Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Hollow Words At An Empty Hearing

The N.Y. Times has a story which is doomed to slide into forgotten obscurity in very short order. Out of 21 senators who sit on the committee only the chair, Senator Robert Casey (D. Pa.) attended the hearing covered by the Times article.

The witnesses at the hearing were John Bellinger, a top legal advisor of the State Department, Charles Allen who is a counsel for the Defense Department and Brig. Gen. Michelle Johnson who testified briefly on behalf of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. These officials were present to give support on behalf of the administration for a handful of treaties designed to lessen wartime civilian casualties, and give wartime protection to cultural sites.

Maybe it's just bitter old moi, but I think the following blurb in the article is positively stuffed to the brim with rich and caustic irony:
Summing up, Bellinger said, ''We set an example to the world when it comes to humanitarian law,'' and other nations ''know we stand for the right thing.''
That quote is clearly an example of some administration toady creating an alternate reality which favors their warped outlook.

Just to give a bit of perspective on Bellingers knowledge when it comes to international humanitarian law, he recently told a British interviewer that he could not say one way or the other if an American being waterboarded by a foreign government would be a torture victim. Color me excessively bitter about the stain left on our nations honor by this administrations barbaric policy on detainees, but when the top State Department lawyer will not mount the most rudimentary defense of American citizens abroad from being tortured because of this administrations abysmal record, things have gone very seriously off track. Is Bellinger really the right man to be spouting off about our international standing when it comes to humanitarian law?

Let us consider the facts regarding Bellingers high falutin rhetoric on American leadership when it comes to international humanitarian law. Here is just a little taste of what our allies and friends in the international community are saying on the world stage when it comes to our leadership by "example" in this regard: Britain's Attorney General in May of 2006, in an article titled 'Britain's top lawyer demands closure of Guantanamo Bay':
"It is time, in my view, that is should close. Not only would it, in my personal opinion, be right to close Guantanamo as a matter of principle, I believe it would also help to remove what has become a symbol to many - right or wrong - of injustice," he said.

"The historic tradition of the United States as a beacon of freedom, liberty and of justice deserves the removal of this symbol,"
Remember when Canada added the United States to a watchlist of nations which torture captives. This was a truly stellar moment in the Bush administrations international humanitarian record of leadership by example:
The list includes Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, and China. But surprisingly, it also included the United States, Guantanamo Bay, and Israel.

It notes specific "U.S. interrogation techniquies," which include "forced nudity, isolation, and sleep deprivation."
There we go setting the example which the rest of the world follows when it comes to humanitarian law again. The Canadian focus on torture occurred following the mistaken disappearance and "rendition" of Canadian citizen Maher Arar from the United States to Syria where he spent months being tortured. Arar was detained when the flight he was on from Tunis to his home in Canada stopped over in N.Y. The Canadian government has completely exonerated Arar of any connection with terrorism, but the Bush administration still refuses to remove him from terrorist watch lists. It sure is unfortunate when the administration's enlightened policies wind up resulting in innocent people being dissapeared and tortured, but I suppose that is the risk we run when Bush leads by example on international humanitarian law! He's botched everything else he leads, why not humanitarian law too?

I could write a book about the wrong headed approach to humanitarian law by the Bush abomination and the condemnation we have earned on the international stage because of it. But let me wrap this up with a brief rehash on another topic covered at the soon to be forgotten hearing: The protection of cultural sites.

The Bush administration is directly responsible for the greatest ransacking of ancient historical sites in human history. Iraq is recognized as the cradle of civilization. The importance of these cultural sites was not unknown to the administration as is demonstrated by this report from the Wall Street Journal (or here for a nonsubscription transcript) on a briefing held for the Pentagon prior to the invasion:
Concerned about the fate of Iraq's antiquities, an international group of archeologists, academics and art lawyers made a presentation in late January to Pentagon officials, asking them to take the utmost care to preserve Iraq's cultural relics. The delegates presented them with a catalogue of 5,000 -- just a fraction, they said, of the countless sites that dot the countryside. "We wanted to make it clear that Iraq is Mesopotamia, and the major cradle of civilization in the world," says McGuire Gibson, a professor of Mesopotamian archeology at the University of Chicago
Following our invasion the administration exposed their priorities by seeing to it that the oil ministry building was well guarded, while historical sites and museums which were filled with priceless relics dating to the dawn of civilization were left unprotected. The Bush administration allowed the widespread looting and resultant loss of countless and invaluable artifacts, but enforced complete security at the oil ministry building. With 20/20 hindsight we see that the obvious answer to this mindset would have been for all the concerned scientists and professors to have hustled over to Iraq immediately prior to the invasion and stuffed the oil ministry compound full of all the priceless artifacts they could grab!

I remember administrations which would actually be taken seriously when they talked about our commitment to humanitarian law and the preservation of cultural sites. I rather suspect it is a lucky thing for the Bush administration that this hearing was largely unattended and ignored. If such matters were considered important in this political season I can just imagine the embarrassing train wreck an aggressive line of questioning at this hearing would have devolved into.

What is sad is that the treaties in question most likely should be ratified and would be helpful, but having this administrations henchmen on the hill pontificating about humanitarian law and so forth really is a bit much.

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