Twenty-eight years ago today, there was a civil war in Lebanon. Israel, a bordering power, was intervening; Beirut, the Lebanese capital, was under occupation by Israeli forces. The United States was also intervening in this war; Reagan later pulled out after a truck bombing at a Marine base, the same kind of thing that Clinton was called weak for. In Beirut there were camps filled with refugees, both internal Lebanese refugees from the war and refugees who had been driven out of Palestine by Israeli settlers over the previous forty years. The IDF had an agreement with the United States to not occupy West Beirut, where the camps of Sabra and Shatila were located. Breaking this agreement, the IDF drove the PLO out of Beirut and put some soldiers controlling the entrances and exits. Then, on the night of September 16th, a Lebanese Maronite Christian militia went into the Sabra and Shatila camps in IDF-supplied vehicles while Israeli troops guarded the exits and fired flares to provide lighting. Over the course of the next two days, the Phalagists murdered thousands of refugees.
Follow below the fold to discover what happened next in When War Crimes Go Unpunished.
Ariel Sharon, then the Israeli defense minister, was determined by the Israeli whitewashing commission to "bear personal responsibility" "for having disregarded the prospect of acts of vengeance and bloodshed... for having failed to take this danger into account when he decided to have the Phalangists enter the camps". By having an allied militia do it for their own reasons, Sharon managed to find plausible deniability for his active role in planning the massacres. Still, he eventually had to resign following protests in Israel that became violent leading to the murder of a protester. That was the end of it: Sharon went on to become Prime Minister of Israel in 2001.
If war crimes aren't prosecuted, war criminals get to continue their careers. People who would want to commit further war crimes are emboldened, and future attempts to prosecute are accused of selective prosecution for political gain. We teach our children that war crimes are acceptable.
I don't think that John Yoo will ever be President. Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are too old, but maybe Condoleeza Rice could come back into politics at some point. The lot of them should be locked up for conspiracy to commit torture. For his part in Iran-Contra, Admiral John Poindexter was convicted of several felonies, but the convictions were later reversed and he went to work for the Bush administration. You may have heard of the Total Information Awareness project to spy on Americans; fortunately, it was never implemented, but he is still warmongering and fermongering on talk shows. As is Oliver North, also briefly convicted for his role in Iran-Contra.
We can't blame Fox News for Nixon and Reagan. As Michael Moore pointed out a few days ago, we shouldn't blame them for Iraq, either. With the brief exception of Woodward and Bernstein, pretty much the entire traditional media has always refused to do their job. Twenty and thirty years ago, as Presidents Nixon and Reagan broke the law, the question we had to ask ourselves was whether we believed in the rule of law or whether we would allow ourselves to be ruled by men. We answered with Gerald Ford's pardon, a refusal to impeach Reagan and a vacation of convictions of the few small fish we actually pursued after Iran-Contra. Today, the people who run large organizations operate under the assumption that they will not be prosecuted for crimes that occurred with their planning, consent and knowledge, from our corporate overlords to the people who ran Abu Ghraib to the former administration. When prosecution was still in the Overton window, they said that policy differences shouldn't be criminalized. The rule of law has been replaced by the rule of men.
But today, the question we have to ask ourselves as Americans is, do we want to be Israel? Do we want to be constantly at war and terrified of our neighbors? Do we want to have war criminals in positions of power? Do we want to get in completely pointless losing wars because our leaders want to look tough?
Do we want our children to be signing bombs?