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Why I Oppose the Genocide Prevention Act

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Only a non-patriot or someone with a bit of respect for the Bill of Rights would have opposed the Patriot Act.

Only a child-hater or someone with a bit of respect for public education would have opposed the No Child Left Behind Act.

And only a genocide-supporter or someone who's fed up with endless aggressive foreign wars would oppose the forthcoming Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act from Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD).

Names can be deceiving, even when supporters of bills and of those bills' names have the best of intentions. Who wouldn't like to prevent genocide and atrocities, after all? I'm of the opinion that I support many measures that would help to do just that.

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When the Pope told Congress to end the arms trade, and they gave him a standing ovation, I didn't begin holding my breath for them to actually act on those words. But I've long advocated it. The United States supplies more weapons to the world than anyone else, including three-quarters of the weapons to the Middle East and three-quarters of the weapons to poor countries (actually 79% in both cases in the most recent reports from the Congressional Research Service; it may be higher now). I'm in favor of cutting off the arms trade globally, and the United States could lead that effort by example and by treaty agreement.

Most genocides are the products of wars. The Rwandan genocide followed years of U.S.-supported war-making, and was permitted by President Bill Clinton because he favored the rise to power of Paul Kagame. Policies aimed at preventing that genocide would have included refraining from backing the Ugandan war, refraining from supporting the assassin of the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi, providing actual humanitarian aid, and -- in a crisis -- providing peaceworkers. Never was there a need for the bombs that have fallen in Libya, Iraq, and elsewhere on the grounds that we must not again fail to bomb Rwanda.

Genocidal actions, and similarly murderous actions that don't fit the genocide definition, occur around the world and are recognized by the United States as genocide or unacceptable, or not, based on the standing of the guilty party with the U.S. government. Saudi Arabia is, of course, not committing genocide in Yemen where it is bombing children with U.S. bombs. But the slightest pretext is sufficient to suggest that Gadaffi or Putin is threatening genocide. And, of course, the United States' own decades-long slaughter of Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere cannot be genocide because the United States is doing it.

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Global standards should be maintained by global bodies, but even I would not complain about the U.S. government appointing itself genocide preventer if it (1) ceased engaging in genocide, (2) ceased providing weapons of mass murder, and (3) engaged in only non-violent attempts to prevent genocide -- that is to say, genocide-free genocide prevention. What we know about Senator Cardin's bill, in addition to its sponsorship by a reliable war-supporter like Cardin, suggests that one of the tools to be used against "genocide" would be the tool that dominates the U.S. government's budget and bureaucracy whenever it is included, namely the military.

"The Act will make it national policy:

"1. to prevent mass atrocities and genocide as both a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility;"

Why both? Why isn't a moral responsibility good enough? Why did the Department of Justice argue for the legality of bombing Libya on the ridiculous grounds that the safety of the United States was endangered by not doing so? Why throw "national security" into a list of reasons to try to prevent mass-murder in some distant land? Why? Because it becomes an excuse, even a quasi-legal justification, for war.

"2. to mitigate the threats to United States security by preventing the root causes of insecurity, including masses of civilians being slaughtered, refugees flowing across borders, and violence wreaking havoc on regional stability and livelihood;"

But to do this, the United States would have to stop slaughtering masses of civilians and overthrowing governments, rather than use the disasters created by its own or others' war-making as a justification for more war-making. And what the hell happened to "moral responsibility"? By point #2 it's already so long forgotten that we're supposed to object to masses of civilians being slaughtered purely because that is somehow a "threat to United States security." Of course, in reality mass slaughter tends to generate anti-U.S. violence when the U.S. does the slaughtering, not otherwise.

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"3. to enhance its capacity to prevent and address mass atrocities and violent conflict as part of its humanitarian and strategic interests;"

Terms begin to blur, edges fade. Now it's not just "genocide" that justifies more war-making, but even "violent conflict." And it's not just preventing it, but "addressing" it. And how does the world's greatest purveyor of violence tend to "address" "violent conflict"? If you don't know that one yet, Senator Cardin would like to invite you to move to Maryland and vote for him.

Something else snuck in here as well. In addition to "humanitarian interests," the United States can act on its "strategic interests," which are of course not the interests of the U.S. public but the interests of, for example, the oil companies that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was so concerned for when she pushed for bombing Libya, as seen in the emails that we're supposed to be upset about for something other than their content.

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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 http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online (more...)

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