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The Problem with Mahmoud Abbas and His Authority January 8, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Palestine.
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Roger’s note: apart from Israel’s apologists, analysis of the Israel/Arab quagmire tends to focus on US backed Israeli atrocities and violations of international law, and rightly so.  Nevertheless, the situation cannot be understood as simply a good guy/bad guy dichotomy between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.  Here we see a critical examination of the corruption that the Palestinian peoples suffer at the hands of their own leadership.

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by RAMZY BAROUD

It was the moment many had been waiting for. On January 2, Palestine’s United Nations envoy, Riyad Mansour formally requested membership at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“We are seeking justice for all the victims that have been killed by Israel, the occupying power,” he said.

There was no explanation why Palestine’s membership of the Rome Statute (through which the ICC is governed) was delayed in the first place; of why no justice was ever sought for thousands of victims in Gaza, and many in the West Bank and Jerusalem, although such membership would have been granted much earlier.

In fact, in 2012, Palestine’s status at the UN was upgraded, from an observer entity to an ‘observer state’. The move was largely symbolic, since it was an attempt at breathing life in the two-state-solution, which was long dead. But it had one single practical benefit – the coveted membership at the ICC. Finally, Israel could be held accountable for its war crimes; finally, a measure of justice was possible.

Shifting Strategy?

Yet, for two years, the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas delayed. Not only did Abbas hesitate and carry on with the same tired charade of peace process, but he seemed keen on ensuring that Palestinian unity, even if achieved politically, remained pointless and ineffective.

But isn’t it better late than never?

Agency France Press described Abbas’ move as a “shift in strategy .. away from the US-led negotiation process.” Indeed, the US seemed peeved by the move, describing it as “counterproductive”. It will take some imagination to consider what a ‘productive’ alternative might be, considering that the US’ unhinged bias, and unconditional support of Israel had emboldened the rightwing government of Benjamin Netanyahu into carrying out the most hideous of war crimes.

Yet this is not exactly about the killing of nearly 2,200 Palestinians, mostly civilians during the 51-day Israeli war on Gaza last summer. Nor is it about the more than the 400 children who were killed then. Or even the siege on the Strip, the occupation and illegal settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Certainly Abbas had numerous chances to admonish Israel in the past, cement unity among his people, use his leverage with Egypt to at least ease the siege on Gaza, devise a strategy that is centered around national liberation (not state-building of a state that doesn’t exist), end the ongoing theft of Palestinian resources by the PA itself, establish a system of accountability, and so on. Instead, he kept his faith in Washington, playing the wait-and-see game of Secretary of State John Kerry centered on a single premise: pleading with Netanyahu to change his ways and freeze settlement construction, which never happened.

Conventional analysis suggests that Abbas’s ICC move was the direct outcome of the expected failure of a UN Security Council resolution that was put to vote a few days earlier. The US, Israel’s main political guardian was, naturally expected to veto the resolution, which would have imposed a deadline on Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territories. The US used the veto, and only eight member states voted in approval. A day later, Abbas signed the application for the ICC, among others; the following day, the application was formally submitted.

But a ‘shift in strategy’ it was not.

Abbas’ Balancing Act

The current political strategy of the PA reflects the unique qualities of Abbas himself, and is a testimony to his impressive abilities to find the right political balance, ultimately aimed at assuring his survival at the helm.

If Abbas’s own political subsistence largely depends on Israel’s acquiescent and US backing, one can rarely imagine a scenario in which Netanyahu and his war generals are arraigned as war criminals before the ICC.

It is unconceivable that Abbas had finally decided to break away from the restrictive role of being an active member of the US managed club of Arab ‘moderates’.

To do so, it would mean that Abbas is ready to risk it all for the sake of his people, which would be a major departure from everything that Abbas – the ‘pragmatic’, ‘moderate’ and conveniently corrupt Arab leader – has ever stood for.

So what is Abbas up to exactly?

Since the late 1970’s, Abbas began his quest for an elusive peace with Israel, which ultimately lead to the signing of the Oslo accords in Sep 1993. It was Abbas himself that signed the accords on behalf of the PLO.

Let alone that the accords wrought disaster on Palestinians, and failed to meet a single deadline including the final status agreement, which was meant to actualize in May 1999; it introduced a bizarre culture of revolutionaries-turned-millionaires, operating within the confines of militarily occupied Palestinian territories.

Year after year, the corrupt PA maintained its privileges as Israel strengthened its occupation. It was a massive barter that seemed to suit the interests of Israel, selected Palestinians, and of course, the US itself, which, along with its allies funded the whole scheme.

Ten Years of Tragedy

Late leader Yasser Arafat was clearly not suitable for the job expected of him. Flexible at times as he was, he still had political boundaries that he would not cross. In 2003, Abbas, the ‘moderate’ was imposed on Arafat by both Israel and the US as a prime minister, a post that was invented with the sole purpose of containing Arafat’s control. Following a brief power struggle, Abbas resigned. Shortly afterwards, Arafat died from possible poisoning, and Abbas returned to power, this time unchallenged.

Abbas’ mandate, starting January 15, 2004, should have ended in early 2009. But he decided to extend it by another year, and another, and has since then ruled over the fragmented, occupied nation, with the help of Israel, without a shred of legitimacy, except what he, and his supporters bestow on him.

It has been almost exactly a decade since Abbas ruled over Palestinians. They were years of tragedy, political failure, economic crisis, disunity, and unprecedented corruption.

Yes, the 80-year-old leader has survived, partly because Israel found him the most flexible of all Palestinians (he wouldn’t end security coordination with Israel even after he himself described as the genocidal war on Gaza); the Americans too wanted him to remain in his post, for there is yet to be an alternative leader, who places US-Israeli priority ahead of his own people.

But he also survived because he used billions of dollars funneled by international donors to construct a welfare system, creating a class of Palestinian Nouveau riche, whose wealth was a result of the occupation, not despite it. While the new rich basked in their underserved wealth, the fate of millions of Palestinians were tied to pay checks, which were not the outcome of a productive economy but international handouts.

While Israel was spared the burden of looking after the welfare of the occupied Palestinians as dictated by the Geneva and other conventions, it was left with abundance of funds to expand its illegal settlements.

Somehow it all worked out for all parties involved, save the Palestinian people.

The Search for ‘Victory’

In a sense, Abbas was never really a leader of his people as he didn’t place Palestinian national priority as the prime motivator of his action. At best, he was a political manger, whose management strategy is predicated on finding political balances, and catering to those with greater power and influence.

Following the expiration of Kerry’s deadline of April 29, 2014 aimed at reaching a final status agreement, and another major Israeli war on Gaza that ignited massive anger in the West Bank, which is itself on the verge of an uprising, Abbas’s burden was too heavy to bear

To create distractions, and to deny the Gaza resistance any claim on victory, he began to hunt for his own ‘victory’, which he would then promote back in Ramallah, amid major fanfare and celebration of his supporters. With every such symbolic victory, Palestinians were inundated with new songs of Abbas’ supposed heroism, as his mouthpieces traveled the globe in a desperate attempt to reassert Abbas, and the PA’s relevance.

And after much of delay and haggle, Abbas was forced by sheer circumstance to resort to the ICC, not to criminalize Israel, but to win political leverage, and to send a message to Israel, the US and others that he still matters.

The move to join the ICC has little to do with the war crimes in Gaza, and much with Abbas’ growing unimportance among his allies, but also his own people.

The problem with Abbas, however, is bigger than Abbas himself. The ailment lies in the very political culture and class that sustained and benefited from political corruption for over 20 years.

Even when ‘President Abbas’ is shoved aside, due to old age or whatever else, the malaise will persist; that is until the Palestinians challenge the very culture that Abbas has painstakingly constructed with US money, and an Israeli nod.

Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. He is currently completing his PhD studies at the University of Exeter. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).

 

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Palestine and the ICC January 5, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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Roger’s note: One would have to be blind (and so many are!) not to see that the current government of Israel is in no way interested in a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians, that “talks” are no more than a stalling tactic used while smothering the Palestinians via warfare and settlements.  I have always found Robert Fisk, who has lived in and reported on the Middle East for decades, to be a reliable analyst.

A Gory Pandora’s Box
by ROBERT FISK

Throw an old dog a bone and sure enough, he’ll go chasing after it. So it is with “Palestine’s” request to join the International Criminal Court. An obvious attempt by Mahmoud Abbas to try Israel for war crimes in Gaza this year, we are told.

Or maybe a “two-edged sword” – yawns are permitted for such clichés – which could also put Hamas “in the dock”. Israel was outraged. The US was “strongly opposed” to such a dastardly request by the elderly potentate who thinks he rules a state which doesn’t even exist.

But hold on a moment. That isn’t the story, is it? Surely the real narrative is totally different. The BBC didn’t get this. Nor CNN. Nor even Al Jazeera. But surely the most significant event of all is that the descendants of the PLO – excoriated only a quarter of a century ago as the most dangerous “terrorist” organisation in the world, its mendacious leader Yasser Arafat branded “our Bin Laden” by Israel’s mendacious leader Ariel Sharon – actually wants TO ABIDE BY INTERNATIONAL LAW!

Heavens preserve us from such a thought, but these chappies – after all their past calls for Israel’s extinction, after all the suicide bombings and intifadas – are asking to join one of the most prestigious judicial bodies on earth. For years, the Palestinians have demanded justice. They went to the international court in The Hague to have Israel’s apartheid wall dismantled – they even won, and Israel didn’t give a hoot. Any sane Palestinian, you might think, would long ago have turned his or her back on such peaceful initiatives.

Yet still these wretched Palestinians persist, after this most humiliating of insults, in resorting to international law to resolve their conflict with Israel. Here they go again, dutifully seeking membership of the International Criminal Court. Will these Arabs never learn?

And of course, the Americans are threatening to punish such effrontery. Stop those millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians. Stand by Israel’s refusal to accept any such approach to the International Criminal Court by “Palestine”. The EU – especially Britain and France – have gone along with this tosh. Israel has already decided to stop more than £80m in tax owed to the Palestinian authority.

The US State Department’s spokesman told us that his government is “deeply troubled” by the Palestinian application. It is “entirely counterproductive”, he informed the world. It does “nothing to further the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a sovereign state” – though one might have thought that membership of so august a judicial body would have done a lot to persuade the world that Palestinians were ready to shoulder all the burdens of statehood.

After all, the Palestinians would indeed have to abide by international law and – if the law applied retrospectively – they would have to carry the burden of opprobrium themselves for both Hamas crimes and past PLO murders. The United States, of course – and this fact oddly did not feature in the flurry of news reports on “Palestine’s” request to join – has itself refused to join the International Criminal Court. And with good reason; because, like the Israelis – although this is not quite how the whole fandango was explained to us – Washington is also worried that its soldiers and government officials will be arraigned for war crimes. Think waterboarding, Abu Ghraib, the report on CIA torture…

No wonder Jeffrey Rathke, the windbag who speaks for the State Department, says that the Palestinian request “badly damages the atmosphere” with Israel, “undermines trust” and “creates doubts about their (Palestinian) commitment to a negotiated peace”. And remember, Abbas only made his request after America had vetoed – and it has used its veto more than 40 times on Israel’s behalf to reject Palestine’s self-determination since 1975 – a UN Security Council resolution to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land by 2017.

But of course, what this whole kerfuffle is really about is quite simple. The world is tired of witnessing the suffering of Palestinians. Those with an ounce of human sympathy are sickened at being slandered as anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist (whatever that is) every time they express their outrage at Israel’s cruelty towards the Palestinians.

Killing more than 2,000 Palestinians last summer, hundreds of them children, was a mass slaughter. We’ve watched this grotesquerie so many times now – in Gaza, for the most part – that even our statistics have become spattered with blood.

Who now recalls the fatalities of the 2008-9 Gaza war? One thousand four hundred and seventeen Palestinians dead, 313 of them children, more than 5,500 wounded. That was the conflict upon which President-elect Obama had no comment to make.

And who knows what other gory Pandora’s box ICC membership would open? That bomber pilot who in 2002 killed 15 civilians, 11 of them children, in a Gaza apartment block to assassinate a Hamas official, for example? Wouldn’t that constitute a war crime? Don’t these outrages “damage the atmosphere” and “undermine trust”. Were these bloodbaths not “entirely counterproductive”? And the Jewish colonisation of the occupied West Bank?

Sure, bang up those behind Hamas and Islamic Jihad suicide attacks for war crimes. Get the Palestinian Authority thugs who torture and murder their own prisoners. But that’s not what Israel and the US are worried about. They are concerned that, after months of arguing and rowing and delving through thousands of documents, jurists may decide that Israel – horror of horror – may have to answer for itself before international justice, something which no routine US veto could prevent.

Now just imagine if Israel and America wanted the Palestinians to sign the Rome document. Conjure the thought – for a split-second only – that Israel and America insisted that the Palestinians must abide by an international treaty and become members of the International Criminal Court to qualify for statehood. Abbas’s refusal to do so would be further proof of his “terrorist” intentions. Yet when Abbas does sign the Rome document, when the Palestinians want to abide by an international treaty, they must be punished – surely a “first” in modern history.

I can only think of two phrases that fit the bill for this scandal of the West’s politicians. Confound their politics. Frustrate their knavish tricks.

The impasse in the Middle East in a nutshell

Apropos of which… Avi Shlaim, among the finest of Israeli historians, has just brought out a new edition of his great work The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World. “The prospect of a real change in American foreign policy looks slim to non-existent,” he writes. “Nor is there at present any evidence to suggest that Israel’s leaders are remotely interested in a genuine two-state solution… They seem oblivious to the damage that the occupation is doing to their society and to the reputation of their country abroad.” That’s it in a nutshell, isn’t it?

Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared. 

 

Archbishop Desmond Tutu: Bush and Blair Should Be Sent to The Hague September 2, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, George W. Bush, Iraq and Afghanistan.
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Why I had no choice but to spurn Tony Blair

I couldn’t sit with someone who justified the invasion of Iraq with a lie

Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu: pulled out of a seminar which Tony Blair was scheduled to attend. Photograph: Str/REUTERS

The immorality of the United States and Great Britain’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003, premised on the lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, has destabilised and polarised the world to a greater extent than any other conflict in history.

Instead of recognising that the world we lived in, with increasingly sophisticated communications, transportations and weapons systems necessitated sophisticated leadership that would bring the global family together, the then-leaders of the US and UK fabricated the grounds to behave like playground bullies and drive us further apart. They have driven us to the edge of a precipice where we now stand – with the spectre of Syria and Iran before us.

If leaders may lie, then who should tell the truth? Days before George W Bush and Tony Blair ordered the invasion of Iraq, I called the White House and spoke to Condoleezza Rice, who was then national security adviser, to urge that United Nations weapons inspectors be given more time to confirm or deny the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Should they be able to confirm finding such weapons, I argued, dismantling the threat would have the support of virtually the entire world. Ms Rice demurred, saying there was too much risk and the president would not postpone any longer.

On what grounds do we decide that Robert Mugabe should go the International Criminal Court, Tony Blair should join the international speakers’ circuit, bin Laden should be assassinated, but Iraq should be invaded, not because it possesses weapons of mass destruction, as Mr Bush’s chief supporter, Mr Blair, confessed last week, but in order to get rid of Saddam Hussein?

The cost of the decision to rid Iraq of its by-all-accounts despotic and murderous leader has been staggering, beginning in Iraq itself. Last year, an average of 6.5 people died there each day in suicide attacks and vehicle bombs, according to the Iraqi Body Count project. More than 110,000 Iraqis have died in the conflict since 2003 and millions have been displaced. By the end of last year, nearly 4,500 American soldiers had been killed and more than 32,000 wounded.

On these grounds alone, in a consistent world, those responsible for this suffering and loss of life should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in the Hague.

But even greater costs have been exacted beyond the killing fields, in the hardened hearts and minds of members of the human family across the world.

Has the potential for terrorist attacks decreased? To what extent have we succeeded in bringing the so-called Muslim and Judeo-Christian worlds closer together, in sowing the seeds of understanding and hope?

Leadership and morality are indivisible. Good leaders are the custodians of morality. The question is not whether Saddam Hussein was good or bad or how many of his people he massacred. The point is that Mr Bush and Mr Blair should not have allowed themselves to stoop to his immoral level.

If it is acceptable for leaders to take drastic action on the basis of a lie, without an acknowledgement or an apology when they are found out, what should we teach our children?

My appeal to Mr Blair is not to talk about leadership, but to demonstrate it. You are a member of our family, God’s family. You are made for goodness, for honesty, for morality, for love; so are our brothers and sisters in Iraq, in the US, in Syria, in Israel and Iran.

I did not deem it appropriate to have this discussion at the Discovery Invest Leadership Summit in Johannesburg last week. As the date drew nearer, I felt an increasingly profound sense of discomfort about attending a summit on “leadership” with Mr Blair. I extend my humblest and sincerest apologies to Discovery, the summit organisers, the speakers and delegates for the lateness of my decision not to attend.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu: Bush and Blair Should Be Sent to The Hague September 2, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, George W. Bush, Iraq and Afghanistan.
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Why I had no choice but to spurn Tony Blair

I couldn’t sit with someone who justified the invasion of Iraq with a lie

 

Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu: pulled out of a seminar which Tony Blair was scheduled to attend. Photograph: Str/REUTERS

The immorality of the United States and Great Britain’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003, premised on the lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, has destabilised and polarised the world to a greater extent than any other conflict in history.

Instead of recognising that the world we lived in, with increasingly sophisticated communications, transportations and weapons systems necessitated sophisticated leadership that would bring the global family together, the then-leaders of the US and UK fabricated the grounds to behave like playground bullies and drive us further apart. They have driven us to the edge of a precipice where we now stand – with the spectre of Syria and Iran before us.

If leaders may lie, then who should tell the truth? Days before George W Bush and Tony Blair ordered the invasion of Iraq, I called the White House and spoke to Condoleezza Rice, who was then national security adviser, to urge that United Nations weapons inspectors be given more time to confirm or deny the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Should they be able to confirm finding such weapons, I argued, dismantling the threat would have the support of virtually the entire world. Ms Rice demurred, saying there was too much risk and the president would not postpone any longer.

On what grounds do we decide that Robert Mugabe should go the International Criminal Court, Tony Blair should join the international speakers’ circuit, bin Laden should be assassinated, but Iraq should be invaded, not because it possesses weapons of mass destruction, as Mr Bush’s chief supporter, Mr Blair, confessed last week, but in order to get rid of Saddam Hussein?

The cost of the decision to rid Iraq of its by-all-accounts despotic and murderous leader has been staggering, beginning in Iraq itself. Last year, an average of 6.5 people died there each day in suicide attacks and vehicle bombs, according to the Iraqi Body Count project. More than 110,000 Iraqis have died in the conflict since 2003 and millions have been displaced. By the end of last year, nearly 4,500 American soldiers had been killed and more than 32,000 wounded.

On these grounds alone, in a consistent world, those responsible for this suffering and loss of life should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in the Hague.

But even greater costs have been exacted beyond the killing fields, in the hardened hearts and minds of members of the human family across the world.

Has the potential for terrorist attacks decreased? To what extent have we succeeded in bringing the so-called Muslim and Judeo-Christian worlds closer together, in sowing the seeds of understanding and hope?

Leadership and morality are indivisible. Good leaders are the custodians of morality. The question is not whether Saddam Hussein was good or bad or how many of his people he massacred. The point is that Mr Bush and Mr Blair should not have allowed themselves to stoop to his immoral level.

If it is acceptable for leaders to take drastic action on the basis of a lie, without an acknowledgement or an apology when they are found out, what should we teach our children?

My appeal to Mr Blair is not to talk about leadership, but to demonstrate it. You are a member of our family, God’s family. You are made for goodness, for honesty, for morality, for love; so are our brothers and sisters in Iraq, in the US, in Syria, in Israel and Iran.

I did not deem it appropriate to have this discussion at the Discovery Invest Leadership Summit in Johannesburg last week. As the date drew nearer, I felt an increasingly profound sense of discomfort about attending a summit on “leadership” with Mr Blair. I extend my humblest and sincerest apologies to Discovery, the summit organisers, the speakers and delegates for the lateness of my decision not to attend.

Conflict in the Congo a resource war waged by US and British allies March 7, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa.
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congo

by Kambale Musavuli (Posted by Rady Ananda)

www.opednews.com, March 7, 2009

Since Rwanda and Uganda invaded the Congo in 1996, they have pursued a plan to appropriate the wealth of Eastern Congo either directly or through proxy forces. The December 2008 United Nations report is the latest in a series of U.N. reports dating from 2001 that clearly documents the systematic looting and appropriation of Congolese resources by Rwanda and Uganda, two of Washington and London’s staunchest allies in Africa.

However, in the wake of the December 2008 report, which clearly documents Rwanda’s support of destabilizing proxy forces inside the Congo, a series of stunning proposals and actions have been presented which all appear to be an attempt to cover up or bury the damning U.N. report on the latest expression of Rwanda’s aggression against the Congolese people.

The earliest proposal came from Herman Cohen, former assistant secretary of state for African affairs under George Herbert Walker Bush. He proposed that Rwanda be rewarded for its well documented looting of Congo’s wealth by being a part of a Central and/or East African free trade zone whereby Rwanda would keep its ill-gotten gains.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy would not be outdone; he also brought his proposal off the shelf, which argues for essentially the same scheme of rewarding Rwanda for its 12-year war booty from the Congo. Two elements are at the core of both proposals.

One is the legitimization of the economic annexation of the Congo by Rwanda, which for all intents and purposes represents the status quo. And two is basically the laying of the foundation for the balkanization of the Congo or the outright political annexation of Eastern Congo by Rwanda. Both Sarkozy and Cohen have moved with lightning speed past the Dec. 12, 2008, United Nations report to make proposals that avoid the core issues revealed in the report.

The U.N. report reaffirms what Congolese intellectuals, scholars and victims have been saying for over a decade in regard to Rwanda’s role as the main catalyst for the biblical scale death and misery in the Congo. The Ugandan and Rwandan invasions of 1996 and 1998 have triggered the deaths of nearly 6 million Congolese. The United Nations says it is the deadliest conflict in the world since World War II.

The report “found evidence that the Rwandan authorities have been complicit in the recruitment of soldiers, including children, have facilitated the supply of military equipment, and have sent officers and units from the Rwandan Defense Forces” to the DRC. The support is for the National Congress for the Defense of the People, or CNDP, formerly led by self-proclaimed Gen. Laurent Nkunda.

The report also shows that the CNDP is sheltering a war criminal wanted by the International Criminal Court, Gen. Jean Bosco Ntaganda. The CNDP has used Rwanda as a rear base for fundraising meetings and bank accounts, and Uganda is once more implicated as Nkunda has met regularly with embassies in both Kigali and Kampala.

Also, Uganda is accepting illegal CNDP immigration papers. Earlier U.N. reports said that Kagame and Museveni are the mafia dons of Congo’s exploitation. This has not changed in any substantive way.

The report implicates Tribert Rujugiro Ayabatwa, a close advisor to Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda. Rujugiro is the founder of the Rwandan Investment Group. This is not the first time he has been named by the United Nations as one of the individuals contributing to the conflict in the Congo.

In April 2001, he was identified as Tibere Rujigiro in the U.N. Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as one of the figures illegally exploiting Congo’s wealth. His implication this time comes in financial contributions to CNDP and appropriation of land.

This brings to light the organizations he is a part of, which include but are not limited to the Rwanda Development Board, the Rwandan Investment Group, of which he is the founder, and Kagame’s Presidential Advisory Council. They have members as notable as Rev. Rick Warren, business tycoon Joe Ritchie, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Scott Ford of Alltell, Dr. Clet Niyikiza of GlaxoSmithKline, former U.S. President Bill Clinton and many more.

These connections provide some insight into why Rwanda has been able to commit and support remarkable atrocities in the Congo without receiving even a reprimand in spite of the fact that two European courts have charged their top leadership with war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is only recently that two European nations, Sweden and the Netherlands, have decided to withhold aid from Rwanda as a result of its aggression against the Congolese people.

The report shows that the Congolese soldiers have also given support to the FDLR and other armed groups to fight against the aggression of Rwanda’s CNDP proxy. One important distinction must be made in this regard. It appears that the FDLR support comes more from individual Congolese soldiers as opposed to overall government support.

The Congolese government is not supporting the FDLR in incursions into Rwanda; however, the Rwandan government is in fact supporting rebel groups inside Congo. The Congolese population is the victim of the CNDP, FDLR and the Congolese military.

The United Nations report is a predictable outgrowth of previous reports produced by the U.N. since 2001. It reflects the continued appropriation of the land, theft of Congo’s resources, and continuous human rights abuses caused by Rwanda and Uganda. An apparent aim of these spasms is to create facts on the ground — land expropriation, theft of cattle and other assets — to consolidate CNDP/Rwandan economic integration into Rwanda.

Herman Cohen’s “Can Africa Trade Its Way to Peace?” in the New York Times reflects the disastrous policies that favor profits over people. In his article, the former lobbyist for Mobutu and Kabila’s government in the United States and former assistant secretary of state for Africa from 1989 to 1993 argues, “Having controlled the Kivu provinces for 12 years, Rwanda will not relinquish access to resources that constitute a significant percentage of its gross national product.”

He adds, “The normal flow of trade from eastern Congo is to Indian Ocean ports rather than the Atlantic Ocean, which is more than a thousand miles away.” Continuing his argument, he believes that “the free movement of people would empty the refugee camps and would allow the densely populated countries of Rwanda and Burundi to supply needed labor to Congo and Tanzania.”

Cohen’s first mistake in providing solutions to the conflict is to look at the conflict as a humanitarian crisis that can be solved by economic means. Uganda and Rwanda are the aggressors. Aggressors should not define for the Congo what is best, but rather it is for the Congo to define what it has to offer to its neighbor.

A lasting solution is to stop the silent annexation of Eastern Congo. The International Court of Justice has already weighed in on this matter when it ruled in 2005 that Congo is entitled to $10 billion in reparations due to Uganda’s looting of Congo’s natural resources and the commission of human rights abuses in the Congo. It would have in all likelihood ruled in the same fashion against Rwanda; however, Rwanda claimed to be outside the jurisdiction of the court.

The United States and Great Britain’s implication is becoming very clear. These two great powers consider Rwanda and Uganda their staunch allies and, some would argue, client states. These two countries have received millions of dollars of military aid, which, in turn, they use in Congo to cause destruction and death.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame is a former student at the U.S. military training base Fort Leavenworth and Yoweri Museveni’s son, Lt. Gen. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, graduated from the same U.S. military college in the summer of 2008. Both the United States and Great Britain should follow the lead of the Dutch and Swedish governments, which have suspended their financial support to Rwanda.

With U.S. and British taxpayers’ support, we now see an estimated 6 million people dead in Congo, hundreds of thousands of women systematically raped as an instrument of war and millions displaced.

A political solution will resolve the crisis, and part of that requires pressure on Rwanda in spite of Rwanda’s recent so-called “house arrest” of Laurent Nkunda. African institutions such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union are primed to be more engaged in the Congo issue. Considering Congo’s importance to Africa, it is remarkable that they have been so anemic in regard to the Congo crisis for so long.

Rwanda’s leader, Paul Kagame, cannot feel as secure or be as arrogant as he has been in the past. One of his top aides was arrested in Germany as a result of warrants issued by a French court and there is almost global consensus that pressure must be put on him to cease his support of the destabilization of the Congo and its resultant humanitarian catastrophe.

In addition to pressure on Kagame, the global community should support the following policies:

1. Initiate an international tribunal on the Congo. 

2. Work with the Congolese to implement a national reconciliation process; this could be a part of the international tribunal.

3. Work with the Congolese to assure that those who have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity are brought to justice.

4. Hold accountable corporations that are benefiting from the suffering and deaths in the Congo. 

5. Make the resolution of the Congo crisis a top international priority.

 

Living is a right, not a privilege, and Congolese deaths must be honored by due process of the law. As the implication of the many parties in this conflict becomes clear, we should start firmly acknowledging that the conflict is a resource war waged by U.S. and British allies.

We call upon people of good will once again to advocate for the Congolese by following the prescriptions we have been outlining to end the conflict and start the new path to peace, harmony and an end to the exploitation of Congo’s wealth and devastation of its peoples. 

Global Research, February 22, 2009
Online Journal – 2009-02-19

War Crimes and Double Standards March 5, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, George W. Bush, Media.
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Robert Parry, March 5, 2009, www.consortiumnews.com

New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof – like many of his American colleagues – is applauding the International Criminal Court’s arrest order against Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for his role in the Darfur conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

In his Thursday column, Kristof describes the plight of an eight-year-old boy named Bakit who blew off his hands picking up a grenade that Kristof suspects was left behind by Bashir’s forces operating on the Chad side of the border with Sudan.

“Bakit became, inadvertently, one more casualty of the havoc and brutality that President Bashir has unleashed in Sudan and surrounding countries,” Kristof wrote. “So let’s applaud the I.C.C.’s arrest warrant, on behalf of children like Bakit who can’t.”

By all accounts, Kristof is a well-meaning journalist who travels to dangerous parts of the world, like Darfur, to report on human rights crimes. However, he also could be a case study of what’s wrong with American journalism.

While Kristof writes movingly about atrocities that can be blamed on Third World despots like Bashir, he won’t hold U.S. officials to the same standards.

Most notably, Kristof doesn’t call for prosecuting former President George W. Bush for war crimes, despite hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have died as a result of Bush’s illegal invasion of their country. Many Iraqi children also don’t have hands – or legs or homes or parents.

But no one in a position of power in American journalism is demanding that former President Bush join President Bashir in the dock at The Hague.

Tortured Commission

As for the unpleasant reality that Bush and his top aides authorized torture of “war on terror” detainees, Kristof suggests only a Republican-dominated commission, including people with close ties to the Bush Family and to Bush’s first national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

“It could be co-chaired by Brent Scowcroft and John McCain, with its conclusions written by Philip Zelikow, a former aide to Condoleezza Rice who wrote the best-selling report of the 9/11 commission,” Kristof wrote in a Jan. 29 column entitled “Putting Torture Behind Us.”

“If the three most prominent members were all Republicans, no one on the Right could denounce it as a witch hunt — and its criticisms would have far more credibility,” Kristof wrote.

“Democrats might begrudge the heavy Republican presence on such a commission, but surely any panel is better than where we’re headed: which is no investigation at all. …

“My bet, based on my conversations with military and intelligence experts, is that such a commission would issue a stinging repudiation of torture that no one could lightly dismiss.”

In an earlier formulation of this plan, Kristof suggested that the truth commission be run, in part, by Bush’s first Secretary of State Colin Powell.

One of the obvious problems with Kristof’s timid proposal is that Rice and Powell were among the senior Bush officials who allegedly sat in on meetings of the Principals Committee that choreographed the abuse and torture of specific detainees.

Zelikow remained a close associate of Rice even after she replaced Powell as Secretary of State. And Scowcroft was President George H.W. Bush’s national security adviser and one of Rice’s key mentors.

It’s also not true that any investigation is always better than no investigation. I have witnessed cover-up investigations that not only failed to get anywhere near the truth but tried to discredit and destroy whistleblowers who came forward with important evidence. [For examples, see Secrecy & Privilege.]

In other words, bogus and self-interested investigations can advance bogus and self-interested history, which only emboldens corrupt officials to commit similar crimes again.

No Other Context

Kristof’s vision of having President Bush’s friends, allies and even co-conspirators handle the investigation of Bush’s crimes would be considered laughable if placed in any other context.

But Kristof’s cockeyed scheme passes almost as conventional wisdom in today’s Washington.

On Wednesday, the Washington Post assigned its satirical writer, Dana Milbank, to cover – and mock – Sen. Patrick Leahy’s Judiciary Committee hearing on his own plan for a truth commission to examine Bush-era abuses.

Milbank’s clever article opened with the knee-slapping observation: “Let’s be truthful about it. Things aren’t looking so good for the Truth Commission.”

The derisive tone of the article also came as no surprise. Milbank has made a cottage industry out of ridiculing anyone who dares think that President Bush should be held accountable for his crimes.

In 2005, when the Democrats were in the minority and the Republicans gave Rep. John Conyers only a Capitol Hill basement room for a hearing on the Downing Street Memo’s disclosures about “fixed” intelligence to justify the Iraq War, Milbank’s column dripped with sarcasm.

“In the Capitol basement yesterday, long-suffering House Democrats took a trip to the land of make-believe,” Milbank wrote. “They pretended a small conference room was the Judiciary Committee hearing room, draping white linens over folding tables to make them look like witness tables and bringing in cardboard name tags and extra flags to make the whole thing look official.”

And the insults – especially aimed at Conyers – kept on coming. The Michigan Democrat “banged a large wooden gavel and got the other lawmakers to call him ‘Mr. Chairman,’” Milbank wrote snidely. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Mocking the Downing Street Memo.”]

Then, last July, Milbank ridiculed a regular House Judiciary Committee hearing on Bush’s abuses of presidential power. The column ignored the strong case for believing that Bush had violated a number of international and domestic laws, the U.S. Constitution, and honorable American traditions, like George Washington’s prohibition against torture.

Instead, it was time to laugh at the peaceniks. Milbank opened by agreeing with a put-down from Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, calling the session “an anger management class.” Milbank wrote: “House Democrats had called the session … to allow the left wing to vent its collective spleen.”

Milbank then insulted Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who had introduced impeachment resolutions against Bush, by calling the Ohio Democrat “diminutive” and noting that Kucinich’s wife is “much taller” than he is.

What Kucinich’s height had to do with an issue as serious as abuses of presidential power was never made clear. What Milbank did make clear, through his derisive tone and repeated insults, was that the Washington Establishment takes none of Bush’s crimes seriously.

So, Milbank’s mocking of Leahy’s latest initiative fits with this pattern of the past eight years – protecting Bush from the “nut cases” who think international law and war-crimes tribunals should apply to leaders of big countries as well as small ones.

The pattern of “American exceptionalism” also can be seen in Kristof cheering the application of international law against an African tyrant but suggesting that Bush’s offenses should be handled discreetly by his friends.

Journalist Murray Waas often used the saying, “all power is proximate.” I never quite understood what he meant, but my best guess was that Waas was saying that careerists – whether journalists or from other professions – might have the guts to take on someone far away or who lacked power, while ignoring or excusing similar actions by someone close by with the power to hurt them.

That seems to be especially true about Washington and its current cast of “respected” journalists. They can be very tough on President Bashir but only make excuses for President Bush.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.

Prosecuting the Bush Team? March 3, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush.
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Robert Pallitto | March 2, 2009

Foreign Policy in Forus, http://www.fpif.org

In the months following September 11, 2001, lawyers in the White House and the Justice Department interpreted U.S. and international law to provide legal support for the administration in its “war on terror.” With regard to interrogation of terror suspects, John Yoo, David Addington, Jay Bybee, and others justified the use of such harsh and dangerous tactics as waterboarding and stress positions. In a 2002 memo, they advised that only actions causing severe pain equivalent to “organ failure” would violate the U.S. torture law. Moreover, the memo stated that only if they acted with the specific intention to cause such pain — rather than acting with the primary goal of obtaining information — would the interrogators violate the law. Finally, the memo argued that these interrogations were rooted in an inherent executive power to protect the nation. As such, other branches of government could not review or limit such policies.

The architects of the Bush administration’s torture policy clearly wanted to facilitate the use of torture tactics and to insulate themselves from future civil and criminal liability. In the words of legal scholar Jeremy Waldron, they were using the U.S. legal definition of torture as “something to game, a determinate envelope to push.”

A new administration is already taking steps to reverse Bush policies on torture and detention. Will it go the next step and pursue criminal prosecutions of Bush legal advisors?

The Nuremberg Precedent

Scott Horton has suggested that the Reich Justice Ministry cases, which were tried at Nuremberg after World War II, furnish precedent for trying Addington, Yoo, and others. The Reich Ministry cases involved prosecution of judicial officials who crafted policies and justifications for detention and killing of Jews, Roma, and other groups targeted by the Nazi regime. Also included in these prosecutions were judges who subverted the legal process by allowing high-ranking executive branch officials to direct the judges to reach certain results. Horton notes that the rulings in these cases established “a particularly perilous standard of liability for government attorneys who adopt a dismissive attitude towards international humanitarian law.”

To be sure, Bush’s legal advisors were, to say the least, “dismissive” toward international humanitarian law. To take one example, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales called the Geneva Conventions “quaint” and “obsolete.” This attitude wasn’t limited to international law. The Bybee memo cited a federal health care statute to define the term “severe pain” as that term is used in the torture law. Of course, it makes no sense to use a statute concerning payment for medical treatment to authorize inflicting pain on a person. This definitional stretch, which would be laughable in a less serious context, is an indication of the unrestrained determination to find and use anything, no matter how inapposite or farfetched, to take the administration where it wanted to go with its torture policies. Federal court rules allow judges to sanction attorneys for making frivolous arguments. Such a “severe pain” argument should be subject to similar sanction.

The Bush advisors were wrong on the law when they suggested that executive torture policies were unreviewable, and they were wrong in their interpretation of the U.S. criminal law prohibiting torture (they admitted as much when they repudiated the 2002 torture memo two years later). In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006), the U.S. Supreme Court specifically rejected the claim that prisoner treatment need not comply with the Geneva Conventions. On this issue, the Bush team clearly misinterpreted the law and then broke it. But how do we address the damage done to our democratic and constitutional values, to our standing in the world? Should criminal prosecutions be part of that effort, brought either in U.S. federal court or in an international tribunal?

Criminal Prosecutions

U.S. law specifically prohibits torture. It’s a federal crime to commit torture, and the Bush advisors sought to interpret that law in a way that would permit such practices as waterboarding. The advisors’ actions could be considered a conspiracy to violate the torture law. They themselves didn’t engage in prohibited acts of torture, but they made it easier for others to do so.

The problem here is that the actions involved were themselves interpretations of law: State officials were making arguments about what the law meant and suggesting that it should be read narrowly. Horton suggests that lawyers aren’t permitted, in such a case, to “get it wrong” and then be excused for doing so. In the Reich Justice Ministry cases, the judicial officials made decisions and created policies that were later found to be illegal, and many of those officials were convicted of war crimes at Nuremburg. The important difference, however, is that the Reich Justice Ministry officials were complicit in a criminal regime. The structural rules of the government were illegitimate, created by a chief executive (Hitler) to preserve and increase his own power.

In the U.S. case, the structuring rules of government were not illegal. The legislature and the courts continued to function according to the constitution, even though the president tried to shield his actions and those of his administration from review. In several instances — authorizing military action against Iraq, detainee treatment, denial of court review to detainees, immunity for warrantless wiretapping — Congress approved presidential actions, thus making it harder to argue that the government wasn’t operating according to valid law. In fact, Congress even voted to confirm Jay Bybee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit after he left the Bush administration. In short, the government’s actions were illegitimate but the government itself was, unlike that of Nazi Germany, legitimate.

The case for a violation of international law might seem clearer, in a sense. Instead of defining a particular law narrowly as they did with U.S. torture statute, the Bush advisors said that a particular body of international law (the Geneva Conventions) did not apply at all. In other words, with regard to international law, the advisors denied the applicability and constraining force of a law altogether. Moreover, the Supreme Court expressly denied this administration claim in Hamdan. Again, however, the problem here concerns the provision of legal duties or advice as a crime, and specifically with the “fit” of the Nuremburg precedent. The court there held state officials liable for formulating policies and rendering decisions that assisted in a genocidal project and gave obeisance to a plan of government under which, according to the court opinion in the Justice Ministry cases, “Hitler did, in fact, exercise the right assumed by him to act as Supreme Judge, and in that capacity in many instances he controlled the decision of the individual criminal cases.” The court reasoned that this construction of German law left Nazi officials susceptible to prosecution under international law. In the U.S. case, however, the wrongdoing that occurred was done against the background of a political and legal order whose legitimacy wasn’t in doubt. The tripartite federal governmental system specified by the constitution operated throughout the period in question, and this fact distinguishes the two situations. This isn’t to excuse or to diminish what occurred between 2001 and 2008 in the United States. But the Nuremberg case doesn’t furnish an apt precedent for prosecution of the authors of the Bush torture policies.

Political Obstacles

In addition to the legal obstacles to prosecuting the architects of Bush’s torture policies, there are significant political obstacles as well. The United States refused to recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court during the Bush years; Bush revoked the signatory status. Obama has indicated an interest in resigning the ICC agreement, but would he then deliver members of the previous administration to that court for prosecution? The likely partisan political tension and fallout from any prosecution, domestic or international, would create a disincentive for prosecution, especially for a pragmatic, centrist president. To be sure, nothing in Obama’s executive orders thus far suggests that he intends to review past actions of the previous administration for possible criminal sanctions. The executive order relating to torture is written with a prospective focus, declaring that from Inauguration Day forward the torture policies of the Bush administration will no longer be followed, and that the standards the rest of the world adheres to, including the Geneva Conventions, will govern interrogation of terror suspects. While this statement is a welcome return to the rule of law, it leaves the past actions of Bush’s advisors unaddressed.

On February 10, the Obama administration surprised some observers by indicating in court that it would adopt the past administration’s posture in a torture-related case. Jeppesen Dataplan v. Mohamed is a suit against the flight planning company that allegedly facilitated the rendition of a terror suspect to a secret torture location. The Bush administration intervened and convinced the trial court to dismiss the suit, claiming that the case involved state secrets and would threaten national security if it were allowed to proceed. At oral argument in the Ninth Circuit, Attorney General Holder argued that the dismissal should be affirmed, rather than reversing the course set previously by the Bush Justice Department. The state secrets privilege is a court-created doctrine that allows the executive branch to terminate litigation simply by claiming that a particular dispute involves national security matters. Critics of excessive executive power hoped that the new administration would at least modify the scope of the privilege, but that hasn’t happened yet.

Future of Prosecution

Hannah Arendt explored the problem of state crimes in her famous report on the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. Acting according to German law, Eichmann oversaw the transport of Jews and others to concentration camps as part of his administrative position in the German government. Thus, his official responsibility in the time period of the “final solution” was to facilitate genocide. Arendt points out that Eichmann’s trial presented certain novel legal problems: He was a bureaucrat in a criminal regime, following orders to commit monstrous evil. In view of the Nazis’ genocidal project, Eichmann’s conviction and execution was a foregone conclusion, but the problem of prosecuting state-administered torture and killing remains half a century later. Today, with the issue of criminal conduct by members of the Bush administration, Arendt’s question presents itself somewhat differently. Yoo, Addington, Bybee, and others sought to maneuver around legal and political obstacles within a regime outwardly functioning under rule of law. It was they who provided the chief executive with advice and arguments for the policies he wished to implement.

In view of the problems indicated here, it is unlikely that a criminal prosecution of the Bush advisors for their role in propagating torture will occur. This isn’t to say, by any means, that their behavior was lawful. Rather, it’s a recognition of the realities of the situation, both political and legal. Also, the officials themselves worked to shield themselves from liability, helping to create some of the obstacles facing the nation now as we attempt to reckon with the lawlessness of the past administration.

Certainly, the lessons of the past eight years provide a good reason to resign the ICC agreement. Also, the ethics investigations currently pending against individual officials are important, appropriate, and laudable. While they will yield less in the way of punishment, they also face none of the roadblocks indicated above. These roadblocks only underscore the final, painful lesson: Failure to stand up to an overreaching executive branch compounds the damage that branch can inflict on our system of government by making it more difficult ultimately to hold executive officials accountable.

Robert Pallitto is an assistant professor of political science at Seton Hall University, a former trial attorney, and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus. He is co-author, with William Weaver, of Presidential Secrecy and the Law (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007), and he is currently working on a book about torture in U.S. history.

Lawrence Walsh and America’s law-free zone February 17, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush.
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Glenn Greenwald

(updated below)

David Rivkin and Lee Casey are right-wing lawyers and former Reagan DOJ officials who, over the last eight years, have been extremely prolific in jointly defending Bush/Cheney theories of executive power. Today, they have one of their standard Op-Eds, this time in The Washington Post, demanding that there be no investigations or prosecutions of Bush officials.  Most of the arguments they advance are the standard platitudes now composing Beltway conventional wisdom on this matter.  But there is one aspect of their advocacy that is somewhat remarkable and worth noting.

Rivkin and Casey have long been vigorous opponents of the legitimacy of international tribunals to adjudicate crimes committed by American officials.  In February, 2007, they wrote an Op-Ed in the Post bitterly criticizing Italian officials for indicting 25 CIA agents who had literally kidnapped a Muslim cleric from Italy and “rendered” him from Milan to Egypt.  In that Op-Ed, the Bush-defending duo argued that Italy had no right to prosecute these agents (h/t reader tc):

An Italian court announced this month that it is moving forward with the indictment and trial of 25 CIA agents charged with kidnapping a radical Muslim cleric. These proceedings may well violate international law, but the case serves as a wake-up call to the United States . . . .

[T]he United States must still vigorously resist the prosecution of its indicted agents. . . . [I]t is up to American, not Italian, authorities to determine whether any offense was committed in the capture and rendition of Nasr.

Unfortunately, the effort to prosecute these American agents is only one instance of a growing problem. Efforts to use domestic and international legal systems to intimidate U.S. officials are proliferating, especially in Europe. Cases are pending in Germany against other CIA agents and former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld — all because of controversial aspects of the war on terrorism. These follow Belgium’s misguided effort to pursue “universal jurisdiction” claims for alleged violations of international law, which also resulted in complaints against American officials including Vice President Cheney and former secretary of state Colin Powell. That law was amended, but the overall problem is unlikely to go away.  The initiation of judicial proceedings against individual Americans is too attractive a means of striking at the United States — and one often not subject to control by the relevant foreign government.

Accordingly, Congress should make it a crime to initiate or maintain a prosecution against American officials if the proceeding itself otherwise violates accepted international legal norms.

So it’s up to the U.S. — not any foreign tribunals — to prosecute war crimes and other felonies committed by American officials (for reasons that, at least in part and under certain circumstances (not prevailing in the Italian case), I find persuasive).  In fact, they argue, international prosecutions are so illegitimate that such proceedings themselves should be declared crimes.  Indeed, like most of their political comrades, Rivkin and Casey have consistently argued that U.S. jurisdiction over alleged violations of international law and U.S. treaties by U.S. citizens — including our leaders — is exclusive. 

They made the same argument when opposing U.S. ratification of the enabling statute of the International Criminal Court (.pdf), arguing that “[t]he question is whether [international] law can, or should, be enforced outside national legal systems that have generally functioned well.”  Their answer, of course, is that, when it comes to Americans, international law obligations cannot and shouldn’t be enforced anywhere but America:

There are many problems with the Rome Treaty.  The most immediate one, for Americans, is the danger of its being used as a political instrument against us.  But the most profound flaw is a philosophical one:  The concept of “international” justice underpinning the ICC project is more apparent than real. . . .

The prosecution of political leaders is inherently political, and there are at least two sides to every political conflict. . . . From America’s perspective, the greatest practical danger of joining the ICC regime would be that the court, driven by those who may resent American global preeminence, could seek to restrain the use of U.S. military power through prosecutions of U.S. leaders.

They then went on to call for the Bush administration to vocally and decisively reject the legitimacy of the ICC  so that the whole edifice would collapse.  This is because American leaders should not be subjected to prosecution in foreign countries for their crimes — only in America.

Yet what do these two argue today?  That domestic investigations and prosecutions — by American tribunals and American courts — are also inappropriate, illegitimate and destructive.  Though they acknowledge that “the Justice Department is capable of considering whether any criminal charges are appropriate,” they nonetheless insist that this must not be done:

For his part, President Obama has reacted coolly to calls to investigate Bush officials. Obama is right to be skeptical; this is a profoundly bad idea — for policy and, depending on how such a commission were organized and operated, for legal and constitutional reasons. . . .

Attempting to prosecute political opponents at home or facilitating their prosecution abroad, however much one disagrees with their policy choices while in office, is like pouring acid into our democratic machinery. As the history of the late, unlamented independent counsel statute taught, once a Pandora’s box is opened, its contents can wreak havoc equally across the political and party spectrum. . . .

Obama and the Democratic Congress are entitled to revise and reject any or all of the Bush administration’s policies. But no one is entitled to hound political opponents with criminal prosecution, whether directly or through the device of a commission, and those who support such efforts now may someday regret the precedent it sets.

So no international tribunals or foreign countries have any power to investigate or prosecute American officials for war crimes (even when those war crimes are against citizens of those countries and/or committed within their borders).  And, American political officials must also not be prosecuted inside the U.S., by American courts.  “Nobody is entitled” to do that either, because “attempting to prosecute political opponents at home or facilitating their prosecution abroad is like pouring acid into our democratic machinery.”

The implication of their argument — which is now the conventional Beltway view — is too obvious to require much elaboration.  If our political leaders can’t be held accountable for their war crimes and other serious felonies in foreign countries or international tribunals, and must never be held accountable in the U.S. either (because to do so is to “pour acid into our democratic machinery”), then it means that American political officials (in contrast to most other leaders) are completely and explicitly exempt from, placed above, the rule of law.  That conclusion is compelled from their premises. 

At least to me, it’s just endlessly perplexing how anyone — let alone our political class in unison — could actually endorse such absolute lawlessness for political leaders.  Didn’t our opinion-making elites learn in the eighth grade that the alternative to a “nation of laws” was a “nation of men” — i.e., the definition of tyranny?  Those are the only two choices.  It’s just so basic.

Apparently, though, this is all fine with our political establishment, since none of this is new.  Here’s what Iran-contra prosecutor (and life-long Republican official) Lawrence Walsh said in 1992 after George H.W. Bush pardoned Casper Weinberger days before his trial was set to begin:

President Bush’s pardon of Caspar Weinberger and other Iran-contra defendants undermines the principle that no man is above the law. It demonstrates that powerful people with powerful allies can commit serious crimes in high office — deliberately abusing the public trust without consequence.

Weinberger, who faced four felony charges, deserved to be tried by a jury of citizens. Although it is the President’s prerogative to grant pardons, it is every American’s right that the criminal justice system be administered fairly, regardless of a person’s rank and connections.

The Iran-contra cover-up, which has continued for more than six years, has now been completed with the pardon of Caspar Weinberger. . . . Weinberger’s early and deliberate decision to conceal and withhold extensive contemporaneous notes of the Iran-contra matter radically altered the official investigations and possibly forestalled timely impeachment proceedings against President Reagan and other officials. Weinberger’s notes contain evidence of a conspiracy among the highest-ranking Reagan Administration officials to lie to Congress and the American public. . . .

In light of President Bush’s own misconduct, we are gravely concerned about his decision to pardon others who lied to Congress and obstructed official investigations.

Does anyone deny that we are exactly the country that Walsh described:  one where “powerful people with powerful allies can commit serious crimes in high office — deliberately abusing the public trust without consequence”? And what rational person could think that’s a desirable state of affairs that ought not only be preserved — but fortified still further– as we move now to immunize Bush 43 officials for their far more serious and disgraceful crimes? As the Rivkin/Casey oeuvre demonstrates, we’ve created a zone of lawlessness around our highest political leaders and either refuse to acknowledge that we’ve done that or, worse, have decided that we don’t really mind.

 

UPDATE:  In a world in which the Rivkin/Casey mentality dominates (i.e., the world in which we actually live), imagine that you’re the American President, sitting in the Oval Office, tempted to issue a secret order that you know directs that laws be broken.  What possible pragmatic motive would you have to refrain from doing that?  Wouldn’t any rational person in that situation think to themselves:  

There’s nothing that would stop me from doing this because, fortunately, we live in a country where the President actually has the right to break the law and to do so without consequences.  In fact, amazingly enough, the citizenry — or at least the opinion-making elite — has somehow become convinced that it’s a good thing — vital even — for the President to have this lawbreaking right and to be shielded from consequences when he commits crimes.  I don’t know how that they got convinced of that, but that’s actually how they think.  As strange as it is, I know that if I decide to commit this crime, political and media figures from across the political spectrum will join together to insist that there must be no consequences for what I have done.

Ironically, while there is consensus horror in America’s political class over the idea that our political leaders might be charged and tried in the U.S. (let alone a foreign country) for their torture and other war crimes, we — Americans — have adopted a statute that expressly arrogates unto ourselves the power to do exactly that to leaders of other countries, and the Bush administration — even as they presided over their own torture regime — actually invoked that law to pursue such prosecutions.  After a torture prosecution of a Liberian official last December, Bush’s Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, actually spoke these words — what very well might be the most audaciously hypocritical quote of all of 2008:

Law without conscience is no guarantee of freedom; that even the seemingly most advanced of nations can be led down the path of evil; and that we must confront horror with action and vigilance, not lethargy and cowardice. . . .

His conviction – the first in history under our criminal anti-torture statute – provides a measure of justice to those who were victimized by his reprehensible acts, and it sends a powerful message to human rights violators around the world that, when we can, we will hold them accountable for their crimes.

No torturer is safe from American judicial accountability — as long as the torturer is not an American political official.

— Glenn Greenwald

Iranian Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi on Threats to Iranian Rights, from Within and Abroad February 4, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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www.democracynow.org, February 4, 2009

Guest: Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace laureate and Iranian human rights lawyer.

shirin-ebadi

AMY GOODMAN: Iran says they’ve successfully launched their first domestically made satellite, raising renewed concerns about Iran’s ambitions among American, European and Israeli officials. Iran says the satellite is meant for research and communications.

 

The launch happened amidst ten-day celebrations marking the thirtieth anniversary of the Iranian revolution that deposed the pro-American Shah from power and redefined Iran as an Islamic Republic.

 

We’ll have more on the missile launch and American policy toward Iran in our next segment, but right now we’re going to turn to the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Iranian human rights advocate Shirin Ebadi. She is on a short visit to the United States, speaking out against both American and Israeli military threats to Iran, as well as the growing domestic repression of activists within Iran.

 

In recent weeks, Ebadi, herself, has been the target of right-wing attacks in her country. Last December, security forces raided and shut down an organization she helped found, the Center for the Defense of Human Rights, and confiscated documents about her clients, who include some of Iran’s most important political figures of the last thirty years. Since then, her former secretary was arrested, and right-wing crowds have gathered outside her home, accusing her of supporting the United States and Israel.

 

I spoke with Shirin Ebadi yesterday about how she’s dealing with the climate of repression in her country, her visit to the US, and why she continues to fight for human rights in Iran. I began by asking her to describe what happened to her office in December.

    SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] Yes, it was the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and we were going to celebrate that. An hour-and-a-half prior to the celebration, the police came to the Center and informed us that “According to and pursuant to an oral order of the prosecutor, we have to close down the Center and seal it.”

    AMY GOODMAN: And so, then what happened? I understand your secretary was also arrested.

    SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] Yes. And a few days later, they raided my private law office, and on the basis of an excuse of nonpayment of taxes, they took the computers and several of my files away, although this was illegal and they had no right to do that. A few days even later past that, they raided—they came to my house, and they vandalized my house with spray paint and demonstrated against me. They took down my sign, the sign of my law office, and although I had called the police, the police came, but they only watched the demonstrators do the vandalism and the breaking of my sign.

    And unfortunately, a few days even later, a young secretary, a female secretary, at the Center for the Defense of Human Rights was arrested. They went to her house at 6:00 a.m. and arrested her. And she has not been able to meet with any of her attorneys. We have appointed an attorney for her, but the attorney has not been able to meet with her or to talk to her, and she has not been able to meet with any members of her family. She is in solitary confinement at the present time.

    AMY GOODMAN: The significance of the government taking the documents from your law offices? You represent some of the leading political dissidents. Do they now have access to your clients’ information?

    SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] Yes, they do have access to important information now. As you know, they have—there is attorney-client privilege, and they should not have taken any of the files. What they did was illegal. I brought a criminal complaint against them for what they have done in taking the files, and to no avail up to now.

    AMY GOODMAN: Shirin Ebadi, you had protesters outside your offices during the Israeli attack on Gaza saying you supported the United States and you supported Israel. Here in this country, there were Iranian Jews who were saying that you weren’t supporting Israel enough. Can you tell us your position on what’s happening right now in Israel and Gaza?

    SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] I first have to inform you that the Center for the Defense of Human Rights, that I am the director of, had issued a declaration supporting the people of Gaza prior to the demonstrations in front of my house. However, when you ask me about the differences between Israel and Palestine, I think that they have to negotiate, and they have to accept a two-state solution. The two of them should be able—the two states should be able to live in peace when both countries accept the two-state solution.

    AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about the statement of the Israeli prime minister frontrunner, Benjamin Netanyahu. He said at the World Economic Forum in Davos that preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons ranks far above the global economy among the challenges facing leaders in the twenty-first century. I wanted to get your response.

    SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] I don’t think that the Middle East needs nuclear weapons. I also don’t think that Pakistan, India or Israel need nuclear weapons. I think that they all should take measures in abolishing their nuclear weapons.

    AMY GOODMAN: What message do you bring to the United States, as you’ve come here for two days—for several days to speak.

    SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] I first want to congratulate the people of the United States for having elected a president who believes in human rights and on his first day of office ordered the closing down of the Guantanamo prison.

    In the second instance, I want to say that America is a superpower, and the political behavior of America can be a role model for the rest of the world. What I want to suggest is that the United States join the ICC and, in this way, not let the dictators sleep a good night.

    AMY GOODMAN: What exactly do you feel that Barack Obama should do right now? He has talked about direct dialogue with Iran. At what levels do you think the dialogue has to happen?

    SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] I think that the dialogue should take place at three levels: at the level of the presidents of both countries, at the level of the parliaments of both countries, and at the level of the civil society of both countries. And I think that the negotiations should bear in mind the interests of the people of both countries, not only the interests of a few companies. In the past, in 1953, the presidents of both countries, or the heads of both countries, spoke, but there the dialogue resulted in a few big oil companies coming to Iran.

    AMY GOODMAN: Shirin Ebadi, there are going to be presidential elections in a few months in Iran. The man considered a reformist, Khatami, may run. Ahmadinejad said he could run. Have you considered running for president of Iran?

    SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] I have never had the intention to joining a power. I have to remain among the people and be the representative of people. That’s why I reiterate that I’m not going to join power.

    AMY GOODMAN: Your offices have been raided. Your home has been raided. Your secretary has been arrested. You have the leading women’s rights campaigner in Iran—you can pronounce her name for me—who is now going to jail. Why are you returning to Iran? Do you feel safe there?

    SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] I don’t have enough safety in Iran, nor does any other person who works on human rights have enough safety in Iran. But I am going back to Iran. I have to do my work in Iran. And I will remain in Iran. That’s why I’m going back to Iran.

    AMY GOODMAN: This is the thirtieth anniversary of the Iranian revolution. You were a judge, before the revolution, under the Shah; you are no longer. Talk about the state of your country and of women’s rights, in particular.

    SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] Over 65 percent of the university students in Iran are female. Women exist in all levels of government. They work in all levels of government. And they are present in the society. However, unfortunately, after the revolution, discriminatory laws have been passed against women. And I want to give you a few examples of these discriminatory laws. The life of a woman is worth half of that of a man; and therefore, if there is an automobile accident and a man and a woman are involved and their injuries are the same, the compensation paid to the woman is half of that paid to the man. Men can marry four wives. They can divorce their wives without an excuse. [Testimony] of two women in court equals [testimony] of one man. So these are the discriminatory laws I’m talking about.

    AMY GOODMAN: What do you think would change—bring change in Iran? And do you hold out any hope for these elections? Are you supporting anyone? Where do you think the real change will happen?

    SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] I believe in freedom of elections. Unfortunately, in Iran, the competency of the candidates has to be approved by the Guardian Council. In other words, they have to be qualified by the Guardian Council. This law is against the constitution of the country of Iran. And I [do] think that until and unless this law is outlawed, that we could have free elections in Iran. This is a principle that I believe in.

    AMY GOODMAN: What gives you any hope? What gives you courage when you return to Iran, especially when you look at, for example, the crackdown now, just over the last few months?

    SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] I am going back to Iran. What gives me courage is the duty that I have towards my country. And also, I believe in God, and that helps me.

    AMY GOODMAN: If the United States were to attack Iran, and when you look at the repression that you and others have suffered, would that help the democratic movement in Iran?

    SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] A military attack on Iran or even a threat of a military attack on Iran will deteriorate the situation of human rights and women’s rights, because it gives an excuse to the government to repress them more and more often.

    AMY GOODMAN: Any other thing you would like to add, Shirin Ebadi?

    SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] Although the office for the Center for the Defense of Human Rights has been closed down, but we are continuing our work. And this way, we want to tell the government of Iran and the people of Iran that we are going to fight the human rights abuses and the illegality that goes on in this regard in Iran.

ICC starts analysis of Gaza war crimes allegations February 4, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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The prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) has begun a “preliminary analysis” of alleged Israeli crimes in Gaza.

ICC courtroom.jpgWith a delicate truce in Gaza, the extent of Israel’s 22-day offensive in Hamas-controlled Gaza last month is becoming increasingly clear. Human rights investigators say they have evidence of war crimes by all parties to the conflict.

The ICC is exploring its power to prosecute Israelis for alleged war crimes. In the past month the court’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, has received over 210 appeals from Palestinians and NGOs to investigate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Jurisdiction
When Palestinian human rights groups petitioned the ICC to investigate war crimes reports earlier this month, Mr Ocampo said he was unable to take the case because his court had no jurisdiction over Israel. But now he says he is examining the case for Palestinian jurisdiction.

The ICC can try individuals only if the accused is a citizen of an ICC member state or the crime took place on the territory of such a state. The United Nations Security Council can also request the ICC to open an investigation, a scenario which is highly unlikely.

Mr Ocampo can also start an investigation into the Gaza conflict if a non member state accepts the court’s jurisdiction, which is the road the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) is now seeking to take. It has recognised the court’s jurisdiction over the alleged crimes on 22 January.

‘De Facto State’
The Palestinian Authority wants to be able to refer matters to the ICC, but its territories are not recognised as an independent state. Palestinian lawyers, however, argue that the PNA is the ‘de facto’ state in Gaza, citing Israel’s claim that it has no responsibility for Gaza under international law since it withdrew in 2006.

“They are quoting jurisprudence,” Mr Ocampo says. “It’s very complicated. It’s a different kind of analysis I am doing. It may take a long time but I will make a decision according to law.”

Determining jurisdiction is just a first step. Mr Ocampo can only launch an investigation into the reported crimes once it has been decided he has the power to do so.

Mr Ocampo’s office is currently conducting similar preliminary analysis of situations in a number of countries, including Chad, Kenya, Afghanistan, Georgia and Colombia.

War crimes
Amnesty International (AI) researchers say they have found evidence of war crimes by all parties to the conflict, which left hundreds of Palestinian civilians dead, devastated the territory’s infrastructure and created a humanitarian catastrophe.

AI says its delegates have found evidence of widespread use of white phosphorus against Palestinian civilians in densely populated residential areas in Gaza, while indiscriminate rocket attacks on the part of Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups killed several Israeli civilians.

 

 

Tags: Gaza, Hamas, ICC, Israel, Luis Moreno Ocampo, Palestinian Authority, war crimes