Mallat in Jurist: Changing the Legal Paradigm of Liberation-Occupation


JURIST Contributing Editor Chibli Mallat of the University of Utah SJ Quinney College of Law says that there is no true legal distinction between liberators and occupiers, and that because it does not look like there will be a treaty to distinguish the two soon, mixed tribunals will provide a productive intermediate step…

 Yet another rampage killing in the Afghan morass by a rogue American soldier.

It brings up one early, angry memory in Iraq after Saddam Hussein. I was never so upset than after seeing a US military convoy patrolling the streets of Baghdad for the first time in late 2003. On the back of each armored vehicle was a stiff warning in crude and brutal Arabic “not to get close otherwise you,” Baghdadi resident, “would be shot at without notice.” Many were.

So that was liberation for Iraqis: liberating troops whose face you are not allowed to see, clogging up Baghdad amidst frightening car jams resulting from the rise of concrete walls allegedly securing the liberators, with a warning to stay away under penalty of death. Not to mention the arrogance of the Blackwater-style private security companies — generally formed of mercenaries with no education, no Arabic or Kurdish, getting salaries 20 times the local recruits, and four or five times the US army volunteers on the frontline. Blackwater killed 17 Iraqi civilians in September 2007. How many more unpunished killings were there in Iraq, and in Afghanistan?

I recall there was not much of an unrest then, in December 2003 in downtown Baghdad. US military and other coalition troops had been there for eight months, and the Baghdadis, after the Kurds, were tasting freedom in the wake of 40 years of Saddam Hussein’s tyranny. At that point, talk of even two years of US army presence was considered excessive.

I have written elsewhere about the hubris of Paul Bremer, a man with a mentality like that of Henry Kissinger, who blocked the full political takeover of the Iraqi Governing Council in the hope of becoming US Secretary of State on the laurels of a pacified Iraq. It did not take long for the backlash. By April 2004, all hell had broken loose in the country, and the US had lost Iraq and its people despite immense American sacrifices that Iraqis will acknowledge to date when they speak their mind.

Bremer would not listen, however, and Kofi Annan was fretting in the wings to get the UN in, very much in the way he is meddling in Syrian matters now, at a time when the UN (and the Arab League) maintained the best record of “doing business” with the tyrants ruling these countries. The quote is not invented. In 1998, Annan used these very words to save Saddam Hussein — watch for his optimism in doing business with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad this week.

There is a legal structural problem in all occupation-liberation whether it is under the auspices of the UN or a single country. The liberators always overstay their welcome. What happened in Afghanistan today is inevitable, and it happened early on in Iraq when US soldiers got apprehensive — was the mob greeting them or protesting? — and shot at the crowd. The spiral of mutual fear and trigger-happy soldiers soon got out of hand.

Link to Jurist article

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