After the Second World War, the victorious Allies believed it was important to establish accountability for the crimes that had been committed by officials of the Axis powers. The judges at the Nuremberg Trials called the initiation of a war of aggression the ultimate war crime because it inevitably unleashed so many other evils. Ten leading Nazis were executed at Nuremberg, and 93 Japanese officials were executed after similar trials staged in Asia. Those who were not executed for being complicit in the launching of war were tried for torture of both military personnel and civilians and crimes against humanity, including the mass killing of civilians and soldiers who had surrendered or been captured.
No matter how one tries to avoid making comparisons between 1939 and 2003, the American invasion of Iraq was a war of aggression, precisely the type of conflict that the framework of accountability provided by Nuremberg was supposed to prevent in the years after 1946. High-level U.S. government officials knew that Iraq represented no threat to the United States, but they nevertheless described an imminent danger posed by Saddam Hussein in the most graphic terms, replete with weapons of mass destruction, armed drones sailing across the Atlantic, terrorists being unleashed against the homeland, and mushroom clouds on the horizon. Meanwhile, the U.S. was waging a largely secret "long war" against terrorists employing torture and secret prisons. The American people and most of the world bought into the lies and half-truths. Is there much difference between what the U.S. government did when it went to war on a lie in 2003 and what Hitler’s government did in 1939 when it falsely claimed that Polish troops had attacked Germany? Was torture by the Gestapo any different than torture by a contractor working for the CIA?
Many Americans now consider leading figures in the Bush administration, aided and abetted by many enablers in Congress from both political parties, to be unindicted war criminals. Together they started a conflict that is still running strong six years later with a tally of more than 4,000 dead Americans and hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis. Not content with the war itself, they tarnished America’s name by also initiating a comprehensive counter-terrorism program that featured torture both by proxy through "extraordinary rendition" and directly by American intelligence officers. The stalwart crew that brought Iraq home to America will likely remain unpunished as long as the Obama administration maintains a policy of "looking forward" rather than backward as an excuse to avoid confronting the evil that has been carried out in America’s name over the past eight years. President Obama, realizing that opening a highly politicized and divisive war crimes investigation would make Watergate and the Bill Clinton impeachment look like a walk in the park, understandably does not want go in that direction. But he should do so, albeit cautiously and in as bipartisan a fashion as possible, if only to restore America’s good name. That the perpetrators of the crimes occupied the top places in our government does not provide them with a free pass. Only if the highest officials are held accountable can our country truly claim to operate yet again under a rule of law.
One of the most galling aspects of the failure to confront the war-crimes perpetrators is that not only have they not been vilified, they have, in most cases, been rewarded. George Tenet, the CIA director notorious for his "slam-dunk" comment, a man who cooked the intelligence to make the war possible to curry favor with the White House, is now professor in the practice of diplomacy at Georgetown University and has generously remunerated positions on the boards of Allen & Company merchant bank, QinetiQ, and L-1 Identity Solutions. He sold his memoir, At the Center of the Storm, which has been described as a "self-justifying apologia," in 2007 for a reported advance of $4 million. His book, ironically, admits that the U.S. invaded Iraq for no good reason. James Pavitt, who was the point man responsible for the "enhanced interrogation" program as Tenet’s deputy director for operations, is currently a principal with the Scowcroft Group. Cofer Black, who headed the Counter-Terrorism Center, which actually carried out "enhanced interrogations," is vice chairman of Blackwater Worldwide (now called Xe) and chairman of Total Intelligence Solutions, a Blackwater spinoff.
Condoleezza Rice, who spoke of mushroom clouds, has returned to Stanford University as a political science professor after her tenure as the worst national security adviser and secretary of state in history. She is also a fellow at the Hoover Institution. Not surprisingly, students have been regularly attacking her record whenever she permits questions, and she has responded that it was a difficult situation after 9/11, something that everyone understands, though few would have come to her conclusion that attacking Iraq might be a good way to destroy al-Qaeda. One wonders what she is teaching her students.
Paul Wolfowitz, Bush’s deputy secretary of defense, is seen by many as the "intellectual" driving force behind the invasion of Iraq. He is currently a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. A bid to reward him for his zeal by giving him a huge golden parachute as president of the World Bank at a salary of $391,000 tax-free failed when, after 23 months in the position, he was ousted over promoting a subordinate with whom he was having an affair. His chief deputy at the Pentagon, Doug Feith, left the Defense Department to take up a visiting professorship at the school of foreign service at Georgetown University, which was subsequently not renewed. He is reported to be practicing law again and thinking deep thoughts about his hero, Edmund Burke, who no doubt would have been appalled to make Feith’s acquaintance. Feith is a senior fellow at the neoconservative Hudson Institute and the director of the Center for National Security Strategies. His memoir, War and Decision, did not make the best-seller list and is now available used on Amazon for $4.29. If the marketplace is anything to go by, Feith has trumped Tenet, whose memoir is now available for 53 cents, plus shipping.
Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney are more-or-less retired on their multi-million dollar estates in St. Michaels, Md. Both Rumsfeld and Cheney successfully exploited the revolving door whereby high government officials go off to the private sector to make money and then return to government at an even higher level. Cheney headed Halliburton after his stint at the Defense Department under George H.W. Bush. In 2002, Cheney disclosed that he was worth somewhere between $19-86 million. While vice president he continued to receive more than $1 million annually in deferred compensation from Halliburton. From 1977 to 1985 Rumsfeld headed G. D. Searle and Company, a pharmaceutical firm later sold to Monsanto, where he made $12 million before becoming involved in a number of other business ventures that were also highly profitable. Cheney has recently been back in the news defending both torture and gay marriage. Current CIA Director Leon Panetta has rightly noted that Cheney, who seems to confuse his personal agenda with what is good for his country, appears to welcome a new terrorist attack on the U.S. to vindicate Bush administration interrogation policies.
Bush Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, who drafted the notorious torture memo, still has his law license and a tenured position at the University of California Berkeley School of Law. The Obama administration has promised to look into whether the Justice Department lawyers who provided the legal cover for torture should possibly be charged with ethics violations, but the inquiry is reported to be proceeding very, very slowly.
And then there is George W. Bush himself. It is increasingly clear that the former president personally authorized the torture policy and that he was also the driving force behind war with Iraq. Bush has abandoned his politically driven pretense of being a brush-clearing rancher, having moved instead to a comfortable cul-de-sac in Dallas. Having entered office as a rich man, he has not emulated Bill Clinton in a mad dash for money, but he reportedly commands $150,000 every time he speaks in his fractured English.
And finally there are the Bush administration myrmidons, the spear-carriers who poured water up people’s noses and the doctors who stood around and watched, only stopping procedures when someone appeared to be about to die from the abuse. Presumably, some have retired while others are continuing to do very well in their careers. No one has been fired or punished in any way. CIA Director Leon Panetta has made it clear that no one "who was only obeying orders" will be subject to any discipline, an argument that was not accepted at Nuremberg. The attempt to prohibit the release of any of the hundreds of torture videos that were made on the grounds that doing so might reveal the methods used and the identities of the CIA officers involved has to be one of the lamest excuses of all time, made only to shield the perpetrators from legal consequences. Presumably the victims of the torture already know what went on, and the videos themselves were hardly Hollywood productions with cameos of the torturers and a full list of credits at the end providing names, addresses, and telephone numbers. If that guy standing behind you in the line at the McLean, Va., Safeway looks familiar and somewhat furtive, watch out!
So yet again, no one is guilty and no one is punished. Everyone is, in fact, richly rewarded for their dedication to their country. Can there be any wonder why ambitious people who are ethically challenged flock to start wars and torture for Uncle Sam? It is because they know they will never be held accountable for anything they do and will reap the financial rewards that they think they deserve. Until that culture is eradicated by something like a Nuremberg trial, the United States will continue to be a place that the rest of the world quite rightly regards as preaching respect for laws and values while rewarding just the opposite.