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News ::
23 Jul 2003

By John Catalinotto
Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the July 24, 2003
issue of Workers World newspaper


By John Catalinotto

The Bush government is twisting arms to make sure U.S. political
leaders, generals and soldiers can commit war crimes without facing
trial. The Pentagon's military occupations of Afghanistan, Iraq and the Balkans, plus the current plans for intervention in Africa, have put this goal up front.

Washington's latest offensive against the United Nations International
Criminal Court (ICC) took place July 1 as the White House announced
penalties against 35 countries that failed to exempt U.S. soldiers from trials in that court. The countries were denied a total of $48 million in military aid.

While the amount involved is relatively insignificant for most of them, the White House message is clear: Washington's actions are to be above the law. There is not to be even the pretense of equality before the law, even when the court involved is itself biased in favor of the richer and more powerful nations.

Among those countries Washington is punishing for refusing to bow and
scrape to the U.S. are allies like Colombia and six countries of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's "new Europe" that are candidates for entry to NATO. The list also includes South Africa, which Bush visited on his Africa tour.

On July 5 Caribbean leaders ending a four-day summit in Montego Bay,
Jamaica, sharply criticized the United States for threatening the

Asked at a July 1 White House press briefing why the anti-court
offensive was given such priority, spokesperson Ari Fleischer said the
military aid cutoffs are "a reflection of the United States' priorities to protect" its troops, and that "the president's first priority is with the servicemen and servicewomen."

Like many White House statements, this one is aimed at public relations.

Last September, before they had 140,000 troops getting shot at under the Iraqi summer sun, the U.S. rulers were more open in discussing their real reasons for opposing the court.

Their real concern is for the big shots in the White House and the
Pentagon who decided to make the war in the first place. A quote from a top administration official published in the Sept. 7, 2002, New York
Times put it bluntly. "The soldiers are like the capillaries; the top
public officials--President Bush, Secretary Rumsfeld, Secretary Powell--they are at the heart of our concern," the senior official said. "Henry Kissinger, that's what they really care about."


John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, has in the past been a frank spokesperson for what is now the Bush program on this question. On July 23, 1998, when Bolton was heading the right-wing American Enterprise Institute--also home to Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney--he wrote in a summary of his remarks to a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: "Much of the media attention to the American negotiating position on the ICC concentrated on the risks perceived by the Pentagon to American peacekeepers stationed around the world. ... [O]ur real concern should be for the president and his top advisers." In other words, the troops are expendable, but the rich and powerful must be protected.

Bolton continued: "The definition of 'war crimes' includes, for example:'intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities.'"

Bolton wrote that under the ICC rules, U.S. leaders could have been
found guilty of a war crime for dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and
Nagasaki, and for all the aerial bombardments of German and Japanese
civilian areas.

Today, U.S. leaders could be found guilty of ordering the bombing of
Iraqi civilian sites, or for bombing wedding parties in Afghanistan.
They have plotted and carried out aggressive wars against Iraq,
Afghanistan and Yugoslavia. They could be liable for the persistent
murderous attacks on Iraqi and Afghani civilians during the resistance
to U.S. occupation.

It is a serious problem for them. Former Secretary of State Henry
Kissinger had to revise travel plans after being charged with war crimes for his role in overthrowing the Salvador Allende government and installing dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet in Chile in 1973.

The latest crop of mass murderers--Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Richard Cheney, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and President George W. Bush--know they could potentially be charged for these crimes.

Most recently the Belgian anti-war movement Stop USA brought war crimes charges in Belgian courts against U.S. Gen. Tommy Franks for his role in directing the war on Iraq.


A 1998 UN treaty created the ICC to prosecute cases of genocide, war
crimes and crimes against humanity against nationals of countries
unwilling or unable to try the cases themselves. The court was
inaugurated this March and charged with prosecuting crimes committed
after July 1, 2002. Some 78 countries supported it.

The Clinton administration originally signed the treaty, but didn't push for its ratification by Congress. The Bush administration then nullified Clinton's signature and has sought a permanent exemption from prosecutions. The European Union blocked the permanent exemption, though the UN Security Council last year gave the United States a second one-year exemption.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration has tried to bully nations into
signing bilateral treaties guaranteeing exemptions to U.S. officials and soldiers.

The ICC has the possibility of embarrassing U.S. leaders, of putting
them in the dock. But Marxists who champion the rights of the oppressed recognize that the ICC is still biased against nations and peoples that bear the marks of colonialism and imperialist domination.

From a legal point of view, the ICC puts an equal sign between oppressed and oppressor. In theory, the ICC is supposed to be neutral, whether the contenders be U.S. imperialism against Iraqis heroically fighting U.S. occupation, the Israeli army against Palestinians fighting for their land, British troops against Irish patriots trying to free their nation, or Zimbabwean patriots trying to keep their country independent.

Communists, as well as all people sympathetic with the fight for
national liberation from imperialism, have no business being neutral in these struggles. They take the side of the oppressed fighting for
national liberation.

In addition, even without U.S. participation, the ICC will reflect
imperialist domination of today's world. Though it claims to provide
equal treatment under the law, the ICC is more likely to target Third
World leaders who irritate the rulers in Europe, Japan or the U.S. than to target the criminals in charge of imperialist war machines. Though the tactic is subtler than a B-52 bombing run or a cruise missile, it can still depose an independent regime and replace it with a colonial puppet.

The ICC is different, however, from the so-called tribunals directed
against Yugoslavia, for example. Those tribunals were victors' courts,
imposing the decisions of the mighty upon the war's losers with only a
fig-leaf of legal proceedings.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was set up to try only people from the Balkans. Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was one of those brought up on charges for alleged steps taken to defend his country. The U.S. and German politicians who plotted to tear Yugoslavia apart with economic sanctions followed by massive bombings do not stand trial. There is not even a pretense of impartiality.

Likewise, only Rwandans could be brought before the tribunal aimed at
that country, not any French or Belgian or U.S. agents who have
manipulated central African countries for their rich resources.

These are the kinds of tribunals that the U.S. ruling class and
especially the Bush administration prefer--those that prosecute only
countries on the U.S. enemies' list. They don't want to take even the
smallest risk that would come with a court that tries to appear

Washington is guilty of so many war crimes--against Korea, Vietnam,
Cambodia, Laos, Angola, Congo, Panama, Cuba, Iraq, Yugoslavia,
Afghanistan and many others--that it fears any body it cannot fully


Naturally, the U.S. ruling class prefers that no one else sit in
judgment of its troops. In a throwback to the 19th century, the Bush
administration wants total extraterritoriality--that is, only U.S.
courts should try its citizens for crimes committed abroad.

Washington also wants the troops to believe that it has their interests at heart. This doesn't stop the brass from exposing them to hostile fire, to health dangers from Agent Orange and depleted uranium, or to guerrilla wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The war on Iraq and its subsequent occupation was carried out on behalf of a small group of enormously wealthy monopoly capitalists. To serve their interests, the White House and the Pentagon brass have put the troops in a position where they have no good choice.

Along with enormous discomfort from oven-like summer heat, tasteless
meals and lack of sleep, and the long separation from their families,

comes the knowledge that the Iraqi population considers them the enemy. U.S. forces have already killed thousands of Iraqis, many of them civilians, including children. Even if they don't know all the politics and history, they know the Iraqis want them to leave.

If they stay, they know they will be killing more civilians, more
children. They know they will be committing war crimes, whether or not
they face trial for them.

The rank and file of the U.S. military are mostly young members of the
working class, even in today's so-called professional armed forces. A
disproportionate number of the troops are from communities of color,
attracted to the "services" because they provide at least some salary
and training and seem like a better choice than the streets or prisons
of a racist society.

During the long war in Vietnam, both drafted and enlisted GIs became
part of the movement that forced the U.S. to stop its aggression. From
the reports on troop morale coming out of Iraq today--as well as those
about the anger of their families at U.S. bases--this is once more a
real possibility.

What these troops need is not protection from an international court.
They need to be brought home.

- END -

(Copyright Workers World Service: Everyone is permitted to copy and
distribute verbatim copies of this document, but changing it is not
allowed. For more information contact Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY,
NY 10011; via e-mail: ww (at) Subscribe wwnews-
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