Revolution #61, September 17 2006
Interview with Larry Everest
Framing and Fueling a Societywide Debate about the Bush Regime’s Crimes Against Humanity
(l-r) Larry Everest, Ray McGovern, and Cindy Sheehan at Bush Crime Commission hearings, Berkeley, March 23
Revolution recently interviewed Larry Everest about the upcoming release of the final verdict by the Bush Crimes Commission. Everest has written extensively about the Middle East and Central Asia and is a contributing writer to Revolution. He is the author of the book Oil, Power & Empire: Iraq and the U.S. Global Agenda (Common Courage Press, 2003). He was involved in the initiation of the International Commission of Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration.
Revolution: Larry, you helped initiate the Bush Crimes Commission. Can you briefly fill our readers in—including those who aren’t familiar with the Commission’s mission and work—on what the Commission is and what it has accomplished?
Larry Everest: The International Commission of Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration is a project of the Not in Our Name Statement of Conscience. The specific moral imperative for the Bush Commission was really twofold. First, to investigate whether crimes against humanity are being committed; and, from my point of view, what follows from such an investigation is the imperative to stop these acts and see that they are never repeated.
’This is spelled out in our charter, which is available on line at bushcommission.org. The charter states that when there’s the possibility of far-reaching war crimes and crimes against humanity, people of conscience have a solemn responsibility to inquire into the nature and scope of such acts and determine if they rise to the level of crimes against humanity. So we undertook that effort at hearings that we held in October 2005 and January 2006 in New York City. And when we say “inquire” into the nature of such acts, and determine if they do in fact rise to the level of war crimes, what we mean is: inquire with rigor and care, based on facts and evidence.
And the legitimacy of this undertaking derives from the integrity of the participants and our moral mission, the rigor in the presentation and evaluation of evidence, and in the stature and credibility of participants. We interviewed and took the testimony of 45 witnesses—including some of the world’s foremost experts or firsthand witnesses, including Craig Murray, a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan; Ret. Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who had been in charge of all the prison facilities in Iraq following the war, including Abu Ghraib; Scott Ritter, the lead UN weapons inspector in the ‘90s; Dr. Alan Berkman, a world-renowned authority on HIV, and many others.
The other thing that I think is important is that while we did reference international law where it was applicable, we did not limit ourselves to that, because international law doesn’t yet comprehend many acts that have catastrophic implications for humanity, such as global warming.
And in undertaking this, we had quite a discussion and a debate, a very rich debate within the Commission Working Group, on: what were our standards for war crimes and crimes against humanity? And we emerged with an expanded definition which we felt was a real advance; an expanded definition of the conception of crimes against humanity—that, in other words, in a nutshell, there’s more than one way to exhibit enormous disregard for human life and put billions of people at risk, and we felt that, in short, systematic crimes against humanity constitutes systematic brutal acts against whole populations that shock the conscience of humankind.
But having done this investigation, that was not the extent of our mission. We also felt a responsibility to act to stop these crimes. And the specific mission of the Commission in that regard is our mission to frame and fuel the debate: “Is the administration of George W. Bush guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity?” Ideas matter, and it would be a very different debate in this country and a very different political climate, if the terms of debate were: Is this administration committing war crimes and crimes against humanity? Not “were these actions errors or isolated incidents or bad judgment or bad policy?” and so on.
Revolution: Can you talk about the timing of the release of the verdict, in the context of the anniversary of Katrina, Bush’s admission that people have been detained in secret CIA prisons, and the fact that we’re less than a month away from the mass mobilizations called for by World Can't Wait - Drive Out the Bush Regime on October 5?
Larry Everest: The release of our findings is not timed specifically for political effect. It’s timed based on when our panel of five judges has received the necessary evidence and been able to cull through it, and render its verdict. So that date when the verdict is going to be released is September 13. It is true that this verdict is extremely relevant now. Just in the last few days, Bush acknowledged essentially that the administration has been committing war crimes, torturing people, rendering people, illegally detaining people. And I must say that what Bush said about secret CIA prisons vindicates what our evidence brought forward, including the testimony of former ambassador Craig Murray. A complete vindication of this. And Bush is also stating he wants this to continue and he’s defending this. Meanwhile, they’re recycling similar lies about weapons of mass destruction—not exactly the same, but similar, to the ones they used in Iraq, now against Iran.
The issue of global warming—our commission had to struggle for this, to consider global warming a crime against humanity, because frankly people did not understand the catastrophic impact on humanity that global warming has and the deliberate character of the criminal actions of the Bush administration. I know many of the readers of Revolution have followed the reviews of the Al Gore movie on global warming, which definitely presents a picture of how deep a crisis this is, but the movie lets the Bush Regime off the hook. We don’t.
And we’ve had the anniversary of Katrina. Again, we can see—the whole issue, at least in most of the mainstream discussion, of whether this administration was criminally and deliberately negligent and whether this is a crime against humanity, was not even part of the conversation, in the way it needed to be. And the verdict will have a lot to say about that.
So yes, the release of the Commission’s verdict is extremely timely now, and it’s extremely important that millions of people learn of the verdict, and read the verdict, and popularize the verdict, because the Bush administration has demonstrated that it’s determined to continue committing war crimes and crimes against humanity until it’s stopped.
I think that if the Commission is able to accomplish our mission of framing and fueling a societywide debate concerning whether this regime is guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, it will profoundly impact the political terrain, making events and efforts like October 5, and other efforts to resist and protest this regime, that much more broadly understood and supported. So I think there’s tremendous synergy.
Revolution: Could you speak to some of the impact that the work of the Commission has had so far in relation to everything we’re talking about, including in relation to the potential that you’ve spoken to for this to go even further in terms of impacting the political terrain?
Larry Everest: Well, certainly the work of the Commission has gotten some media coverage; not enough, but it has gotten some significant coverage. But let me focus on the impact of the speaking tour we did in the spring. The goal was specifically to awaken and arouse people on campuses, which are far too silent and quiet in the face of all this. I think it was very noteworthy that at each of these programs—probably a dozen of our witnesses and participants spoke at one or another of these programs—someone, or two or three people, from the audience would come up and tell us it was the best program they’d ever been to. You know, some were older people who’d been to a lot of programs.
And I thought that there were a number of reasons why they said this. One reason was the clarity of it—the clarity of the indictment of this regime, I think, speaks to the feelings of millions of people. The second is the stature and the credibility of the people presenting the evidence and the rigor of the evidence. Again, these were generally testimony of someone like former ambassador Murray; or Ray McGovern, a long-time CIA employee, who founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, very active against the Bush administration; or Ret. Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski. Daniel Ellsberg spoke at one of our events. So these were people that had direct understanding, either of the specific events or of how the government operates. And the presentations were substantive, it wasn’t speechifying. So there was that element to it as well.
And I think many people were so glad that somebody was saying this. And I think they were also excited to see this very unusual mix of people. For example, at our Berkeley program, here’s Daniel Ellsberg, a whistle blower from the 1960s who’s been since then a long-time opponent of many of the injustices of this government, and he was teamed up with Janis Karpinski and Craig Murray, who have somewhat different perspectives; they’re newly alienated from the actions of the Bush and Blair government. And then I spoke, and I’m a contributor to Revolution and a Communist revolutionary. So I obviously have quite a different viewpoint than they do. But we really enjoy working together, all of us giving our perspective on the specific issue of Bush crimes against humanity and war crimes. That was the focus. And there was a great spirit amongst the participants, so I think that that conveyed another element that was new and exciting for people who came.
And the one other thing I wanted to say was that when we first delivered the indictments at the White House on January 10 this year, we did a bunch, 10 or 20, of radio interviews off of this, and a number of the people said, “Boy, I’m so glad someone finally did this.” Because there’s been no accountability, in Congress or by the established order, whatsoever, for any of this. I mean, there hasn’t even been a report on it, let alone an actual deserved criminal indictments for the perpetrators of these things. So there’s an enormous anger about that complete lack of accountability and the utter failure of the current order to bring to account those that have committed these kinds of actions.
Revolution: What can people expect the Commission’s report to include?
Larry Everest: I would encourage people to look at the indictments [available at www.bushcommission.org], which are quite extensive. For example, in the case of war, there were three areas that we indicted: the launching of the war, the conduct of the war, and the occupation—it’s not simply the launching of the war. And in terms of the occupation, there were many specific areas of crimes against humanity. Summary execution, kidnapping and torture, collective punishment, and so on. And there were nine specific charges in terms of the conduct of the war. So this is a very extensive indictment of what they’ve done in the invasion of Iraq.
And there were other indictments. One of the indictments concerned the Bush administration’s policies on global health; this was not at all well understood, including by me, before we did this investigation. And here I just want to say that all of us learned a tremendous amount during this; none of us knew the full scope and nature of the horrors inflicted on the planet by this government. So by bringing together all five areas of indictment—the Iraq war; torture and detention; assaults on global public health; assaults on the global environment; and the response to Katrina—a much deeper, comprehensive, and really qualitatively different picture of the criminality of this administration comes through.
For example, on the indictment around global public health, the first count was that the Bush administration was using its influence to advance programs and policies that actually worsen the AIDS pandemic. A second count was that the Bush administration reinstated the gag rule, which has led to the closing of reproductive health clinics, which in many areas was the only source of HIV/AIDS prevention and care. A third count: the administration has distorted science in an attempt to prevent medical research when it conflicts with the ideology of the Christian Right. And a fourth count is that the Bush administration used its political and economic power to restrict the manufacture and supply of generic drugs, which are the only affordable option for most of the HIV positive population in the Third World.
After September 13th—and again, we want to get the word out of this broadly—on September 19-21 we’re having Bush Crimes Day, which we want to be a decentralized, nationwide day of learning about and speaking out about Bush war crimes and crimes against humanity. We’re urging people to download, print, and distribute the verdict after Sept. 13, and to order our 30-minute videos of each area of indictment and distribute and use them very broadly on this day, including to organize teach-ins, classroom presentations, protests, etc.
George Bush will be speaking at the UN on Sept. 19, no doubt beating the drums for war, and the Bush Crimes Commission will be delivering our verdict there as well. Our slogan for the day is:
Bush War Crimes
Bush Crimes Against Humanity
Bring Them to a Halt!
After that we will be continuing our campus tour—we are going in October and November and going forward, continuing to speak out on these war crimes and crimes against humanity. As we’ve heard this week, these are not going away until the Bush regime goes away.
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