Criminals? As yet not tried in a court of law ...
Now I know what I am: according to columnist Tim Rutten in the Los Angeles Times, I am member of "the lacy left fringe of American politics" because I'd like to see criminal trials of leaders who have made widespread torture of prisoners a feature in their permanent war. He knows better:
This is a conclusion that Rutten can only arrive at by assuming that justifying torture is just a "policy" argument, not a question of law. He clams to be repudiating torture, but he sweeps under the rug the little matter of treaty obligations and the pre-Bush Universal Code of Military Justice, as well as numerous constitutional impediments to cruel treatment of persons without legal process. The memos of a Yoo and obfuscations of a Gonzales are all a "no fault" intellectual exercise, if a misguided one, in Rutten's world.
It is simply not true that lawless behavior in pursuit of policy objectives has no history of being punished in our country. In the Watergate era, Presidential advisors H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman did stand in the dock and end up in prison for conspiracy and obstruction of justice committed to enhance Richard Nixon's power. One of Bush/Cheney's stooges, Lewis Libby, would be doing time now after being convicted of highhandedly violating the law, if the present President had not given him a "get out of jail free" card. There's plenty of history of executive lawbreakers being tried and convicted.
And the evident crimes of the current lot dwarf the legalistic grounds on which prosecutors have been able to get convictions of previous generations of wrongdoing U.S. politicians. An aggressive war of choice, dishonestly entered upon ... that's Nuremberg territory, conduct that led to the execution of the German general staff in 1946.
If Rutten weren't in the business of justifying the unjustifiable, he could have made reference to a much more interesting case against war crimes trials that is emerging within the community of human rights advocates, especially those concerned with Africa. In the U.S. blogosphere, Helena Cobban, has written from this perspective. A recent column from the Canadian Globe and Mail gives the flavor of the argument.
That is, Zimbabwe is now suffering through another violent election which Mugabe will win by whatever vicious means are necessary because of the developing practice of bringing particularly violent African kleptocrats before international criminal courts. The article goes on to cite the prosecution of Charles Taylor for his instigation of the Sierra Leone civil war (that's the one where in addition to rape, the combatants went in for cutting off the limbs of children) and the international court in Arusha, Tanzania, that can't seem to move against Rwandan perpetrators of genocide. In Uganda, critics of human rights law enforcement say that indictments are prolonging Joseph Kony's vicious insurgency. The Globe and Mail author, Stephanie Nolen, says that Africans have a different solution for their evil doers.
I'd have to listen to a lot more Africans before I felt entirely comfortable with the argument presented here. I don't want to be party to any idea that there is one standard of justice suitable to be applied to first world wrongdoers and another for the poor societies of Africa. But there is also a plausible argument here for peace first, then, perhaps much later and less rigorously, justice.
So what about our own Bushite evildoers? Those injured -- Iraqis, Afghans, miscellaneous Arabs, millions of U.S. citizens who expected Constitutional liberties -- never got due process. And most of them -- and most of us -- do simply want the nightmare over with. But then, the U.S. perps should get trials. Maybe we, the angry left fringe, are wrongly convicting them without trial. Bringing the Bush perps into court is a worthy long term struggle and one I can work for.
But here's where I can go along with Rutten and the African skeptics: I don't care so much whether they go to jail. What matters is to permanently get these authoritarians out of U.S. politics. The leading criminals of the Bush era got their start with Nixon, pressed on to take roles in Reagan's Iran-Contra shenanigans, and crept back into power with the Bush/Cheney regime. They are repeat offenders against the rule of law.
During the 1980s, like many U.S. progressives, I put a lot of work into supporting Central American populist governments that the U.S. called "communist." One of the bravest, smartest acts of the insurgent Nicaraguan Sandinistas in 1979 when they chased out their U.S.-backed dictator was to let his private army, the Guardia Nacional, run away over the borders. These were not nice people. The GN had raped, tortured and murdered wantonly under their protector. But the Sandinistas knew that the country was small, that every individual GN man was someone's uncle or even brother, that nothing would be gained by vengeance. So they let them go -- and that act launched a Sandinista era full of hope.
Trouble was, the GN survivors were not permanently outside Nicaraguan politics. Because the U.S. wanted to ensure the independent populists in power couldn't succeed, the C.I.A got to work recruiting the forces of the former dictator to trash the schools and clinics built by the Sandinistas. Pretty soon Nicaragua was back at war; war wore folks out and the U.S. had a great victory over a bunch of poor peasants who thought they should govern their own country.
So, however we do it, some people's activity and influence need to be permanently excluded from the U.S. political stage. As of now, it looks like a Democratic "alternative" will win big this November. That's good.
The recent vote on the FISA bill suggests that some of the Democrats we'll have in power if that happens are already shaping their votes to try to avoid revealing their complicity in the Bush regime's lawlessness. That's not good, but better that their complicity shows. These Democrats need to go, permanently, too.
The struggle ahead is long. But again, a look at some history: with the complicity and encouragement of Henry Kissinger, another U.S. war criminal, General Pinochet overthrew, killed and tortured Chilean democracy on the other September 11 -- in 1973. He remained in power as a military dictator until 1990. Chileans only got him out with a promise of amnesty, of impunity, for the Chilean military. That is, the society cut a deal -- go away and we won't prosecute your crimes. Yet opponents kept up the demand for some kind of justice and by 2006, Pinochet died at 91 while under house arrest as a result of multiple indictments for his crimes.
White people haven't had to try to sustain that kind of long, disillusioning struggle for a modicum of unsatisfactory justice in this country. As that sentence implies, African Americans have done little else. Are the rest of us ready to take up the long struggle? Is there anything else to do?