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Tomgram: Rebecca Gordon, Turning Our Backs on Nuremberg

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

The advent of sound recording deep-sixed this age-old thought experiment and offered a definitive answer: Yes!

I've got another one for you, though: if you water-torture someone at a secure military compound and no one is around to see it, is it a war crime?

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Tricky, right?

Well, what if someone does see it? And what if you admit to it -- and to a criminal investigator, no less? And what if you add that you also used electrical torture, too? Is that, in fact, a war crime?

More cut and dried, right?

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And what if criminal investigators identified 28 other members of your military unit as having beaten prisoners, tortured them with electric shocks, and water-boarded them? And what if 15 of them actually admitted to those acts? Is that, I ask you, a war crime?

Some people are charged with, tried, or even convicted, of torture: Nazis, Ford Motor Company executives in Argentina, and high-ranking Guatemalan military officers, for example. But others aren't.

Years ago, when I investigated the particular set of crimes mentioned above that were carried out by U.S. military intelligence personnel in Vietnam, I found that only three of the soldiers involved were even punished. And by punished, I mean that the three received fines or reductions in rank. None served any prison time.

One of the admitted torturers I spoke with was still unrepentant. He explained to me that, were he placed in the same situation again, he would do exactly the same things. And why wouldn't he? You don't find Americans in the dock at the International Criminal Court (ICC). But if the Trump administration has its way, as TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon reports so strikingly today, the ICC's judges and prosecutors might be the ones who find themselves charged and -- though it's a stretch of the imagination -- behind bars. And given what we know about the U.S. prison system, that might also mean finding themselves at risk of torture.

"We were... nothing short of criminals in the eyes of everyone except our parents and close friends," the admitted torturer told me, while complaining about the postwar treatment of Vietnam veterans. But he was never charged, let alone tried or convicted for the torture he admitted to meting out. Will ICC officials one day be convicted in American courts of meting out justice? For the moment, the jury is still out. Nick Turse

How to Make Yourself an Exception to the Rule of Law
John Bolton and Mike Pompeo Defy the International Criminal Court
By Rebecca Gordon

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Events just fly by in the ever-accelerating rush of Trump Time, so it's easy enough to miss important ones in the chaos. Paul Manafort is sentenced twice and indicted a third time! Whoosh! Gone! The Senate agrees with the House that the United States should stop supporting Saudi Arabia in Yemen (and Mitch McConnell calls this attempt to extricate the country from cooperation in further war crimes "inappropriate and counterproductive")! Whoosh! Gone! Twelve Republican senators cross party lines to overturn Trump's declaration of a national emergency on the U.S.-Mexico border, followed by the president's veto! Whoosh! Gone! Delegates to the March 2019 U.N. Environment Assembly meeting agree to a non-binding but important resolution drastically reducing the production of single-use plastic. The United States delegation, however, succeeds in watering down the final language lest it "endorse the approach being taken in other countries, which is different than our own"! Once again, the rest of the world is briefly reminded of the curse of American exceptionalism and then, whoosh! Gone!

Under the circumstances, it wouldn't be surprising if you had missed the Associated Press report about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announcing that the United States "will revoke or deny visas to International Criminal Court personnel seeking to investigate alleged war crimes and other abuses committed by U.S. forces in Afghanistan or elsewhere." In fact, said Pompeo, some visas may already have been denied or revoked, but he refused to "provide details as to who has been affected and who will be affected" (supposedly to protect the confidentiality of visa applicants).

National Security Advisor John Bolton had already signaled such a move last September in a speech to the Federalist Society. In what the Guardian called an "excoriating attack" on the International Criminal Court, or ICC, Bolton said, "The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court."

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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