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February 24, 2005

Torturing Our Sovereignty


by Scott Horton

One issue raised in my Feb. 19 interview [stream] [download] of the coincidentally named Scott Horton, director of the International League of Human Rights, was that certain crimes, particularly war crimes, are subject to prosecution by any nation. That is, when the people of a criminal state refuse to hold the individuals in charge accountable when they violate the most basic laws of warfare, foreign powers – whether part of the original dispute or not – may assume the authority to prosecute and punish them.

Following this principle, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) on Nov. 30, 2004 petitioned a German court, on behalf of four Iraqi plaintiffs, to investigate 10 officials in the U.S. government for the policies that led to the brutal torture and murder of individuals at U.S. prisons from Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay to Abu Ghraib, and presumably the extensive network of "Ghost Prisons" maintained by the U.S. all over the world. A German law passed in 2002 ostensibly grants them the authority to do so. On Feb. 10, the German court ruled that it is too early to say whether the United States was unwilling to prosecute, effectively dismissing the case but leaving open the possibility of future action. Scott Horton had filed a brief earlier in the week arguing that there would be no domestic prosecutions of those responsible for the policies, which, despite recent calls for an independent investigation, is almost assuredly correct. It is also clear, as even Richard Perle admits, that the entire invasion of Iraq was illegal by international standards. (Never you mind Article One, Section Eight, Clause Eleven of the Constitution of the United States.)

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was certainly pleased. The court decided just in time for him to attend a great warmonger conference that he was going to have to skip for worries he might be arrested. It might have been fun to see someone apply the Rumsfeld standard of evidence to him, but perhaps, as with Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, it shall never be.

So far, our government has prosecuted a few "rotten apples," though only the ones stupid enough to let themselves be photographed, and they apparently hope that by repeating the lie that the night shift at Abu Ghraib just happened to be made up of a small crew of particularly sadistic Appalachian folk, the American people will forget. As long as we don't demand accountability, they are safe.

The American media have been of little help on this issue. Remember that 60 Minutes, on official request, withheld its initial Abu Ghraib story for two weeks until the story was coming out anyway, and most still won't even call it torture. If not for the relentless pursuit of the truth by Seymour Hersh we probably still wouldn't know that Donald Rumsfeld had created a "Special Access Program" to violate the most basic human dignity of so many innocent people – not to mention violating U.S. federal law as well as the Geneva Conventions.

When the CCR filed with the German court, they said it was a last resort because of domestic inaction and the fact that the United States had "refused to join the International Criminal Court." This is not entirely accurate, but it is clear that the U.S. government would never allow one of its own current or former employees to be taken away by a foreign state.

This is illustrative of a larger problem. The United States has nurtured and sustained the broadening and deepening of international law to apply in many ways to every nation on earth. Any state that doesn't go along (apparently sometimes even if they do) with the "international community" is deemed a "rogue state" that must be assimilated – often by the United States armed forces.

As current victims of U.S. military "stop-loss" orders are finding out, those who enforce the contract do not have to abide by it. With the end of the Cold War, the U.S. did not leave NATO, bring its troops home, and dismantle the central state as promised. Instead, George Bush the First immediately began searching for new enemies to fight and "laws" to enforce. Take Manuel Noriega. In 1988 Bush Sr., in the name of enforcing American drug laws on foreign soil, a highly questionable legal theory at best, invaded Panama to arrest that former agent. This "application of the law" resulted in the deaths of 2,500 to 4,000 civilians. The first invasion of Iraq to enforce a UN resolution was principally an American effort, which, after twelve years of sanctions and continual bombing of the "no-fly zones," turned out to provoke our current conflicts, as confirmed by former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer on my show the week before Horton.

Bill Clinton's many overseas adventures, including the war against Serbia, based on terrifically inflated numbers of dead Kosovar Albanians, helped greatly in making America a violent hypocrite in the eyes of many around the world, and also set further precedents for international trials.

Since 9/11, people around the world have seen the United States take all of this to its logical extreme. We will "end states" that "support terror," whether they had anything to do with the attack or not. They have seen us bomb wedding parties, install puppet regimes, and attack a nation that was not involved and threaten many more. They have seen our military raze Fallujah to the ground, and they have seen hard evidence of the most atrocious crimes against those in U.S. custody. Instead of "world policeman," America is now the corrupt congressman or the drug dealing cop.

To top it off, George W. Bush and his cronies used the excuse of enforcing international law when invading Iraq:

"The conduct of the Iraqi regime is a threat to the authority of the United Nations and a threat to peace. Iraq has answered a decade of UN demands with a decade of defiance. All the world now faces a test, and the United Nations a difficult and defining moment. Are Security Council resolutions to be honored and enforced, or cast aside without consequence? Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding, or will it be irrelevant? The United States helped found the United Nations. We want the United Nations to be effective, and respectful [sic], and successful. We want the resolutions of the world's most important multilateral body to be enforced."

Why the American people tolerate all of this torture and hypocrisy is open to debate, but we seem to love being on the winning team, and would rather believe unbelievable lies than take it as our own responsibility to stop criminal actions based on them.

Though seeing Americans one day in foreign courts, deprived of their far superior (and sorely missed) Bill of Rights, would be terrible, we must recognize that the current state of affairs, where the enforcer of world law claims in every case that those same laws do not apply to itself, cannot continue. The world will not tolerate being ruled by 6 percent in faraway North America for long. If we keep this up, and all indications are that we will, the U.S. may be in danger of attaining official "rogue state" status itself. With the current administration's record of pushing all of our rivals into each other's arms, and its monumental wasting of our country's wealth, it is not inconceivable that we could soon be in a situation where we are no longer protected from the rulings of foreign judges.

Scott Horton says there is a lot more torture evidence waiting to be released.

It is far past time to get serious about whether or not we will hold our government to the laws it enforces. We had better, before other countries do.

 

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  • Scott Horton is an assistant editor at Antiwar.com and the director of Antiwar Radio.

    For more audio/video pieces, including previous interviews by Scott, click here.

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