Sunday, November 14, 2010

War Criminal

War criminals like everything else in this world, come in all shapes, styles and sizes. Some wear military garb and parade them selves while they commit the worst crimes. There are those who hide behind the military in suits and pose as legitimate leaders while they oppress their own people. Others work within a functioning democracy and still commit crimes against humanity and get away with it.

As wars have been a ubiquitous part of human history so have war criminals. From the early tribal wars, the plundering conquests of Alexander, the Mongol and Viking invasions, Sherman's March to the monsters of the twentieth century, war criminals have defined the moral shape of humanity and how the balance of power ebbs and flows in the world.

"War is nothing but the continuation of politics by other means" said the Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz in the 1800s. Since then it has been the mantra by which wars have been legitimized by the power elite.

During the Second World War humanity awoke to a Nazi nightmare. By pushing the limits of human insanity to its maximum, the Nazi's shook the world to its core. Wars before then had seen such brutality, but not in such an organized methodical fashion and that to some degree changed the human equation to the horrors of war. Hitler, Stalin and Mao redefined the notion of crimes against humanity leading to the formation of organizations with lofty goals to tame the evil that lay within man.

And so was formed the United Nations and all its subsidiary agencies with the sole purpose of keeping humanity's plans for war and mutual destruction under check. In the sixty five years of its tenure, the UN has made strides in spreading the virtues of a civil society, formulating the Geneva convention, conflict mediation and keeping the post war peace. But for the most part the United Nations failed miserably at enforcing and maintaining lasting global peace and curtailing the aggression of large and powerful nations. As a result war criminals have spawned across the planet since 1945, showing that keeping man's depraved monstrosity by creating a so called civil set of rules is impossible. The military industrial complexes of the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain have not helped either. They provide the tools needed for war criminals to achieve their goals undermining the very doctrine the UN was set up with. And so the trend continues unchanged, with parts of Africa, Asia, Middle East and South America still baring the brunt of human rights violators. And smaller nations bare the brunt of their land and people being used as "theaters" for military exercises.

In response to the ineptitude of the United Nations to prosecute war criminals, the International Criminal Court (ICC) was established in 1998. The ICC is a permanent tribunal that prosecutes individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. While the ICC has been successful in indicting and prosecuting some African and East European perpetrators with great difficulty, it has fallen short in executing its mandate beyond all geographical boundaries, because all nations have not signed onto its jurisdiction. Prime among them, The United States of America. The United States is a signatory but has not ratified the agreement leaving its war criminals outside the purview of the ICC. India and China do not even recognize the existence of the court.

After two years of virtual anonymity the 43rd president of the United States George W. Bush surfaced to launch his customary presidential memoir titled "Decision Points". This book would set the record straight everyone hoped. It would be a meditation on his tumultuous eight years as commander-in-chief. He would lay it all out for his critics who saw him through a clouded lens. Two wars, the financial melt down, Patriot Act, Water-Boarding, Katrina and Kanye West, everything would be open for examination and introspection. This would be his redeeming moment, the man behind the president would be on display.

So he went on Oprah, spent an hour with Matt Lauer on NBC, gave ample face time to FOX news, returning the favor for staying faithful to him in his darkest hour. Ending on Jay Leno, the late-night comedy hour, where he giggled and gaffed. Any venue that would prompt serious questioning and cross-examination was avoided. Dismissing them as biased left leaning liberal media, he steered clear of any individual with genuine journalistic credentials.

What came through on television was in many ways telling of who George Bush is. In many ways it was no surprise. There was very little remorse or self examination on display. While he did concede that he could have done things better or different when it came to his response to Hurricane Katrina and the unabashed display of the "Mission Accomplished" banner on USS Lincoln, it seemed merely conciliatory. While he did feel bad about the wars that had claimed so many American lives, he still maintained that he would have arrived at the same decision today, if the same faulty intelligence was presented to him. He still maintains assertively the world is a better place without Saddam Hussain and history would someday redeem him. There was no acknowledgment of remorse for the countless Afghan and Iraqi men, women and children who had lost their lives and continue to die as a result of his initiated forced action. He once again defended torture, the secret CIA detentions and vehemently maintained that water-boarding had saved American lives. The one and only thing he seemed emotionally upset about was about an insignificant moment when an inconsequential rapper named Kanye West called him a racist, for his mishandling of the Katrina rescue effort.

To do the right deed for the wrong reason the great poet T.S. Elliot wrote is "the greatest treason". What do you call a president who plunges a nation into war, for the worst reasons possible, causing immeasurable loss of life, and still feels no self-reproach? "War Criminal" is a fitting title. While it may be a harsh characterization and ample conclusions could be drawn to prove otherwise, but when as the commander-in-chief of the world's most lethal military you ignore the recommendation of the United Nations and most of your allies, and just listen to your inner coterie, and your simplistic "Decision Points" devoid of any sense of history, it is hard to absolve you of that title.

George Bush is certainly not the first, nor will he be the last "War Criminal" America will produce. While America searches for reasons as to why the world loves its people, innovation, ideals and virtues and yet is repulsed to the point of harm by the double standards of its power elite, look no further. Any other leader who would cause such senseless loss of life on such a magnitude by use of force, would be indited for war crimes by the ICC. Slobodan Milošević of Serbia and Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan were indited by the ICC for war crimes. Even though they had an ethnic cleansing agenda to their killing, the end result was still the same. The use of excessive military force to kill with delusions of creating a better world for their people.

It is a sad day for America when not a single perpetrator of the immoral wars have been brought to justice or held to any measure of accountability. If George Bush claims the intelligence presented to him was wrong, and therefore that led him to a decision to go to war, then one way he could redeem himself is to hold those people who fed him that intelligence accountable. That never happened and will never happen. America has never prosecuted any of its officials for crimes against humanity. America does not believe in prosecuting its war criminals, as that would blow the lid on the virtues of democracy and justice it touts. In addition, in the quagmire of the American system of governance, it is hard to prove who actually pushed the button. The culpable characters of this war are all in plain sight, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney to name a few. Holding them accountable is too laborious a task, both physically and politically, which no administration will undertake fearful of its own continuity.

Henry Kissinger is a name that comes to mind from past dirty deeds. He has been sited by many as the man behind the button that launched the indiscriminate bombing of Laos and Cambodia during the Vietnam war. He was never held accountable for his role in that carnage. On the contrary he became an intellectual and a reputable adviser guiding many subsequent administrations, including George Bush's in world of diplomacy. Henry Kissinger was born to German Jewish parents and was a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Oliver North is the only individual that comes to mind in the recent past who was ever tried for war related indiscretions. He was given a tap on the wrist and let go. America will never ratify the ICC for its closet of "War Criminals" is much too large for comfort.

So when America celebrates its democracy and freedoms and applauds its justice system for being fair and impartial, when it comes to its war criminals, it has always been no different then most dictatorships. When George Bush says he would still take us into war given the circumstances he was in, he by default acknowledges that in the two years of hibernation he still has not regained any sense of history. He also by default admits that he lied to the American public and congress. Maybe for him a sense of history is too heavy a load to carry as it clouds his "simplistic" methods of arriving at his "Decision Points".

This week Jean-Pierre Bemba, former vice-president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, went on trial at the ICC. Bemba is charged with three counts of war crimes and two counts of crimes against humanity for the alleged atrocities committed by about 1,500 fighters of his Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) in 2002-03. What is unprecedented about this trial is that, while it may seem like this is just another proverbial mad black man in the dock, for the first time in the history of international justice a military commander is on trial for indirect criminal responsibility for rape and murder committed by his fighters.

Many people in America refer to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as a "mistake". Any war that leads to the death of countless individuals can never be called a mistake. It is too frivolous a word to characterize the deaths of so many innocent people. In the real world one goes to jail or hangs for making such mistakes.

A mistake of this nature can only be called an "immoral war crime". It is what it is.