"The War Memorial is one of my favorite places in Indianapolis. I remember the first time I visited. There wasn’t a soul in evidence when my family and I walked through the front door; somewhere in the distance, though, Bobby Vinton was singing “Soldier Boy” on a tinny radio.
My son was all of 4 years old. He was fascinated by the collections of military artifacts and memorabilia that are on display in that great old limestone mausoleum — I was, too. But nothing prepared us for the surreal blue majesty of the chapel at the top of the stairs. It’s a long climb. My wife and I were starting to feel it, but our boy got farther and farther ahead. Finally, he was out of sight. But as we approached the entry to the chapel, we could hear him, reverently singing the words to “America the Beautiful.”
The place can have that effect on a person. I must say, though, that this effect was of a different sort last week. Suddenly the architecture, which under other circumstances might have seemed stately, recalled nothing so much as the bullying bombast of Albert Speer’s concoctions for Hitler’s Berlin. That’s because the War Memorial was the venue for a talk Vice President Dick Cheney delivered to the local American Legion.
This was an invitation-only affair for a pre-screened audience, the kind of stage-managed scene that our supposed popularly elected executives have come to require whenever they venture forth into what the rest of us call the “real” world.
I arrived early. There were about 15 folks standing across the street from the north entry, holding an array of hand-printed placards protesting the war in Iraq and calling for, among other things, Cheney’s impeachment. After walking around the block, I counted at least one police car for every protester. Cops were everywhere, including one with a long gun stationed on the War Memorial’s battlement-like terrace.
The irony of this situation was lost on nobody.
Here were Indianapolis’ finest, assigned to shield a man who, by any reasonable standard, will go down in history as a war criminal. It was enough to make you wonder: What does somebody have to do to get arrested in this town?
Today’s working definition of war criminal dates back to the Nuremberg Trials. At that time, the Allies put Nazis on trial for crimes against humanity, or, in other words, for perpetrating World War II. Out of this experience, in 1950, the Allies drafted and agreed to what they called the Nuremberg Principles. Among these principles are what are called crimes against peace — the planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances — and war crimes, which include the murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war and the wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity.
The bill of particulars against Dick Cheney for his role as architect of the Iraq War would contain too many items to include here. Let it suffice to say it begins with the fact that this war was not forced upon us — we planned, prepared and initiated it. Factor in the Bush Administration’s stated disregard for the Geneva Conventions, use of torture and the utter devastation that’s been visited upon Iraq since we “liberated” it, including the 2.2 million people that have fled the country; 1.9 million internal refugees; the 70 percent who still don’t have regular access to clean water, and, well, you get the idea.
Two weeks ago, a coalition of American and European human rights groups filed a legal complaint in France accusing Donald Rumsfeld of responsibility for torture in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay. People suspected of torture can be prosecuted in France if they are on French soil. “We know that we can’t get him into prison right now, but it would be great to make sure that he couldn’t safely leave the U.S. anymore,” said Michael Ratner, president of the Center of Constitutional Rights.
Since the Democrats in Congress have taken the impeachment of Bush, Cheney and their gang “off the table,” reserving for themselves the right to bully if and where they please, actions like this one could become a common occurrence come January 2009. It will be the world’s way of saying that, for all their bluster, America’s leaders aren’t above international law. We Americans don’t like to think of ourselves this way, of course. Bienvenue, as they say in France.
After Cheney’s motorcade beat it for the airport, I walked around the War Memorial another time. The cop who’d been up on the battlement was loading his long gun into the back of an SUV. I wondered if up in the chapel’s blue heaven, anyone was singing “America the Beautiful.”