Thinking about Nuremberg and Baghdad

Are Americans really prepared to let Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney–and their hapless captive, President Bush–lead our nation into a criminal war with Iraq?

It would be easy to do. Americans like war. Even more than baseball, it’s our national pastime.

We thrill to the reports of “precision bombing.” We tingle with American pride, feeling an almost sexual satisfaction, as we gaze at the images of devastation wrought upon a dark-skinned people in a faraway land.

Yet, in truth, our addiction to violence is our national shame. That addiction leads too many of us to find justification for the violence that is racism, the violence that is poverty, the violence that some men inflict on women, the violence that calls itself capital punishment and masquerades as justice.

In the international arena, this addiction leads Americans to far too easily countenance our government’s use of force. When Washington declares that war is necessary, mindless assent becomes a patriotic obligation.

And now our figurehead president–and the always-obsequious media–are attempting to prepare the public for another war on Iraq. The latest excuse (for it changes over time) is the possibility that Saddam Hussein will acquire so-called weapons of mass destruction and the further possibility that, at some indefinite time in the future, he might provide these hypothetical weapons to potential terrorists, perhaps ones not yet born.

The allegations about Iraq are fanciful. Ask people who actually know. Scott Ritter, former chief U.N. weapons inspector (and former U.S. Marine), calls Iraq “America’s phantom menace.” Hans von Sponeck, former U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, reports that “Iraq is not a military threat to anyone,” and that “all the conjectures about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction lack evidence.” [1]

More fundamentally, Iraq is a sovereign nation. It has the right to arm itself, even acquire weapons of mass destruction, if it so chooses.

Yet the U.S. behaves as though we have the authority to force “regime change” in Baghdad. Since the days of the Monroe Doctrine, Americans have been captivated by the inexplicable conceit of possessing a God-given right to shape the world as we see fit.

Yet, legally at least, another U.S. innovation stands in the way of an American attack on Iraq: the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal. One of the principal crimes with which Nazi officials were charged, and for which they were hanged, was the “waging of wars of aggression.” The tribunal considered “wars in violation of international treaties, agreements, and assurances” as wars of aggression. [2]

An American attack on Iraq would be such a war. Because an attack would violate the United Nations Charter–a multinational treaty–an assault would come directly within the tribunal’s understanding of a war of aggression.

(If Bush were to glance at the Charter, he would see that Article 2 requires member countries to conduct their affairs “on the principle of the sovereign equality” of all members. The same article requires member countries to “refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”) [3]

In fact, the circumstances surrounding the proposed attack on Iraq bear an uncanny resemblance to the depiction, in the tribunal’s judgment, of Germany’s 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union.

Rejecting the Nazi officials’ defense that the attack was justified because “the Soviet Union was contemplating an attack upon Germany and making preparations to that end,” the tribunal found it “impossible to believe that this view was ever honestly entertained.” [4]

Today, it is impossible to believe that the U.S. government honestly entertains the notion that Iraq poses a threat to us. The immeasurable disparity in power between the two countries alone negates the existence of any threat.

And just as the Nuremberg tribunal concluded that the purpose of Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union was “to crush the U.S.S.R. as a political and military power,” so does our government hope to crush Iraq politically and militarily.

Is following in Nazi footsteps really what Americans want? [5]


[1]For Scott Ritter’s comments, see Scott Ritter, “Blinkered Bush Has Got it All Wrong,” The Mirror, March 14, 2002.

For other commentary by Ritter, see:

Scott Ritter, “Iraq: The Phantom Threat,” Christian Science Monitor, January 23, 2002. Available at

Scott Ritter, “The Bioterror Road Doesn’t Lead to Iraq,” Los Angeles Times, October 12, 2001. Available at

For Hans von Sponeck’s statements, see Hans von Sponeck and Denis Halliday, “A ‘New’ Iraq Policy: What About International Law and Compassion?,” May 29, 2000. Available at

For some of von Sponeck’s other commentary, see:

Hans von Sponeck, “Iraq: There Are Alternatives to a Military Option,” January 10, 2002. Available at

Larry Everest, “Hans von Sponeck: The Inside Story of U.S. Sanctions on Iraq,” Revolutionary Worker #1132, December 23, 2001. Available at

Hans von Sponeck and Denis Halliday, “The Hostage Nation,” November 29, 2001. Available at

Interview with Hans von Sponeck recorded by Grant Wakefield and Miriam Ryle at the UN Building in Baghdad on April 5, 1999. Available

[2] The entire text of the Nuremberg proceedings is available online at Yale University’s Avalon Project. See

[3] For the text of the Charter, see

[4] The quotations from the tribunal’s judgment on the charges relating to Germany’s attack on the U.S.S.R. are taken from

[5] These are not the ravings of a lunatic. Walter J. Rockler, a Washington lawyer who was a prosecutor at Nuremberg, has made a similar argument about NATO’s bombing in the former Yugoslavia. See