May 20, 2002
Well, it's pretty much official now -- any treaty signed with the United States of America is not worth the paper it's printed on. An AFP newswire story from May 5, 2002, states baldly that "...US will...assert that it will not be bound by the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, a 1969 pact that outlines the obligations of nations to obey other international treaties." The United States is above and beyond any human law.
This does not prevent them from sitting in judgment (and sometimes in execution) on less fortunate human beings, who happen not to be born with the stars-and-stripes tattooed prominently on their foreheads. The United States funds and staffs such kangaroo courts as The Hague Tribunal (the one whose sole responsibility is running to ground and, if necessary, producing rabbit-out-of-evidence for convicting Serbs in the former Yugoslavia) and assumes the responsibility of trying heads of other nations -- largely for the crimes of doing things against the will and/or the instructions of Uncle Sam.
This time, the furor was kicked off by the Bush Administration's announcement that it will formally renounce any involvement in the setting up of an International Court. The signing of the treaty by the Clinton Administration has been declared, by Imperial Fiat, "no longer valid," and the document will not even be presented to the Senate for discussion or ratification. An international treaty, ratified by more than sixty nations and signed by a duly elected president of the United States, has been repudiated for the simple reason that it is inconvenient -- what does this say about the legitimacy of any given government administration of the United States? News flash, America. The rest of the world exists in longer time units than the four or eight years between American administration changeovers. The rest of the world requires some reassurance that an agreement which they arrive at with any given administration is not simply going to be torn up four years down the line.
The Bush administration argues that the International Court has the potential to create "havoc" for the United States. An administration official stated that the USA thinks it was a mistake to have signed the treaty, which will "expose US personnel overseas to capricious and mischievous prosecutions." The renunciation, naturally, means that the US will not recognise an International Court's jurisdiction, or be bound by any of its orders.
Critics of the International Court say that submission to such a court will lead to a degradation in the quality of justice afforded to US citizens. We will not even go into the current "quality of justice" dispensed in the United States under the draconian new "terrorism age" laws -- by this stage the rape of the spirit of the US constitution and its Amendments is well enough known. Things have gone from bad to worse -- as a seventy-year-old African American grandmother, whose name bears a passing similarity to the probably pseudonymous name on record for a (thirty-something, male, Caucasian) terrorist suspect, has found to her cost when airline personnel refused her permission to board an aircraft because she triggered a secret security alarm.
Floundering internally -- what with the Patriot Act and its permission to know everything about everyone (unless you happen to be sufficiently high in the hierarchy, in which case it is probable that you will not be audited for suspicious activities) -- and wading ever deeper into international hypocrisy, the United States, it is telling that a former White House constitutional law adviser Lee Casey states that his "key concern" is not the crimes that legitimately fall under international law -- war crimes, genocide, that sort of thing -- but rather "...who interprets the law and who enforces it." In other words, as long as it is the United States which is interpreting and enforcing the law, things are fine. As soon as the spotlight of any such law is turned on any American activity, things are very much not fine. The Hague Tribunal is notorious for its secret evidence, sealed indictments, relying on hearsay and otherwise dubious evidence -- but all these things are just fine for that court's financial and political backer, America. After all, America is not in the dock here.
David Davenport of the Hoover Institution puts it this way: "We are not seeking special treatment. We are concerned about any nation giving up its sovereignty to a court of international law."
Yugoslavia, then, obviously doesn't even merit being called a "nation;" its sovereignty had been trampled into the mud long before The Hague Tribunal was set up to legitimise this so that the politicians (mostly American) can put their consciences to rest. America is in denial -- "There is no nation but the Nation, and that is us. (Or US, if you prefer)."
There has even been talk in Congress about American troops being used to extract any American citizen arraigned under any court at all. That is any American citizen -- down to the least infantry grunt. Statespersons and politicians are a higher kind of animal; for them, presumably, it would be okay to use napalm, the occasional Tomahawk missile, and even small nukes.
God help us all if Yugoslavia decided to play by the same rules and waded in to "rescue" Slobodan Milosevic from The Hague.
But it's the same old story. Power and justice are not easy bedfellows -- he who has the power is above justice. The adage about the pen (of jurisprudence) being mightier than the sword has been turned into a mockery of itself, dripping with sarcasm, a bedtime story for the irretrievably naïve.
· · · · · ·
ICC Fails Tests of American Justice
Judge jails writer for contempt of court (First Amendment issues)
Key House panel targets international tribunal (use of force to "rescue" Americans held by the ICC)
Aleksandra Priestfield is a writer and an editor. She contributes her regular columns to Swans.
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