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Open Letter to Congress
Dear Members of Congress:
Fifty eight thousand of your fellow citizens died during the Vietnam War in an attempt by the United States Government to impose its political will on the people of Vietnam. The lesson that the 58,000 paid for with their lives is that the United States can not, and should not, hope to impose its political will by military force in foreign lands when neither the people of the foreign country nor the people of the United States wants it. The parallels between the Vietnam War and the war in Iraq should be well-known to you, and the lesson of Vietnam should be one that you are loath to repeat, both for its effects on your fellow citizens and for its effects on the people of Iraq.
During the George Herbert Walker Bush administration and the Clinton administration, the United States was responsible for the deaths of a million Iraqis through direct warfare and UN action that starved people or deprived them of the means necessary for life. According to US government documents uncovered by Thomas Nagy, action we took included bombing power plants with the intention of disabling water treatment facilities with the explicit intention of causing disease and death among the Iraqi populace. When confronted with a UN estimate of 500,000 Iraqi children dead as the result of our actions, Madeline Albright said that was a price worth paying to contain Saddam Hussein. Population projections for Iraq have had to be revised downward because of the actions we have taken, and governmental experts in demography have been fired or otherwise caused discomfort as the result of their attempts to quantify unpleasant truths about the results of our actions.
The million Iraqi dead should be foremost in our minds when we think about the war in Iraq. In Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos we were responsible for between 2 and 4 million deaths, and we the people do not want to cause another 1 to 3 million Iraqi deaths. One tenth of the number of Iraqi deaths would be 100,000. Name any city in the US of that size and consider how we would feel if all its inhabitants were killed by a foreign power claiming to act in the best interests of the world. A million people is the population of Tucson. If someone killed 10-50% of the population of Tucson, it would be a tragedy, and we must have the humanity and common sense to see that it is equally a tragedy when we cause such deaths elsewhere.
The Vietnam War didn't start with Lyndon Johnson, but its violence intensified during his administration after he deliberately lied to Congress and convinced its members to give him an overly broad authorization to use force in Vietnam. The Tonkin Gulf Resolution was based on the lie that North Vietnamese boats had attacked the USS Maddox without any reason or provocation. The truth was that South Vietnamese forces with the knowledge of the administration had been conducting raids on islands close enough to the Maddox for the North Vietnamese to reasonably believe that the Maddox was aiding the attacks. For thirty days prior to the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, the administration sought to secretly escalate the situation in order to get authorization for the war it wanted independent of any real bellicosity on the part of the North Vietnamese. Even if events had been as the administration portrayed them, the escalation of the war that followed was disproportionate to any real threat that might have existed. You have a parallel here in that George Bush hoped to invade Iraq before he lied about Saddam Hussein possessing WMD's in Iraq. There is also a parallel in that even if many of George Bushs's claims had been true, they would not have constituted a direct threat to the US worthy of the commitment of ground troopsd to invade Iraq.
The lies are legion, but let me focus on one: the dossier Tony Blair presented to parliament on February 3rd, 2003 as evidence that Saddam Hussein was concealing WMD's. The dossier, entitled "Iraq: Its Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception, and Intimidation," was plagiarized from an article by Ibrahim al Marashi entitled "Iraq's Security and Intelligence Network: A Guide and Analysis," which was published in the September 2002 issue of the Middle East Review of International Affairs. The article was about the period between August 1990 and January 1991, and Robert Fisk and other journalists immediately reported the facts of the plagiarism. The use of plagiarized 12 year old documentation as current intelligence should have made the entire world question the veracity of both the Bush and Blair administrations. As Joseph Wilson said of the Niger uranium lie, which was ostensibly based on British intelligence, it should have raised the question of what other lies were being told.
The standard by which the president and his minions should be judged is whether they told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Every allegation that the president and his minions made that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction was immediately refuted by competent experts, and the president bears responsibility whether he told lies out of his own mouth or whether he failed to refute inaccuracies in the 12 year old material that Tony Blair presented to the British public as fresh intelligence. The president should have trumpeted the failure of British intelligence to find real justfication for the ground invasion of Iraq because it mirrored ours. We now know that members of the Bush Administration refused to accept the reality of intelligence reports that didn't support the use of ground troops in Iraq, and we know that the Bush administration worked with the British to fabricate intelligence to show a reason to go to war rather than to act on real intelligence that indicated a real threat.
In a repeat of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, you authorized George Bush to use force against Iraq on the basis of lies. We know the Tonkin Gulf Resolution was based on lies because Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, and we know that George Bush and his administration lied because of the Downing Street memos and statements by adminstration officials:
1) The Downing Street memos detail meetings between British and American officials and state explicitly that the president desired war and that intelligence and facts were to be fixed around his desire;
2) Paul Wolfowitz said in an interview with Vanity Fair that there were three reasons to go to war and that WMDs and 911 were chosen because the third option, democratization of Iraq, was not worth the life of one American soldier; and
3) Of all the allegations the adminstration made, all have been shown to be lies, prevarications, or some variety of untruth.
Please keep in mind that regardless of the lies George Bush and his minions told, you in Congress are ultimately responsible for the executive branch because you write the laws of the land and you disburse the funds for their execution. George Bush and other members of his administration deserve to be impeached and tried, and they deserve to be put before criminal courts or courts-martial as appropriate, but you bear responsibility for their actions. Your colleague John Kerry said in August 2004 that even knowing what he knew then about the lack of WMD's in Iraq, he would still vote for the war if he had to vote again. In other words, he would vote for a lie, as he continues to do every time he votes to continue funding the war, and as you do every time you vote to fund it. The lies themselves should be enough for you to order immediate withdrawal from Iraq, but you insist on continuing the March of Folly, yet another parallel with Vietnam.
We committed crimes in Vietnam, and we're committing crimes in Iraq. Colin Powell was spokesman for the unit that committed the massacre at My Lai. We don't know which of the atrocities we've committed in Iraq will come to be as notorious as My Lai, but two likely candidates are the destruction of Fallujah and the torture at Abu Graib. In Vietnam, military age males were killed or tortured for the mere fact of their status and their presence in their own country. In Fallujah, where we destroyed or damaged 100% of the buildings in a wanton fashion devoid of military necessity, we denied military age males the possibility of surrendering or leaving the city before the assault; in effect, we denied them quarter, which is a war crime, as was the wanton destruction they sought to escape. The torture at Abu Graib, and no one has any right to call it anything else, also had its parallels in Vietnam, where US forces tortured, directed the torture, and tolerated the torture of prisoners held by ourselves and our allies. Our troops called the Vietnamese gooks, now they call the Iraqis hajjis. Just as the atrocities of Vietnam haunt us, the atrocities of Iraq haunt us, or they should. What we did in Vietnam is hateful, and what we're doing in Iraq is hateful, too. When Richard Durbin compared torture committed by US forces to the excesses of the Nazi regime, Pol Pot, and the gulag, he was right, and the people who should apologize are you who allow the evil to continue without punishing its perpetrators.
It is time for the crimes to stop. Just as with Vietnam, a point has been reached where even proponents of the war know that there is nothing to be gained by continuing it, but responsible parties in Congress have not mustered the moral courage necessary to put an end to it. Millions of your fellow citizens took to the streets to protest the ground invasion before it started, and millions want it to end. It is unfortunate that you in Congress did not consider how to withdraw from Iraq before you allowed George Bush to send troops there, but expertise exists, both within and outside the military, to help you. Stan Goff of Veterans for Peace suggests that commanders given orders to remove their troops from Iraq within thirty days would be able to find a way to do so. Avoidance of micro-management seems like a good idea, so any law you draft to end the war should be simple. Perhaps you can call it the Sheehan Resolution, to honor soldiers such as Casey Sheehan who were forced to fight on the basis of lies and to honor people such as his mother Cindy Sheehan, who objects to the lies and is fighting to stop the losses caused by them:
A Resolution to End Military Operations on the Territory of Iraq
The Congress of the United States hereby commands the president and the secretary of defense to withdraw all US troops, including private personnel under contract, from the territory of Iraq within 45 days of the passage of this resolution.
Military flights over the territory of Iraq for purposes other than intelligence-gathering are forbidden from the day the removal of american ground troops is effected.
I have never written legislation, so I don't know what you have to do to change appropriations formerly committed to operations in Iraq, but if I had access to a competent staff attorney, as some of you must, I bet I could come up with a reasonable draft in a couple of days. While the Vietnam War was ended by cutting funding for it, we the people hope that you will end the Iraq War with a law that asserts the supremacy of Congress in a way that makes it plain that there is no presidential abuse of power that cannot be directly stopped by the will of we the people whom you represent.
Another parallel between the war in Iraq and the Vietnam War is that citizens, including soldiers, are protesting. Kevin Benderman is now serving a 15 month sentence in a military prison because his superiors refused to respect army regulations and consider his application for conscientious objector status. As Howard Levy did during the Vietnam War, Sgt. Benderman would like to invoke the Nuremburg Principles to argue that the war itself is illegal. Just as Howard Levy's argument failed, Sgt. Benderman's argument is likely to fail because Congress authorized presidential action in a general way and has continued to provide funds for continued action.
Just as Howard Levy did and every soldier does, Kevin Benderman took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution. What is Sgt. Benderman to do, what is any soldier to do, when Congress sends him off to fight in an illegal war predicated upon lies? He is in the position of Antigone, where he either disobeys the fundamental law of the land in the service of officially-sanctioned crimes, or he goes to jail for refusing to take part in actions he believes would violate the Constitution he is sworn to defend. Kevin Benderman has taken the Constitution and his duty to it much more seriously than you have. He knows that compared to the suffering of the Iraqi people who would be his victims, imprisonment is a mere inconvenience. Why do you not see the difference between true suffering and mere inconvenience and remove the troops from Iraq immediately?
It is time for the war and the crimes that accompany it to come to an end. As with the Vietnam War, a time has come where the only reason we're continuing the war is to satisfy the political aesthetics of a minority in power who feel that the United States will suffer damage to its reputation by withdrawing. At one point in the Vietnam War, James McNaughton, a Johnson administration official, wrote that the reason for being in Vietnam was 70% to maintain the reputation of the US as a guarantor, 20% to avoid humiliating defeat, and 10% to help the people in Vietnam. What are the reasons for our being in Iraq now? Can anyone articulate them in a specific way that would allow the average soldier to judge whether the objective was attainable and worth the possible expenditure of his or her life? The two main reasons for going to war, a connection between 911 and Saddam Hussein and the possession by Saddam Hussein of WMD's are known to be false, and the third possible reason, the democratization of Iraq, is held by administration officials not to be worth the life of one American soldier. Paul Wolfowitz said that the democratization of Iraq was not worth the life of one American soldier, so why is Cindy Sheehan accused of being unpatriotic when she says that her son's life was thrown away for no good purpose?
Was George Bush being patriotic and supporting the troops when he parodied the search for WMD's in his skit at the National Press Club by looking under chairs and acting surprised that he didn't find anything? Casey Sheehan had as much chance of finding WMD's in Iraq as George Bush did under chairs at the National Press Club, and George Bush knew that before Casey went to Iraq. Casey died supporting a weapons inspection team after David Kay had all ready conceded that there were no WMD's in Iraq, and it isn't funny. George Bush's skit shows unparallelled contempt for the troops under his command, and he should be reprimanded as a lower-ranking commander would be if he ridiculed the deaths of the soldiers serving under him. The deaths of American soldiers are not funny, and you in Congress ridicule our soldiers by allowing the president to ridicule them.
Not only do you allow the president to ridicule the troops, but you also fail to provide the troops with basic support. When Thomas Wilson asked Donald Rumsfeld "Why do we have to scrounge in garbage dumps for scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to uparmor our vehicles," he asked a question that you in Congress should answer. Eric Ayon was killed in a humvee 3 days after he was the sole survivor of an attack on a humvee where 8 of his fellow soldiers were killed. He died, and they died, because the administration was too cheap, and you were too cheap, to outfit his humvee with bulletproof glass. Have any of you seen Patrick Resta's photos of plywood used as armor for trucks that carry troops? How can any of you in good conscience leave troops in the field with inadequate equipment after the reason for sending them there has been shown to be a lie?
There is no good reason for our presence in Iraq, and Camilo Melija sums up our position best:
1) There were no weapons of mass destruction;
2) There was no connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein
3) We're not preventing terror or protecting the US from terror
4) We're not helping the Iraqi people and the Iraqi people don't want us there.; and
5)There isn't one good reason for American soldiers to be on Iraqi territory shooting people and being shot at.
American troops are not going to create the conditions for peace and stability in Iraq no matter how long they're there. The civil war that is sometimes mentioned as a reason to stay in Iraq is all ready in progress, and the presence of American troops is doing little to moderate the murders and kidnappings that are a normal part of Iraqi life. For you who wonder why Iraqi fighters who oppose the occupation kill their fellow citizens who apply for work in the security forces, consider the parallels between Vietnamization and Iraqification. When the US pursued Vietnamization, true collaborators were often killed by National Liberation Front forces and many members of the South Vietnamese command structure were National Liberation Front or Communist agents. The Phoenix program, the illegal American program of assassination whose purpose was ostensibly to fight such infiltration, resulted in the pointless murder of many innocent civilians in brutal ways. It is likely that many Iraqis now entering the security forces are either members of militias or in some way allied with forces that oppose the American presence in Iraq. Just as in Vietnam, no amount of American political terror is going to make Iraq a peaceful place to live for its inhabitants. Just as with Vietnam, the question of civil war and what would happen upon the withdrawal of American troops is one that should have been answered before the troops were sent. Sending the troops created a no-win situation, and the only rational choice is withdraw and communicate with factions in Iraq in the absence of our troops.
Just as during the Vietnam War, crimes have been committed in high places that need to be addressed by you in Congress. Torture is absolutely forbidden in our law and in international law, and one of the reasons World War 2 veterans went to fight was to secure a world free of torture, yet evidence exists that the president approved torture in collusion with Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzalez, Geofrey Miller, Ricardo Sanchez, and others. Charles Graner did not set administration policy, and the men named above and others like them should be punished more severely than Charles Graner has been.
It is an infamy that anyone would vote for Alberto Gonzalez as attorney general after the part he played in the Abu Graib torture scandal. Every senator who voted for him to be attorney general is as much a torturer as he is. Alberto Gonzalez performed as central a role in the torture at Abu Graib, Guantanamo Bay, and elsewhere as the role performed by Adolf Eichmann in the Holocaust. Abu Graib is a criminal offense for every official who was involved in it from the president and the lawyers who advised him to the generals who commanded the officers in charge of the contract torturers and privates who carried out the acts the president authorized. Likewise, I would say that every senator who voted for the confirmation of Judge Roberts is a torturer, because right before his confirmation, Judge Roberts decided that prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay could be held merely on the basis of presidential whim supposedly derived from the resolution to go to war against Afgahanistan. These two men have perpetrated crimes against the Constitution, and they are so unsuitable for the offices they hold that they present a danger to our constitutional form of government.
There are crimes besides Abu Graib that we the people want you to act on. When someone like Maher Arar is kidnapped from John F. Kennedy Airport by government agents and taken to Syria to be tortured, we expect Congress to ascertain how extensive our gulag is and we expect Congress to dismantle it and to see that all personnel responsible for it are punished. When a court rules that the detention without charge of Jose Padilla is legal, we expect the Congress to impeach the judges responsible for his continued incarceration and to call for the prosecution of the civilian and miltary officials who are holding him without charging him with any crime recognized under our Constitution. When the Supreme Court rules that Jose Padilla's lawyer sued the wrong party when he sued the secretary of defense to secure the release of Padilla, we expect the Congress to impeach the justices who would turn our republic into an Argentine-style police state, and we expect responsible officials to be prosecuted for conspiring to violate Jose Padilla's constitutional rights. When the president tries to place prisoners at Guantanamo Bay beyond the reach of law by claiming that the United States has no jurisdiction over its military base there, we expect the Congress to assert the rule of law and guarantee that the Constitution is respected. When John Walker Lindh is tortured and his plea agreement orders him to remain silent about the torture, we expect Congress to impeach the judge responsible and see that the judge gets punished for abetting torture. When a soldier murders a prisoner in Afghanistan and the soldier is given a 2 month prison sentence, we expect Congress to take action that lets the world know that this crime and similar crimes will not be tolerated. We want the commanders and the planners who have established murder and torture centers to be punished, and we want judges who would tolerate their activities removed from the bench and punished along with them.
In addition to war crimes and violations of the Constitution, we want you to investigate political and economic crimes committed by your fellow politicians. Before Arnold Schwarzennegger was elected governor of California, journalists reported that he had made a deal with energy company officials where in return for the companies' support he would drop billions of dollars of state claims against them if he won the governorship. When the first thing an official does when he enters office is to satisfy such a prediction, as Arnold Schwarzennegger did, we expect criminal prosecutions and Congressional action to follow. When there is election fraud of the type that took place in Florida, where 57,000 voters had their civil rights violated through illegal removal from voter registration rolls and where thousands of votes were tampered with, we expect the main instigator, Katherine Harris, to go to jail, not to Congress. When the campaign manager of the Bush campaign in Ohio is accused of electoral fraud and plays the same role Katherine Harris did in Florida, we expect a full criminal inquiry. We expect that if the journalist Greg Palast can find details of crimes and can cite relevant laws that would allow prosecution, then you in Congress can and will act, regardless of party affiliation. Regardless of whether the responsible parties are personal friends or colleagues of yours, and whether they sit in the Oval Office or elsewhere,we expect you to exert your power to see that crimes are investigated and their perpetrators prosecuted. As during the Vietnam years, we need a special prosecutor and a judge willing to ask, "On what meat doth this our Caesar feed?" We want you to protect and defend the Constitution that our soldiers have all sworn to protect and defend.
A parallel that we want to avoid with Vietnam is the 58,000 dead American soldiers. Lyndon Johnson and Congress would have saved 56,000 American lives if they'd stopped the war after the death of 2000 soldiers. Twenty thousand of the fifty eight thousand died while Henry Kissinger sought a so-called decent interval that would satisfy a political aesthetic that was never articulated to the soldiers in Vietnam or their fellow citizens at home. The terms under which the US left Vietnam were largely the same or worse than than the terms offered by the North Vietnamese and the National Liberation Front at the beginning of withdrawal negotiations 2 years earlier. To my shame, I don't know how many Vietnamese people died during that period. How many American soldiers and Iraqi people are you going to let die on the basis of the same aimless political aesthetic that allowed Henry Kissinger to add 2 years of death to the Vietnam War? The United States gained a lot by withdrawing from Vietnam, and we will gain a lot from withdrawing from Iraq.
The sad thing about the March of Folly is that people in positions of power often know what should be done to avert disaster, but refuse to do so for reasons of ego and politics. The war in Iraq is a disaster, as was the war in Vietnam. Please end it.
Please address any questions or comments you might have to me, Alan Thompson, at email@example.com.
Hostivice 25301, Czech Republic
PS While you're at it, please end the war in Afghanistan, too.