Draft of Feb. 21, 2003
Wordcount: 2,471

Preemptive War Criminals

by Jeff Gates ©

Half the population of Iraq is under 15 years of age, including half of the five million Iraqis living in Baghdad. As part of the U.S. military's "Rapid Dominance" posture, Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld proposes a "Shock and Awe" bombing strategy meant to devastate Iraq's capital city. Day One of the war calls for launching 500-800 Cruise missiles on Baghdad and other targets with munitions packing an explosive punch equivalent to a nuclear device. As a war planner boasted to CBS News, "There will not be a safe place in Baghdad." On Day Two, they plan to do it again, launching another 500-800 high-explosive missiles.

Not since the blanket bombing of European cities during World War II has such premeditated devastation been planned for a civilian urban population. A team of international investigators recently completed the first pre-conflict field research, concluding that casualties among Iraqi children will likely be in the thousands, probably in the tens of thousands, "and possibly in the hundreds of thousands."

Even without a second Gulf War, the impact on Iraqi children has been horrific. In the late 1980s, the mortality rate for Iraqi children under five was 50 per thousand. By 1999, it had reached 130 per thousand. In 1998, Secretary of State Madeline Albright was asked her view of the embargo on Iraq in light of the fact that an estimated 600,000 children had died due to sanctions-related effects, largely the impact of dysentery and bloody diarrhea after the U.S. bombed sewage and water purification facilities and then invoked the embargo to block replacement parts, chlorine and medicines. Albright's assessment: "We believe it is worth the price."

Two UN chiefs of Iraqi sanctions have since resigned in protest over their impact: Peter van Walsun, chief of the UN Sanctions Committee, and Hans von Sponeck, chief UN coordinator. Noting that "chronic malnourishment cannot be repaired," American Denis Halliday, former UN representative in Baghdad, charges "we are running a genocide program in Iraq," thus far killing almost three times more Iraqis than the number of Japanese killed in U.S. atomic blasts in WWII.

Reversal of Fortune

Before the Gulf War, Iraqi living standards were approaching that of southern Europe, featuring free education, ample electricity, modern farming, a large middle class and, according to the World Health Organization, access to health care for 93 percent of the population. A once proud and prosperous nation fell apart as 525,000 Iraqis were killed in wars since 1980, including 375,000 in an 8-year Iraq-Iran conflict in which the U.S. sold arms to both sides.

In 1983, Rumsfeld presented Saddam Hussein with a pair of golden cowboy spurs as a token of appreciation from Ronald Reagan. After the U.S. State Department issued an alert in 1984 claiming Iraq's use of chemical weapons, Rumsfeld returned to Baghdad. Though he arrived in Baghdad the same day (March 5, 1984) that U.N. scientists confirmed that chemical weapons had been used against Iran, he said nothing. According to an article published years later in Covert Action Quarterly, the U.S. Department of Agriculture provided components for those weapons. Receipts can be found on the Internet from U.S. businesses that also sold chemical weapon components to Iraq.

As a portion of their population, Iraqi casualties in that conflict were equivalent to 5.6 million deaths in the U.S. population, more than 100 times the number of Americans killed during the Vietnam War. With their economy in tatters, many Iraqis fled the country. With the collapse of oil revenues, education collapsed, helped along by the U.S. and Britain who insisted that printing equipment for schools be banned as a "dual use" item disallowed under the sanctions. That same rationale was used to block the import of textbooks, medical journals, medical supplies, vaccines, vitamins, incubators, dialysis machines, dental supplies, milk and yogurt production equipment, water tankers, disinfectants, pesticides, insecticides and, until recently, cancer medications because they contain minute traces of radiation.

Compared to other economies in the region, Iraqi standards of living saw dramatic improvements during the pre-sanctions era, especially after the Ba'ath Party of Saddam Hussein nationalized Iraq's oil fields. Despite his loathsome treatment of political enemies and ethnic minorities, that diversion to domestic use of oil-based revenues previously paid to foreign investors enabled the typical Iraqi's well-being to surge ahead of their neighbors, including Iraq's embrace of a culture of modernity that remains missing in its neighbors. As vice chairman of the Party, Hussein oversaw the nationalization of the oil industry and advocated a national infrastructure campaign that built roads, schools and hospitals. Iraq created one of the best public health systems in the Middle East, a feat that earned Iraq an award from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Since the sanctions, Iraqi culture has collapsed. Violent crime soared as cultural, social and ethical values were steadily degraded in a nation where the first human civilization emerged 6,000 years ago. In this ancient cradle of humanity featuring hundreds of thousands of historic sites, child beggars now work alongside prostitutes as Iraqi society fell apart. By 1996, all sewage treatment plants had broken down in a country that now pours 300,000 tons of raw sewage daily into its rivers. Corruption has become endemic. Iraqi living standards are now equivalent to Sudan as sanctions reduced the nation to something akin to a vast refugee camp. Since the U.N.'s Oil for Food Program began in 1996, Iraq has spent roughly $23 billion on goods that actually arrived. That amount comes to about $170 per year per person, less than one half the annual per capita income of Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, and less than half what the U.N. spends to feed the dogs it deploys in Iraqi de-mining operations.

In March 2002, despite numerous objections from the U.S., a UNICEF official was allowed to report on the inhumane conditions in Iraq since the imposition of sanctions. Fully 25 percent of children in south and central Iraq suffer from chronic malnutrition, which is typically irreversible, and nine percent from acute malnutrition. One in four Iraqi babies is born prematurely and underweight. Few survive. With only six week's supply of food in the country, U.N. agencies estimate that an invasion could cause 100,000 immediate casualties and risk the deaths of nearly 1 million of Iraq's 12 million children, with the rest put at grave risk of starvation, disease and psychological trauma.

The U.N. Genocide pact, which the U.S. refuses to join, forbids the deliberate infliction of conditions of life calculated to bring about physical destruction. In January 1991, before the Gulf War, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency projected that sanctions would destroy Iraq's ability to provide safe drinking water within six months. Pentagon war planners predicted that "epidemics of such diseases as cholera, hepatitis, and typhoid could occur." All of this came to pass. Their list could have included water-borne diseases (up 1,000 percent since 1991), leprosy, cancers, heart defects and child starvation. Typhoid cases alone have increased from 2,200 in 1990 to 27,000 in 1999. Seasoned weapons experts charge that sanctions of this sort are a modern-day implement of war, an inexpensive weapon of mass destruction. In this case, sanctions successfully thwarted Iraq from meeting even its most basic humanitarian needs while also systematically causing enormous damage on civilians that was fully anticipated.

In the Gulf War, an estimated 150,000 Iraqis were killed as the U.S. exploded ordnance equivalent to seven Hiroshimas, unleashing more explosive force in six weeks than during the entirety of the Second World War. U.S. casualties totaled 148 (1000:1 ratio), two-thirds from accidents and friendly fire. But that didn't end the effects of the war on U.S. military personnel. Of the 696,778 U.S. troops who served in the Gulf War, more than 220,000 have applied for medical benefits. As of May 2002, 159,238 had been awarded service-connected disability due to a war-related ailment vaguely described as Gulf War Syndrome.

Foreseeable Criminality

The logical counterpoint to preemptive war is preemptive war crimes and the need -- quickly and preemptively &endash; to indict foreseeable war criminals. Under the Geneva Conventions, weapons can only be used in the field of battle, defined as military targets of the enemy during war, and can only be used for the duration of the conflict. International law also forbids weaponry that is either unduly inhumane or has an unduly negative effect on the natural environment. Yet American and British troops are poised to deploy in the Gulf once again armed with depleted uranium munitions which, on explosion, create a firestorm of fine radioactive ceramic particles that are easily inhaled and readily absorbed by plants and animals, becoming a toxic component of the food chain.

By the Pentagon's own studies prior to the Gulf War, exposure to this aerosol uranium under battlefield conditions can lead to cancers of the lung and bone, kidney damage, neurocognitive disorders, chromosonal damage and birth defects. In 1990, the UK's Atomic Energy Authority estimated that if 50 tons of depleted uranium ("DU") munitions were left in the Gulf, that radioactive materiel would lead to 50,000 extra cancer deaths in the following decade. Experts estimate that 300 to 900 tons of DU debris were left behind, its residue travelling wherever the wind blows. Children are 10 to 20 times more sensitive to the effects of radiation than adults.

In Basra, the southernmost point of entry for any U.S.-led invasion, pediatricians report an increase of six to 12 times in the incidence of childhood leukemia and cancer as radiation levels in flora and fauna reached 84 times the safe limit recommended by the World Health Organization. In practical effect, the first Gulf War was a nuclear war. Dr. Huda Ammash, a U.S.-educated environmental biologist at Baghdad University, calculates that the 10-year impact of this radiation is equivalent to 100 Chernobyls.

Iraqi doctors reported 11 birth defects per 100,000 in 1989. By 2001, the rate was 116 per 100,000, including a doubling of congenital malformations in newborns among exposed populations and a surge in late-term spontaneous abortions due to congenital effects (reportedly now two or three cases each day, up from one per month). Wives of Iraqi Gulf War veterans are three times more likely to suffer miscarriages than the average across Iraq. A photographic record from Basra General Hospital chronicles babies born with no eyes, brains, limbs or genitalia, with internal organs on the outside, and with grotesquely deformed heads and bodies, including numerous cyclops.

Due to the risk, Iraqis of child-bearing age now often choose not to marry as everyone knows couples coping with grievously ill or deformed babies. Iraqi men in their mid-30s are now dying at record rates. "They are not ill," reports Felicity Arbuthnot, "they just give up &endash; especially young men between the ages of about 30 to 35. Their youth has been sacrificed to the embargo and they see middle age approaching with no hope, no dreams, no aspirations or ability to provide for those they love." If cancers continue to spread at the present rate, an estimated 44 percent of the population of southern Iraq will develop cancer by the time today's 15 year-olds reach 25.

Iraqis are not the only ones in harm's way. Depleted uranium remains toxic for 4.5 billion years. One-third of U.S. tanks used in Desert Storm were armed with DU munitions, ensuring whole-body radioactive exposure by U.S. troops. Likewise for those handling aircraft ordnance, including airmen, pilots and mechanics. Of the 29,000 British troops who served in that conflict, more than 8,000 are ill and over 400 have died. In 1999, a coroner in the north of England reported that he handled one suicide a week among Gulf War vets. Similar health effects are recorded among troops from Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and among those exposed to DU munitions in Kosovo and Bosnia.

Historically, war crimes have been committed against an enemy. In this case, the crimes include both the premeditated slaughter of innocents and premeditated endangerment of our own troops as, without informed consent, many military personnel were exposed to a toxic soup of unproven vaccines (for anthrax, nerve gas, etc.) and then ordered to deploy using munitions laced with a known trans-generational toxin, deadly not only to those exposed but also to their unborn offspring. A decade after the Gulf War, U.S. veterans still report traces of uranium in their urine and semen.

The Bush II vision for a National Security Strategy proposes an America willing to demonstrate what the U.S. Space Command calls "full spectrum dominance" so that the White House can dictate to the world community militarily, politically and economically. Insisting on "global U.S. preeminence," GOP conservatives, including Rumsfeld, Cheney and other top officials, are founding members of the Project for a New American Century, a radical rightwing group that first proposed a war on Iraq more than a decade ago. That's why "Attack Iraq" was Rumsfeld's first reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attack, even though the attack was orchestrated by a radical sect of Muslim fundamentalists who have long opposed Iraq's secular regime, including the issuance of a decree calling for the death of Saddam Hussein.

Pentagon planners predict that their Iraq blitzkrieg will approximate a nuclear explosion in its death and destruction. "The sheer size of this has never been…contemplated before," one strategist confirmed, though what's envisioned is not without precedent. In April 1937, Nazi bombers dropped 100,000 pounds of incendiary bombs on the peaceful Basque village of Guernica, destroying 70 percent of the town and killing 1,500 of its residents, a third of the population. As with the bombing of Baghdad, the goal in Guernica was to demonstrate overwhelming dominance. Leveling the ancient city of Baghdad will not uncover weapons of mass destruction even if they, in fact, exist. The bombing will, however, provide handy cover for war planners who can argue that the weapons were destroyed in the bombing. In the words of Harlan Ullman, author of Shock and Awe, the goal is to destroy the Iraqi people "physically, emotionally and psychologically." Strategically, the unleashing of this ferocity is meant to send a region-wide signal that an American-led and Israeli-supported Axis of Power intends to convert its goal of righteous dominance into a military, political and economic reality.

Preemptive war is illegal under international law, an act expressly forbidden under the UN charter to which both the U.S. and Britain are signatories. To preempt this illegal act, the leadership of law-abiding nations must mount a preemptive strike against those Americans and Brits who propose to wage this war, ensuring that civilian leaders and war planners are preemptively indicted as war criminals. That indictment should include charges that cover not only prior Gulf War and embargo-related crimes but also those foreseeable war crimes they have signaled their intention to commit.


Former counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance and author of Democracy at Risk, Jeff Gates is president of the Shared Capitalism Institute.