Opening Speech at the World Tribunal on Iraq
by Richard Falk, June 24, 2005
Let me express at the outset, on behalf of the Panel of Advocates our profound gratitude to the convenors of this Istanbul session of the World Tribunal on Iraq (WTI) for their exceptional effort, and at the same time acknowledge the extraordinary contributions of the twenty earlier sessions of the WTI that have produced invaluable testimony and results that have increased awareness the world over of the criminality of the Iraq War. This unprecedented process of truth-telling about an ongoing war has produced what can best be described as 'a tribunal movement' of which this Istanbul session is the culminating phase to date of this process.
The World Tribunal on Iraq (WTI) is remarkable for two principal reasons: WTI bears witness to the depth and persistence of the popular mobilization of people throughout the world in opposition to the Iraq War. Such a mobilization against a particular war has never occurred before on such a scale. It started with the massive street demonstrations before the war on Feb. 15, 2003 in which some 11 million people took part in 80 countries and more than 600 urban communities. The WTI gives a continuing legal, moral, and political expression to this anti-war opposition which itself has entered a new phase: an insurgent war of liberation being waged in resistance to the illegal occupation of the country by the greatest military power in the history of the world. In this struggle, the Iraqi people are being denied their fundamental rights of self-determination, first by aggression and then by a cruel and criminal dynamic occupation.
The second reason for claiming historical significance on behalf of WTI relates to this initiative of, by, and for citizens to hold leaders accountable for severe violations of international law, especially in relation to matters of war and peace. It is not that this is an entirely new idea. The first such effort was inspired by the eminent British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, who convened such a tribunal back in 1967 to assess the legal responsibility of the United States and its leaders for the Vietnam War. It gathered testimony and documented the massive abuses of Vietnamese sovereignty by a devastating war that took millions of innocent Vietnamese lives. Above all, this citizens' tribunal was a cry of anguish intended to break the wall of silence behind which the crimes associated with the Vietnam War were daily committed. The Russell Tribunal in turn led to the formation of the Permanent Peoples Tribunal, located in Rome, operating since 1976 to reinforce the claims of international law by filling in the gaps where governments and even the United Nations are unable and unwilling to act, or even to speak. The WTI continues and extends this tradition of refusing to be silent or to be silenced. It accepts as a responsibility of democracy the obligation of citizens to insist on the relevance and applicability of international law to every use of force. This insistence includes a demand for criminal accountability, whenever a government disavows its commitment to respect international law. It is primarily to honor this commitment to uphold international law that this tribunal has been organized, and its mission is to confirm the truth of the allegation directed at the United States and the United Kingdom, while also extending to all governments that support directly or indirectly the Iraq War.
We should be aware that such a commitment by the WTI is part of a longer journey of international law that has evolved by stages that can be identified.
The initial stage was to create in some authoritative way the norms of law, morality, and politics associated with the prohibition of wars of aggression. The legal culmination of this process occurred in 1928 when leading states, including the United States and the UK, ratified without qualification the General Treaty for the Renunciation of War as an instrument of National Policy, also known as the Kellogg-Brand Pact;
This was followed by a second stage that attached criminal consequences to the violation of this norm prohibiting aggressive war through establishing accountability. The criminal trial of German and Japanese leaders after World War II, the Nuremberg Judgment issued in 1945 was a milestone in this process. The Judgment declared: "To initiate a war of aggression...is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole," and although Nuremberg was flawed by being an example of "victors' justice," the American prosecutor, Justice Robert Jackson, made what has been described as the Nuremberg Promise in his closing statement: "If certain acts in violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us" This promise has been broken, but such behavior is not acceptable, and we are gathered in part to insist even now that the promise that every state will pay the consequences if it wages a war of aggression.
This treaty pledge to renounce aggressive war informed the United Nations Charter. The Charter imposes a core obligation on Members to refrain from the use of force in international relations except in circumstances of self-defense strictly defined and under the authority of the Security Council. It also, in a spirit relevant to the WTI, confirmed in its opening words that it is the peoples of the world and not the governments or even the UN that have been entrusted with the ultimate responsibility for upholding this renunciation of war: "We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war..." that set forth the duties of states in the UN Charter. This tribunal is dedicated to precisely this undertaking as a matter of law, as an imperative of morality and human rights, and as an engagement with the politics of global justice.
Of course, this tribunal does not pretend to be a normal court of law with powers of enforcement. At the same time, it is acting on behalf of the peoples of the world to uphold respect for international law. When governments and the UN are silent, and fail to protect victims of aggression, tribunals of concerned citizens possess a law-making authority. Their unique contribution is to tell the truth as powerfully and fully as possible, and by such truthfulness to activate the conscience of humanity to resist. The US Government told a pack of lies in its feeble attempt to find a legal justification for the invasion of Iraq. The WTI will expose these lies by presenting evidence and testimony. The task of exposing lies and confirming truth has become easier as a result of the release of the Downing Street memos. These official documents show that British and American officials understood fully that the Iraq War was unlawful, and not only did they go ahead, but they fabricated evidence to build a completely dishonest legal case. Neither governments, nor the UN, nor most of the media will tell this story of deception, destruction, and criminality. It is the mission of the WTI, building on the efforts of the 20 or so earlier citizens' tribunals, to tell this story and to appeal to the peoples of the world to join with the people of Iraq in opposing aggression against Iraq. The tribunal is formed on the basis of a Panel of Advocates and a Jury of Conscience. The Panel will present the evidence and the Jury will draw legal, moral, and political conclusions and offer recommendations. The pledge of advocates and jurors is to act in an honest, non-partisan, independent, and objective spirit to follow the evidence wherever it leads.
This tribunal differs from a normal court of law in the following main respects:
--it is an organ of civil society, not of the state;
--its essential purpose is to confirm the truth, not to discover it;
--its jurors are dedicated, informed, and committed citizens of the world, not neutral and indifferent individuals of the community;
--its advocates are knowledgeable, wise and decent, but not legally trained specialists;
--its trust for the future is not based on violence and police, but on conscience, political struggle, and public opinion.
Nevertheless, we claim for this tribunal the authority to declare the law and to impose its judgment and to hope -- hope that a demonstration of this criminality will not fall on deaf ears, but will awaken and exercise the peoples of the world to intensify their resistance to America's plans for world domination and stand in solidarity with the Iraqi people.
We need to realize that the Iraq war is the eye of a larger global storm. The storm expresses the fury of this American project to dominate the world by force of arms, to exploit the peoples of the world through the medium of economic globalization, and to administer its idea of security from its Washington headquarters. This project of World Empire hides its true colors beneath the banner of anti-terrorism. It justifies every abuse by pointing to the September 11 attacks. These attacks, even if they are what is claimed, do not justify aggression against states or the torture of individuals. We should remember that the imperial brain trust said before September 11 that only "a new Pearl Harbor" would produce the political climate needed to achieve global hegemony. And they got a new Pearl Harbor, or did they? Read David Griffin's The New Pearl Harbor and you will never be able to take 9/11 at face value in the future. The convenors of the WTI are mindful of this wider context of the Iraq War.
It should also be observed that Turkey is an appropriate site for this culminating session of the WTI, remembering that earlier sessions of the WTI in all regions of the world have gathered evidence of the illegality of the Iraq War and the criminal policies and practices that have been associated with its conduct. To begin with, Turkey stands at the crossroads between the old European geopolitical core and the Third World periphery. Earlier Russell, PPT initiatives were European. Now the moral, political, and legal platform is moving away from the Christian West. It was Turkey's proudest moment when its parliament refused the request of the US Government to mount the invasion of Iraq from Turkish territory; this represented an expression of an increasingly robust democratic process here in Turkey. Turkey is also a natural site for the tribunal because it is an important neighbor of Iraq, and suffers a variety of bad consequences from the war and the turmoil in the region that has resulted. And further, the Turkish government has been complicit with the Iraq war, as well as with the preceding period of sanctions, by allowing its territory to be used for a strategic base that has been extensively used for the bombing of Iraq ever since 1990. It is a purpose of this tribunal to show that such complicity engages legal responsibility for Turkey, and for other governments in the region that support directly or indirectly such aggressive war making.
A special concern of the WTI is to take sharp issue with American claims of exception whether based on an alleged freedom to wage war anywhere on the planet as a result of the 9/11 attacks or securing an exemption for itself in relation to the basic obligation to uphold international law. The pernicious American exceptionalism contradicts completely the role played by the United States in seeking to promote the Rule of Law, the Nuremberg approach, and the UN Charter after 1945. The claim of exception moves in two directions: it operates, first of all, as an explicit effort to exempt Anerican leaders from individual accountability for violating international law, specifically in relation to the recently established International Criminal Court; and secondly, in relation to the lawless barbarism of the detention of alleged terrorist and insurgency suspects being held in such notorious outposts of torture and official evil as Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq and Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo. This tribunal stands against such outrageous claims of exception, and operates beneath the jurisprudential principle that no government or leader is above the law and that every government and leader is criminally accountable for failures to uphold international law. If governments and the UN are unwilling to pass judgment, it is up to initiatives by citizens of the world to perform this scared duty. The WTI has been formed against the background of these essential beliefs.
It should also be understood that the WTI views the Iraq War as part of this wider assault by the United States, and the UK, against wider prospects for a just world order. These prospects depend upon respecting the sovereign rights of all states, of working to achieve human rights, including economic, social, and cultural rights for all peoples, and to struggle on behalf of a humane world order, including a far more equitable world economy that is indispensable for achieving a sustainable world peace.
There was a tart in this direction made during the 1990s, although amid an array of contradictions. But it is worth noting these progressive moves that have been stymied by the wars of aggression launched by the United States by relying upon the pretext of a war against terrorism. It is worth observing because it is important to revive these moves toward humane global governance based on the principles of global justice:
--the spread of democracy, and especially the rise of global civil society and of global social movements in the area of environment, human rights, women, and peace;
--the increased support for human rights by civil society actors and governments around the world;
--the attention given to the remembrance and partial erasure of historic grievances toward indigenous peoples on all continents, toward the victims of forced labor, including so-called "comfort women" during World War II, toward the descendants of slavery;
--and most of all, to the revival of Nuremberg ideas about criminal accountability, challenging impunity - the Chilean dictator Pinochet was indicted by Spain and detained by Britain; the UN established tribunals to prosecute those responsible for ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity in former Yugoslavia and for genocide in Rwanda; and over the objections of the leading states, the ICC was brought into existence due to the active coalition of hundreds of NGOs working together with dozens of governments dedicated to establish a framework for applying international criminal law.
Such positive steps have been derailed, at least temporarily, by the firestorm released in the world by the US Government since the September 11 attacks. This tribunal hopes that truth-telling with respect to Iraq will also revive the emergent normative revolution of the 1990s, making us move again in the Puerto Alegre direction of insisting that "another world is possible," and adding, "if possible, it is necessary," and with this affirmation, the WTI will not only stimulate resistance to appression and solidarity with victims, but will revive the vision of the 1990s that can be best summarized as the cause of "moral globalization."