Having been asked to comment on the Bin Laden assassination, Benjamin Ferencz (a prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials) ends his interview with CBC radio by describing the US state elite’s turn towards strategic criminality (see last two decades, passim).
This, he makes clear, consists not merely (or mostly) of using roaming extra-territorial hit squads, a bit of the old non-judicial detention, attempted assassination of political leaders (e.g. Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein), and a sensitive new (post-speech-in-Cairo?) commitment to the traditional Islamic burial rite of Ståplats i Nybroviken.
The assessment rests, rather, on culpability for crimes against peace, i.e. belligerence to advance policy objectives, viz. yer actual hanging offence c. 1945:
I’m afraid most of the lessons of Nuremberg have passed. Unfortunately, the world has accepted them but the United States seems reluctant to do so.
The principal lesson we learned from Nuremberg is that a war of aggression — that means, a war in violation of international law, in violation of the UN charter, and not in self-defense — is the supreme international crime, because all the other crimes happen in war. And every leader who is responsible for planning and perpetrating that crime should be held to account in a court of law, and the law applies equally to everyone.
These lessons were hailed throughout the world — I hailed them, I was involved in them — and it saddens me no end when Americans are asked: why don’t you support the Nuremberg principles on aggression?
And the response is: Nuremberg? That was then; this is now. Forget it.
As previously discussed on this blog, various court philosophers have been complicit in the diminishing of aggressive war’s status as ‘the supreme international crime’ (the phrase dates from the Nuremberg judgements themselves), e.g. by re-casting it as an auxiliary offence (i.e. one with no distinct independent existence) conditional on the prior or concurrent commission of war crimes or crimes against humanity, or by shrugging it off as hopelessly indefinable.
Among these are numbered not just straightforward regime stooges like Bernard-Henri Lévy, but more ‘serious’ scholarly figures like Jürgen Habermas and Larry May.
To this list of the culpable may be added a mainstream media that has, with no great subtlety, deliberately cultivated a war-loving Sammlungspolitik amongst the broader US population, with ‘reporters’ from Entertainment Tonight unaccountably visiting training facilities at Fort Irwin for fawning photo ops, and professional sportsmen such as LeBron James and Lance Armstrong conscripted into the post-OBL-death celebrations.
How is one to understand this situation, in which rules set up over centuries to govern lawful international conduct have been trumped by some perceived imperative or strategic emergency (which ’emergency’, on any fact-sensitive assessment, plainly does not resemble the official line about terrorist threats or humanitarian crises)?
Liberal analysts like Glenn Greenwald, whose column in Salon has valiantly tracked the bipartisan criminalization of the US political class (it’s where I found the Ferencz interview), offer no adequate way of interpreting it, outside of vague mutterings about the Mil-Ind Complex, the National-Security-&-Surveillance State, etc.
I know I do harp on about this, and frankly it’s all a little downbeat and something one attends to only grudgingly.
But it’s a reasonably pertinent question: just what do non-radical folks think the boys in Washington, and their allies, are up to with this routine (i.e. overthrowing governments in various energy-rich regions and disposing of their leaders in more-or-less mobsterish fashion, establishing and retaining military garrisons close to key infrastructure, ensuring that successor regimes have various desirable characteristics, wiping out and mutilating people in huge numbers, not to mention the whole arbitrary-detention-and-torture business)?
It’s happening, right?
So what are they so-to-speak getting at?