It seems that Iraq will continue to haunt the American people for the indefinite future. And it should. Including the Persian Gulf intervention, the 11 years of sanctions, the no-fly zones, the post-9/11 invasion and and occupation, and the post-occupation bombing, the U.S. government has killed, injured, and maimed several hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens.
There is also the massive destruction of homes, businesses, automobiles, infrastructure, and other property in Iraq.
There are also the Iraqis who were rounded up, tortured, sexually abused, or executed, including those at Abu Ghraib.
Finally, today there are U.S. presidential candidates who are practically foaming at the mouth in the hope that they will have the opportunity to order U.S. troops to wreak even more death and destruction on Iraq, this time under the rational of attacking ISIS.
Through it all, the American people have patriotically praised the troops, thanking them for their service in Iraq, expressing gratitude for protecting our rights and freedoms.
There is one significant fact that many Americans simply have not yet come to grips with: Neither the Iraqi government nor the Iraqi people ever attacked the United States or even threatened to do so. In that sense, every single Iraqi who has been killed, injured, or maimed or had his business or home or other property destroyed by U.S. troops was innocent of that wrongdoing.
Until Americans come to grips with that important fact — that the U.S. government has wrongfully killed several hundreds of thousands of innocent people in Iraq, I believe that Iraq will continue to haunt the American people for the rest of their lives.
Think of just the people who were tortured and sexually abused at Abu Ghraib. As they were being subjected to the brutality of the CIA and the Pentagon, one can easily imagine some of them asking, “Why are you doing this to me? What have I done to you to deserve this?”
Of course, the justification that U.S. officials used at the time was that they had invaded Iraq to search for Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. But there were always problems with that justification, ones that many Americans still don’t want to deal with.
One, it was the United States and other Western regimes that furnished Saddam Hussein those WMDs. (See here and here.) That took place in the 1980s, when the U.S. government was partnering with Saddam in his war against Iran. The reason the U.S. government delivered those WMDs to Saddam was so that he could kill Iranians with them.
Recall that when U.S. troops finally discovered WMDs n Iraq, buried and rusted out, U.S. officials kept the find secret. Why would they do that? Wouldn’t that have been the perfect opportunity to say, “See, see—we were right!”? They reason they kept the find secret is that they didn’t want Americans to find out that the WMDs had been made in America and knowingly delivered to Saddam as part of the U.S.-Saddam partnership to kill Iranians during the 1980s.
Two, the U.S. government never had any legal authority to invade Iraq to search for WMDs. That’s because the U.S. government was purportedly enforcing UN resolutions when it invaded Iraq to search for WMDs. But only the UN can enforce its resolutions and it did not authorize any invasion to enforce its WMD resolutions, in large part because it’s inspectors had already determined that there were no WMDs to find.
Three, the U.S. government had already killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children with the sanctions for the purpose of achieving regime change in Iraq. Recall U.S. Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright’s infamous position that she declared to Sixty Minutes: that the deaths of half-a-million Iraq children from the sanctions were “worth it.” In their post 9/11 fear, Americans blinded themselves to the fact that U.S. officials were using the WMD scare as a way to frighten them into supporting an invasion to accomplish a regime change that the sanctions had failed to accomplished.
Fourth, and perhaps most important, once it was determined that Saddam had been telling the truth and that he had in fact destroyed the WMDs that the U.S. government had delivered to him during the 1980s, Americans continued supporting ten more years of military occupation, a brutal occupation in which countless more Iraqis were killed, tortured, incarcerated, abused, injured, and maimed and in which U.S. bombs destroyed countless more buildings, homes, and infrastructure.
Through the entire occupation, Americans continued thanking the troops for their service in Iraq—glorifying them for defending our rights and freedoms.Do you see something wrong with that picture?
Soon after the invasion, U.S. officials determined that there were no WMDs — that Saddam had in fact destroyed the WMDs that the U.S. government had delivered to him during the 1980s. The UN had been proven right in its decision not to enforce its resolutions with a military invasion of Iraq.
Yet, the WMDs had been the official justification for the invasion. That’s why Americans had supported it. That’s why U.S. troops had been torturing, killing, and maiming Iraqis and destroying their homes, businesses, and properties.
At that point, the official justification for all that killing and destruction was gone. At that point, there was only one right course of action for U.S. officials to take: apologize for their “mistake,” make amends for the death and destruction they had already wreaked with their “erroneous” invasion, and bring the troops home.
That’s not what they did. Instead, they remained in Iraq for 11 long years, killing, maiming, torturing, injuring, incarcerating, abusing, and humiliating more and more Iraqi people, all with the support of the American people, who by this time knew that the WMD rationale for the invasion had turned out to be bogus.
I repeat an important fact: Every one of those Iraqis who were killed, maimed, tortured, injured, abused, or humiliated had never attacked the United States nor had their government. In that sense, they were entirely innocent victims of U.S. aggression against their country.
Why did U.S officials go through all the contortions of the WMD scare instead of just invading to effect regime change?
Two reasons: First, they knew that initiating a war against another country for the purpose of effecting regime change was a war crime as per Nuremberg and also pursuant to the laws of the United Nations. Two, they wanted Americans to think that U.S. troops were defending America rather than aggressing against a Third World nation.
The irony in all this is that it was Iraq that was always the defending nation and it was always the U.S. government that was the aggressing nation. It was the U.S. government that was the war criminal the entire time. Under international law and the law set forth at Nuremberg, the Iraqi people had the absolute right to defend themselves from U.S. aggression. Yet, U.S. officials continually referred to Iraqis as the “bad guys” whenever they defended themselves against the foreign troops that had wrongfully invaded and occupied their land and glorified the troops for killing people who were doing nothing more than defending their country from foreign aggression. Would Americans consider themselves to be “bad guys” if they were defending the United States from a foreign invasion?
What has always been so bizarre is how Americans just continued mindlessly thanking the troops for “defending our rights and freedoms” in Iraq. They simply blinded themselves to the fact that our “rights and freedoms” were never threatened by the Iraqi government or the Iraqi people. At the risk of repeating myself, they had never attacked the United States or even threatened to do so. All they had done was defend themselves from troops who were instruments of foreign aggression against their country.
ISIS? It’s largely composed of people in the Saddam Hussein regime who were ousted from power in the U.S. regime-change operation. Why should it surprise anyone that they are now trying to get back into power? People who are thrown out of power by foreign aggression don’t usually like that. That’s why there is now a civil war in Iraq, one that has spread to other areas that have been the targets of other U.S. regime-change operations. It’s not the first time that a U.S. regime-change operation has led to a violent civil war. Recall Guatemala, where the CIA’s coup in 1954 led to a decades-long civil war that killed hundreds of thousands of people.
Today, many Americans go gaga gaga every time a U.S. presidential candidate says that he’ll order the troops to kill even more Iraqis, this time in the name of destroying ISIS, which is the latest official enemy in the ever-changing cast of official enemies of the U.S. national-security state. Americans would be better off putting such candidates in their place by booing them and by demanding, once and for all, that all U.S. troops be brought home before they kill, maim, torture, or injure even one more person in the Middle East.
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
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