George H W Bush Highway of Death Iraq
The "Highway of Death" in Iraq, after a massacre by the George H. W. Bush administration in the 1991 US Gulf War

Don’t forget George H W Bush’s war crimes, from Iraq’s ‘Highway of Death’ to Panama invasion

As US president, George H.W. Bush invaded Panama and waged the barbaric Gulf War, in which the American military devastated Iraqi civilian infrastructure and massacred thousands of fleeing soldiers

By Ben Norton / The Real News


From Iraq to Panama, George H. W. Bush was responsible for countless deaths. Far from being the moderate voice of reason he is now being presented as in the era of Trumpism, he was an elite custodian of capitalism and empire.

In 1989, the administration of the newly inaugurated President Bush invaded the tiny Central American nation of Panama, in order to oust dictator Manuel Noriega, who had himself been a longtime CIA asset, who for years worked closely with the United States, helping it to fund right-wing death squads while he was trafficking drugs.

The US brutally bombed Panama, burning down thousands of homes, leading to the nickname “Little Hiroshima.” Historian Greg Grandin noted that the bodies of dead Panamanians “were shoveled into mass graves.”

But Bush’s bloodiest atrocities were yet to come. In August 1990, Iraq militarily occupied and annexed its southern neighbor Kuwait. The Bush administration wanted a war in response, and in order to sell this war, it spread blatant lies.

In October 1990, a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl named Nayirah testified before the US Congressional Human Rights Caucus, and claimed:

“While I was there, I saw the Iraqi soldiers coming to the hospital with guns. They took the babies out of incubators, took the incubators, and left these children to die on the cold floor. It was horrifying.”

Human rights organizations like Amnesty International obediently echoed this myth. And George H.W. Bush used it to justify a war on Iraq:

“They had kids and incubators, and they were thrown out of the incubators, so that Kuwait could be systematically dismantled.”

It was only after this war, in 1992, that it was revealed that this 15-year-old girl was actually the daughter of Kuwait’s ambassador to the US, and that the lies she spread had been orchestrated by a PR firm on behalf of the Kuwaiti monarchy.

But remember, Bush had declared just a few years ago that he didn’t care what the facts are.

In 1991, the 41st US president launched a war on Iraq. And it was extremely brutal. Under Bush’s leadership, the US military deliberately targeted civilian infrastructure, devastating the country.

Just weeks after the end of the war, the United Nations published a survey analyzing the civilian damage done by US bombing. The UN found that Iraq was “near apocalyptic,” that it had been bombed back “to a pre-industrial age,” and that the country was on the verge of an “epidemic and famine.”

The US military also used depleted uranium weapons in Iraq, leading to birth defects, high cancer rates, and environmental damage that Iraqis are still suffering from to this day.

Even the Washington Post, which supported the war, acknowledged four months after it that the US and its allies “sought to achieve some of their military objectives in the Persian Gulf war by disabling Iraqi society at large,” and the US “deliberately did great harm to Iraq’s ability to support itself as an industrial society.”

Precision-guided weapons were used to specifically target electrical plants, oil refineries, and the transportation grid. The US destroyed more than 100 bridges, along with roads, railroads, factories, phone networks, and TV and radio stations.

The Pentagon later admitted that it intentionally demolished Iraq’s electricity infrastructure, reducing the country’s power generation level after the war by 96 percent, knocking it back to the level that Iraq had in 1920.

A lieutenant general told the Washington Post that the psychological impacts that average Iraqi citizens would suffer from after losing their electricity was a “side benefit.”

One of the most extreme US crimes was committed on February 13, 1991, when the military used laser-guided smart bombs to destroy a shelter full of civilians. 408 Iraqi civilians were massacred in this US attack, and the Pentagon itself admitted that the Amiriyah shelter that it bombed was being used by civilians seeking protection.

Even more blood-curdling was an atrocity that was so heinous it earned the name the “Highway of Death.” On February 26th and 27th, the US and allies Britain, France, and Canada bombed Iraqi soldiers as they tried to flee Kuwait and return to Iraq. Thousands of fleeing Iraqis were massacred.

There were even reportedly some civilians among the soldiers as they tried to flee, including foreign workers and Palestinians who were expelled by the Kuwaiti monarchy. They were all bombed to pieces. Thousands died; the exact number of victims is unknown.

The aftermath of the Gulf War was beyond catastrophic. A Harvard public health team investigated and found that Iraq had acute malnutrition and epidemic levels of the preventable diseases cholera and typhoid. The Harvard team also estimated that at least 170,000 Iraqi children under age 5 would die in the year after the war due to the effects of the US bombing.

The Washington Post noted “planners now say their intent was to destroy or damage valuable facilities that Baghdad could not repair without foreign assistance.” The Bush administration deliberately made the lives of millions of Iraqis complete hell to try to force them into such desperation that they would overthrow their leader.

And even when the 1991 Gulf War ended, the Bush 41 administration’s war on Iraqi society continued. The US used the United Nations Security Council to expand crippling sanctions on Iraq, which banned all trade with the country.

These sanctions, which further continued under subsequent President Bill Clinton, led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children and other civilians.

In response to these reports of mass civilian devastation from US bombing, George H. W. Bush’s secretary of defense, Dick Cheney insisted that every target was “perfectly legitimate.” He declared, “If I had to do it over again, I would do exactly the same thing.”

Bush senior’s Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney would go on to become Bush Jr’s vice president, and the brains behind George W. bush’s foreign policy and his own second war on Iraq a decade later. Moreover, H. W. Bush’s chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell later served as W. Bush’s secretary of state.

Given the overlap between Bush 41’s administration on that of Bush 43, it is no surprise that Bush Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps, launching another devastating war in the Middle East, which destabilized the region and led to more than 1 million deaths.

These crimes fly directly in the face of the corporate media’s portrayal of George H. W. Bush as a principled moderate. The real Bush left behind a murderous legacy, full of war crimes across the planet.