Imperial Hubris and Hypocrisy

Craven, Jim jcraven at
Fri Jan 5 12:07:59 MST 2001

****   The Guardian (London)
January 3, 2001
SECTION: Guardian Leader Pages, Pg. 17
HEADLINE: Comment & Analysis: Hypocrite to the last: The US president
has suddenly signed up to the plan for an international war crimes
BYLINE: Joan Smith

On Sunday, in a move that took everyone by surprise, the United
States suddenly reversed its previous policy and signed a treaty to
establish a permanent international criminal court.  The decision was
taken by Bill Clinton at the last possible moment, only hours before
the deadline set by the United Nations was due to expire.  With other
last-minute signatories, the total of countries that have declared
their support for the Rome treaty now stands at 139....

The international criminal court (ICC) would be the first standing
tribunal with jurisdiction to try individuals on charges of genocide,
war crimes and other crimes against humanity.  It would be a
permanent version of the ad hoc tribunals set up at Nuremberg in
1946, to try Nazi war criminals, and more recently in the Netherlands
and Tanzania to hear cases involving human rights abuses in former
Yugoslavia and Rwanda respectively.

While countries as diverse as Chile, Argentina, Senegal, Zimbabwe and
Sierra Leone were quick to sign the treaty, the Clinton
administration has opposed it ever since it was negotiated in Rome in
1998....On Sunday, the news that the US had abruptly changed its mind
prompted a similar change of heart in Israel; the Israeli
announcement overturned an earlier vote against signature by the
Israeli cabinet, confirming the enormous influence the United States
continues to exert on its embattled ally in the Middle East.

...Clinton's decision stops a long way short of ratifying the treaty,
a step that must be taken by 60 countries before the court can be set
up in the Netherlands.  (To date, 27 nations have done so, clearing
almost half the hurdles in what often seems a painfully slow and
bureaucratic process.)  Even worse is the fact that his decision is
not legally binding without Senate approval.  The incoming Republican
administration is firmly opposed, with George W Bush's nominee for
defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, warning only last month that
"American leadership in the world could be the first casualty" of the

The likely response of the Senate was revealed on Sunday when Jesse
Helms of North Carolina, the rightwing Republican who chairs the
foreign relations committee, called Clinton's action "as outrageous
as it is inexplicable".  He claimed it was "a blatant attempt by a
lame-duck president to tie the hands of his successor", adding
ominously: "Well, I have a message for the outgoing president.  This
decision will not stand."

Clinton knows this perfectly well, and took the unusual step of
declaring that he would neither submit the treaty for Senate approval
nor recommend that his successor do so.  And while Bush's hands are
tied to some extent - he cannot reverse Clinton's action - he can
declare that the US will never ratify the treaty.  He can also
encourage the Senate to reject it....

In that sense, Helms's accusation about Clinton's motives contains
some truth.  Indeed it does not go far enough, for it is clear that
the 42nd president is casting about for grand gestures that will
stand as his memorial.  With peace in the Middle East as far away as
ever, it seems likely that his abrupt volte-face on the ICC is more
about looking good than a genuine conversion to what the president
described at the weekend as a reaffirmation of "our strong support
for international accountability".

That support might look a bit more convincing if Clinton had signed
the treaty two years ago, along with the 73 world leaders who did so
in the six months after the Rome conference, instead of caving in to
pressure from the Pentagon.  Until last weekend, his public position
was not easy to distinguish from that of his Republican opponents,
who distrust the ICC because they have not been able to secure a
promise that no American will ever have to appear before it.  Helms
announced some time ago that the treaty would be "dead on arrival" in
Congress if it failed to exclude the future indictment of a single
American soldier.

For a country whose troops perpetrated the My Lai massacre in
Vietnam, and which is currently supplying money, weapons and military
advisers to an army with a dismal record of human rights abuses in
Colombia, this is a real anxiety.  While the most obvious targets of
the ICC would be generals and former heads of state, it would also
have a duty to examine the conduct of less well-known individuals.
It is not beyond the realms of possibility that this might one day
include American soldiers serving with the Colombian armed forces or
under the aegis of the UN in one of the world's trouble spots.

Such a prospect has, until now, worried the outgoing president just
as much as it does Helms or Rumsfeld.  Like them, Clinton is
committed to a policy that treats his fellow-citizens as hugely more
valuable, and correspondingly less accountable, than those of other
nations....   *****

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