Earlier this month, lead counsel Inder Comar was interviewed about the Witness Iraq case by Chicago DJ Perri Small.
Listen to the interview and check out the full transcript below!*
Interview highlights include:
- details about our ongoing appeal before the Ninth Circuit;
- amicus briefs from Ramsey Clark and the Planethood Foundation;
- our allegation that the Iraq War was launched not on genuine national security concerns, but on neoconservative ideology held by members of the Bush Administration;
- how the case illuminates the lasting significance of the Nuremberg Trials.
Perri Small: It is 10:07 on the Talk of Chicago, 1690 WVOM. My name is Perri Small. I think you guys are going to find this quite interesting. Former U.S. Attorney General is bringing a legal challenge against Iraq war officials and I am fascinated about who is bringing this suit. Members of the Bush Administration are being sued for their involvement in the Iraq war by an international team of lawyers, one of whom was a former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark. The team was assembled by Sundus Saleh, an Iraqi single mother. Joining us on the live line is attorney Inder Comar and her client—his client—is Sundus Saleh. Thank you attorney. Thank you so much for joining us today. How are you?
Inder Comar: Very well, thank you for asking. Thanks for having me on.
PS: I think this is absolutely fascinating. I have heard people talk about many times saying that maybe the Bush Administration—members of this administration—should be brought up on war crimes because of the Iraq War and the lies that were told about mass destruction and how—just the situation that we are in today, with ISIS, the Arab Spring. All of this I would say, in my opinion, is the direct result of the U.S.’s involvement in the Iraq War. So Inder—Attorney Comar—tell me how this suit came about and tell me a little bit about your client.
IC: Sure, absolutely. So my client is a single Iraqi mother. She fled Iraq in 2005, really at the height of the violence. She was a refugee in Jordan, and currently has a refugee status in Australia. And she brought this suit—we brought this suit—two years ago to challenge the unlawfulness of the Iraq war itself. So you’re absolutely right that many lawyers, already, have tried to bring about torture challenges, for example, for the torture that is now well documented that took place in Iraq against many members of the Administration. Those lawsuits were unfortunately unsuccessful. So what we’re actually doing, or the theory of our case, is that the war itself was illegal. And we’re citing to the Nuremberg trials, so we’re citing to precedent that is more than sixty years old, that was used against the Germans after World War II. And at the Nuremberg trials—which was an effort by the U.S. and the U.K. and the other __ powers – France and the Soviet Union—that court held that the worst thing that a leader can do—worse than torture, worse than crimes against humanity—is actually bringing an illegal war itself. And that’s called the crime of aggression. And they called aggression the chief, excuse me, the supreme international crime. So that’s a quote from the case. And so we’re telling this court—we’re in the Ninth Circuit right now—we’re asking this court to review that holding from Nuremberg, that rule, which it can do, and other courts have reviewed Nuremberg in other contexts and found it to be binding law in U.S. courts. So we’re asking the Ninth Circuit to do the same thing here, to review the chief rule from Nuremberg, which is that those who bring illegal wars must be held to account. And we’re asking that court to honor that rule in this case, to review the lead up to the war, all the statements that were made, the planning that went into it, which we elect was illegal, and declare the Iraq War illegal. And if so, to order that damages be paid to people who were innocent victims of war.
PS: You know I suspect, that the reason why this isn’t a lead story in media is because nobody expects this to go anywhere. Especially—she had another—her suit was dismissed in December 2014 by the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, ruling that members of the Bush Administration had immunity from a civil suit. So, tell me, why are you going forth with this? Is this part of your strategy? Because the civil suit didn’t go anywhere, so tell us what’s different from this suit, as opposed to the civil suit.
IC: Yeah, absolutely. So, this is an appeal—so the civil suit, the underlying civil suit—was dismissed in December. And so we lodged an appeal in January, and this is the briefing that has happened since then. And we were very lucky and very fortunate to have this former U.S. Attorney General file a brief in support of the case. Ramsey Clark has been active ever since leaving the Johnson Administration—he was under Johnson—and has been a real advocate for human rights and civil rights. We had a brief that was filed by the Planethood Foundation, which was founded in 1996 by one of the last living prosecutors from Nuremberg. So we’ve assembled a really great team to take the case now on to appeal. And you’re absolutely right, the issue now before appeal, is whether these officials are actually immune. So that’s the first challenge now, because the Federal District Court held that there was this immunity that prevented the case from proceeding. Just like the courts have done over the last ten years with respect to the torture claims. And so we’re saying that immunity can’t apply here for two reasons.
One is because this was the exact defense that the Germans made at Nuremberg, which was that they were immune because everything they did was lawful under German law. And Nuremberg rejected that. I mean that’s one of the key principles from Nuremberg, is that you can’t rely on your domestic law as a defense to allegations of international aggression. So that’s our first point. And our second point is that, we’re making the claim that the immunity law, as it stands, requires that is people be acting within the lawful scope of their employment. So it’s interesting, the courts here—as they did in the torture cases five or six years ago—they actually looked to District of Columbia labor law, so they looked to the labor law to determine if a government official was acting within the scope of their valid employment authority. And we’re alleging that the facts here are just so ugly—all the misrepresentations that were told—the Neoconservative ideology which we really identify as the driving force of the war. That this war was based not on genuine national security concerns, but it was based on this foul ideology, using the United States military in a very aggressive manner against other countries, purely for sustaining, or bringing American military supremacy to the region. And so we identify that as the real issue that prompted war. And so we want the Court to say, in light of that, these people were not acting lawfully. They had a preexisting agenda they came to office with, and then they implemented it. It’s like getting the keys—here’s the analogy—when you get the keys to the company car, and then you go off on a frolic and detour. In those cases, you don’t hold the employer liable, you hold the person you took the car away, right, and did whatever they wanted to do.
PS: You know, I was reading the article, and they were talking about what your basis was—how this came about—was that you were reviewing some of the statements that were made by President George W. Bush, real President, former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and other high ranking members of the Bush Administration. We’re going to take a break. When we come back, we’re going to continue the conversation. I want to know more about your client. I want to know whether your family thinks you have lost your mind, and a myriad of other things.
PS: We’re talking to Attorney Inder Comar, and he has a client Sundus Saleh. From what I understand, is a single mom. She doesn’t live in Iraq, she lives here in the United States, right?
IC: No, she’s in Australia right now.
PS: She’s in Australia?
IC: Yeah, she’s a refugee in Australia.
PS: So, you know what, I have to ask you this. I mean this is daunting, to say the least. Do your mom and dad think you’ve lost your mind?
IC: [Laughs] Well, that’s a good question.
PS: Yeah, I mean I have to ask you, do your parents think you’ve lost your mind? All these wonderful attorneys that you’ve been able to bring together—you’re serious about this, aren’t you counselor?
IC: Oh, absolutely. This is a very serious effort to apply the rule of law with respect to war making. And we’re not asking the courts to do anything new. Everything that is talked about, or what I’ve told you about, was announced more than sixty years ago at an international tribunal that was convened in large part by Americans. So, we’re not asking the courts to do anything outrageous, or radical. In fact, we’re asking the contrary. We’re saying that what’s radical is the ability for national leaders to violate law with impunity. And that’s extremely dangerous for a Republic, and for a society that has to govern itself. And so this is—we could not—the team that we have could not be more serious about the importance of making sure that national leaders, when they violate the law, are accountable to a judge.
PS: Oh, I’m sure you’ve been called a communist. What would you say—what happened during the Bush Administration—I remember sitting and watching as the country was making its—I remember Colin Powell sitting there at the UN and making the case why this country should go to war with Iraq. And it was so convincing! It was so convincing. And so one of the reasons why I don’t really hold a lot of these congressmen and these senators—hold their feet to the fire this much—is because they were so convincing. And I think Colin Powell—General Powell said—he’s a little upset that he was given wrong information. And of course, this was very detrimental to his credibility, for years, and will forever, I think, be a stain for him. I mean, do you remember? I mean, were you old enough? I don’t know how old you are—were you old enough to remember seeing Colin Powell giving this compelling reason why we should strike Iraq?
IC: Yes, oh I totally remember that. And as part of the case we reviewed all those materials. And you’re absolutely right that General Powell has repudiated that speech. He has gone—he said in an ABC interview—he calls it a blot on his record. And I think that’s one of the things we did, is we reviewed everything with the passage of time, we looked back at what they said, and tried to discern what was going on. Because what they were really doing and what we allege, was an intentional effort to mislead people in two ways. First, there was an intentionality to mislead people to think that Sadaam was in league with al Qaeda. Which was not true—there was no evidence of that ever. In fact, all the evidence is strongly to the contrary. But you have these administration officials making this case that they’re essentially business partners. Which is not true. The second misrepresentation—
PS: —Well I’ll let you tell me that—the second misrepresentation—let’s talk about that when we come back from the break. You have some more time?
IC: Oh yeah, absolutely.
PS: Alright, then. We’re talking to attorney Inder Comar. And I’m going to find out more about the plaintiff in this case.
PS: For those of you who are just joining us, members of the Bush Administration are being sued for their involvement in the Iraq War by an international team of lawyers, one of whom was a former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, which I find fascinating. The team was assembled by Sundus Saleh, an Iraqi single mother. So, I’m going to start there again—oh, when we went to break you were talking about—you gave us the first and now you’re going to give us the second misinformation that was given to the American people. Inder Comar, our guest, who is an attorney. Thank you so much once again for joining us and you can give us that second note that you were going to give us.
IC: Absolutely. So the first was the alleged link between al Qaeda and Sadaam, and the second is this notion that there were weapons—that they had weapons. And again, we just looked at the statements, we looked at what people were saying, what journalists were saying at the time—that there weren’t any weapons. So we’re alleging again that they blew that out of proportion. You know, there was a famous quote from Condoleezza Rice that said, “We can’t let the smoking gun be a mushroom cloud,” right? Which obviously stoked fears of 9/11. And we allege that 9/11 was used as basically a fear mechanism, to make everyone afraid, and that would support the war.
PS: And the second one?
IC: Oh yeah, so the second one, was the supposed notion that they had nuclear weapons, that they had weapons on mass destruction. We looked at that and the evidence is again—the evidence that was available to them at the time is just to the contrary.
PS: All right, tell us more about your client, tell me more about your client.
IC: Sure, yeah.
PS: Yeah, I’m very interested because I’m sure that if there were more people aware of this lawsuit, and if there was any type of media interest, her life wouldn’t be worth a dime. So, I’m saying, for her to come forward and be a part of this suit I think is very brave of her. But tell me about this client.
IC: Yeah, absolutely so she had a very middle class life in Iraq, as a lot of people did. I mean she was an art teacher. She’s not Muslim—she’s a member of a religious minority called the Sabean Mandean people. And they worship John the Baptist, actually.
PS: They worship—I’m sorry—they worship whom?
IC: Oh, John the Baptist.
PS: John the Baptist?
IC: Yeah, so they think that he was the real guy—the real messenger of God. So when you go to her house, or when you go to other peoples’ houses who are in this faith, the pictures on the wall are of John, and not of Jesus, or they’re not of Muhammad. They’re a very discreet and insular religious group. And they’ve lived in Iraq for two thousand years. But after the invasion, Iraq became a very destabilized place. She was kicked out of her home—the home was taken from her by militia groups. She fled to Bagdad—she lived in the North—so she fled to Bagdad, where she worked for the election commission for sometime. I don’t remember if there was that same election. And as a member of this religious minority she was targeted by a lot of these Shia militia groups. And so the violence just became so bad that she fled with her children—she had her four children with her—and they fled and they went to Jordan, initially, where they lived, and where she has basically lived since 2005, up until about a couple years ago. And then she was able to get refugee status in Australia, where she lives right now.
PS: That is really interesting. So, how often—well we know we have all this great technology—so how often do you and the other attorneys Skype or teleconference or whatever about this case. I mean, what is daily? How are you actually moving this case forward?
IC: Right, well that’s a great question. I mean, the case is being moved forward by the deadlines. So the biggest deadline we had was this court brief we that filed in May, and then in early June, and that’s when we had this brief that was filed part by Ramsey Clark. So, when there are deadlines—and this is true of any lawsuit—when there’s a deadline, you do a lot of talking. Then after the deadline, you wait for the next deadline. So we don’t have anything to do until the wintertime. And my hope is there will be a court hearing before the Ninth Circuit in the late winter, early spring. So maybe February or March of next year.
PS: So how do our listeners follow the progress of this case? Are you doing any type of social media? Is there a website? How do we find out?
IC: Yes, absolutely. So we have a website called Witness Iraq—so one word, w-i-t-n-e-s-s-i-r-a-q dot-com —so if you go there, we have copies of the important pleadings. We have a Facebook page, so if you look for Witness Iraq on Facebook, you’ll pull up the page. And the Facebook page is actually the main place we’re updating. And there we put up articles that people write about the case, interviews—we’ll certainly mention this interview—and then also updates about where the case is and how it’s progressing. So it’s all being blogged about on the internet, and that’s the best way to kind of keep updated about the status.
PS: You know, one of the things that just I find so fascinating about this is about, is when you talk about the Nuremberg trials. And I would say the vast majority of Americans today do not have a clue about what Nuremberg was all about. There have been movies done, of course. Great actors—the greatest actors of all time—were in this movie about the Nuremberg trials. So what is it like when you present this argument, when you talk to people, and you talk about Nuremberg, do you kind of get the same sense that I do that they don’t know what the hell you’re talking about?
IC: Well you know, it’s not just people—it’s judges. So we have an education battle that we have to educate the judges. And they’re starting to get it. Like I’ve mentioned, in the last ten years or so, there have been two or three really great court cases were the judges have actually looked at the Nuremberg trials and have said, this is binding U.S. law, as far as we’re concerned, or is incorporated into U.S. law. But before then, there was a little bit of a challenge. So we have a challenge not just with non-lawyers, but also with the lawyers and judges themselves. But that being said, there’s a reason, maybe, that we’ve culturally forgotten about Nuremberg. For me it’s very powerful that after the U.S. defeated one of its most nefarious enemies in history, we gave them a trial. That’s a really remarkable thing for a country to do to another country.
PS: It was! It was amazing!
IC: Right, exactly. The Soviets just wanted to hang these guys, the British just wanted to hang these guys. The Americans who were at Nuremberg were very idealistic about the power of law to help shape human behavior and to create a future where leaders would be held to account before the law. This idea that all are equal before the law—this is what was really guiding these people. And you read their letters, you read what they told the judges—they were idealistic. And you had a comment earlier about how people might call me a communist—but it’s funny that these people—and what is guiding me is this very liberal democratic notion about the rule of law. And that’s what was guiding these people. So, I didn’t learn about Nuremberg until law school, and when I learned about it I was shocked that all this had happened, like you mentioned, and for me—
PS:—How old are you, Attorney Comar?
IC: I’m 35.
PS: I want to punch you.
IC: [Laughs] Why’s that?
PS: Because you know, you have your youth. And that is a sad commentary on our educational system in the United States. I mean we were taught about Nuremberg in social studies class. And you said you had never heard of Nuremberg?
IC: Not until law school, yeah. I mean I had heard about it, but I never really learned about it until then. I took a class on it.
IC: It was specialized!
PS: The dumbing down of America—I talk about it all the time. I’m not talking about you specifically, but, I’m just saying, that says a lot about out country and the educational system.
PS: Yeah, and you know what Attorney Comar, I just think you really have just done something magnanimous in this quest. Because like I said I’m sure there are people that think you have lost your mind, I’m sure people think this is a frivolous lawsuit, but I just have to tell you, it’s very brave. Personally, I’ll just tell you, I hope something comes out of this. But our judicial system is so corrupted, the odds are against you – and you probably know that the odds are against of you—but the fact that you want to move forward with this is just incredible to me. And can I just ask you, what drives you?
IC: Well, what drives me is that sense of idealism I just mentioned. And what drives me is that, as a country, we have to find—each one of us has to find that issue that we’re passionate about, and that we know to be true from a perspective of social justice. I mean when you look at what’s going on today, there’s no shortage of problems—there’s no shortage of issues that need to be addressed. From an environmental point of view, from a social justice point of view, from an income, and gender and racial equality point of view—there’s so many things that need to be tackled. And my issue, the thing that I’m passionate right now, is issues of war and peace, and this issue of the rule of law, and this issue of real democratic accountability of leaders who start wars, which in my mind was banned at Nuremberg. And that’s what drives me, but I think everyone has their—based on their experiences and lives—has something that drives them as well. Something they wake up and think about and say, “Wow, I really wish I had the energy, or the bravery, or the courage to do this thing that I really think would make a big difference.” And I would say, just do it. Because no one’s going to do anything for us. We have to shape the system for ourselves, and we have to have the energy to make a difference for the better. Because it’s not doing to happen by itself. And it will take a lot of hard work. And you know, actually, no one has ever told me that this is a frivolous case, and no one has ever sent me any hate mail—to the contrary. So I think that if I can do it, I think other people can find issues that they’re inspired about, and they can work hard in the face of what may seem like insurmountable odds. But that’s been true of any kind of social justice.
PS: Yeah, anything that’s going to exact some type of change. I thank you so much. It’s witnessiraq.com that people can follow this?
IC: Yeah, absolutely.
PS: All right, so when we come back I’m going to come back to Beau, and others. If you want more information or to follow this this case, go to witnessiraq.com.
*This transcript and recording have been lightly edited and callers have been excised for clarity.