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Friday, November 26, 2004

An Orgy of Impunity 

From The Nation, a Naomi Klein column inspired by James Blake Miller, the Marlboro-smoking Marine whose photograph has (somehow) been elevated to iconic status:
[O]utside US borders, it is, of course, a different Marine who has been awarded the prize as "the face of Falluja": the soldier captured on tape executing a wounded, unarmed prisoner in a mosque. Runners-up are a photograph of 2-year-old Fallujan in a hospital bed with one of his tiny legs blown off; a dead child lying in the street, clutching the headless body of an adult; and an emergency health clinic blasted to rubble. Inside the United States, these snapshots of a lawless occupation appeared only briefly, if at all. Yet Miller's icon status has endured, kept alive with human interest stories about fans sending cartons of Marlboros to Falluja, interviews with the Marine's proud mother and earnest discussions about whether smoking might reduce Miller's effectiveness as a fighting machine.

Impunity--the perception of being outside the law--has long been the hallmark of the Bush regime. What is alarming is that it appears to have deepened since the election, ushering in what can best be described as an orgy of impunity. In Iraq, US forces and their Iraqi surrogates are assaulting civilian targets and openly attacking doctors, clerics and journalists who have dared to count the bodies. At home, impunity has been made official policy with Bush's nomination of Alberto Gonzales--the man who personally advised the President in his infamous "torture memo" that the Geneva Conventions are "obsolete"--as Attorney General.

This kind of defiance cannot simply be explained by Bush's win. There has to be something in how he won, in how the election was fought, that gave this Administration the distinct impression that it had been handed a "get out of the Geneva Conventions free" card. That's because the Administration was handed precisely such a gift--by John Kerry.

In the name of "electability," the Kerry campaign gave Bush five months on the campaign trail without ever facing serious questions about violations of international law. Fearing he would be seen as soft on terror and disloyal to US troops, Kerry stayed scandalously silent about Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay. When it became clear that fury would rain down on Falluja as soon as the polls closed, Kerry never spoke out against the plan, or against the illegal bombings of civilian areas that took place throughout the campaign . . . .

The real-world result of all the "strategic" thinking is the worst of both worlds: It didn't get Kerry elected and it sent a clear message to the people who were elected that they will pay no political price for committing war crimes. And this is Kerry's true gift to Bush: not just the presidency, but impunity. You can see it perhaps best of all in the Marlboro Man in Falluja, and the surreal debates that swirl around him. Genuine impunity breeds a kind of delusional decadence, and this is its face: a nation bickering about smoking while Iraq burns.
By now you have undoubtedly read elsewhere of yet another last-minute provision slipped into the omnibus spending bill, under the terms of which U.S. economic assistance to foreign nations would be understood to buy dispensation for future war crimes -- a sort of reverse protection racket in which we bribe the rest of the world, in advance, not to complain when we rough them up. International law would thus be replaced by the barter system, and foreign aid reclassified as hush money:
The Republican-controlled Congress has stepped up its campaign to curtail the power of the International Criminal Court, threatening to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in economic aid to governments that refuse to sign immunity accords shielding U.S. personnel from being surrendered to the tribunal.

The move marks an escalation in U.S. efforts to ensure that the first world criminal court can never judge American citizens for crimes committed overseas. More than two years ago, Congress passed the American Servicemembers' Protection Act, which cut millions of dollars in military assistance to many countries that would not sign the Article 98 agreements, as they are known, that vow not to transfer to the court U.S. nationals accused of committing war crimes abroad.

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