Prosecution

Law enforcement
Sep
14

Suing Saudi: Congress Is Right, Stephen Kinzer Is Wrong

Tag: Impeachment, Peace and War, Political Ideas, Prosecution

Now there you have two things that I never expected to write. How often is Congress right about anything or Stephen Kinzer wrong? Congress wants 9/11 victims' families to be able to sue Saudi Arabia for its role in those crimes. Kinzer does not.

Jul
07

Impeach and Prosecute Tony Blair

Tag: Impeachment, Peace and War, Prosecution

The Chilcot report's "findings" have virtually all been part of the public record for a decade, and it avoids key pieces of evidence. Its recommendations are essentially to continue using war as a threat and a tool of foreign policy, but to please try not to lie so much, make sure to win over a bit more of the public, and don't promise any positive outcomes given the likelihood of catastrophe.

The report is a confused jumble, given that it records evidence of the supreme crime but tries to excuse it. The closer you get to the beginning of the executive summary, the more the report reads as if written by the very criminals it's reporting on. Yet the report makes clear, as we always knew, that even in 2001-2003 there were honest people working in the British, as also in the U.S., government -- some of whom became whistleblowers, others of whom accurately identified the planned war as a crime that would endanger rather than protect, but stayed in their jobs when the war was launched.

Chilcot makes clear that the attack on Iraq was illegal, against the British public, against the international community and the UN Charter, expected to increase terrorism, based on lies about terrorism and weapons, and -- like every other war ever launched -- not a last resort. Chilcot records, as reality-based reporting always has, that Iraq claimed honestly to have no nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons. Chilcot fails to explain with any clarity that one cannot legally or morally attack another nation even when it does have such things.

Chilcot does make clear the extent to which France was pushing back against war, along with Russia and Germany and Chile and China. The key supporter of U.S. war plans was the UK, and there is some possibility that a UK refusal to join in this crime might really have done some good.

But Chilcot steers away from criminal responsibility, and from the damage done by the crime. It avoids the Downing Street Memo, the White House Memo, Hussein Kamel, the spying and threatening and bribing involved in the failed effort to win UN authorization, Aznar's account of Bush's admission that Saddam Hussein was willing to leave, etc. This is a report that aims for politeness and tranquility.

Not to worry, Chilcot tells us, as nothing like this will happen again even if we just let the criminals walk. Chilcot claims bizarrely that every other war before and since has been defensive and in response to some attack, rather than an act of aggression like this one. Of course, no list of those other wars is provided.

Even more bizarrely, Chilcot claims that Blair and gang literally never considered the possibility that Iraq had no "weapons of mass destruction." How you make all kinds of assertions, contrary to your evidence, that Iraq has weapons without considering the question is beyond me. But Chilcot credits with great significance the supposedly excusing grace of groupthink and the passion with which people like Blair supposedly believed their own lies. Chilcot even feeds into the disgusting lie that Blair pushes to this day that Iraqis chose to destroy their own country while their occupiers nobly attempted "reconstruction."

Despite itself, however, Chilcot may do some good. In the United States, when James Comey describes crimes by Hillary Clinton and assures us they should not be prosecuted, most people can be counted on to lie back and accept that blindly or even fervently. Yet our friends in Britain appear less than eager to accept the attitude with which Chilcot has reported on the supreme international crime.

Tony Blair may now be impeached as he needs to be. Yes -- sigh -- one can and should impeach people no longer in office, as has been usefully done in both British and U.S. history. Removal from office is one penalty that sometimes follows a conviction at a trial following an impeachment; it is not itself the definition of impeachment. Blair should be tried and convicted by Parliament. He should also be put on trial by the International Criminal Court or, better, by a special tribunal established for Iraq as for World War II or Yugoslavia.

The victors in World War II used the Kellogg-Briand Pact to prosecute the losers for the new crime of launching a war. Blair violated both the Kellogg-Briand Pact and the newer, yet never used, United Nations Charter, which also bans war. While Kellogg-Briand allows no exceptions, the exceptions in the UN Charter were famously not met in the case of the war on Iraq or, for that matter, any other recent western wars.

You can sign a petition urging Blair's impeachment and prosecution here. Of course the goal must be to build momentum for holding the chief (U.S.) war criminals accountable, pursuing truth and reconciliation, and making massive reparations to the people of Iraq and their region. What the U.S. needs is action, not a 7-year "investigation." Our own Chilcot report, better in fact, was written long ago.

The Chilcot report could, against its own wishes, move us in that direction.

Jun
27

Have a Chilcot Fourth of July

Tag: Impeachment, Peace and War, Political Ideas, Prosecution

This Fourth of July, U.S. war makers will be drinking fermented grain, grilling dead flesh, traumatizing veterans with colorful explosions, and thanking their lucky stars and campaign contributors that they don't live in rotten old England. And I don't mean because of King George III. I'm talking about the Chilcot Inquiry.

cover_18_Abolishing_War
Jan
06

Should Criminalizing War Start by Pretending It’s Legal?

Tag: Peace and War, Prosecution

There’s a terrific new book on abolishing war called Abolishing War: Criminalizing War, Removing War Causes, Removing War as Institution. The authors are Johan Galtung, Erika Degortes, Irene Galtung, Malvin Gattinger, and Naakow Grant-Hayford. Johan Galtung, who was recently on my radio show, is brilliant as always, drawing on vast knowledge and wisdom.

As the book’s subtitle suggests, it proposes three types of approaches to eliminating war: “three approaches to have war join slavery and colonization in the dust-bin of history. No question of picking and choosing, they belong together and the more seamlessly, the better.” I couldn’t agree more, and will be drawing on the ideas in this book in the work we do at World Beyond War.

The book’s longest section is on criminalizing war, and it offers an argument I haven’t seen before. I think there’s great value in the argument, and that it can augment others. Nonetheless, I’m going to quibble with it.

Here is a book that practically quotes the arguments of the Outlawrists of the 1920s without mentioning them. It recommends, as its first recommended course of action right on the inside of the front cover, recreating Japan’s Article 9 for all states. And yet it largely ignores and bizarrely dismisses the existence of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, from which Article 9 derives (and which it practically quotes) and which already applies to most large nations.

The book’s second recommendation is to somehow build on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ “implicit” criminalization of war. Nowhere is it explained how an implicit criminalization of war is more useful than an explicit one. In fact, Irene Galtung rather wistfully imagines how nice it would be to have an explicit one. Nowhere is the problem mentioned that the United Nations, as “implicit” criminalizer of war, legalizes defensive and otherwise UN-authorized wars — two loopholes that have been stretched and abused to effectively allow any Western war whatsoever. This is, of course, in contrast to the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which bans all war and requires that nations settle all of their disputes entirely peacefully.

In the one instance where the book refers to the Kellogg-Briand Pact, it claims that, “this opens two huge loop-holes: use of force by non-members, and by and on non-states.” There are a number of errors in this claim. One of them is chronological. There were no laws banning war prior to Kellogg-Briand. In forbidding war between nations, the pact took war away in many cases from many major wagers of war. The pact was open to and remains open to all nations. Any nation that is not a member can simply send a letter to the U.S. State Department and instantly become a member. So, the so-called loophole for non-members is one that has been closing and could close further, but it wasn’t opened by the pact. War was legal for all states against all states prior to 1928.

What about non-states? The states that made the pact considered, and still to this day consider, war by non-states to be illegal. In fact, they consider illegal almost any action, if not the very existence, of most entities that might wage war without being a state. Within states, killing by anyone other than the state, is forbidden by national laws and by customary standards of law — as outlined, in fact, by the strategy pursued in the book by Galtung et alia — on which, more in a second. The bigger shortcoming is the failure to outlaw war by a member state against a non-state, but most such wars are also wars on the populations of states and often against the will of the governments of those states, often — indeed — against yet other states using proxies to wage war for them. A shortcoming, moreover, is not a condemnation of a useful step as counterproductive; it’s just a shortcoming requiring an additional step forward.

Clearly Galtung does not really think that criminalizing war between nations is an unhelpful step. He wants to do it singly, nation by nation, modeled on Japan’s Article 9 (which arguably has the very same shortcomings as the Kellogg-Briand Pact, plus the shortcoming of only applying to a single nation). Of course, Article 9 is under threat, and somewhat similar statements in the Constitutions of Italy and Germany and other nations are even less adhered to. But Galtung is right: bans on war in national constitutions should be strengthened, defended, and complied with. Doing so, however, presents a problem of logic in dismissing the Kellogg-Briand Pact as unhelpful. Never mind the purity of heart of its creators (its creators in fact were masses of people who brought legislators to it kicking and screaming) or the perfection of compliance by its members heretofore. If Japan launches a major war next year, Galtung will still want Article 9 upheld — or he should; I will. The Kellogg-Briand Pact is a law clearly banning all war for most major nations, including the least likely nations to agree to newly creating such a law today. Other nations could sign onto it and urge their fellow members to comply with it. Malaysia, for example, could choose to become a member of the pact and suddenly find itself a leader among its members by advocating for compliance — and for accountability and reparations and reconciliation — exactly as it would have to do with eternal vigilance if it instead used its own version of Article 9, only in this case with the major war makers of the world formally committed in clear language to compliance as well.

Because war is, in a major way, already illegal, calls to criminalize it ring in my ear a bit hollow, a bit like the rhetoric of the U.S. Congress proposing over and over again, year after year, to re-criminalize torture, rather than prosecuting torturers under long-standing laws. But the approach to criminalizing war proposed by Irene Galtung certainly has some merit. It doesn’t exactly claim that war is now legal, but it does claim that in written law it is legal, and this strikes me as dangerous.

The argument that Irene Galtung makes is not unrelated to the argument I have long made about drone murders, namely that murder is illegal under national law and customary international law. And it is nearly identical to the argument that Marjorie Cohn and other lawyers make for the illegality of torture under customary international law — only applied to war rather than torture.

Irene Galtung’s idea is that customary international law is higher than written international law or written national law. The problem, as she readily admits, is that — being unwritten — it is highly controversial. Still, what’s needed is an act of interpretation not entirely unlike the interpretation of a written law. Galtung claims that all national constitutions provide a right to life, and that the right to use deadly force in self-defense exists only when such use is necessary for self-defense. War is deadly force, simply on a larger scale, and it is never necessary, as there are always alternatives. Therefore, logically, even if you’d be hard-pressed to get many well-paid lawyers or human rights organizations or governments or judges to admit it, war is a crime.

This argument (which I have, of course, only sketched very roughly) is smart, logical, and educationally useful. I plan to repeat it often. But what appeals to “customary law” come down to are attempts to radically change legal custom on the authority of current legal custom (reinterpreted). That this couldn’t be helped by also pointing to existing laws like the Kellogg-Briand Pact is difficult for me to imagine. In fact, later in the book the authors cite the UN’s Declaration of the Right of the Peoples to Peace. That we have a right to peace means that we have a right to the absence of war. The Declaration states that it:

“Emphasizes that ensuring the exercise of the right of peoples to peace demands that the policies of States be directed towards the elimination of the threat of war, particularly nuclear war, the renunciation of the use of force in international relations and the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means on the basis of the Charter of the United Nations.”

The weakness is in those last few words, as the Charter contradicts itself and permits war. The Kellogg-Briand Pact lacks that particular weakness. I would love someday to hear a clear statement from Johan Galtung on what weaknesses he thinks its carries that justify its dismissal from public awareness and use.

Jan
03

You Should Watch Making of a Murderer

Tag: Civil Rights, Prison Industry, Prosecution

There's a 10-hour documentary on Netflix with more to teach us than all the combined episodes of Star Wars. (Yes, it's nice to see a storm trooper refuse to fight, but only until he gleefully joins in the killing for the other side, with all his victims still in masks so that we, the executioner audience, don't have to see faces die.)

Making of a Murderer is a hugely important film, and it is in fact quite suspenseful. And I am about to SPOIL the plot for you. So please STOP READING until you've watched the film if you want it to include suspense. (To give you time to watch something so lengthy, I'll also spoil the rest of the NCAA basketball season and tournament for you. Virginia wins.)

HAVE YOU STOPPED READING IF YOU DON'T WANT THE PLOT SPOILED?

Good.

I'm going to assume you've seen Making of a Murderer or are not concerned about the element of suspense.

The reason I find a need to write about this is because it exposes a silent epidemic. If child abuse or rape or child labor or some other horror were never talked about, an article or book exposing an unknown epidemic would be quite valuable. And, historically, a video documenting such a thing would be remarkable.

This past year, videos filmed primarily on telephones have exposed the long-pre-existing epidemic of U.S. police murdering unarmed people. We still don't know the full size of that epidemic. It will of course pale beside something like cancer, while dwarfing other horrors about which we are trained to obsess, such as Islamic terrorism.

Making of a Murderer exposes something else that police do. But this is a horror that cannot be documented in a 5-minute video. It takes 10 hours. What police, together with prosecutors do, on a significant scale but a scale we have not yet tried to measure, is this: they frame innocent people and send them to prison.

The psychology involved is tantalizing but a bit of a distraction. When a police officer shoots an unarmed kid, we can ask whether the act grew out of sadism or racism or fear or carelessness. The fact is it grew out of impunity. When police and prosecutors -- and judges and juries -- railroad innocent people to prison, we can ask whether they've acted out of malice, ignorance, fear, or recklessness. The fact is that they've acted out of a sense of untouchable power.

That every level of law enforcement is twisted by racism is well documented in The New Jim Crow, among other places. We know that ugly and ignorant views regularly influence what police and prosecutors do. But Making of a Murderer is a true story of white people framing innocent white people with crimes. The victims of this frame-up are poor, poorly educated, and of markedly low intelligence and social skills. Various prejudices may have been at work. But primarily what's revealed in the documentary is the power of the presumption of guilt that comes with all criminal accusations, combined with the power of the presumption of innocence that in our culture belongs to the police, and only to the police.

During the explosive growth of the U.S. prison system, most people have gone to prison under plea bargains. That many innocent people have falsely pled guilty to plea bargains in order to avoid the risk of a higher penalty has been well documented, although we have no idea of the true scale of this phenomenon. Among those who go to trial in the United States, we know also that a significant number of innocents are found guilty. One reason we know this is that in a tiny fraction of cases there is DNA evidence to be tested that can prove innocence, and -- particularly during the 1980s -- there have been cases in which that evidence was maintained but not tested. Later testing has resulted in numerous exonerations.

Those lucky cases in which DNA evidence was available to free an innocent were not unlike most other cases in the manner in which a false guilty verdict was arrived at. As I've noted before, Brandon Garrett's Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong examines the prosecutions of the first 250 people exonerated by DNA testing. Of the 250, 76% were misidentified by an eyewitness -- most of the witnesses having been led to that act by police and/or prosecutor, some of them badgered and threatened, others merely manipulated. Invalid forensic science expertise contributed to 61% of the convictions, much of it willfully manipulated, some fraction perhaps attributable to well-intentioned but negligent incompetence. Informants, mostly jailhouse informants, and most of them manipulated and bribed by police or prosecutor, helped out in 21% of the trials. In 16% of the cases, the accused supposedly confessed to the crime, but these "confessions" tended to be the result of police intimidation, manipulation, brutality, and simple lying. Garrett fears that similar problems infect the U.S. justice system as a whole. I have no doubt that they do.

In Making of a Murderer we see police produce a false confession, witnesses provide false testimony, the FBI provide false scientific evidence, and -- in a rape case toward the beginning of the story -- an eyewitness led by police into misidentifying a rapist. That earlier crime puts the protagonist in prison for 18 years before a DNA exoneration. Once free, he files a suit for $36 million that threatens to expose numerous crimes by the police who framed him for rape. But at that moment, they frame him for murder.

One of the police and prosecutors' main tools is the media. They produce a false confession by their victim's 16-year-old nephew that proves too ludicrous to be used in court. They never call him as a witness against his uncle. But the jury pool has already been overwhelmingly contaminated by the dramatic tale fed to the media. Many years ago, I reported on the production by the Culpeper, Virginia, police of a false confession by a low-IQ man named Earl Washington. The transcript of the confession was absurd. When asked a straight-forward question, Washington would guess, and always guess wrong. He didn't know any of the facts of the case. But the questioner would then feed him the facts and ask "Isn't that right?" and Washington, aiming to please, would agree. Some states have since required the videotaping of interrogations and confessions.

In the case of Making of a Murderer there is enough videotape of the questioning of the 16-year-old to make crystal-clear what happened. And yet it didn't do a damn bit of good. The kid had no money and therefore no expert defense. His lawyers and his jury blew it. But his uncle had two huge advantages. First he had been exonerated for an earlier crime. The fact that the police were out to get him was widely recognized. The local police department was forbidden to take part in the investigation of the new crime, and took part anyway, and happened to find key evidence. Second, Steve Avery -- that's the name of this innocent man -- settled his $36 million suit for $400,000 and used that money to hire excellent attorneys.

Now, having excellent attorneys is very rare but far from unheard of. Wealthy people have them all the time. But having attorneys who actually believe you're innocent is virtually unheard of. And having attorneys willing to argue that the police framed you is the most extreme rarity. Avery had all of these things, and it still was not enough.

What can we do? Sign this petition to free Steve Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey.

What can we do about the thousands who could not afford to go to trial, could not afford a good lawyer, could not devise any means to persuade their good lawyer to believe them, and/or could not convince their good layer who believed them to risk his or her career by taking on the police department?

I think we have to work to encourage the production of films that will make the phenomenon of frame-ups as well known as the phenomenon of police murder. It's either that or get people to start reading.

Oct
10

Amnesty International Once Again Refuses to Oppose War

Tag: Civil Rights, Peace and War, Political Ideas, Prosecution

In an online discussion I asked Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International, a fairly straightforward question:

"Will Amnesty International recognize the UN Charter and the Kellogg Briand Pact and oppose war and militarism and military spending? Admirable as it is to go after many of the symptoms of militarism, your avoidance of addressing the central problem seems bizarre. The idea that you can more credibly offer opinions on the legality of constituent elements of a crime if you avoid acknowledging the criminality of the whole seems wrong. Your acceptance of drone murders as possibly legal if they are part of wars immorally and, again, bizarrely avoids the blatant illegality of the wars themselves."

Shetty replied without so much as hinting at whether or not Amnesty International would recognize the UN Charter or the Kellogg Briand Pact. In fairness, probably eight people on earth recognize the Kellogg Briand Pact, but the UN Charter is almost universally considered worthy of at least pretended respect and manipulation. And Shetty's last job before this one was for the United Nations. He did not address in any way my suggestion that many human rights abuses are symptoms of militarism. He did not explain how Amnesty can have more credibility speaking on the illegality of war's constituent parts by avoiding speaking to the illegality of war itself (a common contention of his colleagues when I've questioned them). I pointed fairly directly, in the limited number of characters permitted for the above question, to Amnesty's recent report on drones, but rather than answering my question about it, Shetty just pointed out the report's existence. Here is his full "response" to the question above:

"As a human rights organization, Amnesty International's main goal will always be to take that course of action which practically does the most to ensure protection for human rights and respect for international law. We strongly condemn opportunities which have been missed to take effective measures to protect human rights and civilians. We treat the fundamental human right to life with utmost importance -- hence the importance and status we give to our global death penalty campaign. We also believe that governments must not be allowed to use 'security' as an excuse to carry out human rights violations against their citizens. We know, for example, that the humanitarian and human rights catastrophe in Syria did not develop overnight. For the last few years, the states involved and the international community as a whole have manifestly failed to take effective action to stem the crisis, protect civilians, and hold perpetrators of crimes against humanity and war crimes to account. For several years now, Amnesty International's calls for targeted sanctions, an arms embargo and a referral of the situation in Syria to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court have gone largely unheeded despite the mounting toll on civilians. On drones: we find the use of drone aircraft deeply troubling, and we have published reports on the terrible suffering they have caused, for example in Pakistan, where the title speaks for itself 'Pakistan: Will I be next? US drone strikes in Pakistan'. amnesty.org/en/documents/...13/en/  The current status quo is absolutely unacceptable, as is the handwashing of the US administration on this theme."

Needless to say, Amnesty's proposal to refer "the situation in Syria" to the ICC is not actually anything of the sort. You can't refer a situation to the ICC. You refer an individual to the ICC. In this case, the individual whom Amnesty wants prosecuted is the individual whom the United States wants overthrown: Bashar al Assad. In other words, in replying to a demand to start opposing war, Shetty offers an example of one of the ways in which his and other human rights groups commonly facilitate wars in places like Syria and Libya, namely by giving war the aura of law enforcement by demanding international accountability for the crimes of one party, the party targeted by the West.

This doesn't mean Amnesty International is pro-war. This doesn't mean Amnesty International does more harm than good. An arms embargo is exactly what's needed. It does mean that Amnesty International falls far short of the role of good global citizen and maintains a radically different relationship to war than many of its supporters imagine.

Oct
10

Video and Audio of Pilots Who Bombed Hospital

Tag: Impeachment, Peace and War, Political Ideas, Prosecution

There is video and audio. It exists. The Pentagon says it's critically important. Congress has asked for it and been refused. WikiLeaks is offering $50,000 to the next brave soul willing to be punished for a good deed in the manner of Chelsea Manning, Thomas Drake, Edward Snowden, and so many others. You can petition the White House to hand it over here.

The entire world thinks the U.S. military intentionally attacked a hospital because it considered some of the patients enemies, didn't give a damn about the others, and has zero respect for the rule of law in the course of waging an illegal war. Even Congress members think this. All the Pentagon would have to do to exonerate itself would be to hand over the audio and video of the pilots talking with each other and with their co-conspirators on the ground during the commission of the crime -- that is, if there is something exculpatory on the tapes, such as, "Hey, John, you're sure they evacuated all the patients last week, right?"

All Congress would have to do to settle the matter would be to take the following steps one-at-a-time until one of them succeeds: publicly demand the recordings; send a subpoena for the recordings and the appearance of the Secretary of "Defense" from any committee or subcommittee in either house; exercise the long dormant power of inherent contempt by locking up said Secretary until he complies; open impeachment hearings against both the same Secretary and his Commander in Chief; impeach them; try them; convict them. A serious threat of this series of steps would make most or all of the steps unnecessary.

Since the Pentagon won't act and Congress won't act and the President won't act (except by apologizing for having attacked a location containing white people with access to means of communication), and since we have numerous similar past incidents to base our analysis on, we are left to assume that it is highly unlikely that the hidden recordings include any exculpatory comments, but more likely conversation resembling that recorded in the collateral murder video ("Well it's their fault for bringing their kids into a battle.")

There isn't actually any question that the U.S. military intentionally targeted what it knew to be a hospital. The only mystery is really how colorful, blood-thirsty, and racist the language was in the cockpit. Left in the dark, we will tend to assume the worst, since past revelations have usually measured up to that standard.

For those of you working to compel police officers in the United States to wear body cameras, it's worth noting that the U.S. military already has them. The planes record their acts of murder. Even the unmanned planes, the drones, record video of their victims before, during, and after murdering them. These videos are not turned over to any grand juries or legislators or the people of the "democracy" for which so many people and places are being blown into little bits.

Law professors that measure up to the standards of Congressional hearings on kill lists never seem to ask for the videos; they always ask for the legal memos that make the drone murders around the world part of a war and therefore acceptable. Because in wars, they imply, all is fair. Doctors Without Borders, on the other hand, declares that even in wars there are rules. Actually, in life there are rules, and one of them is that war is a crime. It's a crime under the U.N. Charter and under the Kellogg-Briand Pact, and when one mass-murder out of millions makes the news, we ought to seize that opportunity to draw attention, outrage, and criminal prosecution to all the others.

I don't want the video and audio recordings of the hospital bombing. I want the video and audio recordings of every bombing of the past 14 years. I want Youtube and Facebook and Twitter full, not just of racist cops murdering black men for walking or chewing gum, but also of racist pilots (and drone "pilots") murdering dark-skinned men, women, and children for living in the wrong countries. Exposing that material would be a healing act beyond national prejudice and truly worthy of honoring Doctors Without Borders.

Sep
16

Where there were massacres there are now power plants

Tag: Prosecution

In the United States it's hard to imagine admiring an attorney general. The words call to mind people like Eric Holder, Michael Mukasey, Alberto Gonzales, John Ashcroft, Janet Reno, and Edwin Meese. There were those who fantasized that Barack Obama would not prevent an attorney general from prosecuting top officials for torture, but the idea of a U.S. attorney general prosecuting a U.S. president for war/genocide doesn't even enter the realm of fantasy (in part, because Americans don't even think of what the U.S. military does in the Middle East in those terms).

For a lesson in daring to imagine equality before the law, we can turn our eyes toward Guatemala. Here's a country suffering under the Monroe Doctrine since the dawn of time, a place where the United States engaged in human experimentation giving syphilis to unwitting victims during the time that U.S. lawyers were prosecuting Nazis in Nuremberg. Guatemala had a relatively decent government in 1954 when the CIA overthrew it. U.S. destruction has been unremitting in Guatemala, with the U.S. government backing dictators, killers, and torturers, including during the 1980s and 1990s, a period from which Guatemala is still trying to recover.

A new film called Burden of Peace tells the story of Claudia Paz y Paz, Attorney General of Guatemala from December 9, 2010 to May 17, 2014. Paz y Paz had a poster of Robert Kennedy on her wall during her time as attorney general, herself finding something admirable in a U.S. holder of that same office. Kennedy's actual record was quite mixed, of course. Paz y Paz became attorney general following a long period of unaccountable crime, understood impunity, and rampant corruption.

"Where there were massacres there are now power plants," says one voice in the film. "Where there were massacres there are now mines." People had been killed in large numbers for money, and those responsible would be protected from prosecution as well.

A 1996 peace agreement did not end violence in Guatemala. The government remained corrupt, with killers still holding positions of power.

It's interesting to imagine what would happen if a true reformer were made president or attorney general in the United States, while their staff and colleagues and Congress and the courts and the system of bribery and lobbying remained unchanged. It will be fun to watch Jeremy Corbyn try to take on the British Parliament. We have an example of how this works from Guatemala.

In Burden of Peace we see Claudia Paz y Paz meeting with an office of attorneys in a northen province that had solved zero murder cases and prosecuted almost no one. She insists on change. And she gets it. For over three years she achieves big increases in prosecutions and convictions, including of gang members, including of police officers.

This law-and-order heroism should appeal to Americans if they can overlook the fact that the United States helped cause the problem. I have a mixed reaction. I can't be totally thrilled watching a SWAT team arrest gang members. This is not truth and reconciliation, but force and degradation. And yet I recognize that in a state of lawless violence it will be difficult to address other problems and solutions unless the violence is addressed first. Paz y Paz, in fact, reduced crime rates as solved murdered cases increased from 5% to 30%.

She had previously worked on the first big investigation of crimes committed during the civil war in Guatemala, which accused top military and political leaders, inlcuding the head of state, of genocide. Bishop Juan José Gerardi presented the report to the public and was murdered the next day. You see a big crowd taking part in his funeral in footage included in the film.

In her second year as AG, Paz y Paz reopened the investigation of war crimes. Soon she would issue warrants for the arrest of Oscar Mejia Victores, former Secretary of "Defense," for genocide. But because of his age and health, he was not tried.

Paz y Paz continued to increase law enforcement, as Otto Perez Molina, a former military official, was elected president. Business elites wanted Paz y Paz not to prosecute military members. In fact they wanted her removed from office. But she held a four-year term and refused to leave early.

During the dictatorship of Rios Montt, Mayans had been murdered in large numbers. He was not held accountable. He enjoyed immunity as president of Congress until 2012. Then Paz y Paz prosecuted him for genocide. In Burden of Peace we see the trial, including survivors recounting the horrors of soldiers killing and raping, as the accused sits and listens.

His lawyers declare the trial illegal and rise and leave, leaving him sitting there alone. The trial is suspended, then reconvened with new lawyers. The elderly Montt is convicted and sentenced to decades in prison. We see the people of Guatemala celebrating.

And then a higher court overturns the sentence, and people protest to no avail. But Montt spends only one day in prison, and the rightwingers acquire a taste for blood. They pursue Paz y Paz. Seeking to block her from completing her fourth year in office, they charge her with abuse of power (although they publicly focus on accusing her of being a Marxist). The same court that overturned the sentence for Montt removes Paz y Paz from office.

She appeals, and we see a crowd cheering her at the appeal. She tries to run for reelection, and a court denies her that right. It's over. She is out of office, and we see her staff as well as the public cheer for her, tearfully, as she departs, fleeing the country with her husband and son because she will no longer have security guards.

This is a true story that ends in May of 2014, crying out for a sequel. But earlier this month, Molina was forced to resign as president, after prosecutors accused him of running a scheme to defraud the customs service of millions of dollars, and Congress stripped him of immunity from prosecution. This was a first in Central America, as was much of what Claudia Paz y Paz did. It begins to appear that she was part of a change in the culture of Guatemalan governance, that the idea of holding the powerful to account has actually caught on.

Perhaps she will return to Guatemala one day. Perhaps peace will return to Guatemala one day.

Imagine if the United States were to leave Guatemala alone and try following its example in the U.S. Justice Department.

Aug
16

Talk Nation Radio: Inder Comar on Prosecuting Bush for War

Tag: Peace and War, Prosecution, Talk Nation Radio

https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/talk-nation-radio-inder-comar-on-prosecuting-bush-for-war

D. Inder Comar is legal director at Comar Law, a boutique law firm in San Francisco. We discuss the case of Saleh v. Bush in which he is lead counsel, currently in the 9th Circuit, seeking to hold George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, and others responsible under the laws of Nuremberg for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. See: http://witnessiraq.com

Total run time: 29:00

Host: David Swanson.Producer: David Swanson.Music by Duke Ellington.

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