When War Crimes Ain’t Crimes

By Mumia Abu-Jamal

In the last few years, we’ve all seen nothing but mass violations of virtually every international human rights treaty. Torture, secret prisons, extraordinary rendition, violence against civilians, orders to ignore the Geneva Conventions.... The list goes on and on.

How has the American government dealt with this state of affairs? It has virtually ignored it.

There have been a handful of military prosecutions against relatively low-level people, but there is a steel ceiling, above which the prosecutors dare not go. That’s because the violations of international law go to the highest levels of the U.S. government.

Writer Lila Rajiva argues, in her remarkable The Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the American Media (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2005), that the tortures at Abu Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad shows something deep and ugly in the American state:

“The Prometheans of today acknowledge no limits except of their own imagining, and at least for now the world that they find themselves in allows them the self-indulgence of that imagining. With such absolute power comes absolute corruption, only not the corruption that the law easily unmasks, the simple corruption of bribery and chicanery. The occupation of Iraq displays ample evidence of that as well, but the deeper corruption that wrote the institutions of America today is one legitimated by law, whose presence is revealed not in the courthouse but in the solitary recesses of prison cells hidden from the light. Torture is the insignia of this corrupt power. Torture is the deadly proof of the metastasizing cancer of American Empire.”

Rajiva tells us many of the stories from Iraq that have been largely whitewashed from the safe coverage that the corporate media airs. She tells us the many cases where Iraqi women were raped by Americans, and subjected to public humiliations.

Perhaps if more Americans read, saw or heard such accounts, they would not be mystified by the steady growing of the insurgency in Iraq, which is surely fueled, in part, by how Americans treated Iraqi men and women in prisons there.

The corporate US media has done more to misinform its public than to inform them. They keep Americans in the dark, while people all around the world know more about America than Americans. In this context, we can continue the illusion that the US is “doing good” in this new kind of colonialism of Arab lands. It is this mass disinformation campaign that allows political figures to float the mad idea of more troops in Iraq.

The somewhat tame Iraq Study Group report has come and gone, with supporters of the military-industrial-complex working their media assets to insure that their defense contractors keep getting paid.

Discussions over Geneva Conventions might as well be about treaties with space aliens, as arcane as they are to most of us. But the Geneva Conventions aren’t rocket science. There are 4 of them. The first governs wounded and sick soldiers; the second relates to the treatment of war prisoners captured at sea; the third deals with treatment of prisoners of war; and the fourth governs how citizens should be treated in times of war. Under the articles of these conventions, people had express rights to fair, humane treatment, family visitation, and the right to be processed by “competent tribunals.” As the flicks from Abu Ghraib showed, in living color, folks were treated like dogs. Geneva, though, to be “quaint,” didn’t apply.

When it comes to the Empire, there is no higher law.

The Emperor has spoken: that is all that is needed to launch wars, torture, terrorize, bomb, imprison, kill, obliterate.

That kind of logic can only lead to more disaster.



Copyright Mumia Abu-Jamal, December 23, 2006