Blogs > HNN > War Crimes are Only the Beginning

Apr 9, 2008 4:34 pm


War Crimes are Only the Beginning



[Mr. LeVine is professor of modern Middle Eastern history, culture, and Islamic studies at the University of California, Irvine, and author of the forthcoming book, Heavy Metal Islam.]

As reported by Jason Linkins in the Huffington Post over the weekend (http://www.huffingtonpost.com), the release of the full text of the so-called “Torture Memo” written by UC Berkeley Law professor—and at the time, Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, has fired up even conservative commentators such as Andrew Sullivan. On the Chris Matthews show Sunday he declared that it was a sure bet that at some point point Donald Rumsfeld, David Addington and John Yoo would be indicted for war crimes.


For anyone who's traveled unembedded through Iraq since the US invasion and occupation began five years ago, Sullivan's warning brings a sad smile of recognition, and a hope that his words will prove prophetic.

Even if all three men were indicted it would only be the tip of the iceberg in addressing the issue of war crimes in Iraq. In fact, the continued controversy over the torture memo and its justification of waterboarding and other illegal interrogation techniques that have been performed on at most a dozen or so detainees obscures the far more systematic war crimes that have constituted the every day reality of the occupation.

Indeed, from the first day of the invasion, war crimes have been the currency of US military activities across Iraq. When I was in the country one year into the invasion I counted dozens of violations just in my travels and discussions with Iraqi doctors, activists and government personnel, which together made the occupation one giant war crime.

All were a direct a violation of the obligation of the United States and other members of the coalition under UN Security Council Resolution 1483 of May 22, 2003 to “promote the welfare of the Iraqi people through the effective administration of the territory, including in particular working towards the restoration of conditions of security and stability and the creation of conditions in which the Iraqi people can freely determine their own political future.”

More broadly, the resolution also called upon the coalition to “comply fully with their obligations under international law.” that is, US troops were obligated to assure humane treatment for the civilian population (Article 27 of the 4th Geneva Convention) and more broadly permit life in Iraq to continue without being affected by its presence; and to ensure the public order, safety and welfare of the population, from providing for basic food and clothing needs to health care as well that are, according to Articles 68 and 69 of Protocol 1 of the Geneva Conventions (which is accepted as customary international law by the U.S. even though it hasn’t signed the Protocol) “essential to the survival of the civilian population.”

As an April 2004 report by Amnesty on the human rights situation in Iraq made clear ,http://www.amnestyusa.org, "Under international humanitarian law, as occupying powers it was their duty to maintain and restore public order, and provide food, medical care and relief assistance. They failed in this duty, with the result that millions of Iraqis faced grave threats to their health and safety." With each death due to the decrepit health care system that could have been fixed with modest inputs of money, supplies and effort, the purposeful shooting of ambulances http://news.bbc.co.uk or the prevention or delay in the receiving of medical care http://www.guardian.co.uk as happened during the fighting in Fallujah and numerous other occasions, the U.S. crosses the line between “merely” violating international humanitarian law (specifically articles 17 through 19 of the 4th Geneva Conventions) and the commission of actual war crimes, defined as grave breaches of the 4th Geneva Convention as described in article 147 as including the "willful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, including... willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement of a protected person... or willfully depriving a protected person of the rights of fair and regular trial ...taking of hostages and extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly."

In sum, whether it's been the killing of tens of thousands of civilians (if not more)) by US forces to the torture of a relatively few in prisons such as Abu Ghraib, the issue has never been on of soldiers exceeding their authority. It's an issue of the Commander and Chief of the United States armed forces, along with his top commanders and officials, being responsible for a military system that, once unleashed, cannot but commit systematic violations of humanitarian law.

Indeed, only weeks after the occupation began a group of Belgian doctors who’d spent the previous year in Baghdad explained that whatever crimes might be committed by Iraqis, as the internationally recognized belligerent occupiers “the current humanitarian catastrophe is entirely and solely the responsibility of the US and British authorities.” http://www.globalresearch.ca Even that early into the occupation they documented violations of at least a dozen articles of the 4th Geneva Convention by Coalition forces (including articles 10, 12, 15, 21, 35, 36, 41, 45, 47, 48, 51 & 55).

What's most surprising is that given the clear evidence of such systematic war crimes and the direct line of responsibility directly up to the President for these crimes, is that the Peace movement has been almost completely silent on the issue of bringing the perpetrators of these crimes to justice in a court of law. Indeed, aside from Code Pink, which has always been at the vanguard of protesting the Iraq war (in good measure because unlike most other mainstream peace groups, its leaders have actually visited Iraq since the occupation), no member of the anti-war coalition dedicated even a modicum of time or energy to pushing an agenda of indictment—rather than the politically unimaginable impeachment—of the President and his senior aides for the crimes committed in Iraq, or Afghanistan as well.

This has been a strategic disaster. Unless Americans are forced to confront just how systematic have been the abuses committed by our troops (for more evidence of this, see the powerful documentary “The Ground Truth” by Patricia Foulkrod (thegroundtruth.org)they will continue to imagination that the main problem in Iraq is one of incompetence or bad management, when the reality is that the main problem has been that Iraq has gone more or less exactly as the Bush Administration has hoped it would: the United States, after illegally invading a UN-member state--an act which itself was a Crime Against Humanity” as it violated the paramount law of the United Nations against “breaches of the peace and acts of aggression”--has in good imperialist fashion, managed to turn the occupied population against each other and generate enough chaos and violence to insure that Iraq's leadership cannot ask it to leave.

Need proof of how well this strategy has worked? Recall President Bush's blithe 2005 statement that the US was ready to leave “If the Iraqi government asks us to” (http://www.nytimes.com). Of course, the point is they can't ask us to leave. And we're not leaving any time soon, no matter who is the next American President, as the recent leak of the "secret plan" to ensure a long-term US presence in Iraq reported in the Guardian yesterday (http://www.guardian.co.uk) makes clear. Of course, this plan was never a secret; the miles-long construction convoys making their way across Iraq even in the first year building the new bases told anyone who wanted to listen what the long-term US plan was for Iraq.

Viewed from this perspective, the hullaballoo over the official release of the infamous “torture memo,” whose main points have long been known publicly, will do nothing to change the fundamental political dynamics surrounding the unending US occupation of Iraq. They might even help perpetuate by shifting focus away from the even more damning evidence of systematic and large scale war crimes and crimes against humanity at the core of the US occupation, for which all Americans, having reelecting President Bush after ample evidence of these crimes was available for them to consider, are complicit.

It is certainly responsible for the fact that despite the ongoing disaster, recent polls indicate that a majority of Americans consider John McCain, one of the biggest boosters—and most ill-informed commentators on—the occupation, better equipped to handle Iraq and the larger war on terror than either of his Democratic challengers (http://www.alternet.org). That might seem astonishing; but if the issue is framed as one of better management or prosecution of the occupation rather than the immorality and illegality of the war and occupation itself, there is a logic to Americans assuming that a war hero can do a better job than opponents who have never been in battle.

All hope is not lost, however. If Barack Obama can make a speech about Iraq that has the same level of honesty and power as did his recent speech about race, there is a chance that he can change the perception of Democrats as being unable to manage the country through a quagmire most Americans seem instinctively to assume is not going to end any time soon. Perhaps he might even get the hundreds of thousands of people regularly into the streets to bring the troops home, in the absence of which the occupation might well continue, as McCain seems to hope, for “100 years.”

In the meantime, would it be too much to ask for UC Berkeley to fire John Yoo for encouraging the commission of war crimes and gross ethical and intellectual incompetence? (http://hnn.us)?




comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:


Bradley R Smith - 5/28/2008


"Idiot" is kind (#122138)
by R.R. Hamilton on April 19, 2008 at 1:52 AM
Calling him an "idiot" -- non compos mentis -- absolves him of far more serious offenses. Perhaps you're right and I've been too kind to him.

What's infuriating with his analysis is not just his cowardly refusal to present his own alternative definitions to the ones he criticizes. There is also the obvious fact that he applies his "moral standard" to only one side of the conflict. By doing so, he says things that would sound ridiculous if said about, say, World War II.

For example, he says, "Even if all three men were indicted it would only be the tip of the iceberg in addressing the issue of war crimes in Iraq. In fact, the continued controversy over the torture memo and its justification of waterboarding and other illegal interrogation techniques that have been performed on at most a dozen or so detainees obscures the far more systematic war crimes that have constituted the every day reality of the occupation."

He's actually right: If he were talking about the other side of the conflict. Indeed the total of everything done by the U.S. is indeed only a "iceberg tip" if by "war crimes in Iraq" he is including war crimes by the foes of the occupation. Virtually everything done by Al-Qaeda and the various militia are war crimes. But it's as if Mr. LeVine were writing about "war crimes in World War II" and looking at only those of the Allies -- which were about 1,000-times greater than those committed by Coalition forces in Iraq today and which (IRONY alert!) would have to include the 1941 "illegal" invasion and "illegal" occupation of Iraq. Would you, Mr. Courts, take Mr. LeVine seriously if he wrote about "war crimes in WW II" which excluded all mention of possible crimes by the Axis powers?

If he wrote about FDR, Churchill, and Eisenhower, "The imprisonment of Japanese-Americans and the fire-bombings of Axis cities obscures the far more systematic war crimes that have constituted the every day reality of Allied war effort," would you think he might be prejudiced against the Allied war effort -- maybe even an apologist for the Axis? And we aren't even talking about imprisoning Arab-Americans or fire-bombing Arab cities -- we're talking about "waterboarding" (aka "scaring by making people think they are drowning") a handful of the worst of the worse Al-Qaeda terrorists.

Mr. LeVine quotes with seeming authority from the 4th Geneva Convention about the treatment of "protected persons" but he hides the fact that every foe of the Coalition is excluded from the 4GC's definition of "protected persons". Al-Qaeda and other "resistors" in Iraq (and Afghanistan have no rights under the 4GC (other than a fair trial before execution, if a trial is provided -- no trial is required). Don't you think this is a seriously misleading omission to falsely pretend that Al-Qaeda & Co. have 4GC rights when talking about how the Coalition treats these combatants?

Putting on my military hat again for a minute: In a way, people like Mr. LeVine do my friends in uniform a service. Taking prisoners is a dangerous business -- much more dangerous than just killing whoever pops out of the ground with his hands up (for one thing, he could be wearing a bomb belt -- which has happened in Afghanistan; for another, his buddies, either with or without his knowledge, may be waiting to shoot you when you come to take him as a prisoner). There's only one reason to take prisoners: To get information. (In wars against more civilized foes than we now face, taking prisoners to induce decent treatment of our own captured soldiers would be another reason. That reason does not apply to Al-Qaeda & Co.) So, since all the hubbub that people like Mr. LeVine have been making, I've heard from inside military sources that the procedure now when taking an enemy captive (in Afghanistan, at least) is after a short "field interrogation" to make a change of status with respect to his condition: from "enemy POW" to "enemy KIA". Congrats, Mr. LeVine & Co.

[ Reply ] [ Return to Comments ]

Re: "Idiot" is kind (#122160)
by Guy D Courts on April 19, 2008 at 3:32 PM
“What's infuriating with his analysis is not just his cowardly refusal to present his own alternative definitions to the ones he criticizes. There is also the obvious fact that he applies his "moral standard" to only one side of the conflict. By doing so, he says things that would sound ridiculous if said about, say, World War II.”

Mr. Hamilton,

Do you really expect someone to engage you in discussion when you start your post by calling him an idiot, and then call him a coward for not responding. How odd. You seem to be a man with many contradictions. You want a “moral standard” applied to both sides of a conflict, but then you support Mr. Yoo’s work to by-pass the Geneva Convention.

The United States of America has always been the moral standard for the World in war and peace. At least, it was until John Yoo, David Addington, Dick Cheney, and George Bush came to town.

Judging by your post’s above you have strong opinions about who is qualified to speak and who isn’t. Perhaps since you haven’t been to Iraq recently Mr. Levine feels that you don’t have a common frame of reference which would aid the discussion. Just a thought.

Guy Courts










“What's infuriating with his analysis is not just his cowardly refusal to present his own alternative definitions to the ones he criticizes. There is also the obvious fact that he applies his "moral standard" to only one side of the conflict. By doing so, he says things that would sound ridiculous if said about, say, World War II.”

Mr. Hamilton:

It is not only reasonable, but morally sound, to address the war crimes of one’s own people before addressing those of the “other.” Doing so suggests that you represent a culture that believes it is wrong to initiate a war, which is a “war crime” in itself, in which it is understood before the first weapon is fired that the casualties inflicted on “enemy” civilians will surpass those of its military maybe ten to one, maybe many times more. That is, when the U.S. administration decided to invade Iraq it was understood (our generals are not “idiots”) that tens of thousands of innocent, unarmed civilians were at risk for their lives. It’s as if our military see themselves as “slaves” to the administration they serve.

I am not going to defend the murderous Iraqi or other Muslim inspired violence against Iraqis. If I am not, why should I defend what the U.S. administration initiated – the war itself -- in which millions of innocent, unarmed Iraqi civilians have been made into refugees, have been damaged and crippled in countless ways, and killed outright by U.S. troops and their Iraqi “allies?”

You write, with a seeming approval: “I've heard from inside military sources that the procedure now when taking an enemy captive (in Afghanistan, at least) is after a short "field interrogation" to make a change of status with respect to his condition: from "enemy POW" to "enemy KIA". I think it reasonable to denounce this practice, if it is true, as a morally putrid concept, one that would have made me ashamed even when I was a boy with the 7th Cavalry in Korea.

When you write that LeVine: “says things that would sound ridiculous if said about, say, World War II” I don’t believe you understand what you are saying.

To point out the obvious, during WWII the Americans intentionally participated in the massacre of hundreds of thousands of innocent, unarmed civilians in all the major cities of Germany and Japan, ending with the nuclear holocausts of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, intentionally vaporizing the core (innocent) civilian populations of those cities – all for a “greater good,” of course.

And that ideal – to murder civilians for a “greater good,” is precisely the reason used by those who oppose the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq when they turn to murdering those they see cooperating with the Americans, with the unwanted Iraqi Government, or simply because they get up on the wrong side of the bed one morning.

In short, each side is killing innocent, unarmed civilians for a “greater good.” In either case it’s a war crime. Doing it for “this” greater good or “that” one is no defense. The primary difference between the two sides is that the Americans started the killing, and are very much more efficient at doing it. Your approval of what I take to be your “morally putrid” observation above, goes to a darkness in your heart (I’m looking for a nice way to say this) which is not illuminated by having friends in the military, or by being a patriot. There must not be many of us who cannot make the same claims.

www.codoh.com



Bradley R Smith - 5/28/2008

I think they should be. However. . . .

U.S. “war crimes” are routinely justified throughout American culture as committed for a “greater good,” particularly since WWII. It is not a matter of Democrats or Republicans, left or right, as the vast majority of all these crimes are committed with bi-partisan agreement. It is a failure of the culture as a whole, if I can put it that way.

The word “Nazi” has already been introduced by a poster in this thread. It was exactly with the “Nazis” that a critical (intellectual) mass was reached with regard to the issue of morally justifying American war crimes committed in the name of a greater good.

The fundamental charge made against the National Socialist German Worker’s Party by the Democratic/Republican alliance was that the former intentionally murdered innocent, unarmed civilians for reasons that could not be morally justified. At the same time it was universally understood that the Americans forwarded a military and political policy of murdering innocent, unarmed civilians by the hundreds of thousands, it was successfully argued that it was done for a “greater good,” and thus morally justifiable. That's what is meant by the commonplace that it is the "victors" who write the history of their wars.

And we have excused ourselves for it ever after. The highpoints include Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and then all the little slaughters in between. But with regard to the institutionalization, following WWII, of the moral justification of the American right to kill innocent, unarmed civilians in the name of a greater good – that question is “off the table.” There is no sign that it will be tabled anytime soon. That discussion is taboo. Particularly on the American university campus.


Bradley R Smith - 5/28/2008

Mr. Huff:

Well, I have to pretty much agree with what you say here. I was trying to be brief. It's a big subject.


adam richard schrepfer - 4/26/2008

Mr. LeVine you tell us again and again how you "in fact, have written extensively criticizing war crimes and by terrorist/ oppositional/militants"

Oh really??? I've been watching your blog now since 2006 and you have yet to write an article that has the sole purpose of criticizing the terrorists. Of course that might be next to impossible because if you start that you'll have to go into your tirade about how Bush is a psycho. Why don't you follow your own advice and go back to Iraq and use your Arabic skills to name, document, and help capture vile people who actually use power tools on their fellow human beings? Why don't you make a complete list of their names in a blog on this site? Actually I'll tell you why. You are hung up painting Bush as a psycho. Please stop acting like you are a balanced writer. Just follow Chomsky and Zinn and excuse yourself from objectivity because you are on a moving train. Your life will be easier.


Joseph Mutik - 4/25/2008

I am interested in your writings about disappearing Israeli prisoners (like Ron Arad) or keeping Israeli prisoners in total isolation (without, at least, Red cross visits).


mark safranski - 4/24/2008

Mark,

You're entitled to your normative judgment regarding the Bush administration but given the variety of regimes in the world, the varying levels of military standards of conventional armies, fluctuating legal status of irregular forces on the battlefield, you can't go and apply that selective standard to just the United States.

IL doesn't work like that ( and as you study and teach about the Mideast and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you know that)


Guy D Courts - 4/24/2008

Mr. Hamilton,


<<< You say, "According to our constitution the president is bound by treaties and agreements." Now, I was only an average student in law school, but I did make the highest grade in my Constitutional Law class. I don't remember the part about the President being "bound" by treaties and agreements. I think you have an entirely too miserly view of the President's powers in his Constitutional role as Commander-in-chief. >>>

Is the president alone in governing the United States? No he is not. Article VI of the constitution declares Treaties to be consider the "law of the land", just like any other law made in congress. If the president is above the law then I suppose you could argue he is not constitutionally bound by it. However, the president takes an oath of office to uphold the laws of the land. The treaty clause of Article II ("He [the President] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur." ) would seem to indicate that the founders believed that treatie making powers did not solely reside in the executive branch. One conclusion to be drawn from Article II would be that withdrawing from a treaty would also require the senate to concur. I think my view of the presidents powers as commander-in-chief is more inline with the constitutional scholars of this country than yours would be.

<<< Writing that made me think about the Clinton attack on Belgrade again. During that conflict, a group of Congressmen went to court to try to enforce the War Powers Act -- of which Clinton was in clear violation. The judge weaseled out of issuing a ruling on the merits, but now it occurs to me: What if the judge had said to the Congressmen, "Yep, you're right. The President is in violation of the War Powers Act." Um, then what? >>>

Had the president been found guilty of violating the war powers act then the senate and congress would have to decide whether or not to make a case for impeachment. I never implied that presidential power grabs were not bi-partisan.

<<< You say, "Over one hundred prisoners have died during or after interrogation by our military and the CIA." This statement is too vague for a response from me, except to say that your association with it to "interrogations" raises the logical fallacy of </i>post hoc ergo propter hoc</i>. If you want to supply more information, I may respond. >>>

Sorry. I mis-spoke. In 2005 CBS News ran a story saying atleast 108 prisoners had died in US custody. Of those 108 prisoners approximateley one quarter had been declared homicides by the military. By 2008 that number has grown to 37 homicides. While that number is smaller than one hundred it's still to large. Given the past performance of this administration and the civilian leadership of the military, its a safe bet that were not getting a true picture of the extent of the torture thats been done.

<<< Currently, our captured combatants are routinely tortured and killed. I wonder if -- for the safety of our troops -- we should think about announcing that for every one of our troops so killed that an Al-Qaeda captive will be similarly treated. >>>

Apparently, the white house disagrees with you because they've been fighting really hard to keep it a SECRET! But rest assured your message did get out when the Abu Ghraib pictures went public. It worked almost as well as "bring it on."


Guy Courts

























R.R. Hamilton - 4/24/2008

Mr. Levine says in his first paragraph, "first of all, if you're going to call carter a jew hater, why not call bush and co jew haters. after all, it is they who hope to witness all but 144,000 jews sent to eternal damnation when the rapture comes, and it is their policies that have made jews less, not more safe in the middle east".

I don't usually involve myself in intra-Jewish squabbles; they are usually quite entertaining to watch from outside. I make exceptions when one of the squabblers tries to teach Christian theology.

I have a regular poker game at which most of the players are Jewish. One night we were playing Texas Hold'Em and the flop (the first three community cards which are turned up simultaneously) was 6-6-6. One of our Jewish players said, "Oh look -- the sign of the Devil!" I chuckled and said that 666 -- described in the New Testament Book of Revelations -- wasn't the sign of the Devil but the sign of the Antichrist. From then on, the would-be poker theologian has been known as "Reverend Dave".

Which brings us to Mr. LeVine's contention that Bush -- unlike Carter -- "hope[s] to witness all but 144,000 jews sent to eternal damnation". Bush is a Methodist (and former Episcopalian); Carter is a Baptist. It's common knowledge that Baptists are far more "fundamentalist" and "end-timers" than Methodists. So for saying that Bush is more likely than Carter to be "hoping for the Jew-damning Rapture" is worth bestowing an honorary doctorate of Christian theology on Reverend Mark.

Mr. LeVine goes on like a preacher on a Sunday during the NFL off-season: "--don't believe me? imagine how much more power the US would have had to pressure Iran over nukes if we weren't in iraq and ruining our reputation all over the world?" If Saddam were still in power in Iraq, Iran would be claiming that he was trying to develop nuclear weapons (and nearly all the world's intel services would agree) and that their program was necessary to counter his. And now that Berlusconi has been re-elected, doesn't that make it a clean sweep for Bush: Have the voters of ALL MAJOR countries (Germany, France, Italy) in Western Europe ousted anti-Bush parties in favor of pro-Bush ones? Nearly all the people who "hate America" today hated America before 9/11, too. And a disproportionate number of them look like either Osama bin Laden or Mr. LeVine.

There are two more paragraphs in Mr. LeVine's post, but reading them raise in my mind the question, Are 'shooms kosher?


R.R. Hamilton - 4/23/2008

Did the American military system of World War II lead to "the systematic commission of war crimes"? Were they more or less heinous than the war crimes you contend are occurring now. Maybe you could compare and contrast the Allied invasion and occupation of Iraq in 1941 with the one in 2003. And the Allied invasion and occupation of Iran in 1942. Have you been in college so long that you think no one knows history anymore?

Did you notice the irony when you wrote, "it could have been otherwise, if for example, the US transfered authority to the UN soon after the invasion and supported quick elections and return to iraqi sovereignty"? Of course, the U.S. has done all of those things -- PLUS stayed to help rebuild the country AND defend the new democracy from the dark forces that would drag it back into the fold of tyranny. Based on what you wrote, you should be the biggest supporter of the Coalition's efforts in Iraq because it has gone beyond the standards you advocate.


R.R. Hamilton - 4/23/2008

You say, "According to our constitution the president is bound by treaties and agreements." Now, I was only an average student in law school, but I did make the highest grade in my Constitutional Law class. I don't remember the part about the President being "bound" by treaties and agreements. I think you have an entirely too miserly view of the President's powers in his Constitutional role as Commander-in-chief.

If the President has the power to bomb a European capital for three months without Congressional authorization, I think he can authorize giving some terror-detainee an "Indian-burn" wrist rub ... or worse.

Writing that made me think about the Clinton attack on Belgrade again. During that conflict, a group of Congressmen went to court to try to enforce the War Powers Act -- of which Clinton was in clear violation. The judge weaseled out of issuing a ruling on the merits, but now it occurs to me: What if the judge had said to the Congressmen, "Yep, you're right. The President is in violation of the War Powers Act." Um, then what?

What if after the ruling the President wants to keep on bombing Belgrade? The President is immune from arrest so long as he is in office. Therefore, as a pre-condition to any further legal action, he would have to be impeached and removed from office. I wonder now if the judge recognized the impasse and so declined to issue a ruling so that he would not look as impotent as he really is.

You say, "Over one hundred prisoners have died during or after interrogation by our military and the CIA." This statement is too vague for a response from me, except to say that your association with it to "interrogations" raises the logical fallacy of </i>post hoc ergo propter hoc</i>. If you want to supply more information, I may respond.

You further say, "One would think a military person like yourself would at least be concerned about the effects of Yoo’s policy on our men and women in the military who may be captured by our enemies." It does concern me, but probably not in the way you might hope. Early in the Civil War, the North proposed hanging captured Confederate officers; Richmond announced that for every such officer hanged, it would hang a Federal officer. Thus was the nation spared a tragedy. In World War II, Hitler resisted calls to execute captured Allied flyers because he feared that the Allies would take revenge upon German flyers in Allied hands.

Currently, our captured combatants are routinely tortured and killed. I wonder if -- for the safety of our troops -- we should think about announcing that for every one of our troops so killed that an Al-Qaeda captive will be similarly treated.


R.R. Hamilton - 4/22/2008

Dear Mr. LeVine,

Why don't you write with standard capitalization? I know your caps key works, because you shouted "WHICH I SAW WITH MY OWN EYES IN IRAQ". And I've looked at your website, http://www.meaning.org/levinebio.html, and saw at least one instance of a third-person reference to you ("He") which was, Jehovah-like, capitalized in mid-sentence. Really curious about your philosophy of capitalization.

Second, don't try that "chickenhawk" business with me. When the WTC was attacked in 2001 I told my wife that if I were 20 years younger, I'd be back in uniform in 24 hours. But now I'm too friggen old. If it's any consolation for you, my nephew served in Iraq as a machinegunner in the 82nd Airborne and was wounded in Ramadi last August. (He was medevac'd to the States and, after being patched up, returned to his unit in Iraq.) So my family's blood has mixed with the Iraqi soil.

As far as me being "gung-ho", I'm not sure what you mean. That I'm pro-war? Hardly. As I've repeatedly stated here, I was against both Gulf War I and Gulf War II -- and the No-Fly-Zone War inbetween. As I've also said, I agree with Colin Powell's statement that, "If you break it, it's yours." We essentially "broke it" and so it's our responsibility to "fix it". Therefore, I favor supporting the democratic aspirations of the Iraqi people.

I look forward to perusing your "extensive criticisms" of anti-American forces, but first I owe Mr. Courts a response to his comment.


Mark A. LeVine (UC Irvine History Professor) - 4/22/2008

first of all, if you're going to call carter a jew hater, why not call bush and co jew haters. after all, it is they who hope to witness all but 144,000 jews sent to eternal damnation when the rapture comes, and it is their policies that have made jews less, not more safe in the middle east--don't believe me? imagine how much more power the US would have had to pressure Iran over nukes if we weren't in iraq and ruining our reputation all over the world?

and do you think that supporting israel's continued settlements, annexations of land, violence, etc. is actually "supporting" jews. that's like assuming that giving car keys to drunk people is supportive as well.

i don't follow carter's every word on israel and palestine, and this post was not about carter. but again, i have written extensively in condemnation of such acts, by hezbollah and hamas, and hat they are war crimes. so read before you accuse, and besides, this post was about iraq, not israel/palestine. so if you ask where are the moral critics of 'the islamic way of war, based on war crimes'--a title which itself is utterly nonsensical and racist, since there is no such thing as one 'islamic way of war,' and nor are all the principles war crimes (although some medieval and contemporary views of jihad would certainly be war crimes and worse)--you are actually reading one now.


Mark A. LeVine (UC Irvine History Professor) - 4/22/2008

no. i don't agree. not all military systems automatically lead to the systematic commission of war crimes. but this one, now, does, because of the leadership's policies, the lack of any respect for human rights and the rule of law at the top, and the immorality at the very basis of the war itself--as in vietnam, there is simply no way to do this kind of offensive, imperial war and occupation without engaging in systematic large-scale violations of the rights of the occupied people. it could have been otherwise, if for example, the US transfered authority to the UN soon after the invasion and supported quick elections and return to iraqi sovereignty, which most every expert urged the US to do once i invaded. and it could have been different in afghanistan as well, which was based on a different dynamic and had a wider base of support. but again, the very point of the invasion and occupation had little to do with the stated goals, and had even less to do with helping afghanis, and so there was little chance that it would NOT degenerate into its present situation


Mark A. LeVine (UC Irvine History Professor) - 4/22/2008

i'm sorry mr. hamilton, i have only had time now to return and see comments on my piece. i must start by saying that your ignorance, both of my writings, and of the nature of war crimes, is so great that i can't really take offense at your risible remarks. in fact, i have written extensively criticizing war crimes and by terrorist/ oppositional/militant movements. this includes in my books, blogs, and newspaper articles. perhaps it is you who are the idiot--or at least so caught up in yourself you don't bother to check your assumptions about people who's ideas you don't agree with.

second, i have discussed my views of what constitute torture at length, in this blog and other writings--and it includes waterboarding. i also provided detailed analyses of what constitutes war crimes--WHICH I SAW WITH MY OWN EYES IN IRAQ. so please, if you want to find some blathering liberal with no idea of reality pontificating about the evils of the USA while supporting the so-called 'resistance', go look elsewhere because you're barking up the wrong tree with me.

and by the way, since you're an ex-soldier and seem so gung-ho about everything, why not reenlist and go relieve one of our brave soldiers over there? then when we've both been to iraq, we can talk. until then, a word of advice might be not to blather on about things you haven't sufficiently looked into. this is supposed to be a site about history, not the rush limbaugh fan club.


Mark A. LeVine (UC Irvine History Professor) - 4/22/2008

i put a link to my detailed critique of yoo at the end of the article. please read it. as for the idea about non-soldiers not criticizing their actions, that's patently ludicrous. does that mean only cops can criticize cops? surgeons other surgeons? etc. but for the record, i have had the displeasure of being in enough war zones and firefights to feel like i can comment on the stresses of it and make a judgment.


Mark A. LeVine (UC Irvine History Professor) - 4/22/2008

so how is that different than what i argued? in fact, i argued much of this--although i don't agree that the invasion had anything to do with protecting israel, as the israelis wanted the US to go after iran, not iraq--in my 'why they don't hate us,' that included a whole chapter on iraq after my research there in 2004. but i agree with your basic point


Guy D Courts - 4/20/2008

Mr. Hamilton,

“I have now spent about 10 minutes skimming articles (including one by the ABA) about the Yoo memo.”

Probably not too difficult considering the amount of coverage given to the subject by mainsteam media.

”I will admit descriptions of it seem somewhat contradictory. Apparently, Mr. Yoo seems to argue (1) that the President may authorize torture and then (2) "only certain kinds of torture". It would seem to me that either the President "is" or "is not" bound by the treaties and agreements Mr. Yoo cites. If he is not, then why bother trying to put a fine point on it? “

According to our constitution the president is bound by treaties and agreements. Mr. Yoo and his cohorts were trying to resurrect the old Reagan “unitary executive” theory that was rejected by the Supreme Court in 1988. Mr. Yoo’s “torture memo” was withdrawn by his own Office of Legal Counsel in 2004. That doesn’t tell you something about the quality of his work? The White House had the memo pulled because they were in the middle of a tough confirmation battle to get Roberto Gonzales named U. S. Attorney General, and they didn’t want the torture memo scrutinized.

”Nevertheless, the fact that Mr. Yoo's memo may not be a model of legal analysis does not absolve his critics from making their own alternative arguments -- and this I have not seen them do.”

I must admit your cavalier attitude toward torture is a bit disconcerting. You discuss Mr. Yoo’s memo as if it were an inter-office memo about pencil sharponers. Over one hundred prisoners have died during or after interrogation by our military and the CIA. One would think a military person like yourself would at least be concerned about the effects of Yoo’s policy on our men and women in the military who may be captured by our enemies. Your demand for alternative arguments and definitons of torture are illogical. Torture has been define by the the Geneva Convention and the Convention of Torture. War crimes have been defined by the Nuremberg Principles and the War Crimes Act. Mr. Yoo was tasked with finding a way for the administration to work around those treaty’s. In 2006 the supreme court ruled that the administration could not ignore the Geneva convention. Not to put to fine a point on it but, if your following the terrorist trials it would seem that Dick Cheney, David Addington, and John Yoo have made it damn near impossible to convict any terrorists let alone high value terrorists.

Guy Courts


R.R. Hamilton - 4/20/2008

Mr. Smith,

I have addressed in other fora the origins and issues of the Iraq conflict. I don't want to repeat them ad nauseum here. To summarize briefly: I was opposed to the 2003 overthrow of Saddam (though I thought it was inevitable); but I agree with Colin Powell that "if you break it, it's yours". We broke it; so it's ours. I think the 2003 war was made inevitable by the 1991 war -- which I also opposed at the time. I think that Gulf War I led to Gulf War II even more surely than World War I led to World War II.

Now, to cover just two important points with you.

First, you say, "It is not only reasonable, but morally sound, to address the war crimes of one’s own people before addressing those of the 'other'". Well, part of my complaint has been that "before" has become "never" insofar as Mr. LeVine and company are concerned.

Second, to put your fears to rest, I do not support routine summary executions of captured enemy illegal combatants. The point of that paragraph was only to point out the "law of unintended consequences": In trying to protect enemy POW, people like Mr. LeVine have only insured that fewer prisoners will be taken.


R.R. Hamilton - 4/20/2008

I have now spent about 10 minutes skimming articles (including one by the ABA) about the Yoo memo.

I will admit descriptions of it seem somewhat contradictory. Apparently, Mr. Yoo seems to argue (1) that the President may authorize torture and then (2) "only certain kinds of torture". It would seem to me that either the President "is" or "is not" bound by the treaties and agreements Mr. Yoo cites. If he is not, then why bother trying to put a fine point on it?

Nevertheless, the fact that Mr. Yoo's memo may not be a model of legal analysis does not absolve his critics from making their own alternative arguments -- and this I have not seen them do.


R.R. Hamilton - 4/20/2008

Mr. Courts,

I'm sorry I called him an "idiot". After decades of listening to people scream "war-crime" without being willing to define the term and listening to the same people call American soldiers "war criminals" while giving the enemy criminals a free pass, I suppose my patience has worn a bit thin. Hey, maybe all these people with their claimed concern for war crimes will vote this November for a real victim of POW torture! ... Just kidding -- we both know they won't.

You say, "The United States of America has always been the moral standard for the World in war and peace. At least, it was until John Yoo, David Addington, Dick Cheney, and George Bush came to town." First, I'll assume arguendo that you're right about the U.S. being the "world's gold standard for morality". But then you say "at least, it was until" the wascawwy wepubwicans came in to office. Do you know how we treated Arab tribes in North Africa after our (illegal!!) 1942 invasion and occupation there? We would take the eldest sons from all the prominent families and hold them until the tribes provide some actionable intelligence. When the North African Jews came to demand that they have equal voting rights, we told them not to worry because no one was going to be voting in American-occupied North Africa. And, it's funny, but I can't recall reading of many Republicans during World War II echoing the Axis talking points on the floor of Congress or in the halls of universities.

But, you may say, o.k., that was the "gold standard" then, and there is a new "gold standard". You may argue that "It's `evolved`". And I won't argue with that -- I will argue that the U.S. is still the gold standard. And the interesting thing is that as the U.S. standard for handling enemy combatants (of both the legal and illegal variety) has become increasingly pristine, our enemies' treatment of our combatants -- and pro-U.S. civilians who fall into their hands -- has become increasingly barbaric. We should see if there is a connection. I mean, should we should discuss the fact that Al-Qaeda's recruiting pitch is, "If you work for us, the Americans might put panties on your heads; but if you work for them, we will cut your heads completely off -- after we've killed your wives and children before your eyes"?

Finally, you say, "Judging by your post’s above you have strong opinions about who is qualified to speak and who isn’t." I'm not sure what you mean here unless you are referring to my posts where I say that women (and male doctors) are more qualified than men to talk about pregnancy. I stand by that comparison of pregnancy and military matters. But, of course, I would never deny anyone the right to say what they please -- I would only appeal to them to use their reason and conscience in considering whether to place any self-imposed limitations on their remarks.


Guy D Courts - 4/19/2008

“What's infuriating with his analysis is not just his cowardly refusal to present his own alternative definitions to the ones he criticizes. There is also the obvious fact that he applies his "moral standard" to only one side of the conflict. By doing so, he says things that would sound ridiculous if said about, say, World War II.”

Mr. Hamilton,

Do you really expect someone to engage you in discussion when you start your post by calling him an idiot, and then call him a coward for not responding. How odd. You seem to be a man with many contradictions. You want a “moral standard” applied to both sides of a conflict, but then you support Mr. Yoo’s work to by-pass the Geneva Convention.

The United States of America has always been the moral standard for the World in war and peace. At least, it was until John Yoo, David Addington, Dick Cheney, and George Bush came to town.

Judging by your post’s above you have strong opinions about who is qualified to speak and who isn’t. Perhaps since you haven’t been to Iraq recently Mr. Levine feels that you don’t have a common frame of reference which would aid the discussion. Just a thought.

Guy Courts


Guy D Courts - 4/19/2008

Mr. Hamilton,

"But that isn't the point. The point is that a lot of people throw around words like "torture" and "crime" and "abuse" without themselves being willing to define their meanings. The author here is "outraged by Yoo's definition"? Then he should give us his alternative and let that be subjected to critique."

First of all, “torture” was already defined in the “Convention Agains Torture Treaty” of 1994. Second of all, people didn’t start throwing words like “torture” and “crime” around until they found out what the administration was doing in their name. And finally, you seem to demand more from Mr. Levine than you do of Mr. Yoo. You accept Mr. Yoo’s memo on torture without it being critiqued by anyone at all. Mr. Yoo’s job was to provide legal cover for the CIA to use torture to extract information from certain prisoners. His legal arguments were found to be extremely flawed. Will Mr. Levines opinion carry as much weight as Mr. Yoo’s?

People like Mr. Yoo who work in the office of Legal Counsel are tasked with giving the president sound legal advise on what the president can and cannot do. There are many laws overseeing the quality of that work. Mr. Yoo’s memo’s on torture, wiretapping americans, and the Geneva Convention are suspect according to many, many legal scholars.

Guy Courts


Joseph Mutik - 4/19/2008

Jimmy Carter, the Jew hater, called Gaza blockade ant atrocity but he didn't say a word about keeping Israeli prisoners without any visits (at least from the Red cross) or even giving any basic information about them (if they are dead or alive). Ron Arad, an Israeli soldier caught alive by Arab forces, disappeared about 20 years ago in Arab hands and no one is morally (to say the least) accountable for this and of course Mark Levine doesn't shout war crimes about the incident.


R.R. Hamilton - 4/19/2008

Calling him an "idiot" -- non compos mentis -- absolves him of far more serious offenses. Perhaps you're right and I've been too kind to him.

What's infuriating with his analysis is not just his cowardly refusal to present his own alternative definitions to the ones he criticizes. There is also the obvious fact that he applies his "moral standard" to only one side of the conflict. By doing so, he says things that would sound ridiculous if said about, say, World War II.

For example, he says, "Even if all three men were indicted it would only be the tip of the iceberg in addressing the issue of war crimes in Iraq. In fact, the continued controversy over the torture memo and its justification of waterboarding and other illegal interrogation techniques that have been performed on at most a dozen or so detainees obscures the far more systematic war crimes that have constituted the every day reality of the occupation."

He's actually right: If he were talking about the other side of the conflict. Indeed the total of everything done by the U.S. is indeed only a "iceberg tip" if by "war crimes in Iraq" he is including war crimes by the foes of the occupation. Virtually everything done by Al-Qaeda and the various militia are war crimes. But it's as if Mr. LeVine were writing about "war crimes in World War II" and looking at only those of the Allies -- which were about 1,000-times greater than those committed by Coalition forces in Iraq today and which (IRONY alert!) would have to include the 1941 "illegal" invasion and "illegal" occupation of Iraq. Would you, Mr. Courts, take Mr. LeVine seriously if he wrote about "war crimes in WW II" which excluded all mention of possible crimes by the Axis powers?

If he wrote about FDR, Churchill, and Eisenhower, "The imprisonment of Japanese-Americans and the fire-bombings of Axis cities obscures the far more systematic war crimes that have constituted the every day reality of Allied war effort," would you think he might be prejudiced against the Allied war effort -- maybe even an apologist for the Axis? And we aren't even talking about imprisoning Arab-Americans or fire-bombing Arab cities -- we're talking about "waterboarding" (aka "scaring by making people think they are drowning") a handful of the worst of the worse Al-Qaeda terrorists.

Mr. LeVine quotes with seeming authority from the 4th Geneva Convention about the treatment of "protected persons" but he hides the fact that every foe of the Coalition is excluded from the 4GC's definition of "protected persons". Al-Qaeda and other "resistors" in Iraq (and Afghanistan have no rights under the 4GC (other than a fair trial before execution, if a trial is provided -- no trial is required). Don't you think this is a seriously misleading omission to falsely pretend that Al-Qaeda & Co. have 4GC rights when talking about how the Coalition treats these combatants?

Putting on my military hat again for a minute: In a way, people like Mr. LeVine do my friends in uniform a service. Taking prisoners is a dangerous business -- much more dangerous than just killing whoever pops out of the ground with his hands up (for one thing, he could be wearing a bomb belt -- which has happened in Afghanistan; for another, his buddies, either with or without his knowledge, may be waiting to shoot you when you come to take him as a prisoner). There's only one reason to take prisoners: To get information. (In wars against more civilized foes than we now face, taking prisoners to induce decent treatment of our own captured soldiers would be another reason. That reason does not apply to Al-Qaeda & Co.) So, since all the hubbub that people like Mr. LeVine have been making, I've heard from inside military sources that the procedure now when taking an enemy captive (in Afghanistan, at least) is after a short "field interrogation" to make a change of status with respect to his condition: from "enemy POW" to "enemy KIA". Congrats, Mr. LeVine & Co.


R.R. Hamilton - 4/19/2008

But that isn't the point. The point is that a lot of people throw around words like "torture" and "crime" and "abuse" without themselves being willing to define their meanings. The author here is "outraged by Yoo's definition"? Then he should give us his alternative and let that be subjected to critique.


Guy D Courts - 4/18/2008

Mr. Hamilton,

You must have missed that part where Yoo's torture opinion was revoked by the Office of Legal Counsel. I believe Jack Goldsmith described the opinions as "sloppy,flimsy, ill-advised and deeply flawed." As a "military man" surely you understand "chain of command", Yoo was famous for by-passing his boss at OLC, going directly to the Whitehouse. Yoo and Gonzales birds of a feather.

Guy Courts


R.R. Hamilton - 4/18/2008

Thank you, Mr. Mutik. In the past I have compared civilians discussing military matters with men discussing pregnancy. This is not to say that some men, who have made a lifetime study of pregnancy, or some (non-veteran) civilians, who have made a lifetime study of military affairs, do not have much to teach us. It's just that most civilians, with their casual knowledge of the military, approach the subject with about the same level of knowledge as most (non-medically trained) men approach the subject of pregnancy. This is why I suggested that this article's author -- who criticized Mr. Yoo so severely -- undertake to do what Mr. Yoo did: define "torture" in such a way that any reasonable person would know what is and is not permitted. I think if he makes this effort, he might have more sympathy for Mr. Yoo.


Guy D Courts - 4/18/2008

Mr. Hamilton,

It would seem that many of the countrys legal scholars would disagree with description of Mr. Yoo's job. Having read his memo on torture they have concluded that his real job was to provide legal cover for a law braking administration. I believe the ABA has written an open letter to UC Berkeley addressing the issue of war crimes. I also believe that Mr. Yoo's mentor at law school also ridiculed Mr. Yoo's sophmoric legal arguments for toture. If your best argument against Mr. Levines writing is to call him an "idiot", I think perhaps your living in a glass house. As a side note, if Mr. Yoo does leave UC Berkeley it may be in handcuffs.

Guy Courts


Joseph Mutik - 4/18/2008

It is very clear that you have both of these skills (read and write). I am not talking about commenting I am talking about criticizing the conduct of the soldiers. I would prefer critics that, at least, know how it feels to climb a hill with the gas mask on his face and wearing all the personal fighting gear belonging to a soldier.


mark safranski - 4/17/2008

"It's an issue of the Commander and Chief of the United States armed forces, along with his top commanders and officials, being responsible for a military system that, once unleashed, cannot but commit systematic violations of humanitarian law"

You realize Mark, that you have effectively defined the use of military force itself as a war crime?
That's not how the laws of war have ever been interpreted, nor should they be.


R.R. Hamilton - 4/16/2008

I volunteered for the Army when I was 17 and served three years. I went to Ranger School. I served in a combat unit overseas though not in a war zone (I was stationed in South Korea during the Vietnam War). So am I "qualified to comment on the issue of war crimes"?


Jim Good - 4/16/2008

"In the U.S.A. the so called 'progressives' (or 'the peace camp') take the inflexible position that following the rules should be totally one sided. 99% of the inflexible ones are people that do not take the risk of enlisting and fighting."

It's not too hard to see that the vast majority of war hawks also "do not take the risk of enlisting and fighting." So on your reasoning, neither the peace camp nor the war hawks would be qualified to comment on the issue of war crimes in Iraq.


R.R. Hamilton - 4/16/2008

... HNN.us to stop publishing infantile writings such as this one by Mr. LeVine?

Just to give Mr. LeVine a chance to show he's not the idiot he shows himself to be by this article, here's a proposal: Mr. LeVine, do Mr. Yoo's job and write us a comprehensive definition of "torture" in a war situation -- one which clearly shows which actions are or are not "criminal".

My bet: He won't hazard it. If Mr. Yoo does leave UC-Berkeley, he should get Mr. LeVine's job.


Rodney Huff - 4/15/2008

Hi Mr. Smith,

You write: "It is not a matter of Democrats or Republicans, left or right, as the vast majority of all these crimes are committed with bi-partisan agreement. It is a failure of the culture as a whole, if I can put it that way."

But I wouldn't put it that way, since blaming the "culture" effectively removes blame from anyone in particular; and, therefore, permits those in charge who authorize war crimes on behalf of the "common good" (a suspect term, as you rightly point out) to continue exercising power irresponsibly (i.e., with no accountability).


Kenneth Laurence Davis - 4/15/2008

Superb bon mot. Straight out of junior high.


Kenneth Laurence Davis - 4/14/2008

Mr. Mutnik: The only way the US can be defeated is by not following the rules. As it happens, the US is being defeated, now, for precisely that reason. Those who have opted to take this tack (Bush, the Opter) should be taken to task.

The conflation of Capitalism, Christianity and Nationalism, with assistance from a supine Media, has made the US the most war-like nation on the planet.


James Draper - 4/14/2008

What about Bush's diet? I heard that he gets together with his Zionist overlords to dine on Iraqi orphans and puppies, imported by Haliburton. When will he be put on trial for that?


Joseph Mutik - 4/14/2008

In the U.S.A. the so called "progressives" (or "the peace camp") take the inflexible position that following the rules should be totally one sided. 99% of the inflexible ones are people that do not take the risk of enlisting and fighting. They are only critics from well paid positions without the risk of being decapitated or blown up by IEDs.
In an infamous "60 minutes" interview, a reporter (who's only "fighting" experience was, probably, being embedded with the troops) shamelessly asked a marine sergeant why the soldiers didn't knock on the doors before entering houses where terrorist could have been inside?!
U.S.A. has a volunteer army with the positions mostly filled up by people belonging to the disadvantaged classes of our society and in the same time people that do not take the risk don't have to pay the real taxes for the war. The part that doesn't take the risk and can make money on the stock market or sub prime mortgages has also the luxury of pleading for "high moral standards" almost impossible to follow when only one side follows the rules.


david redick - 4/14/2008

Dr Levine; Like 99% of writers, you ignore; 1. the 'True Reasons' Bush invaded AFghan and Iraq (1 oil, 2 defense of israel, and 3 land for bases), and 2. the fact that we are not in a war but an 'occupation' fighting defenders. It is not a 'victory' situation. It is 'leave or stay'. Bushie never plans to leave.

see my www.forward-usa.org, parts # 5 Empire in left margin, and # 8A; heck read it all

Former resident of CDM and Balboa Isl !
DR


John Edward Philips - 4/14/2008

What happened to those Congressional hearings the Democrats promised us? What happened to the Judiciary, Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees? Shouldn't they be holding hearings about all this, to bring it before the public's attention the way Watergate was, the way Bill Fulbright educated the public about the Vietnam debacle back in the '60s?

I'm afraid the Dems will try to win by running to the center again, promising that war crimes trials will be off the agenda as vindictive, the way impeachment was off the agenda as a distraction. But without war crimes trials we will not only fail to get the respect and (ultimately) cooperation of the world that we need, we will also make it inevitable that torture and other humane treatment will become the norm. We are well along in preparing the way for the rehabilitation of the Nazis.