(The International Criminal Court)
by Ian Williams
The Nation magazine, August 10 /17, 1998
The rest of the world threw the United States to the lions
in Rome in mid-July with their 120-to-7 vote to establish the
International Criminal Court. It also let the court keep most
of the teeth that US diplomacy had spent the past six months trying
Based in The Hague, the UN-sponsored court will have an independent
prosecutor who can investigate end prosecute genocide, war crimes
and crimes against humanity-including some crimes committed in
internal armed conflicts. War crimes include the use of children
under 15 as soldiers, rape, sexual slavery and forced pregnancy.
For prosecutions to begin, either the state where the crime took
place, or that of the accused, must give consent. Although there
are serious flaws in the treaty, overall it is far better than
it would have been if the US position had prevailed.
US delegate David Scheffer told the conference, "My colleagues
have worked eighteen-hour days since June 15 and every American
should be proud of their efforts to achieve our objectives."
However, the company to which his lonely delegation was reduced
indicates that abject shame would be a more suitable emotion.
The stunned US team, which had spent five weeks publicly pandering
to the paranoia of the Pentagon and Jesse Helms know-nothings,
was left abandoned by all but a few strange unsavory accomplices
believed to have included China, Israel, Iraq and Libya. Israel's
ominous reason for opposition was inclusion of population transfers
as an indictable crime.
The delegations who defied Washington's arm-twisting showed
that although the United States may be the world's only remaining
superpower, other countries increasingly see it as a microcephalic,
over-muscled giant. A reason for the overwhelming majority pitted
against Washington is the Administration's total lack of credibility.
The United States has still not rejoined the International Court
of Justice decades after the court ruled that mining Nicaraguan
harbors in peacetime was illegal, and stands to lose its vote
in the UN General Assembly at the end this year for non-payment
of back dues. None of the delegates in Rome thought there was
the slightest chance of Congress signing on to the ICC, no matter
how many concessions were made.
It would indeed have been better, for the world and the United
States, if America were on board for the ICC, but certainly not
at the price of scuttling it, as the Administration wanted. As
it is, the United States has put some serious holes in the structure,
but luckily none of them are below the water line. The court can
still try Americans, and others, for crimes against humanity,
and the United States will have to persuade every other veto-holder
on Security Council before it can hold off a prosecution.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the US involvement the
negotiations was the decision by the White House to subcontract
policy-making on the ICC to the Pentagon, which conducted it with
the same brontosaurian finesse it showed in vetoing US accession
to the UN convention against landmines. In his talking points
on the court, Defense Secretary William Cohen verged on threatening
a US pullout from Germany if it stuck with the rest of the democracies
in giving the court independence. In March more than a hundred
foreign military attaches were summoned to the Pentagon to be
whipped into line to warn their governments of the unfavorable
consequences of the ICC. In many of these countries, the military
is the government, instead of merely having far too much influence,
as in Washington. The whole point of the ICC is to punish and
deter their murderous behavior. Failing to secure a pre-emptive
and exclusive amnesty for US troops, the Pentagon was quite prepared
to weaken the court to allow military dictators and war criminals
around the world to take advantage of the exception it was seeking
for its own troops. But then, the Pentagon's dubious record of
aid and comfort to criminal regimes and its less-than-draconian
prosecution of atrocities from My Lai onward is hardly exemplary.
The ICC's statutes exclude retrospection, so if the United
States does not want its troops and officials in the dock at The
Hague, then instead of allowing the Pentagon and Jesse Helms to
run foreign affairs, the Administration should show that in the
future it expects the military to prosecute war crimes with at
least a fraction of the fervor with which it currently persecutes
homosexuality and adultery.
Failure to ratify the treaty is a signal to the world, and
to US citizens, that the Pentagon intends to commit or permit
war crimes in the future. Tough on drugs, soft on mass rape and
genocide -- that's the message from the Clinton White House.