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Sunday, July 04, 2004

A point that some commentators made about the Abu Ghraib scandal, was that it was in no way comparable to thing done by either Saddam's regime or terrorists. I find she is always good on clearing away some intellectual fog on many issues and on this topicCathy Young makes some sense:
It's entirely possible, even likely, that some in the media are exploiting the Abu Ghraib scandal to bash the Bush administration and discredit the war effort. But there are legitimate reasons for the continuing coverage as well.
First, the prison abuse scandal and the larger issue of the possible use of torture by the US military are the focus of a continuing investigation that surely merits reporting.
Second, the conduct of American troops and of the US government should be of special concern to Americans. I would even say that we have cause for some double standards: That is, we should hold ourselves and our soldiers to higher standards than the terrorists, or dictators and their henchmen. In that sense, perhaps the image of a grinning US servicewoman dragging a naked Iraqi prisoner on a leash should shock us more than an image of Saddam's thugs chopping off a man's hand-because that servicewoman represents us, and because we expect better from her. We don't expect any better from Saddam's thugs.
. . .
Let's leave aside for now the issue of whether it's morally permissible to torture a terrorist to obtain information that may save thousands of lives. Most of the maltreated prisoners, it seems clear, were either wrongly detained innocents or petty criminals with no connection to terrorism.
Yes, there is rank hypocrisy in the way this scandal is being exploited by anti-American propagandists worldwide-by Arab regimes that routinely practice torture, and by European progressives who have little to say about, for instance, Russian atrocities in Chechnya. But there is nothing wrong with the American media holding the US government and military accountable. That is one of the basic functions of the press in a democracy.
This is fine I think as far as it goes, as a moral issue, and that is what it is. The problem changes however when it shifts to the legal, and a lot of the people who are complaining so loudly about Abu Ghraib are the types who want to weigh us down with more international treaty and UN law etc. Legal norms work only because they are applicable to everyone in absolutely equal measure. At spiked David Chandler gives some examples of how, for better and for worse, politics distort the working of the ICC:
In fact, the debate over the USA's relation to the ICC has clouded the discussion over the 'justice' dispensed by the court, which was never actually designed to prosecute the service personnel of the major Western powers. As chief prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo says, the ICC's independence from the major Western powers is severely limited by the fact that, unlike a national prosecution service, 'we have no government, no police' (3). When the ICC is reliant on the good will and resources of Western governments, there is little possibility that it can dispense 'international justice'.. . . The investigation in the Congo has little to do with 'international justice' and more to do with face-saving on the part of the ICC. The court has managed to pressurise the Congolese government to cooperate in a limited investigation, which will essentially strengthen Kabila's hand against the former rebel forces in the preparations for next year's elections.
And ultimately that is why international law, as far as it exists is often so useless. In principle I think we need some sort of proper binding framework for these things, as Phillip Bobbitt has argued well, but there's is only any point in them if they actually work. If they don't work we're better off without them.


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