1 August 2008
Book Review: International Justice and Impunity – The Case of the United States, edited by Nils Andersson, Daniel Iagolnitzer and Diana G. Collier. Clarity Press, 2008.
Impunity: N. Nonliability, exemption, let-out, immunity, special treatment.
Impunity: Vb. Exempt, set apart, absolve, grant immunity, are just some of the descriptions my Roget’s Thesaurus lists for the word impunity.
Other descriptions listed by the Thesaurus are perhaps even more apt:
Owe no responsibility, be free from, have no liability, spare oneself the necessity, exempt oneself, excuse oneself, the list goes on…
“The American ambassador to the United Nations in the middle of the 1970s, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, has thus congratulated himself in his memoirs, for having rendered “totally ineffective, on the instructions of the State Department, all measures taken by the United Nations [with regard to the 40-plus UN resolutions on Palestine]”. — ‘Rudolph El-Kareh, The American Politic in the Middle East, Force, Impunity, Lawlessness.’ (p.64)
Another way of describing impunity is that ‘might is right’ but a ‘right’ reinforced and delivered by the corporate media’s complicity in the process of granting immunity (invisibility) to those who practice mass murder and genocide on a scale that almost defies description.
The book is divided into three sections: Part I: From Hiroshima to Guantanamo; Part II: Humanitarian Law: Legal and Moral Values to Defend and Part III: In Pursuit of an End to Impunity.
The collection of essays gathered together in ‘International Justice and Impunity’ encompasses the views of many people and organizations united by one thing, namely the examination and condemnation of the ‘right’ enjoyed by the United States and its principal allies the UK, the EU and Japan, to be extremely selective about international law and human rights, applying such laws as and when it suits them to and simply ignoring the self-same international laws when it doesn’t.
Of course such behaviour by the imperialist states is nothing new but given the power of a hegemonic global media to blank out the crimes of the US and its allies, impunity takes on an ominous significance given the awesome power the US employs as it seeks to extend its control of the world and its resources.
Again (and again), I have to return to the simple fact that without the corporate (and state) media’s collusion in this massive sleight-of-hand such deceptions would be well nigh impossible to carry out. And, if I have a criticism of the book it is the omission of a section that directly addresses the role of the mass media in delivering the imperialist message, without which it would be difficult to persuade us to go along with the slaughter and the barbarity practiced by those who impudently like to call themselves civilized.
The process is plain to see for anyone who cares to look; it’s the media equivalent of saturation bombing. The names Zimbabwe, Darfur, Tibet, Islamist, Hamas, Hizbollah, Chavez, Cuba, immediately come to mind but over the years the list is an extremely long one.
The recipe is extremely simple: take one event where there are obvious human rights violations eg in Sudan and go hell for leather in swamping the ‘news’ outlets with cries of rage and indignation about the Sudanese government’s treatment of its population and keep on doing it until the word DARFUR is burned into everyone’s brain. Follow this up with demands for intervention, and, in the supreme irony, demand that a special (and illegal) criminal tribunal be convened, using the cover of the ‘United’ Nations to bring the miscreants to justice before the eyes of the world.
Ironic because the US fought tooth and nail to stop the formation of the International Criminal Court and failing to do that, watered it down at every step along the way and then, to add insult to injury, refused to recognize its jurisdiction, when over 100 countries signed up to it (Bush even removed the US signature from it when it realized that even with its awesome power, it couldn’t prevent its formation).
Worse still, the US was instrumental in the creation of ad hoc ‘criminal tribunals’ by arm-twisting the United Nations whose Charter has no powers to convene such creatures.
The degree to which the US perverts every international law (including those that it has reluctantly signed) is perhaps best exemplified by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) for contrary to the mass media misconception, the NPT is not just about stopping the spread of nuclear weapons (beyond the original six signatories) but is specifically aimed at reducing and eventually eliminating existing nuclear weapons entirely.
So all the while that the US and its allies engineer an hysterical campaign against Iran and its alleged development of nuclear weapons, the US is actively developing new nuclear weapons not as deterrents but to use in combat. The 2002 Nuclear Posture Review spells it out in horrendous detail as Tadatoshi Akiba relates in his contribution to the book ‘Toward the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons’.
“…instead of simply utilizing nuclear weapons as a means of deterrence, they [the US] will start manufacturing bombs and other devices of mass destruction for the purpose of actually using them … and the most important point I believe, is that they clearly stated their intention to use those weapons in combat.” (p.26)
At first reading the selection of essays chosen for this book seemed to have no immediate connection one to the other but on closer inspection they reveal that Impunity is the thread across the decades which, as Samir Amin’s contribution ‘The Geostrategy of Contemporary Imperialism’ shows is an intrinsic component of the US ruling class’s project to “extend their military control over the whole planet”, a project that Amin describes as:
“…overwheening, even crazy, and criminal by what it implies, [and one that] did not come out of President Bush Junior’s head, to be implemented by an extreme right junta, seizing power through dubious elections.
“It is the project which the ruling class of the United States has unceasingly nurtured since 1945, even though its implementation evidently passed through ups and downs, encountered a few vicissitudes, and was here and there checked, and could be not be pursued with the consistency and violence that this implied in certain conjunctural moments like that following the disintegration of the Soviet Union.” (p.34)
It is, as Amin states, the Monroe Doctrine extended to to the entire planet and one that he describes in his conclusion as “The Empire of Chaos and Permanent War”. (p.54)
As an aside, the reality described by Amin and other contributors bears absolutely no resemblence to what we are all fed by the corporate media, indeed it’s as if we live on two different planets, so integrated is the media into the ‘Empire of Chaos’s’ view of the world and how it works and currently best exemplified by the incessant hammering of the ‘War on Terror’ motif that insinuates itself into our daily lives. But again, the ‘War on Terror’ is merely the War on Communism by another name, which in turn was the war on any country that dared defy the imperialist ‘right to rule’ which in turn is, as Michael Parenti’s excellent summation of imperialism’s ‘divine right’ to own the planet, ‘Rulers of the Planet – The Real Reasons for the US Invasion of the Planet’ puts it,
“The objective of US global policy is not just power for its own sake but the:
- power to control the world’s natural resources and markets,
- power to privatize and deregulate the economies of every nation in the world,
- power to prevent alternative self-defining, self-developing economic models from arising,
- and power to hoist upon the backs of peoples everywhere—including Europe and North America—the blessings of an untrammeled global “free market” (pps. 123-124)
The integration of the media into the imperialist project is total and virtually seamless, made possible by a veritable army of a complicit intelligentsia created by an education system designed literally to “mold” a view of the world that complies with the imperialist project.
Two essays reveal the two realities most tellingly, the first is Rudolph El-Kareh’s, ‘The American Politic in the Middle East, Force, Impunity, Lawlessness,’ and Monique Chemiller-Gendreau’s contribution, ‘Impunity and Massive Breaches of Humanitarian Law in Vietnam’, the war that slaughtered perhaps three million Vietnamese and whose consequences haunt the Vietnamese people to this day through the US use of Agent Orange which was dropped on around 8.5% of Vietnamese territory or 2.5 million hectares.
“It is notably in the Middle East, and surrounding the question of Palestine, that the United States has systematically instituted impunity in the face of violations of international law…. The violation of international law and the work of sapping the United Nations were not only infractions of its Charter, of which the United States was one of the principal authors, but also contravened Article 6 of the American Constitution considering this as an integral part of the “supreme law” of the country.” (p.64)
Hey, but this is what impunity is all about, ‘don’t do as I do, do as I say!’ As Bill Blum’s contribution ‘Freeing the World to Death – How the United States Gets Away with It’ says:
“When I speak before American university students I say this to them: If I were to write a book called The American Empire for Dummies, page one would say: Don’t ever look for the moral factor. US foreign policy has no moral factor built into its DNA. Clear your mind of that baggage which only gets in the way of seeing beyond the clichés and the platitudes they feed us.” (p.102)
If it weren’t all so tragic, it would be laughable. The gulf between the words and the actions of the United States is demonstrated by the contribution of Daniel Iagolnitzer, ‘International Law Relative to War and the United States’, an overview of the progress made over the past century and a half in the development of international law as it applies to war and how the US has demolished every last one of them!
Ironically, one of the first laws governing the conduct of the state when engaged in war was president Lincoln’s Lieber Code, introduced in 1863 which included the prohibition of the use of torture:
“Military necessity does not admit of the inflicting of suffering for the sake of suffering or revenge, nor of wounding except in fight, nor of torture to extort confessions. It does not admit of the use of poison in any way or of the wanton devastation of a district… (Art. 16).”
Perhaps the most devastating exposé of not only the United States actions but also of other Western states and especially the UK, is revealed in Jan Myrdal’s contribution ‘The Necessity of Defending the Rule of Law!’. Myrdal quotes sections of the testimony of Reich Marshal, Defendant Hermann Goering at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial. The parallels between his defence of the concentration camps and ‘preventive detention’ and that of the US in creating Guantanamo (and in the UK of ‘preventive detention’ under its ‘anti-terror’ laws) are most illuminating and chilling. Referring to what Goering called “protective custody”:
Mr. Justice Jackson: … You did prohibit all court review and considered it necessary to prohibit court review of the causes for taking people into what you called protective custody?
Goering: In connection with your question that these cases could not be reviewed by the court, I want to say that a decree was issued by me and jointly to the effect that those who were turned over to concentration camps were to be informed after 24 hours of the reason for their being turned over, and that after 48 hours, or some short period of time, they should have the right to an attorney. But this by no means rescinded my order that a review was not permitted by the courts of a politically necessary measure of protective custody. These people were simply to be given an opportunity of making a protest.
Mr. Justice Jackson: Protective custody meant that you were taking people into custody who had not committed any crimes but who, you thought, might possibly commit a crime?
Goering: Yes. People were arrested and taken into protective custody who had not yet committed any crime, but who could be expected to do so if they remained free, just as protective measures are being taken in Germany today on a tremendous scale.
Sound familar? You bet it does as it describes exactly the situation today as the result, allegedly of the ‘war on terror’.
Finally, the sub-text of impunity must also be described as a crime of ‘omission’, omission that is, on the part of us, the citizens of empire.
The section by Amy Bartholomew “Strategies of the Weak”? Contesting Empire Through Litigation Under International Humanitarian Law’ addresses the issue of ‘omission’ directly (and not merely of the media), when she says:
“Such a felt sense of political responsibility for Empire’s actions by its citizens is dependent on viewing oneself not as an innocent or impotent bystander but rather as an implicated agent.
…as a relationship of perpetrators of atrocities liable for legal prosecution for having committed crimes of commission, their innocent and violated victimes, and bystanders who may be viewed, at most, as culpable of sins of omission, morally guilty, of the “excusable and forgiveable misdeed of “bystanding’”. This approach … misses the fact that there is a necessary relationship—a “grey area”—between perpetrayors and ‘bystanders’. But by constituting them as distinct categories we miss the fact that there may be “common ground to both”, an “affinity between ‘evil doing’ and ‘non-resistance to evil”’ and this needs not just be recognized but also to be the object of our political efforts to bring these these two categories under the lens of moral political concern.” (p.221)
As Bartholomew says, citizens of empire:
“do have a responsibility to act to resist empire. This is based on an analysis of the impunity of empire for it is the idea that there is a nonreciprocal right of Empire to run roughshod over everyone else in the name of spreading its own values and its own conception of security globally—one of the essential hallmarks of ‘empire’s law’— that must be contested.” (pps.222-223)
It is only by directly addressing the issue of our complicity, by our failure to act that the Empire does indeed run roughshod over all opposition. Moreover, Bartholomew suggests that:
“while capitalism is unleashed and “economic forces are free to act globally”, there are at best only germs and premonitions of a globally binding legal and juridicial system, global democracy or globally binding, enforceable and obeyed ethical code.”
This is because, “Ethically motivated and informed global action has no adequately global instruments.” (p.225) But Bartholomew does suggest an approach that I believe is extremely important, based upon our raising the issue of legally challenging the right to wage war,
“What the American Empire fears, and I think rightly, is that such strategies may contribute to our capacities to become the ‘strong’…my claim is that such politically inspired attempts litigating against American Empire under international humanitarian law may contribute to the goals of cultivating a sense of poitical responsibility, while both depending on political action for their broad effectivity and contributing to further political action.” (p.228)
But warning us that “the development of cosmopolitan law, of global law” will not, by itself lead to “perpetual peace and universal freedom”, only a coherent, progressive and anti-capitalist (socialist) agenda has even a chance of achieving the defeat of Empire of Chaos.
1. See for example, ‘Secret Plan Outlines the Unthinkable’
A secret policy review of the nation’s nuclear policy puts forth chilling new contingencies for nuclear war. by William M. Arkin
2. The national education system implemented by the Tory government in the closing days of WWII described the advantages of such a system using the term “molding” an entire generation. Molding our views to support the idea of our ‘divine right’ to rule, a strategy that up until now anyway, appears to have been very successful.