By James Corbett
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?
Believe it or not, this question has been on my mind of late. No, I'm not interested in the zen implications or the one-hand-clapping nature of the old riddle. I'm preoccupied with a slightly more practical question: If Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are convicted of war crimes in Kuala Lumpur and no media are there to report on it, does it have an effect?
Although not many people know it, this is precisely what happened earlier this year. Back in May a war crimes tribunal in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, convicted Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and several other Bush administration insiders (including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and White House legal advisor John Yoo) of war crimes, including torture. The conviction was the result of a week-long tribunal that heard testimony from Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib detainees. Although it was the first conviction of its kind anywhere in the world and a significant milestone in the quest to achieve justice for the outrageous actions of the US and its allies in the bogus war on terror, the trial and conviction was met by a deafening silence by the talking heads in the corporate media.
Although there was a headline here and there about the conviction, to the extent that it was addressed at all it was generally pooh-poohed as not being “officially” sanctioned by the Malaysian court system, and thus not worthy of consideration. This despite the fact that the trial included a prosecution and a defense council, took witness statements and testimony, was overseen by a five-member commission of scholars and statesman from around the world, was modeled on the Nuremberg Charter, and referred its conviction to the International Criminal Court and the United Nations Security Council. As the delegation that initiated United Nations General Assembly resolution 95 (I) in 1946 affirming the principles of the Nuremberg Tribunal, no one would seriously argue that the US is itself not bound by those principles, which clearly state: “Leaders, organizers, instigators and accomplices participating in the formulation or execution of a common plan or conspiracy to commit war crimes are responsible for all acts performed by any person in execution of such a plan.”
Despite all of this, however, few outlets reported on this precedent setting trial and for the majority of people on the planet it's like it never happened at all. So you'll see why I'm preoccupied with the tree-falling-in-the-forest question these days.
I was in Kuala Lumpur myself last week presenting to the “9/11 Revisited: Seeking the Truth” conference organized by the Perdana Global Peace Foundation. The conference brought together researchers and scholars from around the globe to talk about the lies that were sold to the public in the wake of the September 11th, 2001 attacks, and how those lies have been used as the justification for the war crimes of the past 11 years. Professors Michel Chossudovsky and Graeme MacQueen were there from Canada, as well as Dr. Hans Kochler from Austria, Richard Gage and ex-Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney from the US, Professor Niloufer Bhagwat from India, and ex-European MEP Giulietto Chiesa from Italy. As 9/11 conferences go it was a particularly well-represented one, with an opening address by the former Malaysian Prime Minister, stimulating lectures presented to hundreds of attendees (including ex-UN officials like Dennis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck) and a panel that was committed to taking the conference to the next level by forming an international commission of inquiry whose findings could be conveyed to the International Criminal Court and individual courts around the world as the basis for future criminal prosecutions. But again the question must be asked: outside of the conference attendees and those in Malaysia who were following the proceedings in the local press, how many even know it took place? I fear the answer (outside my own audience) is “not that many.”
The Perdana Global Peace Foundation was established in Kuala Lumpur in 2005 as a vehicle to enact the goals of the Kuala Lumpur Initiative to Criminalise War. The Initiative, signed by a global panel of international scholars, statesman, and lawyers, is as bold in its vision as its title suggests, aiming to establish the principle that killings in war “be subject to the international law of crimes” regardless “of whether these killings in war are authorized or permitted by domestic law.” In other words, the Foundation aims to literally criminalize war, and to make the murders that result from it as prosecutable as any murder during peace time. It's a sad indictment of our civilization that this seems like a radical suggestion.
The person behind this vision is Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, a man whose life has been marked by his unwillingness to back down from bold visions and seemingly impossible tasks. A medical doctor by training, he became active in Malaysian politics from a young age, entering parliament in 1964 at the age of 39. The next decade and a half was tumultuous for Malaysia as well as Mahathir, seeing him lose his seat in parliament in the heated 1969 election, write a popular book, The Malay Dilemma (which criticized the Prime Minister and was promptly banned), regain a seat in the Senate, and, eventually, take the reins as the 4th Prime Minister of Malaysia in 1981. He held on to office for 22 years and, despite garnering his share of criticism at home and abroad, managed to effect enormous changes in Malaysian society. When he took over as PM, Malaysia was still a developing nation with an economy that displayed the remnants of the country's historical legacy as a tin mining outpost of various conquering European empires. By the time he left office, the country had been radically altered. Mahathir helped establish the Proton car manufacturer as a joint venture between the Malaysian government and Mitsubishi, making it into the largest carmaker in Southeast Asia. He oversaw the growth of Petronas, the government-owned oil and gas company, into the most profitable company in Asia. He developed a planned city, Putrajaya, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur to serve as the home for the country's federal government. He secured a Formula One Grand Prix event in Sepang, brought the unruly Malaysian royalty under the thumb of constitutional law, proposed a bold economic plan entitled Vision 2020 aiming to transform Malaysia into a fully developed country within 30 years, and, along the way, avoided catastrophe during the Asian financial crisis by pegging the ringgit to the dollar and turning his back on the IMF hyenas. This is not to say Dr. Mahathir is a saint, or that he is without his faults, but the remarkable changes that he wrought during his 22 years in power are undeniable, and for his efforts the press dubbed him Malaysia's “uncrowned king.”
After decades of proving his critics wrong and demonstrating his ability to stick to his guns in the face of overwhelming odds, people have learned that when Dr. Mahathir speaks it's best to take him seriously. And these days he's speaking about the criminalization of war.
“If you kill one man, they put you in jail,” he told me during an interview behind the scenes at the conference. “If you kill a million, they make you a statue.” This is the injustice he is seeking to redress with Perdana and its sister organization, the Kuala Lumpur Foundation to Criminalize War. Together, the organizations sponsor conferences like the 9/11 conference I attended as well as tribunals like the one that convicted Bush and Cheney.
Between the exploratory, fact-finding conferences and the full-scale criminal tribunals, there is a commission hearing stage where witnesses are flown in from around the globe to deliver testimony on the matter being investigated. Directly following the 9/11 conference was a Commission Hearing on war crimes in Palestine. Various residents of Gaza and the West Bank were flown in to give their own harrowing accounts of torture, abuse, imprisonment and slaughter by occupying Israeli forces, including 15 year old Mahmoud al-Sammouni who watched as 30 of his immediate family members were killed by Israeli troops during Operation Cast Lead in 2008. Also testifying were expert witnesses like Paola Manduca, a geneticist at the University of Genoa who has been researching the biological effects of war. Working in some of the most war-torn regions of the world, her research has discovered scientific evidence linking various weapons to increased birth defects in places like Fallujah, Lebanon and Gaza. The witnesses were questioned by a lawyer in front of a five-member commission panel over the course of two days, with the commission now considering the testimony and deciding whether to proceed with a war crimes tribunal against the state of Israel.
The events wrapped up on Thursday with a special conference on war-affected children and a charity dinner attended by the current Malaysian Prime Minister raising awareness of Dr. Mahathir's latest initiative: the launch of an international organization of school clubs dedicated to furthering the aim of criminalizing war in the future. The first club has been organized in Malaysia, with others to be set up around the world.
It may be idealistic, and the critics may indeed be right when they say the value of such things is purely symbolic. But symbols have had the power to shape minds and change world history in years past, and no progress will ever be made toward the elimination of war as a tool of civilization unless someone takes those first steps to make it happen. Perhaps generations from now these initiatives will have ultimately come to nothing and such ideals will be mocked if they are even remembered at all. But who would be ashamed to have put their efforts into furthering such an ideal, however Quixotic?
And so we arrive back at square one: ideas do have the power to change the world, but only if people hear about them. And if there is one thing you are not likely to read about at length in the mainstream corporate controlled media, it's initiatives like those being worked on in Kuala Lumpur. Remarkably, though, we are living for the first time in all of human history in an age where an average person with average resources has the power to reach as many people (or even more) as the entire combined might of corporate behemoths like the big American media corporations. I sit here typing these words on a laptop in my humble home here in Japan, yet here they are being read by untold thousands of people across the globe. And perhaps a few of those people will be motivated to go and find out more about Perdana, and to think about the concept of criminalizing war. That is a mere ripple in the ocean, but multiplied a thousand times, a million times, a billion times, it becomes a tidal wave, one that threatens to truly transform our society in ways we can barely dream of yet. To be sure, that tidal wave is still a long way off, but with each and every one of us just beginning to learn what we are capable of in helping to shape, transmit and propagate ideas in this global information age, the possibility of that wave sweeping away the old corporate news paradigm becomes more likely with each passing day. And when the dinosaur media is finally displaced, so too is the corporate, financial, globalist and military control over our sources of information. Perhaps for the first time in human history we are on the verge of a revolution that will allow us to set our own agenda...including the criminalization of war, if we truly want it.
A tree has fallen in Kuala Lumpur. But will anybody hear it? The answer, it seems, is up to us.
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