The president can no longer be considered simply a vacuous puppet brought to power by big business, a family name, and election fraud. He must now be viewed as a dangerous opponent of our constitutional form of government, international law and the international order that was born in the aftermath of World War II.
The US withdrawal from the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court, announced by the Bush administration on May 6, 2002, has all the markings of a watershed event, an event that could make one weep for what it portends for the future of humanity and our country. The Bush administration is marching ahead in its assault on international law. Never before has a nation removed its sovereign signature from a treaty. Now it is done.
In a one paragraph letter to the United Nations Secretary General, the US undersecretary of state for arms control, John Bolton wrote, “The United States does not intend to become a party to the treaty. Accordingly, the United states has no legal obligations from its signature on December 31, 2000.” In other words, our commitment means nothing. There is no reason for other sovereign states to rely upon the commitments of the United States. The administration has sent a clear signal that the US will decide which laws it will support and which it won’t and the rest of the world be damned.
The Bush administration demonstrates little interest in supporting international law. It is also pulling out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to pursue missile defenses and space weaponization. This is an administration of militarists and unilateralists. They talk about withdrawing from the International Criminal Court because they fear that US servicemen could be brought to justice under the provisions of the Court, but what they really fear is that US leaders will be held to the same set of standards that the Court will apply to all leaders throughout the world.
In an article written in 1999, the same John Bolton pointed out that it was not American soldiers that would be in the most jeopardy, but rather “the president, the cabinet officers who comprise the National Security Council, and other senior civilian and military officers responsible for our defense and foreign policy.” But what would US leaders have to fear if they do not commit the most heinous of crimes under international law, crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, the same crimes for which the Nazis were held accountable at Nuremberg?
Since Bush has become president, the United States has increased its military budget by nearly $100 billion, from $300 billion to almost $400 billion. Military power is the administration’s answer to international law. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld talks in plain language about our efforts to kill whomever we deem as our enemy. We are breaking with our allies, who are committed to international law. The US has become a unilateralist superpower, a rogue superpower, a dangerous force for international anarchy.
The House of Representatives has rubbed salt in the wound of our allies in the international community who support the Court by voting 264 to 152 in a sense of the Congress amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization Bill that no funding in the bill “should be used for any assistance to, or to cooperate with or to provide any support for, the International Criminal Court.” The House of Representatives, at the instigation of Tom DeLay, Also attached an amendment to the Supplemental Appropriations Bill that would prohibit US cooperation with the Court and would even authorize the US to invade Holland to free members of U.S. armed forces, civilians and allies held by the Court.
Most of the Senate has remained silent on Bush’s decision to withdraw from the Court. Senator Christopher Dodd, whose father was a prosecutor at Nuremberg, referred to the president’s decision as “irresponsible, isolationist, and contrary to our vital national interests.” Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle responded to Mr. Bush’s decision with these words of opposition: “This decision vastly decreases our ability to shape the ICC, ignores the fact that the ICC will come into existence regardless of whether we are involved or not, and raises the specter of unilateralism just as we will be turning to our allies for help in a series of crucial policy, diplomatic–and perhaps military–undertakings.”
The United States, which has an unparalleled opportunity to lead the world in upholding human rights and achieving a just peace, has slipped precipitously from the aftermath of World War II when it led the world in bringing Nazi leaders to justice at the Nuremberg Trials. The US chief prosecutor at Nuremberg, Justice Robert Jackson, argued, “The law must also reach the men who seize great power and deliberately combine to make use of it to commit an evil which affects every home in the world. The last step in preventing the periodic outbreak of war, which is unavoidable with international lawlessness, is to make a statesman responsible before the law.”
Bush’s policies promote international lawlessness and impunity under international law to leaders accused of grave crimes such as Osama bin Laden, General Augusto Pinochet, Idi Amin, Pol Pot and Henry Kissinger. The president’s policies encourage present and future leaders to believe that their crimes will also be blessed with impunity under the law. In the eyes of the world, including those of our closest allies, these policies underscore the US abdication of leadership in upholding international law and human rights.
*David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.