Charging General Franks with War Crimes

The United Nations Security Council was not always so fractured as it was in the weeks leading up to the Coalition liberation of Iraq. The council was united in 1994 when the Security Council failed to act in Rwanda. According to Alison Des Forges of the Humans Rights Watch, “The Americans were interested in saving money, the Belgians were interested in saving face, and the French were interested in saving their ally, the genocidal government.” The result was comity in the council and 800,000 dead Rwandans.

Since then, at least this American administration has concluded that sometimes it is necessary to act when the UN Security Council cannot summon the will or courage to do so. The French have remained stubbornly consistent supporting genocidal regimes when convenient. The Belgians decided to do what impotent, self-important little governments do, they passed a law.

Belgium withdrew in Rwanda after 10 Belgium peacekeepers were killed. Retreating bravely the Belgians enacted a law bring crimes against humanity under explicit Belgium jurisdiction. The US, that is often caricatured as arrogant, has not yet been so bold to assert the power to enact laws with “universal jurisdiction.”

Of course, to bring war criminals into custody usually requires decisive military action. Passing universally applicable and unenforceable legislation only requires arrogance.

War crimes can generally be tried on an ad hoc basis with tribunals convened after victories much as was done with the Nuremberg trials after WWII. War criminals were prosecuted at Nuremberg without the assistance of the Belgian legislature. Standing forums are not necessary and provide a podium for political posturing.

Though the Belgian law has been used to prosecute a handful of Rwandans, it has not managed to illicit much trepidation on the part of tyrants. Until charges were recently dropped by a Belgian Court, the most conspicuous application of the law was against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Sharon was charged with neglecting to intervene when he should have known that a massacre was likely to take place. This criticism seems uncannily similar to actions by the UN Security Council with regard to Rwanda, but no one on that council will be charged.

You will never see Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden or Yasser Arafat charged with war crimes. You will never see French, German, or Russian officials charged for complicity in supplying military equipment to Iraq. Those actions were a direct violation of UN sanctions that served to support Hussein’s Islamofacist regime — a regime documented as having deliberately murdered as many as two million Iraqis. In short, the Belgian law is purely hortatory and political.

A Belgian lawyer is now seeking to have US General Tommy Franks charged with war crimes in the liberation of Iraq. The US military has just redefined the concept of warfare by devising a scheme to topple a brutal regime with an unprecedentedly small number of civilian casualties (less than 2000). Trying to bring charges against Franks for what by any objective and dispassionate consideration was the most morally prosecuted war in human history is willful and aggressive hypocrisy. It also a deliberate insult to those American soldiers who died because of tactics designed to minimize civilian casualties.

Attempts to charge General Franks illustrates the wisdom of the US refusal to join and endorse the International Criminal Court (ICC). In all likelihood, the ICC would be even less constrained and more irresponsible than the Belgian courts. At least the Belgian courts are ultimately answerable to an elected government.

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