THERE is a lethal mix at work in the United States of America, a Trump-Bolton cocktail that is worse than many Molotovs combined. It was displayed in all its fury in Washington on Sept 10 at the Federalist Society gathering by John Bolton, the national security adviser of President Donald Trump. His message to the International Criminal Court was threateningly simple: America is above the law.
Now that is exceptionalism of the exceptional kind. If you think the United States is a nation of rules and laws, you may want to think again. Welcome to the world of Trump’s triumpalism. Bolton made it very clear in his 50-minute raging rant that it was American policy not be judged by any multilateral institutions, especially the ICC that very paradoxically the US helped set up.
And ironically, too, the Rome Treaty that created the ICC was one of the last international legal document that former president Bill Clinton signed on his very last day in office on Dec 31, 2000, though former president, George W. Bush, “unsigned” it. Till today whether or not a treaty can be “unssigned” remains an arcane debate among lawyers.
Bolton’s speech to the Federalist Society was the first formal speaking opportunity for the national security adviser to lay out his national security plan. Instead, he lashed out at the ICC and his favourite punching bag, the Palestinians. It was all sound and fury. Whether it signifies something we will see in the coming days and week.
The fiery mocking of the ICC is no surprise. On Nov 20 last year, Bolton wrote an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal calling on America to take the opportunity to kill the ICC in its cradle. Simply because the ICC for first time under chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda had initiated investigations against American soldiers’ war crimes in Afghanistan. The standfirst of his op-ed column is revealing: “A ‘war crimes’ inquiry in Afghanistan shows the danger of the ICC.”
But Bolton’s fear is older, of an earlier vintage. Many will remember Bolton calling on the then president Bill Clinton in 1990s to go for regime change in Iraq by ousting Saddam Hussein. Later when he served under Bush, Bolton claimed in a BBC interview on Nov 20, 2002 that the US was “confident” Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Quite ominously he told BBC: “The US has already decided the outcome of this story ...”
And sure the US did like many times before. Today, we know that WMD was a fiction invented by the US and its allies to invade Iraq with a view to creating little Americas in the Middle East, beginning with Iraq. So the shivers that travel through the spine of Bolton when the ICC comes knocking on America’s doors are perfectly understandable. Bensouda must be one name that makes Bolton bolt.
Another danger lurks for the US as well. Last November, Bensouda made a request to the ICC judges to authorise an investigation into possible war crimes committed by US servicemen in Afghanistan since 2003. The ICC judges’ decision is due any time now. It appears Bolton wants that decision nipped in the bud. He has threatened the ICC judges and officials with prosecution should they authorise such investigations.
Saying that he is delivering “a clear and unambiguous message on behalf of the president of the US,” Bolton proclaimed: “The US will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court. We will not cooperate with the ICC.
We will provide no assistance to the ICC. And, certainly, we will not join the ICC. We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.”
The US needs to realise that throwing the baby with the bathwater is not the solution. America can take a better path that is more in line with what civilised nations take: investigate and prosecute all the Americans allegedly involved in war crimes be it in Afghanistan , Iraq or elsewhere.
America must lead by example, not by might that is misplaced.
Trump and Bolton must understand that the ICC is only a court of last resort, which means if the US takes all reasonable steps to investigate and prosecute Americans who should be investigated and prosecuted, then the ICC would not interfere. This principle applies to all nations, big and small. The ICC is asking the US for nothing more.
But to the ICC, and rightly so, it appears that the US is unwilling to go after its nationals. Like municipal law, international law too requires every person to be treated equally before the law. It is asinine to ask the law to be blind to only some. The US has repeatedly demanded North Sudan and other African states to submit to the ICC’s jurisdiction, and to now for the US not want to do the same is baffling. Injustice is made of this.
The US cannot go on hiding behind fortress America, especially after the publication of the 2014 Senate report detailing US crimes against detainees in the post-9/11 wars. The report is a graphic narrative of torture of the most unimaginable kind perpetrated by US servicemen and their agents. Little wonder Bensouda is after some Americans.
Abdul Rahim Mydin is a leader writer with the NST.