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Syria and the Trial Lawyers’ Dictum

Syria and the Trial Lawyers’ Dictum

By Dennis Loo (9/3/13)

There is a dictum among trial lawyers that you should never ask a witness a question that you don’t already know the answer to because if you do, they might say something that would blow your case.

This is what Obama did when on Saturday he announced that he was going to go to Congress to ask for their endorsement of his intention to bomb Syria.

He already knew what answer he was going to get. But just in case, he made it clear that even if he got a “no” that he reserved the right to do it anyway.

Today Nancy Pelosi chimed in and said she supported Obama’s plan and that she didn’t think that the POTUS had to get permission from Congress, but that it was a nice idea anyway to build more popular support for the war.

So thoughtful of the POTUS to include Congress on its war-making powers!

Speaker John Boehner and Sen. John McCain and Lindsay Graham also joined this display of bi-partisan unity. So wonderful that they can stop their fighting when the Empire’s credibility’s at stake!

The object of democracies, supposedly, is that there be robust and genuine debate about decisions based upon real facts, especially ones that involve life and death such as wars.

Today [Tuesday] the UN Secretary General stated that Obama’s plan was in violation of the UN’s core principle: it is against the UN Charter for one country to attack another country that had not attacked the other country first.

This is no mere quibbling over technicalities. If you’re going to even have an international body that is supposed to promote the adherence to international law, then its keystone article has to be just that.

No matter. If the UN won’t give its approval and the U.S.’s most reliable ally Great Britain won’t approve it – when the Brits usually respond to the POTUS by asking “how high do you want us to jump?” - then POTUS will just “reach across the aisle” and down the street to his other greatest domestic ally: Congress.

This is a charade dressed up as “constitutional democracy” at work, designed to rope a skeptical nation and world into supporting this unjust plan.

On the BBC broadcast that I heard this morning the BBC reporter had on two guests, one who was from a “liberal” think tank, the Center for American Progress, who thought it was a great idea that Obama was broadening the “legitimacy” of his plans, attack plans which this guest supported, by bringing in Congress. The other guest was an Iraqi who said that he opposed Obama’s plans and thought the evidence of chemical weapons used by the Syrian government proffered by Kerry was unconvincing. Clearly distressed by this guest, the reporter objected: “But Secretary of State Kerry was adamant” about the validity of the evidence. To which his guest reminded him that the world was assured that the evidence was "100%" that there were weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein’s hands, and yet those claims turned out not to be true.

Don’t you love that? “Kerry was adamant.” Roll back the cameras and tapes to the 1930s and imagine a BBC reporter saying, “Mr. Hitler was adamant that the Communists were to blame for burning down the Reichstag, necessitating the declaration of emergency powers and suspension of the constitution…” "Must be true. He was adamant."

And BBC is considered one of the paragons of journalism!

Meanwhile, The New York Times editorialized yesterday that a) it is a good thing that Obama chose to go to Congress, b) that he should really prove his claims about chemical weapons' use, and c) complained about inaction against Syria from the UN, blaming it on Russia and China who sit on the Security Council, and the “feckless[ness]” of the Arab League. Not wanting to ruin their spotless record, they once again failed, as they had before in the run-up to and all during the Iraq war, to mention even once the core principle of the UN and of international law that WMD or no WMD, an attack by a nation on a country that does not threaten you and has not attacked you is the “supreme international crime.”

The point, my NYT friends, is that even if Obama could prove the use of WMD, this would not override the UN Charter's prohibition against wars of aggression, precisely the heart of the question that the NYT editorial overlooks. It is in such a manner that the NYT has historically appeared to be critical of various White House administrations, quibbling over a secondary question (in this case whether or not Assad has used chemical weapons) and skirting the fundamental question. Thus it was during the run-up to the Iraqi war when the NYT's Judith Miller acted as cheerleader for the WMD crowd, giving the imprimatur of the "liberal" NYT's endorsement of that war of aggression and thereby disarming so many of those who would otherwise have challenged that profoundly unjust war. There are those at the NYT and outside of it who might be congratulating themselves that they are not being as credulous as they were in the Iraq War run-up, because they are challenging the idea that chemical weapons were used this time, but they nonetheless have missed the point. This, unfortunately, is not an error but part of what is known at the NYT as Ochsian fundamentalism: do not crusade and do appear to be impartial by playing both sides of the fence. But this stance of seeming neutrality by variously endorsing the Republican version versus the Democratic version does not do the most important thing of all - telling the people the truth and basing yourself on the facts and on the law. What you have done is not acted impartially but only simulated neutrality. In so doing, the NYT (and other outlets such as BBC) are acting as government mouthpieces rather than as part of the Fourth Estate.

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