Speaking the Unspeakable: Is the Bush Administration Guilty of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity?

Revolution #042, April 9, 2006, posted at revcom.us

The Bush Crimes Commission Campus Tour was launched at University of California, Berkeley on March 23. Three hundred people heard a program titled Speaking the Unspeakable: Is the Bush Administration Guilty of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity? featuring retired CIA analyst Ray McGovern, internationally-known activist Cindy Sheehan and Revolution correspondent and author Larry Everest.

In October 2005 and January 2006 in New York, the International Commission of Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity by the Bush Administration presented indictments and heard testimony in five areas—illegal war, torture and detention, destruction of the global environment, assaults on global public health, and the administration’s actions during Hurricane Katrina. Based on rigorous standards and investigation, the Commission found the Bush Administration guilty of crimes against humanity—crimes of such a scale and scope that they shock the conscience.

The tour flows from the Bush Commission's Charter, which calls on it to "frame and fuel a discussion that is urgently needed in the United States: Is the administration of George W. Bush guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity?" Bringing to campuses the Commission's historic verdict and compelling evidence will help in changing the political terrain and the terms of debate. The tour will call on students and faculty to grasp the enormity of the crimes being committed by the Bush administration and to rise to the moral and political challenge this represents.

Taigen Dan Leighton, a faculty member from the Graduate Theological Union who has organized a weekly vigil at UC Berkeley against torture, introduced the program with a quote from former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray. Testifying before the Commission in New York City, Murray said, “I would personally rather die than have anyone tortured to save my life."

The program was MC’d by a UC Berkeley student and activist with World Can’t Wait. Speaking to the crucial importance of addressing the topic, he quoted Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who said at the Commission hearings, “Our country and our world are tipping—tipping toward permanent war, the end of human rights, and the impoverishment and death of millions. We still have a chance, an opportunity to stop this slide into chaos. But it is up to us. We must not sit with our arms folded. We must be as radical as the reality we are facing. The witnesses you will hear over the next few days are the truth-tellers—the witnesses to the carnage this country and this administration has wrought. This truth challenges us all to act.”

After the program, many people said it was inspiring, and some said it was one of the best programs they had ever been to. The content challenged the participants about what they must do based on the knowledge that their government was committing crimes on this level. Discussion continued after the meeting, as many people stayed around to talk to the panelists and amongst themselves.

This week Revolution is printing excerpts from the Berkeley program.

On the Importance of Speaking the Unspeakable

Larry Everest is a journalist and author of Oil, Power, and Empire: Iraq and the U.S. Global Agenda. He has covered the Middle East and Central Asia for over 20 years for Revolution newspaper and other publications. His talk presented an overview of the five indictments handed down by the Commission.

The title of the event tonight is “Speaking the Unspeakable,” and I think that’s precisely what we have to do: speak the unspeakable—loud, clear, and persistently, because it’s true. This administration is guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. This was the work we undertook at the International Commission of Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity by the Bush Administration. We took evidence, heard expert testimony from 44 prominent eyewitnesses, experts, victims—and the evidence was overwhelming.

Our commission was motivated by the moral vision that when such acts—raised to such a level of horror—exist, it is the duty of people, whether in government or out of government, to investigate those acts and determine whether they rise to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity. This is a duty that people in this country, in particular, have to the people of the world…

And I think it's not an exaggeration to say that the future of global humanity is being held hostage in many ways and on many different fronts. These people have nuclear weapons, they’re tremendously impacting global climate, they’re threatening unending wars, they’re wreaking havoc on populations vulnerable to disease. And they remain hell bent on pushing through with their agenda and continuing on this catastrophic and disastrous path.

This places enormous responsibility on all of us to speak out against it. Questioning, distrust, anger at the Bush administration have certainly grown, but the discussion still remains too muted, too conditional, too soft-spoken, white-washed—that doesn’t capture the real truth of the matter. I really loved Cindy’s last article where she said that we all have to get out of our comfort zone. We have to start speaking the truth.

I’m sure you’ve all followed the discussion in the media on the third anniversary of the U.S.’s invasion of Iraq. It’s struck me how urgent it is to have a conversation not about whether George Bush is incompetent, not about whether he is an idiot, not about whether he is in Halliburton’s back pocket, not about whether he doesn’t have a strategy for victory, but about whether he and his administration have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Did people see the [San Francisco] Chronicle on Sunday? They have this picture of Abu Ghraib and it says, “Judged Only on Ethics Iraq War Gets a C.” I’d agree with that if C was for crimes against humanity. But that’s not what they’re talking about. This is why the debate has to change.

“The Rotten Apples Are at the Very Top of the Barrel”

Ray McGovern is a retired CIA analyst. In March 2003, McGovern co-founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. On March 3, 2006, he donned a bright Guantanamo-orange jumpsuit and walked through the Rayburn House office building as a "ghost detainee," while 13 anti-torture colleagues did likewise walking slowly through other Senate and House offices. As a symbolic step to dissociate himself from torture, McGovern called on the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and returned the Intelligence Commendation Award medallion awarded him for his 27-year career as a CIA analyst.

We’re talking about torture, people, and this has very little to do with rotten apples on the bottom of the barrel. The rotten apples are at the very top of the barrel. How do we know this? On 9-11 itself, after he made his evening presentation to the American people, the President gathered together with Donald Rumsfeld and with Richard Clarke—we know this from Richard Clarke’s book—and when the subject of international law came up, the President said, “I don’t care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass.”

Rumsfeld sent Major General Geoffrey Miller down to Guantánamo, and Miller drove home the point that interrogators were being far too lenient with the detainees. They must be treated like dogs, said Miller, and once they realize they are no better than dogs, then you can get information out of them. This, and more specific abuses, Miller explained, were necessary to "prepare the conditions for successful interrogation," a euphemism used over and over again. That's when the abuses went into Guantánamo—the abuses that FBI people reported, that CIA people reported. All sorts of people knew what was going on. And then Geoffrey Miller was sent to Abu Ghraib to “Gitmoize” Abu Ghraib. How do we know that? Because Janis Karpinski [former U.S. commander at Abu Ghraib] testified to that. So this was no accident. The Pentagon-appointed commission headed by Republican loyalist James Schlessinger used another euphemism to describe what happened. The abuses simply "migrated" to Abu Ghraib, you see.

When I saw Porter Goss, the head of the CIA, joining Vice President for Torture Cheney visiting Sen. John McCain to appeal openly that the CIA be exempted from McCain's amendment's prohibition on torture, well, that was too much. Sure, there have been abuses involving torture in the past. But never had I seen a CIA director openly lobby for permission to torture, even if the president signed the McCain amendment into law.

To his credit, McCain rebuffed Cheney and Goss. But, folks, it's still smoke and mirrors. The McCain amendment granted no exemptions, but the president added this "signing statement:"

"The executive branch shall construe [the amendment] in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President...as Commander in Chief."

Translation: I will comply with this law when I want to; I can authorize torture, and nothing in this law is going to stop me. Bottom line? As we sit here, torture continues in our name.

The Human Cost of the War

Cindy Sheehan is an internationally known activist whose son, Army Specialist Casey Sheehan, was killed in Iraq. She is a founder of Gold Star Families for Peace.

I think that people have problems with me because I point out to them, and keep in their face, the human cost of this war…It’s going to be two years in a couple of weeks. Everybody told me after Casey was killed that time heals everything. That’s bullshit. Only people who haven’t buried their children say that to me. The pain is always there. The pain never goes away. You just learn how to live with it. That’s the unspeakable part.

And then we have these criminals, who are walking free, who sleep well at night. Who enjoy their meals, who get to go on vacations. And they are not being held accountable for what they’ve done. For what they’ve done to me, for what they’ve done to my family, for what they’ve done to the world.

I wrote after I got out of jail the last time in New York City, there are criminals and there are CRIMINALS, in all capital letters…. I was in the cell with 16 other women who were just struggling to survive in Bushworld, while the war profiteers are stealing money from our communities. The people who I was in prison with thought that breaking the law was their last resort. They did petty theft; they did victimless crimes. The people who are running this country are mass murderers! They are serial killers that have been sanctioned, they think, by the state.

When [Undersecretary of State] Karen Hughes was in Indonesia, a college student called George Bush a terrorist. And you know what Karen Hughes said? “He can’t be a terrorist because he was elected.” You know that’s another piece of bullshit. George Bush says that a terrorist is someone who kills innocent men, women and children. Well, by his own definition, he is a terrorist….

I don’t want any other mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandparents to go through what my family has gone through for nothing, for lies. That’s why I do what I do. And really the people of America need to know it’s not just me, it’s not just my family, it’s not just the soldiers or their families that are suffering from this war. Every minute that we allow this to continue is a stain on our souls. It is a stain on America. So we have to do everything humanly possible to stop it.

“Then I understood how the orders for cattle trucks to go to Auschwitz were written…”

In concluding his talk Ray McGovern said:

I want to read a quote from Craig Murray, the incredibly courageous British Ambassador to Uzbekistan. We gave him the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence for 2005 and this is what he said in accepting that award:

“I would like to say something about the advance of evil and how easily it advances. I genuinely at no stage felt I was doing anything either heroic or exceptional. When I came across cases of people being boiled alive, cases of daughters being raped in front of their fathers, cases of torture of children, and the fact that we were receiving intelligence from those torture sessions, it seemed to me axiomatic that anyone brought up in the United States or the United Kingdom would believe their overriding and only duty was to stop it. And, perhaps naively, when I started trying to stop it internally, I actually believed that this must be the work of renegade people at lower levels and that once senior politicians in the UK and US knew what was happening, they would stop it. I was quickly disillusioned. I discovered this part of a wider international policy of the use of torture in the pursuit of the war on terror. It was a terrible moment for me. I discovered that the system and the country I'd served my whole life didn't stand for what I believed it did. And I went to meetings with colleagues of mine. People I had known for over 20 years. Ordinary nice people who were setting down on paper strategies by which what we were doing could be said not to circumvent the UN convention against torture. And I was looking at them thinking, “I know you. I know you. We've drunk together. We've played golf together. You are setting up justification for torture. How did this come about?

“This may sound exaggerated. But it isn't. At that moment I understood how some civil servant ended up writing out the orders for cattle trucks to go to Auschwitz, and felt they were only “doing their job.” And ladies and gentlemen, that is what we face now: the flight toward fascism.”

The U.S. war in Iraq is a illegal, unjust, and immoral—a crime against humanity. The Bush regime saw conquering this ancient land as a key step in unfolding its broader global agenda: "shocking and awing" the world, strengthening the U.S. grip on the Middle East, turning Iraq into a military and political platform for further aggression, gaining tighter control of international energy supplies, controlling and reshaping the entire arc from North Africa to Central Asia, and strengthening the U.S. hand against rivals—current and future. Bush justified the war with calculated lies about non-existent weapons of mass destruction and Iraq's ties to 9/11. Now-released memos of pre-war discussions between Bush and British Premier Tony Blair document that the U.S. intended to invade Iraq, whether or not WMD's were found. Since the invasion the war crimes have continued: torture, rape, and murder of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib and other U.S. prisons around Iraq; use of illegal chemical weapons like white phosphorus which melts human flesh; leveling of whole neighborhoods; and the deaths of more than 100,000 Iraqi people. And the crimes continue.

To help with the campus tour or to bring the tour to your campus, contact the Bush Crimes Commission at 212.941.8086 or by email at commission@nion.us. Available speakers (schedule permitting) include Janis Karpinski, former brigadier general and commander of Abu Ghraib prison; Craig Murray, former UK Ambassador; Scott Ritter, ex-UN weapons inspector; Ray McGovern, former CIA analyst; Ann Wright, former U.S. ambassador; Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and many others speaking on all five indictments (war, torture, global warming, global health, Hurricane Katrina) brought before the commission.

Testimony from the International Commission of Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity by the Bush Administration is available online at bushcommission.org.

Send us your comments.