Interview with Sean Murphy, George Washington University

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July 26th, 2004
Transcription by Volunteer Citizen Journalist Augustino Patti

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourself and you’re role at George Washington.
SEAN MURPHY: I’m Sean Murphy, Professor of International Law at George Washington University. I’ve been here about six years.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Why don’t you go ahead and describe to me the consensus within the international legal community, when they look at the justifications that the U.S. was making, and what they think of that.
MURPHY: Well, like any community, I don’t think the academic community is monolithic in its view about the legality of invading Iraq, but I would say that the vast majority of scholars in the field of international law would say that the justification asserted by the United States and its allies for invading Iraq is not regarded as being adequate under international law. There is a minority group of academics who believe that the intervention -- invasion is permissible under international law, but I would say that it’s a small minority. And I would further say that it’s mostly based in the United States and is not found so much abroad.

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Sean Murphy Transcript Now Posted

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The Echo Chamber documentary interview with Sean Murphy is now posted online here.

Murphy describes himself as a moderate International Lawyer from George Washington University. His GWU bio shows his impressive credentials including representing the US government before the Hague and working for the State Department.

Murphy's background brings even more credibility to his following statement:

"I would say that the vast majority of scholars in the field of international law would say that the justification asserted by the United States and its allies for invading Iraq is not regarded as being adequate under international law."

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Traffic Surge & Lobbying Journalists

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Thanks to wah at Quantum Philosophy for the plug over at the Daily Kos comments.

In my brief effort to start promoting the site a couple of weeks ago, I asked him to help spread the word.

I have received a couple of volunteer researchers from his plug including a "third-year measurement and statistics graduate student." Awesome.

Someone noticed my mention of lobbying journalists in the comments. I have alerted a number of investigative journalists that I interviewed about my timelines (UPDATE June 6, 2005: these timelines currently offline), but I'm not sure if anyone is using them yet.

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No Evidence to Merit US Enforcement of UN Resolutions

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On March 20th, the State Department told the UN that they were attacking Iraq because Iraq’s disarmament obligations needed to be enforced:

Coalition forces have commenced military operations in Iraq. These operations are necessary in view of Iraq’s continued material breaches of its disarmament obligations under relevant Security Council resolutions, including 1441 (2002).

Now the question of the moment is "Will the CIA inspections report tomorrow provide any evidence to actually substantiate that Iraq was not disarmed when the US commenced military action?"

Permission Slip vs. Global Test

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After November 8th, the Bush Administration was still trying to maintain domestic support for a potential war Iraq by continuing to imply that military action would be a preemptive strike.

But yet the legal case that was being argued to the UN was one of non-compliance and not one of self-defense. The administration deduced to the American public that Saddam's "non-compliance" equals "threat," but the Bush Administration justified the war to the UN solely on their assertion that Iraq's compliance was incomplete.

The Bush Administration explicitly admitted their sole litmus test and low threshold for war in their December 3rd talking points: "The United States will be making one judgment: Has Saddam Hussein decided to cooperate willingly and comply completely, or has he not?"

This threshold for war for the United States was that Iraq didn't provide verifiable proof of destroying its chemical weapons stockpiles and didn't immediately provide access to scientists for interviews.

Actually providing actionable intelligence of WMD stockpiles, proof of a collaborative relationship with Al Qeada, or evidence that Iraq was some sort a threat to the United States was and still is irrelevant for the Bush Administration.

The Administration argued that invading Iraq was to "secure compliance with those [disarmament] obligations." The US was claiming to be enforcing previous UN resolutions, and so in this context the "global test" should have logically been that the US provide some sort of evidence that these UN resolutions actually needed to be enforced.

The degree to which these outstanding disarmament issues actually posed a threat the US never entered the debate at the UN. And so therefore the United States never attempted to argue a legal case of preemptive self-defense to the UN. It would be a different case if they did, but they did not.

Yet Bush continues to call Iraq "a threat" to this very day, and continues to imply that the Iraq war was a preemptive action. His most famous reference was when he said that "America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our country" at the 2004 State of the Union Address.

This "permission slip" phrase seems has been so popular and effective with conservatives that Cheney has repeated it over 60 times on the campaign trail.

Bush also immediately jumped all over Kerry's "global test" comment at the first Presidential Debate, and the next day told a rally, "The use of troops to defend America must never be subject to a veto by countries like France." He also said, "Listen, I'll continue to work with our allies and the international community, but I will never submit America's national security to an international test."

This seems to be such a popular and effective attack that it seems to be worth looking into.

And when one does look at the US legal theory presented by the Bush Administration, then it turns out Bush's own State Department would have to disagree that the Iraq war was a "preemptive strike."

From a legal perspective they state, "The actions being taken are authorized under existing Council resolutions." Although United States characterizes the war as "necessary steps to defend the United States and the international community from the threat posed by Iraq," they never attempted to legislate this or provide any proof of this alleged threat to the UN.

Don't take my word for it, George Washington University International Law Professor Sean Murphy is a much more credible source. He has the smoking gun in his comprehensive "Assessing the Legality of Invading Iraq" that shreds the US Legal Theory to pieces.

As for the basis for the invasion of Iraq under international law, in the months leading up to March 2003, considerable attention was paid to the doctrine of "preemptive self-defense" expressed by the Bush administration in its September 2002 report to the Congress on national security. That report, among other things, asserted an evolving right under international law for the United States to use military force preemptively against the threat posed by "rogue states" possessing WMD. The doctrine no doubt was attractive to the Bush administration, as it resonated with the fears of many Americans—in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks by the terrorist organization Al Qaeda—that at some point WMD would be unleashed against the United States by rogue elements. Yet, ultimately, when explaining the legal basis for its action against Iraq, the United States did not assert that the invasion of Iraq was permissible under international law due to an evolving right of preemptive self-defense (nor that international law was irrelevant).

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Passing the Global Test? Preemption is the Big Lie

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I know that perception matters more than the truth, but anyone interested in the facts and long-term historical record might be interested to know that the war in a Iraq was technically not a "Preemptive Strike."

This issue of preemption produced Kerry’s most memorable comment of "But if and when you do it [preemptive action], Jim, you have to do it in a way that passes the test, that passes the global test..."

Even Jim Lehrer got this fact wrong by asking Bush, "Does the Iraq experience make it more likely or less likely that you would take the United States into another preemptive military action?"

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Overview of the PR Campaign to Sell the War in Iraq

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The Bush Administration began to sell the war in Iraq to the American public on August 26th, 2002 and continued their highly-coordinated public relations campaign for 30 weeks until March 19, 2003.

The following sections outline the distinct phases of this Public Relations campaign to sell the war.


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