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Marjorie Cohn: Bush at UN - Sugarcoating Failure

Bush at the U.N.: Sugarcoating Failure

By Marjorie Cohn
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Friday 24 September 2004

In his speech to the U.N. General Assembly Tuesday 21st September, Bush spoke of spreading ''freedom'' and ''human dignity'' in Iraq and Afghanistan. He decried dictators who "believe that suicide and torture and murder are fully justified to serve any goal they declare." He accused the terrorists of seeking to destroy the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But he failed to say that the UDHR declares: "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." And he forgot to mention the torture and murder of prisoners in U.S. custody in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Bush claimed "the people of Iraq have regained sovereignty." But he omitted any reference to the 150,000 U.S. troops on the ground there, who enjoy immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts for any crimes they might commit.

Bush maintained that the interim Iraqi government "has earned the support of every nation that believes in self-determination and desires peace." But he didn't say that the countries in the "coalition-of-the-willing" are becoming increasingly unwilling to support his failed Iraq policy, and no new countries are jumping on the occupation bandwagon.

Bush painted a rosy picture of an Iraq moving inexorably toward democratic elections in January. He didn't acknowledge, however, the admonition of former President Jimmy Carter that free elections cannot occur when people are unable to safely walk down the street, or U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan's warning that there can be no "credible elections if the security conditions continue as they are now."

Bush didn't state that well over 1,000 Americans and as many as 30,000 Iraqis have died and continue to die in a war that his administration single-handedly fashioned from whole cloth.

Bush's speech did not refer to the utter absence of any weapons-of-mass-destruction, his rasion d'être for invading a sovereign country.

Bush overlooked the highly classified National Intelligence Estimate prepared by the government's senior analysts that paints a pessimistic assessment of the prospects for a secure and stable Iraq. He said the CIA was "just guessing" when it predicted Iraq was in danger of civil war.

And Bush didn't tell the General Assembly that Afghanistan is in chaos, with continuing violence, and the resurgence of the Taliban. He ignored the claims of several Afghan presidential candidates who seek to challenge U.S.-installed President Hamid Karzai in the upcoming "democratic" election there. They say that U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, affectionately known as "the Viceroy" for the power he wields over the Afghan government, is pressuring them not to run against Karzai. Both Karzai and Khalilzad are former consultants to Unocal, the company with deep oil interests in the region.

The New York Times characterized Bush's remarks to the General Assembly as "an inexplicably defiant campaign speech" that "glossed over the current dire situation in Iraq for an audience acutely aware of the true state of affairs, and scolded them for refusing to endorse the American invasion in the first place."

The delegates from 191 nations at the U.N. were nonplussed by Bush's assessment of the tragedy he's created.

In his comments preceding Bush's speech, Kofi Annan observed pointedly: "Those who seek to bestow legitimacy must themselves embody it, and those who invoke international law must themselves submit to it." For example, Annan cited "Iraqi prisoners disgracefully abused."

Annan finally took the gloves off last week when he declared the U.S. invasion of Iraq was illegal because it violated the U.N. Charter. Last September, Annan had criticized Bush's new policy of preemptive self-defense, saying it would lead to a breakdown in international order.

Likewise, former U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali last week blamed the Bush administration for the rising wave of terrorism, saying its unilateral approach has fuelled civil wars around the world. Boutros-Ghali advocated Bush remove his forces from Iraq and permit Arab countries to mediate a peaceful settlement in Iraq.

Bush's appearance before the General Assembly Tuesday was followed by the kick-off of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's maiden voyage to the U.S. with a soirée at the Waldorf-Astoria. Allawi, Bush's selection to lead the new "sovereign" Iraq, had close ties to the CIA. The day after a car bomb near a police station in central Baghdad killed 47 people, and gunmen killed 12 in an attack on a police minibus, Allawi provided assurances that elections would proceed in January as planned: "If, for any reason, [only] 300,000 people cannot vote because terrorists decide so," Allawi said lightly, "then frankly 300,000 people is not going to alter 25 million people voting," he told The Times of London and the Guardian.

In a page from Bush's playbook, Allawi said: "The war now in Iraq is really not only an Iraqi war, it's a war for the civilized world." He cautioned that the terrorists "will hit hard at the civilized world and in Washington and New York and London and Paris." One wonders which countries Allawi would include as part of his "civilized world."

As November 2 looms large, and Americans become increasingly wary of the quagmire that is Iraq, the Bush administration admits unabashedly that Allawi's "visit is about getting the United States away from the front line and placing Allawi as the face of the Iraqi people and the head of the effort," according to State Department spokesman Greg Sullivan.

The "transfer of sovereignty" from the U.S. to Iraq at the end of June, and the insistence that free elections can take place in January even in the face of a chaotic and bloody mess in Iraq, were carefully stage-managed by Karl Rove to favor Bush's election. By all accounts, after the U.S. election, Bush will order the carpet bombing of Fallujah, where resistance to the occupation is particularly strong. We can expect to see human carnage unparalleled in the war thus far if Bush wins another term.


Marjorie Cohn, is a contributing editor to t r u t h o u t, a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, executive vice president of the National Lawyers Guild, and the U.S. representative to the executive committee of the American Association of Jurists.

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