Iraq 3: War and Occupation 2003 ff

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[Last essay on the recent history of Iraq’s destruction. All endnote sources cut out by WordPress. All information taken from publicly available sources in print media, especially Sydney Morning Herald, and online.]

The Second Iraq War and Occupation 2003 ff

The war in Iraq is the most important liberal, revolutionary US democracy-building project since the Marshall Plan. It is one of the noblest things this country has ever attempted abroad.
– Thomas Friedman, The New York Times, c. 2003

The charges in the indictment that the defendants planned and waged aggressive wars are charges of the utmost gravity. War is essentially an evil thing. (…). 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.
– from the Nuremberg Judgment of Nazi leaders/war criminals in 1945

I sometimes get emails asking me to propose solutions or make suggestions. Fine. Today’s lesson: don’t rape, don’t torture, don’t kill, and get out while you can – while it still looks like you have a choice…Chaos? Civil war? We’ll take our chances – just take your puppets, your tanks, your smart weapons, your dumb politicians, your lies, your empty promises, your rapists, your sadistic torturers and go.
– Young Iraqi woman at the Baghdad Burning blog in May 7, 2004

Before the US/British/Australian invasion and occupation of Iraq in March 2003, many academic experts in international law warned of its illegality. In September 2004 UN Secretary General Kofi Annan agreed and expressed the opinion that the US/British invasion of Iraq in 2003 was illegal under international law. The relevant international laws against wars of aggression (as ‘crimes against peace’) that the Iraq invasion and occupation breached are the Kellog-Briand Pact of 1928, the London Treaty of 1945 (which established the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal) and the 1945 United Nations Charter, Article 2 Clause 4.

The US/British/Australian official legal position on the invasion was that it was necessary as a ‘preventive’ measure to stop Saddam Hussein’s potential use of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and to enforce UN Security Council resolution 1441 which threatened ‘serious consequences’ for Iraq’s alleged failure to disarm. However, the latter resolution was passed unanimously precisely because it seemed to keep the Security Council (not the US) in charge and did not (by, for example, threatening ‘all necessary means’ or other diplomatic terms for actual military intervention) authorize the use of military force. The blatant lie of there being links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda (contradicted by western intelligence agencies themselves) was also publicly propagated or repeatedly implied by key US administration officials, including President Bush and Vice-President Cheney.

As for the ‘preventive war’ argument: ex-UN weapons inspector in Iraq Scott Ritter stated before the invasion that almost all of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction had been eliminated, and this was confirmed when the invasion and occupation failed to find any at all. In late 2003 it was revealed that Saddam had proposed to give Bush and Blair almost everything they purportedly wanted in order to prevent an invasion: proof that Iraq was not linked to September 11, permission for several thousand US troops or the FBI to enter Iraq and look for weapons of mass destruction wherever they wanted to, acceptance of internationally monitored elections within two years, support for the US position on Israel and Palestine, even rights over Iraqi oil. All this was kept from the public.

Overwhelming evidence thus points to the pre-war ‘weapons of mass destruction’ argument as being purely and simply an utterly mendacious pretext for military intervention and the setting up of US bases in Iraq. Bush Vice-President Cheney, in his previous role as Defense Secretary under Bush Sr., already wanted to invade and occupy Iraq after the first Gulf War in 1991 but was over-ruled at the time. His policy was then elaborated in 1999 by the right-wing think-tank Project for a New American Century he co-founded (and the members of which also included other key Bush Jr. administration officials like Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz). In 2001 Rumsfeld initially attempted to use the September 11 terrorist attacks as a pretext to invade Iraq but no al-Qaeda/Saddam link could be established. The invasion and control of Iraq, its immense oil wealth and geo-strategic importance was thus in fact an early, and even at times publicly stated (e.g. by Wolfowitz), intention of key members of the right-wing Bush administration.

Further evidence of the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ pretext is contained in a memo of a two hour meeting in January 2003 between President Bush and close ally British PM Tony Blair: this revealed that Bush made it clear that he would invade Iraq ‘whether or not there was a second UN resolution and even if UN inspectors found no evidence of a banned Iraqi weapons program’; a second UN resolution would merely be an ‘insurance policy’ providing ‘international cover’ and ‘diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around military planning.’ Contrary to the public ‘spin’ given about the September 11 surprise and the Saddam threat, George Tenet, CIA director from 1997 to 2004, revealed that early CIA warnings about Osama bin Laden had received a lukewarm reception in the White House throughout most of 2001 and that ‘there was never any serious debate that I know of within the Administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat’.

One year before the actual invasion, the Australian ambassador to the UN Dauth also knew of its certainty: he told the Australian Wheat Board chairman Flugge that the Howard government would participate in a US invasion of Iraq, even while Prime Minister Howard continued to publicly lie that he was ‘still considering’ his government’s actions. (The Australian Wheat Board was at the time involved in financially supporting the officially demonised Saddam Hussein regime by paying its officials a mere $290 million in bribes in order to facilitate the sale of Australian wheat. The Australian government of course denied all official knowledge of these payments.)

After the invasion in 2003, US and British forces occupying Iraq arbitrarily detained, killed and tortured civilians, committing war crimes which violate articles 17, 18, 33 and 147 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949. In fighting Iraqi insurgents, both US and British forces continued to break international rules of war by using cluster bombs and shells in urban areas at great cost to civilians: in 2003 even Iraqi government officials accused US forces of dropping cluster bombs on Baghdad and Hilla, killing 47 civilians and wounding 166.

In April 2004 the city of Falluja, an area of fierce resistance, was completely devastated by the US military. An estimated 30,000 to 50,000 civilians were left in the city during the attack. White phosphorous, a chemical weapon, was used, as were ‘thermobaric novel explosives’ (NE) or ‘fuel-air’ weapons (also used by the Russian military in Chechnya) that barbarically kill by fireball, oxygen depletion and/or overpressure. The US Marines ‘leveled thousands of buildings, illegally denied access to the Iraqi Red Crescent, and, according to the UN’s special rapporteur, also used ‘hunger and deprivation of water as a weapon of war against the civilian population.’ While hospitals reported 600 dead and 1,700 wounded, at least half of them women, children and the elderly, there was no western corporate media reporting or outrage at this attack.

An undisclosed internal report obtained by The Washington Post by a Major-General Bargewell on the massacre and rape of two dozen civilians by US marines in Haditha in November 2005 critically stated the obvious: although the marines were now facing court martial trials, marine officers had shown no interest whatsoever in investigating allegations of a massacre, the reason of course being

“Statements made by the chain of command during interviews for this investigation, taken as a whole, suggest that Iraqi civilian lives are not as important as US lives, their deaths are just the cost of doing business, and that the marines need to get ‘the job done’ no matter what it takes.”

Three years after the invasion, the overwhelming majority of Iraqis supported the armed resistance and strongly opposed the presence of foreign troops in Iraq and despite the legal and moral obligation to rebuild Iraq, the US had done very little in that regard. Of the $US 230 billion spent to 2006 (original estimate of war costs: $ 1,3 billion), only $18.4 billion were earmarked for ‘reconstruction’ and up to 80% of that was siphoned off for private security services. Oil and electricity production were below pre-war levels, health and water systems in disarray and everyday life a bleak struggle with petrol queues and power blackouts. A secret 2005 British Ministry of Defence survey of Iraq public opinion published in the London Sunday Telegraph (23/10/2005) found that 65% of polled Iraqis supported attacks by Iraqi armed resistance on US-led occupation forces, 72% said that the US-led occupation had made their lives less secure, and 82% ‘strongly opposed’ the presence of US and other foreign troops in their country.

As in Afghanistan, the introduction of formal ‘democracy’ and the presence of US-led forces in Iraq have also done little to advance women’s rights there. According to a 2005 Amnesty International report, several female activists were threatened, kidnapped or killed by male-chauvinist Islamicists for advocating women’s rights, others forced to operate in a climate of fear and intimidation; in addition, ‘reports have emerged of beatings, threats of rape, humiliating and degrading treatment and long periods of solitary confinement’ of Iraqi women by US forces.

Torture and other severe abuses of human rights also again became routine in post-invasion ‘democratic’ Iraq. Referring to Shiite Interior Ministry-run secret torture centres, former first post-Saddam prime minister Iyad Allawi (himself a secular Shiite) publicly stated in November 2005 that the abuse of human rights in occupied Iraq was as bad as it was under Saddam Hussein, if not worse. This Iraqi puppet government abuse was also modelled on US practices. According to the US Human Rights Network,

“The US military has systematically committed acts of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. Hundreds have been detained indefinitely, without charge or trial, and often in secret. Criminal trials have been conducted in military tribunals that do not provide adequate transparency or due process protections.”

For example, at Abu Ghraib military prison near Baghdad arbitrarily detained civilian ‘security detainees’ (arrested during demonstrations, at checkpoints and in house raids ) were denied court access, killed and tortured or abused by physical, sexual and psychological means. The torture was photographed by guards, some of whom had worked in the US domestic prison system, and emailed. Seven male and female soldiers were charged or pleaded guilty to torture charges, but no officer or government official had to face criminal proceedings. According to renowned US journalist Seymour Hersh, within days of the first reports about Abu Ghraib abuses, ‘the judicial system was programmed to begin prosecuting the enlisted men and women in the photos and to go no further up the chain of command.’

In 2004 the Pentagon itself acknowledged that there had been at least 94 confirmed cases of death in custody, sexual and physical assault and other mistreatment of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan by US army guards. British soldiers were also charged with forcing Iraqis into humiliating sexual poses and photographing them. The International Red Cross told the US government that its treatment of illegally held detainees at its base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba was ‘tantamount to torture’. Many of the techniques involving humiliation were part of a standard, so-called ‘futility’ or ‘ego down’ approach, and 16 of such harsh techniques were approved for use at Guantanamo by Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld in December 2002.

After retirement (as not infrequently with members of the military and ruling elites), the US officer who opened and ran Guantanamo, Marine Major-General Michael Lehnert, agreed with the critics, saying that the camp should be shut down and noting that ‘in retrospect, the entire detention and interrogation strategy was wrong’, and that it had ‘helped our enemies.’ As for the prisoners illegally held there for their ‘intelligence value’, he ‘quickly became convinced that most of them never should have been sent there because they had little intelligence value and there was insufficient evidence linking them to war crimes.’

In his declared so-called ‘war on terror’, torture and abuse had been sanctioned by President Bush in 2001 and 2002. Immediately after September 11 President Bush extended the Clinton-era practice, begun in 1995, of so-called ‘renditions’ by enabling the CIA ‒ now without even any internal bureaucratic oversight or review whatsoever ‒ to covertly transport illegally abducted and detained detainees in ‘ghost flights’ to certain countries for interrogation (Egypt, Jordan , Syria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia). These countries are known ‒ and have often been previously officially condemned by the US State Department ‒ to practise torture during interrogations. Thus, in order to circumvent the bans on torture in its own law and in international law, the US government thus secretly ‘outsourced’ its interrogations in a form of ‘torture by proxy’. According to a 2005 CBS TV report, ‘The suspects were often picked up by local security services or police at the behest of the CIA, and were then drugged, stripped and dressed in prison clothes by masked CIA operatives before being put on the jets.’ After his release from Guantanamo Bay , Australian detainee Mamdouh Habib was taken from Pakistan to Egypt, where he alleged that he was visited by Australian officials and repeatedly tortured by means of electric shocks and water immersion and threatened with sexual assault through trained dogs.

According to Jane Mayer of the New Yorker and State Department officials, President Bush decided to explicitly suspend the Geneva Conventions in January 2002. Since September 11, 2001 and under the pretext of a so-called ‘war on terrorism’, the US government in fact built up a largely invisible ‘global gulag system’ of secret prisons (‘black sites’) and an ‘outsourced’ torture network without prison rolls, visitor rosters, staff lists or complaint procedures. There has been no possibility of meaningful judicial process or review. These ‘ghost detainees’ were held outside any legal framework. By evading public and judicial scrutiny, by hiding the identity of perpetrators and fate of victims, the US administration can thus avoid accountability for its serious human rights violations.

As in any totalitarian state or authoritarian dictatorship, the US administration did this in order to ‘disappear’, hold without charge or trial and torture anyone it considered ‘suspect’. It attempted to set up a punitive parallel system beyond the reach of the American and European judicial process, i.e. beyond the rule of law or democratic process. Key features of liberal democracy were thus in fact abolished and a form of authoritarian police state introduced. According to US and UK military officials, the floating population of ‘ghost detainees’ in this global US gulag in 2005 exceeded 10,000.

In December 2005 the UN human rights chief Louise Arbour warned that the global ban on torture was becoming a casualty of the US-led so-called ‘war on terror’ and demanded that the US and other countries state clearly what practices they accepted in the interrogation of suspects, whether they operated secret prisons at home or abroad and the prosecution of those responsible for torture and ill treatment.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw asserted that the British government did not ‘knowingly’ use information gained under torture. By 2012, however, the British Ministry of Defence had already paid out $21.7 million in compensation to hundreds of Iraqis who had been illegally detained and tortured by British forces during their five-year occupation of south-eastern Iraq; lawyers representing former detainees ‘said the abuse was systemic, with military interrogators and guards responsible for the mistreatment acting in accordance with both their training in Britain and orders issued in Iraq.’ At the end of 2012 up to 1000 British soldiers were expected to be investigated in the UK for crimes allegedly committed during the Iraq war.

At the same time as Foreign Secretary Straw was alleging ignorance of torture, sacked former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray revealed that the British government was aware it was receiving information obtained by Uzbek authorities through torture and that British Foreign Office legal opinion argued that use of such information was not a violation of the UN Convention Against Torture. A British Foreign Office briefing note for the PM’s office (December 2005) also revealed that, in contrast to official denials by Blair and others, the British government had been aware of the secret US interrogation centres and was trying to stifle attempts by British MPs to find out what it knew about CIA ‘torture flights’. According to a previously unpublished document obtained in 2005 by the Statewatch Civil Liberties Group, the European Union as a whole secretly allowed the US to use airports on European soil to transport ‘criminals’ in 2003.

In December 2005 it was also revealed that for all its electorally popular, publicly ‘anti-American’ stance during the Iraq invasion, the Social-Democrat-Green government in Germany had also had detailed knowledge of, been quietly complicit with, and occasionally even rewarded for, its silence in regard to the US practice of CIA ‘renditions’ and so-called ‘black sites’ across Europe. In some cases, German intelligence officers had even actively cooperated and ‘even tried to profit from the controversial methods by questioning prisoners who were being held without any legal foundation.’ Similarly, according to the official Council of Europe report, the British government not only allowed the use of British airspace and airports for US ‘renditions’ but also ‘provided information that was used during the torture of one suspect’.

By turning a blind eye or actively colluding in the unlawful and abusive US practice of ‘renditions’, many other democratic European states and airline companies must – in the view of Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Kahn ‒ ‘also bear responsibility for creating a law-free zone in which human rights can be violated with impunity.’ This opinion was confirmed in 2007 with the conclusion of the 19-month Council of Europe investigation into the complicity of European governments in CIA ‘renditions’ which declared: ‘We have sufficient grounds to declare that the highest state authorities [in Europe] were aware of the illegal activities on their territories’, but continued to cover them up.

For fear of possible lawsuits and being made scapegoats for illegal Bush-administration decisions, some CIA officers in 2006 even refused to take part in internal discussions about secret prisons, controversial interrogation methods breaching the Geneva Conventions and ‘extraordinary renditions’.

Not only common sense but the order-givers and textbooks of the intelligence hierarchy – like CIA director Porter Goss or the US Army’s own interrogation field manual – have often admitted that torture is in fact a very unreliable interrogation technique because of the victim’s willingness to say anything the torturer wishes to hear. It may, however, serve quite other purposes than those officially maintained.

Domestically, the function of torture is also one of instilling a general sense of fear in the population, increasing social disengagement and weakening dissent, and thus increasing state social control. Increased unregulated state surveillance, the arbitrary arrest on mere suspicion that has become possible through so-called ‘anti-terror’ legislation (like the US Patriot Act and its British and Australian equivalents), torture, sedition laws and the elimination of habeas corpus, the presumption of innocence and the right to fair trial – all these introduced features of the authoritarian state also terrorize the broader community into acquiescence.

Thus, under the guise or pretext of the so-called ‘war on terror’ declared by the Bush administration, several Western democracies have been shifted towards less open, less democratic, less law-based and more intolerant, more authoritarian and more coercive systems of governance. Liberal democracy is at grave risk of disappearing into some form of ‘friendly (i.e. still constitutional and formally ‘democratic’) fascism’ . Combined with savagely neo-liberal economic policies strengthening the power of Capital over workers (tax cuts for the wealthy, radical reductions of the welfare state safety net, generally minimizing wages and penalty rates, intensifying working conditions, weakening of unions and workers’ rights) and increasing nationalism and xenophobia among frightened populations, outright ‘friendly fascist’ and authoritarian police states thus seem ominously nascent at least in the USA, some European countries and Australia.

The usual moral confusions and double standards also pertain. As the New York Times noted, the US State Department’s 2005 World Human Rights report chastised the Iraqi government that was under its own control and its security forces

“for the same kinds of arbitrary detentions, abusive treatment and torture that have been widespread in American military and intelligence prison camps. Indeed, some of the practices the report labeled as torture when employed by foreign governments were approved at one point for American detention centers by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.”

According to Francis Boyle, Professor of Law at the University of Illinois, the accountability for all these war crimes under the terms of the US Army’s own Field Manual 27-10 stretches from the immediate perpetrators up to the army high command, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and President Bush himself:

“So ultimately what we have here are people at the highest levels of the chain of command guilty of ordering or not preventing torture, which is both an international crime against the Geneva Conventions and the Torture Convention and a domestic crime as well. What we have here then is a conspiracy among the aforementioned individuals to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

However, at this point in time, a Nuremberg-style war crimes tribunal for Messrs Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Blair or Howard is as little in the offing as it was for the many war criminals, human rights abusers and international law breakers of previous US and Western democratic governments.

US and British forces in post-occupation Iraq of course faced the usual guerrilla insurgency seeking to throw them out. Violence quickly became the main cause of death in Iraq. Despite the predictable western media focus on insurgent bomb attacks and hostage taking, the main killers at least initially in 2004 were not the insurgents but US soldiers: the Iraqi ministry of health’s statistics showed that in the last six months of that year they killed almost twice as many people as the insurgents did. A 2005 report by the independent Iraq Body Count and the Oxford Research Group, applying very strict verification criteria, concluded that of the at least 24,865 Iraqi civilians verifiably killed in the two years after the invasion, four times as many (around nine and a half thousand, or 37%) died at the hands of US-led forces than were killed by suicide bombers or insurgents (2,353). Non-political criminal violence accounted for the second largest (36%) cause of death, the criminal murder rate having soared 20-fold since the invasion.

The massive breakdown of law and order as well as the health system in Iraq is of course also an effect of the invasion (coming on top of the destruction wrought by the first Gulf War and the sanctions) and the inherent ineffectiveness of the initial puppet regime and subsequent ‘democratic’ governments. Depleted uranium munitions were also again used in the 2003 invasion: in July 2007 the Iraqi Environment Minister linked a sharp increase in cancers to the 350 officially DU-contaminated sites across Iraq and urgently requested international assistance.

According to research by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore published at the end of 2004 in The Lancet medical journal, the estimated total (direct and indirect) death toll of the second Iraq war/invasion was at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians. Most were killed by air strikes. About half were women and children. In the same period 848 US military were killed in combat or attacks. In 2006 the same institute release a report based on their cluster survey research of Iraqi deaths in occupied Iraq. This report, which did not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants, came to the conclusion that the illegal war of aggression and imperial occupation had caused more than 600,000 Iraqi deaths.

In Professor (of Law) Michael Mandel’s view, that is 600,000 murders: ‘Since the war was unlawful, the many thousands of deaths predictably resulting from it are also crimes, murder in fact, for which Bush and his officials and commanders are guilty in flagrante.’

In his Noble Prize speech of 2005, British playwright Harold Pinter emphatically concurred:

The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading – as a last resort – all other justifications having failed to justify themselves – as liberation. […] We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it ‘bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East.’ […]

How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought. Therefore it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice. But Bush has been clever. He has not ratified the International Criminal Court of Justice. Therefore if any American soldier or for that matter politician finds himself in the dock Bush has warned that he will send in the marines.

In 2012, seven years after Pinter’s speech, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa also concurred: in his view, Bush and Blair should be taken to the International Criminal Court in The Hague for their role in the Iraq war, accusing them of lying about weapons of mass destruction and leaving the world more destabilised and divided ‘than [after] any other conflict in history.’

Iraqi Deaths as a result of US/British/Australian 2003 Invasion of Iraq (as of 2006): c. 609,500

Total Iraqi Deaths through US/GB Interventions 1990-2006: c. 1,820,500

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~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on July 25, 2015.

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