Thursday, September 29, 2011

War Criminals (Western ones...)

George Bush decided not to visit Ottawa recently, because of local opposition to entertaining a man who is widely accused of war crimes. Dick Cheney defied his critics and gave a speech in Vancouver. Donald Rumsfeld prudently limits his travels to inside the USA, where domestic war criminals are tolerated. Men responsible for the deaths of a million civilians in the Middle East, and the physical torture and mutilation of a million more, usually have remarkably thin skins. Most psychopaths do; it’s the nature of the beast. Self is everything, other people count for nothing.

When the victorious Allies imposed their victors’ justice on the Germans and Japanese in 1946, they invented the concept of “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity”. At the Nuremberg trials the least forgivable crime of all was reckoned to be not the death-camps or the bombing of civilians, or the oppression of conquered peoples, or even the torture of captives- but the crime of making unnecessary war. It was argued that by its circumstances war provides a natural cover for all brutalities, and aggressive wars are therefore the greatest brutality of all. Those who were hanged in Nuremberg and Tokyo were hanged for fighting wars of aggression.

The trials established the principle that aggressor-nations’ rulers could be justifiably prosecuted under international law. The International Court of Justice and later the International Criminal Court were set up to judge national leaders and other individuals for war crimes and “crimes against humanity”. Nobody was to be exempt. That was the theory. But winners are always exempt. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are exempt. Tony Blair is exempt. Cameron and Sarkozy are exempt; the NATO atrocities they have supervised in North Africa are overlooked. Bill Clinton is exempt in respect of the NATO bombing of civilians in the former Yugoslavia. Hillary’s and Obama’s terror attacks on villages in selected Muslim nations are okay. The essential difference between all those people and the Hitler gang is that Hitler lost.

Here in Cayman we tend not to worry about international war crimes or criminals. Guantanamo and Haiti are just over the water, but they might as well be a million miles away. Our local rulers aren’t actually concerned about human rights of any kind, so reputed war criminals are safe here. President Clinton has been here. Kissinger has been here, I think. Oliver North came down to speak at a YCLA dinner; Tony Blair will be speaking at a Tennis Federation* dinner in November.

This last event is mildly inconvenient for me as a director of the Cayman Islands Tennis Club in South Sound. The Club is the chief member of the Federation, and will have some representatives at the tournament and dinner. One director out of ten can’t cancel that involvement. All I can do is vacate the office of director before Mr Blair arrives. That will be a futile act of self-indulgence, of course; nobody will even notice. But my son and his children would not respect me if I participated in a welcome to a man like Blair, and their respect is important to me. My son is a fierce opponent of human-rights abuses, so it’s probably just as well he won’t be here. The Police won’t need their pepper-spray for me!

It’s a moral dilemma. We all disapprove of our local gangland terrorists, and jail them if and when we can. More fools them, really. If they joined the West’s occupation forces in Afghanistan and Iraq they could be as brutal as they liked, and come back home as heroes. We don’t ask questions of the US soldiers who come here on holiday; we’ve no idea how well they have behaved in America’s wars of aggression. We save our visa restrictions for the children of our Jamaican helpers. Huh.

* I was incorrect in describing it as a Tennis Federation dinner. The dinner will in fact be hosted by the organisers of The Ritz Carlton Legends Tennis Event.