Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Elephant in a China Shop

International law in intellectual drawing rooms

You know, the final word on war crimes goes to Benjamin Halevy, an Israeli judge who famously said:

"The distinguishing mark of a manifestly illegal order is that above such an order should fly, like a black flag, a warning saying: 'Prohibited!'"

I've tried to find the original transcript, but failed, relying instead on one of my heroes, particularly in all things Israeli, Uri Avnery.

You can find any number of well-qualified, influential eggheads – well-known for being well-known – who are/have been discussing liberal intervention in the affairs of other nations, “responsibility to protect” (the previously fashionable R2P), bombing Iran, Tony Blair’s memoirs, Obama’s Dilemma, on and on ad nauseam. Here we have John Rentoul of the Independent:

"This is not a book likely to change many minds, although I suspect that there are rather more people in Britain who take the view now regarded as right off the political scale: that Blair was quite a good Prime Minister. The chapter on Iraq is tightly argued in some detail, which may persuade those with open minds to recognise that the decision to join the US invasion was a reasonable, if not very successful, one, rather than a conspiracy against life, the universe and everything decent."

And now we have Richard Handler, "The Ideas Guy," at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, collective national resource of evangelical common sense:

"Before he became Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff wrote The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror. This was a book full of intelligent moral agony — which does not translate well into sound bites, as Mr. Ignatieff has learned during his time as leader.

"Decisions can be excruciating to make, with multiple factors. Instead of choosing a "best" option, time and time again we may have to pick a "lesser evil."

Read more: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2010/09/21/f-vp-handler.html#ixzz10E6uekQt

What’s missing from all this verbiage is international law, and in particular, international criminal law. You wouldn’t think this would be hard to miss, what with World War 2, the London Charter, the Nuremberg Tribunal, the codification by the UN of the Nuremberg Principles, the adoption of the United Nations Charter, the Statute of Rome, the establishing of the International Criminal Court, and a conviction in Canada under the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act.

It’s an elephant that's very hard to miss. Unless of course, you don’t want to see it.