More than two grueling years have passed since U.S. and coalition forces stormed into the sovereign nation of Iraq.Still there has been little discussion in this country about the legal standing of the invasion. Perhaps that is because most Americans are reluctant to admit this inconvenient but certain fact: The United States/United Kingdom invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a war of aggression, a crime against the peace as defined by the Nuremberg Principles.
Various legal experts employed by the coalition governments will dispute this. But their arguments are incredibly weak and are not taken seriously by an overwhelming majority of scholars of international law in the world. These independent legal scholars, such people as Sean Murphy of George Washington University, Mary Ellen O’Connell of Ohio State University and Philippe Sands of University College London, all hold that the invasion was a blatant violation of international law.
There are only two cases in which a nation or group of nations can legally undertake armed intervention against another nation: in self-defense against an armed attack or if the United Nations Security Council authorizes a coalition of nations to intervene militarily to maintain peace and security in the world. Contrary to what the Bush administration would like the world to believe, the invasion of Iraq can be justified neither on the basis of self-defense nor because it was sanctioned by the Security Council.
These are the facts that outline the legal status of the war:
- The primary grievance against Iraq was the claim that it had weapons of mass destruction and ongoing illicit weapons programs.
- The U.N. weapons inspection team was invasively and thoroughly determining whether such weapons or weapons programs existed in Iraq.
- The U.N. Security Council was not willing to grant authority to invade Iraq while the U.N. inspection team was handling the illicit weapons problem peacefully.
- President Bush launched the invasion of Iraq anyway, in contravention of the U.N. Security Council and the U.N. Charter. Without Security Council authorization, the invasion was illegal and must be classified as a war of aggression.
- Should Americans be concerned about international law? It is quite clear that Bush has little regard for it. Yet, the United States was founded on the basis of the rule of law. Article VI of the Constitution states that treaties, which this country has signed and ratified, are the "supreme law of the land."
The U.N. Charter is such a treaty, and it was created in large part because of the efforts of this country following World War II. For this country to so egregiously transgress the charter’s prohibition on the use of force is not only a violation of international law, it is a violation of our Constitution and a repudiation of much of what this country stands for.
A thoughtful person does not require the U.S. Constitution or the U.N. Charter to understand the monstrosity of this invasion. Common sense and decency should tell us that launching an unprovoked invasion of another country, even one ruled by a man as nefarious as Saddam Hussein, is simply mass murder. What of the tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis who have died as a result of this military incursion? Did anyone ask them if they were willing to sacrifice their lives in a risky attempt to install democracy in their land?
Whether Americans realize it or not, the integrity of the United States has been dealt a serious blow. This country can no longer be regarded as a nation that stands upon the legal and moral high ground. There is little doubt people of most countries now regard us as hypocrites. In an effort to regain our lost integrity, it is time we hold accountable, through impeachment and prosecution, the leaders who planned and launched this disastrous and criminal war.
By Tom Krebsbach
Tom Krebsbach of Brier is a Vietnam veteran.
July 20, 2005
© 2005 Seattle Post-Intelligencer