DOUBLE STANDARDS AND INTERNATIONAL LAW:
THE CASE OF THE MIDDLE EAST*
Dr. Ismail Zayid
* This lecture was given at the Dalhousie Law School on March 17, 1998, sponsored by The John E. Read International Law Society.
We have witnessed during the last few months a spectacle of a giant bully, the United States, assisted by its subserviant allies, including Britain and Canada, threatening to unleash a massive bombardment of Iraq and its 22 million people, who have been subjected over the last seven years to the most ruthless bombing and inhumane sanctions that subjected the people of Iraq to starvation and denial of medical care, causing the death of approximately 1.5 million people, most of whom are children.
It is appropriate for us to look back at the historic background to this tragedy.
On August 2, 1990, Iraq committed an aggression by invading Kuwait and announcing its annexation to Iraq. This brought about a tumultuous campaign led by the United States, under the leadership of George Bush, supported by its allies in Europe, Canada and the Middle East. It is important to point out that a crisis of this kind assumes ominous proportions for the U.S. because of the incomparable energy reserves of this region, which the State Department described in the 1940’s as "a stupendous source of strategic power and one of the greatest material prizes in world’s history". In 1956 President Eisenhower described the Middle East as "the most strategically important area in the world and no other power (excluding the United States, he means) must be allowed to control it".
The historic background to this story goes back a little further, to when the Allies, during the first world war, lied to their Arab allies, to whom they promised to give independence, and yet proceeded secretly, in the Sykes-Picot treaty of 1916, to divide the Arab countries amongst the colonial victors, Britain and France. It was in 1919 that Kuwait, which was then a part of the Province of Basra, was severed, by the British High Commissioner, Sir Percy Cox, from Iraq, and a local ruler appointed to govern Kuwait, under British protection, and denied Iraq the natural resources in Kuwait and the access to the Persian Gulf.
In 1990, Kuwait was stealing Iraqi oil, from the Rumeila oil field, and refusing, on the instigation of the United States, to reach a peaceful resolution to this conflict. Interestingly, when Iraq threatened to take military action against Kuwait to settle this issue, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Ms. April Glaspie gave Saddam Hussein a clear green light to invade Kuwait, when she informed him, as instructed by the State Department, that the United States had no position on the longstanding Iraq-Kuwait border dispute and it was an internal Arab matter, in which the U.S. had no interest. Many observers claim that the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was deliberately provoked by the U.S., to bring about its entry in the region and the destruction of Iraq as a potential power that threatens the U.S. influence in the area.
Be that as it may, let’s look at the claims which the United States and its allies used to bring about the devastation of Iraq, and compare those to similar acts by other powers in the region, and the response of the United States and its allies, to those actions.
Aggression and Occupation of Neighboring Territory:
As stated above, Iraq did illegally invade and occupy Kuwait and annexed it to its territories. This, we are told, justified the use of massive allied power to attack and reduce Iraq to the preindustrial age, as reported by the Harvard Study Group. In 1967, Israel invaded Egyptian, Syrian and Palestinian territory and illegally annexed Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Needless to say, the United States and its allies proposed no bombing of Israel or sanctions. On the contrary, the United States increased its military support and supplies as well as foreign aid to Israel.
The United States in the eighties invaded Grenada and Panama, but that clearly did not call for any punishment against the aggressor. By the criteria of principle and of law, the most significant disparity is that the U.S. invasion of Panama and the Israeli invasion of Arab territory were, in American eyes, carried out by "our side", and was therefore benign, whereas the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait ran counter to critical U.S. interests, and was therefore nefarious and in violation of the most august principles of international law and morality, as dictated by the United States!!
Interestingly, in 1980, Iraq invaded Iran, in a war that continued for eight years killing millions of Iranians and Iraqis, but again that was no cause for sanctions or military action against Iraq. That was because the United States instigated this attack against Iran, against the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and continued, together with its allies, to supply the military equipment that Iraq needed.
Non-compliance with Security Council Resolutions:
The original massive attack against Iraq and the recent threats of bombing Iraq are on the pretext that Iraq refuses to comply with Security Council resolutions, and thus lack of respect of U.N. resolutions.
The state of Israel stands today in defiance of 69 Security Council resolutions that call for withdrawal from illegally occupied territory and the annulment of the illegal annexation of Jerusalem in 1967 and the Golan Heights in 1980 and repeated Security Council resolutions related to illegal acts of war by the state of Israel. It would take pages to enumerate those, let alone the 29 vetoed by the U.S., but let me quote only two resolutions related to Israel’s wanton aggression against Lebanon in 1978 and 1982:
Security Council Resolution No. 425 of March 19, 1978, stated: "The Security Council calls upon Israel immediately to cease its military action against Lebanese territorial integrity and withdraw forthwith its forces from all Lebanese territory."
Security Council Resolution No. 509, of June 6, 1982, stated: "The Security Council demands that Israel withdraw all its military forces forthwith and unconditionally, to the internationally recognized boundaries of Lebanon."
Israel, to this day, 20 years later, remains in defiance of this demand for immediate and unconditional withdrawal from Lebanon, besides its illegal occupation of Palestinian and Syrian territory.
The U.S. stands far in the lead of vetoing Security Council resolutions, and voting against U.N. General Assembly resolutions in virtual isolation. Daniel Moynihan, as the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., takes pride in his memoirs, in rendering the U.N. "utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook", on the instructions of the U.S. State Department.
The U.S. defied the order of the World Court, in the Hague, to stop its aggression against Nicaragua and cease the mining of its harbours and pay reparations. The U.S. refused to comply.
Possession and Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction:
Saddam Hussein is accused, by the U.S. and its allies, of possessing and having used chemical weapons, in the form of nerve gas, against the Kurds and Iranians. The irony of this, is to question who supplied Saddam Hussein with these weapons. It was the United States and its allies who supplied Saddam Hussein with these weapons. Interestingly, when he did use them against the Kurds and Iranians in the 80’s, there was no whisper of condemnation or threats of bombing attacks, from these allies who supplied him with these tools. It is the height of hypocrisy for the United States, Britain and its allies to make these accusations of possession of weapons of mass destruction. If any of you watched the program "60 Minutes" on March 8, 1998, you would have seen the reporter introducing the program by stating "If Iraq is accused of owning 200 tons of chemical weapons, the United States holds tens of thousands of tons of such chemical weapons. These have been held in Utah, Oregon, Arkansas and Alabama, in the form of nerve gas, for the last 30 years". In the town of Hermiston, in Oregon, a population of 25,000 inhabitants remain threatened by these massive stores of deadly chemical weapons.
Speaking of the use of poisoned gas, let me remind you of who was the first to use poison gas against civilians in the Middle East and specifically against Iraqi civilians. In 1919, when the Royal Air Force asked Winston Churchill for permission to use chemical weapons "against recalcitrant Arabs as an experiment", Churchill, the Colonial Secretary, rejected timid naysayers and stated: "I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poison gas against uncivilized tribes". Chemical weapons, Churchill concluded represent "the application of Western science to modern warfare. We cannot in any circumstance acquiesce in the non-utilization of any weapons which are available to procure a speedy termination of disorder which prevails on the frontier". In 1920, the British Army was using gas shells in Iraq "with excellent moral effect", we are told! High explosives were used when villagers did not pay their taxes. The RAF then began dropping bombs with delayed action fuses (as was done in 1991 on Iraqi runways). Blowing children to pieces was the outcome of this exercise, which we are now told by U.S. experts is merely "collateral damage", i.e. dead and mutilated children. Prominent amongst the RAF officers, who engaged in this exercise was Arthur Harris who later directed British Bomber Offensive against Dresden in Germany, when 100,000 people, mostly women and children, were murdered. These, by any definition, are war crimes.
The United States is the only Country that used Nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and later used chemical warfare in Vietnam. Israel has used American cluster bombs and phosphorus bombs and napalm in Lebanon in 1982 killing 20,000 men, women and children. Needless to say, none of these acts deserved the wrath of the U.S. or its allies. These are war crimes. But in Churchill’s words this is the "application of Western science in modern warfare against uncivilized
It is interesting to note that Israel is the only Country in the Middle East that holds hundreds of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them and refuses to sign the United Nations Non-Proliferation Treaty. But, alas, this does not deserve any punishment from the United States and its allies.
Of particular relevance today, the United States use of depleted uranium in bombing Iraq has caused an epidemic of cancer, and in particular leukemias amongst children, the rate of which has risen by more than 400%, compared to 1990 figures. Robert Fisk, the well known British Journalist, writing in "The Independent", on March 4, 1998 stated: "Seven years after the end of the Gulf War a nightmare ‘epidemic’ of leukemia and stomach cancer is claiming the lives of thousands of Iraqi civilians who live near the former war zone, including children so young that they were not even born when hostilities ended." Phillippe Heffinck, a citizen of Belgium and Director of the UNICEF Office in Bagdad, stated: "We have found that chronic malnutrition stands at 31% for children up to five years old. That accounts for 1.1 million children. This is a serious problem, particularly serious when you have chronic malnutrition up to two years old, because that is the period when the brain is formed. You become stunted. There is a lack of physical and mental growth that would afflict the child, his schooling, his opportunities, his chances of founding a family and quite possibly his/her offspring as well".
The Lancet of February 28, 1998, reports that the office of the U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights has received a report indicating that the current health and environmental problems in Iraq may be linked to U.S. and British weapons used in the Gulf War in 1991.
The literature review by Bill Griffin, an Irish petrochemical engineer, with access to material in both the West and Iraq, points out that the mortality rate among children have increased sharply; as many as 500 children a day are dying in Iraq along with cancer rates caused by radioactive waste from projectiles containing depleted uranium (DU). DU weapons were developed by the Pentagon in the late 1970’s as anti-tank armour-piercing shells were not used until the Gulf War. DU is a radioactive bi-product of the enrichment process used to make nuclear fuel, rods and nuclear bombs. The Iraqis were used as experimental animals to try these new devices on them. During the last few months we were told that the U.S. have now advanced their tools of war and were planning to try them in Iraq.
The report notes that the death rate per 1000 Iraqi children under five years of age increased from 2.3 in 1989 to 16.6 in 1993. Cases of lymphoblastic leukemia have more than quadrupled with other cancers also increasing "at an alarming rate". In men, lung, bladder, bronchus, skin, and stomach cancers show the highest increase. In women, the highest increases are in breast and bladder cancer, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Diseases such as osteosarcoma, teratoma, nephroblastoma and rhabdomyosarcoma are also increasing. The most affected are children and young men. Congenital malformations have also increased.
The review says that a confidential report by the British Atomic Energy Authority in 1991 estimated that at least 40 tons of DU were dispersed in Kuwait and Iraq; but according to Greenpeace, based on U.S. government information released under the Freedom of Information Act, "over 300 tons of DU mostly in fragmented form (dust) were left on the battlefields in Iraq and Kuwait".
The review also quotes a letter from U.K.’s former Defense Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, to Sir David Steel, former Liberal leader, in December, 1994, saying that British troops used 88 DU rounds and that the U.S.A. had used much more. The letter admitted that the weapons would emit radioactive and toxic substances that "present a health hazard".
The former U.S. Attorney General, Ramsey Clark said: "These are war crimes and indictments should be issued." He wrote to U.N. officials:
Cowardly Surrender by the U.N.
"The history of this violent century does not reveal a more deadly, cruel, inhumane and degrading torture of the whole population of an entire nation inflicted by foreign power for so long a period of time. That the deed is done in the name of the United Nations Security Council demonstrates its cowardly surrender to the will of the United States and defeats hope that the United Nations will fulfill its promise of faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and save succeeding generations from the scourge of war."
Former Attorney General of the United States
We have heard at length the accounts of American and British soldiers suffering from the Gulf War Sydrome, but the fact that the chemicals used and the chemicals exploded were in Iraqi cities and towns, afflicting millions of civilians, does not deserve any mention in U.S., British or Canadian media. Nor is it worthy of any concern to Messrs Clinton, Blair or Chretien.
We have seen William Cohen strutting around with a 5lb bag of sugar ranting that Saddam’s anthrax equivalent would kill half of the population of Washington. It now comes to light that Saddam’s anthrax was provided by the U.S., from the "American Type Culture Collection (ATCC)" company in Rockville, Maryland, with the U.S. Government knowledge and blessings.
Speaking of germ warfare, let us look at who is conducting germ warfare in Iraq. Sixty six thousand tons of bombs were rained on Baghdad in 1991 exceeding the equivalent of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima. Iraq’s electric power and total infrastructure were demolished, taking a country with high standards of health care and prosperity "back to the pre-industrial age", as observed in 1991.
The destruction of the electric power and Infrastructure in Iraq has been described by the International Committee of the Red Cross as "Public health catastrophy of immense proportions". The principle threat is
contaminated water and lack of sanitation. Baghdad’s water supply and sewage system have brought a health disaster with contaminated water and widespread epidemics of typhoid and other infections. The impact of this has brought about the death of hundreds of thousands of children, due to disease and starvation.
The American author and artist, George Capaccio, visited Baghdad in November, 1997 and wrote:
"Inside the hospitals, I see blood and urine-stained mattresses, broken air conditioners and light fixtures, dimly lit pediatric wards, mothers tending their children day and night, hundreds of children waiting for medicine that never comes. This is what several years of sanctions have done to this once prosperous country. This is the picture you won’t see on the six o’clock news. Our policy of sanctions against Iraq has claimed the lives of more than one million Iraqis, mostly children. I visited hospitals in Baghdad and Basra. I met Iraqi women and children, they are sick and they are dying. They do not have enough food or medicine. They do not have hope. They are without these things because the United States has decreed they can be sacrificed in the name of a vendetta against Saddam Hussein.
In Iraq, I saw numerous little boys and girls with signs of severe malnutrition, distended bellies, glossy eyes and discolored hair with profound weakness. Thanks to the sanctions, the doctors can do nothing to help these sick children."
It is these inhumane and criminal sanctions that are imposed on the people of Iraq. They talk about allowing Iraq to sell oil for food and medical supplies, but ambulances are prohibited and car tires and a score of other basic items are denied. Chlorine and aluminum sulfate, essential for the disinfection of water, are prohibited. Pencils for the schools are not allowed because they contain graphite which, we are told, could be used for industrial purposes!
This is the true germ warfare that the United States and its allies are imposing on the people of Iraq.
Madeleine Albright was asked on TV, if the planned bombing of Iraq and the killing of possibly 50,000 civilians, mostly children, is justified. Her answer was "It is worth it".
Human Rights Violations
Saddam is a dictator and is justly accused of violating human rights of Iraqis and deserves condemnation for that. However, the state of Israel stands ahead of all other nations of the world in the violation of human rights. Every article of the 4th Geneva Convention of 1949, to which Israel is a signatory, has been and continues to be violated by the state of Israel against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. The state of Israel has the unique distinction of being the only country in the world where torture of prisoners is sanctioned by law and by the Supreme Court of Israel. Amnesty International and Israeli Human Rights Groups, including the Israeli League for Civil and Human Rights and B’tselem Human Rights Organizations document continuously the systematic violation of Human Rights in the occupied territories, including torture of prisoners, imprisonment without trial, deportation and destruction and bulldozing of people’s homes, including entire towns and villages, as in the case of Imwas, Yalu and Beit Nuba (my own hometown), where the infamy called Canada Park stands today on the ruins of the homes of over 10,000 people, now made refugees.
Iraq was accused in 1991 of having committed crimes in its invasion and occupation of Kuwait in 1990. Some two hundred souls reportedly perished in the course of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Some 20,000 civilians were perished in the course of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. The crucial difference is fully a 100 fold. In a fabricated monstrous lie, the Iraqis were accused of killing scores of babies in their incubators, as claimed by an eyewitness, who proved later to be the daughter of the Kuwait Ambassador to the United Nations, and who was never in Kuwait or witnessed anything of the kind. This lie was demolished by international observers. However, in the West Bank and Gaza, the killing of children and unborn infants by Israeli use of prohibited gases and deliberate murder continues. In May, 1990, a study by the Swedish Save the Children Organization documented that::
"The Israeli Army has systematically become child killers. Between December, 1987 and December, 1989, 150 children under age 16 were killed by soldiers. The average age of the dead was 10 years. Between 50,000 – 63,000 children were beaten, gassed or wounded".
Iraq was accused and condemned for killing Kurds in Northern Iraq. However, Turkey, under the close observation of U.S. Troops, regularly invades Northern Iraq and kills scores of Iraqi Kurds, but we hear no whisper of condemnation or complaint from the United States and its allies.
Saddam Hussein is accused of committing war crimes and calls for his trial as a war criminal have been repeatedly made by American politicians and media. But let us look and see who are the true war criminals?
I have related some of the war crimes committed by the U.S., in Japan, Vietnam and Iraq and other war crimes committed by Britain in Iraq and Dresden. I have also referred to war crimes committed by Israel in Palestine and Lebanon. The massacres of Deir Yassin, Lydda and scores of other towns have been documented by Israeli historians, journalists and officers. Similarly, the massacres of Sabra and Shatilla in 1982 and Qana massacre in 1996 in Lebanon are well documented and are manifest war crimes, by all definitions, including the definitions of the Nurmberg Trials for the Nazis.
However, very little has been heard of the horrendous war crimes committed by the Israelis in their wars of aggression in 1956 and 1967. Hordes of Egyptian civilian workers and soldiers as well as Palestinian prisoners of war were brutally murdered in cold blood by Israelis, an act that defies international law, the Hague conventions and the Geneva Conventions. In an account published in the Israeli newspaper Maariv, August 8, 1995, by Ronal Fisher, titled "Mass Murder in the 1956 Sinai War", some accounts of these crimes are described: "On Monday, October 29, 1956, paratroopers Battalion 890, under the command of Raful Eitan were parachuted on the eastern side of the Mitla Pass. About 50 Egyptian civilian engineering workers were captured, they whined from thirst and hunger. The orders came to mow them down and the commander A. Biro reported: "South of us pretty close to the position we took there was a quarry. There were exactly 49 people there. All of them were roadworkers from the Egyptian Public Works Department. We tied their hands and led them to the quarry. They were frightened and shattered. They were a burden so we finished them off." Lieutenant Colonel, Danny Wolf, recipient of the Award of Valor in the six day war, today admits that scores of Egyptian civilians and soldiers were mowed down by his soldiers, in the six day war. The following testimony about the Sharm-al-Sheikh affair is of interest. Colonel Amos Ne’emman, who was the commander in that campaign stated: "We were like a hurricane that absorbs power and then crushes everything that it takes hold of. I only admit that in those moments it did not occur to me even once, to stop killing in order to take prisoners. I change clips in my Uzi like a crazy man, without even feeling it and chased the Egyptians into the dunes. We conducted man hunts and whoever managed to escape my barrages, when he ran into the desert, is alive only by a miracle. If I try to understand why our fingers were so heavy on the trigger, my only explanation is the hatred of the enemy." An account of 273 Egyptian prisoners of war were murdered in that episode. There were many others…
Iraq is listed amongst the American list of terrorist states, which includes Syria and Libya and Sudan. In July, 1993, Bill Clinton showered Baghdad with 23 Tomahawk cruise missiles killing and injuring civilians. This was stated to be a reprisal for an alleged plot to assassinate former President George Bush in Kuwait, three months earlier. This was claimed to be an act of self-defense, in accordance with Article 15 of the Charter of the United Nations. This is clearly a lie, as the United States was not threatened even if this attack took place or succeeded. Furthermore, the alleged attackers were captured in Kuwait and were put to trial, a matter that, in all aspects of International law, is the appropriate settlement. However, it was later shown to be a totally manufactured incident, that Iraq has no role in. Tom Harper wrote in the Toronto Star on July 4, 1993, under the title of "Clinton’s missile attack was an act of terrorism". He stated: "Bill Clinton’s recent tomahawk cruise missile attack on Baghdad is an ugly piece of cynical hypocrisy. Everybody knows that nothing boosts a U.S. President’s stock faster than hearing him tell foreigners "Don’t tread on us" and backing it up with missiles. Nothing unites Americans more speedily than the spectacle of their commander-in-chief taking charge against those who are clearly "not like us". It is interesting to note that the United States is responsible for accomplished and attempted acts of assassination of heads of state as in the case of President Allende of Chile and President Castro of Cuba, but alas, Chile and Cuba did not have the tomahawk cruise missiles to direct at Washington, DC.
Speaking of accomplished and attempted assassinations, the State of Israel stands heads and shoulders above all others in their assassination attempts against Palestinian and Lebanese leaders. Scores of Palestinian intellectuals and leaders have been murdered in Europe, Malta, Lebanon and recently the attempt of assassination, by chemical methods, against the leader of Hamas in Amman, Jordan, using Canadian passports. Israel has conducted the kidnapping of Lebanese religious leaders and holding them hostages, together with thousands of other Lebanese and Palestinians held as hostages, without any charge.
As to the practice of terrorism Israel stands heads and shoulders above all others. The first highjacking of a civilian airliner was carried out by Israel in December, 1954, with the highjacking of a Syrian airliner. The first civilian airliner shot down in mid-air was that of a Libyan airliner shot down by Israel in February, 1973, killing 107 passengers and its French air crew. The first murder by letter bomb was carried out by Yitzhak Shamir’s stern terrorist gang killing a young British student, Rex Farran in May, 1948.
Israeli terrorism was not limited to Palestinians and Arabs including the massacre of Deir Yassin and Sabra & Shatilla and scores of others. Israeli terrorism included assassination of British Diplomat, Lord Moyne in 1944 and U.N. Mediator, Count Folke Bernadotte in 1948, at the direct orders of Yitzhak Shamir, and the explosion of King David Hotel, in Jerusalem, in 1946, by Menachem Begin’s Irgun terrorist gang, killing over 50 people.
Israeli’s terrorism included acts against the U.S., its closest supporter and ally, by bombing the U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Cairo and Alexandria in 1954.
Israeli terrorism did not spare Jews. In 1941, Menachem Begin’s Irgun Zwei Leumi gang bombed the ship, the Patria, in Haifa Harbor, killing 240 Jewish refugees, and blamed it on the British for political gain. In 1950–51, Israeli agents were dispatched to Iraq where they bombed Masauda Shemtov Synagogue in Baghdad, to encourage Iraqi Jews to emigrate to Israel. Israel’s continuing acts of international terrorism are too numerous to enumerate.
I can go on much longer, but time is short and I would prefer to spare you hearing more of this Odyssey of hypocrisy and duplicity that the United States and its allies mastermind in the Middle East, under the cloak of International Law. The United Nations has clearly been hijacked by the United States and the American philosophy of "might is right" is the fundamental principle and determining factor, in the conduct of world affairs today, in George Bush’s "New World Order".
It is a shameful catalogue but the alarming aspect of this, that I find disheartening, is the deafening silence of many intellectuals and political leaders who do not seem to have the courage to speak out on these atrocities and shameful acts of hypocrisy. However, I must not stop here before giving credit, particularly to Jewish intellectuals and men and women of honor in Israel, like Professor Israel Shahak and lawyers like Ms. Felicia Langer and Lea Tsemel. There are many others in this country and elsewhere who have had also the courage to speak out, and they deserve our praise.