In a press conference today, U.S. President Barack Obama took, but dodged, questions as to whether there should be any consequences for the government of Iran as a result of its recent violence against dissenting civilian protestors.
Barack Obama is a gifted speaker with usually-excellent command of the English language. Yet, in answer to the "consequences-for-Iran" question, he awkwardly hemmed and hawed his way to the end of his answer. It was unnecessary for a U.S. President to be at a loss for words at this time.
Should there be consequences when civilians are slaughtered arbitrarily? Hell yes! --The natural next question is "What consequences?"
On June 20, I published 'Iran's Black Day In Perspective' on the internet. One reader commented, "I kept wondering, as I read, what, exactly, does Mr. Kusumi think Barack Obama should do about the horrible day in Iran? I certainly hope he does not advocate that we start yet another interventionist war".
Hell not! No, at this time there is no military action that the West should mount. Not at all. Indeed, I would vigorously oppose any plans for an interventionist war at this time. Violence is not the answer, so that is not what I'm advocating.
Neither am I at a loss for words. In fact, I have three new vocabulary words, that I would like to submit to Barack Obama in the interest of helping to stiffen the Presidential spine at this time: International Criminal Court (ICC). In fact, I challenge Barack Obama to pronounce these vocabulary words out loud. With practice, he can be more ready for the next time that anyone queries about "consequences-for-dictators."
As a matter of full disclosure, my organization, the China Support Network (CSN), has joined the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC). And why? --Because it is an excellent tool, at least rhetorically, when standing against communists, dictators, tyrants, and thugs. At my organization, we do that. So, I'm offering Barack Obama a page from my book, here.
The ICC opened its doors for business in 2002, after more than a decade of preparation and lobbying by the human rights community. It exists to prosecute genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The events in Iran this past weekend would fall into the category of crimes against humanity.
Crimes against humanity are the stock-in-trade of dictators, and the ICC is a stock-in-trade for groups like mine in the international human rights community. The ICC does not indict or punish governments, groups, or organizations. Instead, it can name the individuals whom it indicts. The news has already given the world knowledge that the ICC has indicted Omar Bashir, the Sudanese dictator, for his role in the genocide of Darfur.
Another feature of the ICC is that it cannot prosecute abuses prior to its start in 2002. So, for example, it cannot prosecute over the Tiananmen Square massacre. However, it can prosecute for abuses after 2002, so for another example it could prosecute the Uzbek dictator, Islam Karimov, over the Andijon massacre of 2005. By the same logic it can prosecute the Iranian dictator, Ali Khamenei, for events in Iran of 2009.
George W. Bush instituted a campaign of make-believe, to pretend that the ICC does not exist, or has no standing. (Indeed, he blackmailed other countries to agree that they will not arrest any U.S. citizens on its behalf, nor extradite them to the ICC.) His was a wishful campaign of make-believe. The ICC still exists and it may in fact take up the case of Iran, with or without White House jawboning. Indeed, the ICC could still indict George Bush and Dick Cheney for the abuses committed during 2003-2009.
Who is going to have a backbone first? Barack Obama or the ICC? --The case of Bush/Cheney et al is an interesting rub, and raises this point about the ICC: It is supposed to be a court of last resort. It is intended to prosecute only if and when the more local justice systems (i.e., national justice systems) are unwilling or unable to handle the prosecution themselves. Barack Obama can pre-empt ICC action about Bush and Cheney if he gets the American justice system to proceed with prosecution. And, if Obama fails to do that, then the ICC can take action itself. If there is foot dragging by the Obama administration, then it becomes somewhat likely -- and humiliating -- that the ICC might prosecute the former U.S. President. That would signal that the American justice system is out of order, or dysfunctional.
I am damn nearly ready to conclude that Barack Obama is dysfunctional as the U.S. President at this time. The ICC is a new wheel of justice, but it is likely to turn slowly. In the case of Iran, it may wait to see whether the Iranian justice system prosecutes the abuses that recently occurred.
But for answering a question in the White House press room, it is not too early to invoke reference to the International Criminal Court. And, the ICC seems like a fitting place where dictators belong after their security forces have been shooting at civilians.
If I were holding Obama's job, I would share my view that the regime in Tehran has already crossed the redline, and that the atrocities since June 12 are already deserving of referral to the ICC. I believe that the U.S. President ought to have those three vocabulary words -- International Criminal Court -- and, ought to be able to use that term in a complete English sentence.
We can therefore say that Obama's press conference of today, June 23, was a missed opportunity.