in the prelude to the invasion, in an apparent attempt to goad Saddam into war. The information shows that the allies dropped twice as many bombs on Iraq in the second half of 2002 as they did during the whole of 2001.
Another leaked British memo, reported in the Washington Post June 12, has proved particularly prescient. The briefing paper, prepared for Blair and his top advisers eight months before the invasion, concluded that the US military was not preparing adequately for what the memo predicted would be a "protracted and costly" postwar occupation. The eight-page memo, written in advance of the notorious July 2002 Downing Street meeting, is entitled "Iraq: Conditions for Military Action." It notes that US "military planning for action against Iraq is proceeding apace," but that "little thought" has been given to "the aftermath and how to shape it."
WHITHER THE TRIBUNAL?
At the end of June, the World Tribunal on Iraq got underway in Istanbul, convened by leading luminaries of the global anti-war movement. Among other things, the tribunal charged the United States with: waging a war of aggression contrary to Nuremberg Principles and UN charter, targeting the civilian population, using disproportionate force and indiscriminate weapons systems, failing to safeguard the lives of civilians under occupation, using deadly violence against peaceful protesters, imposing punishments without charge or trial and using collective punishment, re-writing the laws of a country that has been illegally invaded and occupied, creating the conditions under which the status of Iraqi women has been seriously degraded, and redefining torture in violation of international law to allow the use of torture and illegal detentions.
The opening statement also calls for "recognizing the right of the Iraqi people to resist the illegal occupation and to develop independent institutions, and affirming that the right to resist the occupation is the right to wage a struggle for self-determination..."
The World Tribunal on Iraq is consciously echoing the 1967 International War Crimes Tribunal on Vietnam, held in Stockholm and Copenhagen and overseen by British pacifist Bertrand Russell. Many of the criticisms that were leveled against the Russell Tribunal, as it was popularly known, are now being heard against the Istanbul tribunal: that it has no legal legitimacy, is recognized by no sovereign power, that nobody is arguing for the defense, that the jurors are all already convinced and the outcome is predermined.
At the opening session in Istanbul, Arundhati Roy delineated these charges, and answered them in her typically self-righteous style that the left finds so irresistible:
"The first is that this tribunal is a Kangaroo Court. That it represents only one point of view. That it is a prosecution without a defense. That the verdict is a foregone conclusion. Now this view seems to suggest a touching concern that in this harsh world, the views of the US government and the so-called Coalition of the Willing headed by President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair have somehow gone unrepresented. That the World Tribunal on Iraq isn't aware of the arguments in support of the war and is unwilling to consider the point of view of the invaders. If in the era of the multinational corporate media and embedded journalism anybody can seriously hold this view, then we truly do live in the Age of Irony, in an age when satire has become meaningless because real life is more satirical than satire can ever be."
Richard Falk, author of over 30 books on international law, addressed the event's mission in less sarcastic terms in his remarks, stating that this "Tribunal movement" works "to reinforce the claims of international law by filling in the gaps where governments and even the United Nations are unable and unwilling to act, or even speak. When governments are silent, and fail to protect victims of aggression, tribunals of concerned citizens possess a law-making authority." But even he implicitly admitted that the verdict was a foregone conclusion, stating that in contrast to traditional tribunals, the Istanbul tribunal's "essential purpose is to confirm the truth, not to discover it." And indeed, the 1967 Russell Tribunal found the US guilty on every charge with a unanimity that even the judges at Nuremberg failed to achieve.
But the far bigger problem concerns the Tribunal's stance towards the Iraqi "resistance," which, like that of the international left generally, is muddled and naive.
The Tribunal affirms the abstract right to resist, but abjectly fails to grapple with the realities of Iraq's actually-existing armed resistance. Arundhati Roy, for her part, has written enthusiastically of the Iraqi resistance in the past, a stance which is at least minimally clearer if no more morally consistent than that of the tribunal she now represents. It is, presumably, the same groups which are attacking US and (more often) Iraqi government forces which are also attacking perceived ethnic and religious enemies within Iraq with even greater ferocity. The June 2 suicide attack on a Sufi gathering north of Baghdad that left ten worshippers dead is but among the most deadly in a long list of recent examples.
In this light, some of the tribunal's charges take on an ironic aspect. The US is accused of "failing to safeguard the lives of civilians under occupation": the "resistance" that Roy and others glorify is one of the primary forces that Iraq's civilians need to be protected from. The US is accused of "using deadly violence against peaceful protesters": this is something else the "resistance" has done, as when presumed Sunni militants opened fire on Shi'ite protesters in Baghdad in April. Perversely, these Shi'ites were protesting against the US occupation, indicating that elements of the "resistance" are more concerned with sectarian supremacy than building a united front against the occupier.
The tribunal also accuses the US of "creating the conditions under which the status of Iraqi women has been seriously degraded." This one is so ironic as to be hilarious when it comes from defenders of the Iraqi "resistance," which is imposing harsh sharia law in its areas of control, as well as abducting and raping women with impunity, throwing acid in the face of those who refuse to take the veil. But perhaps these Taliban-style ultra-fundamentalist enclaves are what is meant by the "independent institutions" that the tribunal affirms the Iraqi "resistance" has the right to develop.
The situation is somewhat muddied by reports of clandestine "black propaganda" units carrying out some of the worst attacks in a bid to marginalize the resistance. But in the absence of evidence, deciding that the preponderance of the ostensible "resistance" attacks on civilians is the work of the CIA or Pentagon is arbitrary and dishonest.
The Bush administration is doubtless guilty of everything the tribunal accuses it of. If anything, the tribunal is guilty of belaboring the obvious. But our vindication does not help the Iraqis. What answer do we have for Americans who are persuaded by Bush's warning that we can't abandon Iraq to al-Zarqawi? That we not only intend to do exactly that, but that we actually support al-Zarqawi as "the resistance"? This is as tactically stupid as it is morally bankrupt.
The anti-war movement is guilty of a monumental abdication of its responsibility to the people of Iraq. One thing which all of the pronouncements from Istanbul has failed to emphasize is the need to seek out and loan vigorous solidarity to Iraqis who oppose the occupation not in pursuit of ethnic or sectarian supremacy but of a secular, pluralist and tolerant social order, of basic rights for women (which are also threatened by Islamists in the US-backed regime), of something more democratic, not less, than the torture state currently in power.
Such organizations do exist, and the most prominent is the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), which helped lead the successful campaign against the measure imposing recognition of sharia law in Iraq's interim constitution. OWFI's street protests and public advocacy are carried out in defiance of the regime and "resistance" alike, and their leaders are under constant threat of death. None of them were invited to Istanbul.
One of OWFI's leaders, Layla Mohammed, told a gathering in Osaka in March that there is a "civil resistance" movement that considers the Iraqi people themselves to be a "third force" that can stand up against both political Islam and the US occupation. This "third force," she said, is one that "defends human rights, women's rights, children's rights, and asks for a secular government with separation between state and religion—where religion becomes a personal thing and no one forces anyone to believe what he or she believes. That's the important thing."
If only the anti-war movement in the West could be convinced of this importance.
Rumsfeld: Iraq Insurgency Could Last Years
One Year After "Sovereignty" Iraq Still in Crisis
El Diario-La Prensa on the casualty count
Baghdad's Mayor Decries Crumbling Capital
WW4 REPORT on Baghdad's "Apartheid Wall"
Final Curtain Falls on Iraq WMD Myth
Bombing Raids Tried to Goad Saddam into War
World Tribunal on Iraq
Brendan Smith on the "Tribunal Movement" for TruthOut
Arundhati Roy opening remarks
Richard Falk opening remarks
WW4 REPORT on Sufi massacre
WW4 REPORT on acid attacks on Iraqi women
June 22 IndyBay report on Layla Mohammed in Osaka
Can Iraq Avoid Civil War? (And Can the US Anti-War Movement Help?)
Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, July 10, 2005
Reprinting permissible with attribution