Saturday, September 20, 2008
Entreating the Beast
They really need to find a fresher angle: Jewish activists try on an already threadbare trope in a protest against Iranian figurehead Mahmoud Ahmadenijad.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad, we are insistently told by advocates of further military adventurism in the Persian Gulf region, is the most recent version of Hitler Revisited, harboring an implacable desire to annihilate Israel.
The regime in Tehran doesn't occupy an acre of land beyond its borders, and displays no desire to acquire any through aggression or other means. Yet we are told that Iran is a threat to the entire world, and must be contained by Washington through the use of economic impediments and covert operations that are tantamount to an undeclared war.
Thus it may be considered odd that Ahmadenijad has made a point of avowing his government's "friendship" for the Israeli people, despite its irreducible antagonism toward the government ruling that country. Even if one assumes that such statements are fashioned from the purest hypocrisy, they do complicate matters for those who seek to shoehorn the Iranian leader into Hitler's jackboots.
This is not to say, of course, that such people will relent.
Next week, as the monument to human folly called the United Nations opens for business, a coalition of the militant, the mawkish, and the misguided will assemble to demand further action to provoke Iran into a war its government -- unlike that of Germany in the 1930s -- is seeking to avoid.
One key demand of that coalition is that Ahmadenijad be arrested -- that is, kidnapped -- and delivered to The Hague for trial by the UN's International Criminal Court. A petition on behalf of that demand either will be, or has been, delivered to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon by David Parsons, a representative of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem (ICEJ). An Evangelical organization that acts as a de facto lobby on behalf of the Israeli government, the ICEJ has collected 55,000 signatures from Christians in some 128 countries who earnestly believe that Ahmadenijad should be tried for violating the UN's Genocide Convention.
The logo of ICEJ's Washington Affiliate.
In anticipation of the obvious question -- "When did Ahmadenijad, an admittedly unsavory but thoroughly unremarkable chief executive, attempt to slaughter an entire ethnic group?" -- supporters of the ICEJ's proposal would reply that the Iranian president hasn't committed an act of genocide, but that his public criticisms of Israel are tantamount to inciting such acts. The assumption here is that the UN has the authority to punish genocide pre-emptively by criminalizing public utterances.
This is necessary in the case of Ahmadenijad, according to the ICEJ, in order to prevent a war. Reasonable people would believe attempting to abduct a head of state for arraignment before a foreign tribunal would precipitate a war. Cynics such as myself suspect that this is the entire point -- that the War Lobby in Washington and Israel are eagerly searching for a suitable pretext or provocation to bring about a conflict with Iran, and indicting Ahmadenijad under the UN Genocide Convention might be the right approach.
The chief allegation is that the would-be defendant abetted genocide by allegedly calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map." Wouldn't his recent professions of friendship to the Jewish people mitigate that supposed offense? Apparently not. But for those who inhabit the world of objective fact, the matter is moot, since Ahmadenijad never actually uttered the offending phrase, or used his native tongue to express a sentiment accurately translated as such.
Furthermore, even if he had given voice to such an abhorrent desire, this would not be a crime under any law worthy of respect. Nor does the UN have the legitimate authority -- much less the moral standing -- to prosecute anybody for any authentic crime, let alone a purported violation of a spurious global "law."
When the United States government ratified the Genocide Convention in the late 1980s, there were those of us who predicted that it would be used to re-define that offense -- from the attempted extermination of an entire human sub-population, to the much lesser "act" of saying things that hurt some people's feelings. Ironically, the act that (unconstitutionally) amended U.S. criminal law to permit the enforcement of the UN Genocide Convention was signed by Ronald Reagan, who under the "Ahmadenijad Standard" might well have been hauled away to The Hague for his misbegotten quip, "My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you I just signed legislation which outlaws Russia forever. The bombing begins in five minutes."
Ahmadenijad is a nasty little fellow held hostage by some exceptionally pernicious ideas, and he has said some very hostile things about the Israeli government. But as an executive figurehead in Iran's Imam-dominated regime, Ahmadenijad has neither the means to exterminate Israel, nor (as noted above) has he actually indicated any plausible desire to do so. In fact, it's not clear that Ahmadenijad has done anything to injure or harass any Jewish person anywhere in the world, including with Iran's small Jewish community.
Nonetheless, powerful public figures and devoted political activists in several countries are seriously committed to the abduction, indictment, and trial of Ahmadenijad, or they are convincingly pretending to be.
Mr. Parsons of the ICEJ, courier of the group's petititon to the UN, may be as earnest as a child's prayer. But my opinion of his sincerity suffered greatly when I learned how thoroughly Parsons has been trained in the dark arts of "victimidation" -- the tactical use of sanctimonious special pleading to rule some questions impermissible.
Contacted in Israel by telephone, Mr. Parsons took immediate offense to my first question, which, as I explained to him, could be considered obvious and perhaps formulaic: Is this a serious effort, or a species of publicity stunt? He described that question as "demeaning" and said he wouldn't take any more. I asked them anyway.
"We have worked for a year and a half on this campaign," Parsons told Pro Libertate. "This is a serious undertaking that has the full support of many international luminaries, including former UN ambassadors from the United States and Israel -- people like John Bolton, Dore Gold, and Natan Sharansky. These leaders and many others have concluded that it's an open-and-shut case that Ahmadenijad has been inciting genocide against Israel, and that one of the few options we have to avoid a war with Iran is to hold him accountable under international law."
Subtle, this isn't.
Here Parsons was referring to the December 2006 Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations in New York City. The chief purpose of that gathering was to create a movement intended to pressure the United Nations into indicting and, if possible, prosecuting Ahmadenijad for incitement to genocide.
That meeting produced a seven-point plan to achieve that objective, demanding (among other things) that the State Department add Ahmadenijad to the Terrorist Watch List and that efforts be made to secure the arrest of former Iranian President Akbar Rafsanjani and other officials supposedly implicated in a horrible 1994 terrorist bombing at a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 86 innocent people. Argentina and Interpol have both identified the Iranian regime and Hezbollah as the perpetrators of that atrocity. But the evidence supporting that conclusion is largely suppositious.
A little more than a year ago, the US House of Representatives, always eager to insert itself into matters beyond its competence and constitutional mandate, endorsed the proposal to put Ahmadenijad on trial before the UN's International Criminal Court (or ICC). The symbolic, non-binding resolution received 411 votes.
Only two members of the House voted against that measure. Not surprisingly, one of them was the body's sole constitutionalist, Texas Representative Ron Paul, who has correctly pointed out that the United States, as an imperial power presently engaged in two wars of aggression and whose rulers are plotting several others, has more pressing matters at hand than auditing the unremarkable utterances of Iran's president in search of supposedly criminal sentiments.
In our conversation, Parsons insisted that precedents set by UN prosecutions of individuals involved in mass murder in Rwanda (and, presumably, the Balkans) would justify the indictment and prosecution of Ahmadenijad on the basis of things he has reportedly said.
He also points out that the current president of Sudan, Omar Hassan an-Bashir, has been indicted by a UN tribunal and may stand trial in absentia for presiding over the slaughter of three tribal groups in Darfur.
Accordingly, Parsons concludes, "There is sufficient precedent and ample cause to begin a legal process against Ahmadenijad, although admittedly it may take a while."
In every tribunal it has convened, the UN has invented its own rules of evidence and due process. The ICC's enabling statute leaves to the court itself the task of legislating global "laws" that would serve as the basis of future prosecutions. In its ad hoc tribunals for Rwanda, the UN permitted multiple-hearsay testimony, "atmosphere" witnesses whose job was, quite literally, to prejudice the court against the defendants, and "expert" witnesses who were permitted to re-interpret innocuous or ambiguous public statements into incitements to genocide.
Global "justice" at work in Tanzania: Elizaphan Ntakirutimana (left) and his son Gerrald in the dock at a UN-created international tribunal for Rwanda.
Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, an elderly Seventh-Day Adventist Pastor who came to the U.S. legally as a refugee from Rwanda, was extradited, tried, and convicted by the UN's Rwanda tribunal on the basis of completely anonymous written testimony.
U.S. Federal Judge Marcel Notzon, who denied the initial extradition request (the Clinton administration eventually found a judge willing to extradite Ntakirutimana), pointed out that only one of the twelve witnesses interviewed by the UN investigator claimed to have seen the pastor "kill or direct the killing of anyone," and that this critical detail did not emerge until the witness’ third interview with authorities.
Apart from that self-impeached witness, nobody else could testify that Ntakirutimana "committed a specific act, killed a friend or loved one, instructed others to kill or injure a friend or loved one, directed the assault, or participated in any way other than the vague reference that he was ‘among the attackers'" -- which could mean that instead of being a perpetrator he was a victim, a negotiator, an antagonist, or even a bystander.
The case against Ntakirutimana, which was expanded to include his son Gerard, would have been dismissed by any properly constituted court in the Western world. Yet both of them were convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity. The father was sentenced to ten years in a foreign prison; the son was given a sentence of twenty-five years. Ntakirutimana was released from prison in 2006 after spending a decade in pre-trial detention or prison; he died shortly thereafter.
The foundational conceit of the ICC and the UN's ad hoc tribunals, and the assumption behind the effort to put Ahmadenijad on trial, is the notion that the UN is in some sense the world's paramount ruling body, with the legitimate authority and moral stature to make and enforce global law.
Most Evangelical Christians --not to put too fine a point on the matter -- vehemently disagree with that assumption, I pointed out to Parsons. In fact, more than a few look on the UN as the Beast in embryo. Does he, or his group, have any misgivings about a proposal that would enhance the power and perceived legitimacy of the world body? "On this issue, we think the UN has a responsibility to act," Parsons replied. "We think the UN was created for this purpose -- that is, it emerged from the flames of the Holocaust with a mission to prevent genocide, aggressive war, and similar atrocities from occurring ever again. And if it can't act to prosecute and punish Ahmadenijad's incitement to genocide, then the UN will reveal itself to be a weak and deformed organization."
That the UN is a "weak and deformed organization," no informed and honest observer will dispute. It has provided spectacles of barbarous hypocrisy on many matters, not the least of which would be genocide -- both in Cambodia and Rwanda. In fact, years before Kofi Annan shared a Nobel Peace Prize with the United Nations Organization, the future Secretary General was a passive accomplice to the Rwandan genocide as head of the world body's "peacekeeping" apparatus.
The UN mission in Rwanda was to administer a peace treaty that called for the disarmament of the civilian population. The country's two chief ethnic groups, the Hutus and Tutsis, had taken turns slaughtering each other for decades or longer.
When Rwanda was a Belgian colony following World War I,* the Tutsis were in favor because their physiogomy -- tall, slender, with smaller and finer features -- made them appear more "European" and therefore, under the regnant racial dogmas of the period, superior to the Hutus. The Belgian colonial authorities recruited Tutsis to administer the government and regiment the Hutus. This had the predictable, if tragic, effect of exacerbating inter-communal conflict that led to a rotating series of bloodbaths between Hutu and Tutsi. (Interestingly, Pastor Ntakirutimana, a Hutu, was married to a Tutsi woman.)
In late 1993, the UN military occupation force (or "peacekeepers," as the world body prefers to call them) obtained advance intelligence of impending massacres of Tutsi civilians in Rwanda. The on-site commander of the UN force, Canadian officer Romeo Dallaire, shared that intelligence with his superiors, a chain of command that terminated with Kofi Annan. Annan's office instructed Dallaire, to pass along that intelligence to the same national government that was plotting genocide.
Dallaire (whom I interviewed at some length several years ago) is a genuinely tragic figure, a decent man working within a thoroughly indecent system. He knew that his orders would lead to horrific mass bloodshed. During the 100-day orgy of murder that began in April 1994, Dallaire was immersed in an incessant Grand Guignol production. He later recalled "standing knee-deep in mutilated bodies, surrounded by the guttural moans of dying people, looking into the eyes of children bleeding to death with their wounds burning in the sun and being invaded by maggots or flies."
After being evacuated and returning to Canada, Dallaire continued to suffer severe psychological after-effects, often being shocked awake in the middle of the night by dreams in which he waded "waist deep in bodies, covered in blood." He was driven to alcoholism and attempted suicide. In 2000, shortly before Kofi Annan received his Nobel Peace Prize, a news reporter found Dallaire cowering under a park bench in Hull, Quebec, a human ruin.
Dallaire was the man who attempted to stop the genocide by disarming the government-organized death squads. Annan was the individual who abetted the genocide by ordering Dallaire not to act on his intelligence, but to share it with the government planning the slaughter -- and to continue to disarm the targeted civilian population.
Between 800,000 and 1.1 million people were annihilated in the 100-day killing frenzy. Most of the victims were dismembered and eviscerated by machete. But the machete-wielding mobs were backed up by government troops carrying automatic weapons.
They trusted the UN: Victims of the Rwandan genocide (left, below right).
"They have guns and knives and machetes, the people from the Government party, so we can't fight back," explained Jeanne Niwemutesi, a Tutsi refugee. "We don't have any arms."
In 2000, an Australian attorney named Michael Hourigan conducted an inquiry into the UN's official actions during the genocide. Among his discoveries was the fact that "peacekeepers sent to protect [potential victims] ... either handed them over to the rampaging militants or ran way when fighting broke out." That is the precise nature of the allegation against Ntakirutimana. In the case of the UN military, however, the evidence was solid as granite.
Hourigan attempted to file a class-action suit against the UN. The body replied by asserting a claim of plenary immunity. "What does it tell us about the UN that not a single official thought fit to resign over the first indisputable genocide since the UN Charter was signed?" asked human rights activist Alex de Waal in despair over this spectacle.
What it tells us is that the UN is not a noble idea that was imperfectly realized. Instead, it is an abhorrent idea -- "human security" through concentration of power in a global body -- that has had predictably tragic consequences. Assuming that Mr. Parsons and his colleagues at the ICEJ are motivated by sincere concern for the well-being of Israel, it is clear that they are under the influence of a very powerful delusion.
Since its creation, the UN done more than any other human institution to facilitate war and genocide. Were it to act on the demand that Ahmadenijad be apprehended and prosecuted for something he never said, the UN would add to its unenviable record by precipitating an utterly avoidable war with Iran that would be a disaster for everyone in the region, including Israel.
*I erred in the original version by stating that Rwanda became a Belgian colony in the late 19th century. My thanks to reader Peter Lawrence for this very important correction.
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