A Fearful Asymmetry
October 18, 2005 | category: Recent Updates VitW
By Lucia Dailey

“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction…and the distinction between true and false no longer exists.” —Hannah Arendt

Deliberate destruction of Iraqi civilian infrastructure by US bombing in the First Gulf War, along with US-backed economic sanctions, caused hundreds of thousands to die from treatable diseases and malnutrition. Most vulnerable as always were children, women, and the old. A report in March 1991 by UN Under Secretary-General Martii Ahtisaari registered the desolation: “Nothing that we had seen or read had quite prepared us for the particular form of devastation which has now befallen the country. The recent conflict has wrought near-apocalyptic results upon the infrastructure…. Iraq has, for some time to come, been relegated to a pre-industrial age.”

Middle class life collapsed, few goods were available in stores, and epidemics of polio and other infectious diseases erupted due to lack of medicine and chlorine for treating water. Before one bomb fell in 2003 a million Iraqis were already dead from the First Gulf War and the sanctions. UN estimates are one half million of the dead were children under the age of five. Iraq had not risen from its knees when the second Bush Administration unleashed the might of the US arsenal in a campaign most obscenely named “Shock and Awe,” in a war based entirely on lies.

When asked on national television if the deaths of a half million Iraqi children were “worth it” former Secretary of State Madeline Albright answered “the price is worth it.” She later told Amy Goodman she regretted making that statement. “I have said 5,000 times that I regret it. It was a stupid statement. I never should have made it.” While expressing regret over her remark, left unsaid, like a gaping whole in the fabric of “reality,” was a mention of regret over the deaths of the children, of the underlying immorality in the killing of civilians in modern warfare, of the Secretary’s complicity.

Albright was not alone in her justifications. In 1991 the Washington Post quoted a senior Air Force officer’s justification for the rampant killing of civilians. “The definition of innocents gets to be a little bit unclear, ” he said. He added that many Iraqis “supported the invasion of Kuwait. They do live there, and ultimately the people have some control over what goes on in their country.” According to that logic US civilians are also legitimate targets in war. And that is part of what the St. Patrick’s Four were protesting—the modern concept of total war, the very idea that all humans are “legitimate” targets in a war. Strategic bombing, a keystone of our current Department of Defense’s method of warfare, is about genocide. Another officer in the air campaign in the First Gulf War explained: “When they discuss warfare, a lot of folks tend to think of force on force, soldier A against soldier B;” [strategic bombing] is aimed at “all those things that allow a nation to sustain itself.”

“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” —Senior adviser to President Bush, 2002.

Another performance in the drama between truth and what “history’s actors” want perceived as truth unfolded in a crowded federal courtroom in New York where the St. Patrick’s Four were on trial.

Two days before the US invaded Iraq in March 2003, Peter De Mott, Clare and Teresa Grady and Daniel Burns went to a recruiting station to peacefully protest the imminent invasion. Arrested and tried in state court on misdemeanor charges they used the Constitution and international law as a basis for their defense. The case was dismissed with the jury voting 9-3 for acquittal. The Federal Government was not satisfied however. The Four soon received federal indictments on new felony charges of conspiracy to impede a federal officer by “force, intimidation, and threat ” entailing much harsher penalties with prison sentences of up to six years and fines of up to $ 250,000 each.

From the outset Judge Thomas McAvoy’s rulings prevented the defendants from giving a full account of why they went to a recruiting station to protest. He said the Iraq War was “irrelevant” to the case and also banned mention of the US Constitution and international law. The Federal Government had significantly changed the language in the indictment from that in the actual statute, overruling the defense’s objections on the indictment’s wording the judge made it easier for the jury to convict.

Teresa Grady called the proceedings “an attempt by the government to stifle dissent …to give a federal stamp of approval for acts occurring in Iraq today.” She asked the judge not to give his “stamp of approval to criminalizing people’s dissent.” With a virtual wink to the audience the judge answered: “I’ll keep that in mind.” He stymied the Four’s defense at every turn, and with unintended irony would not allow the defendants to cite the US Constitution in a federal courtroom.

Deprived of the whole truth, the jury was still able to distinguish the peaceful intent and sincerity of the defendants. They dismissed the felony charges and found the Four guilty of misdemeanors. Judge McAvoy cited three of the defendants with contempt for mentioning their previous trial, a second contempt charge was given to Peter De Mott for refusing to implicate anyone else in the “conspiracy.” Sentencing will be in a few months.

“To Participate in Modern Warfare is to Participate in Genocide.”

Peter De Mott testified that his experiences in Vietnam led him to peace act ivism. He enlisted because he had a “desire to serve my country, to fight communism—that was the spin. My uncle was a World War 2 veteran so I had this notion of war as a glorious thing to participate in…soon after arriving in Vietnam I saw it wasn’t what it was supposed to be.” He knew people who were killed there and others “terribly wounded… 58,000 equal to the number [killed in Vietnam] some say committed suicide. Very large numbers came home traumatized, spiritually, speaking psychologically, scarred by their experience that they took their own lives. A big part of the making of war and death and the price it extracts from your soul and psyche was brought home to me…. The number one threat to the human family is war…we really have the capability of destroying all life forever.”

“Did you go to the recruitment center to force recruiters?”

Peter: “No, I did not. I went to have this dialog…. My understanding is the law calls us to uphold communities and the safety and well-being of the citizens…the basis of the law in my understanding is mutual concern, mutual care for one another.”

He said he when he went to the recruiting station that there existed a state of “national emergency,” that [the coming war] would claim “precious lives. International maneuverings could escalate into nuclear war…the possibility of nuclear annihilation is that real. The weaponry, the sophistication and destructive power and prevalence of these weapons of mass destruction overwhelmingly in the US arsenal and in other countries…a nightmare we’ve been living with since 1945…. This war could escalate out of control and lead to the destruction of the world.”

“I felt I had a responsibility to my comrades in arms, to warn them, to alert them to the dangers they faced in Iraq including depleted uranium [DU]…. We learned in 2004, New York State National Guard…their children were born with birth defects….”

Prosecution: “Objection.” Sustained.

Peter is not allowed to continue speaking about DU and its link to birth defects. The night before at the Citizens’ Tribunal on Iraq Mary Anne Grady Flores spoke of the dangers of DU a radioactive substance used to coat ammunition used by the US in the Balkans, Iraq and Kuwait. Leaked government memos and ongoing independent research have emphasized the dangers—it is linked with skyrocketing childhood cancer rates and severely deformed infants in Iraq, along with other genetic defects and health problems to those exposed. Radioactive and a heavy metal, its half-life is 4.5 billion years. 300 metric tons were used in Iraq as of 2003. The Pentagon claims it’ s safe.

Peter: [I went there] “to warn recruits not to enlist or participate….In a war overwhelmingly the causalities are…noncombatants. The most genuine way to support our troops is to leave the military or not go into the military because to participate in modern warfare is to participate in genocide. 100,000 Iraqis killed, eighty percent are children. That’s totally indefensible.”

Asked about why he was involved with nuclear weapons protests:

“Because…August 6, 1945 [a nuclear bomb] annihilated instantly 100,000 people. People are still dying from radiation, fallout. War weaponry makes no distinction between combatants and non-combatants. Nuclear weapons are inherently genocidal.” He described participating in symbolic acts of disarmament… “realizing if these warheads were ever used millions of lives would be lost…. [These actions] address weapons of mass destruction which have no right to exist.”

“[There is] a misconception that we have to live with violence and war…. I have a right and obligation to work for peace. Historically any weapon invented has been used, if this proves true then we’re all lost. Mutual assured destruction is more true now than in the 1950s or 1960s…[it’s a] problem of our collective human survival…I am obligated to speak out in a nonviolent way…they never should have been made but having been made they should be dismantled.”

Lesser Crimes and Greater Crimes

Teresa Grady told the court she went to protest at the recruiting station to show “there was a great, grave and serious illegal imminent invasion of Iraq—so our nation wouldn’t be guilty of war crimes….”

She spoke of the White Rose—a group of student dissenters executed in Nazi Germany for printing leaflets asking Germans to take a moral stand against the Nazis. The students had learned of mass executions on the Eastern Front and the killing of the Jews. They asked their fellow Germans to “resist this evil…not to be implicated.” Teresa starts to mention the Nuremberg principles of international law and is silenced by the judge. She says the invasion of Iraq was illegal: “I did believe I had a right under law to try to avert a great crime that our country was going to engage in….”

Because of the gag order Teresa is not allowed to cite Article 6 section 4 of the US Constitution that make all treaties entered into by the US government “the law of the land.” The US invasion of Iraq is illegal both under domestic and intentional law. Under Article 4, Paragraph 4 of the UN Charter to which the US is a signatory, every threat and use of military force against another nation is an act of aggression except when approved by a formal resolution of the Security Council, and for self-defense. The US government can claim neither regarding Iraq.

According to the Geneva Conventions and Protocols to which the US is also a signatory, the economic sanctions against Iraq was a war crime and illegal under US law. And so was the leveling of the city of Fallujah, a punishment for the killing of four Blackwater mercenaries there. Also a war crime is the unilateral decision by the US to rename captured people “enemy combatants” instead of “prisoners of war” so they can be tortured and “disappeared” in defiance of the Geneva Conventions which Attorney General Alberto Gonzales once called “quaint.” This last advance by our government now extends to US citizens insofar as we too may now be held indefinitely with no charges once we have been properly labeled in secret proceedings.

Ignoring the Charter of the United Nations, the Hague and Geneva Conventions, the Nuremberg Charter, the US Constitution and Bill of Rights our government threatens the world with more aggression as it actively tries to silence and intimidate those who dissent at home.

The St. Patrick’s Four are among those left to study “reality” after it has been “created” by “history’s actors.” That is really why they were on trial in federal court. Their studies brought them to the conclusion that some US policies are immoral, illegal, dangerous, and pose a threat to all life on the planet. “History’s actors” don’t like those kinds of captions put on their actions. Having spent years drawing attention to the dangers and costs of US militarism, nuclear arsenals and proliferation, depleted uranium, environmental damage, poverty, the words and actions of the Four don’t tally well with official perceptions desired by our rulers. Most dangerous to “history’s actors’” hold on power is the willingness of people to speak truth—even at great personal cost. Too many holes in the official web of deceits and manufactured perceptions might lead to what—insight, understanding, nonviolent resolution of conflict—maybe even peace, prosperity?

At the Citizens’ Tribunal on Iraq, Kathy Kelly told of victims of the war: Iraqi women she saw who had no arms, other women had to hold their babies for them so they could nurse the babies. She spoke of the starvation of the children there and the total destruction of the country. She said “There is no court of justice, there is no executive drawing room powerful enough, or system in this country powerful enough to deal with the ravaging of a country.” She asked we go outside our “comfort zones as the Gradys have and stand up for the helpless people who are the victims of US aggression.”

Teresa Grady likened her protest to “a pail of water [that] can be filled with little drops…to create enough energy to turn us away from killing… to make hope visible…. People are able to respond…with hope as well…keeping dialog, conversation open enables us to go forward nonviolently. When we’re kept from speaking the truth, the whole truth, we’re denying democracy.”

She said: “War creates a perversity…a perversity of beauty….”

The poet wrote: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty—that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.” A perversity of beauty is also a perversity of truth: a fearful asymmetry, something misshapen, inimical to human life in all its varied richness and to the life breath of the planet. Untruths are the currency of warmongers and those who would silence the voices of the suffering.

Lucia Dailey