Tacoma, Washington is a modest sized city a few miles north of Fort Lewis. On the weekend of January 21 – 22, 2007, Tacoma stood tall in the people's efforts to find truth while their political leaders dither, bob and weave in the nation's capitol.
The Citizen's Hearing on the Legality of U.S. Action in Iraq focused on the war on Iraq, its continuing occupation and, specifically, the case of U.S. Army Lt. Ehren Watada. Lt. Watada is the first U.S. Army officer to refuse orders to deploy to Iraq. He has refused orders on the basis that the war is illegal and unconstitutional and because his oath of office prohibits him from obeying illegal orders. He also understands that if he obeys an order that is illegal, that, too, could implicate him in war crimes or crimes against humanity.
Lt. Watada is scheduled to be court-martialed at Ft. Lewis on February 5th. Many of us will be there to bear witness to the charade of justice. He is charged with disobeying orders to deploy to Iraq, with conduct unbecoming an officer by publicly stating his opinions and by expressing public disagreement with the war policy of Mr. Bush. The colonel in charge of the legal proceedings has ruled in preliminary hearings that Lt. Watada will not be allowed to put on evidence or testimony regarding the falsity of the premises for war in Iraq, its illegality under U.S. and international law or the illegality of the continued occupation of the country. In short, Lt. Watada will be tried, convicted and sentenced to prison without an opportunity to defend himself.
The purpose of the Citizen's Hearing was to put on in public and under oath the testimony that Lt. Watada has been forbidden to present in his own defense.
More than 500 citizens came to the Evergreen College Campus in Tacoma to hear expert and factual testimony presented to a diverse panel of citizens. They heard testimony from, among others: Daniel Ellsberg, the former military analyst who “de-classified” the infamous Pentagon Papers, thus accelerating the end of the Vietnam War; Denis Halliday, former U.N. Assistant Secretary General in charge of coordinating Iraq humanitarian aid; Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University; Antonia Juhasz, analyst and author on U.S. economic policies in Iraq; Ann Wright, retired Army colonel and U.S. Foreign Service Diplomat; Nadia McCaffrey, author and member of Gold Star Families Speak Out; and multiple Iraq War veterans and Iraqi human rights advocates.
The Citizen's Hearing was conducted in the historical context of the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals that were conducted by Britain, France, Russia and the United States at the conclusion of World War II. The hearing specifically addressed these questions:
1) Does a member of the United States Armed Forces have a responsibility under the Nuremberg Principles, US military regulations and the US Constitution to refuse to follow an order to participate in an illegal war?
2) Is the war in Iraq illegal and did the invasion of Iraq by the United States and the “coalition of the willing” constitute a crime against peace?
3) Does the ongoing occupation of Iraq constitute a crime against humanity?
4) Have US actions in the hostilities in Iraq been such as to constitute a pattern of war crimes?
It is not this reporter's intention to reiterate all of the riveting and gut-wrenching testimony presented at the hearing. Excerpts of the proceedings are already posted on the web and the entire event will be transcribed and made available as a DVD for wide distribution. It is this reporter's intention, however, to emphasize the significance of the hearing itself and the messages that it conveys.
First, the citizens held a hearing because America's political leadership has not.
You who are politicians should take heed: the Natives are Restless.
The undertone of the hearings conducted in Tacoma -- although scrupulously polite and methodically correct -- reflect a profound change in the political weather. The thunder clouds are gathering and a storm is coming. The Citizens of Tacoma, inspired by the courageous example of Lt. Watada, refused to be silent while their politicians passed non-binding resolutions about an illegal and unwanted war that Congress is too frightened to de-fund, led by a deceitful President that Congress is too timid to impeach.
The undertone of the hearings -- indeed, the loud murmurings among many hundreds of spectators -- conveys a message to both the Republican and Democratic Parties: the Citizens distrust both of you and they have no faith in your ability to govern us out of the mess you have both gotten us into. Like John Hancock who signed the Declaration of Independence especially large so that King George could read it without his glasses, the testimony was strong enough to be heard without a hearing aid. The clear message of the tribunal was that if the “leaders” will not lead, then the People will. They want this administration impeached . . . and then indicted for prosecution for war crimes. They want the occupation of Iraq to end now. They want an immediate de-funding of the war and immediate withdrawal of the troops, not a re-deployment to America's 14 permanent Iraqi bases. They want dialog with Iran and Syria, not war. They want an end to the history of duplicitous, hypocritical, imperial, anti-democratic American policies at home and abroad.
Although federal representatives of the Administration and of the Congress, including the Washington State Congressional delegation, were invited to attend the hearings, not one of them showed up. Although representatives of the American media were invited, only a few of the local ones, and a Japanese news team, showed up. So let us make sure that the government, the national media, and we, all hear what the Citizens heard at the tribunal:
You Republicans, we hold you responsible as the authors of an illegal, unconstitutional war based on lies and deception. You are responsible for thousands of dead American soldiers and tens of thousands of physically and psychologically crippled veterans. You are responsible for hundreds of thousands of Iraqi human lives – most of them women and children. Your are responsible for cultural assassination. You are responsible for the murder and degradation of the Earth itself. You will bear this responsibility for decades, and certainly into the next election cycle upon which politicians are so focused.
You Democrats, we hold you responsible as the authors of an illegal, unconstitutional war based on lies and deception. You are responsible for thousands of American war casualties, hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and millions of Iraqi civilian deaths over the lifetime of the Clinton “sanctions” and “bipartisan” support for this war. You are responsible for the murder and degradation of the Earth itself. You have trotted out a pantheon of retread candidates running for president. We caution you: we will not support candidates who voted for and supported the war and then act like we do not remember. We will support no supposedly “fresh face”, no Madison Avenue charismatic who will not clearly delineate an anti-war and a pro-humanist agenda. We have graduated beyond party politics. We are Citizens of a country that would be great.
You generals and military officers, we hold you responsible for failing to obey your own oaths of loyalty to the Constitution of the United States. You have been complicit in the meaningless deaths of your own soldiers and countless numbers of physically and psychologically crippled veterans. You have lacked the courage to resist, in word or deed, a racist, economically driven quasi-religious crusade and war of occupation. You have chosen to prosecute Lt. Ehren Watada, an officer of principal and impeccable courage, and by prosecuting, convicting and sentencing him, you officers of the JAG Corps will yourselves have violated your oaths of office and participated in a pattern of war crimes.
You ambassadors at the United Nations, you fool us no longer. We hold you responsible for the war and its destruction. We recognize that the General Assembly has no power and that everything that the UN does . . . and does not do . . . is because one or more of the five permanent nations of the Security Council vetoes or promotes it. Nevertheless, we hold you, United Nations, as an entity, responsible for the countless deaths in Iraq that, by the smallest demonstration of courage and ethics, you could have prevented. We hold you responsible for your failures throughout the world for seeming to act beneficially, while, in fact, you are enabling the geopolitical ambitions of your five permanent Security Council members. We hold you, United Nations, responsible for violating your duty to protect the weak from the strong.
You false critics from the nations of the world, we hold you responsible for the deaths of millions, the murder and degradation of the earth itself. It is not acceptable that you should criticize war, but then fly in to profit from it like vultures feasting on cadavers. If American citizens have a duty to lead when their leaders are corrupt, then you in France, in Britain, in Germany, in Saudi Arabia, in Egypt, in Jordan, in India, China, Russia, Mexico and everywhere, likewise have a duty to lead when your leaders are venal, corrupt or collaborators.
And you, brother and sister Citizens of the United States, we hold you and ourselves responsible for our collective sin of silence. We cannot criticize the occupation while we benefit from the fruits of the occupation. We cannot blame the Administration when our own engineers, lawyers, psychologists, programmers, technicians, media consultants, reporters, doctors, scientists, longshoremen, truckers and businesspeople profit from the business of war through our work, our complicity and our consumerism. The testimony of the Citizen's Hearing on the Legality of US Actions in Iraq was overwhelming. Notwithstanding the distracting drone of a media fully integrated, fully embedded with your government, the truth is, indeed, available to all of us. Either we know, or we could know with little effort, the truth and the horror that we have wrought. As Alexis de Tocqueville observed two centuries ago about democracy, a people get the government that they deserve. To get good government, it is incumbent on all of us to act and speak out like we deserve it.
Previous trials of conscience have been held in international forums. However, the Citizen's Hearing on the Legality of US Actions took place in a modest size, average working class city in a remote northwestern corner of the United States. It is a model for more citizen tribunals everywhere.
Let there be more Citizen Tribunals in cities and neighborhoods around the United States. Let the Citizens lead where their leaders fear to tread. Let there be national effusions of truth and democracy.
Zbignew Zingh can be reached at: Zbig@ersarts.com. This article is CopyLeft, and free to distribute, reprint, repost, sing at a recital, spray paint, scribble in a toilet stall, etc. to your heart's content, with proper author citation. Find out more about Copyleft and read other great articles at: www.ersarts.com. copyleft 2007.
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