It's a nervous time to be a past or present national leader 'round the world. The Detroit Free Press is reporting that here in the States, the Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, is mulling over creating a panel to investigate possible human rights violations carried out in the name of counterterrorism by the Bush administration.
The concept has set off a flurry of criticism; chiefly, would prosecutions of high-ranking government officials -- the very same people who ran the world just a few months ago -- open the door for human rights indictments by bodies like the International Criminal Court?
The ICC's not a paper tiger. Since it was permanently established in 1998, it's been responsible for indicting and prosecuting leaders like Bosnian Serb leaders Dragomar Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic, Liberian president Charles Taylor, Rwanda's Jean Kambanda and countless lesser government and military officials for war crimes, crimes against humanity and violations of the Geneva Convention, like conscription of child soldiers. Yesterday the ICC issued its first-ever arrest warrant for a sitting president, Sudan's Omar al-Bashir, for murder, torture and rape.
The people indicted, tried and convicted of crimes against humanity by the ICC have so far all hailed from second or third-world countries. Never has the court trained its sites on a member of the most developed countries, like the U.S. Even before the ICC was established, international tribunals have excluded officials from the United States. Following World War II, officials from Japan and Germany were tried and convicted of war crimes; no one suggested going after Franklin Roosevelt Harry Truman* for ordering Fat Man and Little Boy dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, both of which specifically targeted civilian populations.
With what feels like the winding down of America's post-Cold War world leadership under way, could something like the proposed Senate panel trigger the end of the American century by opening up, for the first time, American leaders to international prosecution?
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*Thanks to Chuck and Scotty P for pointing out my error.