Hindsight is wonderful. With every passing day some of the inexplicable actions of the Bush administration in its earliest days are beginning to come into focus. The rationale is becoming very clear: they all contribute to enabling the US to avoid accountability. Three sets of action confirm this reframing of the situation: the repudiation of the International Criminal Court; the US pressure to sign bilateral agreements with 50 countries to exclude US citizens from the rules of the ICC treaty; the failure of Attorney Haynes to fully discuss his role in developing the guidelines for treatment of prisoners under US control at his judicial nomination hearings for a seat on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal (and, of course, his nomination for a seat on that court in the first place).
Consider the US withdrawal from the International Criminal Court. In May 2002, the US announced that it was withdrawing from the International Criminal Court. It claimed that the court would be controlled by unbridled prosecutorial zeal. It claimed that US citizens would be subject to politicized prosecutions (similar to the European show trials of the Vietnam War). If these assertions were true, there might be a case for standing aside. But the US got the elaborate procedural constraints that it wanted: the Court is complementary to national courts, only if national courts do nothing can the ICC intervene; investigations can proceed only after a pretrial hearing shows that there is reasonable cause; the UN Security Council can block proceedings. Secretary Powell (ABC, May 5th) claimed that adherence to the treaty was unnecessary: "We have the highest standards of accountability of any nation on earth." Today this statement rings hollow with courts martial being arranged for soldiers and wrist slaps for officers involved with the abuse at Abu Grahib; to say nothing of the lack of accountability for those in the higher echelons of government..
Consider the pressure the US has put on countries to sign bilateral arrangements with the United States to refrain from handing over US citizens, arrested in these countries, to the ICC. According to Human Rights First, at least 76 countries (1) have signed these bilateral agreements and over 20 others (2) lost their US financial aid because they did not sign. This reduction in aid will over time have severe impacts on US attempts to gain cooperation on the wars on terrorism, drugs, and the provision of peacekeeping forces around the world. All these were the beneficiaries of the US aid programs.
Consider the long line of judicial appointees who, when questioned at their confirmation hearings, failed to disclose their judicial thinking, a pattern that culminated most recently in the failure of the Pentagon's chief legal officer to discuss fully his role in the development of guidelines for the treatment of prisoners, enemy combatants, and other detainees. William Haynes appeared before the judiciary committee in November last year, well before the revelations of what went on at Abu Ghraib. At this time and in subsequent written questioning, according to Senator Richard Durbin (D-Illinois), Mr Haynes was "unresponsive" and "evasive" and failed to answer specific questions relevant to the US military's position with respect to the treatment of persons who were under detention (3). Mr Haynes, it appears, was one of those involved in making the argument that some form of torture was permissible in the case of detainees.
This pattern of activity by the administration, beginning in the early month's of its accession to power clearly shows a contempt for international law, a contempt for the Geneva Convention and an arrogance that is stupefying in its stupidity. All of these decisions will come back to haunt the United States as other groups and other nations start to play by the US rules. We will come to regret the day we turned our back on the world.