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January 9, 2006

How to Stop the Planned Nuking of Iran


Congress should enact emergency legislation

by Jorge Hirsch

Multiple pieces of independent evidence suggest that America is embarked in a premeditated path that will lead inexorably to the use of nuclear weapons against Iran in the very near future. Facing clear evidence of this peril, we cannot wait for the final proof the smoking gun in the form of a mushroom cloud. Whether you are liberal or conservative, antiwar or pro-war, if you believe this would be catastrophic for America and the world, the time to act to derail it is now!

"You know we have used force in the recent past to secure our country," said Bush when asked about Iran in August 2005, oblivious to the fact that "secure our country" had proven to mean attacking a country without an ounce of WMD and with no links to al-Qaeda.

"One of the reasons we are so concerned about the Iranian nuclear program is that Iran is a government with a long track record of supporting international terrorism. Our deepest fear is that one of these terrorist groups could one day obtain a nuclear weapon," said the assistant secretary of state in 2004.

"The United States has long maintained the option of preemptive actions to counter a sufficient threat to our national security. The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves" is official U.S. policy. The saber-rattling and propaganda against Iran attributed to "Western intelligence" have dramatically risen in volume and tone since these statements were made. How do we stop Bush from pulling the trigger?

Congress should enact immediate emergency legislation to take away from President Bush the authority to use nuclear weapons preemptively against non-nuclear countries. This is a power granted to Congress under the U.S. Constitution.

15 Reasons Why Iran Will Be Nuked

To do the utmost to try to prevent it, we need to be reasonably certain that it will happen if we don't act. Below I summarize 15 reasons, many discussed in more detail in previous columns. The links provide support for the assertions made.

These reasons taken together indicate both that U.S. military action (aerial bombing) against Iran is exceedingly probable and that military action without the use of nuclear bombs is exceedingly improbable.

Low-Yield Nukes for High Crimes

The B61-11 nuclear earth-penetrator has yields that reportedly range from 0.3 kilotons to 340 kilotons and can penetrate up to 7 meters into the ground before detonation. The following are some of the conclusions of a 2005 National Academy of Sciences study [.pdf] on nuclear earth-penetrators tasked by Congress:

  • Many important hard, deeply buried targets (HDBT) are beyond the reach of conventional explosive penetrating weapons and can be destroyed only with nuclear weapons.
  • Nuclear earth-penetrators need to penetrate only a few meters to achieve maximum effectiveness for destruction of underground facilities.
  • The yield required of a nuclear weapon to destroy an HDBT is 15 to 25 times smaller if the weapon is detonated a few meters below the surface than if it is detonated at the surface.
  • For attacks on HDBTs in remote, lightly populated areas, casualties can range from as few as hundreds at low yields to hundreds of thousands at high yields.
  • For urban targets, civilian casualties from a nuclear earth-penetrator weapon are less by a factor of 2 to 10 than those from a surface burst having 25 times the yield.

So for a quick estimate, the yield of the Hiroshima bomb was 15 kilotons and it killed about 100,000 people. According to the numbers given above, a 0.3 kiloton bomb (factor of 50 smaller) detonated below the surface (up to a factor of 10 smaller effect) would kill only 200 people, "small" collateral damage.

According to the aforementioned Congressional Research Service Report of October 2005, the B61-11 entered the nuclear stockpile in the year 2001. Many of Iran's facilities are underground and probably require nuclear weapons to be completely destroyed, e.g., parts of the Natanz site for uranium enrichment and the underground tunnels at the Isfahan uranium reprocessing facility. Iran's ballistic-missile production facilities and some missile silos are reportedly underground.

The yield of the B61-11 bomb is in doubt: the Nuclear Posture Review describes it as a "single-yield weapon," and recent reports indicate that the yield is 400 kilotons. However, we know that "every current U.S. nuclear weapon has one or more low-yield settings." According to Bob Peurifoy, a former Sandia labs weapons-design manager, "I know how to give you most of those [low] yields today with a pair of wire cutters and a wrench." Information on nuclear weapons' yields is classified

The 1998 Rumsfeld report (by the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, tasked by Congress) asserted the following:

  • Iran has acquired and is seeking major, advanced missile components that can be combined to produce ballistic missiles with sufficient range to strike the United States.
  • Iran is developing weapons of mass destruction.
  • Iran has a nuclear energy and weapons program and aims to design, develop, and produce nuclear weapons.
  • If Iran were to accumulate enough fissile material from foreign sources, it might be able to develop a nuclear weapon in only one to three years.
  • Iran also has an active chemical weapons development and production program.
  • Iran is conducting research into biological weapons.

You don't have to believe all of those claims (I don't). But you had better believe that Donald Rumsfeld believes them, and he has his finger on the trigger!

Premeditation Shows Criminal Intent

The Bush administration will present the nuking of Iran as a "grave decision," the "gravest decision" a president ever had to make, reached after much "agonizing," necessary to save American, Israeli, Iraqi, and Iranian lives. In order to appreciate the magnitude of the crime, we must understand that this is not so; it is a premeditated act, and the elements to make it happen were carefully and methodically assembled over many years. Let us review some key pieces of evidence:

All of this evidence indicates substantial planning and premeditation. A well-established principle in criminal law dictates that substantial planning and premeditation is a severe aggravating circumstance.

Why Nuking Iran Will Be Catastrophic

None of the accusations leveled at Iran by the U.S. are facts, other than that Iran has a substantial missile arsenal with missiles that can reach Israel (Shahab-3). Iran claims its missiles are for defensive purposes against regional enemies and, in particular, a deterrent against Israel. This is certainly not unbelievable given that Iran was attacked by Iraq in the '80s, and Israel has repeatedly threatened to strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. It should be remembered that Iran has never launched an aggressive war in modern times.

To get a vivid snapshot of the stark contrast in the mindsets of the adversaries involved, visit the following two Web sites [1], [2]: At [1], from the Federation of American Scientists, we "learn" that

  • Isfahan is said to be the primary location of the Iranian nuclear weapons program.
  • Isfahan is also reportedly the site of Iran's largest missile assembly and production plant.
  • Isfahan is said to be one of Iran's major chemical weapons facilities.
  • Isfahan area is a major center for Iran's advanced defense industry.
  • The main operational facilities for the army's aviation units are located at Isfahan.

At [2], an Iranian Web site, we learn of Isfahan that

  • In addition to being a unique cultural, historical, and religious center, the city is famous for its rich, precious heritage, its charming artworks and handicrafts, as well as prominent scholars and scientists.
  • It is home to archaic mosques, including the 1,400-year-old Grand Mosque and Seyed Mosque, the largest and most famous mosque of the city dating back to two centuries ago.
  • Handicrafts such as enamels, handwoven carpets, and tilework.
  • The city will be named as the Second Cultural Capital of World of Islam at an official ceremony concurrent with Eid al-Qorban (Jan. 11).
  • At the ceremony, which is scheduled to be held at the historical majestic Imam Square, the flags of 57 Islamic states will be hoisted and Iran's national anthem will be played.

This suggests that Iranians and others in the Muslim world may not take it calmly when Isfahan is attacked with American nukes (hopefully not on Jan. 11!). Even if the American nuclear attack initially targets only facilities with high accuracy, a violent reaction from Iran and an escalation of the conflict are likely to occur and lead to devastating consequences.

By now, it has become clear and widely known, even if not yet in the mainstream media, that the stage was set long ago by the United States for this scenario to unfold: [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], [8], [9], [10], [11], [12], [13], [14], [15], [16], [17], [18], [19], [20] (I apologize for the very many omissions). The fact that the Bush administration has not brought up the issue for wide discussion in the country, given the careful preparations that have been made, reveals the duplicitous nature of the plan and the complete disregard the administration has for the will of the American people. The premeditated nature of the crime will become widely apparent to the whole world after it happens, with catastrophic consequences for the U.S.' role in the world.

The rest of the world rightly regards nuclear weapons as qualitatively different from all other weapons because of their enormous destructive power and their potential to destroy humanity. The rest of the world understands that there is no sharp line dividing small nuclear weapons from large ones, nor between nuclear weapons targeting underground facilities and those targeting armies or cities; that an escalating nuclear war can lead to the death of every man, woman, and child on the planet; and that there is no reason in the world why the U.S. should have a monopoly on nuclear weapons. In the eyes of the rest of the world, a premeditated nuclear attack on Iran, a non-nuclear country, will be seen as a criminal abomination. America's status as the leader of the civilized world will be obliterated. And the new world will be an infinitely more dangerous place.

What Can Americans Do to Prevent It

If the majority of Americans abhor these events, they should not allow them to proceed. Every one of us should do all we can and a bit more to avert them. Some suggestions:

  • Contact your representatives by fax, telephone, letter, or in person.
  • Call radio talk shows.
  • Write letters and opinion pieces for local newspapers.
  • Bring the topic up with relatives, friends, newsgroups, and blogs, and encourage them to do the above.
  • Contact antiwar groups to organize events and rallies around this specific issue. A major demonstration should be planned for the moment Bush issues an ultimatum against Iran.
  • Think about one or two people who are above you in the opinion-shaping food chain whom you can perhaps convince that this is important. Eventually, the issue may reach celebrities who can give it wider publicity, then to government officials who could make a difference.

All of this will help. Unfortunately, no matter how much publicity and public opposition arise, the administration can still go ahead with its plans. To prevent it from doing so, here is a concrete proposal to present to your congressional representatives: the Nuclear Responsibility Act, an emergency bill in Congress dealing with the authority to order the use of nuclear weapons. This can be initiated in the Senate, the House of Representatives, or both. There are ways to do this quickly! The Terri Schiavo bill was introduced on March 19, 2005, passed by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives on March 20, and signed into law by President Bush in the early hours of March 21. Granted, there is one more step here the presidential veto that will take one more iteration and a 2/3 congressional majority to override.

Under the U.S. Constitution Article I, Section 8, Clause 14, Congress has the power "To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces." Hence, Congress can regulate, i.e., control and direct, the use of nuclear weapons by the armed forces. The full authority for the use of nuclear weapons rests now with the president. That authority should be curtailed. Because traditionally there has been reluctance to limit the powers of the president in times of war, the practical approach is to shoot for as small a limitation as possible to avert the immediate danger, the nuking of Iran.

What should be prevented at the very least is the ability of the president to use a nuclear weapon preemptively. The discussion about whether it is reasonable to respond with nuclear weapons to major actual attacks with other "WMD" (e.g., chemical weapons) is important and long overdue but should perhaps be left for another day. What is urgent is that the president not be allowed to use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear country like Iran on the argument that "intelligence" (which can later be proven to be false) shows that an enemy attack with non-nuclear WMD is "imminent."

The decision to use nuclear weapons is an extremely grave one. The extreme urgency necessitating exclusive presidential authority for the use of nuclear weapons against a nuclear country does not exist in a conflict with a non-nuclear country. There is no good reason why, in such a situation, the decision to use nuclear weapons should not be shared by Congress. Congress has the constitutional right to demand, not just ask [1], [2], to be part of this decision.

Given that the administration has chosen to define a radically new nuclear posture [.pdf] that makes the use of nuclear weapons much more likely, it behooves Congress to fulfill its duty to represent the will of the people in this matter of overwhelming public importance and create the law that will allow it to exercise its oversight responsibilities.

Hence a possible bill could say:

  • Purpose: to affirm the Congress' authority under Article I, Section 8, Clause 14 of the U.S. Constitution to make rules for the government and regulation of the armed forces, and apply such authority to the United States' use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapons states.
  • Resolved: The United States armed forces shall not employ nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear-weapons state in the absence of an explicit congressional authorization to that effect.
  • The president retains sole authority to authorize the use of nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state in the presence of previously issued congressional authorization.
  • If a verifiable massive enemy attack with weapons of mass destruction against United States citizens or armed forces takes place that results in thousands of casualties, the president may authorize the emergency use of nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear-weapons state in the absence of prior congressional authorization, in anticipation that Congress will grant authorization a posteriori.
  • Congress shall grant a posteriori authorization after it certifies that a massive enemy attack with WMD did occur prior to the U.S.' use of nuclear weapons.
  • If Congress does not certify that such an enemy attack took place, it shall decline to grant a posteriori authorization and the president shall be determined to be in violation of this law.

You may pick your favorite penalties for a president who violates this law.

If America is going to nuke a non-nuclear country, all Americans will be held responsible by much of the world. So either we stop it or we have Congress vote that it is the will of the country to do so. Then, if you don't agree with how your congressperson voted, you can throw him/her out at the next election. That's democracy!

This plan to stop a nuclear attack on Iran is, of course, a very long shot. But perhaps just the introduction of such a bill would be enough to derail the Bush administration's plans. Write to your representative!

The alternative is to sit back, let it happen, and live with the consequences. There is little doubt that the rest of the world will consider the use of nuclear weapons preemptively against a non-nuclear country as a morally repugnant act, and its perpetrators and condoners as worthy of opprobrium and universal condemnation.

 

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Jorge Hirsch is a professor of physics at the University of California San Diego.

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