Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Topics: Politics News
A tribunal in Malaysia, spearheaded by that nation’s former Prime Minister, yesterday found George Bush and Tony Blair guilty of “crimes against peace” and other war crimes for their 2003 aggressive attack on Iraq, as well as fabricating pretexts used to justify the attack. The seven-member Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal — which featured an American law professor as one of its chief prosecutors — has no formal enforcement power, but was modeled after a 1967 tribunal in Sweden and Denmark that found the U.S. guilty of a war of aggression in Vietnam, and, even more so, after the U.S.-led Nuremberg Tribunal held after World War II. Just as the U.S. steadfastly ignored the 1967 tribunal on Vietnam, Bush and Blair both ignored the summons sent to them and thus were tried in absentia.
The tribunal ruled that Bush and Blair’s name should be entered in a register of war criminals, urged that they be recognized as such under the Rome Statute, and will also petition the International Criminal Court to proceed with binding charges. Such efforts are likely to be futile, but one Malaysian lawyer explained the motives of the tribunal to The Associated Press: “For these people who have been immune from prosecution, we want to put them on trial in this forum to prove that they committed war crimes.” In other words, because their own nations refuse to hold them accountable and can use their power to prevent international bodies from doing so, the tribunal wanted at least formal legal recognition of these war crimes to be recorded and the evidence of their guilt assembled. That’s the same reason a separate panel of this tribunal will hold hearings later this year on charges of torture against Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and others.
Here’s what I find striking about this. Virtually every Serious political and media elite in America, by definition, would scoff at this tribunal; few things are considered more fringe or ludicrous than the notion that George Bush and Tony Blair should be punished as war criminals just because they aggressively attacked another nation and caused the deaths of at least 150,000 innocent people and the displacement of millions more. But the only thing this Malaysian tribunal is doing is applying the clear principles of the Nuremberg Tribunal as enunciated by lead prosecutor and former U.S. Attorney General Robert Jackson in his Opening and Closing Statements at Nuremberg:
The central crime in this pattern of crimes, the kingpin which holds them all together, is the plot for aggressive wars. The chief reason for international cognizance of these crimes lies in this fact. . . .
What makes this inquest significant is that these prisoners represent sinister influences that will lurk in the world long after their bodies have returned to dust. . . . . And let me make clear that while this law is first applied against German aggressors, the law includes, and if it is to serve a useful purpose it must condemn aggression by any other nations, including those which sit here now in judgment.
The “kingpin” crime of the German defendants was not genocide or ethnic cleansing, but rather “the plot for aggressive war,” and the only way that the Nuremberg Tribunal will “serve a useful purpose” is if it applies equally in the future to “aggression by any other nations, including those which sit here now in judgment.” Who do you think history will (and should) look more favorably upon? Those in this Kuala Lumpur tribunal who objected to the heinous war crime that is the attack on Iraq and attempted to hold the responsible leaders accountable under the Nuremberg principles, or those in America and Britain who mocked those efforts (when they weren’t ignoring them) and demanded that they and their leaders be fully exempted from the principles they imposed and decreed as universal after World War II?
UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan, who yesterday expressed angry bafflement over the fact that many liberals do not swoon for President Obama the way Jon Chait does, today noted that the U.S. under Obama imposes even less accountability for abuse of power and war crimes than does Bahrain:
Bahrain’s Sunni government promised “no immunity” for anyone suspected of abuses and said it would propose creating a permanent human rights watchdog commission. “All those who have broken the law or ignored lawful orders and instructions will be held accountable,” said a government statement, which says the report acknowledges that the “systematic practice of mistreatment” ended shortly after martial law was repealed on June 1.
As Andrew put it: “So a Middle East dictatorship has more democratic accountability for abuse of power, including torture, than the US under Obama.” Beyond things like this and the facts set forth in the last paragraph here, perhaps Andrew could use today’s post of his to help clear up the towering mystery he raised yesterday of liberal disenchantment with Obama. That American war criminals are being aggressively shielded from any and all accountability is not an ancillary matter but one of enduring historical significance.
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)
Glenn Greenwald (email: GGreenwald@salon.com) is a former Constitutional and civil rights litigator and is the author of three New York Times Bestselling books: two on the Bush administration's executive power and foreign policy abuses, and his latest book, With Liberty and Justice for Some, an indictment of America's
two-tiered system of justice. Greenwald was named by The Atlantic as one of the 25 most influential political commentators in the nation. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism, and is the winner of the 2010 Online Journalism Association Award for his investigative work on the arrest and oppressive detention of Bradley Manning.