Two African warlords were in the news in the last week and they did more than remind the world of their barbarity. One demonstrated the power of the social media. The other demonstrated the hypocrisy of the United States.
The first was Joseph Kony of Uganda about whom a nonprofit group called Invisible Children recently made a video. To use the popular expression that it went viral would be a major understatement. In its first week on YouTube, it was viewed more than 112 million times.
That is pretty remarkable for a thug who runs something called the Lord’s Resistance Army, which has been raping, looting and pillaging its way around central Africa for 25 years. It is standard practice in the LRA to force boys who are not even teenagers to become killers and girls to become sex slaves.
This is the same LRA that Rush Limbaugh defended last year when he criticized President Obama’s decision to send 100 military advisors to Uganda to help deal with Kony. Limbaugh praised the LRA as Christian soldiers because it was another opportunity to stoke the paranoid delusions of his listeners who think Obama is a closet Muslim.
The second warlord to make the news was Thomas Lubanga of the Congo. His place in history has been secured not by his atrocities, but because he is the first person convicted by the International Criminal Court. The ICC was created to be the first permanent world court with wide jurisdiction to try individuals for genocide, war crimes and other crimes against humanity. In its ten years of existence, the ICC has spent about 900 million dollars so it is about time it managed to convict someone.
When asked about the verdict on Lubanga, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland praised it as “a historic moment and an important step in providing justice and accountability to the Congolese people.” When pressed she quickly added that the U.S. Government’s position on the court had nevertheless not changed.
That position is atrocious and puts American hypocrisy on display for the entire world to see. A month after the ICC was established, President Bush signed into law the American Servicemembers Protection Act. The APSA declared the United States exempt from the ICC, provided for punishment for any country that might consider turning an American over to it and even stated that the president could use military force to free any American held by the court (which would require an invasion of Holland.)
The ostensible reason Washington got so hysterical about the court was the fear that an overly aggressive prosecutor might drag members of the American armed forces before it. That fear arose because the treaty setting up the ICC did not allow for the five permanent members of the UN Security Council the right to veto the activities of the court in every case.
Like most things in Washington, the real motivation was more self-serving than noble. The ICC can act only when the judicial system of the country of the accused is either unable or unwilling to bring that person to trial, which would hardly be the case if an American were suspected of such crimes.
The real reason the Bush administration was so eager to sign the APSA is that it went into effect less than eight months before the American invasion of Iraq. At a time when the campaign was being waged to convince the American public of the need for the war, intelligence was being falsified and the Bush doctrine of preemptive attack was issued to provide a policy to underpin the propaganda, there must have been at least a little doubt about how things might turnout. So the APSA was not designed to save soldiers, sailors or Marines from being brought before the ICC, but to ensure Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and all their minions who made an unjust and unnecessary war possible would not have to face justice in an international court.
And thus far the Obama administration, instead of demonstrating a commitment to the rule of law, has not changed the American position just as it has not charged anyone with torture or the other war crimes that were committed. So while American officials bemoan the atrocities in Syria, President Assad can sleep soundly at night knowing the ICC will probably never touch him. Those great defenders of human rights like Russia, China and the United States have done their best to enfeeble an institution that seems only able to bring Africans to justice.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Dennis Jett, a former U.S. ambassador to Mozambique and Peru, is a professor of international affairs at Penn State's School of International Affairs.
McClatchy Newspapers did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy Newspapers or its editors.