April 9, 2003
Special Bulletin: War Crimes, Genocide, and 'Democratic Immunity'
The Sunday, April 6 edition of the Los Angeles Times was, as usual, filled with page after page of jingoistic drivel celebrating America as The Great and Noble Liberator; almost none of this was worth reading, but much of it was no doubt eagerly lapped up by the newspaper's readers nonetheless.
Very few of those readers, it's safe to say, stumbled across the most important story that ran that day. Tucked safely away on page A32, among other neglected stories in the "In Brief" section, the report ran just five sentences -- but those five sentences had far more to say about the world we live in than the 31 pages of war 'reporting' that preceded them:The Belgian Senate approved a measure to gut a war crimes law, bringing an end to lawsuits filed against former President Bush, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.Now almost everyone would agree, publicly at least, that there was nothing wrong with the law as originally drafted. Genocide is genocide regardless of where and by whom it is committed, and it should, I think we can all agree, be prosecuted wherever it occurs.
In a 36-22 vote with five abstentions, the Senate approved an amendment to invalidate the cases. The House of Representatives had already done so.
The law, adopted in 1993, sought to prosecute war crimes and genocide wherever they occurred. But lawmakers said it was never intended for use against democratic countries.
Nevertheless, under the new and improved law, it is perfectly okay for "democratic countries" to commit war crimes and acts of genocide. There are now, I guess, 'democratic' war crimes and acts of genocide, and 'undemocratic' war crimes and acts of genocide. 'The Rule of Law' is now only concerned with prosecuting 'undemocratic' war crimes and acts of genocide.
The April 6 Times report was actually the second time in recent days that the esteemed periodical has buried coverage of this particular story. On Thursday, April 3, strategically placed on page A26, again in the "In Briefs" section, was this five-sentence report:Belgium's House of Representatives voted to curtail a war crimes law that was once hailed as a tool for global justice but became a diplomatic liability when world democratic leaders were targeted. The changes should bring an end to lawsuits against former President Bush and others.This wording is somewhat misleading, since the revised law actually applies only to crimes committed by countries lacking democratic credentials and unable to provide fair trials. Conversely, the revised law does not apply to crimes committed by countries that have democratic credentials and are able to provide fair trials.
The law sought to prosecute war crimes and genocide wherever they occur. The revised law would apply only to crimes in countries lacking democratic credentials and unable to provide fair trials. Senate approval is expected today.
This bit of legal chicanery is apparently premised on the dubious notion that "democratic" countries can police themselves and therefore are, for all intents and purposes, above international law. In other words, America no longer has to just act as though it is above the law; now, it literally is above the law.
Of course, in order for the revised law to be applied properly, someone has to decide who holds the proper "democratic credentials" and who does not. Certain minimum standards, presumably, will have to be met for a country to be certified as having the "democratic credentials" to handle its own war crimes prosecutions.
For example, you wouldn't want war crimes trials to be held by countries that openly advocate torturing suspects and ... oh, wait a minute ... that's not right ... what I meant to say is that you wouldn't want war crimes trials to be held in countries that allow secret, extra-judicial 'military tribunals' ... oh, wait another minute ... that's not right either ... what I really meant to say is that you wouldn't want war crimes trials to be held in countries that allow uncharged suspects to be held indefinitely and incommunicado ... oh, wait ... that's still not right ... never mind ...
What I was trying to say is that there is actually a very simple system for determining who has the proper "democratic credentials" and who does not: the United States and its very close friends have them, and whoever is designated as the 'enemy' does not. It's probably entirely coincidental, by the way, that this legal revision, quickly and quietly rushed through both houses of the Belgian Congress, comes just in time to prevent Colin Powell from becoming a repeat offender, and George W. Bush from following in his father's footsteps.
Team Bush now has 'democratic immunity' for any actions it might choose to take.
War crimes? What war crimes? Haven't you heard? We're above the law. In fact, we are the law.