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How Can the US Accuse Russia of Violating International Law?


If you want to make moral or legal pronouncements, or to condemn bad behavior, you have to be a moral, law-abiding person yourself. It is laughable when we see someone like Rush Limbaugh criticizing drug addicts or a corrupt politician like former Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) voting for more prisons, more cops, and tougher rules against appeals of sentences.

The same thing applies to nations.

And when it comes to hypocritical nations that make pious criticisms of other countries about the “rule of law” and the sanctity of “international law,” it’s hard to find a better laughing stock than the United States of America.

After invading Iraq illegally in 2003, with no sanction from the UN, and no imminent threat being posed by that country to either the US or to any of Iraq’s neighbors, after years of launching bombing raids, special forces assaults and drone-fired missile launches into countries like Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia, and killing hundreds of innocent men, women and children, after illegally capturing and holding, without charge or trial, hundreds of people it accuses of being terrorists and illegal combatants, after torturing thousands of captives, the US now accuses Russia of violating international law by sending troops into Crimea to protect a Russian population threatened by a violently anti-Russian Ukrainian government just installed in a coup.

How many times has the US sent troops into neighboring countries based upon the claim that it had to protect American citizens during a time of turmoil. We have Grenada in 1983, Panama in 1989, the Dominican Republic in 1965, and Haiti in 2003, for starters. Would the US hesitate for even a moment to send troops into Mexico if the Mexican government were overthrown in an anti-American coup, and if demonstrators who had led to that overthrow were attacking Americans? Of course not.

The Panama invasion, and the overthrow and arrest and removal to the US of Panama’s elected President Manuel Noriega, is particularly instructive, as it involved protecting a strategic US overseas base — the US Canal Zone — much as Russia is protecting its naval bases in Crimea, operated under a long-term lease from Ukraine but threatened by the recent Ukrainian coup. The US, headed at the time by President George H.W. Bush, invaded Panama under the pretext of protecting Americans in that country, but the attack (which had been planned well in advance of any threats to Americans) quickly morphed into an overthrow of the Panamanian government, the arrest of its leader, and the installation of a US puppet leader.

But the US mocking of international law goes far beyond that.

Washington is currently calling, for example, for Mexico to extradite to the US, on drug and murder charges, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the head of the Sinaloa drug cartel. But only weeks earlier, on January 23, Texas executed a Mexican citizen over the protests of the Mexican government, because his rights under international law to have had Mexican authorities notified at the time of his arrest, so that he could have been provided by Mexico with a well-funded attorney for his defense. Instead, Mexico was not notified, he got the usual over-worked, underpaid, and uninvolved public defender, lost his case, and was sentenced to death. International jurists and American legal scholars all called for his execution to be halted, but to no avail. This was not the first time the US has gone ahead with executions of foreign nationals who were not tried in accordance with international law. Such mockery of the rule of law is common in the US. Despite this outrage, the US acts piqued that Mexico is resisting handing over Guzman to US prosecutors, who will undoubtedly be seeking his execution.

Of course, we also had, last year, the outrageous case of the US pressuring European countries to bar their airspace to the official jet of the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, which was ultimately forced to land in Austria, where it was subjected, also under US pressure, to a complete search in a vain attempt to find National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. US government authorities thought Morales, who had just been on a state visit to Russia, might be flying Snowden back to Bolivia, where he had been offered political asylum.

Now this crude interference with the flight of a national head of state, not to mention the searching of his plane, was the height of illegality under international law. A presidential jet, or even limo, like a foreign embassy, is under international law considered to be part of a nation’s territory. Violating it is as much a violation of international law as would be the military invasion and occupation of a piece of a country’s territory. It is in fact an act of war. One need only imagine what would happen if Air Force One, carrying the president of the US, were diverted and forced to land by some foreign nation. Does anyone doubt that the US military would be put on full alert, and that a fleet of bombers and aircraft battle groups would be immediately dispatched to punish the offending nation?

What Russia has done, in sending troops into Crimea, is in fact a minor action in terms of international law compared to what the US has done just over the past two decades alone. It’s not as though Ukraine was a functioning nation, after all. Its elected government had just been violently overthrown, and its president hounded out of the country by demonstrations that had included the storming of the presidential palace, and the armed occupation of the parliament building. Under such circumstances, for Russia to have stood idly by while its own Russian nationals as well as ethnic Russians in Crimea, a majority Russian region that until 1954 was a part of Russia, just across the border, were threatened by what is essentially a mob-run government based in Kiev, would have been irresponsible. Moreover, the autonomous regional government in Crimea had actually apparently sought Russian protection from the central “government” in Ukraine.

Of course there’s also the matter of the US role — overt and covert — in helping to fund and organize the mobs who ousted the elected government of Ukraine. That too was a violation of international law. For years now, the US has, through its National Endowment for Democracy, US AID, and other government and quasi-government bodies, been funneling money to anti-government groups in Ukraine (as it did also in Egypt and Russia itself, and as it is doing now in Venezuela and other countries whose leaders it opposes). The leaked tape of the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland and the US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt discussing how to staff the new government of Ukraine after the anticipated collapse of the elected government shows how deeply the US was involved in the undermining of the government of Ukraine. Again, this interference in another country’s political system is a horrendous violation of international law.

Just as the same kind of interference and subversion of the elected government of President Nicolás Maduro is in Venezuela, where the US decries government police actions against the street demonstrations by middle class citizens of that country, even as the US has been helping to finance those demonstrations. As I wrote earlier, there is also the hypocrisy of the US criticizing police actions against demonstrators by governments like Maduro’s, while here at home, the US has been increasingly behaving like a banana republic in crushing virtually all domestic dissent. Just look at the brutal federally-coordinated crushing, in cities across the US, of the 2011 Occupy Movement. And look, too, at the federal government’s largely successful efforts to destroy the very right to publicly protest — most recently featuring a Supreme Court ruling saying it is illegal for anti-drone-war activists to protest outside of Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, even on the side of public roads.

The US, at this point, after eight years of the Bush/Cheney administration and five years of the Obama administration, has forfeited any right to criticize any country over violations of international law, or even to criticize tyrannical regimes over their repression of their own citizens. The sad truth is that the US no longer has any moral or legal standing at all in the world. It stands these days fully exposed as a naked aggressor and trampler of international law globally and as a police state at home.

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).

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