Academic journal article Social Justice

"The Supreme International Crime": How the U.S. War in Iraq Threatens the Rule of Law

Academic journal article Social Justice

"The Supreme International Crime": How the U.S. War in Iraq Threatens the Rule of Law

Article excerpt

WARS OF AGGRESSION ARE MORE DESTRUCTIVE OF HUMAN LIFE, HOPE, AND HABITAT than any other type of crime. For this reason, the Tribunal at Nuremberg labeled wars of aggression "the supreme international crime," and the United Nations Charter requires that nations refrain from the aggressive use of military force in their international relations.

Although international law is abundantly clear in its condemnation of wars of aggression, the same cannot be said for the U.S. polity. On November 2, 2004, by a close margin, American voters elected George W. Bush as president of the United States, even though he was responsible for a war of aggression that, by the time of the election, had murdered at least 20,000 and possibly as many as 100,000 innocent Iraqi civilians (Stein, 2004).

In view of the grave threat that wars of aggression pose for international peace and security, it is vitally important that criminologists and other social analysts address the criminality of the U.S.-instigated invasion of Iraq. Toward that end, we will establish the validity of the following claims:

1. The 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq by the United States and its allies was a violation of international law.

2. Insofar as the invasion and occupation of Iraq took place under the auspices of state authority, they are state crimes.

3. The state officials responsible for the violations of law pursuant to the invasion and occupation of Iraq are guilty of war crimes.

4. The illegal war on Iraq poses a threat to the U.N. Charter System and a law-governed approach to world order.

Claims such as these are automatically dismissed by the Bush administration and its supporters as little more than fulminations from the "lunatic left" (Coulter, 2004). Ad hominem attacks notwithstanding, George W. Bush and those who support his war policy have failed to offer any credible evidence to refute what most international law scholars know: the invasion of Iraq was an illegal war of aggression, and those responsible for it are war criminals (Mandel, 2004: McGoldrick, 2004). War supporters claim the war was legal, but as we will demonstrate, there is little in their rebuttal that withstands serious criminological scrutiny.

The bare-bones version of our argument rests on two propositions. First, Iraq posed no imminent threat to the United States. Second, the United Nations Security Council did not authorize an invasion of Iraq either to enforce Security Council resolutions or to achieve humanitarian goals. Insofar as the threat of imminent attack or United Nations authorization are the only conditions under current international law that allow one country to use military force against another, there is a clear prima facie case that the invasion of Iraq and the associated harms flowing from it constitute war crimes.

A prima facie case, however, is not a conclusive case. It must be supported by probative evidence and challenges to it must be addressed. Our goal is to provide this evidence and to shine the light of international law on the invasion and occupation of Iraq. As criminologists we begin by addressing the nature of state crime as our central warrant for analyzing the Iraq war as crime.

Defining State Crime

In his 1988 Presidential Address to the American Society of Criminology, William Chambliss defined state crime as "acts defined by law as criminal and committed by state officials in the pursuit of their job as representatives of the state" (1989: 184). This definition has three key characteristics. First, it directs attention to the structural and organizational basis of state crime by emphasizing that these crimes are committed by state officials in furtherance of the organizational goals of the state. Second, it proposes that analyses of state crime must be grounded in a legal framework that enables us to clearly distinguish between legitimate and illegal uses of state power in the furtherance of state goals. …

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