Lawyers and criminologists understand that in a murder trial, it's not always just a question of who killed who
. People who kill in pure self-defense are usually (but not always) exonerated. If it can be proven that the killer was insane or otherwise not responsible for their actions, that's also a defense and they're sometimes exonerated or given a lesser sentence depending on the circumstances. There's accidental murder, murder by negligence, and a lot of other circumstances, but I'm sure you all understand what I'm talking about.
The highest form of murder is, as many of you already know, called first degree murder
. That's when someone makes a conscious decision to murder someone and then carries it out. Premeditated
is the word that's used. It's harder to prove, of course, because you can't go into someone's mind and be absolutely certain. And even in those cases there are sometimes extenuating circumstances: for example a guy who goes out and kills someone who, say, killed or raped his wife, or an abused wife deciding she's had enough and kills her abusive spouse. Even assuming that the defendant is completely guilty, in a fair trial all of these factors are taken into consideration, at least in theory. I'm not saying it works that way all the time.
Which brings me to my point. Those who have a lot of power and authority literally hold the lives of thousands, or even millions, of people in their hands. Their policies can have a positive or negative effect on everyone's lives economically or politically. And sometimes they have to make decisions knowing that people will die as a result. Mainly those decisions involve going to war, but not always. We invest a great deal of trust in our leaders that they will act responsibly, and sometimes they are given a lot of leeway to make these difficult decisions. That's why even when a leader does things that are clearly illegal, any number of people will forgive them for it because they believe that that's what a leader does, and they trust that they have good reason to make these decisions, even if they don't always tell us what they are.
The United States and Great Britain are countries whose foundations are, theoretically anyway, based on the rule of law and backed by the will of the people, who are the ultimate authority. We elect our leaders not to rule over us as they see fit, but to be stewards of the law. They are supposed to represent us and to be responsible to us, not the other way around. They are, or are perceived to be, a reflection of who we are as a people. So when they do things that are not only clearly illegal but also immoral, we have a hard time accepting that. It's as if we ourselves did the crimes our leaders are accused of.
A pair of articles by Professor Juan Cole (here
) reference and discuss articles in the British papers The Independent
and The Scotsman
that claim that both US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair were intent on going to war in Iraq regardless of British, American, and international law. The articles are based upon leaked British memos that showed that the two (In Prof. Cole's words) sat around on January 31, 2003, thinking up crazy schemes to provoke a war with Saddam
because they didn't have a good reason for it. One of the schemes involved flying a plane with UN colors over Iraq in the hopes that Saddam would shoot it down. I won't say this news comes as a surprise to me, or to millions of others in the US and Britain. I also highly doubt that any of this will be covered in the American press, and even if it is, there will no doubt be the usual spin about traitors giving aid and comfort to the enemy
, but that's another story.
If the articles are correct (and I happen to believe they are), and the memos are evidence that both Bush and Blair were determined to go to war with Iraq regardless of the need or the legality (and I happen to believe they are), then what they have done is mass-murder in the first degree. They fulfilled all the requirements: means, motive, and opportunity, and the memos show the premeditation that would make it in the first degree. And as with any other murder trial, those who aided and abetted them should be charged as well. In a just world, all of those involved would be removed from power, placed under arrest, charged with war crimes and tried by an international tribunal. If found guilty, they should be tossed in prison for the rest of their lives. Some would undoubtedly call for execution, but I don't believe in the death penalty, even for people like them. They would be punished enough by no longer being able to wield the kind of power they once had. I would also have the companies that profited from the war, specifically Halliburton and its subsidiaries, disbanded and its assets taken and given to the people of Iraq so that they can rebuild their lives.
As for Saddam himself, and other leaders like him (some of whom are currently our allies), I feel the same way about them as I do about Bush and Blair. I don't know how many Saddams there are in the world, but I want every leader who abuses their authority either against their own people, or who launch wars of aggression on others, to also be removed from power, tried, and imprisoned if convicted. I want peace, freedom, the right of self-determination and equality of opportunity for all the people of the world, not just Americans or British. Foolish and naive views, perhaps, but that's just who I am.
But it isn't as simple as all that. If our little adventures in VietNam and Iraq have proven anything, it's that no amount of physical force is sufficient to get rid of a regime we don't like, and these are only recent examples. History is filled with examples of occupations that failed because of popular resistance and the expense of overcoming it. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad Saddam is in jail: he certainly deserves it. But I wish I could say the same for all those like him who lead countries, or those like Osama bin Laden who operate outside of any nation or law. And I also wish we would have had the presence of mind to make the lives of the Iraqi people better, but as I've said before, if we were that noble-minded to begin with we would have never invaded Iraq in the first place.
The main difference (as I see it) between Saddam and Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair, is that Saddam, given his limited resources, was a much more intelligent and competent murderer. If he weren't, he would have been assassinated, or his country would have been taken over by someone else. He simply couldn't afford to make the kinds of mistakes that Bush and Blair could. He made a lot of noise to puff himself up, knowing that if he didn't it would be an invitation for one of his many enemies (both in Iraq and in neighboring countries) to try and take him out. But when push came to shove he always backed down, knowing that he didn't have the military power to stop us.
So when Bush and Blair ordered the spy planes to fly over Iraq, Saddam was at least smart enough not to take the bait. He was also smart enough to let the UN just come in and do their work. He knew that despite his tough talk, his military capability was negligible and the UN would verify it. If Bush or Blair were a little smarter themselves, they would have just launched an unmanned plane, put a bomb in it, and blamed Saddam. If they were really
smart, of course, they wouldn't have bothered to invade Iraq at all. Maybe all that power went to their heads, and maybe if Saddam had the same kind of power he would have been just as stupid about using it. I really don't know, and I'm not in a position to guess.
In any event, it seems pretty clear to me that neither Bush nor Blair cared that what they were doing was clearly illegal, or understood that the US and Great Britain had far more to lose than to gain by an invasion and occupation, especially one as badly planned and executed as this one was. If the claims made by the Independent
and the Scotsman
are correct and Bush and Blair knew
the occupation would be (at best
) a messy affair and they went ahead with it anyway, then they're about as dumb as you can get as far as leaders are concerned, not just dumb but criminally
dumb. (On a personal note, with Bush that wouldn't surprise me: all his life he's never had to be responsible for anything he's ever done, why should he start now? Mr. Blair, at least, should have known better, and he's I'm the most disappointed in.)
Saddam knew how much military might we had and that resistance by those means was pointless. What he was hoping for is that Bush or Blair wouldn't be crazy or stupid enough to do what they threatened to do, or at least that the UN would give him time to try and find another solution. He gambled that for America, Britain, and the UN, the rule of law or popular pressure would hold them back. He lost. Bush doesn't care about the law, Blair had his own reasons for going along, and the UN was simply powerless to stop it.
And just as Saddam was hoping our laws would protect him, so too are Bush and Blair hoping our laws will protect them. The British and American people are proud of their countries and their history, and many in both countries have a vested interest in backing up their leaders because they understand that what's said about Bush and Blair will also be said about them, just as all Germans and Japanese were blamed for the actions of their leaders during WWII, even though there were millions in both countries who opposed what was being done. At Nuremberg the question was asked, can a people be blamed for the actions of their leaders? If Bush and Blair are indeed murderers, what does it say about us? The Germans and Japanese are still learning to live with their shame, if the worst happens to us, can we? I for one hope we never have to find out.
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