Preemptive war crimes

Driven by a coterie of neoconservative ideologues -- and the accidental president in their sway -- we are hours away from becoming international outlaws.

Published March 12, 2003 6:52PM (EST)

The maiming or killing of a single Iraqi civilian in an attack by the United States would constitute a war crime, as well as a profound violation of the Christian notion of just war. That is because the recent report of the U.N. inspectors has made indelibly clear that disarmament is working and that Iraq at this time poses no direct threat to the well-being of the American people.

Of course, we are not talking about one or two casualties. In seriously considering such war strategies as bringing a city-destroying firestorm down upon a population half made up of children, the United States is planning to disarm a nation of its weapons of mass destruction by using weapons that cause mass destruction.

Brutal, preemptive and unilateral war under such circumstances is -- by the standards of any great civilization or religion -- morally indefensible and also seriously damages the reputation of free societies, the principles of which we are trying to market to the rest of the world.

To distract us from this essential truth, the president has shamefully frightened the American people, first with his baseless attempt to link Saddam Hussein to 9/11 and then with unproven claims that Iraq's government and weapons pose an immediate danger to Americans.

The real story is that U.N. inspectors are reporting substantial progress in terms of Iraqi cooperation and the destruction of weapons in Iraq.

George Bush and the 200,000-plus troops he has sent to the Persian Gulf could take some credit for this, but he continues to isolate the United States, as other leading nations request that the U.N. inspectors be given four more months to complete their work.

Why the unseemly rush to war when the chief U.N. weapons inspector stated, "One can hardly avoid the impression that, after a period of somewhat reluctant cooperation, there has been an acceleration of initiatives from the Iraqi side since the end of January"?

Hans Blix went on to cite increased air surveillance using U.S., French, German and Russian planes, the unfettered ability "to perform professional no-notice inspections all over Iraq," rising cooperation on private interviews with scientists, inspections of "mobile units," destruction of 40 percent of the Al-Samoud 2 missile cache, and excavation and analysis of a major weapons disposal site.

Most important, Blix noted that for the United Nations to finish its survey of sites, documents and relevant people, it "will not take years, nor weeks, but months." In the meantime, he emphasized, "We are not watching the breaking of toothpicks. Lethal weapons are being destroyed."

And as for the most lethal of weapons -- the one that could end all life on this planet -- the news from Iraq is even more promising.

"After three months of intrusive inspections, we have, to date, found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq," the chief atomic weapons inspector told the U.N. Security Council on Friday.

After 218 inspections of 141 sites over three months by the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei charged that the United States had used faked and erroneous evidence to support the claims that Iraq was importing enriched uranium and other material for the manufacture of nuclear weapons.

So why, considering all this good news, is the White House afraid to allow the inspections to continue?

Is Bush worried that the weapons may not exist and that his real goal of taking over Iraq, stated blatantly in his last press conference, might be undermined? How else to explain the president's indifference to the fact that the evidence of weapons locations supplied by his own intelligence agencies has not checked out on the ground?

Terrifyingly, we are hours away from doing irreparable harm to our democratic heritage by launching a risky, arrogant crusade that most of the world opposes, all at the behest of a small coterie of neoconservative ideologues plotting to remake the world in their image and who unfortunately have the ear of our accidental president.

All this in the name of the victims of 9/11, an attack carried out by Muslim fanatics originally embraced and trained by the United States during the Cold War and whose proven ties have been with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, not to secular Iraq.

If we pursue this unjust war in the coming weeks, we can surely add the desecration of the victims' memory to the list of outrages we will perpetrate.

By Robert Scheer

Robert Scheer is a syndicated columnist.

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Iraq Middle East United Nations