Tag Archives: international criminal law

GEOPOLITICAL CRIMES: A REVOLUTIONARY PROPOSAL

23 Jul

[Prefatory Note: The essay below is a modified version of the 2018 Annual Lecture of the International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) of Queen Mary’s University London, given on March 22 of that year. Its original title was “Geopolitical Crimes: A Preliminary Jurisprudential Proposal.” The text of the lecture has been further revised since publication in the Spring 2019 issue of the Journal of State Crime. Its major premise is that international criminal law has developed a framework for judging the criminal conduct of states with respect to armed conflict and in the relations of state/society relations, but is silent about even the most severe crimes of diplomacy. It is these ‘geopolitical crimes’ that are more responsible for inflicting mass suffering on civilian populations than are most of the forms of international behavior currently criminalized. I am aware that criminalizing acts of diplomacy is a revolutionary idea, but no less for that, deserving of commentary and debate.]

 

GEOPOLITICAL CRIMES: A REVOLUTIONARY PROPOSAL

Points of Departure

When we think about international relations in a general way we typically presuppose a state-centric world order. I find this misleading. Actually, there are two intersecting and overlapping systems of rules and diplomatic protocols that are operative in international relations: a juridicalsystem linking sovereign states on the basis of equality before the law; and a geopoliticalsystem linking dominant states regionally and globally with other states on the basis of inequalities in power, scale, wealth and status. It is convenient to consider the juridical system as horizontal and the geopolitical system as vertical so long as this distinction is understood as a metaphor to distinguish hierarchical from non-hierarchical relations that are operative in international politics.

The United Nations (UN) embodies this structural dualism that pervades world order, and is hierarchical: the subordinate horizontal organizational axis based on juridical equality as exhibited by membership procedures and by the recommendatory authority of the General Assembly. This compares to the supervening vertical axis as embodied in the Security Council in which the permanent membership of the five states considered victors in World War II enjoy a right of veto, and possess an exclusive authority vested in the Security Council to make decisions that are theoretically enforceable.

My purpose in these remarks is to extend the notion of international state crime from its familiar horizontal axis, and suggest the significance of state crime on the vertical axis, which I will call “Geopolitical Crime”. I believe that this category of criminality has been “overlooked” in international criminal law (ICL) despite its responsibility for massive human suffering, and directly linked to some of the most serious deficiencies and unresolved turmoil in contemporary world order. Perhaps, overlooked is not the best word to describe the malign neglect. Maybe “blocked” is more accurate, as consistent with successful efforts of geopolitical actors through the centuries to evade all forms of accountability under international law for state crime unless adversary leaders are. targeted by the winners in major wars.

Of course, I am mindful of the fact that Geopolitical Crimes have not yet been formally or conceptually delimited, and are not even conceptually delimited in aspirational language at the present time, and are likely to never be accepted by the current breed of juridical gatekeepers as a valid legal category. Nevertheless, I believe that the identification and articulation of Geopolitical Crime is of pedagogical value in understanding the causal antecedents of some of the worst features of global politics, as well as of normative value in identifying what kinds of behavior in certain diplomatic settings are likely to produce future harm and by so identifying, encourage more mindful statecraft in the future.

At the outset it needs to be appreciated that international criminal law (ICL) as part of the horizontal/vertical normative mix is currently a very flawed system of law: in such crucial areas as humanitarian intervention, criminal accountability, human rights and the International Criminal Court (ICC), the application of ICL exhibits double standards, which has been producing a pattern of increasing accountability for the weak and vulnerable, and almost total impunity for the rich and geopolitically powerful and politically insulated. The result is a form of “liberal legality” that is structure blind when it comes to holding geopolitical actors to the same standards of criminal accountability as other sovereign states.

My intention is to put forward in an exploratory and tentative spirit a somewhat comprehensive proposal to imagine and delimit two closely related behavior patterns that deserve to be properly classified as Crimes Against Humanity, but are not now so treated. I am provisionally calling these “crimes” “Geopolitical Crimes of War” and “Geopolitical Crimes of Peace”.

My purpose is to identify patterns of deliberate behavior by leading governments in global or regional contexts that inflict severe harm on the individual and collective wellbeing of people, and do so knowingly, willfully, or with extreme negligence, especially in the contexts of war and post-war “peace diplomacy”. Actually, I would be receptive to suggestions of a more suitable label for these patterns of behavior than “Geopolitical Crime”, but for now will stick with this terminology. These proposed “crimes” have yet to be acknowledged as such, much less formally prohibited by treaty or practice. In this sense, this proposal for their inclusion in a jurisprudence fit for humanity is ‘revolutionary.’

On one level, I realize that I may be casting myself in the role of a latter day Don Quixote tilting at the windmills of an ideal legal order rather as did the erstwhile nobleman of La Mancha as he yearned for the gallantry of knights of old. I am sensitive to the fact that delimiting the behavior of leading states as a Geopolitical Crime may strike many persons as a wildly romantic or utopian non-starter, if not seen more destructively, as an effort to subvert the authority of liberal legality by highlighting its jurisprudential deficiencies.

My central critique of ICL is its grant of a free pass or exemption to geopolitical actors and their close allies, which has caused so much harm in the past, continuing into the present, and threatens to do even greater harm in the future. It can be argued that even if this is the case, why call attention to the weakness of ICL by proposing a form of criminalization that is unlikely to ever happen, and if it does, will never be implemented. The experience of the ICC makes these low expectations seem realistic. Nevertheless, while aware of these concerns, I believe there are several reasons that make it worthwhile to delimit Geopolitical Crimes.

First of all, to discuss what I propose to identify as “Geopolitical Crimes” by pointing to historical examples helps us consider why many things have gone so badly wrong in international relations over the course of the last hundred years at the cost of millions of lives. I am well aware that counterfactual narratives of history are inevitably problematic as we can never know what might have happened had we chosen “the road not taken” to recall the motif of Robert Frost’s famous poem.

Secondly, aspirational norms of ICL can become meaningful for civil society actors, even if ignored or rejected by the diplomacy of geopolitical actors (e.g. BAN Treaty – UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, New York, United Nations General Assembly 2017). Delimiting Geopolitical Crimes seeks to fill serious world order and international law gaps created by destructive and intentional policies and practices of geopolitical actors. Raising an awareness of such gaps also helps us understand the degree to which the UN, including its subsidiary organs, is similarly constrained when seeking to fulfil its substantive undertakings as set forth in the Preamble to the UN Charter.

Indeed, civil society tribunals, ever since the Russell Tribunal (International War Crimes Tribunal, Stockholm/Roskilde, 1967) have examined allegations of unacknowledged war crimes of geopolitical actors, including Crimes Against Humanity, by the U.S. in Vietnam, back in 1966 to 1967. Such an undertaking was dismissed and denigrated at the time by mainstream thinking as an absurdly misguided challenge to the behavior of a geopolitical giant in the midst of an aggressive war. In fact, the Vietnam War was the kind of war that international criminal law in the aftermath of World War II had no trouble classifying as a Crime Against Peace at the Nuremberg Tribunal when addressing the behavior of a defeated Axis power.

Despite these efforts to discredit the Russell Tribunal its inquiries and testimonies produced valuable commentaries on the Vietnam War that would not otherwise be available to us. In this regard, in a manner similar to the government-organized war crimes tribunals after World War II, the main value of such civil society initiatives is to narrate on the basis of substantial evidence the wrongdoings of the defendants, whose punishment is of secondary importance, despite these individuals having done terrible things on behalf of a particular state.

I was involved in the Iraq War Tribunal that in 2005 brought to Istanbul before a jury composed of internationally known. moral authority figures, Iraqi testimonies of combat experiences and an array of international experts to record the violations of international law and of the UN Charter on the part of the United States and United Kingdom. In the end, in a manner no other institutional actor could do, this civil society initiative documented and supplied moral and legal reasoning as to why this war should be regarded as a criminal enterprise.

Part of my argument here is that the failure to delimit “Geopolitical Crimes” deprives us of a truer understanding of what went wrong and was wrong, particularly in the course of and the aftermath of World War I and II, and more recently in the responses to the 9/11 attacks on the United States. The wrongfulness in these instances arises from the manner in which the war and peace diplomacy was used to demonize the adversary and exonerate the victor, or in the 9/11 instance, to embolden a wounded and traumatized superpower to take steps previously treated as prohibited by international law. Considering Geopolitical Crimes is also a matter of attentiveness to the historical antecedents of conflict and political extremism that are habitually misrepresented by propaganda and one-sided interpretations, if treated at all.

The third justification for this line of prescriptive thinking is essentially pedagogical to influence normative discourse in relation to war and peace, suggesting that to ignore geopolitical wrongdoing is to overlook one of the major causes of conflict, chaos, injustice and extremism in the world order experience of the last hundred or more years. Jurisprudential innovations of the kind recommended here has taken place in the past. Raphael Lemkin is often heralded as the person who single-handedly invented the word “genocide” in 1944, and finally produced its acceptance by the powers that be, leading to its incorporation in the authoritative Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in New York (United Nations General Assembly 1951).

In the course of the Vietnam War, in response to the conduct of environmental warfare, a biologist at Yale, Arthur Galston, came up with the term “ecocide”, an analogue to genocide, but in relation to natural surroundings. I later drafted a proposed Ecocide Convention that I hoped at the time could and should become part of international criminal law (see Falk 1973). Unfortunately, unlike genocide, ecocide has not yet been incorporated into ICL, at least never at the inter-governmental level, although civil society actors are active in promoting ecocide as an international crime that should be implemented by enforcement. In this regard, the idea of ecocide as a crime has been widely accepted in several influential civil society settings, and has become part of the progressive public discourse relating human activity to environmental harm.

And fourth and finally, the articulation of geopolitical crimes, as crimes, might induce greater care on the part of some policy planners and governmental leaders in avoiding harmful practices in the future, even if such decision makers continue to deny any legal obligation to do so. The nuclear taboo is an example of a tradition of non-use of nuclear weapons that in part stems from the horrific realization of the atomic antecedent of these weapons in the closing days of World War II. The normative discourse reinforced this taboo, most notably by General Assembly Resolutions (United Nations General Assembly 1946), the Shimoda Case decided by a (Tokyo District Court 1962) and by a 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (International Criminal Court 1996). We might describe such a taboo as “informal law” that if backed by practical wisdom can lead to impressive levels of compliance, sometimes higher than what is achieved by formal law, even in a treaty form, especially if compliance is geopolitically inconvenient (Article VI, United Nations Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, New York, United Nations 1968). Beyond this, if such taboos are violated, the perpetrators might appropriately be deemed responsible for criminal behavior if what is done is widely regarded as Geopolitical Crimes, which might have the effect of expanding the jurisprudential and pedagogical influence of civil society tribunals.

Delimiting “Geopolitical Crimes”: Jurisprudential Clarifications and Historical Illustrations

It is appropriate to consider Geopolitical Crimes from a jurisprudential perspective, and then provide illustrative cases. I will choose the impact Geopolical Crimes on the practices and policies imposed on the Middle East in the peace diplomacy of the victors after World War I. I will also make brief reference to the Geopolitical Crimes of War and of Peace associated with the conduct of World War II and the conditions of peace established subsequent to the war, especially the ambiguous legacies of the Nuremberg and Tokyo War Crimes Trials. I would also point to early initiatives of the United Nations, which bears serious unacknowledged responsibility for the ordeals of the Palestinian people and the failure over the course of decades to find a sustainable peace based on the respective rights of these two long embattled peoples.

These various historical circumstances present complicated and controversial contexts, and as I am suggesting, my commentaries at this point are more intended as a means to initiate discussion than a claim to achieve an authoritative interpretation of such multiply contested and layered historical events.

An alternative illustrative situation that qualifies as geopolitical criminality could have been provided by offering a critical account of punitive restrictions imposed on German sovereignty by the Versailles Treaty in the form of reparations and demilitarization. It is arguable that this diplomacy constituted Geopolitical Crimes of gross negligence contributing to the rise of Hitler and Nazism. It is significant, suggesting an informal learning process, that peace diplomacy after World War II deliberately avoided the imposition of a punitive peace upon the defeated Axis Powers, although these defeated states and their leaders were guilty of a far worse path of criminality than what the countries defeated in World War I had done.

More recently, in the context of the First Gulf War in 1992, the victorious coalition again imposed a punitive peace on Iraq in the form of economic sanctions that pro- duced catastrophic predictable losses of civilian lives, including among children (see Beres 1992). Why these punitive and indiscriminate sanctions were imposed remains not entirely clear. Partly it reflected a substitute or compensatory course of action for the failure of the victorious coalition to pursue all out political victory of the sort that ended both world wars. The post-war sanctions imposed on Iraq can be thought of as compromise between pushing for regime change in Baghdad and the grudging acceptance of the government of Saddam Hussein as legitimate. The Geopolitical Crime arises from the failure to take steps to avoid causing suffering to the civilian population of Iraq. To target civilians is an instance of state terror that should be treated as an international crime.

Let me first try to describe more adequately what I mean by “Geopolitical Crimes”. My reference is to deliberate or grossly negligent undertakings by leading governments representing sovereign states or international institutions that violate core norms of international law, diplomatic customary practices and the protocols of international relations, and fundamental principles of international ethics. Often, the most serious harm done by these violations results from longer term dislocations that should reasonably have been foreseen. If this is so, it provides a rationale for imposing legal responsibility as reasonable and appropriate, especially with an eye towards inhibiting the repetition of comparable behavior in the future. It could be thought of as ‘a precautionary principle’ for diplomats. For example, if the imposition of “punitive peace” had been rendered unlawful in light of the World War I experience it might have exerted some deterrent impact on imposed harsh conditions on Iraq in 1992.

Historically, there is a tendency for the victors in major wars to have opportunities to alter international relations according to their values, interests and fears. This was certainly true of the outcomes of the major wars involving Europe (see Beres 1992). However, this is not always the case. Sometimes Geopolitical Crimes have immediate, intended and foreseeable effects. Two obvious recent examples: the 2017 blockade and related steps coercively imposed on Qatar in response to its failure to meet the 13 Demands made by a coalition of members of the Gulf Cooperation Council plus Egypt (see Falk 2018). The Geopolitical Crime present centers on the unlawful intrusion on Qatari sovereignty, with intended harm to public and private sector activities, as associated with the impact of the 13 unreasonable demands as reinforced by administrative decrees and blockades.

My second example is President Trump’s thrashing (Borger et al. 2018) and subsequent repudiation of the P5 + 1 Agreement on Iran’s Nuclear Program (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action 2015), a course of action that makes a destructive and unlawful war in the Middle East far more likely, and its threat, a certainty.

It is, of course, entirely reasonable to argue that some alleged “Geopolitical Crimes” produced bad outcomes that could not have been reasonably anticipated or that the political actors involved had been motivated at the time by good faith, conventional wisdom and political realism. One important context for geopolitical criminality, as earlier suggested, is in post-conflict peace diplomacy where the victor calls the shots.

For instance, at the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials of surviving German and Japanese military and political leaders, the criminal activities of the victors were exempted from scrutiny, and could not be mentioned by the defense, however serious and relevant. In partial deference to such a constraint on prosecution, German and Japanese defendants were not charged with crimes that the Allied countries had committed. This selectivity was extensively critiqued as “Victors’ Justice” (see Minear 1971). More specifically, in light of the Allied “saturation” bombing of German cities, the German, Italian and Japanese bombing of civilian populations was not among the crimes alleged. Such forbearance in the manner of victors’ justice not only exempted the practice from accountability in the war crimes tribunals, it unwittingly normalized for the future saturation bombing as beyond the reach of international law.

This double effect was particularly striking in light of the pre-war denunciations of

Germany, Italy, and Japan for the “inhuman barbarism” of the bombing of cities in their military operations, which of course were far smaller. It led Franklin Delano Roosevelt to address an “urgent appeal to every Government which may be in hostilities to publicly affirm its determination that its armed forces shall in no event, and under no circumstances, under- take the bombardment from the air of civilian populations” (quoted in Franklin 2018; reactions to German bombing of Guernica in Spain, Japan in Manchuria, Italy in Ethiopia. No effort to condemn at Nuremberg & Tokyo in view of Allied practice, also McNamara’s acknowledgement to LeMay in The Fog of War, [2003], that if war lost, they would likely be prosecuted as war criminals.). What seemed “inhuman barbarism” when done by the enemy became a matter of “military necessity” when done by the victorious side in the course of the war, despite being done on a far larger and more destructive scale. Such an exemption from legal accountability offered the West de facto justifications for recourse to massive bombing tactics in the Korean War (1950– 1952) and the Vietnam War (1962–1975) that cost several million civilian lives.

In partial acknowledgement of this failure to hold the strong responsible for compliance with international law in a manner equivalent to those formally charged, the American prosecutor at Nuremberg, Justice Jackson, famously declared in his closing statement, “We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well.” Robert H. Jackson’s (1945) belief that Nuremberg would generate new standards of international behavior applicable to the victors quickly turned out to be wishful thinking. It is of the essence of being a geopolitical actor to refuse as a matter of principle, the discipline of legal or moral restraint. Each of the states that pre- vailed in World War II subsequently committed acts violating the Nuremberg findings without incurring any serious normative backlash, but worse than this, their wrongdoing in this prior war established precedents that so normalized the behavior as to place outside the orbit of legal accountability.

 

Often, the complexities, subtleties and secrecy surrounding diplomacy make it virtually impossible to establish the mental state of mind of the perpetrators of Geopolitical Crimes. One notable exception is an exchange on the U.S. news pro- gram, “60 Minutes”, between Lesley Stahl, TV journalist, and Madeline Albright, on 12 May 1996, then the U.S. Secretary of State, on the impact of harsh sanctions imposed on Iraq after the Gulf War. Lesley Stahl asked the American official, “(w)e have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” and Albright replied “we think the price is worth it.” Although this chilling response was later partially retracted by Albright, it offers a striking example of a high government official endorsing the indiscriminate targeting of civilians by way of a sanctions policy framed to punish the Iraqi regime for its Kuwait attack and as a warning to Iraq and others to remain within its borders in the future of face the geopolitical fury of the United States.

There are, then, two complementary tendencies that bear on my inquiry into the interplay of state crime and world order: the first, is to obscure crimes of state by manipulating the public discourse in misleading ways; Israel has been very effectively done this with respect to the victimization of the Palestinian people in the course of implementing the Zionist project; e.g. persuading the U.S. Government to describe the unlawful Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestine as “unhelpful” rather than “criminal”; the second, is to treat as “crimes” morally and politically distasteful past acts, which were not crimes at the time of their commission, which is my main theme in these remarks, that is, retrospectively criminalizing past behavior. In the first case, the crimes of state are denied or obscured, while in the second instance past governmental wrongdoing is irresponsibly criminalized.

A similar issue is presented by the frequent assertion that indigenous peoples in various settings in the Western Hemisphere and elsewhere were victims of genocide perpetrated by settler communities, generally backed by colonial powers. Again, there is an inevitable normative ambiguity present – the behavior can be properly castigated as “genocide” if this is understood to be a moral and political condemnation, but the implication that such past behavior was also “a crime” in a legal sense is misleading absent an acceptance of natural law thinking based on notions of intrinsic wrong. This would itself be a rather strange jurisprudential move in a modern context where valid international law is based on the consent, or secondarily on the pronouncement of respected civil society organizations..

Nuremberg never directly addressed the criminality of the Holocaust as the most systematic and massive form of genocide out of this respect for “legalism”. It should be remembered that Stalin and Churchill favored summarily executing Nazi war criminals without the ritual of a trial, enabling the moral and political condemnation to be clear and absolute, as well as focused on the core evil without the distracting irrelevance of a long trial. The American view prevailed but at the previously discussed heavy jurisprudential cost of legalizing and normalizing civilian bombing, which had previously been viewed as falling outside the scope of acceptable behavior (see Bruce 2018),

There was a notable progression from strategic bombing to saturation bombing as Allied tactics against Germany intensified in the latter stages of the European theatre of combat. In relation to Japan’s case, this refusal to apply legal standards of accountability to both sides in the war had the momentous side effect of legalizing the atomic bomb for the future, which set the stage for the legalization of nuclear weaponry. (Nuclear weapons are geopolitically legal, while being considered juridically unlawful, at least under most circumstances. (See International Court of Justice, Advisory Opinion, 1996.) This unfortunate byproduct of the war crimes approach was further distorted by the NPT approach, which allows nuclear weapons states to possess, deploy, threaten, and use, while denying even pre-acquisition development options to other sovereign states. (After waiting for disarmament over the course of decades the patience of non-nuclear states and civil society has begun to run out; (See United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, 2017, and International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons [ICAN] Nobel Peace Prize 2017 counter-moves; Geopolitical Crimes of World War II). In this sense, the NPT approach, as supplemented by a geopolitical regime of implementation currently threatening to unleash a war with a Iran, has given geopolitical support to a highly dangerous feature of world order as currently operationalized.

 

Geopolitical Crimes Arising from World War I’s Peace Diplomacy

As suggested, the Geopolitical Crimes of World War I and II are specified as including an extended conception of war as encompassing “peace diplomacy”, that is, the arrangements imposed on the defeated side after active combat ended. The basic contention is that diplomacy that was deliberately wrongful should be held subject to accountable procedures if responsible for inflicting massive suffering on innocent people and their societies. More specifically, the argument set forth suggest the desirability of adding Geopolitical Crimes to the list of Crimes against Humanity set forth in Article 7 of the Rome Statute (United Nations General Assembly 1998) governing the activities of the ICC.

It seems relevant to ignore chronology and mention the most obvious Geopolitical Crimes of World War II before turning to World War I. As earlier suggested, the most consequential Geopolitical Crime involved the normalization of bombing of civilian populations and cities as exemplified by post-1945 patterns of warfare in Korea, Vietnam and more recently in Iraq, Syria and Yemen; this normalization covered atomic bombs, which without comment also extended the cover of legal- ity to nuclear weapons under the positivist precept that whatever is not explicitly forbidden is permitted; imposed “partition” arrangements for Korea, Vietnam and Germany, disrupting natural and traditional political communities of these countries giving rise to warfare and war-threatening tensions that lasted for decades, and reflecting geopolitical arrangements of convenience that under later Cold War conditions could have led to the outbreak of World War III, Korean War

and Vietnam War. These divided country arrangements were implemented with- out consulting the people affected and ignored what became known as “the inalienable right of self-determination” in the decolonization period.

Turning to the peace diplomacy that followed the ending of World War I, it too created by design severe problems that would haunt the affected populations for generations. Although mindlessly indifferent, given the failure to prohibit such behavior, it is admittedly not responsible to suggest after such a lapse of time that this peace diplomacy was a Geopolitical Crime in any plausible legal sense. However, it is in my view quite reasonable to suggest, even retroactively, that the Allied powers were politically and ethically responsible for the commission of grave Geopolitical Crimes. A similar logic seems applicable to Armenian contentions that Ottoman Turkey was guilty of “genocide” due to its responsibility for the organized massacres of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in 1915. A genocide occurred, as noted by Hitler and the world did nothing to stop it. This distinction between what is unlawful and what is political and ethically wrong is important. In 1915, the word genocide had not yet been invented and no norm of prohibition was formally adopted prior to 1951, making any attempted legal application retroactive in violation of the fundamental principle of criminal justice “no punishment without a prior law”.

And so unlike Albright’s assertion, which is contemporaneous with the events, the World War I allegations are of a political and ethical nature, but with the encouragement that such negative diplomacy be stigmatized by being criminalized. In the context of World War I’s peace diplomacy I would call attention to three major initiatives each of which contributed to the current regional landscape of turmoil, extremism and violence causing massive suffering: the Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916), the Balfour Declaration (1917) and the abolition of the Islamic Caliphate (1924). The first two of these initiatives occurred prior to the ending of World War I but were explicitly incorporated into the peace arrangement imposed on the Middle East. These two colonialist initiatives embedded in the peace diplomacy, did not as such violate prevailing legal norms, nor directly contradict Western political and ethical standards, but seemed imprudent in view of nationalist challenges emanating from the non-West and the wholly disruptive nature of the Zionist project (creating a Jewish state, temporarily disguised as a Jewish “homeland” in a non-Jewish society; at the time of Balfour the Jewish population in Palestine was in the vicinity of 8%).

Kemal Ataturk decreed the abolition of the Caliphate in 1924 as part of his central project of making Turkey a Europeanized secular state along the specific lines of France. Although such an undertaking would have negative reverberations later in Turkey, it would not be reasonable to expect a political leader to anticipate this, and in fact, the secularization of Turkey was consistent with the modernization

norms that prevailed politically and ethically in the West. In actuality, however, Ataturk’s modernization project had a dislocating effect in Turkey that bears comparison with the Zionist impact on Palestine: it represented an attempt from above to impose a secular Europeanized state on a religiously oriented and non-Western multiethnic society that had long existed in Turkey. The Shah of Iran attempted the same sort of social engineering transformation of Iran that also produced a drastic backlash.

In my view the basic Geopolitical Crime committed with respect to the Ottoman Empire involved the imposition of European territorial states on a region that had been previously governed in a loose and largely non-territorial manner. More concretely, the region had for centuries been under the rule of the Ottoman Empire that divided the Arab world into “millets” vested with responsibility for local self- government, based on distinct units reflecting ethnic and religious identities. This system of governance was long largely accepted by inhabitants as “natural” or legitimate political communities, with identities that were local and tribal as well as civilizational and religious, and essentially non-territorial in the sense of the modern state system based on the central juridical idea of territorial sovereignty.

What Sykes-Picot attempted to do was to satisfy the colonial ambitions of Britain and France substituting territorial colonies within fixed international boundaries for Ottoman millets. This meant overriding the preceding natural and established communities by imposing borders and authority structures responsive to colonial priorities (e.g. Britain wanted to secure Palestine so as to be in a better position to protect the Suez Canal and trade routes to India; France wanted to establish Lebanon within borders that would ensure the presence of a Christian majority state in the region subject to its control).

I find it significant that the most influential and stark critiques of this extension of the European state system to the Middle East emphasize the illegitimacy of this element of territoriality. For instance, Ayatollah Khomeini expressed the view that neither territorial European style states nor dynastic monarchies were legitimate forms of political community. He contended that the revolution in Iran was “Islamic” (that is, non-territorial) and not “Iranian” (that is, territorial). Osama Bin Laden in explaining the ethos of his movement challenging the status quo in the Arab world pointed to 80 years of humiliation for Muslims due to the abolition of the Islamic Caliphate. The first slogan after ISIS established its ill-fated caliphate in 2014 was “the end of Sykes-Picot”, exhibiting a historical consciousness hostile to territoriality. It is possible to discount such statements as the voice of Islamic extremists that are not representative of the region, and cannot validly claim to be the voice of the people, which is more accepting of modernity, secularism and territoriality, and the accompaniment of territorial states. At the same time, one notices that these states have not succeeded in establishing any kind of voluntary or natural political community, have confronted recurrent chaos, geopolitical interventions, a series of governing authorities relying on brute force to establish and maintain order. The region has experienced a century of violent conflict, punctuated by periodic regional wars and a series of large-scale military operations, and leading to the expulsion of several hundred thousand Palestinians from their homeland.

One of the worst Geopolitical Crimes involved the coercive fragmentation and victimization of the Palestinian people as a whole. It is little wonder that in the era of decolonization, the establishment of Israel would occasion cycles of resistance and repression with still no end in sight. Surely, Balfour, despite the colonial arrogance of the declaration, could not be held responsible for foreseeing what would unfold, and colonial ambitions were later somewhat moderated by being forced into the mandates system that promised, although vaguely, eventual political independence. As with the Armenian case, what we can learn by looking back a century is that if the Balfour Declaration and its subsequent implementation had been undertaken in today’s post-colonial world it would qualify without question in the sense used here as a Geopolitical Crime, although not from the perspective of ICL.

Similarly, with the third initiative which was a spillover from World War I although distinct from its formal diplomacy. Turkey achieved independence by force of arms under the leadership of Kemal Ataturk, a visionary leader who deter- mined to take Turkey down the path of modernization, which meant secularism, nationalism, industrialization, and statism. This led Ataturk to shift course, and in 1924 abolish the Islamic caliphate that had its administrative center in Istanbul, once again reinforcing the trend away from statelessness in the Ottoman Middle East and towards a statist region organized around the somewhat alien European model of territorial sovereignty.

I am suggesting that these three initiatives constitute the deep roots of the tragedy we currently witness in the Middle East undoubtedly aggravated by the presence of abundant oil reserves vital for the functioning of the world economy. This is not meant to diminish the relevance of more proximate realities that help up grasp the more immediate con- text of the present awful conjuncture of forces in the region. The Cold War, starting with the Truman Doctrine, led to rigidity and confrontation that also produced regime-changing interventions, as in Iran in 1953, protecting foreign investment in the oil industry and also ensuring ideological alignment with the West. These realities underlay the later inducements of geopolitical actors to intervene in the region to protect their access to the vast oil reserves of the Gulf, the concern of the West to stem the tide of political Islam that flowed from the Iranian experience in 1979, and to act in ways that bolstered Israel’s security. The 9/11 attacks, an outgrowth of these earlier developments, further aggravated by internal and external engagements that sought to shape the political future of the region. The Arab Spring of 2011 followed by counterrevolutionary responses have led to the chaos and violence evident in Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Iraq, as well as the kind of repressive regime brought about by the 2013 military coup in Egypt.

 

Conclusion

I think that so me Geopolitical Crimes are ongoing and others are being initiated to reflect current realities. In. my judgment, the democratic citizenries of the world have strong incentives to oppose their commission. To illustrate this contemporary dimension, I would regard the withdrawal by Trump from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change (2016) or his decertification of the Iran Nuclear Program Agreement (2015) as blatant Geopolitical Crimes that should be so understood and in a more humane world order, would be prohibited, if possible prevented, and if necessary, accordingly punished.

Telford Taylor, one of the American prosecutors at Nuremberg, ends his book comparing Nuremberg with Vietnam with this provocative quote from the French statesman, Georges Clemenceau: “It was worse than a crime it was a mistake.”  (Taylor, Nuremberg and Vietnam: An American Tragedy, 1970). What I have been suggesting is that we should criminalize geopolitical mistakes of grave magnitude. In this more normative sense, crimes are far worse than mistakes.

We can no longer afford the occurrence of deliberate choices by representatives of leading governments that should be foreseen as producing grave harm to the human interest in achieving humane societies and a sustainable future for the species. In effect, the vertical dimension of world order needs to become subject to the discipline of international criminal law for the sake of human wellbeing, species survival, and ICL needs to be expanded to include Geopolitical Crimes.

References

Beres, L. (1992) “Prosecuting Iraqi Gulf War Crimes: Allied and Israeli Rights under International Law”, Hastings International and Comparative Law Review 16(1): 41–66.

Borger, J., Dehghan, S. and Holmes, O. (2018) “Iran Deal: Trump Breaks with European Allies over ‘Horrible, One-Sided’ Nuclear Agreement”, The Guardian, 9 May. Available online at https:// http://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/may/08/iran-deal-trump-withdraw-us-latest-news-nuclear- agreement (accessed 5 February 2019).

Franklin, B.(2018) Crash Course: From the Good War to the Forever War. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Falk, R. (1973) “Environmental Warfare and Ecocide – Facts, Appraisal, and Proposals”, Bulletin of Peace Proposals 4(1): 80–96.

Falk, R. (2018) “A Normative Evaluation of the Gulf Crisis”. Humanitarian Studies Foundation Policy Brief. Available online at http://humsf.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/HSF_PolicyBrief_2.pdf.

International Criminal Court. (1996) “Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons”, Advisory Opinion of 8 July 1996, No. 96/23. The Hague: United Nations.

Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (2015) “Vienna, 14 July 2015”. Available online at: https://www. state.gov/documents/organization/245317.pdf (accessed 5 February 2019).

Minear, R. (1971) Victors’ Justice: Tokyo War Crimes Trial. Princeton: Princeton Legacy Library. Robert H. Jackson Center. (1945) “Opening Statement before the International Military Tribunal”, November 21. Available online at: https://www.roberthjackson.org/article/justice-jackson-delivers-

opening-statement-at-nuremberg-november-21-1945/ (accessed 5 February 2019).
Tokyo District Court. (1962) “Shimoda et al. v. The State”, The Japanese Annual of International

Law 8: 231.
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Raised by the Discovery of Atomic Energy”. New York: United Nations.
United Nations General Assembly. (1951) “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the

Crime of Genocide”, vol. 78. New York: United Nations.
United Nations General Assembly. (1998) “Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court”,

A/CONF.183/9, 17 July, p. 3. New York: United Nations.
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A/CONF.229/2017/8, pp. 1–10. New York: United Nations.

 

 

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Julian Assange: Criminal or Benefactor?

14 Apr

Julian Assange: Criminal or Benefactor?

 

I suppose it is of interest that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have found something to agree about—the criminal indictment of Julian Assange.  Trump is acutely vulnerable to the exposure of truth and Clinton blames her electoral defeat in 2016 partly on what WikiLeaks disclosed about her improper use of a government computer to send private emails. Such are the perverse ways of the deeply unjust.

 

The liberal media is not happy with this indictment, although it also wants to distance itself from justifications for Assange’s claims of journalistic privilege, viewing him as a lone wolf with rogue traits. There are solemn assessments evaluating the narrowly framed government indictment charging cyber-crime, that is, publishing illicitly obtained classified documents from a digital source, apparently an apolitical everyday occurrence for government employees. What is apparently at legal issue is deciding whether or not Assange should be protected by reference to freedom of expression or prosecuted as a cyber-criminal without reference to his motivation.

 

A few commentators have noted that the main reason to go after Assange is to discourage whistleblowing of the sort most prominently associated with the disclosures of Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden. Here Assange is accused of conspiring with another heroic American whistleblower, Chelsea Manning, in obtaining the documents that featured 800 Guantanamo Bay ‘detainee assessment briefs’ and more than 400,000 cables and documents relating to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. A particularly damaging document was a video showing deliberate bombing of civilians in Iraq by American pilots, clear evidence of a serious war crime.

 

WikiLeaks, co-founded by Julian Assange in 2006, has been dedicated all along to the ideal of transparency in state/society relations as promoted by civil society initiatives. As such, it can be viewed as a service institution of robust democracy, a needed contemporary check on gross misuses of governmental secrecy. We know from a reading of the Pentagon Papers that what made publication so provocative was the degree to which the truths about the Vietnam War were being hidden from the American people through the misuse of classification protocols. There was little in the original twelve volumes of the Pentagon Papers that the Vietnamese ‘enemy’ did not know already. The inflammatory message of the Papers was how and why the war in Vietnam was going badly while the government was disseminating to the world a rosy picture of how well things were proceeding, which had the political effect of extending an unlawful war by years at the cost of tens of thousands American and Vietnamese lives. I remember hearing George Ball speak off the record a few days after he resigned as LBJ’s Under Secretary of State for Economic and Agricultural Affairs in the late 1960s about why he dissented from the Vietnam policies. He started his talk by saying “I only began to understand the Vietnam War when I stopped reading the cables from Saigon.” In other words, the patterns of deception were withinthe government as well as betweenthe government and the public.

 

We are up against a basic challenge posed by the digital age where the government operates as a citadel of surveillance, collecting meta-data on its own citizenry as well as on masses of foreigners, threatening dissent, privacy, and theessence of freedom itself. It was these concerns that led Snowden to do what he did a few years ago, and yet be pursued around the world as if a dangerous criminal, and not at first by the Trumpist right, but by the moderate center that was in political control of the government during the Obama presidency.

 

The republican idea of governance, that is, the founding principles of the American system of constitutional governance, relied on ‘checks and balances’ and ‘separation of powers’ to restrain excesses and abuses of power by the state. Such governance was reinforced by the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution that conferred an array of rights on the citizenry both as protection against an overreaching state and as protection against various manifestations of ‘the tyranny of the majority.’

 

The WikiLeaks role is especially important in the war/peace context as war-mongering governments tend to exaggerate, if not lie, to mobilize public support. This vital dimension of republicanism, designed to distinguish the American political undertaking from monarchies where war was often regarded as ‘the sport of kings,’ was entrusted to Congress, the legislative branch of government most directly connected with the people. The modern security state has moved away from restraints on war making as Congress has virtually abandoned its initially vital constitutional role of authorizing recourse to war. To revitalize this kind of republican democracy requires new instruments of transparency and validation of truth telling public servants. Otherwise, as in the Trump era, democratic constitutionalism can succumb to pre-fascist demagoguery.

 

A reinforcing observation in the American context arises from the corporatization of the media, as well as an appreciation of the unseemly recent closeness of the media to the intelligence and security governmental establishment. This has definitely weakened the independent and watchman role of journalism, especially TV, as part of the checks and balances framework in relation to the war/peace agenda, including the most trusted media outlets. Listeners of CNN, let alone FOX, know too well how debate on controversial foreign policy issues is almost exclusively entrusted to ex-generals,  admirals, CIA officials, and think tank hawks. It is rare to have the opportunity to hear the views of a civil society progressive or an articulate critic of global militarism, American style.

 

In contrast, WikiLeaks is independent of corporations, media, and governments, and has since its inception been devoted to the publication of materials incriminating governments and their private sector allies. We need to affirm WikiLeaks and whistleblowing as part of the legitimate architecture of constitutional democracy in the digital age. By criminalizing anti-war or human rights whistleblowing the political system is ratifying the suicide of substantive democracy.

 

Admittedly, this generalized endorsement of such transparency assumes that the government or the private sector have no legitimate secrets. I think there should be protection of legitimate state secrets wherein the criminality of unauthorized disclosures would require the government to sustain a burden of truth beyond a reasonable doubt that the material released was not in the public interest. This is bound to be a controversial line to draw conceptually and in practice. In quite different circumstances the release of the full Mueller Report tests whether transparency will lose out to those anti-democratic forces trying to hide, or at least obscure by redaction, the extent of wrongdoing by the Trump administration.

 

In the background should be the realization that whistleblowers rarely, if ever, act without a deeply felt sense that information crucial for the public to know about is being wrongfully withheld. Even without legal repercussions there are often high costs incurred by whistleblowers in relation to career and reputation. You are forever feared as the opposite of ‘a team player,’ so important for the morale and standard operating procedures of almost all bureaucracies, but especially those of government. I know this the personal experience of friends. Dan Ellsberg and Tony Russo, the Pentagon Papers whistleblowers were forever non-legally tainted by their brave acts of true patriotism. They realized at the time that they were taking big risks of prison and would in any event pay a high price though informal dynamics of exclusion, and yet acted out of their profound feelings of loyalty to America’s professed values. And it is true that Ellsberg, in particular, has been ‘compensated’ by being lionized in civil society as an offset to being permanently invalidated as a high-level civil servant.

 

What is mainly forgotten in relation to these whistleblowing incidents is the truly incriminating content of the disclosures. In each of these prominent instances the material released there was exposed criminal conduct by the government of a kind that threatens millions of lives and confirms the most shocking suspicions about government conduct in war zones or through malicious encroachments on public liberty.

 

It seems apt to recall President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1944 message on German war crimes directed at the German people in the midst of World War II: “Hitler is committing war crimes in the name of the German people. I ask every German and every man everywhere under German domination to show the world by his action that in his heart he does not share these insane criminal desires. Let him hide the victims, help them to get over their borders, and do what they can to save them from the Nazi hangman. I ask him also to keep watch and to record the evidence that will one day be used to convict the guilty.” (emphasis added) Is this not precisely what Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange have been doing?

 

As the U.S. Chief Prosecutor at Nuremberg, Justice Robert H. Jackson, reminded the world in his opening statement at the trials, if prosecution,  conviction, and punishment of the defendants is “to serve a useful purpose” it must in the future condemn similar lawlessness by others “including those who sit in here in judgment.” In effect, if the rule of law is to govern human behavior with respect to war crimes and crimes against humanity, the sort of ‘victors’ justice’ applied to the German and Japanese losers must in the future be replaced by ‘justice,’ that is, the application of law to all who violate it. Of course, this Nuremberg Promise has been repaeatedly broken in spirit and substance, and most defiantly by the Trump/Bolton attacks on the very existence of the International Criminal Court.

 

The UN Membership unanimously affirmed that the Nuremberg Judgment was a desirable development of international law in General Assembly Resolution 95(I). In addition, the International Law Commission, the most authoritative body entrusted with the codification and development of international law formulated

The Nuremberg Principles in 1946 to formalize the impact of the trials on international criminal law. Of particular relevance is final Principle VII: “Complicity in the commission of a crime against the peace, a war

crime, or a crime against humanity..is a crime under international law.” Fairly read, this proposition would suggest that the U.S. Government moves to prosecute Assange are themselves crimes, while the acts of Assange are commendable efforts to prevent international crimes from continuing.

 

Such reasoning should also be relevant to the British judicial response to the formal American request for extradition. Of course, extradition should be denied because ‘political crimes’ are by treaty arrangement not extraditable, and if there ever was a political crime it is this apparently failed attempt by Assange to hack the password of a government computer so as to hide the identity of the whistleblower, Chelsea Manning.

 

In the context of antiwar activism during the Vietnam War I made the argument that there existed a ‘Nuremberg Obligation’ that had moral, if not legal authority. In effect, the Nuremberg Obligation in light of the material discussed above means that every person has the rightand is subject to the dutyto contribute to the exposure of violations of international criminal law in war/peace and human rights contexts. Additionally, this moral right/duty could be reasonably construed as a legal obligation.

 

Julian Assange should be judged against this background. This applies not only to the underlying criminal charge, but to withdrawal of asylum status by the government of Ecuador that led to Assange’s unseemly arrest London and to the judicial treatment of the extradition request by the British judiciary.

UN Gaza Report Part II: Israel’s Counterinsuurgency Apologist: Colonel Richard Kemp

6 Jul

 

Retired British colonel, Richard Kemp, has been an ardent supporter of Israel’s three major military operations in Gaza conducted over the last six

years. He has collaborated on several occasions with the two notoriously pro-Israeli NGOs, UN Watch and NGO Monitor, serving on the Advisory Board of the latter and appearing as star witness under such auspices at the UN, most recently at a two-day side event at UN Headquarters in Geneva devoted to condemning the UN Commission of Inquiry Report on the Gaza War of 2014.

 

There is no doubt that Col. Kemp has the credentials to speak as a counterinsurgency specialist, having served as commander of British forces

in Afghanistan and elsewhere, where he acknowledges close cooperation with Mossad and the influence of Israeli tactics. In fairness, Kemp writes from such a militarist view with little effort to assess the relevance of international humanitarian law, treating ‘military effectiveness’ as determined by military commanders as the defining criterion of legality for a challenged battlefield practice. In his own words, “[i]t’s the dispassionate military perspective that I bring.” Of course, such an outlook ignores the relevance of international criminal law, which is to superimpose accountability as a constraining framework on this ‘military perspective.’ Actually, Kemp doesn’t so much ignore international criminal law as to (mis)interpret its rules so as to vindicate the tactics of the counterinsurgent side while condemning those of the insurgent.

 

On June 25, 2015 the New York Times published an opinion piece by Kemp assessing the UN Report. What I find scandalous and perverse on the part of this self-claiming authoritative media source, is to publish such a harsh and partisan dismissal of a prudent and overly balanced report without any kind of offsetting piece. I can only imagine the furor that would have been provoked if the NYT had published a piece by an expert in international criminal law, say William Schabas or John Dugard, calling for the indictment and prosecution of Israel’s political and military leaders on the basis of the Report. At least, if such a piece had been published alongside the Kemp article, NYT readers could have been exposed to the realities of controversy flowing from these UN allegations that Israel (and to a far lesser extent, Hamas) was guilty of war crimes.

 

Kemp begins his article with the claim that “..it pains me greatly to see words and actions from the UN that can only provoke further violence and loss of life.” As is ‘law’ imposed on the powerful and not their weaponry is responsible for violence and the loss of life in Gaza. We are not told exactly why reaches this perverse conclusion, but presumably Kemp believes that the condemnation of Israel’s use of indiscriminate and disproportionate force would embolden Hamas, and Palestinians generally, to continue to claim a right of resistance. What Kemp (and Israel) obviously seek is a circumstance in which whatever the dominant military forces do is validated by its effectiveness and what a population under domination does in opposition is condemned with the implication that resistance to Israel’s prolonged occupation is inherently unlawful.

 

Kemp’s puff piece is filled with bland endorsements of Israel’s most blatant propaganda. For instance, Kemp asserts, in complete disregard of the evidence, that Israel imposed the blockade on Gaza “only in response to attacks by Hamas.” While it is common knowledge, even in Israel, that the blockade has been maintained since 2007 as a ‘collective punishment’ imposed on the civilian population of Gaza, having little to do with security, which was mainly sustained by way of rigorous monitoring of all crossings to and from Gaza, and with Egypt’s cooperation at Rafah during the Mubarak era and since Sisi’s ascent. Kemp has nothing to say about Israel’s frequent lethal incursions into Gaza that have accompanied the occupation since it started in 1967, and he uncritically supports Israel’s distorted one-sided timeline that claims Israel only attacks in retaliation for missiles and mortar fire from Hamas, and never initiates violent interactions by on its own. Kemp also never refers to the ceasefires broken by Israel, as in the leadup to Operation Cast Lead at the end of 2008. Instead, as Kemp has written elsewhere of this earlier brutal attack on a vulnerable, cage population, “I can only say this: during Operation Cast Lead, the IDF did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in the combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”

 

Most disturbingly, Kemp writes in a condescending manner as follows: “The report is characterized by a lack of understanding of warfare,” as revealed by its failure to compare what Israel is doing with what the U.S. and Britain have done in Afghanistan, Iraq. In Kemp’s words, Israeli tactics are no different than those used extensively by American and British forces in similar circumstances.” What is most dangerous about this counterinsurgency worldview is its implicit reasoning that allows such conclusions to be set forth in good faith by professional soldiers. To begin with, Kemp is essentially correct that the counterinsurgency wars waged by the U.S. and Britain have relied on similar tactics, but does that make Israel’s pattern consistent with international law and morality? Most international law assessments of these uses of modern weaponry against densely populated civilian areas consider such tactics to be severe war crimes, not models to be invoked as validation.

Kemp’s state of play is revealed here: converting past crimes into authoritative precedents to justify present crimes, or to transform crimes into legitimate counterinsurgency tactics.

 

Beyond this, Israel’s tactics are worse in some instances than those of its predecessors. Whereas in Vietnam, the United States used its far less precise air power to inflict heavy casualties on the Vietnamese civilian population it refrained from attacking urban population centers as Israel did in the Gaza attack of 2014, as well as the earlier ones. Even in Falluja, the worst instance of American firepower directed at a city believed to be a center of insurgent opposition in Iraq to American occupation, the population was given ample time to vacate the city after warnings of impending attack. In contrast, except for the 800 Palestinians that held foreign passports who were allowed to leave Gaza, the remainder of the civilian population in Gaza was locked into the combat zone, losing even the desperate option of fleeing to safety by becoming a refugee. Col. Kemp, invoking his counterinsurgency experience and knowledge, never sees fit to mention such a damning ‘detail.’

Nor does he bother to point out that the whole of Gaza was a combat zone, and that civilians, including women and children, had no place of sanctuary and safety, other than to seek refuge in UN facilities and mosques, which then were turned into targets because of Israeli claims that weapons were stored in these places.

 

Parroting the worst elements of Israeli hasbara, Kemp sets forth this grotesque characterization of Hamas tactics: “Unable to inflict existential harm on Israel by military means, Hamas sought to cause large numbers of casualties among its own people in order to bring condemnation and unbearable diplomatic pressure against Israel.” To make such an extreme allegation without bothering to cite evidence is to portray Hamas as seeking the genocidal annihilation of its own people. This is an odd accusation in view of the evidence that Hamas became gained more popular support from the Gazan population after this Israeli attack than before, presumably because of its steadfastness under the most severe of pressures. Also, Kemp withholds comments on the repeated and strenuous efforts of Hamas to seek the renewal of the ceasefire prior to the initiation of the Israel onslaught in early July of 2014.

 

In effect, Kemp is appraising Israel’s behavior on the basis of the ‘new normal’ prevailing among counterinsurgency hawks that have led the West into war after war in its futile effort to defer the death of European colonialism, and its American sequel. What is done by the West is justified by military effectiveness (although without noticing that these wars have all been eventually lost), what is done by the forces of national resistance is criminalized if not demonized as ‘barbarism.’

 

 

It is not surprising that UN Watch and NGO Monitor organized an elaborate side event at the Palais des Nations in Geneva last week that featured Richard Kemp as its lead speakers, but included an array of other counterinsurgency specialists, with no attempt whatsoever to bring to bear the perspectives of international humanitarian law except in the spirit of Israeli apologetics. For description of this event held on June 29-30 see the home pages of either UN Watch or NGO Monitor. It is notable that unlike the response to the Goldstone Report in 2009 that featured denunciations of bias and personal attacks, the orchestrated reaction to COI report is more sophisticated, relying on a variety of substantive reports that set forth Israel’s claims of justification, a media blitz, along with major advocacy efforts by Israel’s well-trained NGO poodles.

 

A welcome contrasting vision, closer to law, morality, and reality is offered by Max Blumenthal in his new book, The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza (2015). David Swanson, the noted anti-war activist, titles his review of Blumenthal’s book, “the 51-day Genocide” <http//davidswanson.org/node/4815> As Swanson puts it in his review of the book, “I can think of a few other words that characterized the 2014 assault on Gaza in addition to ‘war,’ among them, occupation, murder-spree, and genocide. Each serves a valuable purpose. Each is correct.”

 

Opposing Impunity for Geopolitical Criminality

5 Apr

 

 

Responding to intense pressure from the usual sources William Schabas, a prominent and respected expert on international criminal law, recently resigned as Chair of the UN expert commission of inquiry into war crimes allegations arising from the massive Israeli military operations in Gaza during July and August of 2014. These issues relating to international criminal accountability have also received recent prominence due to Palestine’s adherence to the Rome Treaty making it a party to the International Criminal Court, an initiative that generated an enraged punitive reaction on the part of Israel as well as an angry denunciation by Washington. On display in these instances is the struggle between extending the rule of law to international state crimes and the geopolitical resistance to such an effort whenever accountability to law is in tension with the pursuit of strategic interests.

Imposing international criminal responsibility upon political leaders and military commanders that occur in the aftermath of wars possesses a dual character from a geopolitical perspective: to vindicate major military undertakings of liberal democratic states and to ensure impunity for the leaders of these same states in the event that their behavior or that of their allies are alleged to be international crimes. These efforts at vindication are associated with strengthening the global rule of law and validating the established order, while impunity is invoked to insulate powerful individuals and their governments from criminal accountability. The resulting pattern in international life is one of double standards at the level of implementation and hypocritical rhetoric about the importance of a global rule of law based on its universal applicability.

 

Contemporary experience with these issues is grounded in the aftermath of World War II. In 1945 with great fanfare after World War II, especially at Nuremberg in the legal prosecution of surviving Nazi leaders, as well as at Toyko where a series of prominent Japanese personalities who had headed the imperial government and commanded its military forces were accused and convicted of international crimes. These sophisticated ‘show trials’ were generally endorsed in the West as a civilized alternative to the favored Soviet and British approaches, which would have been to arrange summary mass executions of all Germans deemed responsible for international crimes without making any effort to assess the gravity or accuracy of the charges directed at specific individuals. What was done at Nuremberg in 1945 was for prosecutors to prepare carefully evidence of alleged wrongdoing of each defendant under indictment as well as developing arguments about the legal relevance of the international crimes at stake while giving those accused an almost free hand to offer legal defenses and mitigating evidence as prepared by competent lawyers appointed to render them assistance.

 

In most respects, Nuremberg in particular continues to be viewed as a landmark success in the annals of the progressive development of international law. It is also significant that the outcomes of parallel Tokyo prosecutions of Japanese leaders are virtually unknown except in Japan where they are decried as ‘victors’ justice’ and throughout the world among a few specialists in international criminal law.

 

There are several reasons for the prominence of Nuremberg. First of all, the disclosures of the Holocaust at Nuremberg were so ghastly that some sort of punishment of those responsible seemed to be a moral imperative at the time.

Although the crime of genocide did not yet exist in law, the revelations of the Nuremberg proceedings documented as never before the systematic extermination of Jews and others in Europe. Beyond this, the war was widely believed to have been a just and necessary response to the menace of Naziism and Japanese imperialism, and their embrace of aggressive war. The Allied victory was viewed as decisive in overcoming the fascist challenge to liberal democracy, with the Nuremberg Judgment providing an authoritative rationale for waging a defensive war so costly in lives, devastation, and resources. Finally, the claim to be establishing a structure of legal accountability that took precedence over national law seemed integral to the postwar resolve to keep the peace in the future and deter aggression by reminding all leaders of the possibility of criminal accountability for initiating a war or abusing people under their control. The advent of nuclear weaponry reinforced the moral and political conviction that major wars must now be prevented by all available means, including this warning to leaders and military commanders that their actions could become the subject of criminal prosecution.

 

At the same time, this Nuremberg/Tokyo experiment was tainted from the outset. It was clearly victors’ justice that incorporated double standards. The evident crimes of the winners in the war were not even investigated, including the atomic bombings of two Japanese cities, which were viewed around the world as perhaps the worst single acts of wrongdoing throughout the course of the entire war, and only the Nazi death camps were in some way equivalent in relation to legality and morality. There were official statements made at Nuremberg that those who sat in judgment of the Germans would in the future be subject to similar procedures of accountability if they committed acts that seemed to be crimes under international law implying that the rule of law would replace victors’ justice. In effect, the claim made on behalf of moral credibility and political fairness was that this Nuremberg/Tokyo approach would assume the attributes of the rule of law by treating equals equally in future conflicts. Such expectations, if scrutinized, seemed to reflect the hopes of ‘liberal legalists’ in universal legal standards, but were never realistic goals given the structure and nature of world politics.

 

In effect, this Nuremberg promise could not be kept because geopolitical primacy continues to set the limits of legal accountability. Although there has existed an International Criminal Court since 2002, and ample grounds for believing that some major sovereign states have committed international crimes, there have zero prosecutions directed at dominant political actors, and not even investigations into possible criminality have been launched. Such a pattern results from a normative gap in world order that is not likely to be closed soon. It is a gap that is most visibly expressed by reference to the right of veto possessed as a matter of law by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. This right of veto amounts to an institutional grant of exemption from the legal obligation to comply with the UN Charter on matters of peace and security. For these five states and their friends and allies, compliance is discretionary, and non-compliance is in effect ‘a right.’ In this regard, the UN Charter is itself a product of what might be called ‘geopolitical realism,’ which takes precedence over the apolitical aspirations of ‘liberal legalists.’

 

And yet, the impulse to hold accountable those who commit crimes against the peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity remains strong among moderate democratic governments and in some sectors of global civil society. As a result there is some further development of the Nuremberg idea, although the fundamental tensions between hard power and establishing a credible rule of law with general applicability remains. During the 1990s the UN Security Council established ad hoc international tribunals to assess criminal responsibility associated with the breakup of former Yugoslavia and in relation to the genocidal massacres in Rwanda. In these North/South settings, there was more willingness to allow all sides to bring forth their arguments about the criminal behavior of their adversary since there were no allegations directed at geopolitical heavyweights. That is, the approach of liberal legalists became practical in these situations where no high profile geopolitical actor is being accused of an international crime.

 

The International Criminal Court was itself brought into being in 2002 by an unusual coalition of forces, joining governments with a great many NGOs drawn from around the world in a joint project. What came into being is an international institution with a mandate to investigate and prosecute, but lacking the participation and support of the dominant states, and operating within a framework that up to now has been deferential to the sensitivities of sovereign states in the West. Operating in such a limited way has led the ICC in its first decade to focus its attention almost entirely on African leaders, while looking the other way with respect to geopolitical actors. Liberals conceive of this as progress, doing what can be done, and beneficial to the extent that it apprehends some persons who have been responsible for atrocities and crimes against humanity. Critics of the ICC view it as another venue for the administration of ‘victors’ justice’ and an inscription of Western moral hegemony that entails a cynical expression of double standards. Both interpretations are plausible. The ICC is currently facing an identity test as to whether it will undertake investigations of alleged Israeli criminality made at the request of Palestine. Its institutional weight is being demonstrated by the degree to which the Israeli leadership reacts with fury, punitive policies, and intense anger directed at the Palestinian Authority for raising such a possibility. It should surprise few that Israel’s backlash against the ICC is supported by the United States.

 

For centuries there has been recognized the capacity of national courts to act as agents of law enforcement in relation to international wrongdoing. Such a judicial role was long exercised in Western countries in relation to international piracy, which was viewed as a crime against the whole world and hence could be prosecuted anywhere. Such an extension of international criminal law is based on ideas of ‘universal jurisdiction,’ strengthening the capacity of international society to address serious crimes of state. This kind of approach receive great attention in relation to allegations of torture made against the former Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, after he was detained by Britain in response to a 1998 request for extradition by Spain where a court stood ready to prosecute on the basis of indictments already made. After a series of legal proceedings in Britain the House of Lords acting as the country’s highest judicial body decided that Pinochet should be extradited, but only for torture charges relating to a period after torture became an international crime within Britain. In theory, national courts could become much more active in relation to universal jurisdiction if so empowered by parliamentary mandate, but again doing so without challenging geopolitical red lines. When Belgian courts threatened to proceed against Donald Rumsfeld because of his alleged authorization of torture in Iraq, political pressures were mounted by Washington, including even threats to move NATO. In the end, Belgium backed down by revising its national criminal code so as to make it much more difficult to prosecute international crimes that occurred outside of Belgium and for which Belgians were not victims or perpetrators.

 

Civil society has also acted to close the normative gap created by patterns of geopolitical impunity. In the midst of the Vietnam War, motivated by a sense of moral outrage and the paralysis of official institutions when it came to challenging American behavior, Bertrand Russell organized a symbolic legal proceeding that investigated charges of criminality in 1966 and 1967. Prominent intellectuals from around the world were invited to serve as a jury of conscience, heard evidence, issuing their opinion as to law and facts at the end. Inspired by this Russell Tribunal experience, the Permanent Peoples Tribunal was established a decade later by citizens, operating out of Rome, holding sessions on issues where there existed moral outrage, legal prohibitions, and institutional paralysis, symbolically challenging geopolitical impunity. In 2005 there was organized in Istanbul by a dedicated group of female activists an independent tribunal to investigate war crimes charges against British and American political and military leaders, as well as corporate actors associated with the Iraq War. The Iraq War Tribunal relied upon a jury of conscience chaired by Arundhati Roy to pronounce upon the evidence. Of course, such a tribunal can only challenge impunity symbolically by influencing public opinion, and possibly through encouraging boycotts and other moves that delegitimize the claimants of power and possibly alter the political climate. Nevertheless, it plays a role in the legitimacy war dimensions of international conflicts, providing an alternative narrative to the discourse

disseminated by geopolitical forces and giving encouragement to civil society activism by providing a convincing rationale for concluding that contested behavior violates fundamental norms of international law and morality.

 

In summary, it is still accurate to observe that geopolitical primacy inhibits the implementation of international criminal law from the perspective of a global rule of law regime that treats equals equally. At the same time, ever since Nuremberg there have been efforts to end the impunity of those guilty of international crimes in war/peace situations and national settings of oppressive rule. These efforts have taken several main forms: (1) the establishment by the UN of ad hoc tribunals with a specific mandate as with former Yugoslavia and Rwanda; (2) the establishment of a treaty based international institution, the International Criminal Court, with limited participation and disappointing results to date; (3) reliance on universal jurisdiction to activate national courts to act as agents on behalf of international society with respect to enforcing international criminal law; (4) the formation of civil society tribunals to assess criminal responsibility of

leaders in situations of moral outrage and global settings that render unavailable either inter-governmental or governmental procedures of accountability. (1)-(3) are projects of liberal legality, while (4) draws on more progressive jurisprudential energies outside the statist paradigm.

 

In the end, there is posed a choice. One possibility is go along with the one-eyed efforts of liberal legalists, most notably mainstream NGOs such as Human Rights Watch, silently acknowledging that the rule of law cannot be expected to function in relation to many serious international crimes due to the hierarchical and hegemonic structure of international society. The other possibility is to insist there can be no international justice so long as there exists a regime of ‘geopolitical impunity.’ In both instances, the contributions of civil society tribunals are needed, both for the sake of symbolic indictment and documentation of wrongdoing, and to acknowledge civil society as the moral and legal conscience of humanity. It must be admitted that only among liberal democracies are such self-critical initiatives of civil society tolerated, although such undertakings are derided and marginalized by mainstream media as the work of a ‘kangaroo court.’ Obama’s refusal to look back at the international crimes alleged against leading members of the Bush presidency is one awkward admission of the limits on legal accountability; such reasoning if generalized would invalidate any concern with all forms of past behavior, and hence any notion of accountability for all crimes. In such a dysutopia criminal law might exist, but by habit and expectation it would never be implemented, however severe the crime and dangerous the criminal. In the world we inhabit, without kangaroo courts international criminal law would continue with its limited writ, and there would no tribunals whatsoever to assess the criminality of the most powerful political actors on the world stage that menace many vulnerable peoples in the world.

 

 

 

 

The Mistakes of the Global Imperial State and the Mistakes of Others  

29 Mar

 

It was pointed out to me that the oddities of reconciliation without truth that I encountered in the Philippines with respect to the persisting prominence of the Marcos family despite the widespread discrediting of his period of ruler ship (1965-1986) is not as strange as I made it appear. After all, Jeb Bush has recently announced his intention to seek the presidency of the United States in 2016, and George W. Bush despite his deplorable presidency, is regarded as a political asset, and is actively campaigning and raising funds on behalf of his younger brother. In the Philippines, unlike the United States, there was a political rupture brought about by the People Power Movement that drove the Marcos clan from power and led directly to Corey Aquino becoming president, widow of Benigno Aquino Jr., the slain Marcos opponent. Even now this populist triumph is celebrated as a day of national pride for the country, and Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III sits in the Malacañang Palace as the elected leader of the country. Yet the political realities in the Philippines, as with America, are more notable for their continuities with their discredited past than by changes that repudiate and overcome it.

 

Barack Obama was acting in an admittedly different political setting in the United States when he put aside well grounded allegations of criminality directed at the leadership during the Bush presidency, prudently contending that the country should look forward not backward when it comes to criminal accountability of its former political leaders. Of course, this is the opposite of what was done with surviving German and Japanese leaders after World War II at the widely heralded Nuremberg and Tokyo trials, nor can such prudence ever become the norm in the United States in relation to the crimes of ordinary people, even the laudable whistleblowing crimes of the sort attributed to Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden. Such selective impunity seems to be the price that imperial democracies pay for avoiding civil strife at home, and preferable to the unity associated with authoritarian forms of governance.

 

For this reason alone, Obama’s morally regressive approach to accountability is politically understandable and prudent. America is polarized, and the most alienated and angry segment of the citizenry embraces the gun culture and likely remains ardently supportive of the sort of militarism and patriotic fervor that had been so strongly in evidence during the Bush presidency.

 

Thoughts along these lines led me a broader set of reflections. The mistakes that the Philippines makes, however horrifying from the perspectives of human rights, are at least largely confined to the territorial limits of the country and victimize its own citizenry. By way of comparison, the foreign policy mistakes that the United States mainly vicitimize others, although they often do at the same time impose heavy costs on the most marginal and vulnerable of Americans. As a society, many regret the impacts of the Vietnam War or the Iraq War on the serenity and self-esteem of American society, but as Americans we rarely, if ever, pause to lament the immense losses inflicted on societal experience of those living within such distant battlefields of geopolitical ambition. These victim societies are passive recipients of this destructive experience, rarely possessing the capability or even the political will to strike back. Such is the one-sidedness of imperial relationships.

 

An estimated 1.6 to 3.8 million Vietnamese died during the Vietnam War as compared to 58, 000 Americans, and similar casualty ratios are present in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, without even considering the disruption and devastation experienced. In Iraq since 2003 it is estimated that between 600,000 and 1 million Iraqis were killed, and over 2 million were internally displaced and another 500,000 Iraqis became refugees as a result of the war, while the United States lost in the vicinity of 4,500 combat personnel. Battlefield statistics should not blind us to the absoluteness of each death from the perspective of loved ones, but they do reveal a central dimension of the distribution of the relative human costs of war as between an intervening government and the target society. This calculus of combat death does begin to tell the story of the devastation of a foreign society, or the residual dangers that can materialize in death and maiming injuries long after the guns are silent from lethal unexploded ordinance that litters the countryside for generations, soil contamination by Agent Orange, and warheads containing depleted uranium, as well as a legacy of trauma and many daily reminders of war memories in the shape of devastated landscapes and destroyed landmarks of cultural heritage.

 

From almost any ethical standpoint it would seem that some conception of international responsibility should restrain the use of force in situations other than those authorized by international law. But that’s not the way the world works. The mistakes and wrongdoing that takes place in a distant foreign war is rarely acknowledged, and never punished or restitution offered. Perversely, it is only the territorial leaders that are held to account (e.g. Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, and Muammar Qaddafi). The United States Government, specifically the Pentagon, makes it a point to tell the world that it does not collect data on civilian casualties associated with its international military operations. In part, there is an attitude of denial, minimizing the ordeals inflicted on foreign countries, and in part there is the salve of an underlying official insistence that the U.S. makes every effort to avoid civilian casualties. In the context of drone warfare, Washington insists that there are very few civilian victims, as measured by the number of deaths, but never admits that a far larger number of civilians huddle in continuous acute fear that they may be targeted or unintentionally struck dead by an errant missile.

 

Given the statist and imperial structures of world order, it is not surprising that there is so little attention to such issues. The mistakes of an imperial global state have material reverberations far beyond their borders while the mistakes of normal state resound inwardly as in an echo chamber. The wrongs of those who act for the imperial global state are shielded from scrutiny by realistic notions of impunity, while the wrongs of those who act for a normal state are increasingly subject to international procedures of accountability. When this happened after World War II it was called ‘victors’ justice; when it happens now, especially with the one-eyed jurisprudence of ‘liberal legality’ it is explained by reference to prudence and realism, being practical, doing what it is possible, accepting limits, giving a fair trial to those who are accused, deterring some patterns of evil deeds.

 

This will not change unless either of two things come to pass: a global capability to interpret and implement international criminal law comes into being or the political consciousness of imperial global states is dramatically altered by the internalization of an ethos of responsibility toward foreign societies and their inhabitants. Any description of such advances in law and justice should make us aware of how utopian such expectations remain.

 

At present, there is only one global imperial state, the United States of America. Some suggest that China’s economic prowess creates a rival center of power and influence that should be acknowledged as a second global imperial state. This seems misleading. China may be more resilient, and is certainly less militarist in its conception of security and pursuit of its interests, but it is not global, nor does it fight wars distant from its homeland. Furthermore, Chinese language, currency, and culture do not enjoy the global reach of English, the U.S. dollar, and franchise capitalism. Undoubtedly, China is currently is arguably the most significant state in the world, but its reality is in keeping with core Westphalian ideas of territorial sovereignty, while the United States operates globally in all regions to solidify its status as the only global imperial state, indeed the first such state in the history of the world.

Palestinian Recourse to the International Criminal Court: The Time has Come

21 Jul

[Prefatory Note: “Palestine’s Dilemma: To Go or Not to Go to the International Criminal Court” was published on July 13, 2014 on the website of Middle East Eye, a site I strong recommend to all those with an interest in Middle East issues; this post represents a somewhat revised text, but within the framework of the original; the political plausibility of invoking the Inteernational Criminal Court to investigate allegations of criminality directed at Israel increases with each passing day.)

 

 

 

Ever since this latest Israeli major military operation against Gaza started on July 8, there have been frequent suggestions that Israel is guilty of war crimes, and that Palestine should do its best to activate the International Criminal Court (ICC) on its behalf. The evidence overwhelmingly supports basic Palestinian allegations—Israel is guilty either of aggression in violation of the UN Charter or is in flagrant violation of its obligations as the Occupying Power under the Geneva Convention to protect the civilian population of an Occupied People; Israel seems guilty of using excessive and disproportionate force against a defenseless society in the Gaza Strip; and Israel, among an array of other offenses, seems guilty of committing Crimes Against Humanity in the form of imposing an apartheid regime in the West Bank and through the transfer of population to an occupied territory as it has proceeded with its massive settlement project.

 

Considering this background of apparent Israeli criminality it would seem a no brainer for the Palestinian Authority to seek the help of the ICC in waging its struggle to win over world public opinion to their side. After all, the Palestinians are without military or diplomatic capabilities to oppose Israel, and it is on law, global solidarity, and their own creative and brave resistance that the Palestinian people must rest their hopes for eventually realizing their rights, particularly the right of self-determination and the right of return. Palestinian demonstrators in the West Bank are demanding that their leaders in the Palestinian Authority adhere to the Rome Statute, and become members of the ICC without further delay. It has become part of the message of Palestinian street politics that the Palestinians are being criminally victimized, and that the Palestinian Authority if it wants to retain the slightest shred of respect as representatives of the Palestinian people must join in this understanding of the Palestinian plight and stop ‘playing nice’ with Israeli authorities.

 

Such reasoning from a Palestinian perspective is reinforced by the May 8th letter sent by 17 respected human rights NGOs to President Mahmoud Abbas urging Palestine to become a member of the ICC, and act to end Israel’s impunity. This was not a grandstanding gesture dreamed up on the irresponsible political margins of liberal Western society. Among the signatories were such human rights stalwarts as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Al Haq, and the International Commission of Jurists, entities known for their temporizing prudence in relation to the powers that be.

 

Adding further credence to the idea that the ICC option should be explored was the intense opposition by Israel and United States, ominously threatening the PA with dire consequences if it tried to join the ICC, much less to seek justice through its activating its investigative procedures. The American ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, herself long ago prominent as a human rights advocate, revealed Washington’s nervous hand when she confessed that the ICC “is something that really poses a profound threat to Israel.” I am not sure that Power would like to live with the idea that because Israel is so vulnerable to mounting a legal challenge that its impunity must be upheld whatever the embarrassment to Washington of doing so. France and Germany have been more circumspect, saying absurdly that recourse to the ICC by Palestine should be avoided because it would disrupt ‘the final status negotiations,’ as if this pseudo-diplomacy was ever of any of value, a chimera if there ever was one, in the elusive quest for a just peace.

 

In a better world, the PA would not hesitate to invoke the authority of the ICC, but in the world as it is, the decision is not so simple. To begin with, is the question of access, which is limited to states. Back in 2009, the PA tried to adhere to the Rome Statute, which is the treaty governing the ICC, and was rebuffed by the prosecutor who turned the issue over to the Security Council, claiming a lack of authority to determine whether the PA represented a ‘state.’ Subsequently, on November 29, 2012 the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly recognized Palestine as ‘a nonmember observer state.’ Luis Moreno–Ocampo who had acted in 2009 for the ICC, and now speaking as the former prosecutor, asserted that in his opinion Palestine would now in view of the General Assembly action qualify as a state enjoying the option of becoming an ICC member. Normally, ICC jurisdiction is limited to crimes committed after the state becomes a member, but there is a provision that enables a declaration to be made accepting jurisdiction for crimes committed at any date in its territory so long as it is after the ICC itself was established in 2002.

 

Is this enough? Israel has never become a party to the Rome Statute setting up the ICC, and would certainly refuse to cooperate with a prosecutor who sought to investigate war crimes charges with the possible intention of prosecution. In this regard, recourse to ICC might appear to be futile as even if arrest warrants were to be issued by the court, as was done in relation to Qaddafi and his son in 2011, there would be no prospect that the accused Israeli political and military figures would be handed over, and without the presence of such defendants in the court at The Hague, a criminal trial cannot go forward. This illustrates a basic problem with the enforcement of international criminal law. It has been effective only against the losers in wars fought against the interests of the West and, to some extent, against those whose crimes are in countries located in sub-Saharan Africa. This biased form of international criminal law implementation has been the pattern since the first major effort was made after World War II at Nuremberg and Tokyo. Surviving German and Japanese leaders were prosecuted for their crimes while exempting the winners, despite Allied responsibility for the systematic bombing of civilian populations by way of strategic bombing and the American responsibility for dropping atomic bombs on the heavily populated cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

 

Unfortunately, up to this time the ICC has not been able to get rid of this legacy of ‘victors’ justice,’ which has harmed its credibility and reputation. All ICC cases so far have involved accused from sub-Saharan African countries. The refusal of the ICC to investigate allegations of war crimes of the aggressors in relation the Iraq War of 2003 is a dramatic confirmation that leading states, especially the United States, possess a geopolitical veto over what the ICC can do. The ICC failure to investigate the crimes of Bush and Blair, as well as their entourage of complicit top officials, vividly shows the operations of double standards. Perhaps, the climate of opinion has evolved to the point where there would be an impulse to investigate the charges against Israel even if procedural obstacles preventing the case from being carried to completion. Any serious attempt to investigate the criminal accountability of Israeli political and military leaders would add legitimacy to the Palestinian struggle, and might have a positive spillover effect on the global solidarity movement and the intensifying BDS campaign.

 

Yet there are other roadblocks. First of all, the PA would definitely have to be prepared to deal with the wrath of Israel, undoubtedly supported by the United States and more blandly by several European countries. The push back could go in either of two directions: Israel formally annexing most or all of the West Bank, which it seems determined to do in any event, or more likely in the short run, withholding the transfer of funds needed by the PA to support its governmental operations. The U.S. Congress would be certain to follow the lead of Tel Aviv even if the Obama presidency might be more inclined to limit its opposition to a diplomatic slap on the PA wrist as it did recently in reacting to the June formation of the interim unity government, an important step toward reconciling Fatah and Hamas, and overcoming the fragmentation that has hampered Palestinian representation in international venues in recent years.

 

A second potential obstacle concerns the jurisdictional authority of the ICC, which extends to all war crimes committed on the territory of a treaty member, which means that leaders of Hamas would also likely be investigated and indicted for their reliance on indiscriminate rockets aimed in the direction of Israeli civilian targets.There is even speculation that given the politics of the ICC such that crimes alleged against Hamas might be exclusively pursued.

 

If we assume that these obstacles have been considered, and Palestine still wants to go ahead with efforts to activate the investigation of war crimes in Gaza, but also in the rest of occupied Palestine, what then? And assume further, that the ICC reacts responsibly, and gives the bulk of its attention to the allegations directed against Israel, the political actor that controls most aspects of the relationship. There are several major crimes against humanity enumerated in Articles 5-9 of the Rome Statute for which there exists abundant evidence as to make indictment and conviction of Israeli leaders all but inevitable if Palestine uses its privilege to activate an investigation and somehow is able to produce the defendants to face trial: reliance on excessive force, imposing an apartheid regime, collective punishment, population transfers in relations to settlements, maintenance of the separation wall in Palestine.

 

The underlying criminality of the recent aggression associated with Protective Edge (Israel’s name for its 2014 attack on Gaza) cannot be investigated at this point by the ICC, and this seriously limits its authority. It was only in 2010 that an amendment was adopted by the required 2/3 majority of the 122 treaty members on an agreed definition of aggression, but it will not become operative until 2017. In this respect, there is a big hole in the coverage of war crimes currently under the authority of the ICC.

 

Despite all these problems, recourse to the ICC remains a valuable trump card in the thin PA deck, and playing it might begin to change the balance of forces bearing on the conflict that has for decades now denied the Palestinian people their basic rights under international law. If this should happen, it would also be a great challenge to and opportunity for the ICC finally to override the geopolitical veto that has so far kept criminal accountability within the tight circle of ‘victors’ justice’ and hence only accorded the peoples of the world a very power-laden and biased experience of justice.

Armenian Grievances, Turkey, United States and 1915

26 Apr

 

 

            On April 10 by a vote of 12-5, with one abstention, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee gave its approval to Resolution 410 calling upon Turkey to acknowledge that the massacres of Armenians in 1915, and subsequently, constituted ‘genocide.’ It also asks President Obama to adjust American foreign policy by advocating an “equitable, constructive, stable and durable Armenian-Turkish relationship including full acknowledgement of ‘the Armenian genocide.’” So far, Obama since becoming president has refrained from uttering the g-word, although he has acknowledged the historical wrongs done to the Armenian people in the strongest possible language of condemnation.

 

            Such resolutions, although widely understood to be symbolic and recommendatory, reflect the efforts of the Armenian diaspora to raise awareness of the true nature of what the Armenians endured in 1915, and especially to induce the Turkish government to acknowledge these events as ‘genocide,’ or else suffer the reputational consequences of embracing what is being called ‘denialism.’ The resolution is the latest move to build a strong international consensus in support of the Armenian sense of grievance, and in so doing generate pressures on the accused Turkish government to admit the full enormity of the crimes against the Armenian people by admitting that it was genocide. Further there may also be present an intention to reinforce an appropriate apology, should it be forthcoming, with such tangible steps as restoring stolen property and possibly even establishing a reparations fund.

 

            The Armenian campaign also makes the wider claim that this process of redress for a horrendous historic grievance will also act as a deterrent to the commission in the future of similar crimes. The Senate resolution, however, make a minimal contribution to these goals. It is little more than a gesture of good will explicitly associated with commemorating the 99th anniversary of the 2015 events. As the April 24th day of commemoration has passed without the resolution being put on the action agenda of the full Senate prior to its Easter recess the resolution becomes consigned to the permanent twilight of a recommendation that is never even consummated by the relevant legislative body. Such an interplay of action and inaction manifests an underlying governmental ambivalence as to how this issue should be formally addressed by the United States at official levels of government. Why? Because the expression criticism of the Turkish government for the manner it is addressing the Armenian demands for redress inevitably engages American foreign policy.

 

            The Turkish Foreign Minister has already indicated his displeasure with such initiatives, insisting that respected historians should investigate the claim of genocide, that it is not appropriate for third countries to meddle in such matters, and that such an initiative, if it were formally endorsed at higher levels in Washington, will have a negative influence on the search for some kind of mutually acceptable resolution of these persisting tensions. The Turkish narrative on 1915, which has been softening its oppositional stance during the past decade, still argues that there were atrocities and suffering for Turks as well as Armenians, including a considerable number of Turkish casualties. Further, that the massacres of Armenians were less expressions of ethnic hatred than expressive of a reliance on excessive and undisciplined force to suppress an Armenian revolt against Ottoman rule at a time when Armenians were siding with invading Russian armies in the midst of World War I.

 

What is at Stake

 

            There are two important, intertwined concerns present. First, the whole issue of inter-temporal justice, how to address events that took place one hundred years ago in a manner that is as fair as possible to the victims yet takes account of the passage of time in assessing responsibility for such long past events. Secondly, the degree to which such an issue should be resolved by the parties themselves within the frame of the country where the events took place, or within the framework of the United Nations, rather than be addressed in the domestic politics of third countries whose governments are likely swayed by the presence or absence of aggrieved minorities.

 

            My impression is that the current leadership in Turkey is less seriously committed to upholding the Turkish narrative than in the past, but neither is it willing to subscribe to the Armenian narrative in some of its key elements, especially the insistence that what took place in 1915 must be described as genocide if it is to be properly acknowledged. It is not only the inflammatory nature of the word itself, but also a reasonable apprehension in Ankara of ‘the Pandora’s Box’ aspects of such a process, which once opened would likely move from the word genocide to such delicate embedded questions as reparations and the restoration of stolen property. Especially in recent months, the Turkish political scene has been rather chaotic, and undoubtedly there is a present reluctance by Turkish leaders to stir the hot embers of its nationalist political culture by acceding to the Armenian agenda relating to resolving the conflict. Yet with the 100th anniversary of 1915 around the corner, Turkey has its own strong incentives for being pro-active in developing a forthcoming posture in relation to Armenia and the Armenians.

 

            Against such a background, it seems important to ask what it is that the Armenian demand for the redress of historic grievances is seeking. Is it the belated satisfaction of having Turkey formally declare and admit that what took place in 1915 was ‘genocide,’ or is it more than this? Is there embedded this further demand that Turkey honor the memory of these events by some sort of annual observance, perhaps coupled with the establishment of an Armenian Genocide Museum? Or as signaled already that Turkey is expected to establish a fund and reparations procedures that will allow descendants of the victims to put forward economic claims for the harms endured? In effect, is the full range of Armenian expectations apparent at this stage or merely somewhat clouded? As the experience with the Holocaust suggests, there is no single event that can permanently shut the doors of history or dry the tears of extreme remorse. At most, acknowledgement, apology, and even tangible steps initiate a process that will never completely end, nor bring a satisfying closure to those who identify with the victims of such an unforgivable stream of past occurrences.

            As well, parallel to the genocidal and 1915 Armenian agenda, is a long festering inter-governmental dispute between Turkey and the sovereign state of Armenia over control of Nagorno-Karabakh region in the middle of Azerbaijan that has closed the border between the two countries since 1993. The Acting Armenian Foreign Minister, Edward Nabandian, added fuel to this diplomatic fire by welcoming the Senate resolution as “an important step” toward establishing “historical truth and prevention of crimes against humanity.” By so doing, the international dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh is joined at the hip to the historical controversy about the events of 1915. In an unusual way, the Armenian campaign is mainly conducted under the direction of the Armenian diaspora, and has only been given a secondary emphasis by Armenia itself, which has generally seemed more concerned about economic relations, and especially the territorial dispute in Azerbaijan, when dealing with its Turkish neighbor.

 

            What is one to do about a course of events that occurred under distinct national and international conditions expressive of different structures and legal norms that prevailed a century earlier? I was similarly challenged recently after giving a lecture on moral responsibility in international political life. The question was posed by a native American in the audience who angrily asked me why I had failed to advocate the restoration of the land seized in earlier centuries from the indigenous peoples who then inhabited North America, implying that my silence about such matters was an implicit endorsement of genocide. Such a reaction is understandable on the part of those who identify with a victimized community, but cannot be prescriptive in relation to 21st century realities. Certainly it was genocidal in willing that distinct ethnic groups become extinct or endure forcible dispossession, but there was at the time no legal prohibition on such behavior, and whatever moral interdiction existed was inconclusive, despite the manifest cruelty of the colonizing behavior. At this point, the clock cannot be rolled back to apply contemporary standards of justice to past wrongdoings, although ethical sensitivity and empathy is fully warranted. And what is totally unacceptable are any present efforts to rationalize or even glorify past barbarisms. For instance, the disgusting revisionist view of American slavery recently articulated by the right-wing libertarian rancher, Cliven Bundy, who absurdly asserts that slaves were probably happier than freed African Americans because they enjoyed the satisfactions of family life. As Charles Blow observes in an opinion piece, “Slaves dishonored in life must not have their memories disfigured by revisionist history.” {Blow, “A Rancher’s Romantic Revisionism,” NY Times, April 26, 2014]

 

            We must begin from where we are (but not end there), seeking as humane and transparent a response to these historic injustices as seems possible given both the intervening developments and the relevant balance of forces now and then. True, the anti-colonial movements of the last half of the 20th century did undo earlier injustices because of their capacity to mobilize effective movements of popular resistance. Indigenous people do not have this capacity, and are confined to what legal remedies are voluntarily conferred, and to what degree documenting the past creates sufficient public sympathy to support initiatives seeking some fractional measure of moral and material rectification.

 

            To some extent, accurate documentation is itself a form of historic redress, as was the case with the post-dictatorial ‘truth and reconciliation’ processes that tried in Latin American and South Africa to reconcile peace and justice during a transition to constitutional democracy, yet never brought anything approaching satisfaction or even closure to the victim communities that had earlier experienced unforgiveable criminality. We should also learne from Nelson Mandela’s willingness to overlook the structural injustices associated with economic and social apartheid in achieving the ‘political miracle’ of a peaceful dissolution of political apartheid. Also relevant are some of the late reflections of Edward Said on how to address the Palestine/Israel struggle given the realities that existed fifty years after the establishment of Israel. In effect, Said was of the opinion that despite the legally and morally unacceptable dispossession of the Palestinian people from their homes and homeland in 1948, it was now both futile and wrong to challenge any longer the existence of Israel. To resolve the conflict, in his view, required an acknowledgement of past injustices, especially the nakba, and mutually agreed arrangements that allowed the two peoples to live and co-exist in peace under conditions of equality, security, and dignity.

 

Was it Genocide?

 

            Is there a single historical truth that must be affirmed by all those of good will, and is it what the Armenian movement and U.S. Senate resolution contends? Can Turkey only express its good faith by subscribing literally to the main features of the Armenian narrative? Until it makes such a willingness clear it is unlikely to deflect the accusatory agenda of those demanding redress. In effect, is the litmus test of Turkish sincerity and remorse dependent upon a formal acknowledgement that what took place in 1915 was unequivocally ‘genocide’? I believe the historical truth is quite unequivocal from a factual and moral perspective, namely, that there was a systematic and deliberate effort to eliminate the Armenian minority from Turkey stemming from government orders and plans, and although occurring in the midst of war, political instability, and national upheaval, the ethnic violence was so one-sided and comprehensive as to undermine the credibility of the central contention of the Turkish narrative that World War I brought about an inter-ethnic experience of shared suffering replete with atrocities, but the blame cannot be exclusively attributed to Turkey, nor can the suffering be exclusively assigned to the Armenian community. This historical truth of predominant Turkish responsibility, however, is far more equivocal in relation to the further Armenian insistence that these genocidal events constitute the crime of genocide as embodied in the 1948 Genocide Convention, which came into force in 1951.

 

            Criminal law is not retroactive. Even the Nuremberg Judgment, which endorsed such innovations as ‘crimes against the peace’ and ‘crimes against humanity’ avoided any attempt to hold the Nazi leaders being prosecuted responsible for genocide despite the magnitude of the Holocaust and the abundance documented evidence of the deliberate and planned elimination of the Jewish people. What exactly, then, is the crime of ‘genocide’? Can it be said to pre-exist the entry into force of the Genocide Convention, considering the wording of its first article, but if so, why was genocide ignored in the prosecution of these Nazis? The wording of Article 1 of the Genocide Convention lends an aura of ambiguity to such queries: “The contracting parties confirm that genocide whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish.” (emphasis added). The word ‘confirm’ in Article 1 seems supportive of the view that the crime depicted in the treaty somehow preexisted the adoption of the Convention, and that only the usage of the word is retroactive. Yet the concept of genocide was not conceived to be a legal category until the crime was proposed in 1944 by Raphael Lemkin. I would suppose that had Lemkin persuaded the political community to adopt the Genocide Convention a decade earlier the Nuremberg indictments would have included the crime, and possibly the decision would have given guidance as to whether the crime came into being with treaty or antedated its ratification.

 

            Controversy is present as soon as the idea is to compel Turkey to admit that the massacres of 1915 are massive commissions of the crime of genocide, and as such, have an array of legal implications. More flexible, by far, would be a process of inquiry by an international commission of independent experts, which included well respected international lawyers, that would likely conclude that the events in question were clearly ‘genocidal’ in character, and if they had occurred after the Genocide Convention was adopted in 1950, they would constitute ‘genocide.’

            The World Court in responding to the Bosnia complaint alleging Serbian genocide concluded that a high evidentiary bar exists to establish the crime of genocide even with the benefit of the Convention, but it did find that the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica was ‘genocide.’ The majority decision of the highest judicial body in the UN System indirectly highlights the crucial differences between the crime of genocide and the psycho/political/sociological realities of genocidal behavior.

 

Is U.S. Government Involvement Constructive?

 

            The question of whether the United States should be involved in shaping international public opinion is less significant than the substantive dispute about the events, but far from trivial. The questionable political opportunism that connects the responsiveness of Congress to a well-organized Armenian lobby in the United States does seem to make reasonable the official Turkish response that it is never helpful for a foreign government to take the anti-government side in an unresolved controversy of this sort. It is bound to harm bilateral relations between the two countries. In effect, the mutual respect for sovereignty requires governments to refrain from such meddling under almost all circumstances. One can easily imagine the furor in the United States if the Turkish Parliament passed a resolution insisting that Washington finally acknowledge that native American tribal communities were victims of genocide or that descendants of slaves are entitled to reparations. However sincere and morally plausible, in a world where legality and legitimacy are almost always matters for territorial sovereigns to resolve, the foreign source of such sentiments are deeply resented, and are more likely to produce an angry backlash than to induce an accommodating retreat.

 

Finding a Solution

            From the Armenian perspective seeking redress, is this show of American governmental support helpful or not? I suspect that a more discreet effort would produce less defensiveness on the Turkish side, and more willingness to seek a mutually satisfactory outcome. Mobilizing the American Congress and French legislative bodies is somewhat similar to looking beneath the lamppost for a watch dropped in the darkness of the night. Admittedly, if the purpose is to raise awareness and mobilize support from the Armenians such a public relations campaign may be effective even if it stiffens Turkish resistance in the short run.

             A second important concern is how to address the genocide issue given the passage of time, and the interplay of preoccupations on both sides. My preference would be for both Turkish and Armenian representative to agree that it is permissible to use the word genocide with reference to the Armenian ordeal of 1915, but with a shared understanding that the use of the word in relation to the massacres of Armenians is without legal effect. The concept of genocide is inherently ambiguous as it simultaneously puts forward an empirical description of a set of events that offers a political, psychological, sociological, and ethical evaluation of those events, while also advancing the possible legal evaluation of such events as constituting the crime of genocide, which would also mean sustaining a heavy burden of proof as required to establish specific intent, which is a vital element of the crime.

 

            What does not help internationally, it would seem, is posturing by the U.S. Congress. It will probably necessitate some quiet fence-mending by the Obama presidency to maintain good Turkish-American relations, a key strategic priority. At the same time, the Turkish government should not sit still. It should do more than angrily push aside this American initiative and the related Armenian campaign, and show a more forthcoming attitude toward finding common ground to heal gaping Armenian wounds that remain open after a century. Mounting pressure due to the worldwide Armenia is definitely raising the level of awareness, but only wisdom, empathy, and good will on both sides can overcome such an embittered past. In some respects, there is something tragic about this standoff between those who have reason to want the past to be a matter of historical reflection and those who insist that the past is forever present.

 

            The Turkish government has reiterated its offer to establish a joint commission composed of Armenian, Turkish and international historians to establish an authoritative narrative. Besides the likelihood that existing disagreements would be reproduced in the working of this type of commission, the idea that core concern is ‘historical’ misses a main point that such a traumatic series of events need to be interpreted from multiple perspectives, including that in this instance of international criminal law. Establishing the factual reality, which strongly favors Armenian empirical claims, does not resolve the question of what would qualify as an appropriate acknowledgement by the Turkish government, nor does it address the lurking concern as to whether acknowledgement is sufficient, and if not, what further steps must be taken by Turkey if it is to satisfy the Armenian campaign.