Michael Maiello's picture

    Don't Mess With Switzerland

    Former President, and some would say war criminal George W. Bush cancelled an appearance at a Swiss human rights gala because he feared being arrested.  So now Bush joins Henry Kissinger in the ranks of Americans who don't feel that they can safely travel to or even through certain countries, not for fear of assassination or kidnapping, but for fear of arrest and trial.

    To me, this raises a host of interesting questions.  My gut reaction, which may not be popular in these parts, is that I want American political leaders to be held accountable to the American justice system and ultimately to the American people.  The first job of an American government official, after all, is to serve Americans.  If the needs of Americans are at odds with, say, the desires or even the laws of the Swiss, we want our officials to prioritize our needs first.  Right?

    Of course, that would be an exceedingly rare event.  People like me, and most of you, don't believe that Bush was operating in our best interests, even if he thought he was.  As Bush left the White House, there was serious talk about investigations and prosecutions.  But President Obama decided not to go that route.  I disagree with him, but do I want the Swiss or even the International Criminal Court to take up the slack?  Bush is a twice (well, one and a half) elected president, after all.  He was re-elected after torture, renditions and all manner of civil rights abuses came to light.  Did the electorate provide a mandate for his criminality?  Because sometimes it seems like America didn't have much of a problem with the guy until he tried to privatize social security.

    I don't mean to be flip.  I believe in international laws and standards.  I also don't believe that America deserves special privileges in the world.  Saddam Hussein committed some of his worst crimes while he was a U.S. client.  He was hanged on Youtube.  Manuel Noriega committed some of his worst crimes while a U.S. client.  He's in a Florida prison forever.  We don't often respect sovereigns when they offend our interests.  Maybe we shouldn't expect similar immunity for our own leaders when they head out into the wider world.

    But I do worry about what will happen when somebody in Switzerland or wherever wants to prosecute somebody that I like.  It's easy to be flip with Bush.  I think he was our worst president.  I think he was a criminal and that if the U.S. won't prosecute, some one should.  But what if it were Bill Clinton?  Lest you think this is the kind of slippery slope argument that Genghis exposes as sophistry in "Blowing Smoke," the American left actually accused Clinton of committing war crimes on at least two occasions: for supporting the economic sanctions against Iraq that had so impoverished its people and for pursuing a strategy of high altitude bombing in Serbia that kept our military safer while at the same time causing civilian casualties. I disagreed with both policies at the time, but if he were arrested for him, I think most Americans would be rightly outraged.

    I also wonder if the world justice system will be fair here.  If you arrest Bush and try him for war crimes since 9/11, you also have to arrest his enablers on the world scene.  Tony Blair, for example.  Certainly the entire House of Saud.  If we're going to clear out the global police blotter, let's get the whole thing.

    I suppose, in the end, that if Bush found himself arrested on some overseas trip I wouldn't be too up in arms over it.  But it's a real example of Obama's mistake.  We should have dealt with this ourselves and since we decided not to, we can't be surprised if others around the world decide to step in.  But if a high government official from either party is arrested and tried overseas, it's really an indictment of our whole society.  There's no way around that.

    So far as Bush is concerned, this couldn't have happened to a more deserving fellow. 




    If we won't prosecute him, I am glad that someone is willing to. But, Big Effing Deal -->. So Dubya can't travel the world as a hero. He never did before he was Prez either (even as a tourist -- too busy being ordinary, I guess)

    Texas is a perfect place for him to finish out his days. I guess it sucks for him that he won't get paid-for trips all over the place. Compare that to all the dead and wounded people in the world that he caused. They don't get to go on luxurious trips either.

    All he has to do (not to get arrested) is to stay in this country, which, after all, is what he managed to do during Viet Nam.


    Destor, you ignorant slut (sorry, that just slipped out; I don't really think you're a slut): You say you believe in international law, and don't believe in special privileges for America. But you ask, "Did the electorate provide a mandate for his (Bush's) criminality?" That's the thing about international law: it's not subject to the whims and follies of any national electorate. U.S. voters don't get to issue "Stay out of jail free" cards.

    I don't expect Bush, Cheney or any other top American official or ex-official to go on trial at The Hague in my lifetime. Get real! But the Geneva Conventions spell out waging wars of aggression as a war crime -- so, yes, count me among the "some" who consider the former president and VP as unindicted war criminals. 

    Just a few weeks ago I watched Pacino doing a sting as a cop. He sent out notices to everyone who had warrants outstanding. The notices told them that they had won the lottery.

    Now what if dicky cheney received a notice that he just won a free heart transplant in Bern and the donator was a 16 year old athlete with his blood type?

    Huh? Good idea or what?

    Then he shows up and they slap the cuffs on him and that's that!!!

    Knowing Dick, it would probably just give him the idea to "off" a local teenager with the same attributes. Yes, I am THAT cynical!

    This issue, raised in March 2006 on the Straight Dope Message Board by a prescient individual (ahem...)was greeted with widespread guffaws... Who's laughing now, motherfuckers?

    I'm not sure what you're suggesting, Destor.

    Once upon a time we were the nation that insisted on international justice for war criminals. It sounds as though that's okay with you when we are the judge, but not when we are the judged. Maybe I've misread your post.

    It's embarrassing when your president is a war criminal, but there you go.

    PS — CheneyBush saw this coming. In 2002, they disowned Clinton's previous decision to join the International Criminal Court, and did what they could to undermine it's legitimacy. 


    Well said.

    I don't mean to be flip.  I believe in international laws and standards.  I also don't believe that (my country) deserves special privileges in the world. 

    I'd have to look back through the transcripts, but I'll bet the defense statements made by Albert Speer and Herman Goring and others at Nuremburg is similarly argued. And it's certainly an argument we can all agree with, no? Such a statement, however, is most certainly offered as an introduction to a sentence beginning with the word "But..." It's always the "Buts" that get you into trouble precisely because the follow-through argument is an attempt to establish yourself as an exception to the rules. 

    {{Snip}} But if a high government official from either party is arrested and tried overseas (on charges stemming from alleged violations of International Law adjudicating War Crimes), it's really an indictment of our whole society.  There's no way around that.

    And so, Dear Destor, what is your point? As a society, we are indeed responsible for actions undertaken in our name. Would you have it any other way?

    We have a responsibility to honor the Rule of Law as established at the Hague. If we refuse to meet our responsibilities, then I am pleased to find someone else (Switzerland. Hopefully others?) willing to step into the breach who possess sufficient courage of their convictions in fundamental principles to hold the rest of us to account.

    They might not prosecute him. They might just put him in solitary for an indeterminate amount of time.

    It would be nicely appropriate. We had our chance, but Obama blew it!

    accountable to the American justice system

    A foundatonal threshold to the exercise of universal jurisdiction over war crimes is the failure of the home justice system to address the accusations.

    Thanks to Prez's intervention specifically to truncate any such investigation, we have met that threshold.

    Excellent point.

    This wouldn't be an issue if we were the nation built on the foundation of law we claim to be. The Swiss are only reminding us of our fiduciary responsibilities to apply the laws we hold so dear evenly and equally so that no one is above the letter of the law as it has been written.

    I live in Geneva, and this story is not actually getting much play here. There was exactly 0% chance of Bush getting arrested - the Geneva Chief Prosecutor has a vast amount of latitude in who to go after, and the present one has little interest in high profile international cases, focusing instead on small-time criminal gangs. His predecessor Bertossa was big on going after dictators like Pinochet, russian oligarchs and so on, which is where the hard-ass reputation probably comes from.

    What is interesting about the demands to arrest Bush is that they are coming from across the political spectrum, from the extreme right UDC party to left-wing anti-torture organizations.




    That's fascinating, Obey.  Thanks for bringing some clarity to this.

    "...0% chance of Bush getting arrested."

    But 0% was too much risk for our most macho of ex-presidents.

    I'm struck by a vision of W searching under the desk and behind the curtains of the office in his Dallas redoubt, wondering aloud:

    "That codpiece has got to be somewhere. Nope, no codpiece over there ... maybe under here?"

    Well, a man can't go to Switzerland without his codpiece, now, can he?

    Enjoyed the post, Destor. The Dallas Morning News has tid bits of our national juvenile delinquent's meanderings around the metroplex. He is very welcome, it seems, at any mega church event. And recently he was waxing professorial at an SMU conference where he said he was worried about the U.S. becoming "nativist". Now that's a word I hadn't heard since I took an American Studies course oh so many years ago. I'm guessing one of W.'s old textbooks must have somehow made the circuitous journey from Yale to Dallas. Nativist, indeed. Pretty good description of W.

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