Above the Law
Published Wednesday, September 15, 2004
On Aug. 26, 2004, just days before the Republican National Convention opened in Madison Square Garden, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark convened an Iraq War Crimes Tribunal at the Martin Luther King, Jr. High School on Amsterdam Avenue at 65th Street.
Addressing the 500 people assembled in the auditorium, Clark remembered, "I read the Judgment (of Nuremberg) as soon as it came out and I hadn’t even been to college. On page 12, it held that the war of aggression is the supreme international crime. The (U.S.) assault on Iraq is beyond question a war of aggression." After the trials of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg, Germany following the Second World War, the United Nations International Law Commission adopted in 1950 the seven Nuremburg Principles, whose basic premise is that "no accused war criminal should ever be considered above the law."
Prior to Clark’s address, conveners had broken up in smaller groups to hear hours of testimony from experts like human rights attorney Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Ratner spoke about the Bush administration’s policy of abuses of detainees held as "enemy combatants," incommunicado, without knowing their charges and without court review, in an illegal "interrogation camp" in a "law-free zone" in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Currently, 584 detainees languish there. "They’ve admitted that five people died because of torture," he said, with "thirty-five more cases being investigated for murder." He said the U.S. has "fourteen or so detention centers all over the world" and added that "the highest levels of our government" are carrying out "fundamental and systematic torture."
Ratner helped work towards the U.S. Supreme Court decision on June 28, 2004, that held U.S. courts do have "jurisdiction to consider challenges to the legality of the detention of foreign nationals captured abroad in connection with hostilities and incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay." But Ratner said, "The government is acting as if the Supreme Court does not exist... The court goes back 800 years to the Magna Carta," a reference to the famous document that limited the power of the king. The lawyer wanted to remind President Bush that people cannot be put into detention by executive will. Ratner said he "feared that what we have got in the world now is a police state. Detentions can be made at the behest of one person, and that’s a police state."
Conveners heard too from eyewitnesses like Maria Rosa Penarroya Miranda and Javier Barandiarain, who traveled to Iraq in March and April 2003 with a peace delegation from Spain to show their support of the Iraqi people. They witnessed 42 deliberate attacks by the U.S. on Iraqi civilian populations, including the devastating effects of five cluster bombs far from any military installations. Conveners heard impassioned pleas for peace, such as that from Fernando Saurez, a bereaved father who feels his son, a U.S. Marine who died in Iraq, sacrificed his life for lies.
The 19 charges of the Iraq War Crimes Tribunal range from waging a war of aggression to encouraging and condoning the use of excessive force; from authorizing and ordering the use of illegal weapons such as bombs, missiles, and shells enhanced by depleted uranium to defying and incapacitating the peace-making capacity and role of the United Nations by unilateral actions to undermine its potential effectiveness; from engaging in systematic acts to undermine and destroy international laws and treaties designed to prevent and control war, weapons of mass destruction, and indiscriminate destruction to destroying the sovereignty, right to self-determination, cultural integrity, and control of its own resources of Iraq. Clark believes such offenses constitute "High Crimes and Misdemeanors" under Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution of the United States, requiring the removal from office of all the participating civil officers of the United States upon impeachment and conviction for their acts.
After summarizing the findings of the Iraq War Crimes Tribunal, Ramsey Clark indicted George W. Bush, Richard B. Cheney, Colin Powell, Donald H. Rumsfeld, John D. Ashcroft, Tommy Franks and his successors as commander of U.S. Forces in Iraq, George J. Tenet, L. Paul Bremer III, John Negroponte, and others in the current administration with crimes against peace, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other criminal acts in violation of the Charter of the United Nations, international law, the Constitution of the United States, and laws made in pursuance thereof. Having heard the evidence, the 500 people who attended the tribunal unanimously found the leaders guilty.
Critics could claim—as Salon.com did when Clark previously held a commission of inquiry of a war crimes tribunal on NATO after the conflicts in Yugoslavia—that the verdict was in "before the jury is even empanelled." Without the authority to convict, Clark’s Iraq War Crimes Tribunal might seem an empty exercise. But, law-making is a lot like patterning. We cannot legislate love, but we can "pattern" love by laying down just laws. Without a tribunal, people might not know what laws their leaders have violated, and their crimes might be covered up. In speaking truth for the record, Ramsey Clark’s Iraq War Crimes Tribunal serves an admirable purpose: keeping history honest.