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Raffique Shah


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America's arrogance knows no bounds

December 14, 2003
By Raffique Shah

DEPUTY US Ambassador to this country, Albert Nahas, and his boss Roy Austin, must really believe that we Trinis are a bunch of "chupidees" that we are an uneducated, uninformed people. I should add here that they probably rank us alongside their own (Americans), most of whom are dumb when it comes to geography, they know little of their own history, and far less about the world beyond their continental boundaries. But I won't be nasty, so I shall not elaborate on that.

Last week Wednesday, at a seminar on the International Criminal Court (ICC), Nahas, speaking for his government (that has chosen to stay out of the jurisdiction of the court), said: "The US believes the ICC is built on a flawed foundation. Those flaws leave it open for exploitation and politically motivated prosecution. The US believes its citizens are at special risk for prosecution by the ICC because of the unique US role in global politics and US participation in military operation and peace-keeping process."

At the same seminar ex-President Arthur NR Robinson, an architect of the ICC, hitting the flawed US nail on the head, told the audience: "Having regard to the growing importance, development of destructive power, the only answer to that development of destructive power is the resurgence of our humanity all over the world without distinction of race, class and economic power." Robinson did not need to read and spell for the benefit of his audience. Clearly he was referring to the US using its economic and military might to subjugate any nation it chooses to, and to those who use terrorism as the only response to the New Empire.

The ICC, whatever its weaknesses--and I'm sure there will be many during its teething stages-is intended to regulate the behaviour of governments or individuals towards their own people, and the way they treat with others, especially during hostilities. Any deviation from the norms of civilisation, like the presumption of innocence until one is found guilty of a crime, or the treatment of prisoners of war in keeping with the Geneva Convention, could lead to prosecution before the ICC. When one looks at the atrocities that have been committed in the name of governance or war, institutions like the International Criminal Tribunal based in the Hague and the ICC seem like a godsend to the families of tens of thousands who were slaughtered in Bosnia or Burundi by men so powerful, they thought they were beyond the reach of justice.

It's much too late to have these institutions bring to justice murderous despots like Pol Pot (Cambodia) or Idi Amin or the many Latin American graduates of Fort Benning who committed unspeakable atrocities during the era of US-installed dictators on the continent. Benning, unlike Sandhurst (where we were taught to abide by the Geneva Convention), unleashed terrorists-disguised-as-officers who raped and murdered nuns and killed an Archbishop in Honduras and El Salvador to the North, to as far South as Chile and Argentina where men like Pinochet liquidated thousands of ordinary Chileans. Many of these criminal elements were granted safe haven in the US after the bloody regimes they were part of were removed from office by "people power".

The US has good reason to steer clear of the ICC, but these have nothing to do with the ICC being "flawed". As someone wrote recently, if the yardstick used at Nuremburg to try (though not necessarily bring to justice) scores of Adolf Hitler's generals and lackeys for war crimes, then George Bush, Tony Blair and hundreds of their aides and allies would be hauled before the ICC or the Hague-based Tribunal. As war criminals, that is. Indeed, several other presidents of the New Empire, including Eisenhower who unleashed the only nuclear weapons ever in the history of mankind, just to "try it out" on a Japan that was on its knees, or Reagan who invaded a defenceless Panama and killed thousands of innocent people, would have been deemed war criminals.

But the sanctimonious set in the White House have taken their arrogance the distance by refusing to subject their own people to what they expect everyone else to be subjected to, the rule on international law. What international court, staffed by jurists of almost impeccable integrity, would convict people based on race or class or religion? So Nahas knew he was spewing raw sewage when he proffered that feeble excuse at the seminar. He and Austin also know that the US has also refused to sign or ratify a host of other international agreements that other countries have done. For example, ex-President Bill Clinton signed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1996, but it was rejected by the Senate in 1999. In 2001 the US withdrew from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty. In that same year its delegation walked out of a London meeting where a protocol to strengthen the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention was on the table. Later it would accuse Libya, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria of violating the Convention.

I can go on about its withdrawal in 2002 from the 1969 Vienna Convention, its refusal to sign the Land Mine Treaty of 1997, or Bush declaring the Kyoto Protocol for controlling greenhouse gases dead in 2001. But then the US has always flouted any international treaty or convention that stood in its bullying ways towards weaker nations, the ICC being only the most recent. Under what law, one might ask, is that concentration camp (oh yes, that's what it is-maybe gas chamber et al!) at Guantanamo in Cuba, set up? British law lord Steyn recently described as "a monstrous failure of justice" the decisions of the US courts not to consider credible evidence of torture in cases coming from Guantanamo. "Trials of the type contemplated by the US government would be a stain on US justice. The only thing that could be worse is simply to leave the prisoners in their black hole indefinitely," Steyn said, as quoted by Observer writer David Aaronovitch.

Another writer in the Guardian, James Meek, who spent a month talking with ex-inmates of that camp, described it this way: "In the two years since it opened it has (become) a full grown mongrel of international law, where all the harshness of the punitive US prison system is visited on foreigners, unmitigated by any of the legal rights US prisoners enjoy." Guantanamo, which lies not far away from us in Caricom, offers us a glimpse into Bush's New Empire in which there is one law for Americans and another for everyone else in the world.

Part I | Part II