A barely noticed anniversary slid by on March 20. It’s been 15 years since the United States committed the greatest war crime of the 21st century: the unprovoked, aggressive invasion of Iraq. The New York Times, which didn’t exactly cover itself in glory in the run-up to that invasion, recently ran an op-ed by an Iraqi novelist living in the United States entitled “Fifteen Years Ago, America Destroyed My Country,” but that was about it. The Washington Post, another publication that (despite the recent portrayal of its Vietnam-era heroism in the movie The Post) repeatedly editorialized in favor of the invasion, marked the anniversary with a story about the war’s “murky” body count. Its piece concluded that at least 600,000 people died in the decade and a half of war, civil war, and chaos that followed—roughly the population of Washington, DC.
These days, there’s a significant consensus here that the Iraq invasion was a “terrible mistake,” a “tragic error,” or even the “single worst foreign-policy decision in American history.” Fewer voices are saying what it really was: a war crime. In fact, that invasion fell into the very category that led the list of crimes at the Nuremberg tribunal, where Nazi high officials were tried for their actions during World War II. During the negotiations establishing that tribunal and its rules, it was (ironically, in view of later events) the United States that insisted on including the crime of “waging a war of aggression” and on placing it at the head of the list. The US position was that all the rest of Germany’s war crimes sprang from this first “crime against peace.”
Similarly, the many war crimes of Dick Cheney and George W. Bush—the extraordinary renditions; the acts of torture at Guantánamo, Bagram Air Basein Afghanistan, and CIA black sites all over the world; the nightmare of abuse at Abu Ghraib, a US military prison in Iraq; the siege and firebombing (with white phosphorus) of the Iraqi city of Fallujah; the massacre of civilians in Haditha, another Iraqi city—all of these arose from the Bush administration’s determination to invade Iraq.