Thursday, March 12, 2009

The US, International Criminal Court, and Cheney war crimes?

The United States should reengage with the International Criminal Court, that’s the opinion of former Clinton and Bush administration official David Kaye.

Just to recap, the International Criminal Court is the international body empowered to charge and try individuals for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other such atrocities committed anywhere in the world. In the past international tribunals have been convened to deal with war crimes associated with conflicts in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, but these tribunals sat for limited periods of time and only had jurisdiction over one specific region. The ICC is a permanent body that can try individuals charged with war crimes, etc., committed anywhere in the world. They made news last week by indicting Sudan’s President Bashir over atrocities committed in Darfur.

Pres. Clinton was a strong supporter of the ICC idea and helped to get the ball rolling on its creation. But Clinton also knew it would be a nearly impossible sell to Congress, who would eventually have to ratify any agreement he signed on behalf of the United States. Before leaving office, Clinton did sign a measure to keep the US ‘engaged’ with the actions of the court.

Once in office Pres. Bush ‘unsigned’ the statement, leaving the US with no official connection to the ICC. His argument, and the argument of some in Congress, was that the Court infringed on US sovereignty. It’s the argument usually trotted out by our government anytime it is faced with some international agreement it doesn’t like (of course you could argue the free trade agreements Bush signed also infringe on US sovereignty, but he didn't seem to have a problem with those).

Kaye argues that now the United States has no way of influencing the further development of the court, and that it only makes sense to at least go back to the Clinton-era level of engagement. It would also be a way for the Obama administration to again signal their desire to be a global leader in human rights and international relations.

Of course if the allegations put forward by journalist Seymour Hersh are true, the first American to face charges at the ICC could be former VP Dick Cheney. At an event at the Univ. of Minnesota on Tuesday night, Hersh talked about a covert military operation, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which reported directly to VP Cheney. Their mission, according to Hersh, was to carry out secret assassinations around the world. Hersh explained the JSOC would fly into a country, without the knowledge of US officials like the ambassador to the country, or the CIA, carry out execution(s) and leave, reporting, apparently only to Dick Cheney. The JSOC was apparently causing so much ‘collateral damage’ (a.k.a. killing innocent civilians) in that the officer in charge, Admiral William McRaven, ordered a halt to JSOC operations.

Hersh later said that he was working on a book about the Bush administration on topics including the JSOC and didn't want go into further detail right now. Hersh though has a good reputation for accuracy, especially in the military and intelligence circles.

Secret hit squads carrying out covert assassinations around the world? Sounds like the kind of thing we use to accuse Saddam Hussein of doing. It also sounds like the type of crime the ICC would be very interested in.
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