The United States is a human rights hypocrite. No country has been more aggressive in lecturing others about human rights and no country has been less willing to take part in international efforts to halt crimes against the peace or even genocide. The United States has been one of the major obstacles in the creation of an international military force under the auspices of the United Nations to prevent “crimes against the peace.”
Thanks to Charlie Savage’s excellent reporting in the New York Times, we currently find the Pentagon blocking the efforts of the United States to share intelligence with the International Criminal Court (ICC) regarding Russian war crimes in Ukraine. The Departments of State and Justice as well as the intelligence community support providing the ICC with compelling evidence that has been collected by the Central Intelligence Agency and other intelligence organizations. The Department of Defense, however, is resisting the sharing of such intelligence, citing the danger of a precedent that could be used by the ICC to prosecute American soldiers. Unlike former presidents, President Joe Biden should stand up to the Pentagon and permit the sharing of our intelligence.
The Clinton administration’s handling of the Treaty of Rome, which was enacted in 1998 to create the ICC, is an excellent example of presidential cowardice. President Clinton had a history of caving into the right-wing opposition and the military establishment. In this case, he signed the Rome Statute but refused to send it to the Senate for ratification. In his first term, pressure from conservatives in the Congress led Clinton to abolish the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency as well as the United States Information Agency. Pressure from the Pentagon also stopped Clinton from supporting various United Nations resolutions to prevent the use of cluster bombs and land mines as well as to prohibit the use of teenagers in combat.
In the first year of his administration, Clinton was faced with a decision to help stop the genocide in Rwanda, but he hid behind the advice of UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright and others to avoid getting involved in stopping this terrible tragedy. The French government was willing to intervene to stop the massacre of the Tutsis, and merely wanted the United States to provide the heavy lift capability to transport French soldiers and their equipment. At that time, only the United States had such a capability.
As for the Rome Statute, President George W. Bush withdrew Clinton’s signature from the agreement in 2002; meanwhile the Congress had passed laws to limit U.S. support of any kind to the ICC. The administration of George H.W. Bush did nothing about the crimes of Serbs against Bosnian and Croatian Moslems in the Balkans in the early 1990s. There was ample of evidence of these crimes collected by Senator Chris Van Hollen, who was serving as a staffer to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at that time.
The Obama administration was unusual in providing rewards for the capture of fugitive warlords in Africa whom the court had indicted, including rebel leaders in Uganda and the Congo. The ICC’s very first judgment took place in 2012 against Congo rebel leader Oyilo for forcing children into military service.
Ironically, when the Obama administration decided to pursue regime change in Libya against Muammar Gaddafi, it justified the use of force on the basis of Gaddafi’s “crimes against the peace.” On this occasion, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UN Ambassador Susan Rice pressed for the use of force.The murder of Gaddafi in 2011 has left Libya as a failed state and a model of domestic horror. The United States could have been accused of a “crime against the peace.”
On an earlier occasion, the Eisenhower administration opened the door to crimes against humanity in the Congo in the late 1950s, when it sanctioned the assassination of Patrice Lumumba. This event opened the way to the emergence of Mobutu Sese Seko, the most brutal leader in Africa’s brutal history.
A series of administrations from Harry Truman’s to Ronald Reagan’s refused to even sign the UN Convention regarding the Punishment of Genocide because of the Pentagon’s opposition to the use of the term “genocide.” It was not until the last year of Reagan’s second term in 1988, that Secretary of State George Shultz and others pressed for a U.S. signature. “Genocide” itself is a relatively new term, created by a Polish jurist, Raphael Lemkin in 1944. Lemkin melded the Greek word “genus,” meaning tribe or race, with the Latin word “cide,” meaning killing. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s own words denying the existence of Ukraine and Ukrainians could be used to make a case against Putin’s genocidal warfare. Like the United States, however, Russia is not a member of the ICC, and the Court cannot pursue cases in absentia.
One of the serious obstacles to preventing future war crimes is the failure for the United States and others to seek accountability for crimes that have been committed. Unfortunately, there is no better example of U.S. hypocrisy regarding human rights and war crimes than the failure to seek accountability for CIA crimes in the wake of 9/11. CIA director George Tenet and deputy director John McLaughlin provided false intelligence to President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell to justify an illegal invasion of Iraq. Tenet and McLaughlin are respectively a managing director at the Allen and Company investment bank and a Distinguished Practioner-in-Residence at the School of International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. Tenet was also a Distinguished Professor in the Practice of Diplomacy at Georgetown University, and left government service with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award that can be given to a civilian.
And it gets worse. The two lawyers at the Department of Justice, John Yoo and Jay Bybee, who prepared the unconscionable “torture memoranda” used by the CIA, are respectively a faculty member at the law school at the University of California and a federal judge. The CIA official, Gina Haspel, who sent the cable that ordered various CIA stations to destroy tapes of torture and abuse eventually received Senate confirmation as the director of CIA.
Early warning did nothing to prevent or address genocidal crimes in Europe or Africa, and the lack of accountability has added to these tragedies. The creation of an international network to share intelligence and coordinate actions could provide some framework for dealing with crimes against humanity. It is high time that we return to Articles 42 and 43 of the United Nations, which allows for member states to create an international peace force to restore international peace and security.