The War In Iraq Is Finally Over
After 3,193 days and more than 4,000 lives, the American war in Iraq is officially at an end.
The most contentious foreign military action since Vietnam and, depending on how you measure these things, either the second or third longest war in American history, came to a muted end today in a ceremony at Baghdad International Airport:
BAGHDAD — The United States military officially declared an end to its mission in Iraq on Thursday even as violence continues to plague the country and the Muslim world remains distrustful of American power.
In a fortified concrete courtyard at the airport in Baghdad, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta thanked the more than one million American service members who have served in Iraq for “the remarkable progress” made over the past nine years but acknowledged the severe challenges that face the struggling democracy.
“Let me be clear: Iraq will be tested in the days ahead — by terrorism, and by those who would seek to divide, by economic and social issues, by the demands of democracy itself,” Mr. Panetta said. “Challenges remain, but the U.S. will be there to stand by the Iraqi people as they navigate those challenges to build a stronger and more prosperous nation.”
The muted ceremony stood in contrast to the start of the war in 2003 when an America both frightened and emboldened by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, sent columns of tanks north from Kuwait to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
As of last Friday, the war in Iraq had claimed 4,487 American lives, with another 32,226 Americans wounded in action, according to Pentagon statistics.
The tenor of the 45-minute farewell ceremony, officially called “Casing the Colors,” was likely to sound an uncertain trumpet for a war that was started to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction it did not have. It now ends without the sizable, enduring American military presence for which many officers had hoped.
The Washington Post notes the comments that Secretary Panetta made during today’s ceremony:
BAGHDAD — Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta paid solemn tribute on Thursday to an “independent, free and sovereign Iraq” and declared the official end to the Iraq war, formally wrapping up the U.S. military’s mission in the country after almost nine years.
“After a lot of blood spilled by Iraqis and Americans, the mission of an Iraq that could govern and secure itself has become real,” Panetta said at a ceremony held under tight security at Baghdad’s international airport. “To be sure, the cost was high — in blood and treasure for the United States, and for the Iraqi people. Those lives were not lost in vain.”
The 1:15 p.m. ceremony (5:15 a.m. in Washington) effectively ended the war two weeks earlier than was necessary under the terms of the security agreement signed by the U.S. and Iraqi governments in 2008, which stipulated that the troops must be gone by Dec. 31.
But commanders decided there was no need to keep troops in Iraq through the Christmas holidays given that talks on maintaining a U.S. presence beyond the deadline had failed. The date of the final ceremony had been kept secret for weeks, so as not to give insurgents or militias an opportunity to stage attacks.
Dignitaries and a small crowd of military personnel in fatigues gathered at a terminal in the Baghdad airport, which until now had been operated by the U.S. military. In the future, it will be overseen by the State Department, which is assuming responsibility for a massive, $6 billion civilian effort to sustain American influence in Iraq beyond the troops’ departure.
The white flag of United States Force-Iraq was carefully folded and put away, and Panetta took the podium.
“No words, no ceremony can provide full tribute to the sacrifices which have brought this day to pass,” the defense secretary said. “I’m reminded of what President Lincoln said in Gettysburg, about a different war, in a different time. His words echo through the years as we pay tribute to the fallen in this war: ‘The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.’ ”
In his speech, Panetta singled out U.S. Ambassador James Jeffrey and Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, for overseeing the rapid withdrawal of 50,000 troops in recent months and the closure of dozens of bases.
But he paid special tribute to the more than 1 million U.S. troops who have served war duty in Iraq since 2003, including about 4,487 who were killed and some 30,000 who were wounded.
“You have done everything your nation has asked you to do and more,” he said. “You came to this ‘Land Between the Rivers’ again and again and again.You did not know whether you’d return to your loved ones.
“You will leave with great pride, lasting pride, secure in knowing that your sacrifice has helped the Iraqi people begin a new chapter in history free from tyranny and full of hope for prosperity and peace.”
Panetta also paid homage to military families who, “through deployment after deployment after deployment … withstood the strain, the sacrifice and the heartbreak of watching their loved ones go off to war.”
“Together with the Iraqi people,” he added, “the United States welcomes the next stage in U.S.-Iraqi relations.”
How one feels about the official end of the U.S. mission in Iraq depends, in large part, on how one felt about the mission to begin with. For opponents of the war, who won the war for American public opinion in the end, this is a welcome development and a not-soon-enough end to a war that should not have lasted this long to begin with. For supporters of the war, mostly hardline conservative Republicans at this point, are likely to see this as a defeat of some kind. Ever since the President announced that American troops would be leaving Iraq by the end of this year, there’s been a recurring meme on the right claiming that the President failed by not convincing the Iraqis to agree to an extension of the current Status of Forces Agreement, which was negotiated by the Bush Administration, which required that American troops be out of the country by December 31, 2011. When it comes to the public opinion side of the argument, it’s fairly clear that the President and the opponents of the war have the better argument:
[A] new poll shows that three in four Americans support the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
Seventy-seven percent of Americas approve of President Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw troops by the end of the year, according to a new CBS News poll, including 63 percent of Republicans.
Just 17 percent of Americans disapprove.
The poll follows on a Gallup poll earlier this month, which similarly found that three-quarters of Americans support the decision to withdraw troops.
In that poll, 96 percent of Democrats, 77 percent of independents, and 43 percent of Republicans supported Obama’s decision.
Additionally, a newly released NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that bringing all the troops home from Iraq ranks just behind killing Osama bin Laden when voters are asked to rank President Obama’s greatest achievements of his First Term. Clearly, the public is glad that a war they had grown weary off long ago has come to an end, and the images we’ve seen over the past several days of soldiers being reunited with their families at bases across the country is a welcome sight, especially as we approach the Holidays.
It’s likely to be many years before the full impact of the Iraq War on American domestic politics, not to mention the politics of the Middle East, can be fully measured. Earlier this year, many on the right attempted to make the claim that it was the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003 that set in motion the events that led to the Arab Spring of 2011. We haven’t heard this argument very much since protests turned violent and the political future of nations like Egypt has become more uncertain, of course, but even if that had not occurred it strikes me that any link between Iraq and the 2011 uprisings is tenuous at best. Moreover, even if it were true, that hardly stands as justification for a massive war that cost hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of American lives.
In the end, I think history will judge the Bush Administration harshly for both the run-up to the Iraq War and its initial execution. In the wake of the September 11th attacks, which had no connection at all to the regime of Saddam Hussein, they exploited the nations fear of terror from the Middle East to ramp up war fever against a nation that we had gone to war against ten years before, and whom we’d been staring at, and striking, across a no-fly zone ever since. Saddam was developing a secret chemical and biological weapons program, we were told, even though the United Nations weapons inspectors never found any evidence of the same. There were whispers about a secret nuclear weapons program, which turned out to be entirely unfounded. Rumors were spread about secret meetings between Mohammed Atta and the head of Iraqi Intelligence, which also turned out to be false. Yes, it was true that every major intelligence service in the world believed that Saddam had a WMD program, but what nobody seemed to realize was that the intelligence was based on unreliable witnesses and, apparently, an effort by Saddam himself to make the world think he had WMDs so as make Iraq seem stronger than it actually was. So, we went to war.
The execution of the war also seemed flawed from the start. Even before a shot was fired, there were dissenting voices saying that we were not committing enough troops to deal with the consequences of the inevitable downfall of the regime and the possibility of guerilla warfare. Administration officials such as Donald Rumsfeld dismissed these concerns, and some of them actually seemed to have the fanciful idea that American troops invading Iraq would be greeted as liberators by the Iraqi people. When Turkey refused permission for U.S. troops to use the nation as the launching point for the northern half of a two-pronged thrust into the country, the effectiveness of the U.S. forces in gaining the type of victory needed for a quick and lasting victory seemed to have been further reduced. There’s no denying that the initial invasion was a massive success, notwithstanding the fact that it took most of the rest of 2003 to finally catch up with Saddam Hussein. However, by July of that year the insurgency had begun and the situation began to spin out of control. The surge in 2007 did stabilize the situation, and Iraq is possibly on its way to some kind of stability, but the future is far from certain. One thing is certain, though, with Saddam Hussein gone, Iraq is now most likely to fall into the Iranian sphere of influence, and I can’t see how one can consider that to be a positive development in the long run.
I was never a supporter of the Iraq War. Even with the evidence the Administration was putting forward in 2002, I was not convinced that the case had been made that Iraq posed such a grave threat to American national security that invasion and regime change were the only options. I wasn’t among the protesters, mostly because it’s just not my style, but I mostly agreed with their message, at least until groups like MoveOn and Answer got involved and the whole thing took a decidedly left-wing, anti-American tilt. When the war started in March, though, I hoped that at least our troops would be able to achieve a quick, decisive victory with minimal casualties. Alas, it had become clear by the summer that this wasn’t going to happen and, as the insurgency grew, the ability of the United States to simply walk away from Iraq became much more difficult. As Colin Powell had said in meetings with the President in the summer of 2002, if we broke Iraq, we would be responsible for it, the Pottery Barn Rule it was called. And, boy, had we broken Iraq into a million pieces. It took four years to put the country back together, and perhaps we could’ve gotten out at some point in that process but it strikes me that leaving a broken country in the Middle East would have been as unwise and foolish as invading it was in the first place.
In any case, though, the war is over, the troops are coming home, and the future of Iraq is in the hands of the Iraqi people. Was it worth it at all? Frankly, I cannot find a single redeeming thing to point to that justifies the costs we incurred for a war we never should have been fighting to begin with.
One of the greatest foreign policy blunders in our history is over.
If I believed in god I would thank her.
Now we can use that money to give more tax cuts to the 1%.
In response to the meme, often heard on the left, that there is no difference between Obama and his republican predecessors.opponents, I have to wonder how today is unfurling in that parallel universe where McCain won the Presidency.
Given that the Senator was all over the media discussing how we should have gotten that “force extension” agreement by any means necessary, I have to wonder if the war would still be going on there. Or if nothing would have changed.
Fixed that for you…
@rodney dill: If turning Iran’s arch enemy into a friend and ally was the mission then it was accomplished.
I think Iraq is going to become Vietnam for Gen X and early Gen Y. While it lacked some of the outright brutality of Vietnam, the Iraq war was waged by nation whose populace was at best ambivalent about it. It concluded not with a rousing victory or with a terrible defeat, but with something uncomfortably in-between.
As I reached voting age in the late 1990s, I looked forward to the day when the baby boomers would move into political and cultural retirement and the ghosts of Vietnam could be finally laid to rest. Vietnam, the flower children, the protests — all were artifacts of my parents’ generation. That deep cultural divide. The continual questions of who was a soldier, who was a flower child, and who was 4-F during the Vietnam war. This was not a cultural milestone, but a generational millstone, and I wanted to part of that. I wanted my world — and the world handed to the next generation — to be something brighter, something more hopeful.
I guess I was foolish.
I suspect that the Iraq war is my own generation’s millstone. If you are 25, 35, or 45 today, then the Iraq War has shaped your perceptions of politicians, the military, and of government. If you are 25, 35, or 45 today, and you are politically active or politically aware, then you have an opinion on this war. And I suspect that if you are 25, 35, or 45 today, and you are involved in politics or politically aware, then you are going to argue again … and again … and again … about whether this war was right or wrong, about whether the United States won or lost … and it will be just like the Baby Boomers and Vietnam.
I once read a column by David Broder, where he recounted an exchange with a colleague while covering Marilyn Quayle’s “we were there too” speech at the 1992 Republican convention. Broder wrote that he told a colleague, “You baby boomers are going to be fighting about Vietnam in the nursing home.” Or words to that effect.
I had hoped that my own generation could avoid this. I am disappointed to be proven wrong.
Excellent. Now, on to war crimes tribunals for the principles in the previous criminal enterprise posing as a presidency, the former head of which declared on national television he gave the order to torture, and would gladly do it again. His liberty in Dallas makes a mockery of us all.
“Bringing home the troops” does not change this on iota.
Until America has its Nuremberg Moment, its decline will continue apace. No jobs, no perp-walks make Homer something-something…
@James in LA:
I opposed the war, but the idea of “war crimes trials” is just patently silly.
I can’t begin to express how much I agree with this. Iraq should never have happened.
Also, lets not forget that we are still fighting in the Graveyard of Empires.
Heck, if the Republicans controlled America, we’d still be liberating Vietnam.
That’s why they hate the “hippies” of OWS so very, very much.
@James in LA: I want to agree with you. Really, I do. But I can’t. At a certain point, I just can’t advocate relitigating Iraq and the war on terror. More important, I think, is to close the book, learn the lessons, and move forward.
Of course it’s beyond silly. We don’t care about the rule of law for the elite. Everyone knows that.
I think Afghanistan is this generation’s Vietnam, which is especially sad because the Soviets demonstrated it as their Vietnam so recently … this is pretty close to history repeating. If not, it’s a darn strong rhyme.
@john personna: Hmm … Perhaps they both are in a sense. But from a cultural/political standpoint, I think Iraq has more of Vietnam’s divisiveness than Afghanistan does.
Until America has its Nuremberg Moment
Don’t you need a Nazi Moment before a Nuremberg Moment?
That’s an interesting claim. You wrote a pretty good paragraph on how the population of this democracy was lied into war. Do you think that is the way it should work?
Is executive branch adventurism, with manipulation of truth, legal? Should it be?
FWIW, lying in the run-up to war ranks high in my list of cardinal sins.
Especially when they send a force into a friendly country to assassinate one individual.
My friends in the army tell me that we’ll have troops over there fighting for years. I’m concerned that this only marks the end of the media’s coverage of the war, not of the war itself.
@Doug Mataconis: “I opposed the war, but the idea of “war crimes trials” is just patently silly.”
The list of things you have pompously declared “patently silly” could fill a stadium. That a lawyer eschews the rule of law paints a picture of someone interested in life completely and totally for himself and no one else. Ditto, our politics, and now, our country.
A President admitted torture, and got off scott free. It said to the world, particularly pepper-spray wielding police, that anything only slightly less awful is now on the table and ready for rapid, rabid deployment against, well, anyone. If Obama declares Doug Mataconis “belligerent,” we may never see Doug again.
You earn only disbarment by looking the other way.
@James in LA:
I agree that the Bush Administration did much to be regretted, and the Obama Administration has for the most part continued those practices. Members of Congress from both parties have sat by and done nothing while all this has occurred.
If American laws were broken then where are the indictments? And, no, I don’t want American leaders or American soldiers being judged by judges in foreign nations where principles of due process aren’t the same. I’m funny that way.
I don’t accept the argument that there were conscious lies. The intelligence all suggested that there were WMDs there. Bill Clinton believed there were WMDs there when he was President. The problem that I see based on what we’ve learned is that officials around the world, not just the United States, gave far more credence to intelligence that should have been questioned than they should have. The important point is that the existence of WMDs should never have been accepted as a justification for war.
@john personna: “FWIW, lying in the run-up to war ranks high in my list of cardinal sins.”
This is just it. By the time we got to Iraq, the illegal cake was baked. We allowed ourselves to be terrorized into handing over most of our rights, the ones that matter when the chips are down, at least. We do not yet know the full story of 9/11, either.
And we never will if we do not insist on prosecutions for war crimes. We doom future Presidents into making the same mistakes, and many future ones will not have Obama’s temper.
Looking the other way, “closing the book,” call it whatever you like: it’s cowardly running away from duty, and it absolutely will come back to haunt America.
What specific American laws were broken?
The conclusion I arrived at, fairly early in the Iraq II cycle, was that we have a choice. We can enforce moral values in our democracy, or we can admit our flaws. Either we call out those who cheat us, or we give up pretense of any City on the Hill.
If we accept our history, then we must admit that we are just one of this world’s many corrupt powers.
Many, many, people within the ring of power have described how the GWB administration had a hard-on for Saddam, and brought out those plans as soon as 9/11 gave them the opening.
TO believe there was nothing conscious is to ignore the reported history.
@Doug Mataconis: “If American laws were broken then where are the indictments? ”
Have any grand juries sat to hear testimony and evidence? Any civilian ones outside America?
Well, one state has: Vermont. W and Dick would be arrested in Vermont. Any aspiring U.S. attorneys would do well to visit Vermont, a United State last I checked, and figure out why.
This cannot be swept under the rug. Too much There, there.
I am leery of the comparisons to Viet Nam, because much of the protests stemmed from fear of the draft. College men, exempt (for the moment), could protest, while others were drafted and served. Would the protests have been the same with the AVF?
BTW, as I’ve been saying for years here at OTB: Never forget the Downing Street Memos.
You are (conveniently) forgetting “but the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy” because you don’t want to accept it, not because it proved false.
@Doug Mataconis: “I don’t accept the argument that there were conscious lies.”
Torture trumps the lying. Your statement is otherwise grossly naive.
To say that people were lying about intelligence that had consistently said since the 9i0s that Saddam retained a WMD program, though, is to state something that just isn’t true. Sure, the Bush Administration used that intelligence to make a political case for war. It worked, though. On the eve of the Iraq War, polls were consistently showing that the public supported the war, and that continued for quite some time until the insurgency started taking its toll.
Saying what you’re saying is different from the catchy, but not entirely true, protester chant of the day that “Bush lied, people died.” And I say that as someone who is in no way a fan of George W Bush.
The Iraq War was a mistake and a horrible policy choice. A lie, though? That’s just political rhetoric.
@James in LA:
The thing is that as deplorable as that was, authorizing the use of enhanced interrogation techniques wasn’t against the law.
… ad nauseam.
@James in LA:
And those indictments would be thrown out by any Federal Judge if they were ever actually acted on based on sovereign immunity doctrines.
@mantis: “Don’t you need a Nazi Moment before a Nuremberg Moment?”
What is your threshold of dead Iraqis to qualify as “Nazi?” How many must be tortured before it’s illegal?
That’s one huge hedge, Doug. You are making the argument that since we can never know what’s in any liar’s head, there are no liars. They ALL might be telling the truth, as the momentarily believe it.
No. The Brits were smart enough see the addenda and report it internally, even if they (for their own questionable motives) decided to support the policy, regardless.
The broader point James In LA, is that I don’t see any political value in reopening the wounds of Iraq any more than this country has benefited from the numerous attempts by left and right to reopen the wounds of Vietnam. The war was a horrible mistake, it’s over. I’m ready to move one.
(My spell checker played Hobb with that post, sorry.)
Perhaps folk thought something similar after Andy Jackson’s Trail of Tears … but when we move on it SHOULD be with a diminished sense of who we are.
To hold American Exceptionalism at the same time … simply insane.
@Doug Mataconis: “And those indictments would be thrown out by any Federal Judge if they were ever actually acted on based on sovereign immunity doctrines.”
That future has not yet been written. Absent discovery, it would probably hold.
Let’s have actual discovery led by the DoJ, and complemented by committees in Congress, and watch tunes change.
Until there are actual consequences, the dangerous childish paper-based role-playing game that is our government will continue. It has infected everything we as a Nation have tried to do since. Look at our sick politics, which are now based on the worst of our natures, validated by reckless war-mongering absent any kind of consequence whatsoever.
Other than American liberty. Should the President declare you “belligerent,” we may never see you again.
There must be consequences.
I can’t believe I’m doing this … but I’ll say it anyway. I think you can make a good case that some laws were bent if not broken, particularly if you turn to waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
But if you’re going to accuse President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Cabinet officers of high crimes and misdemeanors, the proper avenue for redress is not the court system. The proper avenue (and one no longer available) was through Congress.
If executive officers had committed malfeasance, it was incumbent on Congress, not the courts, to remove those individuals from office. If rule-bending did cross the line into torture, it was incumbent on Congress, not the courts, to set down new laws or to investigate agencies that crossed those lines.
Unfortunately, as it has done previously, the US Congress chose to line up behind the president during wartime rather than attempt to check his power in a serious way. From a moral standpoint, this is unfortunate, but it is the world we have to live in.
It is 2011 now, and the Bush administration’s misdeeds and missteps are past. Their effects linger, but the actors themselves have left the stage. It is no longer possible to visit on them political consequences for their actions.
Now, if you think the Bush administration broke laws or erred, you have a few approaches available going forward:
Prosecute Bush administration officials. This is the least defensible course. In the first place, it is difficult to a) identify the laws that have allegedly been broken; b) prove that those laws actually work broken; c) approach these matters through neutral eyes, rather than partisan eyes; d) overcome sovereign-immunity defenses; and e) demonstrate that Bush officials committed actual crimes rather than simply make bad policy choices. Moreover, this would carry two immense negatives: a) Relitigating the Bush era would re-open political wounds, rather than allow the country to move forward; and b) it could provide a chilling effect on future administrations, where at times officials may see the need to make policy in certain ill-defined areas. Furthermore, I would argue that such prosecutions would do nothing positive. They would not make victims whole. They would not substantially change US policy. At most, they might slake a few partisans’ political bloodlust.
Compensate the victims of Bush administration misdeeds. This is immensely important. But the court system, again, is the wrong venue. If you’re going to try to make it up to such people, the best way to do it is through an act of Congress, setting up a special fund.
Alter policies going forward. This should be a first, best course of action. Future presidents and future Congresses need to pass laws that better define the boundaries of acceptable policy, including setting the relevant whys and wherefores. The focus needs to be not on punishing or justifying Bush-era policies, but on seeing that the Bush errors do not happen again.
@James in LA:
The Democrats in Congress never bothered to try that when Bush was President, and they never explicitly rejected any effort to do so after Barack Obama became President. So, blame them.
The crime was the Bush administration did absolutely nothing to confirm the “intelligence” from comically dubious sources that Saddam had a WMD program.
The drones that have been so effective in Afghanistan had been in service 10 years prior to our invading Iraq in 2003,.
This is largely true of most of the excesses stemming from the War On Terror, including things such as President Obama’s recent decision that he has the sole authority to order the assassination of American citizens he deems to be terrorists.
Where is Congress in this? They are in the process of passing a Defense Authorization Bill that enhances that power.
The Courts are not the proper venue to resolve what is, in the end, a political dispute and an appalling disdain for the Constitution by both the President and Congress. The voting booth is. But the American people don’t seem to care, so they get what they deserve.
@Doug Mataconis: “The broader point James In LA, is that I don’t see any political value in reopening the wounds of Iraq ”
This is an epic failure of leadership. You would have made out like a bandit in the GW Bush administration, where politics always trumped the rule of law.
That you are “ready to move on” is otherwise irrelevant.
@Doug Mataconis: “The Democrats in Congress never bothered to try that when Bush was President, and they never explicitly rejected any effort to do so after Barack Obama became President. So, blame them.”
I no longer buy your claims you think Bush did anything disagreeable, much less illegal.
Democrats in Congress did not admit on national TV that they gave the order to torture. Nor are Democrats in Congress required to respond legally to the admission of ordering a war crime.
You earn only disbarment by willfully, and now pompously, looking the other way.
I think you just washed your hands of your own argument.
Yeah. You think big time politicians are subject to the law or something? Ridiculous!
@James in LA:
You are asking for something that is never going to happen, but if that’s what makes you happy fine. The Iraq War has been sufficiently discredited in American memory, that’s good enough for me and as much as you’re going to get.
And as I said, if there was wrongdoing going on, then where were the impeachment proceedings? If you’re right then that’s Congress’s fault
“If the President does it, it’s not illegal”
I opposed everything the Bush Administration did in Iraq, but so far nobody on this thread has pointed to a specific section of the United States Code that was alleged to have been violated.
This is the naturalistic fallacy: that because the administration is unlikely to every be punished, that it must therefore not deserve to be punished.
“The Democrats in Congress never bothered to try that when Bush was President, and they never explicitly rejected any effort to do so after Barack Obama became President. So, blame them.”
So Republicans have no duty to oppose illegal acts. Fascinating.
“I don’t see any political value in reopening the wounds of Iraq any more than this country has benefited from the numerous attempts by left and right to reopen the wounds of Vietnam.”
The primary value I see is to make the persons who were culpable for the Iraq War so radioactive that they can no longer be considered for any position of responsiblity in this country. My first inkling of how bad Bush the Younger was going to be was when he started finding ways to reuse people from Iran-Contra (such as John Poindexter and Elliott Abrams) who should never have been permitted to walk the halls of government again. I think that doing this to the John Yoos and Paul Wolfowitzes would be doing a service in and of itself, and possibly more by discouraging others from going so far beyond civilized norms.
Legislation and treaties regarding torture
You do realize that the torture debate is entirely separate from the Iraq War debate, which is the subject of this post, right?
As for your link, I agree that waterboarding is torture in at least a moral sense but the legal question is far murkier. In any case, we are beating a dead horse here.
@Doug Mataconis: “but so far nobody on this thread has pointed to a specific section of the United States Code that was alleged to have been violated.”
Please do not burn any calories on our account clicking your mouse in order to, in a scholarly lawyer-like fashion, discover the answers to your own (alleged) “questions.”
Unless, of course, that sheepskin behind you reads, “Liberty University.” Then you can just dash off a memo, and all is forgiven.
@Ron Beasley: I don’t think we know the final outcome for Iraq yet. (though I think Iran’s intentions are clearer). My comment is terse and somewhat vague by design.
Of course, Doug. Heaven forbid actually translating your opinions on life and death political decisions into tangible action that might influence the very outcomes of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and American lives, offend your sense style.
This looks good:
Offense. – Whoever, whether inside or outside the United
States, commits a war crime, in any of the circumstances described
in subsection (b), shall be fined under this title or imprisoned
for life or any term of years, or both, and if death results to the
victim, shall also be subject to the penalty of death.
And how defines what a “war crime” is? It is, inevitably, an offense defined by the victors in a war for use against the losers.
Like so many others, back in 2008 I was a sucker for “let’s move forward.” I allowed myself to be convinced that the country, aside from a few loonies, had learnt the lessons and that said forward movement would be in the right direction.
And I was wrong. The people demanding trials/investigations and punishment were absolutely right: failing to do this resulted in largely legitimizing what was done, such that it continues and will happen in the future. Nobody paid a price for bullsh*tting us into a war. Others paid the price – Iraqis, US and British soldiers, etc.
Thus the rot remains, and grows.
This would have sounded extreme to me back in ’08. I didn’t fall for most of the hopey-changey rhetoric, but I *did* fall for “yeah, going hard after the architects of this clustereff would be a bad idea/undoable. Move on.” FAIL.
“As a result of these changes, we have concluded that the language does not challenge or constrain the president’s ability to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists, and protect the American people, and the president’s senior advisors will not recommend a veto,”
The only thing they cared about was restraining POTUS’ power. Civil liberties? Only the little people have to worry about such things.
This is not a partisan thing for me, Doug. In a just world, a whole bunch of Republicans and Democrats would have gotten raked over the coals and some would’ve gone to jail. Others would merely have been ruined.
NOBODY was ruined.
I assume you’re not shocked by this, or by the fact that Barack Obama has assumed and expanded upon the Executive Branch powers asserted by the Bush Administration. I’m certainly not. It’s par for the course.
At this point, no I am not shocked. I will confess to some surprise 2-3 years ago. I really thought there would be a change of direction on this sort of thing. Nothing huge – I did not expect Obama to return us to a pre-Bush II state. I was hoping for at least partial rollback, followed by more rollback as 9/11 faded and sanity returned.
Have your laugh. Ok, now, explain to me how your position on this makes any sense. The way I see it, the only way “par for the course” can be stopped is if more people challenge it (ala what Vermont did).
Heaven forbid actually translating your opinions on life and death political decisions into tangible action that might influence the very outcomes of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and American lives, offend your sense style.
I made that mistake too. My protest was limited to ranting on a message board. Hell, I didn’t even write/email/call my congresscritters.
Lesson learned (not that the protests worked, despite being large. But maybe if more people whose style isn’t protest showed up and protested…)
@Doug Mataconis: “. I’m certainly not. It’s par for the course.”
Until there are consequences, the present and all future admins are doomed to repeat the same awful, illegal errors. That’s the real peril, once which you seem to ignore. Moreover, it is not a position a lawyer would take, one interested in the law, at any rate.
James In LA,
And those consequences start at the ballot box. Unless the American people are willing to vote out the people, Republican and Democratic, who support these policies they will continue.
@Doug Mataconis: Rob in CT said, “Lesson learned.”
Doug, it is now your turn.
@Doug Mataconis: “And those consequences start at the ballot box. ”
Voters are not the police. Voters are not the DoJ. This is not a political argument. Once the order to torture was given, it became elusively a legal problem.
The torture extends to your argument in which you keep insisting this is a legal problem. It is not, and cannot be solved at the ballot box, which is about the future, not the past.
The law exists to deal with the past. Are you SURE you’re a lawyer?
A risky idea became a disaster through incompetence and ideology.
My position at the start of the war was that it was a 51/49 call. I never worried much that Iraq was a threat to us. I thought — and assumed everyone knew — we were on a mission of political transformation. I thought we were planning to do Japan 1945 — take down a regime, impose an entirely new system, seduce them into the world economy and make it work.
I still think that’s what Mr. Bush and Cheney had in mind. The threat was hyped in order to justify a transformative mission.
The first warning that the Bush administration was incompetent to pull off their plan came with the Shinseki testimony. Even as I heard the details of the deployments I told myself no, they wouldn’t be that stupid. No one would be stupid enough to launch a massive mission of transformation with bare-bones resources. Then came the looting and it was clear: yes, someone was that stupid.
Months passed into years while Rumsfeld continued to defend his own incompetence. Not until Mr. Bush was re-elected did the Bush administration begin to come to grips with reality. Of course by then far too much damage had been done and far too many resources had been squandered. Mr. Bush had thrown money away by the truckload. He’d filled vital positions with GOP hacks. His notion that tolerant, multi-party democracy would somehow just flower was idiotic.
And of course, there was torture — an indelible stain on American honor. A mistake so profound that there was no longer any possibility of salvaging an honorable conclusion.
In the end we spent a staggering fortune, we lost good men, we killed too many Iraqis and allowed them to kill each other, we empowered Iran, we became distracted and overextended and took our eye off the ball in Afghanistan, and with torture we abased ourselves. That said, there is democracy of a sort in Iraq. And Saddam is dead — there’s no way to put a bad spin on that, he needed killing.
How this plays out we don’t know. It’s too soon to draw sweeping conclusions, though it’s safe to draw this conclusion: it was bungled by a dimwitted president, an arrogant defense secretary and an evil vice president, all of whom did a terrible disservice to the most capable military in history.
James In LA,
I’m waiting for the rest of America learn their lesson and stop supporting the Republicans and Democrats who support the endless expansion of the National Security State. Until that happens, nothing will change.
I don’t think Bush ever lied, and that, sadly, is where the real crime lies.
On WMD, I buy that we thought there were WMDs, as they were defined. However, when you define WMDs as encompassing both nuclear and advanced biological weapons, as well as outdated chemical shells that presented more of a danger to the bearer than to the target, you get a situation in which, yes, Saddam Hussein may well have had some of the latter but you can scare people about the former.
Bush’s words were carefully parsed. He never SAID Iraq was going to nuke us, he just used the two terms in contiguous sentences over and over. And the sentences themselves were carefully constructed (“British intelligence has learned….”). When you break it all down, there’s probably no case for lying based on public comments.
When a President can’t make a simple, unambiguous declarative sentence about why he is sending Americans to die, though, that’s a crime, albeit a non-prosecutable one.
@James in LA:
What is your threshold of dead Iraqis to qualify as “Nazi?”
It’s way, way up in the millions, pal. And even then, the body count is just one component; there was more to Nazism than war. Truthfully, I find it rather disgusting that you would compare Americans to Nazis for the Iraq War. I opposed the damned thing from the get go, and have been proven right, but we are nowhere near the Third Reich. Not even in the same universe.
How many must be tortured before it’s illegal?
I agree with you on torture, and I think there should be prosecutions, but it is already illegal. And waterboarding a few suspected terrorists, disgusting as that is, does not make us Nazis either. Oh, and unless I’m mistaken, most of the suspects subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques” were captured in Afghanistan and Pakistan, not Iraq, so it’s not all that relevant to the discussion at hand.
Why, the United States Code defines it:
(1) defined as a grave breach in any of the international
conventions signed at Geneva 12 August 1949, or any protocol to
such convention to which the United States is a party;
(2) prohibited by Article 23, 25, 27, or 28 of the Annex to the
Hague Convention IV, Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on
Land, signed 18 October 1907;
(3) which constitutes a grave breach of common Article 3 (as
defined in subsection (d)) when committed in the context of and
in association with an armed conflict not of an international
(4) of a person who, in relation to an armed conflict and
contrary to the provisions of the Protocol on Prohibitions or
Restrictions on the Use of Mines, Booby-Traps and Other Devices
as amended at Geneva on 3 May 1996 (Protocol II as amended on 3
May 1996), when the United States is a party to such Protocol,
willfully kills or causes serious injury to civilians.
Torture is a violation of the Geneva Conventions.
Do I want to spend time and energy pursuing it? No.
Are they guilty? Both Bush and Cheney have admitted to it.
I tried the ballot box. I voted against Hillary in the primary almost entirely because of her pro-Iraq war vote and refusal to agree she made a serious error. Then I voted Obama over McCain.
If you’re arguing I should’ve voted Libertarian or Green, I can say that I’ve done each of those things in Presidential elections (1996, 2000). That’s not enough.
Plus, as has been pointed out to you, this is not just political. The law was broken.
And I also voted for Ned Lamont over Lieberman (primary and general). He lost the general because enough GOP voters/leaners and conservaDems voted to keep Holy Joe.
Given that we executed Japanese officers after World War II for waterboarding, I don’t think it’s murky at all.
I went into NYC to protest with several hundred thousand of my closest friends before the attack and occupation of Iraq. Turns out we were absolutely right. I still have some posters kicking around by office at home.
His stand against the war, opportunistic or not, is one of the reasons I voted for Obama.
It’s easier to vote 3rd party here in CT…when the Democrat is going to win no matter what.
If I was in a swing state I would have to think long and hard before making that vote.
@mantis: “It’s way, way up in the millions, pal.”
Sooo,,,,950,000 is ok. 975,000, even. Hell, why not even 999,999. So long as at least “millions” do not pile up, wars based on intolerable lies and torture are just fine with Mantis. Nuremberg was about showing the world what is done with war criminals. I happened to include nazis. This is the essential point you miss.
Feel free to drop the “pal” next time.
Sooo,,,,950,000 is ok. 975,000, even. Hell, why not even 999,999.
That’s not what I said, and you completely miss the point.
So long as at least “millions” do not pile up, wars based on intolerable lies and torture are just fine with Mantis.
Man, you are a moron, aren’t you? Explain how you make the leap from “Not the Third Reich” to “just fine,” exactly? I said quite clearly that I was against the Iraq War from the very beginning. I was marching in the streets on 2/15/03. I bailed my friend out of jail after she got caught in the sweep. I never came anywhere close to claiming I was fine with the Iraq War, and explicitly stated the opposite.
Nuremberg was about showing the world what is done with war criminals.
No, they were about prosecuting Nazis. How many Japanese or Italians were tried at Nuremberg? That’s right. None.
I happened to include nazis.
Oh, you just happened to include the only people tried at Nuremberg? Good for you!
Feel free to drop the “pal” next time.
Feel free to GFY.
@mantis: “No, they were about prosecuting Nazis. How many Japanese or Italians were tried at Nuremberg? That’s right. None.”
Irrelevant. You elevate the nazis even more by suggesting the rule of law was invented just for them. Others got their due in other courts, including those who used waterboarding.
I reject your use of body counts and “other components” as measures. War crimes are war crimes if even one person is killed.
And until we know the whole story on all the activities of the previous (and now, present) criminal enterprise posing as a presidency, I am not prepared to join you in your non-nazi comparison. Men of evil intent pushed this war, and there is no memo can dismiss that. Most of these same men are still in power.
Most of the country’s ills — and most significantly, our politics — cannot be addressed until actual consequences are handed down.
You elevate the nazis even more by suggesting the rule of law was invented just for them.
Everything you write is in response to a straw man. That’s not what I said. That’s who was prosecuted at Nuremberg. Don’t try to put words in my mouth just because you can’t get your facts straight.
Others got their due in other courts, including those who used waterboarding.
Not at Nuremberg. You want Nuremberg trials for Americans, as you stated earlier, equating Americans with Nazis. That is the point of contention, from which you have not backed down.
I reject your use of body counts and “other components” as measures. War crimes are war crimes if even one person is killed.
Yes, I understand you equate any war crime with all of the crimes of the Nazi regime. I very much disagree with that, because it is absurd.
And until we know the whole story on all the activities of the previous (and now, present) criminal enterprise posing as a presidency, I am not prepared to join you in your non-nazi comparison.
That has less to do with facts and more to do with you’re being an ahistorical jackass.
Enjoy combating more strawmen, pal. You’re not really worth arguing with further, and you aren’t even bothering to argue with me anyway. Just straw.
Hmmm. Nothing so far on Obama embolding terrorists…
@Doug Mataconis: Referring specifically to your post that says it’s not against the law to authorize “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Let’s pretend that is true for a moment. Is it also not against the law to authorize torture? Is it also not against the law to order genocide?
I’m just wondering if you are arguing that A) our EIT didn’t constitute torture, or B) there’s some sort of unclear line about what illegal things you can legally authorize. Both A & B seem false to me, but I need to know what I’m arguing against.
@mantis: “Not at Nuremberg. You want Nuremberg trials for Americans, as you stated earlier, equating Americans with Nazis. ”
I am equating Americans, if found guilty at trial of war crimes, with war criminals. That other war criminals happened to have been nazis in the past is irrelevant, and has no basis on whether or not to proceed today. Had Nuremburg been only about nazis, they could have been hung from trees and that would have been that.
But it was about so much more. It was about showing the world what is done with war criminals. You are free to call that a straw man, or even a ham sandwich. It remains true.
The rule of law trumps even nazis. Remember that when you have to show your papers just to vote. Then, to buy groceries. Then, to obtain public utilities or rent. Then….the punishments for not having your papers in order are most harsh, and getting harsher. We know where you live, and the sites you surf. We record every keystroke on your smart phone.
Look around you before you accuse me of inventing anything.
You’ll never get the war crimes tribunal. Not only would it have to indite everyone in the house and senate who voted for the invasion (both Democrats and Republicans), but it would also have to go after Clinton for Serbia, and Obama for Pakistan drone attacks.
The invasion was arguably a crime, but it was one which was committed by the leaders of both parties – and its actions have been continued (with new elements) by the current office holders. Maybe in twenty years, when they’re all out of office, someone will look into it – though I doubt it, as the new folks will probably have committed their own war crimes in the mean time. Major powers are always committing war crimes – and not just the US. Chechnia, Tibet, there’s always some minor state to be pushed around.
The legal questions on torture were concluded when Eric Holder relied upon the Yoo memorandum’s construction of torture laws in amnesty cases and the Court of Appeals upheld it as a reasonable interpretation and the executive’s views should be entitled to deferrence.
Not only that. The Obama Administration has adopted the Bush Administration’s “States Secret Doctrine” exception to seek the dismissal of a number of cases seeking to test the legality of Obama Administration actions, including the kill order issues for Al-Awlaki
The lesson, as always: if you commit US troops to fight, have a plan to win and a plan to get out.
@James H: Vietnam: we could have won that war. Records show that the North Vietnamese were close to surrender at least twice.
I think Nuremburg isn’t quite the correct analogy, as the Truth Commissions that were installed aftre the Soviet Union and Apartheid regimes fell.
In both cases the list of guilty parties was long, and implicated most of the governing class.
While it wasn’t possible to convict and hang every perpetrator, it was possible to name names, punish a few ringleaders, and pardon the rest.
At the very least, we can make sure that history uses the word “War Criminal” as a prefix to Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld.
@James in LA: Nuremburg didn’t accomplish a lot – most of those Gestapo/SS people got away and were never punished. Many actually wound up in high paying jobs and back in government. Some even came over here and worked. The US and other countries tired of the trials and had to worry about the Russians. They should have been put on trial too.
Now that infamous Booth conspiracy trial was nothing but a farce and cover up if there ever was one. Evidence was suppressed – evidence that led to high places. The defendants were not allowed to testify.
That General Sherman guy should have been put on trial: destroying the south and terrorizing citizens. But remember, the winning side never faces war crimes trials.
No more monkey trials.
The thing is, war crimes have no statue of limitations. To this day we persecute 80 year old men for war crimes they committed as teenagers. With war crimes, people dont forget. Some one some where is always working to bring the criminals to justice. And it is not just about the US.
Right now there is no political will to persecute war criminals in the US but that probably will change. At least the effort anyone is will to put into defending the criminals will certainly diminish. In the meantime, the criminals cant dare leave the US or they might be arrested and charge in the Hague. Doug may not like it but in 10, 20 years, the political class of the US might be relieved to let the Hague handle this mess. Who will want to spend a lot of political capital to defend some old war criminals, men who knew better and chose to commit the crimes anyway. Why should our country pay an international price defending these men? Personal accountability for your actions and all that.
Cheney, Rumsfeld, W, they may well be old enough that they will die of old age before they are persecuted. But some of these men are quite young.
Sleep well John Yoo, sleep well
Thank you Mr. Orwell.
The question of torture was settled by Holder seeking immunity for the department’s lawyers?
Could you elaborate on that a bit? I am thinking of the Convention Against Torture.
Sorry, McKeever. I’m not fighting over Vietnam with you. If you want that argument, find a Baby Boomer.
@Dazedandconfused: No, I’m referring to something else. The term “torture” is not merely relevant as a criminal matter, the same definition is used to determine whether a person is protected from being deported to a country where he/she will be tortured, specifically whether the Convention Against Torture bans the U.S. from deportation.
The Yoo memo had about three basic components: (1) the treaty is not self-executing, U.S. law and the specific language used is the source of any U.S. obligations; (2) the language used in U.S. law only prohibits the most extreme conduct and the mere infliction of pain and suffering is not torture, and (3) “specific intent” is required for torture. “Specific intent is not common in U.S. law (because its hard to prove), but this interpretation means that a deliberate act which is likely to cause severe pain and suffering is not torture.
Under the Bush administration this legal analysis was used successfully in the immigration courts to fight off claims under the treaty. Since the immigration courts are specialized, nobody appears to have noticed it. But eventually towards the end of the Bush administration and beginning of the Obama administration the issue of whether the immigration courts were utilizing a proper understanding of “torture” was appealed to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed the very narrow reading of “torture.”
The irony here was that by this time, the Bush administration had disavowed the Yoo memo. Some law professors in an amicus brief asked the Court of Appeals to recognize the source of the “torture” definition being used, and that it had been discredited. IIRC the Court of Appeals ignored those arguments.
Consequently, in the context of a criminal prosecution with high burdens of proof and due process protections against punishment on the basis of vague language, I think it would be impossible to prosecute the Bush administration for torture crimes.
Thanks. I think it would be possible to prosecute myself, conviction is a different matter.
Some blacks were waterboarded by some Sheriffs awhile back. Seems to set a precedence for the definition of waterboarding. To me, anyway.
I think it’s moot. The politics of this all but prohibit.