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Barbarians battering the gates

July 06, 2003
By Raffique Shah

THE decision by the United States Government to withhold military aid to a number of countries that have so far refused to bow to the US demand for exemption of members of its armed forces and its citizens from prosecution at the Internal Criminal Court (ICC) was not surprising. Students of history know that one American life has always been deemed to be infinitely more valuable than hundreds, even thousands of lives of the sub-humans who inhabit the rest of the world. To the maxim "all men are created equal" that is part of the constitutions of most countries, the US included, we can now add: "...but it is universally accepted that citizens of the USA are more equal..."

George Bush has every reason to seek exemption for him and his colleagues who, in a fair and just global society, would be declared criminals if not mass murderers. If the ICC were to dispense justice in a manner expected of a court of that stature, leaders like him, Britain's Tony Blair, Israel's Ariel Sharon and much of their top brass could well find themselves in the ICC dock alongside two-bit dictators like Saddam Hussein, Charles Taylor and Slobodan Milosevic. Which is why the US has all but withdrawn from the international agencies that will not do its bidding. It defied the United Nations recently when it launched a murderous attack on Iraq. You do not kill tens of thousands of people by remote control (does anyone know the real casualty numbers among Iraqis in the more recent massacre?), destroy their cities and historical treasures, and call yourself as a liberator. You are nothing less than a bloody mass murderer.

With respect to the outrageous demand by the US to have its citizens exempted from the ICC's jurisdiction, history is replete with reasons why the US would want that. Bear in mind that this was the country that entered World War II only after the Japanese attacked its naval base at Pearl Harbour. By then Hitler had all but overrun Europe, and while its armed forces did play a significant role in defeating the German/Italian/Japanese Axis, Europe, Britain and Russia had borne the brunt of the war. Still, it was the Americans who were the prime movers behind the Nuremburg trials that saw scores of Nazi commanders and politicians executed or jailed for war crimes. Japanese commanders, too, and even ordinary soldiers, faced "cowboy" style trials, and many were executed.

Contrast that with what happened in Vietnam 23 years later. In May 1968, a unit of the US army stormed into a hamlet named My Lai. The soldiers rounded up the villagers, mostly old men, women and children and herded them into the village's irrigation ditches. Some Americans raped the younger women. Then, under orders from junior officers, the most notorious being Lt Calley, they emptied their rifles into the terrified peasants. Some parents tried to shield their children with their bodies that soon became corpses. The slaughter raged for hours and a total of 347 Vietnamese, babies included, were dead by the time a few sane American helicopter pilots and soldiers mustered the courage to stand between the bloodthirsty GIs and some fleeing victims.

The My Lai massacre remained under wraps for more than a year. Interestingly, when a US soldier sent a letter detailing the atrocities at My Lai to General Abrams, it was passed on to one Major Colin Powell for investigation. In his report, Powell, who did not interview the writer of the letter, wrote that while there may have been isolated cases of mistreatment of civilians and POWs, relations between US troops and Vietnamese civilians were cordial. It took the courage of an ordinary infantryman, Ron Ridenhour, to piece together details of the massacre and pass them on to the investigative arm of the military. Within months, Calley and several of his troops faced courts martial and were jailed for a few years. Nothing further has been heard of Private Ridenhour. We know where Powell ended up, though.

America wants exemption from the ICC so that its troops could commit whatever atrocities they feel like doing with the full knowledge that they will not be subjected to investigations, far less prosecution. Bush holds Afghan prisoners at the Guantanamo base in Cuba in contravention of the Geneva Convention, and beyond the prying eyes of the world media. In 1988, when Bush Snr was on the campaign trail (then the US armed and backed Saddam against the mullahs of Iran), a US missile cruiser stationed in the Persian Gulf shot down an Iranian civilian aircraft killing 290 persons aboard. Bush's comment: "I will never apologise for the United States. I don't care what the facts are."

That seems to be the guiding principles of those who are currently charting the course of the New American Empire. They care nothing about the facts: where are the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam had standing by to destroy the world? They alone determine who or what is right for the people of the world (go, Bush tells Liberia's Taylor). So countries like ours that dare hold principled positions, insisting that justice must be equitably dispensed, be it at the ICC or in a district court, pose a definite threat to America's supremacist thrust. What can we do if they withhold aid in a bid to intimidate us? Very little, actually.

If I were running this here show, though, I'd be very tempted to say okay, so now I cannot police the waters off my tiny island since I need all hands on land to fight crime. Leave the Colombian drug lords to do their do since the bulk of the cocaine is destined for the US... and that's not our problem. I might even be tempted to tell Caroni employees to grow a more lucrative crop instead of sugar cane on the vacated lands, and turn a blind eye to their activities. Hell, I'm getting no kind of military aid. And being a Trini-to-the-bone, I'd have told Ambassador Austin where to grill his steaks last Friday night. I might even consider Marli Street Trinidad property once more. No Caricom government would descend into that latrine-pit tit-for-tat, of course. But we must stand united against the barbarians who are battering the gates of civilisation.

Today, America cannot be seen as the land of the brave. It's a nation of bullies, an empire built on the notion that might is right. But all such empires, from the dawn of history, have crumbled to dust. That's where America is heading... and at a pretty fast clip at that.