Several years ago, there was a movie called The Mouse That Roared, starring Peter Sellers. It was about the leaders of a tiny, impoverished European country who decided that their best hope of avoiding fiscal disaster was to declare war on the United States, get invaded, surrender as swiftly as possible and then qualify for rebuilding aid.
Remind you of any contemporary non-fictional country?
All right, here's a hint.
Fourteen years ago, the United States went to war against this non-mythical country. It was a quick war with relatively few casualties (on our side). Even so, 17 American pilots were taken prisoner after being shot down by enemy ground fire and surface-to-air missiles. Some of them were beaten and tourtured by their captors in violation of the Geneva Accords.
One of the pilots, Marine Lt. Col. Clifford Acree, who was shot down on the first day of the war, was held captive for 47 days, during which he was beaten repeatedly, and suffered a broken nose and a skull fracture.
Air Force Col. David Eberly suffered similar abuse during his 45 days in captivity. Other pilots told of being urinated on and having their eardrums punctured.
In 1996, Congress passed the Anti-Terrorism Law clearing the way for U.S. courts to award money judgments against foreign states for personal injury or deaths caused by torture, unlawful deaths, hostage-taking and aircraft sabotage, thus doing away with sovereign immunity.
So the pilots, in 2002, sued the government of the country that had imprisoned and tortured them and won. In July of 2003, U. S. District Judge Richard Roberts awarded the pilots, or in some cases their families, $603 million and tacked on another $306 million in punitive damages. The outlook appeared promising, because the United States was holding $1.7 billion in assests owned by the country against which the judgment had been made.
Then a funny, or not so funny, thing happened. We were at war again with the non-fictional country, which, of course, is Iraq. But now things were different. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Bush administration sought to have the judge's ruling reversed and the case against Iraq dismissed on the grounds that Iraq is now under U.S. occupation and that under the provisions of an emergency funding bill passed by Congress to finance the war and occupation, there is a clause authorizing the president to suspend all sanctions against Iraq that had been imposed as a result of the Kuwait invasion that prompted the first Gulf War.
The president's lawyers, including our new Attorney General Gonzales, decided the same clause allowed Bush to remove Iraq from the State Department's list of states that sponsor terrorism and to set aside pending monetary judgments against the country. In other words, Iraq is not only no longer part of the Axis of Evil, but above the law.
That decision appears to ignore a provision in the Geneva Accords, which Gonzales called "quaint" and "obsolete," that says a signator to the accords, of which the United States is one, cannot absolve a state of liability for the torture of prisoners of war. Even so, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit agreed with the administration and dismissed the pilots' lawsuit.
It gets better. The captive pilots in 1991 were held and tortured in a prison called Abu Ghraib. Fourteen years later, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is on record favoring monetary settlements for Iraqis tortured in Abu Ghraib by U.S. soldiers and interrogators. Rumsfeld told a Senate committee it was "the right thing to do."
The pilots' lawyers have been told that the $1.7 billion in frozen Iraqi assets are to be used by the Iraqis and for reconstruction of the country.
So there you have it: Americans who fought, bled and suffered at the hands of Iraqis in Poppy's Gulf War, are being denied compensation by Junior and his gang who need all the money they can get to pay the bills for their botched war.
Remember that the next time a Bush worshipper accuses you of not supporting our troops.
Rossie is associate editor of the Press & Sun-Bulletin; his column appears on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
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