Peace, justice, and war-crimes courts: the view after Iraq

    This morning I was invigilating the exam my students were taking here in Lille, at the end of the short course I’ve been teaching here on Transitional Justice and Conflict Termination. My job was to sit there and supervise all these great young people as they wrote their hearts out. So the least I could do was sit there in front of them with my laptop and also try to do some serious writing…

    This is a topic I’ve been thinking about for a while. It’s sort of a response to all those eager-beaver law profs who so breathlessly proclaimed right after Saddam’s capture in December 2003 that his trial would constitute, as they said, “a ‘Grotian Moment’ — defined as a legal develop­ment that is so signi­fi­cant that it can create new customary inter­national law or radically transform the inter­preta­tion of treaty-based law.” (Note to self: dig out photo of self with Hugo Grotius’s box taken in Amsterdam last summer. Now that was truly a Grotian moment.)

    Anyway, I’m now in the throes of grading these students’ papers, and Monday I’m off on a quick jaunt to Yorkshire. So I probably won’t get this think-piece finished for quite a while yet. As a result, I’ve decided to serialize it. This has the added advantage that y’all can submit your comments and I can then ruthlessly use your wisdom–okay, with due attribution– to improve later portions of the text. So do please post some helpful comments!

    Here’s part 1.

The war-crimes courts infatuation after Saddam

Part 1.

The record so far of the special war-crimes court established in
post-invasion Iraq to try former President Saddam Hussein and his
confederates on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war
crimes has been distasteful and of great concern even to many of those
who prior to 2003 argued strongly that all these men should be
prosecuted for their crimes.  This record, the tragic
mega-violence that continues in Iraq– and also, the uneven record of
many other war-crimes courts established since 1993– between them pose new and
urgent questions to all those around the world who have argued that
criminal prosecutions are the best way to deal with individuals accused
of high-level responsibility for acts of atrocity; and indeed, that
such prosecutions are a “duty” for all members of the international

The tragic course of events in Iraq has also urgently revived old
questions about the relationship between the claims of “peace” and
those of “justice”.  Indeed, it forces us to re-examine in some
depth what it is that we in the international community mean when we
talk about “justice.”  For too many people in the international
community, the term “justice” has until now been used as easy shorthand
for “the orderly operating of a war-crimes court.”  But in the
Iraq of the past three and a half years, virtually all Iraqis have been
faced with a situation in which their most basic social and economic
rights– rights to food, clean water, safe shelter, basic medical
care– have been grossly infringed; and even their fundamental right to
life and to the physical integrity of their persons has been put in
extreme jeopardy and far too often directly infringed.  Those
abuses can and should be described  in the discourse of justice,
as constituting grave injustices imposed on the Iraqi people by the
situation of civil strife and military occupation in which they live
(or don’t live.)  Those around the world concerned with questions of
justice and eager to hold accountable those with high-level
responsibility for widespread rights abuses should surely attend to
this situation, too…

Regarding the general relationship between the claims of peace and
those of justice, it has been  popular on the left in the United
States in recent years to argue that, “If you want peace, you should
work for justice.”  I would argue that if the situation in Iraq
shows us anything, it is that there is a counter-argument of equal
validity, to the effect that “If you want justice, work for
peace.”  For in Iraq we can see very clearly that every day of continuing
non-peace that comes around is a day in which injustices– too frequently
of a grossly lethal nature– continue.  The question as to how the
claims of peace and those of justice can both be pursued in a
synergistic and constructive way is a huge one, one that sages have
pondered throughout the millennia  (and one, I should note, that
nearly always has a workable answer, though it often takes considerable
diplomatic creativity, and a real commitment to the building of a
sustainable and right-respecting peace to find it.)  But simply to
privilege the claims of a– frequently only vaguely defined– “justice”
over those of peace too often ends up bringing neither peace nor justice to those
living in situations of chronic and unresolved conflict. 

(I note, too, that the discourse of  justice has another, even
more troubling relationship with questions of war and peace.  For
this discourse has a special, privileged role within the rhetoric of war-makers
everywhere– none of whom has ever gone to war in the publicly admitted
pursuit of unjust ends! And what’s more, if one war-maker deploys the
discourse of “justice” in his venture, then you can be sure that the
leaders on the opposing side are doing exactly the same.  Given
the undeniable fact that the consequences of war always include
tremendous human suffering, this role that the discourse of justice
plays in “justifying” the acts of the war-makers should itself be
sufficient to give one pause about all absolutist claims of “justice”.)

For the US decisionmakers who took the extremely weighty decision to
invade Iraq in 2003, the venture was not supposed to turn out this
way.  There has been some debate about whether  some of these
decisionmakers in fact sought a significant diminution of the power of
the Iraq state– a supposition which remains unproven until now. 
But even those who sought that surely cannot have wanted to see the
Iraqi people suffer from the collapse of state power in their country
to anything like the degree that they have.  There is some
evidence, meanwhile, that at least some of the top US decisionmakers
viewed the occupation of Iraq as providing an opportunity similar to
the the victorious Allies had in occupied Germany and occupied Japan at
the end of World War 2: an opportunity to rebuild the occupied country
as a democratic, tolerant, and pro-American polity whose
soon-to-be-evident success would strengthen the US-led order around the
world.  On the “tolerant” bit, Japan was notably less successful
than Germany; but in general terms, both those occupation-for-democratization projects of 1945-50 were remarkably

In Iraq, pursuing that “model from 1945” seemed to the country’s US
occupiers to indicate a number of urgent policy initaitives.  It
indicated rapid de-Ba’athification,  the establishment of a
high-level (and preferably international?) court to try the top leaders
of the former Ba’athist regime, and the rapid disbanding of the
national army…

Well, actually, regarding the status of the Iraqi army after the US
victory in Baghdad, this was related to one of the three key areas in
which the situation of the US-led occupation force in Iraq differed
from that of its predecessors in Germany and Japan.

These three key differences were:

    1.  In 1945, in both Germany and Japan, the national society
    and the national state had alike been devasted by long years of
    devastating war (which included extremely fierce and lethal Allied
    bombardments of most major cities in both countries.)  In Japan, a
    weakened Emperor still survived and was able to submit a surrender and
    negotiate its terms, though from a very weak position.  In
    Germany, no national command authority survived to surrender; and in
    addition, nearly all the big military formations crumbled under the
    final assault.  There was little need to “disband” the German
    army, since it had effectively fallen apart; all that remained in the
    various parts of Germany to which demoralized small units had fled was
    to gather them up and put them into POW camps as the Allies swept in
    for their final advance.  In Iraq, by contrast, most of the Iraqi
    Army’s big units had done little or nothing to resist the Allies’
    advance.  They still existed– and equally importantly, most of
    their armories still remained intact.  When Bremer summarily
    ordered the disbanding of the entire Iraqi Army he overnight caused the
    disaffection of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi men who had served
    in the army until then, as well as of all the family members who had
    been dependent on that man’s salary.  Moreover, these disaffected
    men had fairly good military training.  They often retained
    unbroken ties with their former comrades-in-arms.  And they had
    access to huge amounts of weapons and explosives lying in the armories
    that the occupation forces– mysteriously–did little or nothing to
    secure.  The potential in Iraq for the emergence of well-armed,
    well-trained forces that would resist the occupation regime made this
    occupation, from the beginning, very different frm that in Germany or

    2.  The US-led force that occupied Iraq in 2003 was extremely
    small compared with the forces that had occupied Germany and Japan 58
    years earlier. A study by the US Army’s Center for Military History
    records that,

On V-E Day, Eisenhower had sixty-one
U.S. divisions, 1,622,000 men, in Germany, and a total force in Europe
numbering 3,077,000.
When the shooting ended, the divisions in the field became the
occupation troops, charged with maintaining law and order and
establishing the Allied military presence in the defeated nation. This
was the army-type occupation. A counterpart of the military government
carpet, its object was to control the population and stifle resistance
by putting troops into every nook and cranny.
    In Iraq, by contrast, using as small a force as
    possible had been a big part of the war-plan developed by Donald
    Rumsfeld, who wanted to use the invasion of Iraq to demonstrate the
    effectiveness of the “small, highly mobile” forces that he
    favored.  Keeping the invasion force small also had political
    advantages for the administration both at home and abroad. 
    However, ending up trying to administer the occupation regime in Iraq
    with a force that was far, far too small for the task was another very
    consequential way in which this occupation differed from that of the
    occupations of 1945.

    3.  Finally, the US occupation regime in Iraq differed from those
    of 1945 in that it did not have within its cadre anything like the
    required amount of expertise on how to run the occupied country. 
    One example:  My father, a German speaker, had worked in British
    military intelligence since the early days of World War 2.  He
    worked on planning the landings in Normandy in June 1944; and
    immediately after those landings he was transferred to the unit that
    was already planning how to administer the occupation of Germany that
    now, after the success of D-Day, seemed clearly within the Allies’
    reach.  In 1945, as the British forces advanced into Germany, he
    moved forward just behind the first wave to start setting up the
    required structures of civil administration in the newly occupied
    areas.  He did so on the basis of his knowledge of Germany, its
    language and its people, and on the basis of having studied the
    specifics of running a military administration intensively, for the
    past year.  The US Army’s occupation officers with whom he worked
    seemed similarly well prepared.  In Iraq, by contrast, though the
    State Department had done quite a lot of earlier planning for running
    the occupation, those plans were all summarily jettisoned by Rumsfeld
    and his aides; and beyond that, Rumsfeld and his aides in the Pentagon
    made a point of trying to staff their entire occupation administration
    with people who were not
    Arabic speakers or experts on Iraqi affairs.  Instead, in line
    with many philosphical predilections of the Bushists, they outsourced
    most of the tasks of planning for an running the occupation– a job
    that was outsourced largely to the small coterie of  Iraqi exiles
    convened by Ahmad Chalabi…

The combination of these three factors meant that the
political/security environment in which the US government was trying to
run the occupation of Iraq after March 2003 was very different from the
political/security environment in occupied Germany and Japan after
1945.  So, too, was the potential for the eruption of very serious
organized violence, whether violence aimed at the occupation troops or
fratricidal violence among different segments of the occupied
population itself.  The threat and then the growing fact of both
these kinds of violence caused considerable further complications to
the project of  easily staging, in occupied Baghdad, a
re-enactment of the earlier trials in Nuremberg or Tokyo…

31 thoughts on “Peace, justice, and war-crimes courts: the view after Iraq”

  1. Helena,
    Perhaps you will come to York one day and teach this course? I know I am a pest, however, I wish you would respond about the Lebanese detainees in Syria-
    I hope to hear from you-decades, decades they have waited…When will the ICRC be allowed access to Syrian prisons? Can you help with this?

  2. KDJ
    Lebanese detainees in Syria-
    I though I 100% with you on this and any prisoners in Arab world who should have the rights to have his lawyer and his case listen to lawfully and accordingly to the law and regulations in each country but also in light of Human Rights regulation.
    What I like to say you forgot very important prisoners those thousands of them in Israeli jails waiting some of them 20 years if not more, also those kids in Israeli prisoners their crimes only through stones on Israeli forces is that deserve that imprisonment?
    Whish all free in this troubling world

  3. Kdj, please, please can I ask you to keep to the guidelines re keeping on-topic and discourse-hogging. I understand (and share) your concern for Lebanese detainees in Syria– indeed, like Salah, I’m concerned about all detainees held without due cause in ME jails.
    But I strongly request that commenters stick to the topic of each post, otherwise the discussion becomes quite chaotic and therefore unproductive for everyone, including me. If the topic of the Lebanese detainees in Syria strongly concerns you, why not start your own blog about it?
    (Or as a special favor, if you want to write a short essay on why that topic seems of particular concern– in comparison to the topic of detainees in general– then send it to me by email and I’ll try to publish it here next week.)
    Meanwhile, I very warmly invite people with views on the topic of this post to contribute to this discussion here.

  4. Helena, if you let me to add some points with my little knowledge to what you put above.
    1-the “De-Baathification” of Iraq.
    This was the killing point flowed after the disbanding of the Iraqi army, which put the state in killing status when most highly trained and expertises Iraqi pushed out of their jobs on advise of a man knew nothing about Iraq “Ahamd Galabi” who left Iraq when he was 14yeras old and never been in Iraq since till 2003.
    Its might important to read what Lt. Colonel Cowan is a Vietnam Veteran, a military and terrorism analyst for the Fox News Channel, and a registered Republican who voted for George W. Bush in 2000. He is also a former member of the Intelligence Support Activity, the Pentagon’s most classified counterterrorist organization. Cowan has participated in numerous undercover operations throughout the Middle East, including the rescue of a number of American hostages from Kuwait during the Iraqi occupation. Cowan is no shrinking violet, no anti-war peace activist.
    He talking about the fatal mistakes taken by CPA first year of occupation which lead to Iraqi provoked the liberation and counted as occupation because of CBA mistakes or behaviours in rearguards to Iraqi peoples and assets with Paul Bremer orders and laws introduced by him.
    That made Joseph L. Galloway, “a military correspondent for Knight-Ridder Newspapers, laid out the most serious blunders in calling for Bremer’s dismissal in a recent piece:”
    Virtually every major decision he has made in Iraq has been wrong, poorly timed or just plain dumb. Beginning with his decision to demobilize the real army and send them home with their AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, no paychecks, no future and heaps of anger. Followed by his decision to purge everyone who ever held a Baath Party card from public life and public employment, thus abandoning many Sunnis to hopelessness and anger. Followed by his decision to close down Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr’s newspaper and provoke him to anger-without any plan to deal with that anger when it spilled over into the streets and inflamed the Shiite community.
    In addition introducing De-Baathification and the consequences of that CPA refused to spend some money to reopening many Iraqi state owned factories 2/3 of those factories have survived the war and can be ready with minim effort that will allowed thousand of Iraqi to get back on feet and run them, this very details in article by Washington Post Staff Writer Rajiv Chandrasekaran on Sunday, January 14, 2007, in that article:
    Timothy M. Carney went to Baghdad in April 2003 to run Iraq’s Ministry of Industry and Minerals. Unlike many of his compatriots in the Green Zone, the rangy, retired American ambassador wasn’t fazed by chaos. He’d been in Saigon during the Tet Offensive, Phnom Penh as it was falling to the Khmer Rouge and Mogadishu in the throes of Somalia’s civil war. Once he received his Halliburton-issued Chevrolet Suburban, he disregarded security edicts and drove around Baghdad without a military escort. His mission, as he put it, “was to listen to the Iraqis and work with them.”
    He left after two months, disgusted and disillusioned. The U.S. occupation administration in Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), placed ideology over pragmatism, he believed. His boss, viceroy L. Paul Bremer, refused to pay for repairs needed to reopen many looted state-owned factories, even though they had employed tens of thousands of Iraqis. Carney spent his days screening workers for ties to the Baath Party.
    2- In both cases “Japan, Germany” most the neighbouring courtiers affected and suffered to some degree at that time and every country had to like his wound to stand again on his feet’s in Iraq war all the neighbours are posed to jumped and share US the “Walk Cake” war Saudis to get out from all the guilt of 9/11, also they dislike any democratic steppes coming on front door that will open “Hell doors” on them, so the start sending those Wahabi “mind washed “ Jihadasts supported by Fatwa’s by those Wahabi religious clerics we all know those clerics are hired to support Al-Saud regime none of them will say any think harm Al_Saud so the jihadast flows in waves to Iraq, as I sated before for get rid of them to Iraq to free the danger to Al -Saud if they stay inside the kingdom.
    The rest example yesterday Saudis close the site called Mofakart Al-Islam (Arabic Text) posting from Saudia they arrested the man behind that site (this is after more than 3 years) may be after some pressure from US , but it showes the devil face of Saudis regime.
    Iran, had its long stand of revenge from Iraq from the 8 years war, also the race of taking lead of Shiitesim “ although Iraqi Shiitesim are not in line with Iran “but Iranians used their home grown (Midwived) clerics to promote Iranian’s Shiitesim in Iraq and in the region.
    3- Compare your father work in Germany as you said “ He did so on the basis of his knowledge of Germany, its language and its people, which obviously opposite what CPA staff did in Iraq, its well said by reporter Jason Vest :
    isolated from ordinary Iraqis “by [its] security bubble” in the Green Zone, the cordoned-off area of Baghdad where the CPA is headquartered. The memo derides the US government for spending “millions importing sport utility vehicles which are used exclusively to drive the kilometer and a half” between CPA and Governing Council headquarters.
    This made them as foreign body in the country who claimed they came to librating its people from tyranny.
    4- The selection of Iraqi Characters to take the lead in Iraq after occupation each one of them have his problems although the assured US administration they had good support of the majority of Iraqi like Ahmad and others and that obvious when US tried to hold meeting in Nasriya early days when the US tropes advanced in inside Iraq in the end the meeting holed out side the city in a tent after a strong demonstrations from Nasriya city locales.
    Beside that most of those US selected Iraqis and Clerics each one have his problems or incredibility normal Iraqi accusing them before they came over US tanks inside Iraqi.
    Than made a huge back fire in face of US incredibility between normal Iraqis and later most Iraqi lost discover what they thoughts before the war comes true in regards to those Clerics and others who came on tope of US tanks.

  5. “Dr. Emile A. Nakhleh, a Senior Intelligence Service Officer and Director of the Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program in the Directorate of Intelligence at the CIA for fifteen years of service, recapitulated the effects of the Iraq invasion in an interview with “Harper’s”: “I have come to believe that our presence is part of the problem and that we should begin to seriously devise an exit strategy. There’s a civil war in Iraq and our presence is contributing to the violence. We’ve become a lightning rod—we’re not restricting the violence, we’re contributing to it. Iraq has galvanized jihadists; our presence is what is attracting them. We need to get out of there. The idea of Iraq being a model for the region has also been tossed out the window. […] We’ve lost a generation of goodwill in the Muslim world.””

  6. Note: Shaha Riza, Paul Wolfowitz’ girlfriend, was sent to Iraq for a month in 2003 to study “issues related to setting up a new government in Iraq, the contractor (Science Applications International Corporation) said Monday”(NYT). I’ll come back to this.
    Machiavelli (The Prince) and Clausewitz (On War) are pervaded with the knowledge that the defeated party in war is not helpless, unless exterminated, but always capable of remaking its position, and therefore must be restored to a new position, of interlocutor, client, partner, or something. The defeated party must be allowed a place in the world.
    There was a recent thread on here where somebody contradicted this well known position, which states the necessity of re-establishing relations after the victory, or in other words to resume negotiations.
    That person said that there was no negotiation with the Germans after the war. I think that your father’s evidence of “setting up the required structures of civil administration in the newly occupied areas” in Germany is what Clausewitz and Machiavelli were suggesting. To a considerable extent the new interlocutors were, in person, the officials of the defeated regime, even if the structures created were of a different type. But the ownership of property (in the West) was not touched. Therefore in a tacit way, the major order of society (property) was not altered, and the new state served the same property-owners as the old one.
    The Nuremburg trials had little or no practical effect on this process. There was no deep de-Nazification in the West. The trials were literally “show trials”. If this is correct, then the mimicing of “Nuremburg” in Iraq was equally superfluous in practice, and equally demonstrative in intention.
    I think the problem with your approach, Helena, is that (perhaps for scholarly reasons) you take too much of the Bush administration at face value, or as a serious administration. I believe that in truth these men and women were, and are, more like a bunch of hooligans. In British colloquial slang they were “taking the piss”. I mean Bremer, especially, and those who appointed Bremer precisely because his predecessor had a serious intention to reconstruct, so as to negate that intention. Also Riza. I mean, somebody’s girlfriend? I can see the difficulty of saying such things emphatically within this mode of discourse.
    You have chosen “war-crimes courts” as your starting point, then juxtaposed them against the German situation and the Iraq situation. One can say that in both cases the trials were theatre and very little to do with what was going on on the ground. So the trials were similarly theatrical. But the situation on the ground in each case was different, and even opposite.
    In the (West) German case there was an intention to create a tractable order as quickly as possible and without being at all fussy in other respects.
    In the Iraqi case there was, and still is, the opposite intention, i.e. to make as much chaos as possible and actively to frustrate any re-constitution of civil society that might have come about by default or as a result of the efforts of the old cadre, or in any other way.
    As I write this I realise that there is an inescapable implication, which is that we are not at the end. We are in the middle or perhaps not very far from the start. If so then it is inappropriate to talk of peace or reconstruction in Iraq, with any expectation that the major force there, the US, will oblige. So long as the hooligans are in the driving seat, the question is as “academic” as can be.
    In any case, I don’t think “Anti War Cimes Courts” is a good place to start. If we were talking about trials of Bush, Blair, Bremer and the rest, it would be different.

  7. Sure. I in no way intend to discourse hog-it seems that the Lebanon section is defunct, so I post where it seems that the activity is. No offense or impositions intended!

  8. An idea-
    Why not a section on JWN regarding ME detainees?
    Also, I want to keep up with the Africa section? Is this now defunct? I am sorry to add this here-It follows your kind and wise comments, HC!

  9. What I would add to your point 1 on the German and Japanese postwar occupations is that it’s somewhat misleading in the German case to say that the “national state” was “devastated”. It’s true that the Wehrmacht had been defeated and demobilized, and that the Nazi Party had lost its power and credibility.
    But the normal governmental institutions had never been completed wiped out to the extent that occurred in Iraq. The police still functioned, the civil administration could continue to function under new direction. I wouldn’t want to exagerate the point: there was some chaos in the cities, with young gangs going around robbing and plundering. But Germany was far better off in that regard than Iraq.
    In Iraq, the American invasion “smashed the state” in a way that was not doubt gratifying to the conservative-Troskyist neocons whose pet project it was. (Though Lenin’s notion of “smashing the state” had to do with changing its political character, not erasing the entire machinery of government and starting from scratch.)
    It also reflected American military assumptions about “shock-and-awe” quickly destroying the command-and-control functions of the enemy, minimizing own-side (American) casualities and achieving a rapid conventional military victory. That figurative “decapitation” of the leadership, combined with the massive looting in Baghdad and other cities that virtually destroyed the physical assets and resources of the civilian governmental institutions, created a power vacuum that was far more drastic that what existed after Germany surrendered.
    Germany was defeated. But Iraq was quickly thrown into a state of literal anarchy, of no government.
    This is one consequence of a stategy based on “shock-and-awe”, in which the military consideration of how to most quickly beat the opposing army was in contradiction to the political needs of the occupation that was to follow. I hope we never undertake another war like this one. But the “lessons of the Iraq War” should include a thorough re-examination of how “shock-and-awe” functioned to winning the (conventional) war but losing the (conventional) peace.

  10. There already exists a potentially good mechanism for dealing with the likes of Saddam Hussien and those of similar ilk. That is the International Criminal Court. The US, of course, under George W. has done everything possible to emasculate this court.Ad hoc tribunals in which the victor determines the rules are no substitute for an ongoing judicial body which determines guilt and punishment in an impartial and consistent manner.The common law system from England adopted in the US allowed the gradual and consistent development of a system of laws that is both logical and contemporary. The ICC could develop the same way if its purpose and development were not frustrated by the US, China, India and a few others. The US under George W speaks often of freedom, but almost never of justice. There is a reason for this. The very concept of justice is anathema to their policies. We must demand that justice be the cornerstone of our policy. Such a change would make a tremendous difference in the perception, and the effectiveness of the US in the world. The place to begin is with the ICC. The US, Israel, China and the others fear the ICC because they know that many of their policies simply do not measure up to the most basic and universal concepts of justice.

  11. “…a strategy based on “shock-and-awe”, in which the military consideration of how to most quickly beat the opposing army was in contradiction to the political needs of the occupation that was to follow”? I believe this is a misunderstanding.
    Clausewitz wrote that the political and the military are a continuum. Bruce, you are saying that the US campaign managed to contradict Clausewitz’ observation, and that the present situation is an unintended consequence of the military campaign, whereas I think the present Iraq situation was always intended, no matter what may have been said. Helena reprises some of the evidence for that (e.g.”plans were all summarily jettisoned”) although I am not sure if she draws the same conclusion as I do.
    After World War 2, the Imperialist powers had the same intentions for West Germany as for the 3rd Riech – i.e. that it should be a bastion against communism. They were able to make common cause with the German national bourgeoisie, who had the same intentions, and were by now more amenable to integration with the Imperial capitalist system on US/British terms. This was a joint political project which has up to now never faltered.
    But elsewhere, since the proliferation of independent anti-colonial capitalist nation-states following that war, Imperialism has found it expedient to turn a hard face against the national bourgeoisie in most countries. Mahmoud Mamdani’s four-term equation applies: Imperialists plus “traditional leaders” (anachronistic sectarians whether tribal, religious, or racial) versus modernising capitalists plus the proletariat they create (these latter two together together forming what we call the National Democratic Revolution). Mamdani’s book on this is called “Citizen and Subject”.
    In Iraq, the US has pursued the destruction of the national bourgeoisie ruthlessly, single-mindedly, and at any cost. This class is to be utterly expunged and replaced by Imperial corporations and their compradors. The means used are various but amount altogether to terror – the creation of chaos and the deprivation for the local bourgeoisie of the basic forms of order upon which they depend.
    This is not a mistake. It is also what the US has this year visited upon Somalia. It is certainly the plan for Iran.
    “World without end, Amen”.
    If I am right, it is simply useless and a diversion to appeal to abstract notions of transitional justice and to take anti-war-crimes tribunals at face value. Or, for example, like some people (but probably not Helena) to believe that Paul Wolfowitz is at the World Bank to “eliminate poverty”.

  12. Thanks for all these contributions, esp. the explicit connection ‘Shock and Awe’ and the v. important point about governance institutions NOT having been destroyed to anything like the same extent in Germany as in Iraq. Completely correct. In Iraq the whole army was explicitly disbanded and then the sweeping de-Baathification and the looting between them ensured the near-total disbandment of indigenous governance institutions at every other level.
    ‘Shock and Awe’ was directed, imho, not only to the immediate, v. unlucky recipients of it but also to anyone else around the world who might dare to think of defying Bushite power. Iraq was almost the ‘accidental’ recipient of it. Germany before 1945 had a different status: not accidental at all.
    My husband and I frequently visit and revisit the question of ‘Did the Bushites actually set out to destroy Iraq as a functioning state and society or was that an unintended consequence of their actions?’ (I imagine to most Iraqis the intentionality question must seem quite irrelevant.) There is a lot of evidence that at least some of the leading instigators of the war did intend to destroy the country, and also some evidence that that others did not. As a Quaker I really feel obliged not to impute malevolent motives to others unless there is quite irrefutable evidence of the same. Also, as a practical matter, I think it’s important to (1) keep the focus on the content of people’s actions and on the consequences of those actions for other people, rather than get into generally unresolvable debates about the perpetrators’ ‘true’ motives; (2) thereby indicate to everyone that it usually is not ‘intentions’ that matter in human affairs, but rather, the effects of our actions, which is what we should all of us constantly be trying to guage; and (3) keep the way open for defectors from Bushist absolutism to move away from support for that project and toward our strong critique of it, a process that is not helped by impugning the motives of everyone concerned with it…
    Anyway, one of the main reasons for my strong interest, for some 6 years now, in the whole question of ‘international’ war-crimes courts etc is related to the fact that so many fairly progressive people in the US and Europe seem to think that such courts are a key building-block of a new, more accountable global society… And these people– who include most of my personal friends– generally seem to imagine that the proceedings of ‘criminal justice’ somehow exist in a ‘pure’ universe that is untouched by and untainted by politics. I guess one of the things I’ve been trying to do in this field is point out in as many different ways as I can that no, these courts are (a) always very closely related to politics, both national and international, and (b) they are usually themselves not accountable in any meaningful way either to the people who are the primary stakeholders in the countries and conflicts concerns or, indeed, to the “international community” as a whole.
    It’s important to note, in the Middle East right now, that the next “target” for those Bushites who want to force an international tribunal onto another nation’s system is of course Lebanon. (And no, KDJ, that doesn’t open the door for you to write about the Lebanese detainees in Syria yet again.)
    In relation to the US-UK-French attempt to impose this on Lebanon, read this recent op-ed by Prof. Rami Zurayq– a prof at AUB who is also a well-informed critic of US ‘development aid” projects in Lebanon…

  13. The Quakers are right that it is no use to think of any living soul as evil. That is the main reason for using generalised categories such as Imperialism and capitalism, even though one knows perfectly well that history is made by individual people. In this way it is possible, without necessarily impugning individuals, to tell right from wrong. And that is necessary because the moral choices have to be made from what is, and not what might be. That in turn is why, and I agree, there can be no disinterested court of justice, not even the one that might try the yobbo G W Bush, and the unspeakable Bremer. It’s not worth bothering about.
    It is true that Iraq was “unlucky”, but I don’t think it was simply a case of “pour encourager les autres”, and finish. I think this is an on-going “roll-out” that had to start somewhere (arguably it started in Afghanistan), and is set to continue. If so, then it needs to be stopped, and for that purpose we need to know our enemy, even if in abstract terms, so as be able to arrive at a concrete analysis of a concrete situation, and therefore be in a position to act.
    The Imperialists have lashed out with such furious agression in recent years because they are strategically in a losing position. Their reliance on anachronistic allies is a wasting asset. The progressive historical secularisation of humanity is unstoppable and their own (“Western”) living reality can’t help but contribute to that process.
    Then, the nation-state is intrinsic to capitalism and cannot be weakened (least of all in the metropolitan nation-states themselves) without threatening the whole fabric. Yet the existence of independent free-willing national-bourgeois collectives is an equal threat to the global Imperial system. In Iraq, the US set out not so much to destroy the nation-state that was, but rather to destroy the class that built it – the Iraqi national bourgeoisie. So they do, or many of them do, sincerely intend to reconstruct the country physically (it may never happen, but we are talking about intentions here) but on “globalist” lines that would lock out the local bourgeoisie.
    The world’s working proletariat is the only player sitting with a pat hand. There can be no capital without labour. Capital is a relation, not a thing. It is the fountain of surplus value generated by labour that keeps the ping-pong ball of capital in the air. Capital, including Imperial finance capital, is therefore condemned to reproduce its labour gravedigger. But labour, historically speaking, can wait out capital and in the end inherit the earth because it does not need capital.
    I think the neocon intellectuals are conscious of all this. One piece of evidence of their knowingness is the use of the term “Global Democratic Revolution” (GDR) in the US national security statement a couple of years ago. This negation of our term “National Democratic Revolution” cannot possibly be a coincidence. It shows, I think deliberately, that the Imperial ideologues know their enemy. It is a signal, like a wink.
    They must equally know that their efforts can only have temporary and very painful results, and that they are only playing for time. But they would say: What else can we do? If we chuck in our hand, you will get an even worse bunch of reactionaries, they would say.
    We have to find a way out of this bind.

  14. For the immediate future everything in Iraq depends upon the defeat of the Imperialist forces. If they can be driven backwards and the possibility of their further employment in a neo Mongol rampage, overturning governments, looting cities and massacring populations then conditions may arise in which weakened antagonists will accept the judgement of impartial courts. Right now there are no such animals in the international arena: all international organisations, from the UN down, lack credibility after decades of corruption.
    The best hopes for peace in Iraq and elsewhere lie in the ability of groups like Hezbullah to extend protection to communities Washington has decided must surrender unconditionally. The largest role will be for non-violent forms of resistance, General Strikes, mass marches, sit downs but the fact will remain that in this war, started by the US, the Iraqi resistance has the moral high ground and deserves the support of anyone who remembers what happened in Fallujah.
    This has probably been said but the
    state building” efforts in West Germany after World War II were far from being innocent or laudable. It was thus that the architecture of the most terrible conflict in human history (the “Cold War”) was laid out. In West Germany every effort, unconstitutional, undemocratic, illegal, unfair and cynical was employed to persecute the Communist and left socialists who had formed the backbone of resistance to the Nazis. In the name of democracy the Communist Party was banned! At the same time the de Nazification programme turned into a means of recruiting the most violent and sleazy elements of the Reich into asctive alliance with the NATO powers. The very terms which you use, Helena, describing the objective as being to mke Germany “pro-American” show that this history is well understood. Good as the motives of many involved undoubtedly were (the same was even more true of the Communist side) the means employed were so corrupt as to have polluted our entire political system as well as our intellectual discourse: behind the facades of our democracies lie a reality in which death squads, vote rigging, massive bribes and media saturated in corruption make a mockery of the idea of government by and for the people. The end result is that as inhabitants of the planet we act in a suicidal manner.

  15. Agreed, Bevin.
    There was a Guardian story about a small part of this broader truth last year. The photos are shocking. It is at:,,1745489,00.html
    “The men in the photographs are not Nazis, however, but suspected communists, arrested in 1946 because they were thought to support the Soviet Union, an ally 18 months earlier.”

  16. With a very friendly tone, no I do not intend to write about this again. I made my point, I merely have sought out those whose resources and contacts might help these families.
    I have gotten the point.

  17. I look forward to the day when United States officials will be held responsible for war crimes. It is not credible that only the losers in armed conflict are persecuted for war crimes.
    If all governmental leaders were held accountable for their actions then perhaps there would be more profound deliberations before going to war. The impeach Bush movement is a step in the right direction. If this picks up momentum then perhaps future leaders will exercise caution.
    The execution of Saddam did not change the past but hopefully gave a warning to others. Only when repercussions are evident and imminent will they be used to put the brakes on abuse of power.
    For justice to be just it must be more than a one-way street. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. Only when a single code is equally applied will such prosecutions have purpose beyond simple pointless revenge.

  18. I think one major difference between post-war Germany and Japan and post-war Iraq is that the former war had legitimacy in the eyes of the world, so the occupation did also.
    There was no reason to start up a war on Iraq. None at all.

  19. Helena
    My husband and I frequently visit and revisit the question of ‘Did the Bushites actually set out to destroy Iraq as a functioning state and society or was that an unintended consequence of their actions?’
    Helens, there are many sign may answer this question for you.
    1- GWB early days when he said “This crusade,” he said, “this war on terrorism.”
    2- Nabil Shaath says: “President Bush said to all of us: ‘I’m driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, “George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.” And I did, and then God would tell me, “George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq …” And I did. And now, again, I feel God’s words coming to me, “Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East.” And by God I’m gonna do it.'”
    3- In an interview with Amy Goodman on March 2, 2007, U.S. General Wesley Clark (Ret.), explains that the Bush Administration planned to take out 7 countries in 5 years: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Lybia, Somalia, Sudan, Iran

  20. Susan, I don’t think you clicked the Guardian link I gave, did you? It shows that in the West German case their “legitimacy” allowed the occupiers to torture communists.
    Looking at the Guardian article again, it is clear that even this exposee is riddled with spin-doctoring. For example:
    “Apparently believing that war with the Soviet Union was inevitable, the War Office was seeking information about Russian military and intelligence methods.”
    Where does this “apparently” come from? What have German communists got to do with war with the Soviet Union? Who wanted war with the Soviet Union at that stage, anyway? It was the “West”! The Guardian writer in 2006 is still steeped in the anti-communism of the Cold War, even as he exposes its origins, and still quite eager to blame the victims.
    “A few were starved or beaten to death, while British soldiers are alleged to have tortured some victims with thumb screws and shin screws recovered from a gestapo prison.”
    Oh, so the British didn’t have any toture instruments of their own? Especially not the high-technology kind like thumbscrews? It’s a ridiculous thing to write.
    When the facts do come out they are written up by spin-doctors in the same cause of anti-communism. This article is from a liberal point of view and talks about “apologies” but avoids the political lessons entirely.
    A much bigger story is hinted at but then finessed into oblivion, not quite at the end of the article:
    “Meanwhile documents about a secret interrogation centre which the War Office operated in central London between 1945 and 1948, where large numbers of men are now known to have been badly mistreated, are still being withheld by the Ministry of Defence. Officials say the papers cannot yet be released because they have been contaminated with asbestos.”
    That’s what they call “limited hangout”, isn’t it? This is how “legitimacy” is used.

  21. Dominic, thanks so much for contributing that Guardian link to this discussion. Actually its sister-article, here, contains many more details, including this:
    At least two men suspected of being communists were starved to death, at least one was beaten to death, others suffered serious illness or injuries, and many lost toes to frostbite./ The appalling treatment of the 372 men and 44 women who were interrogated at Bad Nenndorf between 1945 and 1947 are detailed in a report by a Scotland Yard detective, Inspector Tom Hayward. He had been called in by senior army officers to investigate the mistreatment of inmates, partly as a result of the evidence provided by these photographs./ Insp Hayward’s report remained secret until last December, when the Guardian secured its release under the Freedom of Information Act.
    And this:
    On the other side of the British zone, meanwhile, a Royal Artillery officer was complaining about the state of Bad Nenndorf inmates who were being dumped from a truck at the entrance to a military hospital. Some weighed little more than six stones, and two died shortly after their arrival./ The records show that Bad Nenndorf was run by a War Office department called the Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre (CSDIC)./ By late 1946, CSDIC appears to have lost interest in Nazis, and was targeting communists…
    There are some other very disturbing assumptions in the way this report is written. It seems to assume that if the internees had been Nazis, then treating them like this would have been okay? It also assumes that because an internee told a member of an inspecting team that he had been working for the NKVD, then that was necessarily a true statement. But after torture like this, how can we rely on any “confession” of guilt?
    Anyway, quite a tragic and horrible set of reports there. Again, Dominic, thanks for sending me to them.

  22. Helena,
    My husband and I frequently visit and revisit the question of ‘Did the Bushites actually set out to destroy Iraq as a functioning state and society or was that an unintended consequence of their actions?’
    Who killed Iraq?
    By Rajiv Chandrasekaran is an assistant managing editor at the Washington Post, where he was Baghdad bureau chief from April 2003 to September 2004. He is the author of Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006). His Web site is

    Iraq was often a black-and-white place for the Bush administration loyalists who served in the American occupation government. Ensconced in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, they spent more time interacting with fellow Americans than Iraqis. Still, they were convinced that they knew what was best for Iraq. The old Iraqi Army, for instance, was bad. Exiled political leaders were good. Members of the Baath Party were, of course, in the bad column. Outside the Green Zone’s 17-foot-high walls, America’s military leaders saw a more sepia-toned landscape. It was not black and white, just hazy shades of brown.

    The relationship between soldiers and the civilians in charge of reconstruction had faltered in the aftermath of previous U.S. military operations in Haiti, Kosovo, and Somalia. Iraq, however, was supposed to be different. It was supposed to be a chance to get military-civilian cooperation right. But, from the start, policies concocted by the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), headquartered inside Saddam’s marble-walled Republican Palace, rarely played out on the ground as CPA leader Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III and his subordinates expected. Bremer’s first official act upon arriving in Baghdad was to fire tens of thousands of Baathists from their government jobs. But what about the 15,000 teachers that included? What about the top managers at the Ministry of Health? Or the hundreds of old soldiers who had been made honorary senior members of the party after spending years in Iranian prisoner-of-war camps?

    Those working for the CPA–many of whom were young civilians politically loyal to the Bush administration–didn’t grasp these nuances, or the need for pragmatic exceptions to their neoconservative edicts. But many in the military did. In the northern city of Mosul, for instance, the commander of the 101st Airborne Division, Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, considered Bremer’s de-Baathification policy to be dangerously out of touch with realities on the ground. So, instead of telling former Baathists to fend for themselves, Petraeus created job programs to employ them, reasoning that keeping them at work would dissuade them from becoming insurgents. Instead of following Bremer’s rules, which required appeals of firings to be submitted to a review board run by the controversial former exile Ahmad Chalabi, Petraeus allowed local leaders to grant exemptions.

    A few months before the war, several Pentagon staffers saw Gen.John Abizaid, then the director of the Joint Staff, standing outside a closed door. Abizaid, the Pentagon’s highest-ranking officer apart from the four members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had been told he couldn’t participate in the Iraq planning meeting taking place inside, according to a person familiar with the exchange. Other senior military officials were kept out of similar sessions convened by former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith during the run-up to the war. Feith headed a secretive Pentagon staff called the Office of Special Plans that was supposed to draw up blueprints for governing and reconstructing liberated Iraq. To Feith and his bosses, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and then Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, the upper ranks of the officer corps were composed of old-school thinkers who supported an overwhelming ground force to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime but pooh-poohed the task of nation building.

  23. Dominic,
    I did look at the pictures and read some of the article. I am rather over-loaded keeping up with current atrocities, so I don’t pay much attention to old ones at this time.
    And what they did was evil, but I do think that the occupation of Germany and Japan had legitimacy in the eyes of the world, since there was some reason for the war and the following occupation.
    That does not mean it was a good idea…… or a moral one. Just, in the eyes of most people of the world, an event that had some legitimacy.
    The invasion and occupation of Iraq never had this.
    Today, many in the USA see the occupation of Afghanistan to be legitimate, even though they are doing mostly the same things there as in Iraq and also on the road to losing militarily.
    It’s just not as bad yet.
    But lots of Americans think we should pull our troops out of Iraq and send them to Afghanistan.
    I think they should all come home.

  24. Salah, I think a lot of what Rajiv Ch. wrote is excellent, especially some of the vignettes in his book “Inside the Emerald Palace.” And that point about Petraeus having tried to put some of the demobilized Iraqi Army people back to work was a good one to put into the discussion.
    However, on occasion– including here– I do think Rajiv tends to idealize Gen. Abizaid or Gen. Petraeus. It’s true that the generals are generally more realistic than the civilians in the Pentagon were– especially so long as Rumsfeld was still there. But I don’t think the generals are free of the colonial mindset, either…

  25. Helena, I agree with your view, however I am not in any way indorsing Rajiv views and what he said in his article or what’s he wrote I quoted before (as some like accusing me for some quotes before).
    But there are some elements that tells some truths or reflects realty in it comparing with other readings and views.
    What troubles me Helena, although blaming US for all what’s going wrong in Iraq as things like planed to destroy the State of Iraq, there are many courtiers/powers in the region working hard to make their own job inside Iraq (Iran, Israel, Saudis) for US got in trouble nor they can get out neither they can stay due to tremendous signes and difficulties they facing in Iraq, understandably this situations other power in the region did their play which made that happen despite some efforts US start build some thing good for Iraq early days.
    Helena if you let me to put this very logic writing by Gilbert Reed
    Consider this war from Iraqi viewpoint
    Let us say that we were invaded, and our government disbanded. The invader destroyed our telephone and electric service, our sewers, our TV and radio stations, and our medical facilities.
    During their invasion many innocents were killed. After the invasion, if you were a government official at any level, school teacher, in charge of any government department or a member of the armed forces, or any kind of manager, you would not be able to get a job.
    The invader sets up prisons and tortures and kills. They send patrols into our neighborhoods, break down doors in the middle of the night, and lead men away blindfolded. Many are never heard from.
    There would be great animosity between anyone supporting or working for the invaders, and those who no longer have jobs. The invader sets up a democratic – to them – government, holding elections and forming a government dependent upon the invaders.
    They encourage and allow the puppet government to execute the leaders of our prior government.
    This would lead to Americans forming guerillas to fight, not only the invaders, but anyone helping them in any way. So anyone doing anything that helps the invaders would be considered a legitimate target.
    Our best weapons would be ones that do the most damage, create terror and are something we could make ourselves: the suicide bomber, roadside bomb and homemade land mines.
    Other weapons, such as the RPG-7, and the AK-47 would soon find their way to our guerilla forces via countries that disliked the invader or that simply wanted to help us.
    Folks, this is what took place in Vietnam, and is taking place in Iraq as you read this.
    We cannot win this because we aren’t the good guys in the eyes of the Iraqis. It’s time for a reality check!
    Gilbert Reed
    I would add this in regards of Saddam trial, it was a shambles and a lost of opportunity for those new Iraqi political body to show their good will and prove for themselves firstly and for the Iraqi secondly they are more robust and respectable for the humans rights and Iraqis as they fighting for their rights for the last 35yeras accusing Baathes dominations holding the power by denied others, in same token its was shambles for US as they behind the curtain directing and watching the scenario.
    In case of the court trial, US had helps Saddam in many occasions, there are damming evidences and info he can playback against US, unlike what’s gone in Germany or Japan in both those cases US was not involved or helped in any way any regime in both of those courtiers.
    And finally I finish my comment with this:
    Thomas Jefferson wrote, “If there is one principle more deeply rooted than any other in the mind of every American, it is that we should have nothing to do with conquest.”

  26. وفي لقاء اجراه مراسل شبكة اخبار الناصرية مع السيد علي جواد وهو نائب ضابط في الجيش السابق ومتقاعد وممثل عن المتظاهرين اوضح (ان هذه الحشود امام مبنى محافظة ذي قار من ابناء الجيش المنحل البطل الذي يطلق علينا الجيش السابق ولا نعلم من الذي اطلقه؟ هل لدول العالم منذ تاسيسها جيش سابق وجيش لاحق!! وهل تنسى كل الانجازات التي حققها الجيش العراقي في الاعوام الماضية ، ان للعراق جيش واحد منذ تاسيسه عام 1921 وبكل تشكيلاته الباسلة وله سجل خالد يعرفه القريب والبعيد….حكومتنا الكريمة تكرمت علينا بمبلغ من المال الزهيد احتراما وتقديرا لخدمتنا الطويلة وهو لا يكفي لسد حاجة الطفل الرضيع ومنذ اربع سنوات ونحن ننتظر هذه الحكومة ان تلتفت الينا بنظرة اخوية لانقاذنا من هذا العوز الذي نحن فيه ولكن ليس من مجيب ونحن نسأل الشرفاء من اصحاب الضمير الحي وكل من يتاسى على هذا الجيش هل هذا المبلغ الزهيد هو بقدر خدمتنا ونحن نابى وضميرنا لا يرضى ان نكون مع الارهابيين الذين يتصيدون بالماء العكر … ولا نطلب سلطة ولكن نطلب حقوقنا .. وهذا الحشد الكريم من ابناء جيشنا الابطال سوف يحققون ما يرغبون ومطاليبهم هي صرف مرتب تقاعدي مؤقت وليس دفعا وقتيا للذين يستحقون التقاعد اسوة باقرانهم من المتقاعدين لحين صدور قانون التقاعد العام الذي لا زال عالقا في البرلمان …وتعيين الذين يرغبون التعيين في دوائر الدولة … و فتح باب القبول للذين يرغبون في التطوع في الجيش الحالي حسب الضوابط … وان لم تتحق مطالبنا فسوف تستمر هذه التظاهرات ) ..

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