Introduction to the Final Verdict of the Bush Crimes Commission
(September 13, 2006)
The extraordinary Commission of Inquiry convened to consider charges that the President George W. Bush and his administration have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity has now reached a verdict: Guilty.
On wars of aggression, illegal detention and torture, suppression of science and catastrophic policies on global warming, potentially genocidal abstinence-only policies imposed on HIV/AIDS prevention programs in the Third World, and the abandonment of New Orleans before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina, President George W. Bush and his administration have been found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
This verdict comes at crucial moment. As Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights, emphasized at the Commission hearings: “We want this trial to be a step in the building of mass resistance to war, to torture, to the destruction of earth and its people. It’s a serious moment. . . . We still have a chance, an opportunity to stop this slide into chaos. But it is up to us. We must not sit with our arms folded, and we must be as radical as the reality we are facing.”
Acts of the Bush Administration have continued to reinforce this assessment. The crimes cited in the indictments have continued. We have witnessed a continuing onslaught of horrors in Iraq from the massacres in Haditha and Mahmudiya to the exposure of rapes and murders by U.S. forces. Torture continues at secret overseas sites. New Orleans still lies in ruins, much of its Black population “resettled.” New evidence concerning the deadly impact of U.S. AIDS policy in Africa has come to light. New crimes have been committed such as the destruction of Lebanon with U.S. weapons and backing. And now even more serious crimes loom with open threats to launch a new war of aggression on Iran.
This administration has flouted and defied the Geneva Conventions. It has arrogated to itself the right to suspend habeas corpus, engage in mass warrantless searches, and defines the powers of the “commander-in-chief” to be above the law. Bush’s Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, has sought to legitimize torture and exempt those who employ torture from prosecution.
At the 1967 Vietnam War Crimes Tribunal, Bertrand Russell gave a profound mandate: “We meet at an alarming time. Overwhelming evidence besieges us daily of crimes without precedent. We investigate in order to expose; we document in order to indict; we arouse consciousness in order to create mass resistance.” Establishing the truth of the Bush Administration’s acts and their implications for humanity is our moral and political responsibility in this time.
Background of the Commission
Bush’s new doctrine of “preventive war,” massive civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq, the opening of a concentration camp at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, and the appearance of government documents seeking to legitimize torture, the potentially catastrophic and genocidal policies on global warming and HIV/AIDS prevention all made clear that a serious investigation and adjudication was demanded.
Recognizing the need for this inquiry to establish the truth about charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the Not In Our Name statement of conscience convened the International Commission of Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration. The Commission was initiated with a Charter (see Appendices) that was itself signed by many noted voices of conscience.
The Charter begins, “When the possibility of far-reaching war crimes and crimes against humanity exists, people of conscience have a solemn responsibility to inquire into the nature and scope of these acts and to determine if they do in fact rise to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
The Charter also forthrightly states the Commission’s intent that “[t]he holding of this tribunal will frame and fuel a discussion that is urgently needed in the United States: Is the administration of George W. Bush guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity?”
The Commission took oral testimony and accepted documentary evidence from 44 witnesses at public hearings held at the Manhattan Center, the historic Riverside Church, and the Columbia School of Law during October 2005 and January 2006. These witnesses were an amazing array of former government officials, noted experts, journalists, and victims.
Scott Ritter, the former UN weapons inspector testified to the complete lies and fabrications of the Bush administration in making the case for war in Iraq, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, the former commander of all prisons in Iraq established the chain of command from the torture chambers of Abu Ghraib to the highest offices of the land, and Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan testified to the use of torture by U.S. allies in the War on Terror. Murray exemplified the moral clarity needed by society when he stated, “I would personally rather die than have anyone tortured to save my life”
Standards for the Commission
The Commission’s legitimacy derives from its integrity, its rigor in the presentation of evidence, and the stature of its participants.
Precisely because of the singular nature of some of this administration’s actions and the lack of relevant precedent in existent law, it was necessary to proceed from a “first principles” definition of crimes against humanity. As a basis for its verdicts and findings of fact, these principles were codified in its Standards of Judgment document (see Appendices), which sets forth the definition of “crimes against humanity” to be used by the Commission:
“[C]rimes against humanity as popularly understood and conceived [are] acts that, by their scale or nature, shock the conscience of humankind.
“Crimes against humanity are brutal crimes that are not isolated incidents but that involve large and systematic actions often cloaked with official authority. These include mass murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts perpetrated against a population, conducted in wartime or not. Apartheid and persecution on political, ethnic, and gender grounds have also been considered inhumane acts causing great suffering, and therefore crimes against humanity.”
While the Commission has referenced existing international law where applicable, it neither attempted to develop new law nor to force-fit its findings into existing legal frameworks. Rather, through the rigorous presentation of expert and witness testimony, documents, and other evidence, the Commission has sought to establish the truth about major acts and policies of the Bush administration, acts that could by their nature or scope, rise to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
That is, first and foremost, it is the task of the Commission to establish the truth.
Finally, the Standards gives a charge to its panel of judges (referred to in the Charter as a “jury of conscience”): “The historic and political responsibility before this tribunal lies in delivering findings of fact and a verdict on the central question before the commission: ‘whether George W. Bush and his administration have committed crimes against humanity.’ As the Charter mandates, ‘The Commission’s jury of conscience will come to verdicts and its findings will be published.’ The jury of conscience will carefully assess the evidence and base its conclusions on the sufficiency of the evidence.”
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It was a great strength that the hearings were held in the United States itself and were not limited to one issue. By taking the charges together, a whole emerges that is greater than the sum of its parts: the conscious, systematic malevolence at the core of the Bush agenda.
Realizing and confronting the reality that war crimes and crimes against humanity are being committed by your government, in your name, brings to the fore the moral and political responsibility to bring these crimes to halt -- and make sure that they are never repeated.
C. Clark Kissinger
New York, NY
C. Clark Kissinger was an initiator of the Not In Our Name statement of conscience as is the Convener of the Bush Crimes Commission.