US steers clear of ICC
Date: Sunday, December 11 @ 15:43:27 UTC
Topic: Trinidad and Tobago

Editorial Newsday TT

The United States government knew what it was doing when it refused to be a signatory to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Were it subject to this organisation, charges of human rights violations, based on the treatment of prisoners in the "war against terrorism," would certainly have been levelled against America.

US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice last week concluded a four-nation tour of Europe which was originally intended to mend relations damaged by disputes over the US invasion of Iraq. But then came the revelations that the US had been torturing prisoners to get information and had been using Western European airports to get them to the secret CIA prisons in eastern Europe where the torture was carried out.

Why go through all that rigmarole? Because, even though America is not a member of the ICC, the federal justice system within the US works with reasonable efficiency, and the administration of George W Bush would surely have been brought to book if these violations had occurred on US soil. It is a fine legal point, and the thin silver lining here is that sensitivity to human rights has advanced so greatly since World War II and Vietnam that the US government now wants to avoid legal and moral culpability for acts it clearly knows are wrong.

Ms Rice reassured the European governments that the US government's treatment of detainees was within international law. The US, she said, "does not tolerate, permit, or condone torture under any circumstances" — but then the already transparent mask slipped in a later speech on the same topic, when Rice prefaced her denial with the words "where appropriate." And even the phrase "within international law" leaves plenty wiggle room, since President Bush, in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal, had waffled on the exact definition of "torture," while vice-president Dick Cheney continues to insist that the CIA should be exempt from the international ban on "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment of prisoners. Besides all this, the American military has been covering itself by handing prisoners over to governments or groups who have no moral reservations or legal concerns over torture — with the understanding that any information so obtained would be handed over to US intelligence.

So, while anti-American sentiment is something of a reflexive reaction in many quarters, the fallout of the US "war against terrorism" has now given substance to such rhetoric. The fact that the US, which continually promotes itself as the champion of democracy and individual rights, should now be a major trampler on such ideals, is bad enough. But what makes the whole torture affair even worse is the hollow rationale behind it. The invasion of Iraq has nothing to stem international terrorism. If anything, it has only allowed Islamic terrorist organisations to get new recruits, and found them new targets in those countries, such as Britain, which cooperated with the US in this baseless and wrong-headed action. Even within the US, President Bush's stocks are at a record low, as the American people have come to realise that they were lied to, that some of their rights have been removed, and that the Bush administration's main agenda is cronyism.

Mr Bush's main accomplishment, therefore, has been to leave a tangle of economic and foreign policy problems for his successor to unravel. But, even if the next US president can do so, America's moral reputation will take far longer to rebuild.

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