Crimes Against Humanity or “Just Following Orders”?
By Frank J. Ranelli
Saturday, November 25, 2006
The moral, ethical, and human conditioning of how we moved in four short years from the idea of “defending a nation” to simply following “unlawful orders.” The human questions we must now ask of ourselves, our leaders, and even our troops.
During the Nuremburg trials, a series of tribunals held to arraign Nazi, World War II war leaders and criminals, during 1945 and 1946, prosecutors and investigators were awestruck at their most chilling finding, in what would be known as the “Nuremburg Defense.” While their comrades were being tried for “crimes against peace” and “waging wars of aggression,” many Nazi co-conspirators tried to defy logic for their acts of unspeakable brutality and cruelty by simply claiming they were, “Just following orders.” This would ultimately become known as the “Nuremburg Principles” or “the defense of superior orders.” Many Germany soldiers would unsuccessfully try to convince the international court to uphold their heinous, inhuman, and unconscionable acts in the indiscriminate killing of millions of Jews and others during World War II.
Adolf Eichmann and Wilhelm Keitel were two of the most famous Nazi war criminals that would fruitlessly attempt this insane justification. As current as the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse scandal, accused and now convicted defendants were unable to dissuade a judge from dolling out punishment using the “just following orders” argument.
In what would eventually help shape the United States Uniform Code of Military Justice, the adjudication of such a fanatical excuse for horrible viciousness was deemed, "The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him." While this is in fact written into the U.S. military code, and known as “unlawful orders,” some intriguing examination of whether or not we have failed our own principle of military justice is worth an intellectual probing.
After almost four years now, the United States has engaged in a pre-emptive war of choice in Iraq. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent, hundreds of thousands of lives have been senselessly lost, and two countries – Iraq and ours – are now near hopelessly torn apart. This begets a few queries such as when and if do we start asking our troops to make moral choices against an immoral war? At what point does the military – and therefore the troops themselves – bear some responsibility for following “unlawful orders?” When the military is no longer defending the Constitution, our borders or our people – engaged in an act of a baseless and pointless war – do we ask them to make a “moral choice” and rise up in opposition to the continuance of a crime against humanity?
History is littered with people blindly following orders of erroneously revered leaders – from Hitler in Germany, to Jim Jones in Guyana and the Salem Witch Trials – where people obeyed less-than-altruistic commands for vacuous and insane reasons to kill. In Iraq, with near countless dead, when as a nation do we ask our troops to be human above all things and to value individual life? Should we ask if they have a responsibility to administer the ability to decide which orders are truly rational, lawful ones and which are morally and ethically bankrupt? Following orders, long after a soldier knows they are wrong on every conceivable level seems unacceptable at best and criminal at worst.
Our current President, George W. Bush, engaged in a concerted and unified effort to deceive Congress and the American people. He lied that Iraq was a threat and that Iraq not only possessed weapons of mass destruction, but also their intent was to cause us immediate and pernicious harm. George W. Bush did so willingly, and with great malice. This is a violating of his oath of office and in doing so also violated the Constitution. Even after incontrovertible evidence showed his massive dishonesty, he furthered and continued a "war of choice" and used mass propaganda and lies to ask others to engage in his crimes against the United States and humanity. These actions are tantamount to sedition and treason and can no longer be discussed in the context of dubiousness but irrefutable facts.
In the path of Bush’s treacherous exploitations in Iraq rests the uncomfortable question of whether those that continue to engage in anticipatory warfare, support, justify, or approve of such egregiousness are guilty too of sedition or are they “just following orders?” Where is the proverbial line that must never be crossed – from justifiable defense to transgressions against humanity – and how do we define it? As nation, are we so full of hubris, patriotic pride, and inerrant beliefs in our nation that we cannot see through the eyes of the people of Iraq that we may have already crossed that “proverbial line?” If we cannot at least indulge that thought, we are on a fast track to fascism and more hegemonic, imperialist wars for political and profiteering gain for a chosen, aristocratic few.
The truth is every American – man, women, child, and even soldier – must begin to realize we are more than merely blemished by this war. We are all tainted with blood and guilt – as a communal society – for the needless bloodshed in Iraq. A reassessment of our total and real priorities is needed. Just how many will die for a lie? How do we stand here in America so self-confident that we, as a nation, should ask someone to be the last person to die for a war of choice and a bag full of fabrications? How much do we spend and at what point does "being right" actually say we are "oh so wrong?" How many deposed people of New Orleans do we continue to cast aside while we conduct a war that never had to be fought and continue to fight after we know it should never have been waged in the first place?
When our troops begin to lack any sense of appreciation for human life, often due to and after multiple tours in hell, is it not our place to tell them they do have choices? These soldiers do indeed have a choice. Every human being has the power of choice. Maybe this is waxing philosophically, but if we all stopped believing in the impossible, so much in the world that is possible today simply would not be in existence now. Solemnly, we must now ask this – in the same way that over 3,000 conscientious objectors already have, laid down their weapons and refuse to follow “unlawful orders” – what would happen if “All 140,000 men and women serving in Iraq exercised their right to chose life over mayhem, butchery, and death?” There is nothing cowardice about what this suggests, for it takes far more bravery to stand up to evil and defy it, than to destroy, maim, and kill people. The ability to resist is far more courageous than the compliance to follow orders of liars, criminals, and despots.
War is seldom justified and wars of choice are unequivocally unforgivable, cold-blooded and depraved, whatever the purpose – be it for oil, land, domination or any other object of materialism or political gain. The penalty for not standing up is far greater than the penalty for following immoral, illegal, and inhuman orders to kill and torture and to invade sovereign nations based on a mountain of lies and concocted “proof.” The penalty for not standing up is the loss of our morals, our principles, and our soul as a once proud – but now shameful – nation.
Ask yourself, “Exactly what are we defending in Iraq?” Certainly, we no longer can claim to be honorable and driven by integrity. Can we candidly claim we are offering reverence to those that truly died in vain so this country could exist? Maybe it is simpler than that. Maybe we are failing as a nation and long ago lost in Iraq because we lack modesty and the ability to practice restraint, while ceaselessly longing for victory in the face of assured futility.
Just how much blood will it take, how many more tortured detainees, civilians dumped-on with incendiary white phosphorous, and how many statements of, "just following orders, sir," will it take until we soil the American flag and render it unrecognizable? It’s all about choice and we all have it as long as we have air in our lungs, dreams of the impossible as possible in our minds and the courage to resist tyranny. To resist unprovoked bloodshed, and orders to commit murder in the name of national arrogance and false assertions that we and we alone, must eternally be forever righteous and blameless for our depraved conduct in the world. After all, violence and destruction are easy. Peace and diplomacy are hard.
# # #
For more information, please visit: Not In Our Name