Wednesday, May 21, 2003


Raven is twiddling his feathers in front of the computer screen, thinking about why countries have laws.

And why is this your Issue of the Day?

“Because of this Belgian Business.”

Sounds arcane, Rave. Is this something like “Our Man in Havana”?

“No. Maybe. But without the vacuum sweeper store as a front for imaginary espionage. And without Alec Guiness, too. All seriousness aside, the Belgian Business is about trying Tommy Franks for war crimes. For dropping cluster bombs in civilan areas, for example.”

They may look like bunches of grapes to kids, but the unexploded ones are still killing them, too. So, are they putting out a warrant for Franks, or what?

“Doesn’t look like it. Some people from Iraq and Jordan filed the lawsuit. I have read several articles about what happened—pretty good ones in LA JORNADA and on the Commondreams web site. The article on Common Dreams, reprinted from THE GUARDIAN says:

‘Franks appears to have a case to answer. The charges fall into four categories: the use of cluster bombs; the killing of civilians by other means; attacks on the infrastructure essential for public health; and the failure to prevent the looting of hospitals. There is plenty of supporting evidence.

US forces dropped around 1,500 cluster bombs from the air and fired an unknown quantity from artillery pieces. British troops fired 2,100. Each contained several hundred bomblets, which fragment into shrapnel. Between 200 and 400 Iraqi civilians were killed by them during the war. Others, mostly children, continue to killed by those bomblets which failed to explode when they hit the ground. The effects of their deployment in residential areas were both predictable and predicted. This suggests that their use there breached protocol II to the Geneva conventions, which prohibits "violence to the life, health and physical or mental well-being" of non-combatants.

On several occasions, US troops appear to have opened fire on unarmed civilians. In Nassiriya, they shot at any vehicle that approached their positions. In one night alone they killed 12 civilians. On a bridge on the outskirts of Baghdad they shot 15 in two days. Last month, US troops fired on peaceful demonstrators in Mosul, killing seven, and in Falluja, killing 13 and injuring 75.’”

We wrote about that incident, Rave.“

"’The armed forces also deliberately destroyed civilian infrastructure, bombing the electricity lines upon which water treatment plants depended, with the result that cholera and dysentery have spread. Protocol II prohibits troops from attacking "objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population such as ... drinking water installations and supplies".

The fourth convention also insists that an occupying power is responsible for "ensuring and maintaining ... the medical and hospital establishments and services, public health and hygiene in the occupied territory". Yet when the US defenses secretary Donald Rumsfeld was asked why his troops had failed to prevent the looting of public buildings, he replied: "Stuff happens. Free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things." Many hospitals remain closed or desperately under-supplied. On several occasions US soldiers acted on orders to fire at Iraqi ambulances, killing or wounding their occupants. They shot the medical crews which came to retrieve the dead and wounded at the demonstration in Falluja. The Geneva conventions suggest that these are straightforward war crimes: Medical units and transports shall be respected and protected at all times and shall not be the object of attack.’”

All of these sound like legitimate points on which to base a lawsuit, Rave. So what are they doing with it?

“Well, the US government responded very angrily. The State Department threatened Belgium that it will punish nations which allow political use of their laws. The Belgians didn’t feel like being bombed out of existence, I guess, because they already have amended the law that allowed for those kinds of crimes to be tried in their jurisdiction, and denounced the lawyer who filed the case.”

The US has been insisting, with its refusal to subscribe to a world court, that no laws apply to US citizens except US laws.

“Precisely. The article goes on to indicate:‘The Bush government's response would doubtless be explained by its apologists as a measure of its insistence upon and respect for national sovereignty. But while the US forbids other nations to proscribe the actions of its citizens, it also insists that its own laws should apply abroad. The foreign sovereignty immunities act, for example, permits the US courts to prosecute foreigners for harming commercial interests in the US, even if they are breaking no laws within their own countries. The Helms-Burton Act allows the courts in America to confiscate the property of foreign companies which do business with Cuba. The Iran-Libya Sanctions Act instructs the government to punish foreign firms investing in the oil or gas sectors in those countries. The message these laws send is this: you can't prosecute us, but we can prosecute you.

Of course, the sensible means of resolving legal disputes between nations is the use of impartial, multinational tribunals, such as the international criminal court in the Hague. But impartial legislation is precisely what the US government will not contemplate. When the ICC treaty was being negotiated, the US demanded that its troops should be exempt from prosecution, and the UN security council gave it what it wanted. The US also helped to ensure that the court's writ runs only in the nations which have ratified the treaty. Its soldiers in Iraq would thus have been exempt in any case, as Saddam Hussein's government was one of seven which voted against the formation of the court in 1998. The others were China, Israel, Libya, Qatar, Yemen and the US. This is the company the American government keeps when it comes to international law.

To ensure that there was not the slightest possibility that his servicemen need fear the rule of law, George W Bush signed a new piece of extra-territorial legislation last year, which permits the US "to use all means necessary and appropriate to bring about the release" of US citizens being tried in the court. This appears to include the invasion of the capital of the Netherlands.’”

Great—now the marines will be landing where—Rotterdam? They can change the song to include another round of invasions—from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli to the dikes of Holland.

"Tilting at windmills with tanks and bombing fields of tulips...."

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