Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bush’s Blanket Pardon For War And Torture?

As if we don’t have enough to worry about the shenanigans Bush & Co. might try pulling in their last 60-plus days in office, now comes whispered reports from Washington that Dubya is considering issuing a “blanket pardon” for everyone involved in anything illegal in the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions and – more critically – anything remotely connected to torturing detainees during his eight year reign of terror.

As constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley explained last night on Countdown, such a pardon would not only be “unprecedented” in American history, it would establish a “dangerous precedent” for future presidents in that it would allow an administration to do anything and escape judgment by issuing itself a blanket pardon.

In effect, Bush would be pardoning himself, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, John Yoo and the rest of the neo-con cabal surrounding the administration that not just tore the Constitution to shreds but mounted illegal invasions of sovereign nations and authorized torture despite US laws and international treaties banning its use. Of course, it would also cover the hapless military officers, NCOs and enlisted personnel who carried out the illegal orders from on high.

Not even Richard Nixon had the gall to self-pardon his Watergate crimes.

Admission Of Guilt

Nixon’s reluctance wasn’t so much constitutional as it was personal: He knew that pardoning himself for Watergate would be an admission of guilt.

Since George Bush is not capable of such careful thought or legal subtleties – remember, this is the man who told a Nov. 2001, Oval Office meeting “Stop throwing the Constitution in my face. It’s just a Goddamned piece of paper” – it’s entirely possible he could be talked into forgiving his and everyone else’s sins moments before leaving for Barack Obama’s inauguration.

While that might free Bush, Cheney and their pals from worrying about US prosecution, a pardon’s reach would end at the US shoreline. And it appears increasingly likely that at least some European governments are not as eager to forgive and forget.

Yesterday, one of Britain's most authoritative judicial figures delivered a blistering attack on the invasion of Iraq, describing it as a serious violation of international law, and accusing Britain and the US of acting like a "world vigilante".

Lord Bingham, in his first major speech since retiring as the senior law lord, rejected the then-attorney general's defense of the 2003 invasion as fundamentally flawed.

“No Factual Grounds” To Invade

Contradicting head-on British attorney general Lord Goldsmith's advice that the invasion was lawful, Bingham told an audience Monday night, "It was not plain that Iraq had failed to comply in a manner justifying resort to force and there were no strong factual grounds or hard evidence to show that it had."

Adding his weight to the body of international legal opinion opposed to the invasion, Bingham said that to argue, as Tony Blair’s government did, that Britain and the US could unilaterally decide that Iraq had broken UN resolutions "passes belief."

Lord Bingham reminded his audience that governments are bound by international law as much as by their domestic laws, adding "The current ministerial code binding on British ministers requires them as an overarching duty to 'comply with the law, including international law and treaty obligations'."

Opposition parties in Parliament are pressing for an independent inquiry into the invasion but the government is resisting.

But Lord Bingham insists, "If I am right that the invasion of Iraq by the US, the UK and some other states was unauthorised by the Security Council there was, of course, a serious violation of international law and the rule of law.

"For the effect of acting unilaterally was to undermine the foundation on which the post-1945 consensus had been constructed: the prohibition of force save in self-defense, or perhaps, to avert an impending humanitarian catastrophe, unless formally authorized by the nations of the world empowered to make collective decisions in the Security Council ..."

Broken Law Compact

The moment a state treats international law as binding on others but not on itself, the compact on which the law rests is broken, Lord Bingham argues. Quoting a comment made by a leading academic lawyer, he added: "It is 'the difference between the role of world policeman and world vigilante'."

He contrasted that with the "unilateral decisions of the US government" on issues such as the detention conditions in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Referring to mistreatment of Iraqi detainees in Abu Ghraib, Bingham states, "Particularly disturbing to proponents of the rule of law is the cynical lack of concern for international legality among top officials in the Bush administration."

In many respects, Lord Bingham was laying out the case for a war crimes prosecution against individuals in the Blair and Bush governments.

Think back a few years when Donald Rumsfeld, then a newly-retired pensioner having been fired as Secretary of Defense, was pursued across Paris by a French prosecutor who wanted to detain Rumsfeld to question him about war crimes. Somehow, Rumsfeld made his way to the American Embassy where he hid out until a plot was concocted to smuggle him out of France.

Under Bush, of course, the United States dropped its recognition of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. If Pres. Obama reinstates America’s participation in the court, not only will the Bushmen not be safe to travel outside the United States, they may not be safe from detention in the US while awaiting extradition, either.