Hillary Clinton demands accountability for war crimes

The American secretary of state warns Kenyans of the dangers of a "culture of impunity"

Published August 5, 2009 6:06PM (EDT)

(updated below)

I won't have much time to write until later today or tomorrow, but I did want to note this one point:   Blackwater expert Jeremy Scahill reports in The Nation that "a former Blackwater employee and an ex-US Marine who has worked as a security operative for the company" alleged in a sworn statement:

that the company's owner, Erik Prince, may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company. The former employee also alleges that Prince "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe," and that Prince's companies "encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life."

Though these are allegations at this point, the various abuses and crimes of Blackwater are well-documented, and nobody has done a better job of doing that than Scahill.  Prince, a supporter of the most extremist right-wing Christian groups including Focus on the Family, built what can only be described as a large private army that the U.S. Government uses, one that -- as Scahill put it -- "has operatives deployed in nine other countries around the world, can boast of a force of 20,000 men to call on at a moment’s notice, has a fleet of aircrafts."  About these reports, a reader, Carolyn Clark, makes this point via email:

What if the situation were reversed, if this country was invaded and occupied by a Muslim country? What if mercenaries were loosed on our population, with the purpose of killing as many of us as possible, sent by the democratically-elected government of this Muslim country, with no ensuing outcry from the citizenry as atrocity after atrocity is reported?

Would this not be seen as a war crime of the highest order, and would not the citizens of this country be responsible for complicity in these crimes?

I think we know what would happen if that occurred -- there would be vehement demands for accountability and war crimes trials.  Just consider what Hillary Clinton today, in Kenya, is saying and doing regarding allegations that Kenyan politician officials participated in acts of violence during civil strife in that country.  From today's New York Times, headlined:  "Clinton Calls for Accountability in Kenya":

Some of the headlines greeting Mrs. Clinton on her first morning in Kenya focused on American pressure to set up a special tribunal to try the perpetrators of election-driven bloodshed early last year that left more than 1,000 people dead.

“Clinton lands as U.S. breathes fire,” one said. “Quit lecturing Africa on politics, says Raila,” said another, referring to Raila Odinga, the Kenyan prime minister who narrowly lost the disputed election that set off the violence. . . .

Despite strong pressure from its own citizens and Western donors, the Kenyan government has refused to begin work toward a separate tribunal, saying that it would try perpetrators through existing institutions instead. Kenya’s judicial system, however, has done little to pursue suspects in the post-election violence and is often accused of perpetuating the nation’s culture of impunity.

Many people fear that the Kenyan government will take no action.

“We are waiting, we are disappointed,” Mrs. Clinton told a news conference.

She reminded Kenyans of how the United States played a large role in brokering a peace treaty last year between Kenya’s warring political parties but said that “unfortunately, resolving that crisis has not yet translated into the kind of political process the Kenyan people deserve.”

Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court at the Hague have vowed to get involved if the Kenyan government fails to prosecute the top suspects, possibly including government ministers. On Wednesday, the Kenyan foreign minister said that this was still an option.

But Mrs. Clinton said Kenya should handle the process itself. It is “far preferable that prosecutors, judges and law enforcement officials step up to their responsibility,” she said.

“To resolve this issue internally is preferable to losing control of this.”

But she said she recognized the obstacles ahead. “I know this is not easy; I understand how complicated this is,” she said. “How do you go about prosecuting the perpetrators without engendering more violence?”

Mrs. Clinton said that the United States was not demanding that all suspects be hauled into court immediately but that “there needs to be a beginning; that’s what we are looking for.”

We need to teach those Kenyans that if they don't prosecute their criminals in high office, then they'll perpetuate their "culture of impunity," and that would be awful.  Those Kenyans apparently fail to understand that if you immunize high political officials when they commit crimes, that creates a "culture of impunity" -- I love that phrase -- which ensures future rampant criminality in the political class.  How can those Kenyans not realize this?

Clinton's sentiments echoed what Obama told Africans when he spoke in Ghana last month, when he demanded that they apply "the rule of law, which ensures the equal administration of justice" and vowed that "we will stand behind efforts to hold war criminals accountable" -- meaning African war criminals.  As we send murderous, crusading civilian units around the world to accompany our invading armies -- while ushering a regime of torture wherever we go -- and then announce we will only Look to the Future, Not the Past, when their crimes are exposed (despite our best efforts to keep them concealed), do we actually expect anyone to take these sermons seriously?


UPDATE:  I just remembered that it's not only Kenya that is plagued by a "culture of impunity."  That is the exact phrase which, in May, The New York Times also applied to Iraq, when lamenting that country's pattern of failing to prosecute politically powerful people when they commit crimes:

The real problem is the difficulty of prosecuting people for corruption, which is so widespread that it has become one of the main obstacles to stability and progress in Iraq, according to Iraqi and American officials. Among the barriers, the officials say, are laws that give ministers the right to pardon offenders, as well as partisan and sectarian interference, pressure, infighting, vendettas, blackmail and death threats. . . .

Iraq’s culture of impunity on corruption was illustrated last week when commission officials, accompanied by Iraqi soldiers, went to the Trade Ministry — itself far from the most-accused ministry on the commission’s list — to arrest nine people, including two of the minister’s brothers. They were implicated in large-scale embezzlement and fraud related to the ministry’s $5.3 billion public ration program.

A firefight erupted between the ministry’s guards, led by one of the minister’s brothers, and the force sent to make the arrests. That unit retreated after arresting only one of the people who were wanted, the minister’s spokesman.

A NYT search reveals that the phrase "culture of impunity" has never been applied to the United States.  Thankfully, then, Americans will probably never know what it's like to live in a country where politically powerful people are free to break the laws with impunity.  According to the NYT, though, such a terrible dynamic does prevail in Iraq and Kenya.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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