Posts Tagged ‘International Law’

Noam Chomsky on moral equivalence

April 19, 2022

Noam Chomsky in an interview condemned the Russian attack on Ukraine.  He said it is not only morally wrong, but a violation of international law.

He also said that Russia has not done anything that the USA has not done.  The invasion of Iraq was no less wrong than the invasion of Ukraine.  The bombing of Fallujah caused at least as much death and suffering as the bombing of Mariupol’.

Neither the Russia nor the USA accepts the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.  In 1984, the court condemned the United States for mining the harbors of Nicaragua as part of its covert war against that country, the U.S. government shrugged off that decision.

In 2002, the U.S. Congress passed a law authorizing the U.S. government to take military again to prevent any American or allied citizen from being tried as a war criminal.  President Biden has no standing to call for President Putin to be tried for violating international law the USA does not respect.

I believe that many consider it out of bounds for me, or for Prof. Chomsky, to weigh the crimes of the U.S. government in the same balance as the crimes of other governments.  This is “moral equivalence” or “whataboutism.”  Instead you’re supposed to be silent about U.S. crimes unless you have first researched and condemned every other wrong that may have been worse.

It can be argued that a murderer who kills one person is less of a murderer who kills ten people, but the first is a murderer just the same.  And the fact that one murderer gets away with their crime does not generate an entitlement to commit murder.

None of this is a justification for the invasion of Ukraine.  The ordinary people of Ukraine did not invade Iraq and Afghanistan.  They are not responsible for the persecution of Julian Assange.  They do not deserve to be killed, maimed and terrorized because of what the U.S. government has done.

The U.S. government has an obligation to provide the Ukrainians with the means to defend themselves, Chomsky said.  But he said it also has a duty to try to bring both sides to the negotiating table before Ukraine is completely ruined.  He’s right.


Noam Chomsky, Jeremy Scahill on the Russia-Ukraine War, an interview for The Intercept.

Noam Chomsky on How To Prevent World War III, an interview for Current Affairs.  [Added 04/20/2022]


The killing of General Soleimani was a crime

January 6, 2020

The killing of General Qasem Soleimani was more than a blunder.  It was a crime.

He was invited to Baghdad by the Iraqi government, a U.S. ally, with the knowledge of the U.S. government, to use his good offices to help negotiate peace between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

He came without protection because he thought he was on a mission of peace.  His killing was an act of treachery as well as murder.

Qasem Soleimani

We Americans find it hard to accept the criminal nature of this act because we have been incrementally brought to believe that assassination, along with waging undeclared wars, is normal behavior.

Most of President Trump’s critics say that although Soleimani was an evildoer who deserved to die, his killing was inadvisable under the circumstances, or that Trump should have consulted with Congress before he acted.

What was his crime?  Soleimani’s Quds force organized and led resistance in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen against foreign invaders – Israelis, Americans, Saudis and Islamic State (ISIS) and Al Qaeda terrorists.

He acted on behalf of Iranian interests and against U.S. (perceived) interests and was therefore an enemy.  But there was a time when honorable soldiers could respect a brave and capable enemy.

Northern generals in the U.S. Civil War respected Robert E. Lee.  Allied generals in World War Two respected Erwin Rommel.   They wouldn’t have encouraged Lee or Rommel to come to neutral ground and then killed them from ambush.

President Trump has led the United States to the brink of war with Iran.  But even if war is avoided, it is still an established principle that a President can order invasions and killings on his own personal judgment, and so more murders of foreign leaders are nearly inevitable.

What has happened, will continue to happen, unless we the people put a stop to it.  We have not seen the worst.


Iraqi PM reveals Soleimani was on a peace mission when assassinated, exploding Trump’s lie of “imminent attacks,” by Max Blumenthal for The Gray Zone.

Soleimani’s assassination and the muddled moralism behind it by Robert Wright for Nonzero.

How to Avoid Swallowing War Propaganda by Nathan J. Robinson for Current Affairs.

Killer missiles are not an instrument of justice

August 29, 2013

I read in my morning newspaper that President Barack Obama is certain that President Bashar al-Assad’s government must be punished for using deadly chemical weapons, including sarin gas, to kill hundreds of Syrian civilians.

But if the United States carries out a military strike on Syria, it’s not likely that it will harm President Assad personally.  It is almost certain to result in the deaths of more Syrian civilians.

I’m reminded of President Bill Clinton’s efforts to punish Saddam Hussein by means of an economic blockade and intermittent bombing of Iraq.  But Saddam did not suffer in the slightest from the low-level war against Iraq.  He still had his luxurious life amid his many palaces.  It was the ordinary people of Iraq who suffered.

Justice would require that President Assad be indicted for his crimes and tried before an international court, like Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and Charles Taylor of Liberia.  But even if it were feasible to take him into custody, I don’t think the U.S. government would allow this to happen, any more than in the case of Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden.

In a fair trial, Assad, like Saddam or Osama, would be able to testify about their past relations with the U.S. government, and that would be too embarrassing for the U.S. government to tolerate—in particular, Assad’s role as a torture subcontractor for the CIA.

President Obama and the U.S. Congress could help relieve the Syrian situation in many ways.  They could help feed and shelter refugees made homeless by the Syrian civil war.  They could join with the government of Russia in trying to negotiate a cease-fire between the Syrian factions.  If the United Nations authorizes a peacekeeping force, the U.S. could provide troops and material aid for that force.

In the above video, Fareed Zakaria, columnist for Time and host of a weekly CNN program on foreign affairs, outlined the historical background of Syria and made the case against full-scale U.S. military intervention in Syria.

But firing missiles at Syria is not a “moderate” alternative to all-out war.  Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, back in the days of the Vietnam Conflict, thought that a carefully calibrated bombing North Vietnam was a means of sending a message about U.S. resolve.  It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now.

Occasional missile strikes on Syria won’t harm Assad.  He may even welcome them, as a means of redirecting the people’s anger away from himself and toward the United States and its allies.  The supposed punishment will fall on ordinary people in Syria, especially if the missile hits a gas storage facility.


Granito: How to Nail a Dictator

October 9, 2012

General Jose Efrain Rios Montt took power in Guatemala in a military coup early in 1982.  He suspended the Constitution, set up secret tribunals, and began a campaign of kidnapping, torture and killing to suppress opposition to the government.  In order to suppress a revolutionary guerrilla movement, the Guatemalan army began a campaign of annihilation against poor Mayan Indian peasant villagers from whom the guerrillas drew their support.

Amnesty International estimated that 10,000  Guatemalan peasants and Mayan Indians were killed just from March to July 1982.  A 1999 United Nations Commission said the army under Rios Montt wiped out 600 villages.  Other estimates say that tens of thousands of people were killed and as many as 1.5 million were driven from their homes.   Rios Montt himself was overthrown by another military coup in August, 1983, but the killings continued.

The documentary movie, Granito: How to Nail a Dictator, describes the campaign to put Rios Montt on trial for his crimes.  Under the Spanish Constitution, a person can be indicted for crimes against humanity even when those crimes are committed outside Spain.   Rigoberta Menchu, a Guatemalan peasant leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, filed charges in Spain of torture, genocide, illegal detention and state-sponsored terrorism against Rios Montt and four other Guatemalan generals, including two ex-Presidents.  Spanish Judge Santiago Pedraz issued an international arrest warrant against Rios Montt in 2006, but the Guatemalan government refused to hand him over.  However, in January of this year, Rios Montt was indicted in Guatemala itself on charges of crimes against humanity and genocide.

This is an important precedent.  It shows that just because you are the head of a government does not give you impunity to commit crimes.  So long as there is impunity, mass killings and other crimes against humanity will continue.   So far accountability extends only to the rules of small countries, and not to the great powers, but I hope that this case and others like it will lay the legal groundwork for ending impunity in powerful countries such as the United States.

I was brought up to believe that the English-speaking world was the home of the ideal of liberty under law.  But at the present time, this principle is understood a great deal better in Spain and Guatemala than it is in Britain or here in the United States.

The documentary is nearly 90 minutes long, which is a lot to watch on a computer screen, but I think it is well worth the effort.  It is divided into three segments, so you don’t have to watch the whole thing all at once.

Much of the information used to indict Rios Montt came from a 1983 documentary film When the Mountains Tremble and outtakes from that film.  It, too, is nearly 90 minutes long, but broken up into segments.   If you have the time, watch When the Mountains Tremble and then Granito: How to Nail a Dictator for the whole story of Guatemala since a CIA-sponsored coup overthrew the democratically-elected government in 1954.

Click on When the Mountains Tremble to view the earlier documentary.

Click on Efrain Rios Montt wiki for Rios Montt’s Wikipedia article.

Click on Network in Solidarity With the People of Guatemala for background on Guatemala.

Hat tip to Larry Lack.

US doesn’t believe in ‘diplomatic asylum’

August 17, 2012

WASHINGTON — The United States said Friday that it did not believe in “diplomatic asylum” after Ecuador offered to let WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange stay indefinitely in its embassy in London.

Ecuador has turned to the Organization of American States, which met Thursday and Friday in Washington, after deciding to offer asylum to the Internet activist who is wanted in Sweden on sexual assault allegations.

Under a 1954 agreement, the Organization of American States agreed to allow asylum in diplomatic missions for “persons being sought for political reasons,” although not individuals indicted for “common offenses.”

“The United States is not a party to the 1954 OAS Convention on Diplomatic Asylum and does not recognize the concept of diplomatic asylum as a matter of international law,” the State Department said in a statement.

via AFP.

In 1956, following the Soviet Union’s crushing of the Hungarian freedom fighters, Cardinal Josef Mindszenty sought diplomatic asylum in the U.S. embassy in Budapest, and he remained in the embassy for 15 years.  Just last April, the blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng sought asylum in the U.S. embassy in Beijing, and later was granted passage to the United States.

Is the U.S. government now repudiating its historic policy?  Is it saying that the United States had no right to grant protection to Cardinal Mindszenty or Chen Guangcheng?

And, if it is not involved in the Sweden’s extradition of Julian Assange or the dispute between the British and Ecuadorian governments, why issue a statement at all?