Book Review by Gar Smith
“To initiate a war of aggression is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”
—Judgment of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg
Enhanced interrogation. Extraordinary rendition. Abduction and detention. Black sites. Massive surveillance of civilians. Militarization of domestic police. Presidential kill lists. Assassination drones.
Any honest review of the aggregating crimes of America’s political leaders gives rise to a nagging question: Isn’t it time someone threw the book at them?
Well, the wait is over. We now have the book.
It is called American Nuremberg. It was published by Hot Books and penned by Bay Area philosophy professor, writer and activist Rebecca Gordon (whose previous book was the equally challenging Mainstreaming Torture). The purpose of American Nuremberg is laid out in the subtitle: “The US Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes.”
As good as the book is, the cover art is a powerful match—a single image that makes the case in the blink of an eye.
Designer Brian Peterson’s cover is based on a famous historical photo of 21 German Nazi leaders sitting in a courtroom in Nuremberg, about to face justice for their numerous crimes against humanity. The men in the dock included Herman Goering, Rudolph Hess, Albert Speer, and Joachim Von Ribbentrop. But the photo has been updated for Gordon’s book. Here the faces are more familiar. They include George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, and Barack Obama.
As Rachell Madow argues in her excellent, well-researched book, Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power (Random House, 2012), this line-up of modern war criminals could have been extended to include Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, both of whom side-stepped the Constitution in order to run illegal covert wars abroad. (Jimmy Carter, bless him, stands apart: He passed several Executive Orders to rein-in government criminality.)
“Covert wars!” Those were the good old days. Remember when illegal wars were such touchy political matters that they had to be hidden or veiled, conducted by the CIA and denied by the Oval Office?
These days, presidents (with the capitulation of the House and Senate) openly defy the Constitution and wage undeclared wars openly, endlessly and (so far) hopelessly. These days, a single world leader (the one who presides in Washington) openly acknowledges—without regret or apology—his ability to order the death of anyone on Earth (American citizens included).
There is no trial. No jury. Just a “kill list” that is dropped in his inbox every Tuesday. All it takes is a checkmark and, somewhere, in some distant country where the US maintains acknowledged (or secret) bases, a $14 million General Atomics Reaper drone (or a bargain-basement $4 million Predator) will be armed with a $115,000 Lockheed-Martin/Boeing/Northrop-Grumman Hellfire missile.
Air Force “pilots” in air-conditioned trailers located an hour’s drive from Las Vegas will take it from there, turning targeted human beings into “bug splatter” with the twitch of a joystick and the press of a button.
It’s as simple as snapping your fingers. As Obama himself once confided to a colleague: “Turns out I’m really good at killing people.”
In 190 taut pages, Gordon makes her case—from the world’s first War Crimes trial at Nuremberg, through decades of violated treaties and broken laws, to the recent abominations of US aggression and war crimes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Syria to an appalling assortment of crimes against humanity— ranging from secret experiments with chemical and biological experiments at home to deploying anti-personnel, chemical, and radiological weapons abroad.
Every chapter of American Nuremberg ends with a list of the individuals who deserve to be indicted and tried for the heinous crimes detailed in the previous pages. And yes, UC Berkeley law professor John Yoo makes it onto the list of war criminals on page 142 (as does Stanford economics professor Condaleezza Rice).
More often than not, Gordon lets the perps condemn themselves with their own words. There was, for example, the US official who explained Washington’s moral stance on torture to reporters in 2002 as follows: “We don’t kick the shit out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the shit out of them.” And then there was the unidentified officer who observed: “If you don’t violate someone’s human rights some of the time, you probably aren’t doing your job.”
While many of the crimes of the military/industrial/political/academic complex are well known, Gordon’s book has the potential to stir up a storm of latent indignation. When these winds begin to rise, the dimming embers of forgotten crimes just might begin to brighten until they ignite a firestorm of moral anger that can no longer be ignored.
Some of the pages of American Nuremberg could simply be recited and shared on YouTube. Other pages could be handed out at protests or read aloud in the Capitol Rotunda or on the steps of the Pentagon. Theses are words that can steer the ark of history.
In closing, a few words about Hot Books—their words, actually. Explaining their mission (from the offices of Skyhorse Publishing in New York City), the publishers have written the following: “Hot Books authors are daring to speak the unspeakable. Our body politic has grown sluggish and dull-witted, stuffed with a steady diet of junk media and corporate propaganda. It’s time to light a fire under the slumbering giant of American democracy. It’s time to think dangerous thoughts.”