Mr. Bush is abusing both the UN and international law

With kind permission the following article which appeared on The Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research (TFF), on October 14, 2001, has been reposted here. It is an article by Jonathan Power, who talks about abusing the United Nations and international law in terms of reaction to the September 11 attrocity. You can see the original article at

Mr. Bush is abusing both the UN and international law
October 14, 2001

LONDON - When George Bush senior went to war over Iraq's invasion of Kuwait he secured a mandate from the UN Security Council. Bill Clinton didn't bother with such a resolution when he decided to bomb Belgrade, and now America, although easily winning a vote at the Security Council condemning the attacks on New York and Washington, has decided not to ask for a resolution authorising its bombing of Afghanistan.

It suggests that America has not changed its spots. Commentators the world over have been hailing the end of American isolationism. But peel off the outer skin and the same old America of the last decade is there - doing what it thinks is right, the way it wants, interpreting the laws of the world community as it sees fit and then having the gall to say, which at least it didn't before this crisis, "if you are not with me you are against me".

Washington fails to see that it would gain much more support from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan and even Iran if it secured UN backing for its military campaign.

America has not gone to the Security Council for authorisation for one simple reason - not because it fears a veto this time - but because it doesn't want to give the international community any hostages to fortune. It wants to be free of any legal precedents or constraints that might make life difficult for it on another occasion. This is a different America from the president's father's generation which fashioned the UN after the savagery of two world wars and who rather determinedly, if not always successfully, pursued the goal of strengthening the UN and other international institutions, and limiting the growth of nuclear weapons, their testing and their spread to new would-be nuclear powers.

Beginning with the Clinton administration, America adopted a thoughtless, even insouciant, attitude to the old responsibilities. Outmanoeuvred and undermined by a body of opinion centred on the Pentagon and the Republican Party, President Clinton bowed and bowed again to the relentless pressure from the right for America to pursue single-mindedly its own short-term interest.

Nothing illustrated this more than the fight over the creation of an International Criminal Court to try war crimes wherever they occur. It would be the ideal institution to try captured members of Qaida who could not expect today to find a jury in America who is not prejudiced against them. Indeed, when the idea of the Court was first floated in the early days of the Bosnian war, Clinton was an enthusiastic supporter of it.

Yet by the time the final statutes had been drafted and the UN assembled an international conference to approve them, the White House, overwhelmed by a formidable Pentagon campaign, was compelled to somersault on its original full blooded support, demanding impossible changes to the statutes that would have exempted all U.S. military personnel from ever coming under the Court's writ.

Thus, today, we confront an America, with wide Western support, applying the law its way. Faced with this horrendous crime against humanity America has chosen to try and capture Osama bin Laden, in Mr Bush's words, "dead or alive". There is no public discussion of where to try him and certainly no push by America's allies to compel America to be more forthcoming on the subject. Indeed, one suspects that the attitude of the Bush Administration is at least as careless of legal principles as its predecessor.

Mr Clinton's National Security Advisor, Samuel Berger, was quoted last week in the Washington Post in an article on an earlier attempt to capture Mr bin Laden, saying "In the U.S., we have this thing called the Constitution, so to bring him here into the justice system I don't think was our first choice. Our first choice was to send him some place where justice is more streamlined." Three colleagues of Mr Berger made it clear what Mr Berger meant: "they hoped that the Saudi monarch King Fahd would order Mr bin Laden's swift beheading."

All this, to say the least, is perturbing. It suggests to the rest of the world that America has no confidence in its own principles and values and that law is there to be twisted and bent to serve immediate interests. It is this attitude that provoked Spain's leading anti-terrorist judge, Baltasar Garzon (who started the legal ball rolling against General Augusto Pinochet and who has been a thorn in the side of ETA, the Spanish terrorist group) to write in an article in the Financial Times last week, "we should not forget that we are dealing with a horrible crime but the response nevertheless requires due process. In its haste to eliminate Mr bin Laden, the West seems to have forgotten this fact. And that is serious".

More than any other occasion, this is the time to apply the law, work through the UN and leave behind a legacy of fair and honest international practice that will attract the rest of the world to such values. At the moment there is a real danger of large parts of the world becoming cynical if not hostile to the West's so-called commitment to the rule of law and the centrality of human rights. The West, going to war, is shooting itself in the foot.

I can be reached by e-mail: JonatPower at

Copyright © 2001 By JONATHAN POWER

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