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Blair’s international court backfires (Scripps Howard News Service) June 3, 2003

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.

Tony Blair and George W. Bush were wartime allies, but one issue dividing them has been participation in the new International Criminal Court. Blair and his fellow Brits could not believe the United States would not ratify the Rome Treaty establishing the court. Even the prime minister’s wife Cherie Booth – not usually a policy wannabe – publicly criticized the United States for its refusal to join.

While England chided America for fearing that its military and political leaders might be brought before the new court if it was a party, Blair now finds himself one of the first world leaders who will be reviewed by the ICC prosecutor.

The Greek Bar Association has announced that it will file a complaint with the ICC charging Prime Minister Blair with war crimes and crimes against humanity in Iraq. Since neither the United States or Iraq is a party to the court, President Bush cannot be prosecuted.

Even before the newly elected prosecutor, Argentine and Harvard Law Professor Luis Moreno Ocampo, takes office, the ICC is proving its critics right and its defenders like Blair wrong. Supporters of the ICC repeatedly said the court was being formed to deal with human rights violators in countries whose systems were too weak to bring them to justice. The genocide in Rwanda and in the former Yugoslavia were held out as prime examples. Opponents of the court, such as President Bush, were derided for expressing fear that the ICC would be a highly political body, likely to attack American foreign and military policy.

In fact, the primary proponents of the International Criminal Court were human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch who are strongly opposed to U.S. foreign policy. Nearly a thousand of these NGO’s (nongovernmental organizations) worked with a handful of like-minded states, largely Blair and his colleagues in Western Europe, to push the court through.

Even today, as the court prepares to review its first cases, less than half of the nations of the world, and well under half the word’s population, have signed onto this “international” court, yet it claims the authority to make judgments about world leaders like Blair.

Make no mistake, it would be extraordinarily difficult for one prosecutor and three criminal judges to make judgments about whether the use of cluster bombs constituted a war crime, or whether targeting a missile close to civilians is a crime against humanity or a legitimate military strategy. These are essentially military and political questions, not criminal or judicial ones. But when you add political pressure from the creators and proponents of the court – like th Greek Bar Association – the court becomes a political tool more than a legal one.

The ICC is a political tool almost regardless of the outcome of the charge. If Blair ignores a criminal prosecution, he would have difficulty traveling in countries that might turn him over to the court. Even if the prosecutor investigates but issues no formal charge, Britain will have been roughed up politically for no good purpose. We have learned in this country how damaging an independent counsel investigation itself can be, with the ultimate outcomes sometimes secondary to the politics of the process.

Even the United States, with its staunch opposition to the ICC, is not unaffected. No one should doubt that taking Blair to the ICC for war crimes is an effort to try Bush’s policy as well. Ironically, if Iraq had signed onto the court, taking advantage of a perverse provision that would have allowed it to exempt itself from war crimes provisions for a period of time, Bush could have been brought before the court, but not Saddam Hussein. At the same time, a human rights lawyer is bringing a charge against U.S. General Tommy Franks in Belgian court for similar war crimes.

The irony of Blair being hoist by his own ICC does not end there. It was Blair’s government that arrested Gen. Augusto Pinochet, former head of the Chilean army, while he was in Britain when a Spanish judge wanted him for war crimes prosecution. This started the whole business of trying to turn political, diplomatic and military matters over to lawyers and courts that have neither the authority nor the expertise to deal with them. The International Criminal Court is simply politics by other means, and Blair may learn that his friend George W. Bush was right to steer America clear of it.

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