News Archives
(Includes Iraq Detention Articles)

The Will to Resist

The Rules of Disengagement


Visit PriceOfOil.org to see the work of OilChange International - Covering war in Iraq and its connection to global warming, the Iraqi Oil Law, Peak Oil information, and petroleum industry contributions to major political campaigns.

On Prosecuting War Crimes

by: Nick Mottern, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

US President Barack Obama with Central Intelligence Agency Director Leon Panetta US President Barack Obama is escorted to his limousine by CIA Director Leon Panetta. (Photo: Getty Images)

The following is an excerpt from a talk by Nick Mottern on April 19, 2009, delivered after receiving a Peace and Justice Award from the WESPAC Foundation in White Plains, New York.

    I asked (several friends) what they would like me to speak about today, and the consensus was: Tell people why you do peace and justice work. I will get to that in the course of my remarks.

    I want to address a fundamental issue facing us right now: President Obama has said that people who have committed torture during the Bush/Cheney years will not be prosecuted. He said: "Nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past - we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future."

    I would like to make two points.

    First - President Obama is sending the message that there will be no investigations and prosecutions that are "divisive," that is, if they are politically difficult.

    Is this a message then to the Yonkers (New York) police, for example, that they will not be prosecuted under federal law if they continue to humiliate and physically abuse people in the black and Hispanic community?

    Is Mr. Obama sending a message to certain big bankers who are stealing from us every day in a variety of ways that they are simply too big to be prosecuted?

    Is it a message that the legal system that is decimating our black and Hispanic communities with the disproportionate imprisonment of black and Hispanic men will go unchallenged?

    My second point is that Mr. Obama's judgment on prosecution of torturers is central to the wars of our time.

    Richard Nixon was forced out of office by Watergate; a burglary and cover-up, which was also an attempt to cover up domestic terrorism against his foes and particularly against African-Americans working for economic and social justice. Nixon was disgraced, but he did not go to jail.

    But Nixon was not investigated, indicted or disgraced for a set of far greater crimes than Watergate. He and Henry Kissinger, and others, had, in the course of pursuing the Vietnam War, systematically, knowingly and willfully violated the US constitution and international law. International law doesn't get much respect in the US, even though it was forged out of the misery, degradation, sufferings and deaths of millions of people.

    Nixon was a war criminal. Kissinger is a war criminal. They were responsible for millions of deaths, including the deaths in Cambodia wrought by our war on that nation which led to the scourge of Pol Pot.

    We who were fighting for an end to the Vietnam War made a big mistake when that war stopped. We did not stay in the streets until Nixon, Kissinger and the others were investigated, prosecuted and imprisoned for war crimes.

    I volunteered in 1962 to go to Vietnam. I was in the Navy on a ship that had extremely boring duty in the Pacific. I was 21 years old. I was looking for more exciting duty and the mystery, romance and adventure of Asia. I had been an avid reader of Terry and the Pirates comics. I believed our government, that we were fighting Communism and that that was important. And, it was an argument that gave me a righteous reason for what seemed to me high adventure.

    Fortunately, I did not see combat in Vietnam. I was not called on to directly kill, nor was I threatened directly with death. But I went to Vietnam prepared to kill. And I did see death. I did see massive corruption. I was there because of a decision by then-President John Kennedy to expand the number of troops in Vietnam. I was there because of lies. I was there because the war crimes of the current Vietnamese leaders and the deceptions of the US had been covered up. I went to Vietnam because of lies and youthful stupidity, but nevertheless I feel a need to do what I can to repent for participating in the atrocity of Vietnam because I shared the same will to power and will for glory that drove our leaders and drove them to lie.

    I believe that had Nixon and Kissinger been held accountable for their war crimes, we probably would not be in the wars we are in today. That is because in the very divisive process of investigating and prosecuting Nixon and Kissinger and others, we the American people would have learned something life-changing about ourselves as a people and about our acceptance of war.

    Barack Obama is not given the right by our Constitution to be the judge and jury for torturers. I include Bush and Cheney in this category although they committed other war crimes. Mr. Obama and our Congress took oaths to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the land. They must be reminded that they must do this job regardless of whether they think it is divisive or not.

    If President Obama and the Congress do their jobs of enforcing the law with respect to torture and other Bush and Cheney war crimes, they will begin unraveling the web of deceit that has supported the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

    We as Americans will learn things that we must learn to save countless lives here and in countries where we are supporting and waging war.




Once again, it's time to

Once again, it's time to remember that although the President can say anything he wants to say, it's not really up to him. It's up to the Department of Justice. They're the ones who need to remember that they, too, took (or signed) an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. Just think of where the US might be today if the Justice Department had stood up and done its duty with honesty and ethical principals when Bush and Cheney asked for those torture memos.

I've been reading "America's

I've been reading "America's Defense Meltdown" -- just released and well worth the read -- and for me there's a connection here to the "personnel as cans of beer" attitude with which our military is presently imbued. The basic idea is that low-ranking military personnel are like cans of beer. When you want one, reach into the refrigerator, pull it out, pop it open, pour it out, and then crush the empty can. If you ask me, people who think that way, civilian or military, are unfit for command. And it's easy for me to see how someone who thinks that way can fail to see any problem with torture. Just another can of beer.

If there is a trial...it

If there is a trial...it should not be limited to Bush and Company, but should include all those in Congress..including Obama and Clinton who continually funded the illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and plan to continue the occupation of those countries and continue to fund the wars even today). I don't recall either of them speaking out against GITMO or the torture that they were all aware of.

I wish President Obama would

I wish President Obama would remember all those faces that looked up at him as he gave is acceptance speech on election night,with such hope and anticipation and belief that we were going to get the promised change for the better. His nice words that deny us justice and a feeling that for once the big guys won't get the best of the little guys AGAIN. In my 58 years, I've lived long enough to see the corruption build in this country, knowing that those with no regard for the rule of law are pulling the wires and strings that run the government. With every new piece of information that is brought to the public awareness and leaves us shuddering in horror at what was perpetrated on us all, the anger builds and I am sure it hasn't reached a crescendo yet. The outrage of knowing that the guilty are going to go free while we watched Lindsay England and a few others take the fall for the nightmare that was perpetrated on us by the Evil At The Top. Please Mr. President take a stand, don't play it safe, we that cheered you in January will back you on this one. We must have an investigation and those, if found guilty, must pay for their indiscretions. Then the world will know that those who behave with such disregard for the rule of law will have dire consequences, only then will we start to enjoy the good reputation we once had in the world.

We may be bargaining

We may be bargaining ourselves out of the real McCoy with all this brouhaha about the memos - yes, they are important for their implication on our national character, the rebirth of justice and the rule of law, re-direction to evolution instead of involution, etc. But even the thousands of tortures were not the worst crime of the administration from hell. I agree that we do this torture thing first for practice but that we not forget that 75% of the American public does not believe the official hogwash of 9/11 - that's going to be true test of our character and the only thing that can begin to put the demonic criminals either in or under the jail and our society back on a healing path.

Good article...thanks. There

Good article...thanks. There is no way the Bush adminstration..guilty of horrendous crimes against humanity..should be exempt from prosecution. The actions of the Bush administration are reprehensible..By pretending they did not happen..or worse..aknowledging they did and letting them off without holding them responsible for their crimes... the Obama administration is sending a clear message to the rest of the world: The U.S. can do whatever they choose without fear of prosecution or sanctions. The U.S. continues to call for punitive action against any state nation not 'aligned' with the dishonest and bloodthirsty foreign policies practiced by the world's only super-power. It is bad enough that the U.S. supports Israel's horrific crimes against humanity..but this is beyond the pale. Is it really any wonder the Arab/Muslim world sees Americans as dangerous hypocrits..capable of great evil???? By refusing to prosecute those in the Bush administration guilty of these horrendous crimes...and absolving them of their guilt... the U.S. is ensuring there will be many many MANY years of war and hatred..and frankly...it is increasingly difficult to defend/support a country whose policies support terrorism, racism and illegal wars.

"Barack Obama is not given

"Barack Obama is not given the right by our Constitution to be the judge and jury for torturers. I include Bush and Cheney in this category although they committed other war crimes. Mr. Obama and our Congress took oaths to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the land. They must be reminded that they must do this job regardless of whether they think it is divisive or not. If President Obama and the Congress do their jobs of enforcing the law with respect to torture and other Bush and Cheney war crimes, they will begin unraveling the web of deceit that has supported the Iraq and Afghanistan wars." Nick Mottern, Truthout...................................... I completely agree with that statement and I am on bended knee to ask the President to consider that it is truly in the best interest of the Nation to pursue any investigations into these matters wherever they might lead and to prosecute any and all involved in any crimes. Throughout my entire 56 years of life, We have told and continue to tell the World that we are AMERICA and America stands for something big and grand and good... We are a Nation of Laws no one is above... NO ONE..!!... Americans in high positions in the previous Administration may have committed the worst kind of crimes against individuals, the US, even against all humanity itself... There is no turning away from what needs to be done...

Nick Mottern speaks the

Nick Mottern speaks the truth. There is overwhelming evidence of Bush administration criminal acts that resulted in widespread death and destruction of innocents and violations of the constitution. No one is above the law, and the full force of law must be applied to every single citizen who breaks the law. Obama and the Department of Justice are failing to uphold the constitution and are making a mockery of the rule of law.

"...Barack Obama is not

"...Barack Obama is not given the right by our Constitution to be the judge and jury for torturers. ,,," Exactly. "[Barack Obama] said, 'Nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past - we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future. ...'" This is exactly the same as saying, "Too bad your child was raped and mutilated before being murdered. But no point laying blame for the past. Let's look to our common future." Either we have a justice system that works for justice, or our "common future" looks bleak indeed.

Mr. Mottern has been in the

Mr. Mottern has been in the forefront of some very controversial issues and he has been right. I agree one hundred per cent that we need to prosecute the torturers. He brings up an important point. We need to weed out all of the people in the former administration and who are currently involved in our government who still believe in torture. It seems ironic that Dick Cheney thinks he can prove his innocence by uncovering more instances of torture. I believe that we cannot move forward as President Obama wants this country to do until we have purged ourselves of the poisons of the past administration. Only then once we have vomited out the mess and prosecuted those who have violated both international law and our Constitution will we be able to get back on the right path.

Our elected representatives

Our elected representatives are sworn to uphold the Constitution? Nah. Bush probably used some signing order to bypass all that mumbo jumbo. I mean, who could understand that old rag anyway. Our elected leaders have more important things to do than hold people accountable under the laws of our country. Right?

I will like to know what

I will like to know what will your do with the pople's that do the civil on the USA I will like to know.

The point is OK, but it will

The point is OK, but it will not happen. Obama has other priorities and there are too many "truths" hidden from the people - 9/11 - CIA foreign "interventions" - Israel - Bush's omission on climate change - Ties to big business - Ties to dictators - Big media complicity with GOP lies - .....

How refreshing and

How refreshing and encouraging to hear views such as this and I could not agree more. We have recently seen news items reporting that the evil man Cheney says torture was acceptable because it was productive in obtaining vital information. Perhaps then he should be made to undergo a session or two of water-boarding to find out if there is any truth in some allegations that despite prior knowledge, he and others were responsible for allowing 9/11 to take place in order to justify the so-called "war on terror".

I totally agree with the

I totally agree with the author, Why should these horrible people, Bush, Cheney et al be left to live their lives freely after all the havoc they caused in our lives for eight years. Obama is making a big mistake if he does not prosecute and it will cost him a second term.

Hazlo- DO IT !

Hazlo- DO IT !

Mottern echoes Michael

Mottern echoes Michael Ratner, who adds that the President can't bypass investigation, prosecution and decide who is or is not guilty of torture. Pres. Obama does not have the constitutional power to ignore the law. Hmmmm, do I think there is a continuation of executive branch over-reach from the previous administration?

Thank you, Nick Mottern!

Thank you, Nick Mottern! You have precisely expressed what I believe caring Americans should communicate to President Obama. We must begin to untangle the moral knots we've created, or... accept that we've simply lost our moral compass and live with the consequences.

I'm amused by Cheney's

I'm amused by Cheney's defense "Torture works." Bank robbery works. Perhaps Cheney should go out and rob a bunch of banks & pay off the national debt. That'd make it legal, right?

Considering the evidence to

Considering the evidence to show 9/11 was demolition. When somebody uses 9/11 as an excuse to do something whether that be attack a country, impose laws to protect (but designed to enslave), or in this case to torture. I think there is ample evidence out there to justify a re-opening of the 9/11 investigations to show that it was a serious inside job. Khalid Sheik Mohammed was water boarded 183 times because he was the accused mastermind of 9/11. Knowing the evidence that is out there today and that the CIA investigators have half a brain to see the obvious evidence of 9/11 (not to mention evidence that had prior knowledge). What does this say about their true intent in water boarding a suspect? How they can get a free ride through this is a mockery of our legal system. If I helped my boss break the law I would be in jail right next to him they should suffer the same legal actions as any other US citizen would. I put this as a serious mark against Obama and his intentions.

HEAR HEAR! Principled

HEAR HEAR! Principled democratic practice demands action, not words, attack on injustice and lies, not piddling "conciliation". "Conciliate" a bully and you'll get more bullying.

Well said. (applause)

Well said. (applause)

Might verse Right? Which one

Might verse Right? Which one takes it? Was the ignorant-labeled student wrong when he told Plato,"Justice is merely the advantage of the stronger."? Our national laws are set and agreed on by legislatures we as a whole country vote for. The Cosmopolitan laws are guided through history's events that we wish not to repeat, so you are right in saying we needed/still need a precedence set. Some could argue they should have been set decades ago.

I certainly hope that in his

I certainly hope that in his urging forgiveness for the CIA "overenthusiasts" that he also gives a thought to the enthusiasts in the military who were also excessively zealous. Let's give pardons A to Charles Graner, Lynndie England, and Sabrina Harman. And we should restore Col Janis Karpinski to her original rank of Brigadier General. Best wishes, Alan McConnell

Nick, you're 100% right. We

Nick, you're 100% right. We cannot afford to let such crimes go unpunished.