Right after the climactic finish of World War Two, the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, while picking through the aftermath of the world's biggest bloodbath to date, famously called the waging of aggressive war "essentially an evil thing." "[T]o initiate war of aggression," the tribunal concluded, "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."
That conclusion was certainly true of World War Two. Only in the context of military occupation and war, where millions of people were uprooted and displaced and forced into the war in one way or another, could Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime pull off what they did by way of ethnic cleansing and genocide. All of the subsequent crimes of the Nazis, the Nuremberg tribunal concluded, emanated from the German military's initial decision to wage aggressive war to conquer nations and topple sovereign governments.
George W. Bush, as the Downing Street memos show conclusively, had made up his mind long before the WMD scare, to invade Iraq and overthrow the government in Baghdad. "Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action," the July 23, 2002 memo famously states, "justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
The minutes of the July 2002 Downing Street meetings between high-level U.S. and U.K. officials record evidence that is distinctly at odds with everything the Bush Administration was telling the American people and the world throughout that summer and fall. Bush repeatedly insisted he wanted "peace" and wished to "avoid war," but Saddam's stockpiles of WMD had become simply too big of a threat. Bush forged a thin "bipartisan" consensus for invading Iraq (with 133 members of the House of Representatives and 22 Senators voting against going to war).
Spokespeople for the Bush administration deceitfully juxtaposed concerns about Iraq's alleged WMDs with Al Qaeda's attacks of September 11, 2001. In other words, Bush, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Condi Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Ari Fleischer, Karl Rove and others, along with a small army of "message force multipliers" the Pentagon dispatched to use the public airwaves to push for war, are clearly guilty of committing what the Nuremberg tribunal called the "supreme international crime" - aggressive war.
In addition to torture, we should be investigating the events, actions, and lies from our own government, either through a special commission or a special counsel, which brought this country into the Iraq catastrophe.
What's more, the two war crimes (aggressive war and torture) appear to have been intimately linked. Information has surfaced recently from sources inside the military and CIA that indicates that at least some of the torture was conducted in an effort to establish ties, no matter how tenuous, between Saddam Hussein, Al Qaeda, and 9-11. These "harsh interrogation techniques" were carried out to provide a pretext for invading Iraq.
According to Bush's first Secretary of the Treasury, Paul O'Neill, as well as other Bush administration insiders who have subsequently defected, Bush wanted to launch aggressive military action against Iraq from the moment he took power. That's why he filled his national security staff with veterans from the "Project for a New American Century," which had been openly calling for just such an invasion since the mid-1990s.
So, you see, in addition to investigating torture as a war crime it is imperative that we also examine the lies and deceit that led the United States to defy Article 51 of the United Nations Charter and use its awesome military power against international law to try to remake the politics of the Middle East.
Today, on the sixth anniversary of Bush's "Mission Accomplished" photo-op on board the USS Abraham Lincoln on that sunny San Diego day, we should be calling for a thorough investigation of Bush's warmongering, "the accumulated evil of the whole," when he "fixed" the "intelligence and facts around the policy."
by Joseph Palermo
Joseph Palermo is Associate Professor of American History at CSU, Sacramento. He's the author of two books on Robert F. Kennedy: In His Own Right (2001) and RFK (2008).