With statues of Saddam Hussain being pulled down in Baghdad, has the Iraq war become justified? Are not the scenes of Iraqis welcoming the Americans a proof that the war was necessary? Does not the removal of an oppressive government justify the war?
Before we can answer these questions, we shall look at a recent British criminal case, which involved similar issues: “Is it legal to use violence against an evil person?”, or “Is it right for a ‘goody’ to kill a ‘baddy’?”
A burglar tried to burglar a farm house in Britain. The farmer having been faced with a burglar in his house, seized a shotgun and pointed it at the burglar. The burglar started running away. The farmer pulled the trigger and shot the burglar dead.
The burglar was clearly an evil person, and the farmer was defending his property. If he had not killed the burglar, it is possible that the burglar would have got away and would have carried on with his evil deeds, and may be even would have killed somebody in the course of his burglaries. By killing the burglar the farmer has made the world a safer place.
In spite of the above arguments a British court found the farmer guilty of murder, which on appeal was reduced to manslaughter, the appeal court having taken into account that the farmer acted under provocation and was in a state of diminished responsibility. The plea of self‐defence was not accepted, because, at the time of the shooting, the burglar was running away, rather than attacking the farmer.
Just because a court in this case found the farmer guilty, does not mean that the case decision is correct — court decisions can be wrong. In fact the farmer's case had aroused much public sympathy for the farmer. The farmer was an honest positive person who suffered the wrong of an attempted burglary. The burglar was an obvious villain caught red‐handed in the course of commission of a crime. Was the court right to punish an honest person for seeking to protect his person and property? So, we shall review this decision from prime principles.
The issue was: “Did the farmer act in self‐defence?”. If he did, he had committed no crime, if he did not, then he would be guilty either of manslaughter or murder.
Acting in self‐defence means using minimal force to protect one's person from an imminent injury or death. In this case, at the time of the shooting, the burglar was running away and was not trying to attack the farmer in any way, nor was he any danger to the farmer's property. Pointing the shotgun at the burglar was an act of self‐defence which had achieved its purpose, and any threats from the burglar no longer existed. The most that would have happened, was that the burglar would have run away and not be brought to justice for his attempted burglary. Pulling the trigger and killing the burglar was not an act of self‐defence, and not even of defence of property.
Was it murder or manslaughter?
Both murder and manslaughter are acts of killing a person without valid reason. The distinction between the two is that murder is killing with the intent to kill, while manslaughter is killing without such intent.
In this case, the farmer acted on the spur of the moment, and it is unlikely that when he pulled the trigger he had a clear intention of killing the burglar. And, as he had no deliberate intention of killing the burglar, he was guilty of manslaughter rather than murder. So, the decision of the appeal court was correct.
So what should the farmer have done in this case?
While, it can be said that the farmer has punished the burglar for his evil deeds, he had no right to take the function of law enforcement upon himself, but should have arrested the burglar, and handed him over to the police. Or, if the burglar ran away, informed the police and left the matter with them.
Thus the mere fact that the burglar was evil and was caught in the course of committing an evil act, and that the farmer was a good man, who suffered an attempted burglary at the hands of an evil person was not a valid reason for killing the burglar. The farmer had committed a crime by using unjustified violence and causing death.
In this case, both the burglar and the farmer had committed crimes. The farmer was punished for his crime. The burglar could not be punished, because he was dead.
Crimes committed by some people do not justify commission of crimes by others. Law enforcement should be left to the police. Violence is only legitimate in self‐defence.
So, does similar reasoning apply to the Iraq War?
In the case of the Iraq War, there were even less reasons for using violence than in the case of the farmer. Iraq did not commit any acts against the USA or Britain. Not even any attempted ones.
The most that can be said in the case of the Iraq War, was that the USA and Britain took upon themselves the task of a global policeman, seeking to punish or remove evil governments.
But, if they took upon themselves such role, than they should have defined the crimes for which governments should be punished or removed, and applied that law even‐handedly to all the cases where such crimes have been committed.
But this is not what they are doing. They attacked Iraq for their own political reasons, not because they wanted to liberate the Iraqi people. They still support other repressive governments, when it is convenient to them. And, if the new government of Iraq will be just as repressive as that of Saddam Hussain, but “pro‐American” and “pro‐Israeli”, then they will not remove it, but will support it in every way. Just as they supported Saddam Hussain, when it was convenient to them.
Yes, there is need for a supra‐national court and supra‐national police, which would prevent and punish crimes committed by governments. But what we see in the Iraq War is not prevention and punishment of crimes by a supra‐national police, but use of crimes committed by some governments as justification of crimes by more powerful nation states.
The crimes of which Saddam Hussain was accused were use of excessive violence to rule Iraq. The US and British governments use these crimes to justify their own excessive violence in an attempt to rule the world.
If the US and British governments are really concerned for world peace and security, then they should abandon their lawless wars, and start building institutions of supra‐national justice based on rule of law, rather than seeking to aggrandize themselves by wanton violence.