Belaboring the Obvious

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Buck Turgidson and Winners and Losers....

One of the curious ironies of being the big winner in a major conflagration like WWII is that the United States got to make the rules. One of those rules created the Nuremberg Trials which put the major players in the Nazi network of monsters on trial--and on public display for all the Germans to see, in the hope that the ordinary German would understand that the last vestiges of the Third Reich were circling the drain, soon to be gone forever.

Nuremberg was as much a PR exercise as it was ostensibly justice for the victims of the Third Reich (select monsters were spirited away from the court's grasp by the CIA via Operation Paperclip because they were perceived to be dedicated anti-Communists and were seen--often wrongly--as having extensive knowledge of Soviet affairs, or had specialized knowledge from their war work, including experiments on concentration camp inmates), but, the trials established certain standards in the prosecution of war crimes. First and foremost, Nuremberg fixed in stone that the people giving the orders to commit war crimes were supremely responsible for those war crimes, and second, that following orders was not a mitigating factor in establishing guilt. Both of those principles essentially have their roots in the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The trials also prompted a new, more comprehensive round of agreements in 1949 on the Geneva Conventions, incorporating many of the lessons learned during the trials, and started a steady round of revisions on the definition of war crimes that continued for decades afterwards, culminating in the formulation of the UN Convention Against Torture (which the United States has signed and ratified, and to some degree has codified in its own law through the War Crimes Act).

All this has come about because the United States was the big winner in WWII. By pursuing war crimes trials, the United States, effectively, became the de facto defender of human rights in the world, a role which it relished, since such a reputation made it much easier to poke Stalin with a sharp, holier-than-thou stick. In the meantime, the CIA had instituted ongoing programs to assassinate or depose foreign leaders, culminating in Operation Phoenix, through which an estimated 20,000 political assassinations were carried out in Vietnam and Laos, and many more people were tortured. The U.S. Army started the School of the Americas (now trying to hide behind a new name, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) which had long been suspected of training the military and police of friendly dictatorships in some of the worst techniques for maintaining political control of their populations--suspicions that were confirmed when SOA was forced to release training manuals which included detailed instruction in torture and political assassination and a host of other extra-legal means of intimidating popular democratic movements.

Given this history, in some ways, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the United States created a comprehensive, scientific program of torture immediately after 9/11. There were strong political needs perceived by the White House for such.

So, why is the country and a healthy part of the world now clamoring for some justice? The answer might be found in an offhand comment made by the U.S. Air Force's model for the satirical character of Gen. 'Buck' Turgidson in "Dr. Strangelove," Gen. Curtis LeMay. Two decades after the end of WWII, LeMay was asked about the morality of the daylight bombing of largely civilian population centers in Europe, and the use of extensive fire-bombing and nuclear weapons on civilians in Japan. He replied, "if we had lost the war, we probably would have been tried for war crimes."

So simple. The winners make the rules. This time around, Bush and Cheney pushed the nation into a war of aggression that did not even have the fig leaf of UN Security Council approval. In what now seems like ironic commentary on the United States' history on torture, the Nuremberg Tribunal stated, "To initiate a war of aggression . . . is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole." Seizing control of Baghdad and vanquishing a delapidated, careworn Iraqi military could not be seen as a "victory," nor could the ensuing bloodshed and chaos created by Bush's inept administration of a military occupation. In fact, the Bushies lost the war the moment they embarked upon an aggressive military misadventure for purely personal and political reasons, and cemented that loss with every lie they told about it.

Republicans and their enablers in the press still tell themselves that the United States is "winning," whatever the hell they mean by that, but, the raw reality is that the United States' losses began the moment that Bush and his alter ego, Cheney, decided to use 9/11 to expand Executive power at home and U.S. military presence in the rest of the world. Those same apologists for torture and aggressive war simply do not understand that we are not the winners here. From the very start, thanks to Bush and Cheney and their toadies, we were destined to be the losers.

This time, the United States is the big loser, and the losers don't get to make the rules.

Now, the expectation is that the United States--and the Bushies--be prosecuted by the very same rules the United States promulgated at Nuremberg over sixty years ago, when, once upon a time, the United States were big winners....


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