Allowing today's leaders to get away with war crimes will send a dangerous signal to future leaders that they can do the same.
"The battle to impose criminal responsibility upon them (Bush, Cheney, etc.) is not for today alone but to safeguard a vast future," points out Lawrence Velvel, dean of the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover.
"Otherwise the future will be threatened by Executive lawlessness undertaken because of knowledge that leaders need fear to no personal consequences," he writes in his recently published "America 2008"(Doukathsan Press).
"Today, there is no accountability for our leaders, nor do their own families face death on the front lines as occurred during the Civil War when several Cabinet officials' sons or brothers faced battle and World WII when one of FDR's sons participated in extraordinarily dangerous missions in the Pacific."
Instead, there are numerous factors today that make it easy for a President to wage war, Velvel continues, such as "half trillion dollar appropriations, huge standing military forces which the President orders into combat all around the world at the proverbial drop of a hat, a compliant Congress that refuses to do its duty, and an incompetent, if not venal, mainstream media."
"Not unless leaders fear prison or the gallows for actions that violate law will there be anything to check the next headlong rush to war for allegedly good reasons that later prove false, as with Mexico, Spain, Viet Nam or Iraq," Velvel warns.
He says the U.S. has repeatedly fought in wrong wars for a number of reasons, foremost of which is the fact that "the nation larges does not know, and ignores, history."
Other factors include a national penchant for violence, hubris, "lies, distortions and delusions," "a desire to maintain American power at a preeminent level," Congressional abdication of responsibility coupled with Executive seizure of power, public gullibility, nearly uncontrolled nationalism, the South's military culture, and Hollywood's incessant war-glorifying movies, i.e., "The John Wayne syndrome."
After repeating the Viet Nam war in Iraq--- which historian Arthur Schlesinger termed "national stupidity"--- Velvel writes that although no one thought "it could happen again," it did even though "Congress took steps to assure it couldn't, such as enacting the War Powers Act, reining in the CIA, and banning electronic eavesdropping of Americans by the NSA."
Iraq's bloodshed is worse, Velvel writes "because today we not only have a years-long unwinnable war, but also torture, kidnappings and renderings to foreign countries for torture, many years of detention without trial of people who are innocent, the use of massive private armies to help carry out Executive policies"suppression of the media far beyond anything experienced during Viet Nam"the use of Executive Branch lawyers to write professionally incompetent secret memoranda giving clearance to awful policies, and the use of retired generals who are making a fortune from the Pentagon to spread its gospel on the mainstream media."
Today's wars of aggression are being waged, Velvel notes, because previous Washington officials were not held to account for their crimes: "Lyndon Johnson retired to his ranch"Nixon received a pardon and went back to San Clemente, McNamara became the long time President of the World Bank, Kissinger became richer and richer (and secretly advised Bush and Cheney on Iraq)"Wolfowitz was given a sinecure at the World Bank, lawyers who facilitated the misdeeds---such as Jay Bybee and John Yoo---are federal judges or professors at leading law schools."
Velvel says that courts in Italy, Germany, and France will prosecute U.S. officials for war crimes if they are apprehended in those countries and that they might even try them in absentia if necessary. Just as Lincoln said the Civil War was being waged for a vast future, Velvel reasons this is also true of war crime prosecutions.
The Massachusetts School of Law is an independent, non-profit law school purposefully dedicated to the education of minority students and those from low-income and immigrant backgrounds who would otherwise not be able to afford a legal education. The school also serves as an information resource on issues of national importance. #
(Sherwood Ross is a media consultant to the law school. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)