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Project for a Humanitarian Century
by Troy Skeels
May 31, 2004
First Published in Eat the State

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Across the field, Republicans and Democrats agree that the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, as crystallized in the photos from Abu Ghraib prison is an epic international political disaster. Even Karl Rove is reported to have said that the photos have set American foreign policy back a generation. But Karl Rove and the neocon cabal's idea of a foreign policy success is itself a disaster for truth, justice and the American way, so what are we left with? The photos are certainly, as has been said, a recruiting poster for Al-Qaeda. They will encourage other nation-states to ignore the Geneva conventions. They have made the world more dangerous. But they have also almost certainly shortened the US occupation of Iraq, and dealt the final blow to the master plan for the corporate looting and puppet state that underlay the fantasy driving the invasion.

Suddenly, for a moment, everything is out in the open. The full brutality and perversion that runs to the core of the hidden side of the American empire has been laid out for everyone to see. Despite the authorities and despite the media, for the moment, there are no secrets. We haven't seen all the photos, but we don't have to. Everybody knows--and everybody knows that everybody knows. The neocons have created an enormous disaster and not even the neoliberals can imagine a way out. Does anyone dare guess what will be on the front page a year from now? Do we dare hope what could be on the front pages a year from now?

It's a foreign policy disaster to be sure, but for whose foreign policy? The vast, cartoonish failure of the Bush administration's faith-based world domination has opened a giant, gaping space-a collective moment of "what do we do now?"

Now, as the neocons and other "realists" like to say, "we are where we are." And while the powerbrokers try to muddle through their disaster, grassroots policy makers have a profound opportunity to influence the debate about where we are going. We don't want to be where we are and those who got us here can't be trusted to get us where we want to go--they are only going to make everything worse, and for the moment, that truth is something more than an unspoken agreement.

The concept of "no war!" is no longer just a pretty picture. It is serious politics. When faced with the "realism," of Abu Ghraib and its result, the peace movement can no longer be dismissed as "unrealistic." We need a fundamental rethinking of US foreign and domestic policies, and those most qualified to present it are those who opposed this war and the warfare state's policies from the beginning. It is important to seek accountability from the political and military leaders who presided over the war crimes committed in Iraq, as most clearly shown in the notorious photos. But that's only part of a more important opportunity: to change the permissible boundaries of debate.

Beyond Iraq, the fundamental question Americans should be asking is; what is the true nature of the American Empire, and how can we live as well or better than we do now without creating more Iraqs and further staining our lifestyles with the blood of innocent people? Beyond Rumsfeld's head and beyond Bush's defeat in November, we can focus the powerful and growing movement for change beyond an Iraqi pullout, to a movement influencing a change in the fundamental way America does business--from the brutalities of the US justice and prison bsystem to the corrupt and obsolete corporate practices that made the invasion and occupation of Iraq seem, bipartisanly, a reasonable thing to do. We have the power--to speak out, if nothing else, as groups and individuals. There are things we can do.

One thing we can do is to reach out as Americans directly to the people in the rest of the world, especially those places most directly impacted by US policy. George Bush was right when he said that the abuses in the Iraqi prison camps don't represent America. The world knows that they do represent Bush's America, but we don't have to let Bush speak for us. We can write letters to foreign newspapers, websites, post personal apologies on our blogs. And we can promise to listen. And to act on what we hear. As individuals and groups, we can find counterparts in other countries and join efforts to change one small part of the global system.

The International Criminal Court (ICC), designed to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity, came into effect on July 1, 2003. The US, while one of the nations that signed the treaty creating the court, has refused to follow through, and has even threatened to use US troops to free any American citizen held by the court. While 89 other countries, including Afghanistan, have ratified the treaty, Republicans and Democrats alike claim that they are afraid of politically motivated frivolous prosecutions and say that the US will take care of its own human rights abusers. The photos of Abu Ghraib show the real reason why the US is loathe to give the ICC jurisdiction over American leaders. There can no longer be any excuse for US intransigence, even less for ongoing US efforts to undermine the court.. For more information on the ICC and how to get involved, see

The Department of Peace (DOP), with a cabinet level Secretary, would be created if a bill introduced into Congress by Dennis Kucinich was passed and signed into law. It seemed like a crazy dream not so long ago, but America needs answers, and it hasn't been getting them from the ordinary sources. The creation of the Department of Homeland Defense showed that the US can make bold reorganizations if it has to. The Department of Peace "would focus on nonmilitary peaceful conflict resolutions, prevent violence and promote justice and democratic principles to expand human rights." The Department would do things like: work to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, monitor the impact of US arms sales, facilitate peace summits, develop anti-violence programs, bring local communities, religious communities and NGO's into the policy process, train US government employees involved in peacekeeping and reconstruction and create a "Peace Academy" modeled after the military academies to train people for public service in domestic or international nonviolent conflict resolution. Overall, the creation of the DOP would "promote justice and democratic principles to expand human rights," at home and abroad. Washington Congressman Jim McDermott is one of the Congressional sponsors of the bill (HR1673). It's an idea whose time has come. To find out more, see

Troy Skeels is an editor of Eat the State!, a feisty alternative publication from Seattle, Washington, where this article first appeared (

Other Articles by Troy Skeels

* With Us or Solaris
* A Sort of Exit Strategy
* The General, the Election, and America's School of Assassins
Nobody but Bush

* The Globalization Wars