Format: video with audio
Running time: approx. 23 min 57 sec.
Summary: Pinky wants some answers: Is the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq legal or illegal? Do any of the charges of illegality we've been hearing about have any legal basis at all? And why should we even care about international law anyway? Pinky and friends do the research and then tell you all the answers!
Warning: This episode contains violent images that may disturb some viewers. Please pre-view and carefully consider the effect on young or sensitive viewers.
Pinky: It is April 2007, and the United States has been at war in Iraq for over four years now. While the reasons for going to war and consequences of the war remain highly controversial, one of the main questions that I've been curious about finding an answer to is: What does international law have to say about the war in Iraq? Was the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003 legal or illegal under international law?
Well, we want to find out once and for all because depending on the answer... well, I think that would make a big difference about how people think and act in regards to this war.
So how do you answer a question like this? Well, we decided we're all going to start picking up the telephone and just start calling people -experts in international law, constitutional law, experts in U.S. history.We're also going to hit the libraries for follow-up research. We especially like UCLA's research libraries because they're really fancy. Here we go.
[ graphic: (6 weeks later); Our findings ]
Okay, we wanted to present the findings of our research in a very clear, easy to understand way. So Bunny made this very nice 'interactive diagram' - it's cardboard - to summarize our findings.
Let's take a look at what the Charter of the United Nations says about war. And why are we looking at the UN Charter? Well, because by the end of the second world war, people all over the world realized that living through two world wars within the span of one lifetime was just too...unbearable. The international community decided to come together and try to do something to prevent further wars. This was the primary reason why the United Nations was created - to maintain international peace and security.
[ video of U.S. President Harry S. Truman addressing the U.N. delegates, 1945 ]
Truman: The Charter of the United Nations, which you are now signing, is a solid structure upon which we can build for a better world. History will honor you for it. Between the victory in Europe and the final victory in Japan in this most destructive of all wars, you have won a victory against war itself... If we had had this charter a few years ago, and above all the will to use it, millions now dead would be alive. If we should falter in the future in our will to use it, millions now living will surely die... You have created a great instrument for peace and security and human progress in the world. The world must now use it!
Pinky: The United States was among the first to sign the Charter of the United Nations. Today the UN includes 192 nation members - practically every independent state in the world.
Now, Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution says that any treaties signed by the United States becomes part of the supreme law of the land. In other words, ever since the United States signed the United Nations Charter back in 1945, our nation has been legally bound under international and domestic law to obey all articles of the Charter of the UN. This is why it's so important to study the Charter - many people don't realize that a violation of the Charter is also a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
So what does the UN Charter say about war? Well, first of all the Charter condemns the use of force, by any nation. Participating in armed conflict is illegal in all but two situations.
The first exception is that a country can defend itself if it's attacked by another country. The logic of this 'self-defense' exception is, I think, pretty self-explanatory.
The second exception is that a country may legally use force if the UN Security Council authorizes it. The Security Council system was created in order to discourage a rogue nation from using violence as a means of achieving its own interests, without regard for the rest of the international community. Makes sense?
So let's examine the first one - was the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq a legitimate act of self-defense?
After the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, President George W. Bush and senior members of his administration repeatedly told the American public that attacking Iraq was the right thing to do for various reasons, the two most important ones being:
Number One: Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had close ties with Osama bin Laden and was actively funding and sheltering Al-qaeda terrorists. True? No. A careful review and analysis by the bipartisan 9/11 Commission concluded that this allegation was in fact false.
Number Two: The Bush Administration claimed that Saddam Hussein had 'weapons of mass destruction' at his disposal - chemical, biological, and possibly even nuclear weapons - and that he was ready to use them. Was this true or false? Well, this also turned out to be false - it is now widely accepted that this claim was completely untrue.
Okay, but what about before the invasion started? Isn't it possible that President Bush and his most trusted advisers really did believe that Iraq posed an imminent threat to the U.S. at the time?
Well, it's possible... but... 'probably not'. Documents such as the infamous Downing Street Memo, for example, provide a glimpse unto how and why the Bush administration was quite willing to systematically distort or misrepresent intelligence information in order to have them conform to their desires. Of course the primary goal was to increase public support for the invasion they wanted. Other documents show that the U.S. government had planned to overthrow Saddam Hussein's government even before the attacks on 9/11, in order to gain access and control to Iraq's vast oil fields - the second or third largest in the world, greater than all the oil in the U.S., the North Sea, China, the Caspian Sea, and West Africa all combined. Military and political analysts also note that overthrowing Iraq's government was something the Bush Administration wanted so that they could extend the range of permanent U.S. military bases in the Middle East - something the State Department has coveted for at least 50 years. So to summarize, it appears highly unlikely that decision-makers at the highest levels of the White House seriously thought of Iraq a real threat to national security.
Any way you look at it, the U.S.-led war in Iraq cannot be justified as a matter of self-defense. There is nothing in the Charter of the UN that says a nation may attack another 'preemtively'. In other words, you can't legally start a war in order to prevent one you think might happen.
The Nuremberg Trials, held at the conclusion of World War II in order to prosecute the Nazi leadership for war crimes, established guidelines for defining 'crimes against peace', which include the initiation or waging of a war of aggression - "the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole." (International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg) Under the established principles, the war in Iraq, initiated by the U.S. in 2003, is a war of aggression, whether or not we choose to call it "Operation Iraqi Freedom". The political and military leaders who initiate and wage wars of aggression, are, by definition, war criminals. If we have time we'll talk briefly about the implications of the United States being run by a group of war criminals at the end of this episode.
Back to our original question - the second condition - Did the UN Security Council ever authorize the use of force against Iraq?
This question is much easier to answer - the answer is 'no' . The Bush Administration did attempt to convince the UN Security Council that it should authorize the use of force against Iraq. They did this because only the Security Council has the authority to enforce the resolutions of the charter. If the Security Council had authorized the use of force, the invasion would have been considered legitimate - i.e., legal - under international law. But when the UN wasn't swayed by the so-called evidence, the U.S. went ahead with the invasion anyway. This was an obvious violation of the Charter of the UN, prompting UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to famously state: "I have indicated it [the invasion] was not in conformity with the UN charter... From the charter point of view, it was illegal."
[ graphic: War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity, and so on. ]
We're going to try to keep this episode as compact and to-the-point as possible - so in this section I'm just going to run down this list of some of the other known, documented violations of international law committed by the United States in the specific case of Iraq. We're leaving out all the illegal activities done by our government under the umbrella term "War on Terror" - in Afghanistan, at Guantanamo Bay, ghost detainees and black sites, and stuff like that. This is just in Iraq, okay?
• Torture and inhuman treatment of detainees in U.S. custody, not only at Abu Ghraib but at locations throughout Iraq. These are war crimes under the Geneva Conventions and U.S. War Crimes Statute.
• Executions without trial - at Haditha and elsewhere: these are also war crimes.
• Unlawful and indefinite detention without charges or trial is a war crime.
• The transfer of Iraqi captured out of the country, as well as hiding them from oversight agencies such as the International Red Cross are war crimes.
• The indiscriminate bombing and killing of civilian populations, both during the invasion and continuing to the present occupation, is a crime against humanity.
• The systematic use of terror and threats by the U.S. military upon the civilian population, in order to achieve any objective - strategic or otherwise - is a crime against humanity.
• Inhumane acts committed against civilian populations by an occupying force, such as the willful denial of water, food, electricity, and medicines such as in Tall Afar, Samarra, Fallujah, Najaf, and other areas, are violations of the Forth Geneva Convention. Policies such as these constitute a crime against humanity.
• The deliberate destruction of hospitals by the U.S. military as a form of collective punishment is a crime against humanity. Likewise, keeping critically injured civilians from seeing doctors and shooting at ambulances are also crimes against humanity.
• Ever heard of Babylon? Assyria? Mesopotamia, the Cradle of Civilization? The Garden of Eden? Well, all these places are also present day Iraq. The reckless destruction of world heritage sites and the failure to adequately protect Iraqi national treasures from antiquity is tantamount to cultural genocide. The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property defines such acts as violations of international law.
• The massive exodus of over a million Iraqi refugees from their mother country, in addition to the millions of Iraqis still inside Iraq displaced by violence and destruction brought upon by the American occupation of their country, are clear affronts to international humanitarian law.
• Immediately after seizing control of the country in 2003, the U.S. has moved swiftly to radically transform the Iraqi economy, including the mass 'privatization' of Iraqi state-owned assets - electric companies, communications companies, the pharmaceutical industry, transportation sectors - everything. U.S. corporations may now enjoy up to 100% ownership of Iraqi companies and are free to send all profits back to their investors here in the United States and elsewhere. And of course there is also the small matter of who gets to profit from controlling Iraq's immense oil fields - a prize potentially worth trillions over the next thirty years. This economic colonization of Iraq is a grave violation of international law - specifically the Hague Conventions of 1907.
This is only a partial list, but I think even an incomplete list like this one hints at the extreme lawlessness and suffering that now dominates everyday life in Iraq under U.S. occupation.
I suspect that most Americans are actually largely unaware of most of these violations of international law. Or it could be that maybe we try not to think about it because as Americans, deep down we know we are all complicit in what happens in Iraq.
We are connected to what's happening in Iraq not only through the actions of the politicians we choose to elect. Our connection is affirmed every time we buy a gallon of gasoline, drive a car, or turn on a light bulb.
The final verdict? Illegal. Based on the analyses of experts, together with the various facts we collected during the course of our research, all of us cats at the Pinky Show agree that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was illegal. The occupation, still ongoing as we record this episode in 2007, also violates many articles of international law.
[ graphic: Some implications. ]
Okay, so... now what? The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq may be illegal under international law, but what does that really mean? What are the implications of such a thing? Well, this leads us to a few questions. Answering them all is beyond the scope of this particular episode, but these are some of the things we're thinking about at the moment.
Number One. Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq is considered a War of Aggression - the "supreme international crime" - doesn't that make some or all the government people who started the war, war criminals?
Number Two. What about U.S. troops serving in Iraq? Both the Nuremberg Principles and the U.S. Army Field Manual specify that "I was just following orders" is not a legitimate defense for the commitment of war crimes, even when the activity was directly ordered by a superior. Does that make some or all these soldiers war criminals?
Number Three. What are the long term consequences of the United States' ongoing violation of international laws and the undermining of basic principles of justice? Who will take our calls for human rights or economic justice seriously when we ourselves are guilty of such grave transgressions? Should we just expect to see more 9/11s? And can we really be shocked when the world responds with indifference because, after all, we "had it coming"?
Some of you watching this now might be thinking something like: "If this stuff is so obviously illegal, how is it possible for it to continue? Or... What does international law mean if there's no enforcement of it?"
Well, at this particular moment in history, America is clearly the most powerful country in the world. And to be realistic, it's very difficult for other countries to force the U.S. to comply with international law. It could very well be that the only people who can force the U.S. government to conform to internationally agreed-upon standards of justice is the U.S. people themselves.
[ Pinky's opinion ]
It's my opinion that because the U.S. is so powerful, we actually have a greater obligation to use whatever influence we have to always work towards justice and peace. Using power and influence to fulfill the imperial desires of a small ruling elite will only be seen by the rest of the world for what it is - an abuse of power.
[ quote: "America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter, and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves." -Abraham Lincoln ]
[ Pinky's opinion ]
We are cats, and we believe in fairness and ethical behavior. So we will continue our research into these questions. Thank you.
[ graphic: Postscript (May 2007) ]
[ scrolling text: "As of today - May 20, 2007 - the Iraq Body Count project reports between 64,000 and 70,000 Iraqi civilian deaths. This figure only includes violent deaths to civilians reported on by various media sources. As perhaps the majority of civilian deaths are never reported by the media, these figures are widely assumed to be "underestimates".
A far more comprehensive study by the British medical journal The Lancet published in October 2006 estimated the total number of Iraqi deaths caused by the war at approximately 655,000 people.
The U.S. government does not keep records of Iraqis killed as a result of the war."
research: Pinky, Bunny, Mimi, Kim
The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission of the Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, First Edition. National Commission on Terrorist Attacks. W. W. Norton & Company. August, 2004.
ACLU Defends Lt. Watada's Right to Free Speech. Amicus brief prepared by ACLU-WA Staff Attorney Aaron Caplan. August 15, 2006.
America Has Oil on the Brain. Lisa Margonelli interviewed by Terrence McNally (Alternet.org website). May 12, 2007.
Are We Committing War Crimes in Iraq? Dennis Jett. Miami Herald. July 7, 2003.
As Attack on Iraq Begins, Question Remains: Is it Legal? Peter Ford. Christian Science Monitor. March 21, 2003.
Blix: Iraq War was Illegal. Anne Penketh and Andrew Grice. Independent. March 5, 2004.
Britain: New Statesman publishes government report on illegality of Iraq war. Chris Marsden. May 23, 2003.
The Case of Pablo Paredes. Lynn Gonzalez. San Diego Military Counseling Project. ZNet. May 30, 2005.
Citizens' Hearing Report. Citizens' Hearing on the Legality of U.S. Actions in Iraq. January 20-21, 2007.
Chickens Come Home to Roost. Marjorie Cohn. Truthout | Perspective. December 7, 2004.
Donald Rumsfeld: The War Crimes Case. Marjorie Cohn. MarjorieCohn.com website. November 9, 2006.
Enduring U.S. Bases in Iraq: Monopolizing the Middle East Prize. Joseph Gerson. CommonDreams website (www.commondreams.org). March 19, 2007.
Free Market Iraq? Not So Fast. Daphne Eviatar. New York Times. January 10, 2004.
Hard to Deny: Iraq is All About the Oil. Michael Schwartz. TomDispatch.com website. May 8, 2007.
"I have Karl Rove's e-mails". Greg Palast interviewed by Dollars & Sense magazine. Spring 2007.
Iraq, 1917. Robert Fisk. The Independent (UK).
Iraqi Oil Belongs to the Iraqi People. Nancy Wohlforth and Fred Mason. CommonDreams website (www.commondreams.org). April 1, 2007.
Iraq War was Illegal and Breached UN Charter, Says Annan. Ewan Macaskill and Julian Borger. Guardian. September 16, 2004.
The Iraq War and the Future of International Law. Richard Falk. April 19, 2004.
International Criminal Court to Get Evidence of 'Illegality' of Iraq War. Sanjay Suri. Inter Press Service. January 20, 2004.
International Law and the Humanitarian Crisis in Iraq. Christine Delphy. ZNet. March 27, 2003.
Is International Law Relevant to the War in Iraq and its Aftermath? Professor Hilary Charlesworth. Address to National Press Club, Canberra. October 29, 2003.
Is Lt. Watada an Isolated Case of Military Dissent? Sarah Olson. CommonDreams website (www.commondreams.org). February 28, 2007.
Kunstler & Chomsky: Iraq Oil. Bill Henderson. Countercurrents.org website. October 10, 2005.
Law Groups Say US Invasion Illegal. Jim Lobe. OneWorld. March 21, 2003.
Law of Belligerent Occupier. Michael M. Schmitt. Crimes of War. April 15, 2003.
Lawyers Statement on UN Resolution 1441 on Iraq. Jules Lebel, on behalf of Professors of Law and Practicing Attorneys. Foreign Policy in Focus. December 5, 2002.
Legality of use of force against Iraq. Legal brief prepared by Rabinder Singh QC and Alison Macdonald. Public Interest Lawyers On Behalf of Peacerights. September 10, 2002.
Lieutenant Watada's War Against the War. Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith. ZNet Daily Commentaries. June 14, 2006.
Military Justice: Soldier Tests Free Speech Limits. Rebecca Carr. Atlanta Journal Constitution. July 9, 2006.
Navy Judge Finds War Protest Reasonable. Marjorie Cohn. Truthout | Perspective. May 13, 2005.
Officer Faces Court-Martial for Refusing to Deploy to Iraq. At http://www.truthdig.com/ July 23, 2006.
President Bush Declares "Freedom at War with Fear". National televised address to a joint session of Congress and the American People. United States Capitol, Washington, D.C. September 20, 2001.
'Preventive War' and International Law After Iraq. Legal Analysis by E.J. Duncan. Globelaw. May,2003.
Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century. A report of the Project for a New American Century. September 2000.
Secret US Plans for Iraq's Oil. Greg Palast. Newsnight. March 17, 2005.
Soldiers Fear They're Acting Illegally. Trevor Royle and Neil Mackay. Sunday Herald (UK). June 29, 2003.
The Struggle Over Iraqi Oil: Eyes Eternally on the Prize. Michael Schwartz. TomDispatch.com website. May 7, 2007.
A Surge in Iraqi Civilian Deaths: The Bloodiest 12 Months of the War. Tom Clifford. From Counterpunch.org website. April 20, 2007.
Tearing Up the Rules: The Illegality of Invading Iraq. The Center for Economic and Social Rights, Emergency Campaign on Iraq. March 2003.
Through a Legal Lens: The Attack and Occupation of Iraq. Shane Darcy. Electronic Iraq. December 15, 2003.
This Looming War Isn't About Chemical Warheads or Human Rights: It's About Oil. Robert Fisk. The Independent (UK). January 18, 2003.
Transition to an Empire. Ignacio Ramonet. Le Monde Diplomatique. May 1, 2003.
The UN Charter and the Iraq War. Peter Weiss. World Tribunal on Iraq, New York session. Cooper Union, New York. May 8, 2004.
The United Nations Charter and the Use of Force Against Iraq. Statement by representatives of the Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy, Western States Legal Foundation, Center on Constitutional Rights, etc. October 2, 2002.
US Lawyers Warn Bush on War Crimes. Grant McCool. Lawyers Against the War. January 28, 2003.
War on Iraq as Illegal and Illegitimate. David Krieger. 2005.
War On Iraq Was Illegal, Say Top Lawyers. Severin Carrell and Robert Verkaik. Independent. May 25, 2003.
Will International Law Shape the Occupation, or the Occupation Shape International Law? Ian Williams. Legal analysis at Foreign Policy in Focus. May 14, 2003.
video credits:narration: Pinky sound effects: Bunny cardboard diagram: Bunny other images: titles by Pinky
Aircraft firing on buildings in Iraq. Video at Google Video website.
Churchill and Roosevelt. Video at YouTube website.
Execution of a wounded Iraqi in a mosque. Video at YouTube website.
F117 drops a bomb on a group of Iraqis leaving a mosque. Video at YouTube website.
Miscellaneous videos of President Saddam Hussein at YouTube website.
Miscellaneous videos of President George W. Bush at YouTube website.
U.S. President Truman Addresses the UN, 1945.
[ image credits ]