"In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight road was lost." - Dante Alighieri, Divine Comedy
Dear Iraqi people,
I write to apologize for the illegal 2003 U.S. invasion of your country.
Presidential candidate Jeb Bush has confessed, given what we know now, he would not have authorized the invasion of Iraq, as his brother did. A politician with integrity should have followed that comment with an apology to the Iraqi people. And to the American people. But, better not to open that Pandora's box, especially if you're running scared in the Republican primaries.
Though it matters less now, many Americans opposed the assault -- including 23 U.S. Senators (among them current Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders) and 133 members of Congress. Speaking before our Senate, James Jeffords (VT), prophetically proclaimed, "this Administration is, perhaps unwittingly, heading us into a miserable cycle of waging wars that isolate our nation internationally and stir up greater hatred of America." The names of these dissenters may now be recorded as righteous among the nations.
As you know, together with millions around the world, ordinary Americans marched in the streets on February 15, 2003 to oppose the invasion of your land, truly hoping that the Bush-Cheney administration might respond to mass, democratic sentiment. But, having already lost the popular vote in 2000, Bush and his cabal were in no mood for compromise.
To the best of my knowledge, in the 12 years since the invasion of your country, its catastrophic occupation, and the chaos that has ensued, no American has explicitly apologized on behalf of the United States, its governmental leaders, its military, its mercenary contractors, its journalists and media, its scholars and universities, its business people and middle classes, its citizens. Too little, too late? You decide.
For the violence visited upon your people, from "shock and awe" to the botched occupation, de facto partition, predictable sectarian war, and the foreseeable rise of ISIS-like extremism, I apologize. Forgiveness is not mine to ask.
For the murders of your children and family members, words fail. Peace be upon them.
For the wanton decimation of your historic capital Baghdad, its archives, libraries, bazaars, bridges, buildings, and neighborhoods, hauntingly depicted in Abbas Fahdel's 2015 documentary Homeland (Iraq Year Zero), my profoundest regrets. That which is wanting cannot be numbered.
For the American journalists who propagandized in favor of the U.S. invasion, including Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol, and Judith Miller, my deepest condolences for their recklessness.
For the torture of your sons and daughters by members of the CIA, the U.S. military, and other occupying forces, again words escape me. I can share only my sorrow and outrage. Know that you are not alone in your anger and despair at the betrayal of the Geneva Conventions, the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, and the basic tenets of human decency. Abu Ghraib, like Guantanamo Bay, will live in infamy, from here to eternity.
The so-called liberal media, especially the New York Times, bear a heavy burden for rogue reporting leading up to and during the invasion. For those who were fooled into believing the Bush regime's obfuscations -- including David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker, who I believe never publicly recanted his fatal mistake -- my profound regrets. A more worthy editor would have resigned from the magazine and taken a vow of silence.
To be sure, the U.S. is not the only superpower to brutally invade other nations: consider France in Algeria, the USSR in Afghanistan, or, more recently, Russia in the Ukraine. Great Britain must settle its own accounts for the 2003 invasion.
With Iraq in ruins, the crooked shall not be made straight again. But the crooked may be prosecuted. Rejecting the notion of collective responsibility, at the Nuremberg trials after WWII, the Allies asked "Who is individually responsible?"
For the invasion of Iraq, its catastrophic occupation, and subsequent fragmentation, we know the answer to this question. Richard Perle. Paul Wolfowitz. Dick Cheney. Donald Rumsfeld. George W. Bush. Elliot Abrams. Colin Powell. Douglas Feith. James Woolsey.
Responding to the Bush administration's unprecedented torture policy, Democratic Presidential candidate Martin O'Malley has urgently called for a special prosecutor to hold accountable its propagators. In the United States of America, torture now has names and faces: Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, John Ashcroft, George Tenet, legal advisers Alberto Gonzales, David Addington, William Haynes, John Yoo, and John Rizzo, as well as CIA contract psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen.
Original artwork by Eva Munday 2015, used by permission.
If there is justice on earth, the neoconservative ideologues -- who plotted the invasion, fabricated evidence of weapons of mass destruction, falsely attributed the Saudi Arabian-led Al-Qaeda 9/11 attack to Saddam Hussein, lied to and misled the American people, and, in particular, those who designed, endorsed, and implemented our torture policy -- will be tried for war crimes.
But, as Iraqis know firsthand from Saddam's rule and the U.S. invasion, there is little justice in this world. Currently out of power, the American neocons will apparently not even sit before a truth and reconciliation commission that would allow our country to properly seek atonement for its sins.
From Dante's Divine Comedy, we learn Catholic medieval notions of hell, wherein punishments provide poetic justice for sinners. Dante's fourth circle of hell holds those guilty of greed, now awaiting the leaders of the Halliburton Company, including Dick Cheney, CEO from 1995-2000. Murderers, for their part, wallow in a river of blood in hell's seventh circle.
In the ditches of Dante's eighth circle of hell writhe those guilty of fraud, especially corrupt politicians, evil counselors, and advisors; make room, there, for tomorrow. The ninth circle of hell contains those guilty of treachery and betrayal. All in good company. Donald, Dick, Richard, and Paul, I'll see you there.
Let the neocons read the writing on the wall: mene, mene, tekel, parsin. "God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians." Empires rise and fall, libraries disappear under the sand.
Of course, I have no standing to formally apologize, for anyone or any organization. I am not an elected official, I don't speak on behalf of my country, my state, my city, my university, my colleagues, my students, my family, or my friends.
It just shows that being a superpower means not having to say you're sorry.