By Sean GonsalvesCape Cod Times
November 12, 2002
International law is a relatively new, emerging code of conduct, but to dismiss it as irrelevant, as the attack-Iraq-cabal does, is dangerous foolishness.
Last week, I spoke with Ret. Lt. Col. Gary Solis, an expert in "the law of armed conflict." He teaches law and, until a year ago, he was a West Point Academy instructor.
"I know the argument well. If Saddam Hussein captured some of our guys, he would never follow the Geneva Conventions. In the real world, there are no rules in war. International law can't be enforced. There is no international law.
"But the fact is: the world community, slowly but surely, is erecting international standards. To those who dismiss it I'd ask: If there's no enforceable international law, then how did 27 Marines get convicted for committing war crimes in Vietnam? International law is the reason Milosevic is in the dock right now and if he doesn't get killed first, Saddam will be in the dock soon, too."
I called to ask him what military law says about the bombing of Iraq in the 1991 war - a blueprint laid down by Col. John Warden and likely to be followed in any future action against Iraq.
In military law, he said, there are four core principles "bound up like a baseball where the threads overlap" - the principle of distinguishing between combatants and civilians; the principle of proportionality; the principle of military necessity and the principle of (avoiding) unnecessary suffering.
While saying a "strong case" could be made for "military necessity" for the bombing in Desert Storm, he stopped short of any judgment as to whether the industrial infrastructure that was targeted in the war was in accordance with international law. "It's a judgment call...Collateral damage is a part of modern warfare."
The fact that Lt. Col. Solis and I were having this discussion is a testament to the fact that, in terms of professional standards, the United States has the finest military tradition on the planet. But human nature being what it is, transgressions are made by even the finest. Truth demands we confront this and justice requires a morally responsible response.
And the truth is, as professor Thomas Nagy's research has unveiled, Gulf War planners intentionally bombed Iraq's civilian infrastructure, which is specifically banned under Protocol 1, Article 54, paragraph 2 of the Geneva Conventions, and under international law, such military action is considered a war crime.
And this is what Iraq-sanctions advocates don't seem to get. They say: Saddam alone is to blame for the suffering of the Iraqi people because, instead of using the oil-for-food money to buy food, he's using it to buy weapons.
Problem is, as UNICEF has thoroughly documented and as an independent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine warned 19 months after the Gulf War, the damage caused by the bombing has led to a 11-year long, monthly death toll of 5,000 Iraqi children under the age of 5.
The leading cause of death for those babies is not malnourishment but water-borne diseases due to the bombing of Iraq's civilian infrastructure. What makes the pro-sanctions argument so intellectually dishonest is that war planners don't even deny this.
Check out page 26 of the May 1998 U.S. Air Force Doctrine Document 2-1.2. "The electrical attacks proved extremely effective...The loss of electricity shut down the capital's water treatment plants and led to a public health crisis from raw sewage dumped in the Tigris River."
Lt. Col. Kenneth Rizer, in the May 2001 issue of "Air & Space Power Chronicles," elaborates on the strategic effectiveness of the bombings, acknowledging it has caused a massive epidemic of water-borne diseases that killed "100,000 civilians and a doubling of the infant mortality rate."
To Rizer's credit, not only does he discuss the bombing of dual-use targets in the context of the Just War Ethic and international law, he has the guts to ask the tough questions, unlike the chickenhawks.
"Given such effects on non-combatants, are electrical power facilities legitimate military targets? Must air campaign planners weigh these indirect effects in their target selection process?"
So while military techno-wizards try to impress us with the accuracy of precision-guided bombs, the more important issue is: What are those bombs destroying and how can the Security Council authorize the destruction of civilian infrastructure in violation of the very principles the United Nations is supposed to uphold?
Democrats are still licking their wounds from their poor performance at the polls. If more than a handful had spoke the truth about Iraq, they would have at least shown voters they're not the GOP followers they look like to the rest of us.
In the meantime, ordinary people must be the ones to ask probing questions about this looming invasion of Iraq. The war party, and the "liberal" press, apparently aren't up to the task.
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