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Why Washington battles the International Criminal Court

By John Catalinotto, Workers World, 19 September 2002

Washington usually couches its hostility to the proposed International Criminal Court in terms of its desire to protect U.S. soldiers.

Naturally the U.S. ruling class wants no one else to sit in judgment of its troops, whatever the nature of their crimes. But this is a relatively minor concern. Washington could sacrifice some troops to an otherwise useful court, just as it could sacrifice cannon fodder on the field of battle.

The real concern is for the big honchos in the White House and the Pentagon who decide to make the war in the first place. Or who decide to overthrow a government and slaughter all the labor leaders of a country.

A quote from a top Bush official, published in the Sept. 7 New York Times, put it bluntly. The soldiers are like the capillaries; the top public officials--President Bush, Secretary Rumsfeld, Secretary Powell--they are at the heart of our concern, the senior official said. Henry Kissinger, that's what they really care about.

The official added, They don't really care about the Lt. Calleys of the future.

In 1969, when news of the My Lai massacre spread in the United States and around the world, it became a focal point for anti-war fury. A U.S. unit, led by the infamous Lt. William Calley, had opened fire on unarmed Vietnamese villagers. The soldiers killed 347 people by official U.S. Army count. About half were children. Calley got a life sentence from a U.S. court but was quickly paroled.

Calley was only one of the U.S. criminals in Vietnam, distinguished because he could see his victims up close and because other troops reported him. There were also the pilots who bombed and rocketed the same villages from a distance.

More to the point, Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, Gen. William Westmoreland and other Pentagon chiefs, their advisers and lieutenants ordered the overall slaughter. They were real mass murderers.

One such was Henry Kissinger, Nixon's secretary of state. He promoted bombing Cambodia and, while negotiating, threatened nuclear warfare against north Vietnam. Kissinger also was behind the Sept. 11, 1973, coup in Chile that overthrew the elected government of President Salvador Allende and ushered in a brutal military dictatorship run by Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

Protecting mass murderers

U.S. officials oppose the proposed international court because they want to protect and defend the latest crop of mass murderers. This group--Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Richard Cheney, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and President George W. Bush--know they could potentially be charged for these crimes.

John Bolton, under secretary of state for arms control and international security, is spokesperson for the Bush gang on this question. On July 23, 1998, when Bolton was heading the right-wing American Enterprise Institute-also home to Rumsfeld and Cheney-he wrote in a summary of his remarks to a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

Much of the media attention to the American negotiating position on the ICC concentrated on the risks perceived by the Pentagon to American peacekeepers stationed around the world. ... [O]ur real concern should be for the president and his top advisers.

The definition of 'war crimes' includes, for example: 'intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities.'

Bolton wrote that under the ICC rules, U.S. leaders could have been found guilty of a war crime for dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and for all the aerial bombardments of German and Japanese civilian areas.

Bolton's policy, which is also the administration's, has a single virtue: It is frank. The troops are expendable, but the rich and powerful must be protected.

The Milosevic 'trial'

The only international court Washington approves is one like the International Criminal Court for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), now sitting in judgment of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague, Netherlands. This political court is NATO's creation, a weapon aimed against any leader from the Balkans who resisted the U.S./NATO takeover.

As the prosecution ends the Kosovo phase of the trial Sept. 10 or 11, it has brought in 124 witnesses-some testifying in secret or at a distance-against Milosevic. It has proved nothing.

Acting as his own attorney, preparing his case from his jail cell, and working with pitifully little resources, the Yugoslav leader has conducted a heroic case, exposing U.S. and NATO crimes against his people.

Even with the full backing of the U.S. imperialist state, and with very little likelihood they would face charges as long as the United States remains the military dominant force, U.S. leaders are terrified of being put in the position they were so anxious to put Milosevic in.

Perhaps it is because U.S. officials are so acutely aware of their guilt.