Thursday, July 10, 2008

Pardoning war crimes?

For the last seven years, the United States has run programmes as part of its "war on terror" which can only be described as war crimes. Extraordinary rendition, forced disappearance, the use of torture, the denial of fair trial rights and the violation of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions among them. These actions are illegal under both US and international law, and if the US ever regains its sanity and removes that enormous parochial chip from its shoulder, should see a lot of people - not just the torturers and interrogators, but also the officials, lawyers and policymakers who designed and signed off on the policy (and in some cases, personally approved individual acts of torture) - go to jail for a very long time.

But there's a problem: writing in Salon, James Ross points out the real risk that President Bush will issue a pre-emptive pardon for war crimes as a final "fuck you" to the world, effectively letting all those torturers and war criminals (including himself) off the hook. But while this will be effective at preventing action under US law, in the eyes of the international community, its is likely to compound the crime and be evidence that America refuses to clean up its own mess, thus justifying action in international courts. While the United States is not a party to the International Criminal Court (precisely because it could be used to hold US war criminals accountable), most civilised states (including New Zealand) claim universal jurisdiction over war crimes. And by removing the fig leaf of potential US action, a Bush pardon ironically will be the sort of thing that makes us use it. I'm not suggesting that the international community will stage a Nazi-hunter style exercise, snatching US war criminals and dragging them back to face justice; rather, former members of the Bush administration would be wise to heed Philippe Sands warning: don't travel. Otherwise, like Pinochet, they may find themselves facing justice for their crimes.