In the first verdict of its kind since former President George W. Bush left office, he and several members of his administration have been successfully convicted in absentia of war crimes in Malaysia.
Yes, this is a BFD.
This past Friday, a five panel tribunal delivered a unanimous guilty verdict after a week long trial that, unsurprisingly, was not covered by American media. The witnesses included several ex-Guantanamo detainees that gave testimony on the conditions and human rights violations that were systematically carried out under orders of the Bush administration.
Former President Bush, Former Vice-President Dick Cheney, Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the legal advisers Alberto Gonzales, David Addington, William Haynes, Jay Bybee and John Yoo that crafted the legal ‘justification’ for torture that basically said, ‘we can if we want to even if it’s illegal’ were the defendants. None were present, of course, but international war crime trials do not require the presence of the accused. The trial was run according to the standards set by the Nuremberg Trials to convict war criminals after World War II.
Professor Gurdial Singh Nijar, who headed the prosecution said, “The tribunal was very careful to adhere scrupulously to the regulations drawn up by the Nuremberg courts and the International Criminal Courts”.
The United States is subject to international law which makes this trial significant beyond the borders of Malaysia. Foreign Policy Journal reports:
President Lamin told a packed courtroom: “As a tribunal of conscience, the tribunal is fully aware that its verdict is merely declaratory in nature. The tribunal has no power of enforcement, no power to impose any custodial sentence on any one or more of the 8 convicted persons. What we can do, under Article 31 of Chapter VI of Part 2 of the Charter is to recommend to the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission to submit this finding of conviction by the tribunal, together with a record of these proceedings, to the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, as well as the United Nations and the Security Council.
“The Tribunal also recommends to the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission that the names of all the 8 convicted persons be entered and included in the Commission’s Register of War Criminals and be publicized accordingly.
“The Tribunal recommends to the War Crimes Commission to give the widest international publicity to this conviction and grant of reparations, as these are universal crimes for which there is a responsibility upon nations to institute prosecutions if any of these Accused persons may enter their jurisdictions.”
The hope is that other countries will hold trials of their own and the guilty verdicts will mount up. This is not that outlandish an idea as Bush and Cheney have not only brazenly admitted they authorized torture in direct contravention of the Geneva Convention, but bragged about it. Nothing more helpful than having a criminal do all the heavy lifting for the prosecution. If enough of these verdicts are passed on to the international courts, they will have no choice but to hold a trial of their own. While Bush won’t be arrested on American soil, he’ll have a very difficult time leaving the country. Already he’s canceled a trip to Switzerland, due to possible charges of war crimes.
The best possible outcome is that the world court delivers a guilty verdict that sends a clear message to President Obama and his successors that the United States is not above the law, American Exceptional-ism be damned. It’s a lesson we’ve forgotten and need to relearn.