The need for accountability and principles in a post-9/11 world
Today is 9/11. Nothing more needs to be said than that. It is a day that changed the United States forever. But more importantly, it is a day when so many individual lives were changed, with the loss of loved ones.
It was also a day when the world came together for America. In the wake of the attacks, there was an outpouring of support for the US across the entire world. It didn’t matter if they had been our allies or adversaries — even people in Iran lit candles for us.
And so I am beyond furious that a day before this national tragedy, a day before remembering how humanity showed us both its darkest and its best side, National Security Adviser John Bolton decided to throw another wrench in the international system, which will hurt our allies as much as our ‘enemies’. And he used protection of American servicemembers, people who risk their lives for our country, as an excuse to make the world less safe.
Bolton threatened to sanction and prosecute any ICC personnel who are involved in the investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan — despite the fact that that any investigation will likely focus on the crimes of the Taliban, and despite the fact that every single NATO member except for the US and Turkey is party to the ICC. He did this ostensibly to “protect American servicemembers”. But as I detail in my blog post on IntLawGrrls US military personnel are arguably the most shielded from prosecution from the ICC. The fact that government contractors and senior Bush administration officials are even possibly the subject of ICC prosecution means that there is a disturbing gap in American law, which makes us “unwilling or unable” to hold our own citizens responsible for war crimes.
America can’t even hold foreign nationals living in the US who committed war crimes accountable.
As Professor of International Law Diane Orentlicher said: “when we find people who’ve committed the most staggering crimes our imaginations can conjure — and those we can’t even begin to imagine — we prosecute them for visa fraud.” While daily we hear about ICE raids, in 2007 and 2008, Senator Russ Feingold, Richard Durbin and Tom Corburn personally wrote to the Secretary of Homeland security to ask if Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova and José Guillermo García, two former Salvadoran generals responsible for massacres and torture in El Salvador, were going to be deported. They were. Eight years later, in 2015, after 25 years of living in Florida. Because we have no crimes against humanity legislation in the US, we couldn’t prosecute them for any crime except visa fraud.
John Bolton is right. The ICC should not be prosecuting Americans for war crimes. Americans should be doing it ourselves. Our military already is.
But it’s more than that. As the late John McCain said, “We are a country with a conscience. We have long believed moral concerns must be an essential part of our foreign policy, not a departure from it. We are the chief architect and defender of an international order governed by rules derived from our political and economic values. We have grown vastly wealthier and more powerful under those rules.
“More of humanity than ever before lives in freedom and out of poverty because of those rules… To view foreign policy as simply transactional is more dangerous than its proponents realize. Depriving the oppressed of a beacon of hope could lose us the world we have built and thrived in. It could cost our reputation in history as the nation distinct from all others in our achievements, our identity and our enduring influence on mankind. Our values are central to all three.”
Our international institutions are not perfect. Of course they’re not. But out of the ashes of World War II, the world realized a humbling truth — that we are safer when we are interconnected, that we are more secure when the whole world is more secure, that we are stronger when we work together. We do no favors to the men and women who fight for us by failing to live up to the values our country espouses and making the world a more dangerous place.
The architects of 9/11 wanted America to turn in on itself, to draw away from the world, to prove that our commitment to freedom and liberty and democracy was just petty rhetoric. Prove them wrong.
The best way to honor the legacy of those we lost on 9/11 is to show them that America believes in a more just world, and that the world believes in us.
Originally published at Northern Slant.