US Impunity Erodes World Justice

The International Criminal Court charges only Africans with human rights crimes while granting impunity to U.S. officials and their allies, undermining what had been a noble idea of universal justice, writes Nicolas J S Davies.

By Nicolas J S Davies

In the past week, Burundi and South Africa have joined Namibia in declaring their intention to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC). They are likely to be followed by a parade of other African countries, jeopardizing the future of an international court that has prosecuted 39 officials from eight African countries but has failed to indict a single person who is not African.

Ironically, African countries were among the first to embrace the ICC, so it is a striking turnaround that they are now the first to give up on it.

President George W. Bush and members of his national security team in Iraq in 2007

President George W. Bush and members of his national security team in Iraq in 2007

But it is the United States that has played the leading role in preventing the ICC from fulfilling the universal mandate for which it was formed, to hold officials of all countries accountable for the worst crimes in the world: genocide; crimes against humanity; and war crimes – not least the crime of international aggression, which the judges at Nuremberg defined as “the supreme international crime” from which all other war crimes follow.

As the ICC’s founding father, former Nuremberg prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz, lamented in 2011, “You don’t have to be a criminologist to realize that if you want to deter a crime, you must persuade potential criminals that, if they commit crimes, they will be hauled into court and be held accountable. It is the policy of the United States to do just the opposite as far as the crime of aggression is concerned. Our government has gone to great pains to be sure that no American will be tried by any international criminal court for the supreme crime of illegal war-making.”

The U.S. has not only refused to accept the jurisdiction of the ICC over its own citizens. It has gone further, pressuring other countries to sign Bilateral Immunity Agreements (BIA), in which they renounce the right to refer U.S. citizens to the ICC for war crimes committed on their territory.

The U.S. has also threatened to cut off U.S. aid to countries that refuse to sign them. The BIAs violate those countries’ own commitments under the ICC statute, and the U.S. pressure to sign them has been rightly condemned as an outrageous effort to ensure impunity for U.S. war crimes.

Resistance to U.S. Impunity

To the credit of our international neighbors, this U.S. strategy has met with substantial resistance. The European Parliament overwhelmingly passed a resolution stating that BIAs are incompatible with E.U. membership, and urged E.U.- member states and countries seeking E.U. membership not to sign them.

At the start of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, President George W. Bush ordered the U.S. military to conduct a devastating aerial assault on Baghdad, known as "shock and awe."

At the start of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, President George W. Bush ordered the U.S. military to conduct a devastating aerial assault on Baghdad, known as “shock and awe.”

Fifty-four countries have publicly refused to sign BIAs, and 24 have accepted cut-offs of U.S. aid as a consequence of their refusal. Of 102 countries that have signed a BIA, only 48 are members of the ICC in any case, and only 15 of those countries are on record as having ratified the BIAs in their own parliaments.

Thirty-two other ICC members have apparently allowed BIAs to take effect without parliamentary ratification, but this has been challenged by their own country’s legal experts in many cases.

The U.S. campaign to undermine the ICC is part of a much broader effort by the U.S. government to evade all forms of accountability under the laws that are supposed to govern international behavior in the modern world, even as it continues to masquerade as a global champion of the rule of law.

The treaties that U.S. policy systematically violates today were crafted by American statesmen and diplomats, working with their foreign colleagues, to build a world where all people would enjoy some basic protections from the worst atrocities, instead of being subject only to the law of the jungle or “might makes right.”

So current U.S. policy is a cynical betrayal of the work and wisdom of past generations of Americans, as well as of countless victims all over the world to whom we are effectively denying the protections of the U.N. Charter, the Geneva Conventions, the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child and other multilateral treaties that our country ignores, violates or refuses to ratify.

Avoiding the jurisdiction of international courts is only one of the ways that the U.S. evades international accountability for its criminal behavior. Another involves an elaborate and well-disguised public relations campaign that exploit the powerful position of U.S. corporations in the world of commercial media.

Major Propaganda Funding

The U.S. government spends a billion dollars per year on public relations or, more bluntly, propaganda, including $600 million from the Pentagon budget. The work of its P.R. teams and contractors is laundered by U.S. newspapers and repeated and analyzed ad nauseam by monolithic, flag-waving TV networks.

David Petraeus, a two-star general during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, with Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace.

David Petraeus, a two-star general during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, with Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace.

These profitable corporate operations monopolize the public airwaves in the U.S., and also use their financial clout, slick marketing and the support of the U.S. State Department to maintain a powerful presence in foreign and international media markets.

Foreign media in allied countries provide further legitimacy and credibility to U.S. talking-points and narratives as they echo around the world. Meanwhile, Hollywood fills cinema and TV screens across the world with an idealized, glamorized, inspirational version of America that still mesmerizes many people.

This whole elaborate “information warfare” machine presents the United States as a global leader for democracy, human rights and the rule of law, even as it systematically and catastrophically undermines those same principles. It enables our leaders to loudly and persuasively demonize other countries and their leaders as dangerous violators of international law, even as the U.S. and its allies commit far worse crimes.

Double Standards in Syria/Iraq

Today, for instance, the U.S. and its allies are accusing Syria and Russia of war crimes in east Aleppo, even as America’s own and allied forces launch a similar assault on Mosul. Both attacks are killing civilians and reducing much of a city to rubble; the rationale is the same, counterterrorism; and there are many more people in the line of fire in Mosul than in east Aleppo.

President Barack Obama shakes hands with U.S. troops at Bagram Airfield in Bagram, Afghanistan, Sunday, May 25, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama shakes hands with U.S. troops at Bagram Airfield in Bagram, Afghanistan, Sunday, May 25, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

But the U.S. propaganda machine ensures that most Americans see one, in Mosul, as a legitimate counterterrorism operation (with Islamic State accused of using the civilians as “human shields”) and the other, in east Aleppo, as a massacre (with the presence of Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, the former Nusra Front, virtually whited out of the West’s coverage, which focuses almost entirely on the children and makes no mention of “human shields”).

The phrase “aggressive war” is also a no-no in the Western media when the U.S. government launches attacks across international borders. In the past 20 years, the U.S. has violated the U.N. Charter to attack at least eight countries (Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Syria), and the resulting wars have killed about two million people.

A complex whirlwind of conflict and chaos rages on in all the countries where the U.S. and its allies have lit the flames of war since 2001, but U.S. leaders still debate new interventions and escalations as if we are the fire brigade not the arsonists. (By contrast, the U.S. government and the Western media are quick to accuse Russia or other countries of “aggression” even in legally murky situations, such as after the U.S.-backed coup in 2014 that ousted the elected president of Ukraine.)

Systematic violations of the Geneva Conventions are an integral part of U.S. war-making. Most are shrouded in secrecy, and the propaganda machine spins the atrocities that slip through into the public record as a disconnected series of aberrations, accidents and “bad apples,” instead of as the result of illegal rules of engagement and unlawful orders from higher-ups.

The senior officers and civilian officials who are criminally responsible for these crimes under U.S. and international law systematically abuse their powerful positions to subvert investigations, cover up their crimes and avoid any accountability whatsoever.

Pinter’s Complaint

When British playwright Harold Pinter was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005, he bravely and brilliantly used his Nobel lecture to speak about the real role that the U.S. plays in the world and how it whitewashes its crimes. Pinter recounted a meeting at the U.S. Embassy in London in the 1980s in which a senior embassy official, Raymond Seitz, flatly denied U.S. war crimes against Nicaragua for which the U.S. was in fact convicted of aggression by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Seitz went on to serve as Assistant Secretary of State, U.S. Ambassador to the U.K., and then Vice-Chairman of Lehman Brothers.

Early detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison, dressed in orange jumpsuits with goggles covering their eyes, photographed on Jan. 11, 2002. (Defense Department photo by Petty Officer 1st class Shane T. McCoy, U.S. Navy)

Early detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison, dressed in orange jumpsuits with goggles covering their eyes, photographed on Jan. 11, 2002. (Defense Department photo by Petty Officer 1st class Shane T. McCoy, U.S. Navy)

As Pinter explained: “this ‘policy’ was by no means restricted to Central America. It was conducted throughout the world. It was never-ending. And it is as if it never happened.

“The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.

“Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn’t know it.

“It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”

If in 2016 the world seems to be more violent and chaotic than ever, it is not because the United States lacks the will to use force or project power, as both major party candidates for President and their military advisers appear to believe, but because our leaders have placed too much stock in the illegal threat and use of force and have lost faith in the rule of law, international cooperation and diplomacy.

After a century of commercial dominance, and 75 years of investing disproportionately in weapons, military forces and geopolitical schemes, perhaps it is understandable that U.S. leaders have forgotten how to deal fairly and respectfully with our international neighbors. But it is no longer an option to muddle along, leaving a trail of death, ruin and chaos in our wake, counting on an elaborate propaganda machine to minimize the blowback on our country and our lives.

Sooner rather than later, Americans and our leaders must knuckle down and master the very different attitudes and skills we will need to become law-abiding global citizens in a peaceful, sustainable, multipolar world.

Nicolas J S Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.  He also wrote the chapters on “Obama at War” in Grading the 44th President: a Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.

29 comments for “US Impunity Erodes World Justice

  1. Robert Beal
    October 28, 2016 at 15:31

    “The Russia-baiting is intended to stampede and disorient public opinion, which is broadly anti-war, and enable an incoming Clinton administration to claim a mandate for military escalation.” (WSWS)

    The article (then book) linked below — “Weapons of Mass Deception” — provides a detailed expose of this process in the context of the Iraq invasion. It is well written, full of insights and meticulously documented — pertinent recent history worth revisiting.

    A network of effectively covert PR (even pysops) operations were employed to leverage the BIG excuse (9-11) into multi-trillion dollar chaos that caused several hundred thousand early deaths (some very early) and kicked off the biggest dislocation since World War II.

  2. delia ruhe
    October 28, 2016 at 03:31

    I sincerely hope there are no Americans who are surprised by this, but there will be many who think that it’s only right that the US is automatically above the law, as being globocop sometimes requires breaking some laws.

    When Dubya kept going on about the “evildoers” attacking the “civilized” world and none of his advisers cautioned him against creating categories into which the US slid too easily and others that few observers could imagine the US actually fitting into anymore, it occurred to me that there was a steep learning curve somewhere not too far down the road.

  3. Peter Loeb
    October 27, 2016 at 06:04


    This is another brilliant essay by Nicolas J. S. Davies. Of course, I thought of
    it first but I didn’t write it!!!

    Perhaps Davies has erred sometime, somewhere???

    Most of us can only bow in acknowledgement and thanks for one more essay
    by Davies.

    —Peter Loeb, Boston, MA. USA

  4. ranney moss
    October 26, 2016 at 16:30

    I agree with all the compliments for this article. And I’m especially thankful that Davies quoted from, and included a link to, Pinter’s Nobel address. If you have not already used the link to read the address, I urge everyone to do it – now if possible!
    This is the best description of America’s behavior I have ever read; it bares the ugly, bloody soul of this country as no other has. I recall when Pinter made this speech that it caused some discussion, but I have only ever seen portions of it in print. Trust me, the portion Davies quoted is great, but there is much more he didn’t include that is equally important. Pinter’s speech is long (I’m surprised they let him say all of it) but worth your time. If you want, you can skip the first few paragraphs where he describes his writing style and slide down to where he starts talking about America. Be prepared for a visceral shock of horror and recognition.

    • J'hon Doe II
      October 27, 2016 at 12:40

      Pinter’s speeches were delivered with drama. The playwright in him glistened in his speeches, and his deep sincerity is apparent.
      He is a rare gem.

  5. J'hon Doe II
    October 26, 2016 at 14:55

    US Impunity Erodes World Justice

    US impunity provides them – Cheney’s “Dark Side” – space, aka ‘legal authority’ to experiment Behind Closed Doors on all sorts of treacherous and lethal methods of extermination through slow or immediate death.
    Did “StarTrek” somehow prognosticate future possibilities that exist in today’s world? We live in a time of rapid advance of technologies – the veritable space age. From circumnavigation to exploration of outer planets, and more and more materialism, militarism with world-wide racism w/extermination. (NSSM200)
    Is “Climate Change” Cover For Geoengineering? CIA Director Wants Spraying, Some Day it Will Escalate

  6. October 26, 2016 at 05:40

    Yet the US government and the US State Department continue to foist their depraved policies on the world! When will the people ever wake up? I’m guessing it will be pretty soon when we are all in a world of hurt.

  7. David G
    October 25, 2016 at 19:12

    Burundi in particular is right to be wary: their government (maybe soon to be demoted to “regime”) looks like it’s coming up on the U.S. hit list.

  8. backwardsevolution
    October 25, 2016 at 18:18

    Nicholas Davies – well done, sir! Great article.

    The ICC “…has prosecuted 39 officials from eight African countries but has failed to indict a single person who is not African.” I didn’t know that. It should have more appropriately been named the ACC, African Criminal Court.

    The U.S. has pressured “…other countries to sign Bilateral Immunity Agreements (BIA), in which they renounce the right to refer U.S. citizens to the ICC for war crimes committed on their territory.” Yeah, “Sign on the dotted line, or you don’t get any aid. We’re not running a charity here!”

    “…U.S. leaders still debate new interventions and escalations as if we are the fire brigade not the arsonists.” Great line.

    Bravo to Harold Pinter for standing up and saying what he said.

    Thanks, Nicholas.

  9. Andrew Nichols
    October 25, 2016 at 17:23

    The ICC was only ever the final confirmation that Nuremberg was Victors Justice. If it was not so then it wouldnt be the place where all tye big war criminals (usually white and/or english speaking) send all the little war criminals (usually non white and/or non english speaking). We are heading for the end of history sooner than we think. I wonder what visiting aliens will think of the nuclear wasteland.

    • Zachary Smith
      October 25, 2016 at 19:54

      “…Nuremberg was Victors Justice.”

      I don’t believe the two are comparable. Compared with what the Germans had done and planned to do in Russia, they got off pretty darned lightly, in my opinion.

  10. Realist
    October 25, 2016 at 13:50

    All things become permitted when a country’s leadership allows itself the luxury of “Doublethink,” which is what you see in action by the United States now throughout the world. Even a theoretical resistance to such a situation by other nations is deemed “thoughtcrime” by the hegemon. It’s a tidy little package that accomplishes great expediencies for Uncle Sam. And, it makes a monumental hypocrite of the so-called former “constitutional law professor” currently occupying the White House. The whole lot dictating from Washington certainly are “exceptional,” that is exceptionally evil.

  11. J'hon Doe II
    October 25, 2016 at 13:33

    Harold Pinter was a brilliant and inspiring author, playwright and spokesman. His critical speeches on the terror we imposed on Iraq reached into the core of me. That said, yesterday I was touched by the passing of Tom Hayden, a contemporary from my activist era, one who I’ve admired and respected nearly 50 years now. These men, and several others are marginalized in propaganda saturated America and we desperately need more of their ilk in this era of rampant hubris and hypocrisy.

    Please listen to what may be Tom Hayden’s last public speech – it’s content might be new information to some of the younger ones here but oh how we could use a fresh infusion of Pinter and Hayden passion to lift us out of the crippling apathy that engulfs us.

    (approximately 16 minutes)

  12. Joe Tedesky
    October 25, 2016 at 13:27

    There is nothing patriotic about this evil clique who runs our American government into the ground. These perverse manipulative creatures are in charge of all our major media outlets, our State Department, our Intelligence agencies, and our oversized military. The Zionist has more say to about what our government does so much more than any American citizen does, and with that comes the end of a government supposedly crafted to be a government for the people and by the people. The average American has been betrayed by it’s corrupted leaders, to the point that it seems as though the task left for straightening it all out, is way to overwhelming to comprehend as how to fix it. All the laws are in place to put descending conscientious citizens in detention facilities which are now built and left vacant just waiting for the day these cells will become occupied, while mowing the lawn of protesters to make a better America of followers. This isn’t a joke, no it’s all very real, but yet to the average American this at this present time sounds to them to be too far fetched to be happening in the land of the free. Free thinkers have now been marginalized to where they are deemed conspiracy theorists, and if your not quantified as a conspiracy gook then you are labeled politically incorrect and that comes with it’s own bag of stones to be tied to your leg, as the beat goes on.

  13. Bill Bodden
    October 25, 2016 at 13:10

    From the link above to Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize speech: “Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.”

    Instead of memorizing the Pledge of Allegiance – mostly lies – Americans would do well to memorize the preceding words from Harold Pinter. Especially at this time when so many politicians are running for election or re-election.

  14. Bill Bodden
    October 25, 2016 at 12:42

    “… Our government has gone to great pains to be sure that no American will be tried by any international criminal court for the supreme crime of illegal war-making.”

    How can that be? President Obama has said on many occasions that no one is above the law. He wouldn’t lie to us – would he?

    • Realist
      October 25, 2016 at 14:21

      Would Obama lie? Only when you see his lips moving.

  15. Dr. Ibrahim Soudy
    October 25, 2016 at 12:21

    The same thing happens in the United Nations where FIVE elite countries hold veto power!!!

    Most (not all) of the world troubles are caused by The International Bankers who are in full control of the World Finances and own the vast majority of politicians. They are behind most of the wars for the sake of the BANKING EMPIRE………Put the BANKERS OUT OF BUSINESS by creating and using community banks……………………….plain and simple

  16. October 25, 2016 at 11:54

    I believe the corporate media are “Propaganda Pushers” for the war criminals in our midst.
    “One would think that the information from a former “Pentagon official” and a “Virginia senator”in the RT articles above,( see link to article below) would be all over the corporate media. But no, and as I mentioned earlier, despite the overwhelming evidence that wars were plotted and planned, [1] and that the West and its “allies” are in bed with the terrorists they are supposed to be fighting, the media appear to be protecting our home grown war criminals.” …
    [read more at link below]

  17. Brad Owen
    October 25, 2016 at 11:45

    This all stems from the on-going Patriot/Tory “Civil War” since 1776. This latest “Campaign” of the War has its’ roots in the silent coup carried out in the post-war 40’s after FDR died (some say assassinated via poisoning). And the ultra-conservative American “Anglophile” Tories came out of their Wall Street Houses of finance (in league with their senior partners in City-of-London) and replaced those O.S.S. agents still loyal to FDR’s vision for the Nation in the intelligence/covert ops services, to commence “salvage operations” for their plan to give Empire a modern “face-lift” via the Fascist/NAZI project begun in the 1890’s by some of Napoleon’s generals and the most regressive elements of the Roman Catholic church. Its’ overt, “fully-ripened fruit”, manifestations were crushed by WWII…and the re-trenching immediately began. USA was going to be the strong arm of the now-revamped and covert former British Empire & Its’ fellow travelers (including the Zionist component for securing Africa from a potential rival Muslim Empire) and morphing into “Globalization”. This project, begun in the 1940’s, completed by the end of the 1990’s (with some obviously wild & confusing times like massive riots and strategic assassinations along the way), went “On-line” Sept. 11th 2001. It’s still on-going, but meeting with serious challenges externally, from BRICS power bloc , and internally, from various new manifestations of old Patriot (1776) movements such as Bernie Sanders, Greens, and many other such-like trends of ordinary citizenry waking up to what’s happening. My source for this picture comes largely from Executive Intelligence Review (a LaRouche organization) and Webster G. Tarpley websites. The picture makes sense to me, and I see WHY the LaRouche organization is so tarred & feathered by “The Establishment”…he’s another whistle-blower. As one Green Party T-shirt says “Defend the Republic. Fight The Empire.” They know what it’s about.

  18. Tom Welsh
    October 25, 2016 at 11:32

    Brilliant, logical, fact-filled, compelling and comprehensive. I have long wished to see such a compact demolition of the US government’s hypocrisy in international affairs. Now I must hasten to get a copy of Mr Davies’ book!

  19. Sam
    October 25, 2016 at 11:02

    Excellent article indeed. The US not only refuses to sign the Treaty of Rome to be subject to the ICJ, it is the only country that has passed a law to militarily attack the Hague if its citizens are tried for war crimes. The US is no longer within civilization.

    Oligarchy has destroyed its former democracy. It is truly an empty suit of armor, blundering around the globe, swinging its sword madly at socialism and anyone who opposes its fascist allies. An exception certainly, one that needs recycling by those it has injured, as happened to Rome. It will not enjoy a twilight like the UK because it will have no protector.

    • backwardsevolution
      October 25, 2016 at 17:34

      Sam – great comments, especially the words: “it will have no protector” and “swinging its sword madly”. It has truly gone insane.

    • Zachary Smith
      October 25, 2016 at 19:50

      “..militarily attack the Hague…”

      That one was in the category of “you’ve got to be kidding me” until I looked it up.

      Who could have guessed author Nicolas Davies was understating the subversion of justice in his excellent essay!

  20. October 25, 2016 at 10:14

    Excellent article. Unfortunately, I believe “justice” has been perverted.

    “Today, we have evidence [1] of illegal monstrous wars planned and plotted, and carried out, and nobody goes to jail for the crimes against a number of countries. Millions of people would still be alive today if these war criminals had not invaded their lands.

    “Iraq, Libya, Syria Afghanistan, Yemen and other countries never invaded Western countries, yet the aforementioned nations are now hell on earth….”

    [read more at link below]

    • October 25, 2016 at 15:58

      I second that: “an excellent article.” This important article documents a horrific reality: that the U.S. government is the enemy of the entire world, not only of the American people, who are deceived by America’s propagandistic ‘news’ media into supporting it. But for the propagandistic ‘news’ media of America’s aristocracy (and of their vassal aristocracies in Germany, UK, Japan, etc.), everyone would know that Crimeans were desperate for Russian protection after Obama perpetrated a vicious coup in Kiev in February 2014, and that the nation against which the economic sanctions should have been imposed is the United States for its conquest of Ukraine, and not Russia for its protection of Crimeans and of Russia’s centuries-longstanding naval base on Crimea. Americans are so deceived, they’ll be voting overwhelmingly for the bloodthirsty Hillary Clinton to be our next President. And most of the people who will be voting for the lesser-evil, Donald Trump, will be voting for him also on the basis of deceptions. Some ‘democracy’, this! NOT!! It’s a vicious aristocracy.

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