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How Bush Betrayed Our Troops

by Paul Rockwell
Oakland, California

San Diego protest (3-23-2003)
People in San Diego protest (3-23-2003) the U.S./British invasion of Iraq. Photo by Nic Paget-Clarke.
Peace activists are often asked to show support for American troops abroad. Yet it is the Bush administration, not the peace movement, that betrays our men and women in uniform.

The cutting of taxes for the super-rich in time of war; Republican attempts to cut disability payments for soldiers; the Pentagon's ongoing attempts to hide accountability for Gulf War Syndrome, due in part to the lethal chemicals which American firms sold to Saddam Hussein in the 80s; the high-profit sale of arms to dictators who often turn their weapons against U.S. personnel; the Pentagon's use of depleted uranium, a radioactive material known to create environmental destruction, birth defects, disabilities and death even years after wars conclude -- these are just some of the manifestations of reckless disregard for the dignity, health, welfare, legal rights and conscience of American troops at home and abroad.

The betrayal of American troops under the Bush administration is profound. It concerns nothing less than the social contract that makes us one nation.

American youth enlist for military service because they expect the President to uphold his oath of office, to issue all his orders, carry out all operations, within the Constitution and the treaties to which the U.S. is bound. To use troops as pawns of conquest betrays the very aim and meaning of military service: defense of U.S. sovereignty from outside attack.

Undeclared War is an Indignity for Soldiers

The ways in which President Bush defies his oath of office, violating the trust of American soldiers, are manifold.

Bush refuses, as President Lyndon Johnson refused before him, to provide American troops with a formal declaration of war from Congress, as required by the Constitution. The war powers clause in the Constitution protects all soldiers as well as civilians from Presidential abuse of power. In itself a war declaration does not make any war legitimate. But a formal declaration is a precondition to a legal war. "In the Constitutional sense," wrote Justice William O. Douglas, "a foreign nation is not an enemy until and unless war has been declared against it." In October, Congress unlawfully ceded its war-power responsibility to the President, an act as cowardly as the infamous Bay of Tonkin Resolution that launched the holocaust of Indochina.

American soldiers have a right to feel betrayed. Men and women in uniform accept military service because the Constitution affords them a right to participate -- through their representatives -- in declaring war. A war that is neither clear nor just enough to be declared by Congress is hardly clear enough to claim the lives of our men and women in uniform. The actions of Bush also violate the Fifth Amendment, depriving soldiers "of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."

Preemptive, undeclared war is generating resistance among some rank-and-file soldiers, military personnel who are not pacifists or conscientious objectors. Joined by military families and 12 members of the U.S. Congress, a group of U.S. service men and women recently challenged Presidential abuse of power. While the Circuit Court threw out their case, refusing to protect the separation of powers, the soldiers' campaign continues. Charles Richardson, whose son served in Desert Shield, put it: The war is illegal. "The President is not a King." Nancy Lisson, co-founder of 'Military Families Speak Out," says that military families have a special role in calling attention to the lawless acts of President Bush. "It is our loved ones who will be on the battle front, our loved ones who will risk injury and death, and who will return scarred from having injured innocent civilians." Some of the soldiers who founded "Military Families" are stationed in the Persian Gulf, some served in Desert Storm. Others are on active duty in Afghanistan.

A group of 698 servicemen and women, from soldiers on active duty to veterans from the Vietnam war, recently published an appeal to American troops and citizens: "In the last Gulf War, as troops, we were ordered to murder from a safe distance. We remember the road to Basra -- the Highway of Death -- where we were ordered to kill fleeing Iraqis. We bulldozed trenches, burying people alive. The use of depleted uranium weapons left the battlefields radioactive. One in four Gulf War veterans is disabled. There must come a time when being a citizen of the world takes precedence over being a soldier of a nation. Now is that time."

American Soldiers Helped Create the U.N. Charter

In the Constitution, all treaties are part of the supreme law of the land. The use of American troops in defiance of the U.N. Charter is a degradation of military service. Bush is subjecting our troops -- once viewed as defenders of the sovereignty of states -- to condemnation of world opinion. It is a humiliation.

With the invasion of Iraq in defiance of the U.N., Bush has forced American troops to violate everything for which their grandparents fought in World War II against Hitler. American soldiers sacrificed their lives in order to end the scourge of empire. Even before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Americans were outraged by Hitler's premeditated bombing of the city of Guernica, his attempt to shock and awe the people of Spain into submission.

It was not just Hitler the individual, notorious for his arrogance, ultimatums, and contempt for the League of Nations, that Americans rejected. It was the menace of Hitler's imperial ideology -- the doctrine that big nations are superior to lesser states, that small, insignificant nations have no sovereign rights, that great nations are exempt from the rule of law -- that aroused the world to fight for its survival.

U.S. soldiers
U.S. soldiers display their equipment at an air show at the Miramar base in California, 1998. Photo by Nic Paget-Clarke.
The allied victory in World War II, brought about a new world order of treaties and international law. The lofty principles of the United Nations – the sovereignty of states, the right of all peoples to self-determination, prepared the way for the end of colonialism, the end of European rule over countries of color. Our parents fought in World War II in order to measure human rights by one yardstick.

To treat the United Nations with contempt today is to betray the American soldiers who gave their lives for a more peaceful, democratic world. The Bush doctrine of preemptive war, the doctrine under which our troops now occupy Iraq, was explicitly repudiated by the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal in 1946. As a presiding Judge between 1945 and 1949, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson wrote: "War is utterly renounced and condemned as an instrument of policy." The Tribunal concluded: "To initiate a war of aggression is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole." In 1953 when his advisors mentioned the concept of preemptive war, President Dwight Eisenhower (who led the military campaign against Hitler in Europe), remarked: "All of us have heard this term 'preventive war' since the earliest days of Hitler...I wouldn't even listen to anyone seriously that came in and talked about such a thing."

How far we have come from the days when the bombing of Guernica was universally denounced as a war crime. That which was outrageous for our parents becomes -- in the 16-day bombing of Baghdad, where women and children huddled in closets and cellars -- a mere TV documentary on the triumph of technology.

And with each new stage of empire-the testing of new weapons on defenseless populations; the use of riot gas in defiance of the Geneva Conventions; the revival of cluster bombs and depleted uranium; forged letters submitted to the U.N. as evidence; wiretaps in the homes of U.N. officials; blackmail and bribery of small governments to betray the will of their own people; the dumping of journalists who dare to tell the truth; American denunciations of foreign TV for showing footage of the actual carnage of the U.S. invasion -- with each new phase of empire and realpolitik, we all inch closer and closer to the total breakdown of moral constraint. We descend toward fascism.

And when the peace movement says that the best way to support American troops is to bring them home, the return to America is more than a geographical transfer. It's a return to American decency, to the Constitution that protects soldiers and civilians alike; to the treaties that are part of the supreme law of the land. It's a return to the attitude that spawned the Declaration of Independence -- "a decent respect for the opinions of mankind." It is time for our troops to return to the basic principle of military service -- defensive necessity. For it is defensive necessity alone that makes military service noble and legitimate. And Presidents who violate the law, who go beyond the right of national self-defense, have only themselves to blame for the repercussions on our soldiers and our country.

It is our responsibility to protect our troops from the Presidential abuse of power so that their forefathers shall not have died in vain.

Paul Rockwell is a writer in the Bay Area

Published in In Motion Magazine April 7, 2003.

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