What Is The Project for the New American Century?

[June 8, 2015 update: Shortly after commencing the Saleh v. Bush lawsuit, the Project for the New American Century website was “Suspended” – if you go there today, you receive an empty screenshot. We have updated this post to link to the webpage as archived by Wayback Machine at the Archive.Org.]

[July 29, 2018 update:  “September 20, 2011”, a typographical error, fixed to “September 20, 2001.”]

The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) was an obscure non-profit started in 1997 that played a key role in planning, advocating and eventually executing the Iraq War.

PNAC’s public advocacy for a US invasion of Iraq — including statements signed by prominent Bush-era figures — as early as 1998, is troubling evidence that the Iraq War was planned and executed in a manner that is illegal under international law.

Incredibly, few people know about PNAC’s role in planning the invasion — or the fact that people associated with PNAC include key Bush Administration officials such as Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz.


Pentagon Holds Departure Ceremony For Rumsfeld

In 1997, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, through PNAC, signed an open letter in which they advocated for a significant “increase [in] defense spending” and a “need to accept responsibility for America’s unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles.”

In 1998, through PNAC, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz signed a letter to President Clinton advocating for the military overthrow of Saddam Hussein, which they stated had to become the “aim of American foreign policy.”

Military action had to happen regardless of rules – even UN rules. According to Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, “American policy cannot continue to be crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council.”

They concluded, “We stand ready to offer our full support in this difficult but necessary endeavor.”

From 1997 to 2000, PNAC issued reports with such titles as, “A Way To Oust Saddam,” and “How To Attack Iraq.

On September 20, 2001, a mere 9 days after the 9/11 attacks, PNAC members continued to advocate for war against Iraq. In an open letter to President Bush, PNAC stated, “[E]ven if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.”

By then, PNAC members and supporters — Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz — were in key government positions in the Bush Administration.

The planning and executing of a war under international law without proper legal authorization constitutes the crime of aggression.

We need your help!

In just 11 days since filing the lawsuits against the Bush Administration, Witness Iraq has exploded.

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More than 12,000 hits on a YouTube video taken by a spectator at the March 19, 2013 press conference.

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FAQ re March 13, 2013 lawsuits against Bush Administration

Frequently Asked Questions

What do the lawsuits say?

Saleh v. Bush involves a claim by an Iraqi woman that the Bush Administration violated the laws set down at the Nuremberg Trials. The plaintiff alleges that members of the Bush Administration planned the war since 1998 and then scared and misled the public into supporting the war in 2002, once they came into power.

The plaintiff suffered property loss during the war, and is now a refugee living in Jordan.

In planning and executing the war, the plaintiff alleges that members of the Bush Administration committed the “crime of aggression.”

What is the “crime of aggression”?

The crime of aggression was the chief crime prosecuted against the Nazis at the Nuremberg Trials. The crime of aggression takes place when a country prepares and plans a war against another country without a legal justification, such as self-defense or when authorized by the United Nations Security Council.

American prosecutor Robert Jackson argued that the harms caused by the Nazis, including the genocides, were the “poisonous fruit” of a much bigger crime, which was the original breach of the peace.

In other words, had the Nazis never planned their wars, their war crimes and crimes against humanity would have never happened in the first place.

The lawsuit alleges that the Bush Administration committed the crime of aggression in planning the war since 1998 and then scaring and misleading the public into supporting the war.

What’s the evidence that the Bush Administration planned the Iraq War?

The lawsuit alleges that in 1998, Defendants Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz publicly advocated the invasion of Iraq in order to further the aims of US foreign policy. They did so through their non-profit, the Project for the New American Century (“PNAC”). Many if not all of the letters and articles advocating the invasion of Iraq (some of which are personally signed by Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz) remain on their website.

The lawsuit alleges that once in government, these three men and the other Defendants agreed to invade Iraq, planned out the war, and then scared and misled the public into supporting it.

The lawsuit cites as evidence books written by Richard Clarke and Scott McClellan, articles from the New York Times and the Washington Post, comments made by Colin Powell after he left the Bush Administration, and the “Downing Street Memo,” a leaked British Memo circulated in 2002 which indicated that the Bush Administration was planning the war.

How can an Iraqi woman sue in US court?

The Iraqi plaintiff has invoked the jurisdiction of the federal court based on the Alien Tort Statute (28 U.S.C. sec. 1350), a law passed in 1789. The Alien Tort Statute permits a non-US national the ability to sue in federal court for injuries “committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.”

Isn’t the President immune from a civil suit stemming from actions he or she takes while in office?

In 1982, the United States Supreme Court held in Nixon v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 731 (1982), a 5-4 decision, that the President of the United States has civil immunity for actions taken while in office.

The lawsuit acknowledges this case, but distinguish Nixon by stating that the President remains liable for violations of bedrock customary norms of international law. In other words, if a President commits genocide, torture, or — in this case — the crime of aggression, the lawsuits argue the President can still be subject to civil liability.

The lawsuit argues that if the court finds that Nixon is on point, then it is wrongly decided and should be overturned based on the conduct of the Bush Administration.

Finally, Nixon on its face applies only to the person who was president, and does not apply to other members of the Executive Branch.

Have you heard of the political question doctrine? Won’t the lawsuit be thrown out on that basis?

The political question doctrine forbids courts from adjudicating political issues. The federal courts have held that some clauses of the Constitution (like the Guarantee Clause, which requires the states to have republican forms of government) are so political it would be inappropriate for a court to adjudicate a dispute on those issues.

It is very likely the Defendants will argue that the war-making power is a political question, which the court has no jurisdiction to decide. However, the plaintiffs will argue that whether any given war constitutes “aggression” is a purely legal question, the very legal question that was decided at Nuremberg. Because Nuremberg set legal precedent for purposes of international law, and because the US federal court is now being asked to decide a question of international law based on Nuremberg, the question of whether the Iraq War constituted “aggression” is, by logical conclusion, a legal question that can be determined based on the alleged facts.

I think what Witness Iraq is doing is wrong, or I am otherwise uncomfortable with these lawsuits. 

The idea of suing former administration officials over a controversial war strikes many people as offensive. Witness Iraq believes the opposite. For over 800 years, the common law legal tradition has been based on the idea that no person — including the king — is above the law. Presidents are not kings, and there is no sound reason why the actions of a president cannot be scrutinized by a court of law. If a CEO lies to her shareholders, the CEO is investigated. If a person commits an accident and someone dies, that person is investigated for possible negligence or wrongdoing. Presidents have tremendous power over the lives of others, both in the US and overseas. If that power is misused, America’s system of checks and balances mandates that a court examine such abuse.

If a court permits this lawsuit, then every President will always be sued for his or her actions once they leave office by crazy plaintiffs.

Government officials are already sued all the time. State leaders, for example, are already subject to federal lawsuits under 42 U.S.C. sec. 1983 (the Ku Klux Klan Act / Civil Rights Act of 1871). The United States Supreme Court recently narrowed the ability for plaintiffs to sue government officials by requiring they show direct conduct by that official in causing their harm. Former Bush administration officials like John Ashcroft and John Yoo have been sued by plaintiffs, and the courts were able to appropriately handle those cases.

What about Congress? Congress can always investigate. The appropriate remedy is a Congressional investigation.

A Congressional investigation is warranted with respect to the Iraq War. But these are not mutually exclusive remedies. Congress is not in a position to adjudicate legal issues, which are the province of a court. If a legal remedy exists to a plaintiff with respect to possible lawbreaking, and if a court has jurisdiction, the common law permits a plaintiff to submit a civil claim against that defendant.

The lawsuit is baseless and the plaintiff will be sanctioned under Rule 11 for filing frivolous lawsuits.

The lawsuit asks questions that make many people uncomfortable, as it deals with issues of life and death and war and peace. But the legal theories have been generally thought through and explained in the complaint. A court may disagree with those theories, or rule that it cannot overturn existing precedent, but that’s a very different thing than finding a petition so frivolous or baseless as to be sanctionable conduct.

The First Amendment guarantees the right of a plaintiff to petition the court for redress. Even Orly Taitz, the lawyer who has gone to court several times over  President Obama’s birth certificate, was given her day in court. Witness Iraq submits that the Iraq War lawsuit has far greater weight than that issue.

Can the Bush Administration be taken to court for the Iraq War?

The Bush Administration and its principals — including George W. Bush, Richard B. Cheney, Donald M. Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, and Paul D. Wolfowitz — may have violated international law by initiating the Iraq War.

Accordingly, Iraqis who suffered harm during the Iraq War may have causes of action under international law not only against those directly responsible for any harms they have suffered, but also directly against Bush Administration officials.


First, the Bush Administration may have violated international law by conspiring and waging a war of aggression. A war of aggression is the “supreme international crime,” and was the chief cause of action against Nazi leaders in Nuremberg. The Nuremberg justices wrote:

The charges in the Indictment that the defendants planned and waged aggressive wars are charges of the utmost gravity. War is essentially an evil thing. Its consequences are not confined to the belligerent states alone, but affect the whole world.

To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.

Was the war against Iraq, similarly, a war of aggression? Witness Iraq says yes.

As early as 1997, members of the Bush Administration were calling for the military overthrow of Saddam Hussein through a non-profit called The Project for the New American Century.

Their efforts included a letter to President Clinton signed by Donald M. Rumsfeld and Paul D. Wolfowitz arguing that the United States implement “a strategy for removing Saddam’s regime from power. This will require a full complement of diplomatic, political and military efforts.”

From 1997 to 2000, The Project for the New American Century issued reports with such titles as, “A Way To Oust Saddam,” and “How To Attack Iraq.”

When George W. Bush became President, he appointed Richard B. Cheney as Vice President, Donald M. Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense and Paul D. Wolfowitz as Deputy Secretary of Defense — all three of whom were founding members of The Project for the New American Century.

According to British journalist John Kampfner, the day of the 9/11 attacks, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld openly pushed for war against Iraq – despite the fact that the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi Arabian and had been based out of Afghanistan.

Rumsfeld asked, “Why shouldn’t we go against Iraq, not just al-Qaeda?” with Wolfowitz adding that Iraq was a “brittle, oppressive regime that might break easily—it was doable.”

Kampfner writes, “from that moment on, he and Wolfowitz used every available opportunity to press the case.”

According to Kampfner, “Undeterred Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz held secret meetings about opening up a second front—against Saddam. Powell was excluded.”

The Bush Administration adopted the plan to invade Iraq at least by September 12, 2002 – a little more than a year after the first anniversary of 9/11. In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, President Bush outlined the threat of terrorism, remarking:

In cells and camps, terrorists are plotting further destruction, and building new bases for their war against civilization. And our greatest fear is that terrorists will find a shortcut to their mad ambitions when an outlaw regime supplies them with the technologies to kill on a massive scale.

In one place — in one regime — we find all these dangers, in their most lethal and aggressive forms, exactly the kind of aggressive threat the United Nations was born to confront.

The regime at issue: Iraq.

Under international law, a country may only go to war (1) in self-defense or (2) if approved by the United Nations Security Council. The United Nations did not authorize the Iraq War, which means the central question of any claim of aggressive war would be whether the war in Iraq was initiated in self-defense.

At Witness Iraq, we believe that the overwhelming amount of evidence that has come to light since the invasion confirms that the Iraq War was a premeditated “war of choice” (to use President Barack Obama’s phrase) that likely violated international law and amounted to a war of aggression.

This was the conclusion reached by former United Nations Security General Kofi Annan, who in 2004 unequivocally called the Iraq War “illegal.”

Second, it may be the case that the Bush Administration violated international law by authorizing and engaging in torture. Torture includes, but is not limited to, the use of water-boarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Because there has been no formal investigation into Bush-era abuses, there is no way to know if the use of torture was widespread.

Third, it may be the case that the Bush Administration violated international law by using depleted uranium, the use of which may have violated international treaties.

Fourth, it may be the case that the Bush Administration violated international law by destroying the cultural heritage of Iraq. Both international treaty as well as the Nuremberg Trials provide the legal basis for a cause of action if it can be shown that cultural artifacts and centers were targeted for destruction during war.

Fifth, it may be the case that the Bush Administration violated international law through unlawful deportation or transfers of Iraqi civilians, which is a “grave breach” under the Geneva Conventions (see Articles 49 and 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention).

The Lack of Accountability Over the Iraq War

Ever since the Nuremberg Trials, when the United States and its allies placed Nazi leaders on trial for their crimes, the international community has generally agreed that mass atrocities committed in wartime are subject to judicial oversight through criminal trials.

Examples of this norm include the creation  of ad hoc international or hybrid tribunals responding to a specific mass atrocity or conflict. These include the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, created after the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, created in response to the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge regime from 17 April 1975 and 6 January 1979.

These efforts have recently culminated in the International Criminal Court (ICC), which came into being in 2002 and has international criminal oversight over states that agree to its jurisdiction. Through treaty, the ICC has the ability to prosecute crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression.

Thus far, 121 countries have accepted the jurisdiction of the ICC. The US has not accepted ICC jurisdiction, which means that the ICC cannot adjudicate allegations of crimes committed by US nationals, particularly US government officials.

This lack of ICC jurisdiction results in the loss of an important check against violations of international law. For example, with respect to the Iraq War, there continue to be lingering questions as to the liability of government officials in authorizing torture and utilizing faulty intelligence in justifying the invasion of Iraq.

While there has been some investigation into Bush-era abuses, these investigations have been unsatisfactory for many reasons. First, these cases have only been pursued against low level personnel and not against high level officials, who may have instituted or even ordered the criminal policies, procedures, and/or conduct.

Second, these proceedings may not be open to the public or may be classified as confidential.

Third, these cases do not involve the international community and therefore, while the US, through its role on the Security Council, has called for the adjudication of alleged crimes against international law committed by other countries and officials, it refuses to subject its own officials to such investigations and prosecutions.

The Iraq War stands out in particular with respect to potential violations of law. It is by now common knowledge that Iraqis were tortured and abused while in custody. Iraqi cultural artifacts were destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were forced to flee their country.

One of the primary goals of Witness Iraq is to act in some function as a database of harms with respect to the Iraq War. Normally, this database would be compiled by prosecutors or other historians within the context of a criminal investigation. Absent such an investigation, Witness Iraq seeks to record testimony of persons harmed by the Iraq War in the hope that such cataloging will prevent similar harms from taking place in the future.

Litigating the US Invasion of Iraq