Friday, May 23, 2014

So much for "universal jurisdiction"

I was fine with an International Criminal Court investigation of war crimes in Syria until I read this:
The United States, which has not signed the treaty that created the Hague-based court, supported the draft resolution only after it secured important exemptions: namely protecting its soldiers from prosecution by the tribunal, should they ever get involved in Syria with Security Council authorization, and ensuring that its ally Israel — which holds the Golan Heights, territory that Syria also claims — is not made vulnerable to a court investigation.
The whole point of the international court is to have universal accountability for  extremely serious crimes. Special exemptions for the U.S. and Israel undermine both the point and credibility of the court. Sure, I understand the concern that Americans and Israelis might be falsely accused of war crimes. But why is that a uniquely American and Israeli concern? Aren't Syrians in danger of false accusations as well? Isn't sorting true from false accusations the job of the ICC judges? That is part of what the court is supposed to do. If it can't be relied upon to do it well for Americans or Israelis how can it be relied upon to do it well for anyone?

I have long known about American efforts to exempt themselves from the ICC's jurisdiction. But the basis for that used to be that American courts could and would hold U.S. soldiers accountable for any war crimes, so an international prosecution is not necessary. But what happened during the Iraq War should end any illusion that the U.S. system can really deal with its own war criminals. We don't convict American war criminals, we send them to Congress!