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Chase Madar: Legal Atrocities

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Of course, it wasn't Barack Obama's fault. He didn't nominate himself for the Nobel Peace Prize back in 2009 when he was already on a distinct war trajectory in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Nobel committee did it in what, even then, was visibly a vote for the idea that "peace" was anything but George W. Bush.

After all, the new president had run a campaign against a "stupid" war in Iraq, but for prosecuting "the right war," and by the time he was awarded the prize in October 2009, as an incipient peace president he had already escalated the war in Afghanistan and his administration was deep in a fierce debate over just how many more troops to send there in what would, by December of that year, become a "surge."

By the time the president accepted his award in March 2010 in a speech entitled "A Just and Lasting Peace" -- which might more accurately have been titled "On the Necessity of War" -- he had significantly increased troop levels in Afghanistan and similarly upped the levels of CIA personnel, private contractors, special operations forces, State Department personnel, and so on. In addition, he was already overseeing a spreading drone air campaign in the Pakistani borderlands.

Give him credit. He stood on the Nobel podium and gave a speech that, read today, looks remarkably like a rousing defense of American-style war and little short of an attack on the limited ability of nonviolence to make a real difference in a violent world. Among other things, he made clear that he wouldn't be bound in any way by the examples of Gandhi or King, trumpeted his willingness to act "unilaterally," and plunked for the necessity of war. ("I raise this point because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter the cause. At times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world's sole military superpower.")

Honest (and predictive) as it may have been, he did not have to go to Oslo at all. He had an honorable alternative, and there was even a precedent -- though one no American president would ever have cited -- for what he didn't do. In 1973, the Nobel Committee offered its peace prize to two men, American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and North Vietnamese diplomat Le Duc Tho for negotiating the Paris Peace Accords. Kissinger accepted. Le Duc Tho refused, saying that "peace has not yet really been established... In these circumstances, it is impossible for me to accept the prize."

Obama did not take that path, of course, and now, his Nobel Prize largely forgotten, he will be campaigning for reelection as a successful war president, the man who launched the attack that killed Osama bin Laden, and whose administration has fed the U.S. military machine in a manner similar to that of his predecessor. At the same time, it has fiercely prosecuted and, in the case of Private First Class Bradley Manning among others, persecuted a range of American whistleblowers who have dared to reveal the real story of our eternal state of war and the war state that goes with it.

Manning, accused of passing secret U.S. military and State Department documents on to the website WikiLeaks, is now in military prison awaiting a trial whose verdict is essentially a foregone conclusion. Everyone knows that after military "justice" is done under pressure from an administration led by a president who has already publicly stated -- at a $5,000 a head fundraiser in San Francisco, no less -- that Manning "broke the law," they will throw away the keys and leave him to rot in prison till hell freezes over.

Manning is already in danger of being forgotten (though not at this website) for an alleged act that was aimed at stopping war, an act that -- as a matter of amends -- should bring him a nomination for the Nobel Prize, if not the prize itself. TomDispatch regular and lawyer Chase Madar has, at least, done his best to make sure Manning will not be America's forgotten hero with his provocative, invaluable new book, The Passion of Bradley Manning (OR Books), on the case and its many ramifications. In a half-reasonable world, it would keep a spotlight on him. (To catch Timothy MacBain's latest two-part Tomcast audio interview in which Madar discusses the Manning case and his new book, click here for part 1 and here for part 2, or download it to your iPod here.) Tom

What the Laws of War Allow
Do the WikiLeaks War Logs Reveal War Crimes -- Or the Poverty of International Law?

By Chase Madar

Anyone who would like to witness a vivid example of modern warfare that adheres to the laws of war -- that corpus of regulations developed painstakingly over centuries by jurists, humanitarians, and soldiers, a body of rules that is now an essential, institutionalized part of the U.S. armed forces and indeed all modern militaries -- should simply click here and watch the video.

Wait a minute: that's the WikiLeaks "Collateral Murder" video! The gunsight view of an Apache helicopter opening fire from half a mile high on a crowd of Iraqis -- a few armed men, but mostly unarmed civilians, including a couple of Reuters employees -- as they unsuspectingly walked the streets of a Baghdad suburb one July day in 2007.

Watch, if you can bear it, as the helicopter crew blows people away, killing at least a dozen of them, and taking good care to wipe out the wounded as they try to crawl to safety. (You can also hear the helicopter crew making wisecracks throughout.) When a van comes on the scene to tend to the survivors, the Apache gunship opens fire on it too, killing a few more and wounding two small children.

The slaughter captured in this short film, the most virally sensational of WikiLeaks' disclosures, was widely condemned as an atrocity worldwide, and many pundits quickly labeled it a "war crime" for good measure.

But was this massacre really a "war crime" -- or just plain-old regular war? The question is anything but a word-game. It is, in fact, far from clear that this act, though plainly atrocious and horrific, was a violation of the laws of war. Some have argued that the slaughter, if legal, was therefore justified and, though certainly unfortunate, no big deal. But it is possible to draw a starkly different conclusion: that the "legality" of this act is an indictment of the laws of war as we know them.

The reaction of professional humanitarians to the gun-sight video was muted, to say the least. The big three human rights organizations -- Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, and Human Rights First -- responded not with position papers and furious press releases but with silence. HRW omitted any mention of it in its report on human rights and war crimes in Iraq, published nearly a year after the video's release. Amnesty also kept mum. Gabor Rona, legal director of Human Rights First, told me there wasn't enough evidence to ascertain whether the laws of war had been violated, and that his organization had no Freedom of Information Act requests underway to uncover new evidence on the matter.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of (more...)
 
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