Salon , October 25, 2009
[This is a slightly edited version of a talk I gave at a Fundraiser for Iraqi Orphans held on October 17, 2009 in Costa Mesa.]
I want to thank the organizers of this important event. [Sound of plane rumbling overhead]. When I fly out of and back into LA, I look out the window and see the vast expanse of housing, buildings, and roads that we have here. It always amazes me when I fly over it at night and see the lights that fill the landscape, like starry sea creatures floating on the oceanís surface. I ask that you now picture that as you think about the dimensions of the problem of children who have been orphaned by the USís invasion and ongoing occupation of Iraq.
If you imagine that everyone now living in the city of Los Angeles and its surrounding areas, yourself, everyone here, and every single person outside of these doors, was an orphan, and that half a million of us were in addition to being orphans, forced into living in the streets without any shelter, then you get a small idea of the magnitude of the problem for Iraqi orphans today.
According to the Iraqi Ministry of Labor and Social Affairsí January 2008 Report, 4.5 million Iraqi children have been made orphans. Of these, only 459 orphans are in government care. Iíll say that again. Out of 4.5 million, only 459 children are in government care. 800 orphans at the time of this report were being held in Iraqi prisons, 100 of these in American prisons, charged as terrorists.
Who is better off, I wonder, those in prison or those on the streets?
What has caused this catastrophe? What has happened to the parents of these millions of orphans? What kind of disaster could have resulted in 4.5 million orphans in a country with a total population of 28 million as of 2008?
In proportion to the US population of 310 million, this would mean the equivalent of 19.3 million US orphans. Thatís the size of the combined populations, all ages, of our six biggest cities, New York, LA, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, and Philadelphia, all rendered orphans.
What would Americans think and feel if this was happening to our country and our people? How angry would we be? How tolerant would we be of our occupiers responsible for this ongoing calamity?
These are the crimes of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and now, of Barack Obama, who has not ended this criminal war that has resulted, and is resulting, in the violent deaths of so many people in Iraq. These are the crimes of not just these individuals, however. This political system, which these presidents and high officials represent and defend, that allows and supports this ongoing crime against Iraq and against children, is to blame.
Hundreds of these orphans, as I mentioned a few moments ago, are in prison.
Conditions for detainees, as we know, are horrendous. Most, if not all, are subjected to atrocious conditions, many being tortured. US forces, not proxies, have personally and directly murdered at least a hundred people through torture. This is death by torture, from the Bush White House that claimed throughout its eight long year stolen tenure that the US does not torture. Now the man who promised change and who just won the Nobel Peace Prize has allowed torture to continue under his watch and previously announced that some 40,000 US troops will remain indefinitely in Iraq.
This immoral war and ongoing occupation of Iraq has been responsible for the needless deaths and suffering of millions, with the death toll of over 1.2 million Iraqis and tens of thousands of US soldiers. (The 1.2 million Iraqis killed is also, by the way, corroborated by not only death certificates from most of those interviewed by the Lancet Report, but also by the 4.5 million children who have been orphaned - that is, deprived of their parents.) You might wonder why Iím saying tens of thousands of US dead. The official death toll of US personnel in Iraq is 4,349. This 4,349 figure is, we know, low because they transport some victims out of Iraq and take them elsewhere, making the count smaller for Iraq War casualties. But the largest numbers of dead really come from suicides. According to the Veteranís Administration itself, eighteen vets have been committing suicide every day since the USís April 2003 invasion of Iraq. If you do the math, this means that as of now over 40,000 US service personnel have died by suicide alone since the start of this war launched by Bush and Cheney and continued under Obama.
Most people know by now that the Bush Regimeís WMD claims were a hoax, designed to provide a justification for an invasion and occupation that the neocons had been planning to carry out almost ten years before 9/11.
Most people also know by now that Bush and Cheneyís alleged links between 9/11 and Hussein were phony, although a surprising number of Americans still believe this linkage exists. They believe this in part because they were told it so many times, in part because it was their government and media that said it again and again, so it "must be true," and in part because itís hard to admit that what you believed to be true for so long was completely false. Admitting that you had been taken in would mean that you have to re-evaluate what you thought and supported and because these were lies by this societyís leading figures. This would mean that you would probably have to radically revise how you thought about this country. That is a hard thing for many people to do.
But coming to grips with this fundamental truth is vital. There is going to have to emerge more leaders from among the people, to join the relative handful of people (such as Cindy Sheehan) who have already stepped forward up to this point, to bring this truth again and again to people in a living, concrete, and compelling way. I say "again and again" because one event isnít enough for most people to change their long-held attitudes. It requires persistent work and a great deal of determination and courage to do the work that must be done. We need people to be heralds to the people, people who will not sugarcoat the reality and spread comfortable illusions but who will tirelessly bring the hard truth to people. That truth can be very difficult to stomach, but it is the truth nonetheless. Truth today is both scarce and terribly precious. Truth is inherently potent. It has the hardness of diamonds and like diamonds, can cut anything else it touches or that tries to cut it. I will talk a bit later on in this about why Iím saying that.
WMD and the linking of Hussein to 9/11, while hoaxes from the start, arenít even the main aspect of the illegitimacy of this unprovoked aggression and ongoing occupation. They werenít even the biggest lies.
For even if Iraq had had WMD, the US invasion of Iraq would not have been justified. The USís invasion of Iraq, according to the UN Charter and according to Nuremberg, represents the supreme war crime: invading a country that has not first attacked you.
When you attack a country, moreover, you arenít attacking just the government and military of that country. Modern warfare carried out by imperialist powers involves the deliberate targeting of civilians in a total war. The fact that targeting civilians is a war crime has not stopped imperialist powers from doing it. The orphaning of these kids in these massive numbers is a direct product of this governmentís policies, with the collusion and cooperation of our mass media.
As Judge Robert Jackson, the US prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials of WW II war criminals, said, unprovoked aggression upon another country is the gravest war crime of all because it embodies within it all of the other war crimes, such as torture and the targeting of civilians.
Moreover, attacking a country that has not first attacked you is also the supreme war crime because if it were not prohibited, then any scoundrel, any self-serving great or small power, could claim that another country was about to attack them, thereby necessitating their pre-emptive attack. If such an argument were allowed, there would be no way to prove that it was a ruse. Allowing such a rationale would open the door wide to any and all treacherous deeds masquerading as just wars. International law would be thereby rendered moot.
As the US was everyday preparing to commit the ultimate war crime in the years before 2003, as the government and cooperative media were propagating the hoax of WMD and linking Hussein to the 9/11 plot, no major media outlet and no major political figure ever pointed out even once that unprovoked aggression was against international law. Some of us in the anti-war movement said it, over and over, but because of the blockade against truth erected by the corporate media and by the corporate parties of the GOP and the Democrats, this truth got heard by a relatively tiny number of people. Why didnít the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and the LA Times ever utter this little fact? Why did Time, Newsweek and US News and World Report forget about this little detail? Why didnít this make it into any of the hundreds of nightly news broadcasts on ABC, CBS or NBC? Why wasnít this on NPR?
Had this been mentioned by even one of these esteemed outlets, what would the result of it have been? It would have made it starkly clear that the impending war was a war crime. It would have made the WMD argument much flimsier. It would have shown the government up as liars and made them look like they were overlooking an obvious matter and thus revealed them to be either stupid and ill-informed or deceitful. It would have sparked much more resistance to the war planners and it would have created a storm of controversy. Instead of a one-sided debate about whether to go to war it might have become a two-sided debate. The millions who demonstrated against the war before it began would have been given a huge weapon in the fight.
So why didnít this happen? Why didnít even one journalist in the major media or one public official say these simple words: you cannot attack a country that hasnít first attacked you?
Had everyone in a position of prestige suddenly forgotten history and the law? Had Nuremberg suddenly become irrelevant? Was the UN Charter a dead letter?
The rules appear to have changed. If you watch Bill Maher on HBO youíll know that he ends his show with a piece he calls "New Rules." There are new rules in place in this country.
Under the old rules, there was a time when a major media outlet such as the New York Times ran a story that revealed a major government or corporate scandal, it would have been immediately picked up by other media outlets, initiated a Congressional investigation, and likely led to indictments, resignations, prosecutions, and at least talk of impeachment. This is no longer the way it works.
The New Yorker Magazine is widely considered the most prestigious magazine in the country and arguably the world. The most esteemed investigative journalist we have, Seymour Hersh, ran a story called "The Redirection" in the New Yorker on March 7, 2007 in which he revealed two explosive facts: that the Bush White House had been a) funding clandestine forces in Iran against the Iranian government, and b) these forces were Sunnis, the same forces who were setting off IEDís against US forces in Iraq.
Back in 2007 the Bush regime was rattling its sabers against Iran and preparing for a military attack upon Iran, initiated either by Israel or by the US. (I believe that the attack, by the way, never happened because the financial crisis exploded before they could launch the attack, crippling their credibility and campaign for such an attack.) The express justification for a military attack on Iran was that Iran was funding Sunni forces that were killing American soldiers in Iraq. Nuclear capability was also floated as a rationale.
Never mind that Shiites are in power in Iran and never mind that Shiites and Sunnis donít get along. According to Hershís article, the Bush regime was supporting the very forces that it was claiming were killing US personnel in Iraq. By the logic of their campaign to justify an attack on Iran, the White House itself was therefore contributing directly to the deaths of American GIís. By their own reasoning then, the White House should have bombed itself as enemies of America.
So Sy Hersh, our most credible and famous investigative journalist, the man who broke the story about the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam, shows the Bush regimeís arguments to be bald faced lies. And his story runs in the most prestigious magazine in America.
What happened to the story? Did it spark a hue and cry and calls for heads to roll? No. It hardly gets picked up by any of the rest of the mainstream media. Progressive and left media feature it and give the story the attention it deserves, but thatís it. This would be the equivalent in political news of an item in entertainment news of finding out that Paris Hilton was really a man and the story runs in the LA Times and nobody else does a story about it.
So here are the new rules: whatever the US wants to do in pursuit of empire is fine by the mainstream media and two major political parties with at most a few voices raising relatively minor objections in the face of an incessant patriotic drumbeat of support for such measures, reverberating between right-wing media and corporate media, and between Congressional representatives and senators in a virtual echo chamber. If, in the pursuit of those ends for empire, the US engages in torture, pre-emptive wars, indefinite detention (including, as Obama said recently, even if youíre acquitted by a criminal trial or by a Military Tribunal, he reserves the right to hold you still), rendition, wholesale murder, the express violation of the rule of law, treating the Congressional branch of government as a rubber stamp rather than a co-equal branch of government, using media as fundamentally a propaganda organ to cynically manipulate public opinion, pre-emptive arrests and the admitted use of agents provocateurs upon protestors (who, by their own illegal acts as undercover officers, can create the pretext for police crackdowns on legal protest, thus giving the government carte blanche to prevent legal protest from happening at all whenever they wish to do so), and declaring peaceful protesters to be "unlawful assemblies" and using police forces and military equipment and tactics heretofore used in war theatres such as what was used at the G20 protests in Pittsburg recently to disperse crowds, then it is all OK.
The warís unpopularity and its disastrousness contributed to the GOPís defeat in 2008 (and, in fact, their defeat in 2004 as well). But Obama, being the beneficiary of that unpopularity and winning on a promise that he would undo what Bush had done, hasnít done what many people thought Ė or hoped that - he would do. He is, instead, carrying forward these wars and occupations, expanding the war upon Pakistan with drone attacks, and going even further than Bush and Cheney did in negating civil liberties, thereby legitimating the egregious acts launched under Bush.
Because Iraq is not in the news much anymore and because Obama came into office on a superficially "anti-Iraq war" stance, to many Americans the war is almost as if itís no longer going on. This is much like what has happened to Gitmo. Obama announced the day after taking office that he was closing Gitmo, so a lot of people think that the deed is done or nearly done. This brings me back to a point I made a few minutes ago about the potency of truth.
We live in a time where rhetoric is treated as action (where saying you will or want to do something is regarded as the equivalent of actually doing those things) and lies (even those subsequently revealed very publicly to be lies) are treated as if they were truth. Some people look at this and are discouraged, throwing their hands up. I look at this, and I urge you to do the same, in a different way. I look at this, and while it is maddening, I see an opportunity. In the face of the moral depravity guiding this countryís political leadership and their daily diet of lies passing as truth, thereís an opening. Itís not a large opening. Itís a small opening because the powers that be have a lot of power and the complacency and ignorance of among all-too many Americans has no peer worldwide. But the very nature of this system as it lurches forward with its designs is that it must try to silence any critics and engage in duplicity and atrocious, illegal, and immoral practices. In so doing, it inevitably provokes more people against it and it leaves itself open to profound and wide-ranging exposure as bankrupt. Window dressing war crimes doesnít change the grisly fact of those crimes.
As I wrote in my book, Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney, back in 2006:
"The powers we must overcome have mountains of money and their hands on the levers of institutional power, including most of the mass media. But we have three things they donít and canít have: justice, truth and the majority of people on our side. You can douse a rotting pile of manure with as much perfume as you want, but itís still going to smell. The gap between what the government and their apologists say theyíre doing and what they are actually doing grows wider by the day. They can say that Homeland Security and FEMA are on the job, but New Orleans proves them wrong. They can claim theyíre winning the war on terror and the war in Iraq, but everyday the facts belie their claims. They can assure us that theyíre protecting our civil liberties and doing everything by the book, but nearly every week brings fresh revelations of their lawbreaking."
This is still as true today as it was when I wrote it in 2006.