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Victor’s justice


Katherine Gallagher seems optimistic a proposed International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan might indict offenders regardless of nationality or alliance. She hopes to see members of “the Taliban and affiliated armed groups, Afghan authorities, and members of the US military forces and the CIA” who have committed atrocities in the conflict put in the dock. Hey, what about us! Don’t Australian war criminals rate on the international stage? She’d also like to see torture black sites in eastern Europe used in the CIA’s ‘extraordinary rendition’ program included in the probe.

I admire Ms Gallagher’s intent. It’s nice to imagine those licenced by our leaders to use deadly force could face consequences for stepping outside well defined guidelines on how to oppress and kill people. Even nicer to fantasise about prosecuting those who ordered them to. But I hope her confidence is feigned. I’ve met my share of people who believed courts would deliver justice for victims of security forces. It doesn’t end well for them. Sometimes I’ve even seen what I thought were reasons for guarded optimism. Hope rising triumphant. Only to be crucified again. And again. Mercifully, there are no grounds for hope here. Some sense? Some humanity? Some justice? Not a chance.

One obstacle Katherine overlooks is that the United States isn’t among the 120 or so countries to sign the Rome Charter. Rejection of the jurisdiction of the ICC has been asserted repeatedly by US leaders and made explicit by legislation compelling the President to use “all means necessary and appropriate to bring about the release of any U.S. or allied personnel being detained or imprisoned by, on behalf of, or at the request of the International Criminal Court.” That’s legalese for “If they get too uppity, drone ’em.” Seems sensible. Trying to prosecute all the war crimes committed by America and its allies would send the ICC bankrupt. Law isn’t cheap in the lands of the free.

But let’s imagine US authorities took the unprecedented step of subjecting themselves to international law. Not just signing treaties and ignoring them; as per longstanding tradition for negotiating with America’s First Nations; or as Australia does with agreements granting human rights to prisoners, children, Aborigines or refugees; but actually putting offending officials and enforcers through the ritualised sham that passes for investigation and prosecution by a court of law.

I’m not sure which of its member nations the ICC would turn to for experience in prosecuting security forces or their leaders for illegal killings. Let he who has convicted a cop cast the first subpoena. Does its international nature make the ICC less susceptible to the corruption and manipulation that undermine the legal systems of its constituents?

I live in a country that’s never convicted a police or prison officer for torturing or killing while on duty. Not once. We draw our legal traditions from Britain, which also has a spotless record of not prosecuting official homicide. Our judicial procedures don’t condemn crimes committed by authorities in their 230 year war against Australia’s original inhabitants. They legalise and normalise them. I’m confident the ICC will look to us and similar paragons of Rule of Law™ for precedents to guide its proceedings.

Justice from the ICC? Maybe if you lose a war or run a cut price killing field in a developing country. You have to invest millions in slaughter if you want to say who’s guilty and who’s not. We wealthy, educated, victorious countries have trained judges and lawyers to explain why our crimes aren’t criminal. And the best media money can buy. They don’t come cheap but they’re worth it. For some.

From → politics, rant

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