This week the San Francisco Chronicle ran a series of articles entitled “Lion Heart,” in which they tell the story of an Iraqi father and child who are living in the States while the child, Saleh, undergoes a long series of surgeries and rehabilitation. These surgeries have been necessitated by the explosion of a piece of ordnance left on the ground in civilian territory by the United States. Scattered without the possibility of forethought, or aim, by a U.S. made cluster bomb; heavily utilized by the United States, each bomb scattering 1,000 bombletts indiscriminately from a high altitude.
The entire series is aimed at portraying the American establishment as a benevolent creation which is willing to spend a quoted half-million dollars on the rehabilitation of a single child. The series goes as far as to quote the child’s surgeon as saying that he felt “proud to be from a country that had the resources and the will to help a boy from a faraway land.” (No mention is made of how he may feel about the fact that his country also brought the child near death). As well as claiming without any attempt at substantiation that for Saleh’s father, Raheem, “the origin of the blast did not matter,” as if any father could be intransigent over having feelings toward any force that murdered one of his children and irrevocably maimed another one, Saleh’s brother.
News writing is a fairly formulaic thing, each article tasked with asking, who, what, when, where, why and how of any situation, and doing its best of answering these questions within that same article. This series however fails to ask any of these questions.
What it does do exceedingly well is posing conclusions to questions it does not ask, thereby asserting new realities without foundation and in contradiction to all logic and with no regard to the foundation of law that governs the situations that are described. In short, through omission, and selective factual reporting this article and news institution lies to the public, and creates a fantasy of imperial benevolence while describing murder and domination.
To expand the point it might be helpful to draw an analogy. Let us imagine for a second that this series was chronicling the recovery of a small child who had been maimed by an individual, a sociopath, who chose him for no reason other than convenience. This individual killed this child’s older brother, then tore off his hands, ripped open his stomach, and rammed a shard of metal into his eye socket. This individual then kept this child alive but prohibited him access to adequate medical facilities for days while he suffered pain unimaginable. When finally offering this child treatment for the wounds that they inflicted, they make it conditional on the child traveling to a country unknown and hostile to him.
Within our analogy the guilt, and out and out sadism of the individual perpetrator can go unstated, the public outcry would be palpable, and the death penalty urged for the culprit.
The Chronicle’s story however paints a picture, and asserts a reality that precludes the possibility of the assertion of guilt. In the reality created by this series only benevolence can be ascribed to the perpetrator of these crimes, and no less than Donald Rumsfeld is mentioned in a favorable light by noting that he approved the immigration of this child and his father into the U.S.
To get through this subterfuge we need to ask the same questions that the reported was tasked with in the first place but neglected. Who is responsible for this child’s injuries, and his brother’s death? What allowed them into his presence? What circumstances led up to this situation? Through what means can they be punished for their crimes?
Who is responsible for this child’s injuries, and his brother’s death?
The United States government is unquestionably responsible, and their conduct, illegal. The use of so-called cluster bombs, which cannot be aimed, and are dispersed by larger bombs over areas regularly in civilian areas, are understood to be illegal under international law. 129 UN Member States signed the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and Their Destruction. The U.S. refused to sign citing “special needs,” most notably their reliance of ordnance like the cluster bomb, which destroyed this child’s life, which are held to be illegal under this convention. To this date over 100 countries have officially ratified this Convention, the U.S. is alone among military powers in refusing to conform to international norms. In addition the use of ordnance like cluster bombs in civilian areas is in violation to several portions of international law that the US does officially recognize, notably the 1981 Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions On The Use Of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed To Be Excessively Injurious Or To Have Indiscriminate Effects, as well as 1978 Red Cross Fundamental Rules of International Humanitarian Law Applicable in Armed Conflicts.
What allowed them into his presence?
The United States was able to come into contact with this child and do him bodily harm through flagrant disregard for concepts of National Sovereignty, as well as black letter law. Without any justification whatsoever a large-scale military invasion was launched on his country.
The pretense employed was the need to prevent his government from developing nuclear weapons, and to destroy “WMD.” The legal premise was a UN Security Council Resolution 687, which entitled UN inspectors’ access to Iraqi military facilities, and the ability to destroy offending weapons, a resolution which Iraq was in compliance with. Having refused access to an American team of inspectors after they were found to be spying, but still allowing the rest of the inspection team. Despite Iraqi compliance with this resolution the United States claimed knowledge of illegal, but un-substantiate able, activities. While asserting this the U.S. had SC res.1441 passed promising the “harshest possible consequences” for Iraq if they did not submit to inspections even within their presidential palaces. To this date no offending weapons have been found.
These actions are understood to be illegal under the 1970 Declaration of the Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-Operation Among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations (esp. Chapters I, VI, and VII).
It is also of note that the United States is signatory to a 1993 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction. This Convention was ratified only after the Senate added the amendment that the “President may deny a request to inspect any facility in the United States.” Effectively nullifying the laws possibility for implementation, and a position far more bellicose than Iraq’s.
What circumstances led up to this situation?
Though the post World War I history of Iraq and issues of its sovereignty could be discussed as precursors to this conflict, and consequent injury to this child. It seems more reasonable to go back only to 1991.
In 1991 The U.S. began a war with Iraq over Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait (a US client state). Though Iraq’s occupation was notably more “legal” than Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, which has been deemed illegal by numerous UN resolutions, including SC res. 242 and 338. The U.S. demands that Iraq “immediately and unconditionally withdraw”. Iraq actually offers to do this provided Israel agree to comply with their international legal obligations by withdrawing from Palestinian land. The US refuses to negotiate and invades Iraq, the invasion itself made legal by SC res. 678.
What was not legal was U.S. atrocities while in combat, the most egregious offenses were. Aerial bombings of civilian areas like Baghdad, and Basra over which they unleashed 84,000 tons of ordnance; killing more than 20,000 civilians in Baghdad alone. The U.S. also carried out a campaign to obliterate “Iraq’s infrastructure” (power plants, water treatment facilities, and sanitation facilities). Then to finish “Operation Desert Storm” they murder 25,000 retreating from Kuwait on the so-called “Highway of Death” many of them soldiers attempting to comply with the law, but also many civilians.
In these actions the U.S. is guilty of violating (among other statutes) the 1923 Hague Rules Of Aerial Combat; 1978 Red Cross Fundamental Rules of International Humanitarian Law Applicable in Armed Conflicts; and the fact that retreating soldiers were killed is even in violation of the U.S.’s own Rules of Engagement since 1863.
Since Operation Desert Storm the U.S. has also imposed crippling sanctions against Iraq. In 1996 on May 12th, no less than Madeline Albright admitted on the TV show 60 Minutes that more than 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of 12 have died since 1991 as a result of U.S. orchestrated sanctions. She goes onto say that the Clinton administration believes that this horror is “worth the price”. Afterward UN Assistant Secretary General Denis Halliday, resigns from his position in protest of what he describes as America’s policy of “deliberate genocide” against the people of Iraq.
It can also be noted that though this Chronicle series goes out of its way to claim that the Iraqi clinics could not care for Saleh because they had no medications and had been abandoned since the American bombings. They are again selectively reporting. The real reason for un-stocked medical facilities is unquestionably U.S. sanctions, which prohibited items as simple as Aspirin to come into the country.
Through what means can they be punished for their crimes?
In the example I gave above, of the sociopath maiming the child and allowing him to suffer for days before granting him treatment. We would, each of us, unquestionably be asking such a question, and would, before even getting all of the facts assume malice of forethought on the part of the attacker. The illegality of their actions would be unquestioned even before a full understanding of the facts. In that circumstance a series of articles like the one run by the Chronicle, in which the perpetrator was placed in a rosy light would be a moral outrage. Any attempt to say that this individual was benevolent in caring for a portion of the harm done to this child, would be considered analogous to complicity in the crime. To take it deeper, what if this same individual had been directly responsible for the deaths of more than a half-million children like this one? What then would be said of the good will in spending money to keep this one alive?
The series though does not allow its readers to come to these rational conclusions instead it inserts a set of events whose positive, fictional, outcome suit its own worldview and interests, both financial, and cultural.
In creating this fiction and presenting it as fact it forwards the assertion of fantasy as reality that has carried us this far along the path to global Imperialist/ White Supremacist domination. By neglecting to inform the citizenry of the unquestionable illegality of its government’s actions it advances the political interests of the antagonist, and becomes in one way of thinking complicit in their crimes. For it can hardly be said that those people tasked with bringing us our news are uninformed of the tenants of law, or of responsible journalism.
To come back to our final unanswered question of punishment for crimes committed we are left with no simple answers. There are international legal institutions, the ICC & ICJ which can be tasked with implementation of legal proceedings against rogue nations like the U.S., or tribunals like Nuremberg which have been convened to deal with massive illegality like U.S. actions. The problem here is that though the U.S. has enforced the rule of law on other nations it has pronounced itself unbound by the ICC & ICJ and has declared that it will not allow one single U.S. citizen to be held legally accountable by such an institution.
Historically it has ignored ICJ rulings, like the one finding it criminally liable for mining Nicaragua’s harbor, or its finding that the U.S. was in violation of humanitarian law for the conditions of its prisons, just to name two of many. This circumstance is not likely to change soon, with U.S. holding veto power within the UN.
Until a movement arises nationally and internationally which challenges U.S. hegemony it will continue to flout the law; while simultaneously enforcing it upon others when it serves their purpose. So at this moment in history for all of those individuals interested in justice and an end to U.S. illegalities, there can be no simple answers. Except that without effort and struggle nothing will change.
Herein lies the difference between examining the actions of a sociopathic individual, and examining the actions of a sociopathic government; and the strength of the White Supremacist fantasy, created in part by institutions like the Chronicle.
In the case of the individual every reader would be relatively comfortable in assuming that the aggressor would be dealt with; and that this meting out of justice would not require anything of them. Whether or not they would be dealt with fairly is a question for another time.
In contrast, when dealing with a system of governance, instead of an individual much more is demanded, and it is understood that justice will not be had without significant struggle and loss from all sides. As well as a significant lowering of the comfort level for many U.S. citizens who benefit from the illegalities of their government., and the subjugation of the third world.
So much easier in these cases to accept the fantasy, and allow the omission of reality to go unquestioned.
To read the articles being critiqued visit
Ward Churchill’s book “On The Justice of Roosting Chickens” was heavily sourced in this article.