FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

In Obamaland, ‘Rule of Law’ is for the Other Suckers

by DAVE LINDORFF

It is clear that the entrapment and forced landing in Austria of the official airplane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales was the work of the US, which was obviously behind the decision by France and Portugal to deny air rights to the flight, and which also was obviously behind the Austrian government’s demand to be allowed to search the jet after it landed. After all, those countries have no interest themselves in capturing US National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, who is only Obama’s and the NSA’s quarry.

So it is worth examining at how the US views the legal status of heads of state under international law and custom.

In 2004, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (New York) ruled that Robert Mugabe, the corrupt and brutal leader of Zimbabwe, enjoyed “absolute immunity” while inside the US on a visit to New York. The decision stemmed from 2001, when a group of citizens of Zimbabwe sought to have Mugabe arrested in New York on charges of “extrajudicial killing, torture, terrorism, rape, beatings and other acts of violence and destruction.” A month earlier, the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (Chicago), reached a similar conclusion in a case involving then Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

The US government had filed briefs in both those cases arguing that both Jiang and Mugabe (as well as Mugabe’s foreign minister, who was traveling with him), had absolute immunity as traveling heads of state.

No surprise that, given that the head of state of the US at the time of the court proceedings and the Appellate Court hearing, George W. Bush, and his vice president Dick Cheney, were already themselves guilty of serious war crimes and crimes against humanity for their illegal invasion of Iraq, their authorization of kidnappings, extrajudicial killings and torture, and their financing of acts of terrorism.

Given that it was the French who first caved in to US pressure to block the flight home from Russia to Bolivia of President Morales, it is interesting to note too that a the French Supreme Court, in 2001, ruled in a case involving an effort to charge Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafy with the downing of a US civilian aircraft over Lockerbee, Scotland, that heads of state have absolute immunity from prosecution while in office, except for universally accepted crime of genocide.

This makes the treatment of Bolivia’s President Morales, and the behavior of the European countries involved — France, Portugal and Spain initially for trapping Morales in mid-air and forcing him to land in Austria, Austria and Italy for trapping him in Austria and Austria for insisting on searching his presidential plane, and Russia for not protesting in the most forceful way the insulting treatment of a head of state that Russia had just hosted in a summit meeting — so outrageous.

Far from being guilty of any crime, Morales was detained by the actions of the US, France, Portugal, Spain and Austria simply because the US wants to capture Snowden, and thought Morales might be transporting him on his plane back to asylum in Bolivia. But had he been doing so, it would have been entirely within the rights of the president of Bolivia, who as a head of state could legally carry anything he wanted in his plane, whether a petitioner for sanctuary or a load of cocaine. (The US has long abused diplomatic immunity to ship contraband like weapons for use in various coup attempts in so-called “diplomatic pouches,” which are exempt from customs searches.)

The US of course, is the most egregious offender in this latest saga. In its desperate effort to capture Snowden, it is trashing the Vienna Convention of 1961 and a tradition of diplomatic immunity for heads of state that is of much more ancient origin.

The US does this not because it is legal, but because it can. American military and economic power allow the US government to brazenly ignore international law and custom because at least for the present no foreign power would dare to arrest or detain a US leader in the manner that Morales was detained and forced to allow his aircraft to be searched like a common criminal suspect. That situation could, of course change in future years, at which point Washington’s role in this incident will surely be brought up in some court.

Meanwhile, though, the leaders of smaller states with less clout than the US, from France and Germany to the likes of Austria, Italy, Spain, and the nations of South America, need to contemplate a new world in which their leaders could be summarily detained, humiliated, served with criminal or civil complaints or otherwise harassed while on official state visits, with the Morales case cited as an example.

Little wonder that the leaders of many Latin American countries, long used to being humiliated by the US, have been belatedly rising to the defense of Bolivia’s president, only days after they had accommodatingly declined to offer Snowden asylum.

One has to hope that they will rethink their earlier cowardice in refusing to offer asylum to Snowden, who is still trapped in the stateless limbo of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, because of Russia’s own chickenshit cowardice about granting him some kind of at least temporary residency permit while he seeks some permanent asylum from US prosecution as a “traitor.”

The latest news is that little Iceland (pop.: 320,000), may by showing the way. The Left-Green Party there has introduced a bill in the country’s parliament, the Althing, which would offer Snowden Icelandic citizenship (and of course a passport). The odds may be long, with that party only having six seats out of 63, but Snowden is popular in that country, so pressure could be brought to bear on other members of the body.

Meanwhile, France, Germany. Italy, Spain, and Austria, which have so shamelessly caved in to US pressure, should be ashamed of themselves. So should countries like Ireland, Finland, and other European countries which have pretended that they “might” consider an offer of asylum, but for the “difficulty” that poor Snowden’s US passport has been cancelled by Washington, so he cannot travel to their soil to make an application.

What rot! First off, as I wrote earlier, the mere fact that the US, violating its own laws, cancelled the citizenship and passport of a native-born American by executive decree without even a court hearing, doesn’t mean his passport, which he still possesses, cannot be recognized as a valid travel document by another country. It still has his photo identity as before. It still has blank pages able to accept a visa application, and it still has an expiration date that shows it to be valid. Since there is no international data base for passports, which are the property of each state that issues them, there would be no international file at a nation’s border stating whether a passport from another nation is currently valid. Snowden would certainly be stopped were he to try to use his cancelled passport to attempt, for some crazy reason, to re-enter the US, but as far as going to another country, it should work fine. Unless, that is, the country in question is under the thumb of the US.

Here’s hoping that Iceland’s Althing (parliament) does the correct and courageous thing and grants citizenship to Snowden, who has said all along that he hoped to settle in that country, which he said most closely adheres to his own values of freedom, freedom of information, and support for whistleblowers. It would be a beautiful act of conscience by a tiny nation against the official hypocrisy and gutlessness of Europe’s and most of Latin America’s leaders, and the lazy unconcern of the peoples of supposedly democratic Europe and the US, to see him welcomed there.

DAVE LINDORFF is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

 

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 09, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nasty As They Wanna Be
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Second Gilded Age: Overcoming the Rule of Billionaires and Militarists
Andrew Levine
Trump’s Chumps: Victims of the Old Bait and Switch
Chris Welzenbach
The Forgotten Sneak Attack
Lewis Lapham
Hostile Takeover
Joshua Frank
This Week at CounterPunch: More Hollow Smears and Baseless Accusations
Paul Street
The Democrats Do Their Job, Again
Vijay Prashad
The Cuban Revolution: Defying Imperialism From Its Backyard
Michael Hudson - Sharmini Peries
Orwellian Economics
Erin McCarley
American Nazis and the Fight for US History
Mark Ames
The Anonymous Blacklist Promoted by the Washington Post Has Apparent Ties to Ukrainian Fascism and CIA Spying
Yoav Litvin
Resist or Conform: Lessons in Fortitude and Weakness From the Israeli Left
Conn Hallinan
India & Pakistan: the Unthinkable
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Nativism on the Left – A Realer Smith
Joshua Sperber
Trump in the Age of Identity Politics
Brandy Baker
Jill Stein Sees Russia From Her House
Katheryne Schulz
Report from Santiago de Cuba: Celebrating Fidel’s Rebellious Life
Nelson Valdes
Fidel and the Good People
Norman Solomon
McCarthy’s Smiling Ghost: Democrats Point the Finger at Russia
Renee Parsons
The Snowflake Nation and Trump on Immigration
Margaret Kimberley
Black Fear of Trump
Michael J. Sainato
A Pruitt Running Through It: Trump Kills Nearly Useless EPA With Nomination of Oil Industry Hack
Ron Jacobs
Surviving Hate and Death—The AIDS Crisis in 1980s USA
David Swanson
Virginia’s Constitution Needs Improving
Louis Proyect
Narcos and the Story of Colombia’s Unhappiness
Paul Atwood
War Has Been, is, and Will be the American Way of Life…Unless?
John Wight
Syria and the Bodyguard of Lies
Richard Hardigan
Anti-Semitism Awareness Act: Senate Bill Criminalizes Criticism of Israel
Kathy Kelly
See How We Live
David Macaray
Trump Picks his Secretary of Labor. Ho-Hum.
Howard Lisnoff
Interview with a Political Organizer
Yves Engler
BDS and Anti-Semitism
Adam Parsons
Home Truths About the Climate Emergency
Brian Cloughley
The Decline and Fall of Britain
Eamonn Fingleton
U.S. China Policy: Is Obama Schizoid?
Graham Peebles
Worldwide Air Pollution is Making us Ill
Joseph Natoli
Fake News is Subjective?
Andre Vltchek
Tough-Talking Philippine President Duterte
Binoy Kampmark
Total Surveillance: Snooping in the United Kingdom
Guillermo R. Gil
Vivirse la película: Willful Opposition to the Fiscal Control Board in Puerto Rico
Patrick Bond
South Africa’s Junk Credit Rating was Avoided, But at the Cost of Junk Analysis
Clancy Sigal
Investigate the Protesters! A Trial Balloon Filled With Poison Gas
Pierre Labossiere – Margaret Prescod
Human Rights and Alternative Media Delegation Report on Haiti’s Elections
Charles R. Larson
Review:  Helon Habila’s The Chibok Girls: the Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria
David Yearsley
Brahms and the Tears of Britain’s Oppressed
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail