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March 21, 2006

Preventing International Crimes


by Gordon Prather

When Bush went to Congress in September 2002, seeking "specific statutory authorization" to invade Iraq, he based his case on what we now know was "fixed" intelligence – a hastily completed National Intelligence Estimate, which supposedly contained, but did not – positive proof that Saddam was reconstructing his nuke and chem-bio programs with the intention of supplying them to Islamic terrorists for use against us.

Of course, practically everyone in Congress already knew that Bush intended to invade Iraq irrespective of what Saddam had done, was doing, or intended to do.

In Bush's 2002 National Security Strategy statement, he accused Iraq, Iran, and North Korea of being "rogue states" who:

  • brutalize their own people and squander their national resources for the personal gain of the rulers;
  • display no regard for international law, threaten their neighbors and callously violate international treaties to which they are party;
  • are determined to acquire weapons of mass destruction, along with other advanced military technology, to be used as threats or offensively to achieve the aggressive designs of these regimes;
  • sponsor terrorism around the globe; and
  • reject basic human values and hate the United States and everything for which it stands.

Now, hardly any member of the UN Security Council agreed with Bush that Iraq then constituted a threat to any of its neighbors, much less to the United States.

Hence, this explicit threat by Bush in his National Security Strategy of 2002 was extremely troubling:

"The United States has long maintained the option of preemptive actions to counter a sufficient threat to our national security.

"The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction – and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack.

"To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively."

On the eve of Bush's preemptive attack on Iraq, former Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd tried to get Congress to stop Bush from misusing the highly conditional authority provided a few months earlier in the Resolution Authorizing the Use of U.S. Armed Forces Against Iraq.

Byrd had this, inter alia, to say:

"This nation is about to embark upon the first test of a revolutionary doctrine applied in an extraordinary way at an unfortunate time.

"The doctrine of preemption – the idea that the United States or any other nation can legitimately attack a nation that is not imminently threatening but may be threatening in the future – is a radical new twist on the traditional idea of self-defense.

"It appears to be in contravention of international law and the UN Charter.

"And it is being tested at a time of worldwide terrorism, making many countries around the globe wonder if they will soon be on our – or some other nation's – hit list."

Undeterred, on March 20, 2003, Bush informed Congress that he was exercising the highly conditional authority Congress had given him because he had determined that no "further diplomatic or other peaceful means will adequately protect the national security of the United States from the continuing threat posed by Iraq."

Has Bush been fazed by the horrific results of his – unauthorized by either Congress or UN Security Council and hence a violation of U.S. and international law – preemptive attack against an utterly defenseless Iraq?

Apparently not, because he has just released the 2006 National Security Strategy, which contains almost everything scary contained in the 2002 version, with additions such as this:

"We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran.

"For almost 20 years, the Iranian regime hid many of its key nuclear efforts from the international community.

"The United States has joined with our EU partners and Russia to pressure Iran to meet its international obligations and provide objective guarantees that its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes.

"This diplomatic effort must succeed if confrontation is to be avoided."

But, according to the Russians, Iran has met all its international obligations.

And, according to the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran has provided objective guarantees – above and beyond those required by its Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA – that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.

So, perhaps Sen. Byrd can reprise his speech that an unsanctioned preemptive attack "appears to be in contravention of international law and the UN Charter."

Besides, Iran may not be "utterly defenseless."


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Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.

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