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Date:  Thu, 13 May 1999 00:00:56 +0900
From: Hendrik
To: Multiple recipients of NETSOURCE-L <netsource-l@mail.think.service>
Subject:  [NS] Not even US should be beyond the law

Not even US should be beyond the law


Isabel Hilton

General Augusto Pinochet's lawyers were in court again this week, this time
to argue that the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, should dismiss Spain's
extradition request because the bulk of the charges against their client
were ruled inadmissible by the Law Lords last week. In anticipation the
Spanish judge, Balthasar Garzn, has produced another 30 charges, like
rabbits from his capacious hat, to try to persuade Mr Straw to allow it to

The argument about Gen Pinochet has a great deal of life in it yet, but the
importance of last week's ruling is that it upheld the principle of
international justice. There is, the Law Lords confirmed, no immunity for
barbaric acts committed by a head of state, de facto or otherwise. It is a
victory, in a period of time otherwise rather dismal on that front, for the
principles of law, evidence and judgment over violence, arbitrary and
illegal acts and impunity. Had the Law Lords' ruling gone the other way,
the slow and complex effort to build an international legal system that
resulted in last June's agreement in Rome by 160 countries to set up the
International Criminal Court would have been set back years. The ruling
then is a cause for celebration for anyone who hopes that one day an
international system will exist to make dictators pause before they torture
or kill their own (or any other) citizens.

It is an important point, since there is still a long way to go to make the
International Criminal Court a reality. It will only come into existence
after 60 countries have signed and ratified the agreement.Chile was one of
the first to sign and ratify. Britain signed last November, a few days
after the first ruling on Gen Pinochet. According to Britain's ambassador
to the United Nations, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the Government intends to
ratify early. Lesotho, Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast and Tajikistan signed
at the same time as Britain. Russia, too, is a signatory. In the opposite
camp - the nations that voted against setting up the court - we find the
usual villains, Iraq and Libya. And shoulder to shoulder with them, on
this, if on no other issue, the United States. The US has, for the most
part, maintained an embarrassed silence during the Pinochet case. It is in
an uncomfortable position for two reasons: because in this particular
affair the CIA was deeply involved in ! destabilising the Allende
government and in supporting Gen Pinochet's military coup and, more
generally, because the US, the world's only superpower, wishes to remain
free to dispense its own version of democracy, justice and freedom, without
having to worry about the niceties of international jurisdiction.With that
in mind the US first fought, unsuccessfully, against the idea of the court
and then battled, successfully, to have the terms of the agreement weakened.

But the war in Europe has raised doubts among some of the staunchest allies
of the US about the American way. There is no doubt that the Yugoslav
president, Slobodan Milosevic, has rather more blood on his hands even than
Gen Pinochet, and that there is a crying need for justice to be done in
Kosovo. But as the suffering in the province mounts, the dangers of running
foreign policy on the basis of crisis management coupled with a disregard
for the niceties of international law are becoming all too apparent.

The evidence is that the American way of waging war has not been an
unqualified success. In Vietnam, despite technical superiority and carpet
bombing, the US lost. In the course of the war the US government managed to
radicalise and alienate an entire generation of its young people.

In Latin America, where the intervention was less direct as a result of the
failures in Vietnam, US policy encouraged a string of military
dictatorships from Buenos Aires to Guatemala City, where human rights
abuses were rampant. On a modest scale, small countries recently invaded by
the US include Panama, Haiti and Somalia.

Dictators whose countries have recently been bombed include Iraq, where the
dictator is stronger than ever. In each of these actions it can be argued
that the intention was worthy. But the salient point is that the result was
not what was intended. We don't need to see the final outcome in Kosovo to
see that that is already true: not only has the bombing failed to prevent a
humanitarian disaster, it has almost certainly helped to speed up the
catastrophe that Mr Milosevic had set in train. That disaster will not be
stopped by bombing, any more than bombs persuaded Hanoi of the virtues of a
free market. Nato must escalate the game and put in ground troops, or
abandon its original intention.

Meanwhile the bombing has undermined the efforts of Britain and others to
lend force to the framework of international law. A court will depend for
its success on international support. Raining bombs on the nationals of
another country in a campaign of dubious international legality has as its
one sure result the fragmentation of international consensus. The US is, at
least, consistent in its attitude to international justice. It did not
invade Panama and topple Noriega because of its desire to uphold
international law, nor fund the Contra war in Nicaragua in the service of
some future war crimes court. It did not allow its secret service to
support a savage genocide in Guatemala - for which, in a rare moment of
contrition, President Clinton recently apologised - for reasons of justice.

What we are looking at is not justice, but Pax Americana, or, as it used to
be called, US hegemony. But other members of Nato, including Britain, have
made commitments to a system of international justice that is set on
different foundations. The end of the cold war was the beginning of a
period of US hegemony more complete than that enjoyed by any other nation
at any other time. But, even so, it has its limitations. The US invokes
support of its allies for that hegemony by claiming to exercise it in the
name of the shared values of democracy and justice. But as a nation and a
superpower, the US has ruled itself beyond the law. This is a dangerous
position, not least because it might find it needs more friends than it can
count on.


The Guardian Weekly, v.160, i.14 (for week ending April 4, 1999), p. 12


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