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Going by the hysterical bluster emanating from Washington about the International Criminal Court (ICC) it would seem that upstanding American “peacekeepers” selflessly policing the world are about to be arrested on frivolous charges and hauled before a court presided over by assorted witch-doctors, unreconstructed Stalinists and Osama bin Laden acolytes. The court, created in 1998 by the Rome Statute, is designed to punish crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes–acts which had hitherto fallen within the purview of national courts. Here’s a typical rant from conservative columnist Balint Vazsonyi in the Washington Times: “The wall separating the legal concepts, systems and practices in the English-speaking world from all other nations is higher and thicker than the Great Wall of China.” Writing in USA Today Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley deplored “the lack of adequate checks and balances on the powers of the ICC prosecutor and judges.” The USA has learned by bitter experience that unaccountable prosecutors constitute a danger to the rights and welfare of its citizens.”
Such sentiments would be more compelling if they did not sound so self-serving. Last November, U.S., British and French special forces presided over and directed the slaughter of about 1000 prisoners of war by the Northern Alliance at Mazar-e-Sharif. The slaughter was helped along by heavy U.S. air strikes. Recently Newsweek reported that “America’s Afghan allies asphyxiated hundreds of surrendering Taliban prisoners by transporting them in sealed cargo containers en route to a prison in Northern Afghanistan and they buried them in a mass grave.” Around a thousand people are said to have died in these containers. U.S. forces were in the region at the time, and either facilitated or did little to stop these atrocities. Had been the forces of any other power, those of Yugoslavia or Russia say, Washington would be shrieking for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. As it is, these events scarcely elicited a murmur.
Earlier this year Congress passed the American Service Members’ Protection Act. The legislation prohibits any U.S. government agency from cooperating with the ICC. It demands that “each resolution of the [U.N.] Security Council authorizing any peacekeeping operationa”permanently exempts” members of the Armed Forces of the United States participating in such operation from criminal prosecution.” No U.S. military assistance was to be “provided to the government of a country that is a party to the” ICC. In addition, the president was “authorized to use all means necessary and appropriate to bring about the release of any [U.S. or allied persons]” being detained or imprisoned by, on behalf of, or at the request of the” ICC.
This fearless assertion of national sovereignty is claptrap and the rankest hypocrisy. The act starts off solemnly declaring that “it is a fundamental principle of international law that a treaty is binding upon its parties only and that it does not create obligations for nonparties without their consent to be bound. The United States is not a party to the Rome Statute and will not be bound by any of its terms.” That is indeed the very basis international law. Shame then that the United States has so little respect for it! In 1993, the Clinton administration pushed the U.N. Security Council to establish the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The countries that were to be subjected to this court’s jurisdiction had no say in its establishment and had never given their consent. Yet they were ordered to cooperate on pain of sanctions, and worse. To this day, the United States punishes Yugoslavia for insufficient zeal in cooperating with the tribunal.
On May 27, President Bush signed an order continuing a state of national emergency with regard to Yugoslavia: “Because the crisis with respect to the situation in Kosovo and with respect to Slobodan Milosevic, his close associates and supporters and persons under open indictment for war crimes by the ICTY has not been resolved,” the president declared, there existed an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.” Bush ordered that all property of the Yugoslav government in the U.S. continue to be blocked and that “trade and other transactions” with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia be prohibited. This, a year after the abduction and handover of Slobodan Milosevic to the Hague tribunal!
The Hague tribunal served as the prototype for the ICC and it possesses all the features that Americans are today complaining about: The prosecutor is out of control. Prosecutor and court are one and the same. Appellate court and trial court are also one and the same. The court is answerable to no one. There is no jury. Prosecutors may appeal an acquittal and insist on continued detention of a defendant. Yet, the service members’ protection act insists that the work of the Hague tribunal continue undisturbed: “Nothing in this title shall prohibit the United States from rendering assistance to international efforts to bring to justice Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosovic, Osama bin Laden” and other foreign nationals accused of genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity.”
It is hardly surprising that the U.S. is so fond of the ICTY. Here is a court financed by the U.S., assorted NATO governments, U.S. corporations and, of course, the ubiquitous George Soros. Its personnel come largely from the U.S. Justice Department. The presiding judge in the Milosevic trial, Richard May, is British and a prominent figure in the Labor party whose leader, Tony Blair, played a major role in the 1999 war against Yugoslavia. The prosecutor, Geoffrey Nice, is also British. Here then is justice, NATO style–what the strong mete out to the weak.