On 20th Anniversary Of US Invasion Of Iraq, We Renew Our Call For Reparations And Accountability – OpEd
By The Center for Constitutional Rights
Twenty years after the U.S. government invaded Iraq, we renew our call for reparations for those harmed as a result of the U.S.’s unlawful act of aggression in its cruel, senseless, and baseless war-for-profit.
Ten years ago, we teamed up with Iraqi civil society groups and U.S. service members to demand redress, and this need only becomes more urgent as the incalculable human toll of the war continues to grow: hundreds of thousands dead, some two million disabled, some nine million displaced, environmental devastation, countless people tortured, traumatized, or otherwise harmed in ways unseen, occupation and embrace of torture as policy in the so-called “war on terror,” and an entire generation that was born and raised in only war. Reparations are rooted in precedent and international law, as well as a strong tradition of justice-based organizing by civil rights movements, and we should not let the difficulty of securing justice deter us from seeking it – for Iraqis and for all others harmed by U.S. imperialism, exploitation, and genocide.
Justice also entails accountability for the perpetrators of these horrific crimes, including those responsible for the torture at Abu Ghraib and other detention centers in Iraq, as well as those tortured and detained in the larger “war on terror.” Since 2004, we have filed three separate lawsuits against U.S-based military contractors on behalf of Iraqis tortured in the infamous Abu Ghraib prison. In Al Shimari v. CACI, three Iraqis enter the 15th year of their effort to seek damages from a company whose employees directed and participated in a conspiracy to commit numerous illegal and depraved acts, from abuse involving dogs, to sexual assault, to beatings that broke bones and injured genitals. We sued another private contractor, Erik Prince and his company Blackwater, for killing and injuring Iraqi civilians, obtaining a settlement on behalf of some victims of the Nisour Square massacre. Legal efforts against high-level political and military leaders for the invasion itself and the many crimes committed in the “war on terror” pose a different set of challenges, as demonstrated by our efforts to hold high-level Bush-administration officials accountable at the International Criminal Court for crimes in or arising out of the war in Afghanistan or under universal jurisdiction. Those of us pursuing accountability can draw inspiration from activists in other countries like Argentina and Guatemala who waged successful campaigns over several decades.
As we call for justice for Iraqis, we stand in solidarity with all people who live in countries targeted by U.S. imperialism, and in particular, in Afghanistan, whose civilians have been subjected to endless war and destruction, politicization, and then abandonment of human rights protections, and state-facilitated humanitarian suffering. They include not only those killed and maimed by the U.S. military and its proxies but also those harmed by U.S. sanctions and coups, corporate plunder and extraction, and austerity regimes imposed by U.S.-dominated colonial institutions like the IMF. It also includes Palestinians, who are subjugated by Israel, a U.S. imperial outpost. Grounded in white supremacy and driven by the imperatives of capitalism, U.S. imperialism often receives broad support, including from some who identify as anti-war.
Indeed, Congress continues its overbroad authorizations for use of military force. Such authorizations must be repealed, and the unlawful policies of endless war and militarization must be replaced with international-law-based, rights-respecting policies and practices. But just this month, the House voted 414-2 to maintain unilateral sanctions on Syria even though – or because – they have causedwidespread suffering and hindered earthquake relief efforts. The U.S. has imposed similar deadly sanctions on Cuba for decades. Such manifestations of imperialism differ from the war on Iraq only in degree. Indeed, deadly sanctions on Iraq were a precursor to the U.S. invasion.
We also stand with people in the U.S. harmed by imperialism. The trillions of dollars spent on militarism and criminalization abroad and in the U.S. must be reallocated to address the material needs and fulfill the human rights of our most marginalized communities. Furthermore, and in feeding Islamophobia, the U.S. “war on terror” has always faced inward as well as outward as the government uses it to reinforce oppression through immigration restrictions, racial and religious profiling, and mass surveillance. Meanwhile, U.S police are increasingly employing the tactics and weapons of war, often honed through collaborative trainings with other countries’ militaries. In response to the 2020 uprising against police violence, political leaders and police departments dubbed Black Lives Matter protesters “terrorists” and proposed to “hunt them down the way we do those in the Middle East.” Militarism threatens Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of color in the United States in another way: by incubating white nationalist killers. U.S. warmaking has long fed fascism at home. It’s no wonder, then, that some of the strongest domestic opposition to wars can be found in communities of color and social justice movements. Oppression in the United States and imperialism are intertwined, and resistance to each, must be as well.
On this ignominious anniversary, we recommit to our vision of a world in which revolutionary movements across countries and continents struggle together for liberation from U.S. imperialism and all other oppressive systems of power.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications