Rumsfeld v. Belgium

Is Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld an idiot or just an unbelievable boor? And do the Times and the Associated Press have historical memories that reach past the prior day’s news?

What prompted these ruminations was a comment made by our pompous war secretary during his current European tour, as reported in the NYT. Miffed by a 1994 Belgian law that empowers prosecutors to go after any war criminal regardless of nationality, for crimes against humanity wherever they may have occurred, Rumsfeld, who along with the rest of the U.S. government has been opposing inclusion of the U.S. in the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, actually groused that Belgium “appears not to respect the sovereignty of other countries.” He went on to threaten removal of NATO hq to another jurisdiction if Belgian law wasn’t changed.

This assertion comes from a guy who just weeks ago ignored the will of the United Nations and invaded, conquered and now occupies a country, Iraq, which posed no threat to the U.S.! Talk about respecting sovereignty!

And remember, this was no one-time transgression. We’re talking about the United States of America, a country that, along with the former Soviet Union, surely shares honors as the biggest violator of national sovereignty in modern history, and which since the end of the Cold War holds that title alone.

A country that is illegally holding prisoners from its war in Afghanistan (including children ) even though that conflict is over, and which still refuses even to recognize them as prisoners of war.

A country that has repeatedly, in recent memory, invaded other nations that posed no threat–Grenada and Panama, –not to mention North Vietnam and Cambodia, where the casualties numbered in the millions–and which actually kidnapped the head of state of Panama, brought him to the U.S., and tried, convicted and jailed him for crimes allegedly committed in his own country.

A country that a few years back bombed two foreign nations–the Sudan and Afghanistan–with no warning, and which did the same more recently in Yemen.

A country that for decades has engaged in an illegal embargo–an act of war under international law– against Cuba, causing untold damage to that country’s people and economy.

A country that has repeatedly violated the sovereignty of other lands by forcing them (on pain of devastating trade sanctions), to permit the advertising of cigarettes, despite efforts in those nations to reduce smoking by banning such advertising.

A country that today talks casually of invading Syria and/or North Korea, and which is openly discussing the adoption of a policy of undermining the government of a sovereign nation, Iran, and which for decades has just as casually overthrown governments it didn’t like, including democratically elected ones in states like Guatemala and Chile.

The point should by now be clear: Rumsfeld, who has had a hand in a fair number of the above gross violations of national sovereignty (and in plenty more that haven’t been listed here), may be legitimately worried that he and a host of American military leaders may find themselves being charged under Belgium’s statute, but he clearly has no business complaining about any country’s concept of what is fair game when it comes to respecting sovereignty.

But what about the Times and the AP? Times reporter Craig S. Smith focussed on European diplomats’ complaints about Rumsfeld’s “tactlessness.” He and his editors let Rumsfeld’s comment slide past without a line of comment about America’s own history of trampling on national sovereignty. Meanwhile, Pauline Jelinek, writing for the AP (as published in the Philadelphia Inquirer), didn’t even mention any complaints about tactlessness. She seemed more concerned that Iraqi theater commander Gen. Tommy Franks, 1991 Gulf War commander Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell have already been sued under the Belgian law (the Franks suit was subsequently tossed out by the court).

Is this because Smith, Jelinek and their bosses are ignorant?


More likely though, they just don’t think that Belgium and the U.S. operate by the same set of rules.

Under this editorial theory, other nations of the world are bound by a stern set of behavior guidelines, enshrined in the U.N. Charter and other global treaties–and of course enforceable by us, the world’s self-appointed global prosecutor and cop.

The U.S., however, doesn’t operate under these same rules. When we invade another country, meddle in its political affairs, impede its health or environmental or labor reform efforts, or kidnap its leader, it is not a violation of sovereignty. It is our right.

We can’t expect someone like the strutting Rumsfeld to change, but we can insist that the Times and AP do better than operate as the defense secretary’s recording secretary and PR flak.

Dave Lindorff is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A collection of Lindorff’s stories can be found here: http://www.nwuphilly.org/dave.html

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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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