Thursday, June 16, 2005

We Have Friends And They Can Help Us

As this lonely and nearly frozen voice has been saying for a long time, we still have friends in the rest of the world, and they are desperate to help us. Many months ago, I was saying "our friends would love to help us, but first we have to be seen helping ourselves, or at least trying to do so." But I didn't have a link -- or anything else -- to suppport this assertion.

It's been "a feeling thing" or a "reading between the lines thing". But it's also been very strong, and it's been reinforced periodically by my frequent excursions into the foreign news media. I've never found anything explicit; but I keep finding hints everywhere. It's in the tone of voice or the choice of words in radio broadcasts from the top of Europe to the bottom of Africa; it's between the lines of news reports and editorials and blogs from Asia to Australia. And I've been trying to grasp it, and trying to talk about it; but I have no serious sources and no way to prove that I know what I'm talking about. And in fact, this time at least, I don't know what I'm talking about. I know what I'm hearing and feeling. That's what I know.

But lately I've been reading two people who do know what they're talking about, and they're saying the same things I've been saying, only with knowledge rather than feeling, and with supporting details rather than simply intuition. Thus it has been a great pleasure for me to read Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith: How the World Can Help Americans Halt Bush Administration War Crimes, from which I wish to highlight several key passages:
At one level, the World Tribunal on Iraq (WTI) functions as a ledger to record U.S. crimes in Iraq. According to its mission statement, it aims to “challenge the silence around aggression against Iraq” and “record wrongs, violations, and crimes as well as suffering, resistance, and silenced voices.” Just as in 1943 when the Allied troops set up the United Nations War Crimes Commission to act as a repository for war crimes evidence and compile a list of the accused, so the WTI has heard and documented the testimony of victims in Fallujah, archived video footage of journalists, and tracked the command responsibility of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. This record provides an important evidence trail for the numerous court challenges both in the United States and at the ICC against the Bush administration.

At another level, the WTI plays an important role in framing the issues for the global resistance movement to U.S. aggression. By speaking of the Iraq War in terms of Geneva Conventions, human rights treaties, and other aspects of international law, the WTI addresses all those who believe that states must act within legal restraints.
A new and unexpected convergence of forces is developing in the United States around the Bush administration’s contempt for both international law and the U.S. Constitution. It includes not only peace and human rights activists but conservative constitutionalists and retired generals. The WTI offers an opportunity for people around the world to align with these new “legal allies” forming in the United States.

This movement can be traced to the law cases brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights claiming that U.S. detention of prisoners in Guantanamo without appeal to a court violated the most fundamental principles of the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court rejected Bush administration claims that the president as military commander-in-chief was in effect above the law and could not be restrained by Congress or the courts. This has been followed by a suit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a powerful organization whose members include a wide swath of the mainstream legal profession. The ACLU sued Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on behalf of Iraqi citizens who have been brutalized and deprived of their rights by U.S. forces. Amazingly, a group of retired generals are co-counsels in the suit.
The Bush administration maintains that the president as commander-in-chief has the authority to attack other countries without Congressional approval and to torture prisoners without constraint by courts. The American people do not accept this abrogation of the Constitution and the rule of law. Nor do they accept the destruction of basic civil liberties in the name of the war against terror. In fact, 372 local governments have passed resolutions demanding that Congress bring the “Patriot Act” in line with the Constitution.

Americans tend to grant themselves and their government a presumption of innocence. While the rest of the world generally takes for granted the illegality of the U.S. attack on Iraq, the criminal brutality of the occupation, and the responsibility of top U.S. officials for torture in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, the American people have been shielded from that knowledge by the government and the media. The evidence of crime in high places is only gradually trickling into the consciousness of the American people. International voices can help accelerate that process.
The rest of the world can have a huge impact on American political dynamics if it can communicate simultaneously a rejection of the policies of the American government and a desire to work with the American people to build a better, safer world.
The war crimes issue also provides an opportunity for people all over the world to demand that their own countries end complicity with U.S. war crimes. The withdrawal of Spain, Poland, and other countries from the “coalition of the willing” has already undermined support for the Iraq War among Americans. Further moves, such as reversing ICC waivers, supporting national and international investigations of U.S. war crimes, diplomatic protests against abuse of nationals, and withdrawal from all forms of military cooperation, can validate Americans’ fears that Bush policies are leading to a dangerous isolation.

Examples are already cropping up all over the world. A parliamentary investigation in Sweden recently concluded that CIA operatives violated Swedish law by subjecting prisoners seized there to “degrading and inhuman treatment;” they can and should be prosecuted in Swedish courts. And U.S. threats to cut $10 million in military aid if Kenya refuses to sign an ICC waiver are meeting stiff resistance.
Such actions, multiplied world wide and communicated to the American people through every possible channel, can provide powerful support for those in the United States struggling to investigate and halt U.S. war crimes. The goal of such action should not be to express hatred for Americans (something the Bush administration can easily utilize for its own purposes) but to convey disapproval of the actions of the U.S. government. The purpose is not to harm the American people, but rather to help them overcome an incipient autocratic regime and hold their government accountable to the rule of law.
Ahhh, what to say? It's a shade more tangible than the tone of voice in a radio broadcast; that's for sure. It's more hopeful than most of what I've been reading lately. And it's more constructive than most of what I've been writing!

Please read the whole essay. Please point your friends in its direction, especially -- if you're American -- your foreign friends. This is so important:
The goal of such action should not be to express hatred for Americans (something the Bush administration can easily utilize for its own purposes) but to convey disapproval of the actions of the U.S. government.
Thanks to Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith. Thanks to Foreign Policy In Focus. And thanks to all our friends, wherever they may be.

It's in their best interests to help us. It's in our best interests to help them. As long as we continue to struggle against our criminal government, we will continue to have friends in the rest of the world.

If you'd like more, start here:

Reclaiming the Prophetic Voice By John Humphries (April 2005)

An “Affirmative Measure” to Help Prevent the Commission of War Crimes by the Bush Administration By Jeremy Brecher (December 2004)

Terminating the Bush Juggernaut By Jeremy Brecher (May 2003)

The New Global Peace Movement vs. the Bush Juggernaut By Jeremy Brecher (May 28, 2003)