FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Why US War Criminals Walk Free

“Why Is Henry Kissinger Walking Around Free?” Andy Piascik asks (CounterPunch, Feb. 6-8, 2015). On January 29, Kissinger appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee to testify on the Iranian nuclear threat. Because, you know, some countries just can’t be trusted.

Also present were Medea Benjamin and CODEPINK who were there to confront the celebrated diplomat, author, and war criminal with pink plastic toy handcuffs.

Not only is Kissinger still walking around free, he is fawned over. The February 10 New York Daily News reports that Kissinger’s endorsement is a “sought-after prize” for 2016 Republican Presidential hopefuls “looking to boost their foreign policy credentials.” (The Daily News predicts that Kissinger’s rose will go to suitor Jeb Bush.)

The short answer to the mystery of why Kissinger remains at large is that US leaders look after their own. Democrats and Republicans even share this courtesy with each other. When in December, the Senate released its report on torture under the Bush Administration there was briefly talk of prosecutions, but such talk was quickly eclipsed by the announcement of President Obama’s new Cuba policy. Anyone who had been paying attention knew not to expect prosecutions. Obama had announced at the beginning of his administration that there would be no prosecutions of Bush era officials. That turned out to be a wise decision given Obama’s subsequent penchant for using drones to blow foreign civilians into tiny, charred bits. He who lives in a glass White House shouldn’t throw stones.

Other countries, at least some of them, some of the time, are less blasé towards war criminals and human rights violators in their midst. Let’s begin, as Andy does, with Nixon and Kissinger’s complicity in the coup that ousted and murdered Chile’s democratically elected socialist leader, Salvador Allende. The coup took place on September 11, 1973, a date Chileans have ever since remembered as “El once.”

The coup brought to power General Augusto Pinochet who remained dictator of Chile until accepting an offer of immunity in 1990. Although he stepped down as President, Pinochet—a bastard, but not a fool—held on to his position as Commander-in-Chief of the Army until 1998. This ensured that any attempt to prosecute Pinochet or his henchman would be crushed under jackboots, along with Chile’s fragile restored democracy. As Pinochet warned in 1991: “The day they touch one of my men, the rule of law ends.”

Immunity, however, did not mean forgiveness. Or forgetting. In 1990, Chile’s new civilian government convened the Rettig Commission on Truth and Reconciliation. The Commission was created in order to document the human rights abuses of the Pinochet regime. Wrongdoers from the Pinochet regime would be spared prosecution, but the price would be their public acknowledgement of the crimes they had committed.

Truth and Reconciliation Commissions spread to other countries in Latin America, the former Eastern bloc, and Africa. South Africa created a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1995 after the country’s apartheid regime finally was coaxed from power by Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress.

The US has never undergone a Truth and Reconciliation process. Not after Nixon and Vietnam. Not after George W. Bush and Iraq. Chile’s Truth and Reconciliation process fully discredited Pinochet’s regime in the eyes of most Chileans. US officials, however serious their crimes, retain their cred. And so we are regularly treated to Dick Cheney’s denials on FOX News that the Bush Administration had anything to do with torture or that the invasion of Iraq was anything other than righteous. Our war criminals don’t go to jail; they go on book tours.

Kissinger was lucky in that Nixon’s fall left Kissinger relatively untarnished. Watergate destroyed Nixon, not Nixon’s and Kissinger’s bloody foreign policy. The three articles of impeachment adopted by the House Judiciary Committee say nothing about Nixon’s foreign policy. A fourth article addressing Nixon Administration actions in Cambodia was voted down.

Kissinger ought to have become a pariah for his role in killing a million or more Vietnamese, toppling Allende, green-lighting Indonesia’s genocide in East Timor, and not lifting a finger to stop Pakistan’s rape of the future Bangladesh. Instead, Kissinger continued to enjoy his office as Secretary of State under Nixon’s successor Gerald R. Ford, the same president who pardoned Nixon.

The Bertrand Russell War Crimes Tribunal (1966-67) investigated and heard eyewitness and expert testimony regarding US war crimes in Vietnam. Sadly, this was a people’s tribunal, not a government body with the power to clap Nixon and Kissinger in irons.

II.

A Truth and Reconciliation process is one thing. How ‘bout them shackles? Is there any chance that US war criminals will be prosecuted?

We have the machinery to do so, but the machinery has grown rusty with disuse. There have been no prosecutions under the federal War Crimes Act which criminalizes “grave breaches” of the Geneva Conventions. Instead, the Bush Administration engineered amendments to the War Crimes Act which narrowed the list of crimes which could be prosecuted. Bush lawyers like Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo, and Jay Bybee argued in a series of now infamous legal memos that what the unsophisticated might naively mistake for torture (waterboarding, prolonged exposure of detainees to stress positions, sleep deprivation, etc.) was not torture. The Bush Gang were covering their asses as reflected in a Washington Post headline: “War Crimes Act Changes Would Reduce Threat of Prosecution.”

Psychological barriers add to the difficulty of trying US war criminals. For many Americans, seeing their leaders in the dock would be an insufferable blow to national pride. Only one thing could make such an affront more intolerable, and that’s if those sitting in judgment are “ferreigners.” How else explain the American Servicemembers’ Protection Act which wags dubbed the “Hague Invasion Act.” The Act empowers the president to use “all means necessary and appropriate” to liberate Americans (civilian leaders as well as military personnel despite the Act’s misleading name) who may in the future be held for prosecution by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The US Marines can take some nice selfies in front of windmills and canals as they storm into Holland.

US hostility to the ICC was apparent even before the Act’s passage. President Bill Clinton signed the Rome Statute, the treaty which created the International Criminal Court, but did not submit it to the Senate for ratification. One of George W. Bush’s first acts as president was to “unsign” the Rome Statute, leading baffled law professors to splutter: “Can he do that?” Not that it mattered. The Rome Statute would never have passed in the Senate.

Happily, Kissinger’s and Nixon’s victims—and Bush’s and Obama’s—were foreigners. Otherwise, killing them might have been serious. As every American knows, the United States acts only for good. We do not commit war crimes. This mindset has to change. The Nixons, the Kissingers, the Cheneys, the Bushes and Clintons and Obamas rely on it to keep themselves out of the slammer. To hear them tell it, their only concern is protecting Americans’ lives. Antiwar activists can and must convince Americans that these butchers protect no one but the powerful.

How long will the “ferreigners” stand this? In theory, US officials could face third country prosecutions. International law provides that individuals accused of torture, genocide, and other serious human rights offenses may be tried wherever they are found. Spain tried to do so in 1998, serving an arrest warrant on Pinochet while the General was in the UK for back surgery. Britain’s Law Lords agreed that Spain could try Pinochet. For nearly a year, Pinochet fought extradition. Finally, the UK released Pinochet on the grounds of the General’s supposed ill-health.

Spain’s effort emboldened Chilean authorities. Pinochet no longer appeared untouchable. On August 9, 2000, the Chilean Supreme Court lifted Pinochet’s immunity. By 2004, Pinochet was under house arrest on corruption charges. He died in 2006 to stand trial before a higher authority.

Andy Piascik writes that “in 2010, Dick Cheney had to cancel a planned trip to Canada because the clamor for his arrest had grown quite loud.” Someday, Kissinger, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Clinton (either of them), or Obama may make the mistake of traveling to a country with the courage to slap the cuffs on them. Real cuffs, not toys.

Charles Pierson is a lawyer and a member of the Pittsburgh Anti-Drone Warfare Coalition. E-mail him at Chapierson@yahoo.com.

More articles by:

Charles Pierson is a lawyer and a member of the Pittsburgh Anti-Drone Warfare Coalition. E-mail him at Chapierson@yahoo.com.

February 20, 2019
William A. Cohn
Something New and Something Old: a Story Still Being Told
Bill Martin
The Fourth Hypothesis: the Present Juncture of the Trump Clarification and the Watershed Moment on the Washington Mall
February 19, 2019
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Troublesome Possibilities: The Left and Tulsi Gabbard
Patrick Cockburn
She Didn’t Start the Fire: Why Attack the ISIS Bride?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Literature and Theater During War: Why Euripides Still Matters
Maximilian Werner
The Night of Terror: Wyoming Game and Fish’s Latest Attempt to Close the Book on the Mark Uptain Tragedy
Conn Hallinan
Erdogan is Destined for Another Rebuke in Turkey
Nyla Ali Khan
Politics of Jammu and Kashmir: The Only Viable Way is Forward
Mark Ashwill
On the Outside Looking In: an American in Vietnam
Joyce Nelson
Sir Richard Branson’s Venezuelan-Border PR Stunt
Ron Jacobs
Day of Remembrance and the Music of Anthony Brown        
Cesar Chelala
Women’s Critical Role in Saving the Environment
February 18, 2019
Paul Street
31 Actual National Emergencies
Robert Fisk
What Happened to the Remains of Khashoggi’s Predecessor?
David Mattson
When Grizzly Bears Go Bad: Constructions of Victimhood and Blame
Julian Vigo
USMCA’s Outsourcing of Free Speech to Big Tech
George Wuerthner
How the BLM Serves the West’s Welfare Ranchers
Christopher Fons
The Crimes of Elliot Abrams
Thomas Knapp
The First Rule of AIPAC Is: You Do Not Talk about AIPAC
Mitchel Cohen
A Tale of Two Citations: Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and Michael Harrington’s “The Other America”
Jake Johnston
Haiti and the Collapse of a Political and Economic System
Dave Lindorff
It’s Not Just Trump and the Republicans
Laura Flanders
An End to Amazon’s Two-Bit Romance. No Low-Rent Rendezvous.
Patrick Walker
Venezuelan Coup Democrats Vomit on Green New Deal
Natalie Dowzicky
The Millennial Generation Will Tear Down Trump’s Wall
Nick Licata
Of Stress and Inequality
Joseph G. Ramsey
Waking Up on President’s Day During the Reign of Donald Trump
Elliot Sperber
Greater Than Food
Weekend Edition
February 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Matthew Hoh
Time for Peace in Afghanistan and an End to the Lies
Chris Floyd
Pence and the Benjamins: An Eternity of Anti-Semitism
Rob Urie
The Green New Deal, Capitalism and the State
Jim Kavanagh
The Siege of Venezuela and the Travails of Empire
Paul Street
Someone Needs to Teach These As$#oles a Lesson
Andrew Levine
World Historical Donald: Unwitting and Unwilling Author of The Green New Deal
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Third Rail-Roaded
Eric Draitser
Impacts of Exploding US Oil Production on Climate and Foreign Policy
Ron Jacobs
Maduro, Guaidó and American Exceptionalism
John Laforge
Nuclear Power Can’t Survive, Much Less Slow Climate Disruption
Joyce Nelson
Venezuela & The Mighty Wurlitzer
Jonathan Cook
In Hebron, Israel Removes the Last Restraint on Its Settlers’ Reign of Terror
Ramzy Baroud
Enough Western Meddling and Interventions: Let the Venezuelan People Decide
Robert Fantina
Congress, Israel and the Politics of “Righteous Indignation”
Dave Lindorff
Using Students, Teachers, Journalists and other Professionals as Spies Puts Everyone in Jeopardy
Kathy Kelly
What it Really Takes to Secure Peace in Afghanistan
Brian Cloughley
In Libya, “We Came, We Saw, He Died.” Now, Maduro?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail