Most Americans hold these truths to be self-evident: Torture is wrong; attacking another country that hasn’t attacked you is wrong; occupying another country with your army and imposing your will on its people is wrong. These policies are not only immoral. They are illegal.
Most Americans believe that even the highest government officials are bound by law. They reject Attorney General-designate Alberto Gonzales’ view that the law is whatever the President says it is – that if the President says something isn’t torture, then it’s O.K. to order it.
Most Americans don’t agree that their president can unilaterally annul treaties like the Geneva conventions. They don’t accept, as Gonzales put it in a 2002 legal memo, that if the President simply declares there’s a “new paradigm” he can thereby “render obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners.”
Aggression, military occupation, and torture were the war crimes, crimes against peace, and crimes against humanity for which the Axis leaders were prosecuted at the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials after World War II. The U.S. has supported similar charges against Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein.
But what about the U.S. attack on Iraq, which Kofi Annan has bluntly called “illegal”? What about the leveling of Fallujah and the targeting of hospitals and urban neighborhoods? What about torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo? If a single standard is applied, these too are crimes of war. And as the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal stated, “Anyone with knowledge of illegal activity and an opportunity to do something is a potential criminal under international law unless the person takes affirmative measures to prevent the commission of the crimes.” How many Americans can honestly claim to know nothing about this “illegal activity”? It’s reported in detail in the daily newspapers and shown in full color on the nightly news, from the phony reports of Iraq’s “yellowcake” uranium to the shooting of ambulances to the horrors of Abu Ghraib.
In 1967, faced with evidence of the napalming of villages and massacring of civilians in Vietnam, a distinguished group of Americans signed a “Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority.” They declared the Vietnam War illegal under U.S. and international law and pledged to support young people who were resisting the draft.
When the Johnson administration charged world famous pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock, Yale Chaplain William Sloan Coffin, and others with conspiracy to “aid, counsel, and abet” resistance to the draft, it identified the “Call” as their first overt act.
There’s no draft yet, but there’s plenty of resistance. The Pentagon acknowledges 5,500 desertions since the Iraq war began. Army Reserve and National Guard recruitment is plummeting. Many in the military are deciding not to reenlist.
“60 Minutes” recently interviewed U.S. resisters in Canada and reported that “conscience, not cowardice, made them American deserters.” One of them, Specialist Jeremy Hinzman of Rapid City, South Dakota joined the 82nd Airborne as a paratrooper in 2001 and served in Afghanistan.
But when he was ordered to Iraq, he went to Canada instead. He explained to “60 Minutes,” “I was told in basic training that, if I’m given an illegal or immoral order, it is my duty to disobey it. And I feel that invading and occupying Iraq is an illegal and immoral thing to do.”
Senior officials like Alberto Gonzales set the policies that led to Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Nearly 140 low-level military service members have been disciplined or face courts-martial for abusing detainees. Instead of being punished, Gonzales is being rewarded with the job of U.S. Attorney General.
It’s time for all Americans to face our responsibility to halt Bush administration war crimes. It’s time to give our support to those who are refusing to participate in those crimes. It’s time for a new “Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority.”
I for one will say right now that I support those who refuse illegal orders to participate in this illegal war. I know there are many who will join me.
To Alberto Gonzales, I would like to say that I encourage all Americans, military and civilian, to disobey orders based on your memos justifying torture. I say it’s their legal right, indeed their legal and moral duty, to disobey such illegal orders.
Gonzales may disagree. In the era of the misleadingly named PATRIOT Act, he may follow the example of the Johnson administration and bring charges against those who encourage resistance to military authority. If he does, he will test whether a jury of American citizens will agree that the law is whatever the President says it is — even if that includes torture and an illegal war.