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Commentary Last Updated: Dec 13th, 2007 - 00:39:16

The Iraq war trial
By William John Cox
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Dec 13, 2007, 12:19

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As an independent, I have often thought that it would be more fun to attend a Democratic party, rather than one thrown by Republicans. I believed Democrats were more "progressive," creative, more willing to act out, but I�m no longer so sure.

Even though voters provided the Democrats with a majority in Congress in the last election, the Democrats have continued politics as usual. Impeachment�s off the table, continue to fund the most idiotic war in history, approve an attorney general who don�t know his torture from a hole in the ground, etc., etc., etc.

Politically, I�ve withdrawn from both parties because it doesn�t appear that either one really represents me and the vast majority of ordinary voters in this country, and I�m convinced that they�ve both sold out to the same corporate interests, including the defense industry. Which brings me to the subject.

The Democrats are so afraid of being labeled as wimps by the Republicans that they�re afraid to take a risk. Even though they now chair and have a majority on every committee in Congress, they continue to dither away every opportunity to take the political lead and to actually do what they were elected to do: STOP THIS STUPID WAR!!!

As a trial lawyer, I was often required to litigate cases I wished were better, but I always knew that my opponents� cases were weaker than they appeared, and if I maximized my strengths and exploited their weaknesses, there was always a chance of victory. At least, that�s what trials are all about. My job was to investigate the matter, gather my evidence, learn the law, and line up my witnesses.

We lawyers are trained to put on a good show and, even if the judge sometimes acts like another lawyer for the other side, we can still parade our witnesses and trust that the jury has some commonsense. We just have to lay out our evidence, challenge the other side, and argue the facts and law. Mostly, you have to have the courage, day after day, to walk into court, pick a jury and roll the dice. Timid attorneys never leave their offices; they settle their cases and compromise their clients� interests. They practice the way congressional Democrats have been acting.

Democrats should recognize that their case is far stronger than they think, and that the Republican case is far weaker. It�s just that the Republicans hang together and tend to be bullies. But, nobody likes bullies and that�s a good place to start. Stand up to a bully, punch him in the nose, and he�ll run home, crying. The biggest little bully on the Capitol block likes to dress up in the uniform he once disgraced by refusing to fight and by going AWOL, and to strut around as though he was something more than a mama�s boy who has never personally accomplished anything without his daddy�s help.

We know we�re already paying a half million dollars a minute for Bush�s Iraq War, but we have no clue how many trillions it will ultimately cost us, the ordinary people of America, and our children. Nobody knows for sure, but even though the little Republican bully is the "decider," our Democratic Congress is the "payer," and there�s where the trial should be held.

Congress passed a $97.5 billion war-spending bill in March 2007 requiring that troop withdrawals from Iraq commence within 120 days and be completed within a year. Calling the bill a political statement, President Bush promptly vetoed it. Congress rolled over and passed an increased $120 billion spending bill, without the withdrawal deadline; however, it did include 18 benchmarks for progress. Iraq failed to meet 15 of the benchmarks, and Bush sent his latest and most compliant commanding general, David Petraeus to explain to Congress why the benchmarks weren�t really all that important and why we should send more, rather than fewer troops to Iraq.

House Democrats thought that progress really was important and passed a $50 billion "bridge fund" bill last month to continue some military operations. However, the bill did establish a limited withdrawal process, it required Bush to formulate a "regional stability plan," and it required established military readiness requirements to be met for troops between deployments. The Republicans blocked the bill in the Senate, and Bush began to unfurl the "support the troops" banners and to threaten Defense Department layoffs unless the Democrats again roll over and give him the unrestricted $196 billion he has demanded.

The issue to be decided is not whether the surge has worked, or whether the United States should stay in Iraq for five or 50 more years. Inasmuch as the U.S. illegally invaded Iraq and has caused the deaths of as many as a million of its citizens, the destruction of its infrastructure, rampant criminality, and a civil war resulting in millions of refugees, the question is whether we have any legal right or justification to remain in the country. Iraq�s legislature doesn�t want us there, the Iraqi people don�t want us there, a majority of Americans don�t want us there, and the rest of the world thinks we�re a bunch of criminals for breaking in there in the first place.

The primary issue is whether we stay or leave, not for how long or what we should be doing. If we have a right to be there and a legal duty to fix what we�ve broken, then we should stay and work on the problem. But, if we�re like a burglar caught in the upstairs closet, we�d better boogie before the cops arrive.

The Democrats have allowed the Bush administration to define all the issues and to establish the standard of proof. They allowed General Petraeus to testify without a rigorous cross-examination, and they offered no rebuttal witnesses. The Democrats now have a golden opportunity to show the world how a democratic republic should work and what freedom�s really all about. Democrats can fulfill the will of the people and do what�s right by immediately holding hearings in either the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee or before the full House Appropriations Committee to establish whether Congress should fund an illegal war, and if so how much and under what conditions.

Once there has been a comprehensive hearing on the issues, and if Congress decides that further funding only prolongs an illegal war, there will be no bill for the president to veto and he will have no means to continue his criminal conduct. If, based on all the evidence, Congress decides upon reasonable levels and limitations on funding, then shame on Bush if he throws a tantrum and vetoes the legislation. He will then have no choice but to withdraw our sons and daughters from harm�s way. The Democrats need have no fear -- the people will know who has courage and who�s a coward, and who has done right and who�s wrong.

House Democrats should draw up a witness list and invite the president to send up rebuttal witnesses. The trial should be covered by the news media, not just on C-SPAN. There should be breathless reports from the hallway and instant analysis by legal and political pundits. Ultimately, the American people will decide the matter, but our continued occupation of Iraq is a matter of grave importance and concern to every person on earth. The hearings should be conducted with dignity and the verdict arrived at with wisdom after due deliberation.

Our "war president" Bush keeps saying we should listen to our military officers in deciding what to do in Iraq. So be it. There is no shortage of officers, both active and retired who have something to say about these issues. Perhaps we should also listen to some of the enlisted personnel fighting the war, and some of its veterans. Shouldn�t we also hear from some distinguished Americans, some senior statesmen, perhaps even a former president? A short list of witnesses follows with a summary of their anticipated testimony:

Former President Jimmy Carter would testify that "the invasion of Iraq was unnecessary and unjust, and I think the premises on which it was launched were false."

Former long-time anchor for CBS Evening News Walter Cronkite would testify that: "The Bush administration has attempted to forestall ending the war by putting in more troops, but more troops will not solve the problem. We have lost the hearts and minds of most of the Iraqi people, and victory no longer seems to be even a remote possibility. It is time to end our occupation of Iraq, and bring our troops home."

Republican Senator Chuck Hagel would testify that: "This is one of the most arrogant, incompetent administrations I�ve ever seen personally or ever read about. I would rate this one the lowest in capacity, in capability, in policy, in consensus -- in almost every area, I would give it the lowest grade."

General Anthony Zinni, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired), would testify that: "Iraq was the wrong war at the wrong time -- with the wrong strategy," and that "in the lead up to the Iraq war and its later conduct, I saw at a minimum, true dereliction, negligence and irresponsibility, at worse, lying, incompetence and corruption."

General John Johns, U.S. Army (Retired), would testify that the Iraq War was "one of the great blunders of history."

General Barry R. McCaffrey, U.S. Army (Retired), would testify that the U.S. was engaged in "a fool�s errand," that "our allies are leaving us," and that "the U.S. Army is rapidly unraveling."

General Joseph P. Hoar, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired), would testify that: "This administration�s handling of the war has been characterized by deceit, mismanagement and a shocking failure to understand the social and political forces that influence events in the Middle East." Moreover, that the surge was "too little and too late," and that "the solution is political, not military."

Lt. General William E. Odom, U.S. Army (Retired), would testify that the Iraq War was "the worst strategic mistake in the history of the United States" and that "the principle beneficiary of the war was Iran and al Qaeda, not the United States."

Lt. General Ricardo S. Sanchez, U.S. Army (Retired), would testify that the "consequences of the administration's failure to devise a strategy for victory in Iraq that employed, in a coordinated manner, the political, economic, diplomatic and military power of the United States. That failure continues today. At its base is the mistaken belief, despite years of evidence to the contrary, that victory can be achieved through the application of military power alone. Although we cannot withdraw precipitously from Iraq, we must move rapidly to minimize our force presence. Shifting the primary mission of our troops away from combat will lead to a smaller U.S. military presence, and a greater obligation on the part of the Iraqis to take the lead in solving their country's problems."

Lt. General Greg Newbold, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired), would testify that Iraq was an "unnecessary war," and that "the cost of flawed leadership continues to be paid in blood. The willingness of our forces to shoulder such a load should make it a sacred obligation for civilian and military leaders to get our defense policy right. They must be absolutely sure that the commitment is for a cause as honorable as the sacrifice."

Lt. General Robert Gard, U.S. Army (Retired), would testify that: "When you feel the country -- to its extreme detriment -- is going in the wrong direction, and that your views might have some impact, you have a duty to speak out. Patriotism means more than following orders."

Major General Paul Eton, U.S. Army (Retired), would testify that: "Congress must assert itself. Too much power has shifted to the executive branch, not just in terms of waging war but also in planning the military of the future. Congress should remember it still has the power of the purse; it should call our generals, colonels, captains and sergeants to testify frequently, so that their opinions and needs are known to the men they lead. Then when they are asked if they have enough troops -- and no soldier has ever had enough of anything, more is always better -- the reply is public."

Major General John Batiste, U.S. Army (Retired), would testify that: "Besides the fact that many conservatives allowed President Bush to jump head-first into a war of choice, the bullheadedness of congressional Republicans who argue for staying the course runs contrary to conservative values. Many politicians of my party continue to argue that we must liberally use up whatever our military has left. Bottom line, the Republican Congress of the last six years abrogated its constitutional duty and share in the responsibility for the debacle in Iraq." He would also testify that Bush continues "to pursue a failed strategy that is breaking our great Army and Marine Corps" and that Bush has "placed our nation in peril. Our only hope is that Congress will act now to protect our fighting men and women."

Major General Charles Swannack, Jr., U.S. Army (Retired), would testify that "the United States is losing strategically in Iraq."

Specialist Buddhika Jayamaha, U.S. Army; Sergeant Wesley D. Smith, U.S. Army; Sergeant Jeremy Roebuck, U.S. Army; Sergeant Edward Sandmeier, U.S. Army, and Staff Sergeant Jeremy A. Murphy, U.S. Army, would testify that: "The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere. In a lawless environment where men with guns rule the streets, engaging in the banalities of life has become a death-defying act. Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence. When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages. As an Iraqi man told us a few days ago with deep resignation, �We need security, not free food.� In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are -- an army of occupation -- and force our withdrawal. Until that happens, it would be prudent for us to increasingly let Iraqis take center stage in all matters, to come up with a nuanced policy in which we assist them from the margins but let them resolve their differences as they see fit. This suggestion is not meant to be defeatist, but rather to highlight our pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends without recognizing the incongruities." Finally, these witnesses would testify that Staff Sergeant Yance T. Gray, U.S. Army, and Sergeant Omar Mora, U.S. Army, would have joined them in their testimony had they not died in Iraq.

This short list of witnesses was quickly prepared. Hearings on the lawfulness of the Iraq occupation and its continued funding could undoubtedly extend for weeks, as there is no shortage of witnesses.

Finally, we the American voters will speak out, if not now, then at the next election. We are Democrats, Republicans, Greens, Libertarians, and Independents, and we are the judge and jury of the Iraq War Trial, and the Congress and the president had better pay attention to our verdict.

William John Cox is a retired supervising prosecutor for the State Bar of California. Acting as a public interest, pro bono, attorney, he filed a class action lawsuit in 1979 on behalf of every citizen of the United States petitioning the Supreme Court to order the other two branches of the federal government to conduct a National Policy Referendum; he investigated and successfully sued a group of radical right-wing organizations in 1981 that denied the Holocaust; and he arranged in 1991 for the publication of the suppressed Dead Sea Scrolls. His book, "You'r e Not Stupid! Get the Truth: A Brief on the Bush Presidency" is reviewed at, and his political writings are collected at

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