“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
– Lord Acton (1834-1902), 1887
How often have we parrotted that well-known phrase without having any concrete understanding of what Lord Acton really meant. But now, akin to proving Einstein’s Theory of Relativity long after he developed it, we can point to the special status of the United States in Gulf War 2 as concrete proof of absolute power in action.
Far from absolute was the power of the Ottomon, Spanish and British Empires, and before that, the Arabs who spread civilization as far north as Spain. Their power had geographic limits. The United States of America, unlike any other nation in history, projects absolute power to every corner of the earth … as well as to outer space.
With this absolute power at its command, in 2002, the US succeeded in getting an exemption from war crimes by a compliant UN Security Council, and, not leaving any stone unturned, signed bilateral agreements with 89 countries to ensure they do not prosecute US personnel or turn them over to the International Criminal Court. Twenty-six of these countries remain unnamed publicly and one, the Philippines, sits on the Security Council. The exemption was renewed last year, and a third is being pursued at this moment. The pressure applied by the US can bring countries to their knees.
In The Clash of Fundamentalisms, Tariq Ali recounts how, in August 1976, then Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger visited Lahore in an effort to dissuade Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto from acquiring nuclear weapons. When Bhutto refused, Dr. Kissinger told him that “we can destabilise your government and make a horrible example out of you.” Within six months, Bhutto’s government was removed in a coup, he was charged and found guilty of murder, and, two years later, executed.
Arab Free Voice reports that CIA director George Tenet paid a secret visit to Qatar on Tuesday, May 25, where he met the Emir of Qatar, Shaykh Hamd ibn Khalifah Al Thani and the Qatari Foreign Minister Hamd ibn Jaxim ibn Jabr Al Thani. The US spy chief gave the Qatari leaders a letter from the U.S. Administration reportedly couched in undiplomatic, tough, and frank language. It was reported that the letter contained a paragraph concerned with what it described as “the policy of media incitement pursued by Qatar’s al-Jazeera satellite TV company against the American forces and the American presence in Iraq. Time will tell if Al-Jazeera is muzzled, or if Qatar is destabilized.
Unlike the US, Nazi Germany failed to see the brilliance of the concept of total freedom in times of preemptive war. This “lapse” on the part of Hitler means that today, in the 21st century, Israeli groups may still be hunting Nazis culpable of murdering millions of Jews before and during World War II.
But, despite the atrocities carried out at Abu Ghraib, who will dare challenge this most powerful country, even at the level of human rights, much less war crimes? The most that can be expected is that the US will suffer a bloody nose and its war crimes in Iraq, as well as alledged war crimes in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, will fade into history. Within a few years, Abu Ghraib will fade from memory, especially now that the US Administration may raze the compound made infamous by Saddam Hussein and now, by the US military.
Long before the neo-cons highjacked the US government, it was widely known that Saddam Hussein was an evil man; even back when he was embedded with the CIA; even when the US and Great Britain supplied him with WMDs in the form of anthrax spores and other such nasty potions that he, with US knowledge, used “to kill his own people”, as the mantra goes. “Why, oh why,” Saddam must be thinking, esconced in US custody, place unknown, “didn’t I seek exemptions for crimes against humanity as well as against war crimes?”
Absolute power enabled the Administration get Peru’s Alejandro Toledo, against the wishes of politicos and Peruvians alike, to vote for a US resolution against Cuba at the 60th session of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. It was the one vote needed to pass the resolution. Within 24 hours, the United States announced that Peru and Ecuador would join with Colombia in the first round of negotiations on a <U.S.-Andean> Free Trade Agreement scheduled for May 18-19. The Office of the US Trade Representative announced: “The FTA negotiations were scheduled to begin with Colombia alone, pending the resolution of certain issues with respect to Peru [emphasis mine] and Ecuador, which have now been addressed.”
A year ago, in an incident that strained relations between Cuba and Mexico, the US pressured Mexico’s Vincente Fox to ensure that Fidel Castro depart prematurely from an OAS meeting, and the country, before the arrival of George Bush, who seems to lack the grace of his father, who at a similar OAS meeting remained in the same conference room with Castro. While Castro’s plane was leaving Mexico, President Bush’s was arriving. Mission accomplished.
Absolute power means never having to say you’re sorry after killing wedding guests, including bride and groom in Irak, two years after a similar massacre in Afghanistan.
And, for the third time since 2002, the United States is pushing for a new U.N. Security Council resolution aimed at exempting its troops from prosecution for war crimes when they serve in any U.N. peacekeeping operations.
Just as Hitler failed to seek exemptions for war crimes, so did Donald Rumsfeld fail to ban recording devices from military compounds in Iraq before the preemptive war. Don’t show the bodies coming home and don’t show the fun time to be had by our folks in Abu Ghraib, among other prisons. As a consequence, the whole world gets to see the dark side; the side that only a handful of newspapers and magazines dare illuminate, but which groups like the Black Panther Party, countries like Chile, groups like the Sandinistas, and the men and women who fill our jails, know all too well.
Iraqis, male and female, were raped in Abu Ghraib prison. Uncle Sam is caught with his pants down, double-standards and hypocrisies exposed for the entire world to witness.
PATRICK B. BARR was formerly with The Daily Gleaner, Kingston, Jamaica. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org