Book Review: In the Name of Democracy

By Jim Miles

In The Name of Democracy – American War Crimes in Iraq and Beyond.  Ed. Jeremy Brecher, Jill Cutler, Brendan Smith.  Metropolitan Books Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2005.

Directly addressing the issue of war crimes, In The Name of Democracy leaves the reader with no doubt, no room for doubt, that the United States is guilty of the very war crimes it decries in others, from the use of prohibited methods and weapons to the very unilateral act of pre-emptive attacks on another sovereign nation. 

As a compendium of information on war crimes as they pertain to the United States, the work is very well constructed, starting with “The Evidence”, itself divided into three subcategories.  Based on the Nuremberg Tribunal and the following United Nations principles, the invasion of Iraq is readily described as an illegal act of war.  This of course is why the U.S. has negotiated many bilateral agreements with other countries that deny the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court based in Belgium.  It simply would not do to have to invade Belgium to retrieve an American arrested for crimes committed in Iraq – or elsewhere, part of the “Beyond” in the title. 

Following the basic definition of the war as illegal, the text then examines the process of war that is criminal and the criminal elements of the occupation.  This section examines the use of illegal weapons, including napalm and depleted uranium ammunition, attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, including hospitals – as in Fallujah – and water supplies.  The third section of the illegal triumvirate reviews the more publicly acknowledged yet still fully unexpressed crime of torture. 

Once the illegality is established, and it does not take much persuasive argument, as the evidence is quite compelling in its simplicity, the second section of the book determines who is culpable.  Without surprise, for anyone who has been following the political and policy arguments concerning the U.S. in Iraq, the culpability reaches the summit in the president’s office.  Rumsfield may be out of office, but he goes without a criminal record, while others who have supported him are still pursuing their interests.  Much of the information on torture and culpability revolves around the new Attorney General Alberto Gonzales who wrote much of what the Bush government uses to argue its way around the issues of torture and war crimes guilt.

The “beyond” section of the book looks at the possibilities of the war crimes continuing on inside Iraq, with the inclusion of the “Salvador Option”, the creation of death squads used to assassinate and control those in opposition to whatever puppet government the U.S. might eventually establish in Iraq.  Other options include attacks on Syria and Iran, and while the failed Israeli attack on Lebanon places different parameters on these ideas, and the new Democratic majority pretends to be different, there is still ample room for these actions “beyond” the status quo. 

One of the beyond features that should be addressed, and maybe the editors considered it too far beyond their focus, would be the war crimes’ implications of the U.S. supporting the same, very much the same, types of criminal activity that Israel is perpetrating on the occupied territory of Palestine.  For every war criminal argument used against the U.S., the same could be applied against Israel and further against the U.S. as they unreservedly support the Israeli actions for there own benefit, however dubious those ‘benefits’ may be.  Arial Sharon and Ehud Olmert are just as culpable as George Bush and Dick Cheney.  The descriptions used in this book to identify what a war crime is, what terror is, and where the chain of command leads applies equally to the American supported Israeli occupation of Palestine as much as it does to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. 

The final sections of the work cover varying perspectives on the war crimes, including the awkward and misleading rationales of  ‘just war’, the variety of resistors actions that are developing, and that continues into the final section on halting war crimes. Although the Bush government has “deliberately, systematically, and successfully incapacitated the conventional means of law enforcement,” various means are discussed that counter these new laws and powers. 

The brief conclusion restates the war crimes clearly and succinctly.  Contrary to all that current U.S. ambassador John Bolton may wish to believe, “The United Nations Charter, the Geneva Conventions, and other treaties ratified under the authority of the United States are the supreme law of the land under article 6 of the U.S. Constitution.”  The practice of avoiding and evading war crimes through various home made laws does not relieve the U.S. of their culpability in this regard, but it “embodies practices well-known to autocratic regimes throughout history” with the goal “of such actions – to instil fear, confusion, acquiescence, submission, and withdrawal into private life – is often achieved, at least for a time.”  The government in effect is removing its own internal legal restraints on structures that impede its “efficient application of power.”

The editors provide a valuable collection of references for anyone interested in finding resources for what should be a readily evident case.  Along with Peter Irons more recent work on the imperial presidency, War Powers, the end runs attempted around the U.S. constitution are a severe impairment to democracy and civil liberties in the U.S.  These actions then ‘permit’ and translate abroad as the ongoing series of war crimes the rest of the world sees while the U.S. continues to hold on desperately to its diminishing status and validity, becoming the main war crimes state – described also as a failed stae and a rogue state – within the global geopolitical map.  In the Name of Democracy is a quick yet substantial read, a strong addition to anyone’s reference shelf. 

-Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor of opinion pieces and book reviews to Palestine Chronicles.  His interest in this topic stems originally from an environmental perspective, which encompasses the militarization and economic subjugation of the global community and its commodification by corporate governance and by the American government.

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