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Asked directly, three times, whether the U.S. government considers the Israeli blockade of Gaza legal, Ms. Nuland would give no answer.
"I am not a Law of the Sea expert," she insisted (four times). Her talking points were that the U.S. Boat to Gaza should not be a "repeat of what happened last year" (four times). It was as though last year's flotilla was responsible for the attacks by Israeli naval commandos and this year's flotilla would be considered responsible as well.
Audacity of Hope organizer/leader Ann Wright and I asked Craig Murray for a straightforward opinion on the legality issue, since he is an expert. We knew he had worked on preparing the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and -- more to the point -- that he had become an internationally recognized authority on maritime jurisdiction and naval boarding issues.
When he was Head of the Maritime Section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, he was responsible for giving real-time political and legal clearance to Royal Navy boarding operations in the Persian Gulf following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, in enforcement of the UN-authorized blockade against Iraqi weapons shipments.
On June 20, 2011, he wrote the following one-paragraph comment and then gave his considered appreciation of the legal situation:
"The boarding of a U.S. flagged ship on the High Seas is something which, in any other circumstances, the U.S. would never tolerate, and I am hoping that it will give (Secretary) Clinton a headache now.... What is for certain, is that a U.S. court would have jurisdiction over any incidents that happen on board, and I cannot imagine any U.S. judge would renounce that jurisdiction."
Murray then added:
"The legal position is plain. A vessel outwith the territorial waters (12-mile limit) of a coastal state is on the high seas under the sole jurisdiction of the flag state of the vessel. The ship has a positive right of passage on the high seas. ...The vessel is entitled to free passage. ...
"This right of free passage is guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas, to which the United States is a full party. Any incident that takes place upon a U.S. flagged ship on the High Seas is subject to United States legal jurisdiction. A ship is entitled to look to its flag state for protection from attack on the High Seas."
Law -- Quaint; Humans -- Real
I don't think Brennan was in the White House bunker with top national security officials on the evening of 9/11, when President Bush set the tone by declaring, "I don't care what the international lawyers say." But, clearly, Brennan caught the drift. And, saddest of all, that tone persists today -- with respect to rendition, as well as on legal niceties like the Law of the Sea.
Granted, now that drones have come into their own, it is much easier to kill folks rather than to capture and "render" them -- like Jesus was rendered to the Romans by the corrupt religious authorities.
Good Friday is a day for pondering such things. While I believe what happened to Jesus gives those of us of Judeo-Christian heritage an additional, highly poignant reason to do so, my atheist friends have warned me against attitudes boarding on snobbery.
One said, "You don't have to be a Christian, Ray, to know instinctively that human beings simply must not torture other human beings." He is right, of course.
And my friend's caution reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from Kurt Vonnegut who, at one point named himself Honorary President of the American Humanist Association:
"How do humanists feel about Jesus? I say of Jesus, as all humanists do, 'If what he said is good, and so much of it is absolutely beautiful, what does it matter if he was God or not?'
"But if Christ hadn't delivered the Sermon on the Mount, with its message of mercy and pity, I wouldn't want to be a human being.
"I'd just as soon be a rattlesnake."