Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Israel, America and the crime of aggression

As Talat Hussain’s report as an eye-witness on the Mavi Marmara from the Express-Tribune (Pakistan) reveals, Israeli snipers murdered or wounded journalists. See here for a previous report on Talat’s experience. Comparable to American torture, there is no “pr” response to this atrocity. Israel holds the occupied territories illegally. It starves Gazans. It attacked the relief ship in international waters. It murdered 9 people. It held the 600 arrested long enough so it could get out the first stories. It confiscated remaining cameras and film, a practice necessary only because unedited film would reveal that Israel was at fault. All the gunshots, ranting and abuse in the world (of Richard Goldstone, for example) will not alter these facts.

The outrage at Israel is massive. Even the corrupt Egypt dictatorship is now letting food supplies into Gaza. The European community has finally said that the blockade and starvation of Gaza are unacceptable. Yesterday, the New York Times reported, Netanyahu loosened restriction on food entering Gaza by land.

The Bush-Cheney period in the United States attempted to impose on the world the policies Israel has pursued in the Middle East. Aggression (see the third column) below, and torture – an intensified hatred for international law – along with an even more extreme and malevolent form of lying than is usual in politics became the American way. Thus, Bush appointed the crude John Bolton as ambassador to the UN – a man who called for blowing the top ten stories off it. This neo-con administration stood for the unilateral “right of the stronger.” They despised and disparaged others. American policy embodied everything American politicians claim to detest in others.

Where Israel pursues murderous and counterproductive policies out of or perhaps playing on fear and paranoia (Jews have been the great object of genocide in tsarist Russia and Nazi Germany, though not among Arabs), the United States, though acting with cowardice and illegality, was then the mightiest nation on earth. It is no longer. Once again, these policies are both despicable and counterproductive.

It is the decent opinion of mankind, as the American founders used to put it, that the murders on the Mavi Marmara defy. It is the decent opinion of humankind which Bush-Cheney and also, to some extent, despite some moves in a contrary direction (the Cairo speech, for example, or some effort to stop settlements), Obama works against.

In Kampala, an International Criminal Court commission has finally added aggression as a war crime to prosecute. That crime will now join torture as the centerpiece of (hopefully, over time) enforceable international law. Of course, the enforcement will only come because of mass protest from below, from democratic internationalism, or in the current phrase international civil society (all terms for that “decent opinion of mankind” when it leads to political action). The cause of the Palestinians is today’s cause of the South Africans victimized by apartheid; the hope for a decent resolution for Palestinians and ordinary Israelis focuses on this international struggle, in which the sailing of the relief ship, an act of death-defying courage, is a chapter. Not all such movements succeed (Tibet in China or the case of the democratic movement in Myanmar are both so far counterexamples). But there is now a powerful international movement for justice.*

The United States government signed and even sponsored the UN charter, making aggression a crime. By American law, for instance, by the Supremacy Clause - Article 6, section 2 - of the Constitution, treaties signed by the government are the highest law of the land. Thus, by international and American legal standards, the second invasion of Iraq by the U.S. and Britain was a plain act of aggression. But the law is not enforceable except formally in American courts which are, in this respect, mere tools of power.

Thus, the new International Criminal Court Treaty – intended to make aggression a prosecutable crime - will become effective among signers only in 7 years. The US attended the Kampala meetings, but being an aggressor, argued against the agreement. Unlike American Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson who led the prosecutions of Tokyo and German war criminals – they were executed for the crime of aggression - the US government now claims not to know what aggression is (see Article 2, section 4 of the United Nations charter, then fought for by the United States).

Still, this adoption is a long positive step in the effort to restore international law. The Bush-Cheney war criminals will not be indicted for their aggression against Iraq which cost over a million, innocent Iraqi lives and wasted many American lives as well. Paul Wolfowitz, “an important statesman,” now at the American Enterprise Institute (a refuge for political Straussians) was interviewed by Fareed Zakaria on CNN on June 13. Both live in another dimension, still occupied by much of the bipartisan elite, in which American aggressions are a good thing (even “just,” Obama seemed to say, beginning to caricature what he might have represented, at Stockholm). But everyone knows that an unprovoked attack of one state upon the people of another - roughly, political mass murder - is a crime.

The bipartisan American elite lives on a planet Cheney far removed from decency. It does not hunt Al-Qaida effectively and squanders the international respect, sympathy and even solidarity that would enforce isolation and dismantling of terrorism against civilians. Still this act, and every step taken from below against American aggressions, may move the world toward peace, the rule of law, serious opposition to terrorism and cooperation, for instance, about global warming. That there is not so much time left to do this, and that the US war complex is a great obstacle is visible in the sad fact that the Obama administration – whose leader campaigned against “the dumb” Iraq war (he did not speak about the crime of it) – cannot even sign an International Criminal Court legal understanding against aggression.

No Israeli or American leader, I imagine, will take up the courageous challenge of Ken O’Keefe (see the second post below). O’Keefe is elitist and quite reactionary about other forms of protest, notably, the international revolt against the Iraq war, as Chomsky said, the second greatest power in the world at that point, one that millions of ordinary people participated in across borders, one which isolated the American aggression and made possible O’Keefe’s own action as a real attempt to stop the war. Everyone needs to do what she is ready and able to do against war. O’Keefe himself was not always so ready to do so. He once served as an officer in the American military, something that many honorable people do, but was then part of a repressive Empire. Yet he has, because of a strong sense of honor and decency, stood out against this.

O’Keefe has a deep understanding of nonviolence. Nothing he did in disarming the two murderers of his colleagues on the boat counts as violence (they lived to see another day). See here. But they had done murder and were there, weapons in hand, to do more. Even if he had injured or killed them, it would have counted, as Gandhi himself underlines, as self-defense.

O’Keefe is right that many joining him in his act of courage in Iraq, might – though once again as a result of the great international movement which spotlighted the aggression - have prevented it. Still, Bush-Cheney might well have suppressed or murdered say a thousand Europeans and Americans, and the mainstream American press, as with even the Mavi Marmara, might have loosely covered these crimes or not at all until the aggression was well under way…

The commercial media rightly cluck over North Korean sinking a South Korean ship. See Greenwald here. But even under Obama, America remains far more dangerous and war-like than any other power on earth. Here are mirrors – the standard of aggression – in which we might take in what America and Israel look like.


Murders on the Mediterranean
By Syed Talat Hussain

June 13, 2010
http://tribune.com.pk/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Syed-Talat-Hussain.jpg

The writer is executive director news and current affairs at Aaj TV (syed.talat@tribune.com.pk).

The website democracynow.org gives a vivid, and by far the most authentic, video account of Israel’s attack on the main ship of the freedom flotilla carrying over 600 passengers including an eight-month-old baby.

The video is one of the many that are likely to come out in the weeks ahead captured by those who witnessed recent history’s most audacious insult to efforts to highlight the plight of 1.5 million Palestinians stranded in the Gaza Strip. It shows bullets being fired from the boats carrying Israeli commandos as they make a vain attempt to climb up the Mavi Marmara. It depicts passengers, including foreigners and an Arab member of Knesset, (the Israeli parliament), wade through staircases and corridors filled with the injured. As doctors make desperate efforts to revive those shot in the head or in the chest from close range, blood-splattered walls furnish cold testimony to the methods the Israelis used to take control of the ship: anyone who stood in the way to taking over the control room – which they eventually did in a little over an hour – had to be eliminated.

The video is filmed by a journalist who left banking for the electronic media and presently works in New York. For a brief period when we were prison mates he told me about the effort he had to make to preserve the video: at least a one hour video of the attack was transferred on to a chip measuring half an inch, safely tucked in a special slot in his underwear. He took a grave risk: the Israelis would have strung him upside down if they had found what he was up to. They had strip-searched all of us to ensure that we did not carry any pictures on us. He told me how he wanted to come on this journey because that was good for his budding career but as he saw the devastation caused by Israeli actions, his motive changed from a mere professional concern to angry defiance against Israeli impunity.

Others were not so lucky with their efforts to slip out of the ship, vital evidence of Israeli’s criminal conduct on international waters. Among the injured there were two Indonesians, both camera men, one shot near the collar bone and another in the arm he was holding the camera with. I had spent nearly 10 days with them starting from our journey in Istanbul. The Malaysians and the Indonesian combined had a large contingent, over a dozen, which included a female reporter as well. Deeply religious and belonging to the Tablighee side of Islam, some of them, including the one who got shot in the arm, would spend long hours praying and reciting the Quran. Not exactly active in his pursuit of news on the ship, he was standing in the corner filming the attack as it unfolded when he was knocked out by a sniper. On the upper deck, as mayhem spread I saw two men fall to bullets — the sound of which is amply recorded in the democracynow video. I had been in these situations before. I had enough experience to know that these were all sniper shots. No random bullet pierces the forehead’s center or rips through the heart. If there was any doubt about how these passengers had been killed it was removed when a cameraman who was leaning against me as we both attempted to record the events fell back on me with a bullet wound in his arm. Israelis knew who they had to kill to keep the lid on their beastly actions: the journalists topped the list.

Fortunately, the Israeli system is not foolproof and there is enough evidence floating around to pinpoint responsibility. At any rate each individual who was on the ship is an eyewitness who can blow away the pack of lies Israel, its global backers and a patently one-sided western media are churning out. For a change truth is holding the field of public opinion long misled by propaganda.

Published in the Express Tribune, June 14th, 2010.


From www.counterpunch.org Reflections by a Former US Marine on the Mavi Marmara On Cowardice and Violence By KEN O'KEEFE Istanbul

In 2002 I initiated the TJP Human Shield Action to Iraq because I knew that the invasion of Iraq had been planned well in advance, that it was part of a ‘Global Spectrum Dominance’ agenda as laid out by the Project For A New American Century. I knew that protests had no chance of stopping the invasion, and that largely these protests were just a way of making us feel better about the coming mass murder; by being able to say “I protested against it.” With that understanding I argued that the only viable way to stop the invasion was to conduct a mass migration to Iraq. A migration in which people from around the world, especially western citizens, would position themselves at sites in Iraq that are supposed to be protected by international law, but which are routinely bombed when it is only Iraqi, Palestinian, generally non-white, western lives who will be killed. I felt 10,000 such people could stop the invasion, or at the very least, expose the invasion for what it was from the start, an act of international aggression, a war crime and a crime against humanity.

I have for many years understood that we, people of conscience, are the true holders of power in this world. Frustratingly however we have largely relinquished that power and failed to reach our full potential. Our potential to create a better world, a just world. Nonetheless I have conspired with others of like mind to reveal and exercise our true power. When our two double decker busses travelled from London to Baghdad through Turkey, it was ever clear that the people of Turkey also could sense the power of this act, and they were the biggest participants in it. In the end we did not get the numbers required to stop the war, with at least one million Iraqi’s dead as a result, but I remain convinced that it was within our power to prevent the invasion. A massive opportunity lost as far as I am concerned. In 2007 I joined the Free Gaza Movement with its plan to challenge the blockade of Gaza by travelling to Gaza by sea. From the moment I heard of the plan I knew it could succeed and ultimately I served as a captain on the first attempt. The Israeli government said throughout our preparation that we were no better than pirates and they would treat us as such. They made clear we would not reach Gaza. And still I knew we could succeed. And we did. Two boats with 46 passengers from various countries managed to sail into Gaza on August 23, 2010; this was the first time this had been done in 41 years. The truth is the blockade of Gaza is far more than three years old, and yet we, a small group of conscientious people defied the Israeli machine and celebrated with tens of thousands of Gazans when we arrived that day. We proved that it could be done. We proved that an intelligent plan, with skilled manipulation of the media, could render the full might of the Israeli Navy useless. And I knew then that this was only the tip of the iceberg. So participating in the Freedom Flotilla is like a family reunion to me. It is my long lost family whose conscience is their guide, who have shed the fear, who act with humanity.

But I was especially proud to join IHH and the Turkish elements of the flotilla. I deeply admire the strength and character of the Turkish people, despite your history having stains of injustice, like every nation, you are today from citizen to Prime Minister among the leaders in the cause of humanity and justice. I remember being asked during the TJP Human Shield Action to Iraq if I was a pacifist, I responded with a quote from Gandhi by saying I am not a passive anything. To the contrary I believe in action, and I also believe in self-defence, 100 per cent, without reservation. I would be incapable of standing by while a tyrant murders my family, and the attack on the Mavi Marmara was like an attack on my Palestinian family. I am proud to have stood shoulder to shoulder with those who refused to let a rogue Israeli military exert their will without a fight. And yes, we fought. When I was asked, in the event of an Israeli attack on the Mavi_Marmara, would I use the camera, or would I defend the ship? I enthusiastically committed to defence of the ship. Although I am also a huge supporter of non-violence, in fact I believe non-violence must always be the first option. Nonetheless I joined the defence of the Mavi Mamara understanding that violence could be used against us and that we may very well be compelled to use violence in self defence. I said this straight to Israeli agents, probably of Mossad or Shin Bet, and I say it again now, on the morning of the attack I was directly involved in the disarming of two Israeli Commandos. This was a forcible, non-negotiable, separation of weapons from commandos who had already murdered two brothers that I had seen that day. One brother with a bullet entering dead center in his forehead, in what appeared to be an execution. I knew the commandos were murdering when I removed a 9mm pistol from one of them. I had that gun in my hands and as an ex-US Marine with training in the use of guns it was completely within my power to use that gun on the commando who may have been the murderer of one of my brothers. But that is not what I, nor any other defender of the ship did. I took that weapon away, removed the bullets, proper lead bullets, separated them from the weapon and hid the gun. I did this in the hopes that we would repel the attack and submit this weapon as evidence in a criminal trial against Israeli authorities for mass murder. I also helped to physically separate one commando from his assault rifle, which another brother apparently threw into the sea.

I and hundreds of others know the truth that makes a mockery of the brave and moral Israeli military. We had in our full possession, three completely disarmed and helpless commandos. These boys were at our mercy, they were out of reach of their fellow murderers, inside the ship and surrounded by 100 or more men. I looked into the eyes of all three of these boys and I can tell you they had the fear of God in them. They looked at us as if we were them, and I have no doubt they did not believe there was any way they would survive that_day. They looked like frightened children in the face of an abusive father. But they did not face an enemy as ruthless as they. Instead the woman provided basic first aid, and ultimately they were released, battered and bruised for sure, but alive. Able to live another day. Able to feel the sun over head and the embrace of loved ones. Unlike those they murdered. Despite mourning the loss of our brothers, feeling rage towards these boys, we let them go. The Israeli prostitutes of propaganda can spew all of their disgusting bile all they wish, the commandos are the murderers, we are the defenders, and yet we fought. We fought not just for our lives, not just for our cargo, not just for the people of Palestine, we fought in the name of justice and humanity. We were right to do so, in every way.

While in Israeli custody I, along with everyone else was subjected to endless abuse and flagrant acts of disrespect. Women and elderly were physically and mentally assaulted. Access to food and water and_toilets was denied. Dogs were used against us, we ourselves were treated like dogs. We were exposed to direct sun in stress positions while hand cuffed to the point of losing circulation of blood in our hands. We were lied to incessantly, in fact I am awed at the routineness and comfort in their ability to lie, it is remarkable_ eally. We were abused in just about every way imaginable and I myself was beaten and choked to the point of blacking out… and I was_beaten again while in my cell. In all this what I saw more than anything else were cowards… and yet I also see my brothers. Because no matter how vile and wrong the Israeli agents and government are, they are still my brothers and sisters and for now I only have pity for them. Because they are relinquishing the most precious thing a human being has, their humanity. In conclusion; I would like to challenge every endorser of Gandhi, every person who thinks they understand him, who acknowledges him as one of the great souls of our time (which is just about every western leader), I challenge you in the form of a question. Please explain how we, the defenders of the Mavi Mamara, are not the modern example of Gandhi’s essence? But first read the words of Gandhi himself. I do believe that, where there is only a choice_between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence.... I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonour. – Gandhi And lastly I have one more challenge. I challenge any critic of merit, publicly, to debate me on a large stage over our actions that day. I would especially love to debate with any Israeli leader who accuses us of wrongdoing, it would be my tremendous pleasure to face off with you. All I saw in Israel was cowards with guns, so I am ripe to see you in a new context. I want to debate with you on the largest stage possible. Take that as an open challenge and let us see just how brave Israeli leaders are. Ken O'Keefe is a former US Marine and Gulf War veteran.

Published on Tuesday, June 15, 2010 by LegalTimes
ICC Adds Aggression to List of Crimes Despite US Opposition

by Jenna Greene

KAMPALA - In a move that international lawyers describe as "a giant leap," members of the International Criminal Court agreed to add aggression to the court's short list of prosecutable crimes.

At least seven years too late for these two [American wars], but the ICC has approved new language to make 'wars of aggression' a prosecutable offense by adopting a new resolution. Under the administration of President George W. Bush, the United States had virtually no involvement with the ICC. The United States opposed the resolution, but as a non-member of the eight-year old court, had no ability to block the adoption.

Still, it was notable that the United States even showed up for the debate.

State Department Legal Advisor Harold Koh and Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues Stephen Rapp led a sizeable U.S. delegation to a two week meeting in Kampala, Uganda. It ended early in the morning on Saturday with the consensus adoption of the definition of aggression and mechanisms for triggering an investigation.

The resolution will not go into effect until at least 2017, and the court has no jurisdiction to bring aggression chares against nationals from non-ICC member countries, which include the U.S., Russia and China. Even member countries have a way to opt-out.

The ICC is intended as a court of last resort to punish crimes that shock the conscience – genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and now aggression – when there is no ability to do so at the national level.

Under the administration of President George W. Bush, the United States had virtually no involvement with the ICC. In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed the Rome statute that created the court, but never brought the treaty to the Senate for a vote. In 2002, the Bush Administration sent a document “unsigning” Clinton’s acceptance. One hundred and eleven nations are ICC members.

The U.S. has been concerned that the court could attempt to prosecute American military members deployed overseas, even those on peacekeeping missions to stop war crimes.

To date, the ICC has brought only a handful of cases over incidents in the Central African Republic, Dafur, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Northern Uganda and Kenya, and has yet to complete a trial.

The ICC delegates defined aggression as a “crime committed by a political or military leader which, by its character, gravity and scale constituted a manifest violation of the Charter.”

The United Nations Security Council will have the main responsibility for determining if an act of aggression has occurred.

To Rapp, who previously served as Chief of Prosecutions at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa, the definition of aggression is “exceptionally vague.”

It’s “not a war of aggression, like we prosecuted at Nuremberg, but a crime of aggression that could make any sort of border conflict into a case that would cause the indictment of chiefs of state,” he said in a video blog from Kampala posted on the International Justice Central website. “We want to make sure the institution grows responsibility and does not become politically motivated.”

In a transcript of a June 2 press briefing from the meeting, Koh compared the court to a “wobbly bicycle that’s just starting to get its legs and roll forward, and the question is whether to add a crime of aggression at this moment might put too much weight on it and transform the nature of its mandate.”

But David Scheffer, who was U.S. Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues from 1997 to 2001, wrote in a blog from Kampala for the American Society of International Law that “The historical significance of these developments cannot be understated.”

He continued, “This is truly one giant leap. Perhaps, just perhaps, the action in Kampala will finally lock in a credible means to holding powerful individuals, those who intentionally launch massive acts of aggression, accountable for their actions and to instilling, over the years, greater deterrence to the aggressive instincts of insecure leaders.”
© 2010 LegalTimes

*see the articles by Richard Falk and Tom Farer in the Korbel School's Journal of Global Governance here.

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