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October 2005
An Inquiry: Is the Bush Administration Guilty of Crimes Against Humanity?
The Satya Interview with C. Clark Kissinger

 

C. Clark Kissinger.
Photo: www.dissident.info

Something is stirring; the tide is changing. People of conscience around the world are taking action to hold those in power accountable for their actions. The World Tribunal on Iraq, which held 20 hearings in cities all over the globe, culminated in Istanbul in late June, issuing a statement calling for the indictment of George Bush and Tony Blair for war crimes by the International Criminal Court. Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark has issued formal indictments against both Bush administrations for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Iraq. A grieving mother drew thousands of military families and supporters to the door of George Bush’s vacation home to hold him accountable for the occupation. And there’s a national movement afoot to impeach George Bush (see www.impeachbush.org).

But those are all about our government’s involvement in Iraq. While crucial, there are other equally vital issues deserving of attention and investigation. What about the torture of prisoners and denial of their due process? What of the reckless policies that endanger the environment, polluting our water, air, soil and bodies? And how about the assault on public health, a result of moralistic policies on reproductive health?

Now, the people behind the Not In Our Name statements of conscience against wars of aggression are bringing it all together, sponsoring the International Commission of Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity committed by the Bush administration in New York City, October 21-23.

C. Clark Kissinger is an organizer of the Commission and a board member of Not In Our Name. A lifetime radical, Kissenger helped organize the first march on Washington against the war in Vietnam in 1965 as national secretary of Students for a Democratic Society. C. Clark Kissinger took some time to talk with Catherine Clyne about the Bush administration, crimes against humanity, and the upcoming Commission.

Tell us about the Commission of Inquiry. How did it come about and what is its purpose?
The Commission of Inquiry into the possibility of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Bush administration was initiated by the Not in Our Name statement of conscience. We felt that it was very important to initiate a conversation—that’s long over due in our society—about what this administration has actually done.

This is not a general gripe session against every policy of the Bush administration, but rather an investigation into four specific areas where we believe the policies of this administration rise to the level of crimes against humanity. Those are: Wars of aggression, with particular reference to Iraq and Afghanistan. The torture and indefinite detention [of prisoners of war and “enemy combatants”], with reference to the abandonment of international standards for the treatment of prisoners and the setting up of off-shore camps, like at Guantánamo, and the so-called rendition of prisoners to other countries where they will be subjected to torture.

By Dan Piraro

Bizaro by Dan Piraro
Reprinted with kind permission.
See Bizarro.com for more comics.

The third area is the destruction of the global environment, with reference to the systematic policies that are contributing to the catastrophic effects of global warming—and of course we’ve just had a lesson in that with hurricane Katrina, with hurricanes becoming more frequent and much more powerful because of the general rise in temperature of the ocean waters. The fourth area are the attacks on global public health and reproductive rights, with reference to the genocidal effects of forcing international agencies to promote abstinence only in the midst of a global AIDs epidemic. We just saw reference to that [in August] in the New York Times about the condom crisis in Uganda, where U.S. government policies are making it extremely difficult for countries that have very high incidences of HIV infection to get condoms and other things they need to protect the population from the spread of HIV; and all of this is flowing from a certain theocratic policy of this administration.

What sort of relationship does the Commission have (or not) to the World Tribunal on Iraq that culminated in Istanbul in late June?
We see ourselves as building on the work of the World Tribunal on Iraq, which also held hearings in a number of different countries around the world. There is a difference in that the Tribunal focused exclusively on the question of Iraq; whereas, we are taking on four different areas. We feel here, in the U.S., is where an audience needs to hear it. The Tribunal in [Istanbul] got wonderful publicity in the Turkish media—it was front-page news there—and they had camera crews from all over Europe. But it was really whited out in the media in the U.S.

We are also a little different in format. The Tribunal used a conference format. They had different respected authors and experts sort of delivering papers, and at the end, the Tribunal of judges considered all of what they heard and wrote a concluding statement of their findings. Our Commission will be held more like a formal prosecution. There will be four prosecuting teams, one for each specific area, who will actually present a case. We will name people we think should be held responsible. We will present the sections of domestic or international law we feel they have violated. Although we will not be bound by international law—things are being done that we consider to be crimes against humanity that have not yet been codified into international law, but nonetheless have that effect in terms of consciously carrying out policies that can result in the deaths of millions of people. There will be closing arguments, presentation of evidence, documentary evidence, witnesses, video evidence, and we will be streaming the proceedings on the Internet so they can be shared with the entire world.

Who will be participating?
We are working with the organizations that are on the front lines to craft indictments—attorneys or core activists in these areas—to function as the prosecuting attorneys.

I understand representatives of the Bush administration have been invited. Will anyone be attending?
We don’t know yet. We haven’t yet finalized the text of the indictment, but they will certainly be served, and the facilities will be made available for representatives of the Bush administration to come and defend themselves against the charges. We feel that is important because we think we can actually make the case. In other words, this is not political theater. It’s not just a show we are putting on to build for the next mobilization or whatever. We think they’re actually guilty of these things and it can actually be proven, and proven with rigor in a way that unbiased people looking at it will say, “Wow, I didn’t think they were actually doing that. And I didn’t realize the evidence was actually there.” We are seeking to affect public opinion in a broad way.

I was active in the anti-Vietnam war movement, and I think the government learned very early on with the teach-ins that participation in these things can be counterproductive. Nonetheless, the option is going to be there for them. On the other hand, we don’t feel we have to put on a defense for them if they don’t feel inclined to come. They have the monopoly of the media in this country and we hear their positions put forth day and night in the mass media.

What sort of evidence will be presented?
The evidence will be of several kinds. First of all, there is a great deal of documentary evidence that has to do not only with laws but internal documents that have been leaked. For example, there is the famous memo written by Alberto Gonzales when he was [White House Counsel], just before the U.S. invaded Afghanistan. The president asked for an opinion on how the U.S. laws prohibiting the use of torture should be interpreted. Gonzales wrote a rather lengthy memo in which he basically told the president, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ In addition to the Geneva Conventions, U.S. statutory law actually makes it a crime for agents of the U.S. to engage in torture, and provides even the death penalty in cases where death results from torture. And of course there has been something like 22 prisoners now, killed under U.S. interrogation particularly in Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib and other places in Iraq. Even the documents that came out of the military medical coroners say these people died of blunt force trauma or that they were homicides.

Second, there will be witnesses that will testify to different aspects of what has taken place. We are hoping to have witnesses from the Middle East in attendance—it was a lot easier for them to get to Turkey than to get to the U.S., and you also have the problem of the government blocking people from entering the U.S., so we might have to take their testimony via the Internet and broadcast it live during the actual proceeding.

What final outcome do you envision for the Commission?
As I said earlier, we actually want to break into the media and force a debate that really hasn’t been held. We are doing two unique things. First, we are bringing these issues together in a way that they haven’t been brought together before. Also, we’re actually trying to expand the concept of what constitutes a crime against humanity. When you say crime against humanity, most people think about the Holocaust, WWII or a war situation. But there are policies being carried out by this administration that are frankly genocidal. It may not travel at the same speed as the Holocaust but the effects are the same. We need to expand people’s conceptions of what constitutes crimes against humanity.

This is probably a classic naysayer question, but some of the crimes listed, like global warming and aggression against Iraq, were also perpetrated under the Clinton administration. Is President Clinton or anyone in his administration going to be held accountable?
I am sure there will be evidence that relates to that and I don’t want to say that the statute of limitations will run out on Clinton or previous presidents for that matter. None of the things we are talking about originated with the Bush administration. However, the Bush administration is the one in power at the moment and the one carrying these policies out. And many of them have in fact been exacerbated under the Bush administration. For example, whereas Clinton treated the Kyoto Protocol on limiting greenhouse gas emissions with benign neglect and didn’t submit it to the senate for ratification, Bush actively repudiated it and is engaged in policies that are increasing the emission of greenhouse gases. So yes, there is a continuity; but there is also a discontinuity of these things.

What is the primary thing you hope Americans will glean from this Commission?
I think there is a great deal of hatred of the Bush administration right now. It is really hard to think of a period in my life where the president was so royally hated. Everywhere you go you just hear these angry statements against him.

At the same time, I don’t think there is at all a sufficient understanding of what lies behind all this, what motivates policy. I am hoping that through this Commission, people will be prompted to dig deeper.

They are trying to break down the traditional and the ideological glue that holds the country together, which results in the possibility of things coming apart in a very dramatic way, opening up really new opportunities for masses of people to step onto the stage and engage in historic independent action. Which is why I have joined with others in a separate initiative raising the slogan “the world can’t wait”—we have to drive out the Bush regime.

The Commission of Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity committed by the Bush administration will be held October 21-23 in New York City. Opening sessions will be in the Grand Ballroom of the Manhattan Center, 311 W. 34 Street. To learn more, visit www.nion.us.

 

 


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