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A Peace Movement Demanding the Rule of Law

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Remarks prepared for Out of Iraq event in Washington, D.C., on day of 164 Out of Iraq Events around the country, Jan. 7, 2006.

President Nixon famously said that if the President does it, it's legal. And he didn't think that up on his own – that's a way of thinking that has long had currency in America.

Today there are over 150 Out of Iraq events like this one happening around the country. A dozen members of Congress are taking part. Numerous candidates for Congress, local elected officials, and national leaders of the peace movement are speaking. Large crowds are gathering. We'll see what sort of job the media does of noticing. Thus far, progressive and rightwing radio have provided the most coverage. The event in New York will be broadcast on Air America / Nation Radio at 7 p.m. ET, as soon as this event is over.

When I spoke on a rightwing radio show yesterday, I heard from callers who would paraphrase Nixon thus: If the U.S. military does it, it's legal.

I tried to communicate that by all standards of international law, and of US laws that incorporate those standards, the attack on Iraq was illegal. This is not a war fought in self-defense – at least not by the Americans – and this is not a war authorized by the United Nations.

But there I ran headlong against both the vestiges of the lies that launched this war and the slander and scorn that have been heaped on the UN by the military-media complex.

So I tried to speak to the illegality of some of the conduct of a war that is, in its entirety, illegal. The list of crimes includes targeting civilians, using depleted uranium, using white phosphorous as a weapon, ghosting and renditioning prisoners, torturing, wiretapping without court approval, leaking a CIA agent's identity, exacting fierce retribution on numerous whistleblowers, lying to Congress, and sending Colin Powell to the U.N. with a basketful of lies about the UN's own work – a charade obviously aimed only at U.S. media outlets.

I tried to focus especially on the use of white phosphorous in Fallujah, where our military melted the skin off children and burned them to death.

A Marine called in to denounce me. "You know why those people get killed," he said. "It's because they're letting insurgents hide in their house."

Now, I've met quite a few American veterans of this war who are working hard to end it. It's possible to go through military training and not come out thinking that it's all right to burn families if they might be hiding someone you really want to kill. But it's not possible to listen to rightwing radio every day and not think that. Or if not think that, at least think there is a legitimate argument for avoiding thinking about it.

So, there is quite a leap for people who hear nothing but lies every day to make if they are going to see the war itself as a crime, and therefore every killing by the aggressor, the United States, as a murder.

But the line of thinking that allows that conclusion has long had currency in the United States as well. Our grandparents' generation played a large role in creating it for the world. And George W's father explained his decision not to invade Baghdad during the Gulf War in these terms:

"Trying to eliminate Saddam .. would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible ... We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq ...there was no viable 'exit strategy' we could see, violating another of our principles. Furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations' mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land."

The task that lies on our shoulders today is restoring the international legal standard that Bush the Elder referred to and that Bush the Younger has destroyed. If we are going to end this war, and if we are going to prevent the next ones, we must hold Bush, Cheney, and company accountable. And that means impeachment. And that means indictments.

The more effectively we expose the lies that launched the war, the fewer Americans will believe the lies that progress is being made and that withdrawal would create chaos. The fewer Americans who believe the latest ex post facto justifications of this crime, the sooner the Iraqi people will be free of the occupation that 60 to 80 percent of them want ended.

A majority of Americans also want this war ended. The polls show a majority of Americans wanting complete withdrawal within a year. They also show a majority of Americans wanting impeachment proceedings if Bush lied about the war. And a majority says he did lie.

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at and and works for the online (more...)
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