Foreword by Noam Chomsky
1. The Iraq Sanctions-Regime Killings
2. The Iraq Invasion-Occupation
1. The Darfur Wars and Killings
2. Bosnia and Herzegovina
4. Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo
SOME BENIGN BLOODBATHS
1. Israel: Sabra and Shatila
2. Israel: The Gaza Invasion of December 2008–January 2009
3. Croatia’s Operation Storm
4. Dasht-e-Leili (Afghanistan)
5. Turkey’s Kurds vs. Iraq’s Kurds
6. Indonesia and East Timor—Liquiçá
7. El Salvador and Guatemala
Foreword by Noam Chomsky
Perhaps the most shattering lesson from this powerful inquiry is that the end of the Cold War opened the way to an era of virtual Holocaust denial. As the authors put it, more temperately, “[d]uring the past several decades, the word ‘genocide’ has increased in frequency of use and recklessness of application, so much so that the crime of the 20th Century for which the term originally was coined often appears debased.” Current usage, they show, is an insult to the memory of victims of the Nazis.
It may be useful, however, to recall that the practices are deeply rooted in prevailing intellectual culture, so much so that they will not be easy to eradicate. We can see this by considering the most unambiguous cases of genocide and cases in which the word has been debased, those in which the crime is acknowledged by the perpetrators, and passed over as insignificant or even denied in retrospect by the beneficiaries, right to the present.
Settler colonialism, commonly the most vicious form of imperial conquest, provides striking illustrations. The English colonists in North America had no doubts about what they were doing. Revolutionary War hero General Henry Knox, the first Secretary of War in the newly liberated American colonies, described “the utter extirpation of all the Indians in most populous parts of the Union” by means “more destructive to the Indian natives than the conduct of the conquerors of Mexico and Peru,” which would have been no small achievement. In his later years, President John Quincy Adams recognized the fate of “that hapless race of native Americans, which we are exterminating with such merciless and perfidious cruelty, [to be] among the heinous sins of this nation, for which I believe God will one day bring [it] to judgement.”
Contemporary commentators see the matter differently. The prominent Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis hails Adams as the grand strategist who laid the foundations for the Bush Doctrine that “expansion is the path to security.” Plausibly, and with evident appreciation, Gaddis takes the doctrine to be routinely applicable throughout the history of the “infant empire,” as George Washington termed the new Republic. Gaddis passes in silence over Adams’s gory contributions to the “heinous sins of this nation” as he established the doctrine, along with the doctrine of executive war in violation of the Constitution, in a famous State paper justifying the conquest of Florida on utterly fraudulent pretexts of self-defense. The conquest was part of Adams’s project of “removing or eliminating native Americans from the southeast,” in the words of William Earl Weeks, the leading historian of the massacre, who provides a lurid account of the “exhibition of murder and plunder” targeting Indians and runaway slaves.
To mention another example, in the June 11, 2009 issue of one the world’s leading liberal intellectual journals, The New York Review of Books, political analyst Russell Baker records what he learned from the work of the “heroic historian” Edmund Morgan: namely, that Columbus and the early explorers “found a continental vastness sparsely populated by farming and hunting people.... In the limitless and unspoiled world stretching from tropical jungle to the frozen north, there may have been scarcely more than a million inhabitants.” The calculation is off by many tens of millions, and the “vastness” included advanced civilizations, but no matter. The exercise of “genocide denial with a vengeance” merits little notice, presumably because it is so unremarkable and in a good cause. (1)
Imperial conquest illustrates another thesis that Herman and Peterson explore: what Obama’s UN Ambassador Susan Rice calls the “emerging international norm that recognizes the ‘responsibility to protect’ innocent civilians facing death on a mass scale.” It is worth bearing in mind that the norm is not “emerging,” but rather venerable, and has consistently been a guiding imperial doctrine, invoked to justify the resort to violence when other pretexts are lacking.
The Spanish conquistadors in the early sixteenth century were careful to instruct the natives that if you “acknowledge the Church as the Ruler and Superior of the whole world,” then we “shall receive you in all love and charity, and shall leave you, your wives, and your children, and your lands, free without servitude,” and even “award you many privileges and exemptions and will grant you many benefits,” fulfilling our responsibility to protect, in current terminology. But those who are protected also have responsibilities, the Spanish humanitarians sternly advised: “if you do not [meet your obligations in this way, then] we shall powerfully enter into your country, and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can ... and we protest that the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault, and not that of their Highnesses, or ours, nor of these cavaliers who come with us”—words paraphrased by some Islamic extremist groups in their warnings to Western infidels, doubtless also regarding them as forthcoming and humane.
The Requerimiento of the Spanish conquerors had a counterpart a century later among the English colonists settling North America. To this day, the United States is reverentially admired, at home at least, as “a city on a hill” or, as Ronald Reagan preferred, “a shining city on a hill.” In April 2009, British historian Geoffrey Hodgson was admonished by liberal New York Times columnist Roger Cohen for describing the United States as “just one great, but imperfect, country among others.” Hodgson’s error, Cohen explained, is his failure to realize that unlike other states, “America was born as an idea,” as a “city on a hill,” an “inspirational notion” that resides “deep in the American psyche.” Its crimes are merely unfortunate lapses that do not tarnish the essential nobility of America’s “transcendent purpose,” to borrow the phrase of the eminent scholar Hans Morgenthau, one of the founders of the hard-headed realist school of international relations theory, writing on “the purpose of America.”
Like the Spanish, the English colonists were guided by Rice’s “emerging humanitarian norm.” The inspirational phrase “city on a hill” was coined by John Winthrop in 1630, outlining the glorious future of a new nation “ordained by God.” A year earlier, his Massachusetts Bay Colony received its charter from the King of England and established its Great Seal. The Seal depicts an Indian holding a spear pointing downward in a sign of peace, and pleading with the colonists to “[c]ome over and help us.” The charter states that conversion of the population—rescuing them from their bitter pagan fate—was “the principal end of this plantation.” The English colonists too were on a humane mission as they extirpated and exterminated the natives—for their own good, their successors explained. During his second term as president a century ago, Theodore Roosevelt explained to a group of white missionaries that “[t]he expansion of the peoples of white, or European, blood during the past four centuries ... has been fraught with lasting benefit to most of the peoples already dwelling in the lands over which the expansion took place,” despite what Africans, native Americans, Filipinos, and other beneficiaries might mistakenly believe.
The vulgar politicization of the concept of genocide, and the “emerging international norm” of humanitarian intervention, appear to be products of the fading of the Cold War, which removed the standard pretexts for intervention while leaving intact the institutional and ideological framework for its regular practice during those years. It is not surprising, then, that in the post-Cold War era, as Herman and Peterson observe, “just as the guardians of ‘international justice’ have yet to find a single crime committed by a great white northern power against people of color that crosses their threshold of gravity, so too all of the fine talk about the ‘responsibility to protect’ and the ‘end of impunity’ has never once been extended to the victims of these same powers, no matter how egregious the crimes.”
That outcome was forecast sixty years ago in one of the earliest decisions of the World Court, which ruled unanimously in 1949, in the Corfu Channel case, that “[t]he Court can only regard the alleged right of intervention as the manifestation of a policy of force, such as has, in the past, given rise to most serious abuses and such as cannot, whatever be the defects in international organization, find a place in international law ... ; from the nature of things, [intervention] would be reserved for the most powerful states, and might easily lead to perverting the administration of justice itself.” Intervention is like the Mississippi River, international law specialist Richard Falk once observed: it flows from North to South.
Much the same conclusion was drawn in 2004 by a high-level Panel convened by the United Nations to consider the newly fashionable concept of “responsibility to protect,” invoked by the United States and its allies to justify military intervention without Security Council authorization. The Panel rejected this thesis, adopting the view of the South Summit—representing the traditional victims—which had condemned “the so-called ‘right’ of humanitarian intervention” in the wake of the NATO bombing of Serbia. The UN panel reiterated the conditions of the UN Charter that force can be deployed only when authorized by the Security Council, or under Article 51, in defense against armed attack until the Security Council acts. Article 51 is generally interpreted to allow the use of force when “the necessity for action is instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment of deliberation,” in Daniel Webster’s classic phrase. The Panel concluded that “Article 51 needs neither extension nor restriction of its long-understood scope, ... it should be neither rewritten nor reinterpreted.” The Panel added that “[f]or those impatient with such a response, the answer must be that, in a world full of perceived potential threats, the risk to the global order and the norm of nonintervention on which it continues to be based is simply too great for the legality of unilateral preventive action, as distinct from collectively endorsed action, to be accepted. Allowing one to so act is to allow all.”
Allowing all to have the rights of Western power would evidently be unthinkable. Thus when Vice-President Joe Biden says (July 6, 2009) that Israel has the “sovereign right” to attack Iran, and that the United States cannot hinder any such action (with U.S. equipment) because Washington “cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do,” he does not mean to imply that Iran has the “sovereign right” to attack Israel if it takes seriously the regular threats of aggression by the reigning nuclear power of the region, while the United States stands by quietly. It is always necessary to recognize the maxim of Thucydides: “Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” This is the fundamental operative principle of international order.
The traditional imperial powers are alone in adopting Rice’s “emerging international norm” in the conventional form that she doubtless has in mind. Again, that should hardly come as much of a surprise. As for the term “genocide,” perhaps the most honorable course would be to expunge it from the vocabulary until the day, if it ever comes, when honesty and integrity can become an “emerging norm.”
A remarkable degree of continuity stretches across the many decades of bribes and threats, economic sanctions, subversion, terrorism, aggression, and occupation ordered-up by the policymaking elite of the United States. But no less impressive is the continuity that can be observed in the ways these policies are understood by this elite, and by the establishment intellectuals and news media that report about them daily and reflect on or ignore their consequences.
With both its major rivals and allies in Europe and Asia devastated during the Second World War, the United States, suffering no direct damage at all, emerged from the war with a uniquely dominant economic, political, and military position in world affairs—”50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3% of its population,” in the words of the famous postwar balance-sheet drafted by George Kennan in early 1948 on behalf of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff. (2) U.S. leaders recognized exactly what this unprecedented advantage meant, and set-out to design policies that would “permit [the United States] to maintain this position of disparity,” aggressively pursuing U.S. advantages by all available means. The U.S. “military-industrial complex” mentioned by Eisenhower in January 1961, now well into its seventh decade and accounting for roughly one-out-of-every-two dollars spent on military-related purposes worldwide, and the U.S. “empire of bases” that encircles much of the globe, including the moveable bases its aircraft carrier task forces provide and the nuclear and conventional force capabilities of the ever-expanding NATO bloc, reflect and support this effort to deepen and expand the advantages attained by the United States during the war. (3)
To maintain the global structure of inequality, and in the process serve the interests of its transnational corporations anxious to enlarge their business abroad, the United States had to confront numerous nationalist upheavals by peoples in former colonial areas who sought independence, self-determination, and better lives. In the pursuit of this counter-revolutionary end, the United States regularly aligned with local military and ex-colonial comprador elites to contain and, wherever possible, to resist and roll-back the kind of threat referred to by one National Security Council assessment as “an increasing popular demand for immediate improvement in the low living standards of the masses.” (4)
This end and this perception of “threat” accounts for the U.S. support of a string of dictatorships in Thailand, South Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Africa, and Nigeria, to name a few, and a large number of semi-fascist “national security states” in Latin America. As has long been observed, while these states were torture-prone and deeply anti-democratic, they improved the “climate of investment” by keeping their majorities fearful, atomized, and without political recourse. (5) If local dictators failed, direct U.S. military intervention frequently followed—and, as in the cases of Vietnam and more recently Afghanistan and Iraq, sometimes with monumentally destructive human and material consequences. By one estimate, the United States carried out “extremely serious” military interventions in at least twenty-nine different countries from 1945 to 2009. (6)
Of course, the publicly-expressed rationale for this regressive, no-holds-barred foreign policy was never stated to be improving the climate for investment, much less to silence indigenous demands for higher standards of living for the Third World’s masses—though the opening-up of markets abroad was an objective that also fit ideological principles. Instead, the prevailing rhetoric of officials, establishment intellectuals, and the media was always “national security” and the closely-linked “Soviet threat” of the Cold War system of propaganda, against which peoples, countries, and whole continents needed the kind of special protection that only the United States could provide. (7) This “threat to our whole security in the form of the men in the Kremlin” (Kennan) was regularly invoked even where ludicrously inapplicable, as in the case of the overthrow of the democratic governments of Mohammad Mosaddeq by a CIA coup in Iran in 1953 and of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala by a U.S.-organized mercenary invasion in 1954. But this alleged “threat” was helpful in these and many other cases, and very much an institutionalized reflex of the postwar era until the start of the 1990s; it added to the routine demonization of any U.S. target and the widespread belief in this country of its “exceptionalism,” its moral superiority, and its proper immunity from international law. The result was the normalization of anything the U.S. government chose to do in the realm of foreign policy, regardless of its brutality and criminality. Hence, also, the near-limitless capacity of the media and intellectual elite as well as the general public to swallow U.S.-directed or supported terrorism, aggression, crimes against humanity, and even genocide straight through the present day.
Back in the early 1970s, Noam Chomsky and one of the present authors (Herman) wrote a short study of mass killings, centering on the monumental mass killing that the United States was still carrying out in Vietnam: Counter-Revolutionary Violence: Bloodbaths in Fact and Propaganda (CRV). (8) Beyond the bloodbaths perpetrated by the United States in Vietnam (1954–1973), the other theaters of mass atrocity that they surveyed were the Philippines (1898–1973), Thailand (1946–1973), Indonesia (1965–1969), Cambodia (1965–1973), East Pakistan (1971), and Burundi (1972). The authors took it as an obvious and readily demonstrable truth that the United States, “as a result of its dominant position and wide-ranging counter-revolutionary efforts, [had] been the most important single instigator, administrator and moral and material sustainer of serious bloodbaths in the years that followed the Second World War.” (9) They also took it as obvious and demonstrable that U.S. officials, with the help of the media and establishment intellectuals, would engage in “atrocities management,” producing a stream of propaganda to divert attention away from U.S.-organized and approved violence, and onto that of its enemies. Thus there would be good and bad bloodbaths—those that should be ignored and those that should be focused-on with indignation.
Accordingly, CRV used as its framework of analysis four categories of bloodbaths: “Constructive,” “Benign,” “Nefarious,” and “Mythical” (a sub-category under Nefarious). Those bloodbaths carried out by the United States itself or that serve immediate and major U.S. interests are Constructive; those carried out by allies or clients are Benign; and those carried out by U.S. target states are Nefarious and (sometimes) Mythical. Obviously, the use of these terms was partly ironic and partly serious. Nevertheless, CRV meant to capture something essential but otherwise unstated about the politics of bloodbaths and the infamy that attaches to only some of them: How bloodbaths are evaluated by the U.S. political establishment and its media, depending on who is responsible for carrying them out.
For that establishment, including the media, the U.S. invasion of Vietnam was never described as “aggression,” nor was it ever described or denounced as involving a gigantic massacre, or series of massacres, or a bloodbath, or genocide, despite the killing of possibly three million or more people, with a bombing and chemical warfare program that also left very large numbers crippled and genetically damaged, along with a ravaged land. The only time a “bloodbath”-threat was invoked was in considering what might happen to collaborators of the U.S. occupation forces, in the case of an eventual U.S. withdrawal. (These days, similar warnings are frequently invoked to counter any suggestion of possible U.S. withdrawals from Afghanistan or Iraq. Only we and our spunky allies in Kabul and Baghdad stand between millions of innocent lives and the Islamo-fascists of the Taliban and al Qaeda.) Vietnamese resistance killings were harshly and indignantly denounced as “terrorism” and more. The media role in protecting the real bloodbath, including their swallowing the MIA-POW gambit, (10) was all that a propaganda system could ask. And the response of the “international community” to these massive killings was extremely muted.
One small indication of the Vietnam war-era media treatment of the subject is that the little 1973 book on bloodbaths was actually never published. Officials of the parent corporation, the major media firm Warner Publishing, saw the book just prior to publication, greatly disliked it, and caused it to be suppressed (and the publishing subsidiary Warner Modular was soon dissolved). The contents saw life, however, when the authors published a muchexpanded version in 1979 under the title The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism. (11)
The framework used in those earlier works is eerily applicable to the present. The leading mainstream experts on “genocide“ and mass-atrocity crimes today still carefully exclude from consideration the U.S. attacks on Indochina, as well as the 1965–1966 Indonesian massacres within that country—just as they exclude the deaths and destruction that have followed from the United States’ and NATO-bloc’s aggressive wars of the past decade.
The recipient of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize in the General Nonfiction category, Samantha Power’s “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide, devotes only one sentence to Indonesia, ignoring entirely the mass killings of 1965-1966, mentioning only its invasion-occupation of East Timor in 1975 and after. Power writes that Indonesia killed “between 100,000 and 200,000 civilians” in East Timor; she then adds, falsely, that the “United States looked away,” when in fact the United States and its British and Australian allies supplied both the weapons and diplomatic cover for Indonesia’s bloody campaign without interruption for nearly a quarter-century (1975–1999). Power’s cursory treatment of the U.S. wars in Vietnam and Cambodia and the massive U.S. killings in both countries turns up only in the chapter devoted to life in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, where she notes in passing that “U.S. B-52 raids killed tens of thousands of civilians” and “indirectly helped give rise to a monstrous regime.” (12) Notice that in Power’s hands, the “monstrous regime” is the one that arose after the other regime’s bombers “killed tens of thousands of civilians”—but no negative adjectives are applied to the regime that sent along those bombers from the other side of the planet.
Roy Gutman and David Rieff’s Crimes of War has no entry for Vietnam or Indonesia; and under none of this encyclopedia-like volume’s seven entries for Act of War, Aggression, Crimes against Peace, Crimes against Humanity, Genocide, Systematic Rape, and War Crimes is there a single example drawn from the U.S. war against Vietnam or Indonesia’s war against its peasant population. Instead, under the entry for Cambodia, Sydney Schanberg, the former New York Times reporter and protagonist in the Hollywood film The Killing Fields, informs readers of the “great irony” resulting from the 1970 U.S. overthrow of Cambodia’s Prince Sihanouk and the years of massive bombings and eventual U.S. ground invasion—not the death and destruction they entailed, but only the rise of the Khmer Rouge, a “motley collection of ineffectual guerrilla bands totaling at most three thousand to five thousand men” when the United States started to bomb Cambodia in the 1960s, but transformed “into the murderous force of seventy thousand to 100,000 that swept into Phnom Penh five years later....” (13)
Similarly, Aryeh Neier’s book War Crimes says little about the U.S. aggression against Vietnam or Cambodia and nothing about Indonesia’s killing fields—Neier treats Vietnam simply as the stage upon which the My Lai massacre of 1968 was eventually played out. (14) International law barrister and former appellate judge with the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone Geoffrey Robertson’s assessment of the “Thirty Inglorious Years” that followed the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the Genocide Convention (1948), and the four Geneva Conventions (1949) refers to the twenty-year Vietnam war as nothing more than “America’s lamentable mistake [sic (15)] to shore up the vicious Catholic dictator, Ngo Dinh Diem”— though like Neier, Robertson mentions that a “few firefight atrocities” such as My Lai “were brought to account.” (16)
Vietnam and Indonesia were also ignored by CNN chief foreign correspondent Christiane Amanpour in her late 2008 documentary Scream Bloody Murder, an examination of “genocide around the world.” But Amanpour’s “world” was limited to politically acceptable cases, Nefarious genocides—Germany under the Nazis, Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995, Rwanda in 1994, and Darfur this decade. (17) Vietnam and Indonesia were also never mentioned as cases in point in the December 2008 report by the U.S.-based Genocide Prevention Task Force, Preventing Genocide. (18)
In short, the vast killing fields of Vietnam and Indonesia, which belonged to the category of Constructive bloodbaths in 1973, remain firmly in that category today; and the other bloodbath categories apply now with the same political bias and rigor, as we describe below. As the U.S. government and its proxy regimes in Saigon and Jakarta were the perpetrators of these mass-atrocity crimes, the victims were rarely acknowledged, the crimes against them rarely punished (with only low-level personnel brought to book in well-publicized cases like My Lai), and the most serious crimes of all—the U.S. aggressions against Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, the U.S. genocide against the South of Vietnam, and the Indonesian genocides against Indonesians in 1965–1966, and the East Timorese from 1975 on—remain outside the ambit of Western humanitarian concern and the reach of Western-enforced “international justice.”
This highly politicized usage even has a humorous tinge—as we now supposedly live in an age of high sensitivity to human rights abuses, when a “responsibility to protect” (R2P) civilian populations against acts of “genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing” has been proclaimed by the unanimous assent of the UN General Assembly (19) and when the International Criminal Court (ICC) has been empowered to “put an end to impunity for the perpetrators” of “atrocities that deeply shock the conscience of humanity,” in the words of the Preamble to the Rome Statute that created the Court. (20)
In an amazing “end of impunity” set of coincidences, it turns out that all fourteen of the ICC’s indictments through mid-2009 had been issued against black Africans from three countries (the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and the Sudan (21)), while carefully excluding Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, perhaps the most prolific tandem of killers to rule on the African continent during the current era, but highly-valued clients of the West. Indeed, Kagame especially is an adored figure throughout much of the West, feted as a great liberator and statesman on his many visits to North America, while at home “he plays host to visiting members of the global—and particularly the American—power elite,” in the words of the liberal New Yorker magazine, his guests including Bill Clinton, Pastor Rick Warren, Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt, and Harvard Business School’s Michael Porter, “all friends of Kagame and members of his kitchen cabinet of advisers.” (22) Kagame also appeared as a guest on Amanpour’s Scream Bloody Murder program, where he was treated graciously.
It is also notable that the ICC’s statute, like the rules governing the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) as well as the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), excludes from its jurisdiction the crime of aggression. At Nuremberg, however, this was judged to be “not only an international crime” but the “supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” (23) Human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) also exclude aggression as a proper area for their inquiries. Defending what it called its official policy of “neutrality” on questions of war and peace as the United States and the United Kingdom prepared to launch their March 2003 aggression against Iraq, HRW explained that it “does not make judgments about the decision whether to go to war” and “does not support or oppose the threatened war with Iraq. We do not opine on whether the dangers to civilians in Iraq and neighboring countries of launching a war are greater or lesser than the dangers to U.S. or allied civilians—or, ultimately, the Iraqi people—of not launching one. We make no comment on the intense debate surrounding the legality of President George Bush’s proposed doctrine of ‘pre-emptive self-defense’ or the need for U.N. Security Council approval of a war.” (24)
Surely this pretense of “neutrality” results because the United States wants itself and its principal client to be free to commit the supreme international crime and therefore the mass-atrocity crimes that follow from it, which they have done often and for many years, and with complete impunity. The adaptation of “international justice” to this principle of exclusion—along with its acceptance by establishment media and intellectuals—tells us clearly that the system is nicely adjusted to the needs of the powerful.
Both in its statute and its practices, the ICC has been no better than the ad hoc tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Like them, the ICC practices selective investigation, selective prosecution— and, on the other side of the aisle, selective impunity.
The history of great power crimes against the peace, crimes against humanity, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and genocide shows the centrality of racism to the imperial project. The powerful, the people at the center of this project, have always tended to be white European or North American, their victims darker. The conquest of the Western Hemisphere and the wiping-out of its indigenous peoples were carried out over many decades, with very modest opposition from within the morally enlightened Christian world. The African slave trade resulted in millions of deaths in the initial capture and transatlantic crossing, with a cruel degradation for the survivors. The steady massacres and subjugation of black Africans within Africa itself rested on “an unquestioning belief in the innate superiority of the white race, ... the very bedrock of imperial attitudes,” essential to making the business of mass slaughter “morally acceptable,” John Ellis writes. “At best, the Europeans regarded those they slaughtered with little more than amused contempt.” (25) This dynamic has always been accompanied by a process of projection, whereby the victims of slaughter and dispossession are depicted as “merciless Indian savages” (The Declaration of Independence) by the racist savages whose superior weapons, greed, and ruthlessness gave them the ability to conquer, destroy, and exterminate.
The dominant institutions today may be more complex than five hundred or five thousand years ago, but, at bottom, they work no differently than have their predecessors throughout the ages. Great aggressors project their ugliest traits onto their victims (the “terrorists,” the “militants,” and the religious “fascists” and “ethnic cleansers” of the twenty-four-hour news day), even as they kill halfway around the world in the name of the Homeland. Demonization of the real victims and atrocities management remain as important as ever and keep the citizens of the imperial powers properly misinformed and supportive of bigtime atrocities. The path from the “White Man’s Burden” to the regimes of selective “human rights” and “international justice” has been a lot more direct than its current-day travelers like to believe. Western “liberals” follow the same flags as do their rightwing counterparts; (26) and when handed the same bloody portfolio but with a new label that reads “Change We Can Believe In,” often outgun them as well. (27)
Thus President Barack Obama’s UN Ambassador, Susan E. Rice, has long been an “advocate of ‘dramatic action’ against genocide” and “mass killings,” the New York Times reported. Like so many of her contemporaries, Rice believes there is an “emerging international norm that recognizes the ‘responsibility to protect’ innocent civilians facing death on a mass scale and whose governments cannot or will not protect them”—and “Never,” she adds, “is the international responsibility to protect more compelling than in cases of genocide.” But as with the rest of the U.S. policymaking elite, it is uncontested for Rice that this alleged norm works in one direction only: From Washington toward the rest of the world, with the United States the chief lawmaker, enforcer, judge, and jury. “[T]he international community has a responsibility to protect civilian populations from violations of international humanitarian law when states are unwilling or unable to do so,” Rice told the Security Council in her inaugural address in late January 2009. Singling out “5 million deaths” in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda which “has for many years terrorized civilian populations,” and the “genocide in Darfur,” Rice went on to say that the “United States is steadfast in its commitment to safeguard human rights and end violations of international humanitarian law, both in conjunction with the United Nations, and through our other efforts throughout the world.” (28)
Notice that Rice’s catalogue of R2P-worthy populations in Central Africa made no mention of the prolific body counts that the U.S. clients Museveni and Kagame have left in their wakes, and who since 1996 have largely carved-up the DRC between them, helping to cause a death toll more than fifteen-times the scale of the “genocide in Darfur.” (See “Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo,” below. Also our “Concluding Note.”) Nor, needless to say, did Rice show the slightest recognition of her own government’s commitment to violating international humanitarian law and the UN Charter, and the mass killings at which it excels—the international community’s alleged “responsibility to protect civilian populations” simply does not extend to the victims of the government in which Rice serves.
Consider how Iraq, one of the major theaters of mass-atrocity crimes over the last three decades, is made to fit into the current R2P doctrine. Expressing a view that is standard among the R2P advocates, the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect maintains that the U.S.–U.K. invasion of Iraq could not have been justified on “humanitarian” grounds. Although “gross human rights violations occurred in Iraq in the 1980s and 1990s, these crimes were not occurring, nor likely to happen, at the time of the 2003 military intervention.” For this reason, the invasion “failed to meet the [guiding R2P] criteria legitimizing the use of military intervention.” (29)
We find this argument remarkable, both for what it takes into consideration and what it leaves out. Notice that in the judgment of this Coalition, the relevant question is whether the government of Iraq had been committing “gross human rights violations ... at the time of the 2003 military intervention.” Left unasked is whether the United States and Britain had been responsible for gross human rights violations during the years they enforced the “sanctions of mass destruction” (1990–2003), whether they were on the verge of committing even more egregious human rights violations by invading Iraq (ca. 2002–early 2003), and whether they did in fact commit gross human rights violations from March 19–20, 2003 on, including a death-toll that may top one million Iraqis, with millions more driven from their homes. (See “The Iraq Invasion-Occupation,” below.) Thus in this global acid-test for R2P in the first decade of the 21st Century, these R2P advocates can freely debate the need for the U.S.–U.K. invasion to protect Iraq’s population against the Iraqi regime. But neither these nor any other R2P advocate can even raise the question of the need for a military intervention to protect Iraq’s population against the U.S.–U.K. invaders. The United States and its allies simply could not kill a sufficiently large number of foreign nationals for R2P and ICC enthusiasts and spokespersons to suggest that R2P and the ICC be invoked to stop them.
What this means is that advocacy on behalf of victims by R2P and ICC campaigners and spokespersons depends on whom their tormentors are: If victims of the government of the Sudan, the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, or certain nongovernmental armed groups operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic, then yes, they are worthy of attention, their suffering matters, and the U.S. ambassador is ready to denounce their tormentors before the world; but if victims of the Ugandan People’s Defense Forces or the Rwandan Patriotic Front, then no, they fall within the vast cohort of victims unworthy of our attention, and merit at best a passing mention. Even more striking, what this does not mean is advocacy on behalf of victims within the Occupied Palestinian Territories, or the U.S. war-zones of Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and beyond— theaters where the responsibility for mass killings falls closer to home, and where the responsibility to protect these victims would entail protecting them against Rice’s own government above all.
On July 23, 2009, the Nicaraguan Catholic priest and then-President of the UN General Assembly Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann hosted the first of a three-day “Thematic Dialogue” at the United Nations devoted to the “responsibility to protect” doctrine. (30) The list of presenters invited to address the General Assembly included Noam Chomsky of the United States and Belgium’s Jean Bricmont, (31) two serious critics of R2P, as well as Australia’s Gareth Evans.
Perhaps no single individual has done more to raise the profile of R2P and to place it on the UN’s agenda than Evans. He is the author of a 2008 book on R2P, (32) serves as the co-Chair of the International Advisory Board of the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect at City University of New York, was co-Chair of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, which produced the 2001 report The Responsibility To Protect (33) that helped bring this phrase into common usage, and is a past president of the International Crisis Group.
But before all of this, Evans served as the Foreign Minister of Australia (1988–1996). It was while performing in this role that he was instrumental to Australia’s completion of the 1989 Timor Gap Oil Treaty with Indonesia that granted Australian firms the right to explore and drill in the oil-rich “Indonesian province of East Timor,” in the Treaty’s terms. With this Treaty, Evans placed Australia squarely in that rare camp of states that recognized Indonesia’s illegal conquest of East Timorese territory by force in 1975—despite some 200,000 deaths in East Timor as a “result of the Indonesian invasion and occupation,” roughly a “third of the population, or proportionately more than were killed in Cambodia under Pol Pot.” (34)
At a news conference following their presentations before the General Assembly, a UN reporter asked Gareth Evans to explain the “guidelines” that R2P advocates will observe before they recommend military intervention, the ultimate stage of R2P action. “How can you possibly come to an agreement on the language to use so that you can apply [R2P] without it still being abused?” the reporter wondered. “How do you define the worst possible crimes?”
The R2P doctrine “defines itself,” Evans replied, “in the sense that genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing are all inherently conscience-shocking, and by their very nature of a scale that demands a response, whether preventive or reactive....”
“It’s really impossible to be precise about numbers here,” Evans continued. “In some cases you’re fearing scores-of-thou-sands, hundreds-of-thousands, or even millions of casualties....” But, he added, “In other cases the numbers are much smaller. We remember starkly the horror of Srebrenica and there you’re talking about seven or eight-thousand people as compared with numbers in the millions. Was Račak with its forty-five victims in Kosovo in ‘99 sufficient to trigger the response that was triggered by the international community?”
“The short point is don’t misplay the numbers game, calibrating the extent of one’s outrage by reference to whether it’s X or Y numbers,” Evans concluded. “I take the view that once you cross a certain threshold, you’re in the realm of just conscience-shocking catastrophe which demands a response one way or the other.... There’s no cookie-cutter approach, I’m afraid, you can adopt to any of this stuff.”
“There is a way to calibrate reaction,” Noam Chomsky interrupted. “If it’s a crime of somebody else, particularly an enemy, then we’re utterly outraged. If it’s our own crime, either comparable or worse, either it’s suppressed or denied. That works with almost 100 percent precision.” (35)
In fact, the “cookie-cutter approach” is displayed dramatically by Gareth Evans himself, who singles out Račak and Srebrenica, assaulted by Serb armies, as situations demanding a response — but not East Timor, invaded and occupied by Indonesia, or the Gaza Strip, assaulted and starved by Israel, or whole countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq, with their vulnerable populations under attack by the United States and its allies. (36)
We find that Evans’ “cookie-cutter” is the standard establishment approach, with choices regularly made that have nothing to do with crossing certain thresholds of scale, much less with whether events are inherently conscience-shocking. Instead, the distinction turns on who does what to whom—and where does power lie?
Once again, we are back to the difference between Constructive, Nefarious, Benign, and Mythical bloodbaths. Let us examine some of them by category in more detail.