09 June 2008

The Accountability of Governments

It wasn't until I opened the new issue of The Nation (look under "Citizen George") that I learned about a british journalist's attempted citizen's arrest of Bushite diplomat John Bolton late last month, which only shows that I should read the British papers, or their websites, more often. The effort was thwarted easily enough (by "two of the biggest gorillas" the writer had ever seen, with my apologies to gorillas), but George Monbiot made his quixotic gesture "in the hope of instilling a fear of punishment among those who plan illegal wars." Monbiot is convinced that the invasion of Iraq was illegal according to the "Nuremberg principles," and that Bolton was culpable for having "participated in a common plan to prepare for the war ... by inserting the false claim that Iraq was seeking to procure uranium from Niger into a state department factsheet."

Bolton's own comments on the experience were reported by a Conservative paper. He's popular with Bushite Republicans because of his audacious, pugnacious attitude, displayed here by his implicit characterization of Monbiot as a fascist. But there's nothing funny about his frankly sinister assertion that, once a legally elected government commits to war, and is convinced of its legality, no citizen of that nation has a legal right to challenge the war's legality in any legal venue. He's not going so far (I hope) as to say that no American has a right to speak out against the war, but he is saying quite clearly that no American, and apparently no foreigner has the right to sue, swear out a warrant or prosecute the government or its agents on the belief that the law was broken. Think what you like, he seems to say, but you have no right of appeal and no right to seek justice.

This attitude on the part of American politicians isn't likely to change soon. Whether it's Obama, McCain or any of their understudies, most aspiring presidents want the same prerogatives that Bush has claimed, no matter how differently they might do things. This was most apparent in Senator Clinton's case, for that was why she never renounced her vote to authorize the invasion. In her view, the President should have that power, but Bush used it wrongly. I don't know if Obama thinks differently, and I doubt that McCain does. In any event, the perverse comity that characterizes the American Bipolarchy also guarantees that no Democratic president would undertake or allow the prosecution of the Bushites, since they won't want Republicans to prosecute them in turn should Obama want to intervene anywhere (in Pakistan, for instance). For the same reason, a Democratic regime would probably block any attempt by a foreign government or international body to prosecute the Bushites, but they would call it a defense of American sovereignty in that case.

That leaves aggrieved Americans with two choices. We have the option Bolton offers us, which is simply to acquiesce to a war that he dares to equate with the will of the voters, or we must accept the revolutionary implications of our idea of international law. If we want to hold nations to account for waging wars, a power must exist that can arrest and detain political leaders as well as try and punish them. The United Nations lacks the power or will for this purpose, but it might serve as the embryo for something better, or at least stronger, just as the Articles of Confederation that loosely tied the United States together made possible the more perfect union of the Constitution. The Constitutional Convention of 1787 was authorized by Congress under the Articles. So might the United Nations authorize a global constitutional convention, even if, as in the American case, it doesn't authorize the results in advance. Even then, it will be up to citizens of the world to declare their allegiance to democracy and the rule of law -- the things they supposedly stand for already.

1 comment:

crhymethinc said...

The minute an elected government decides that it's very election gives it free reign and makes it unaccountable to the citizens who put it in place, that government ceases to be a democracy. Part and parcel of democracy is that the elected government is accountable to its electorate. The other part is that the electorate is accountable to other countries for the actions of its elected government.