Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hoisted With Their Own Petards

Hoisted With Their Own Petards

by Stephen P. Pizzo

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After decades of reporting on white collar crooks I learned something interesting. I learned that the best way to catch such otherwise respectable appearing evil-doers is to let them catch themselves. The other thing I learned is that hubris almost always guaranteed they would eventually do just that.

And so it came to pass yesterday when the Bush administration shot of an unclassified cable to it's diplomats around the world. The cable was devised to coach diplomats in how to respond to criticism of the administration's announcement last week that it would seek the death penalty against three al Qaida terrorists accused of planning and/or aiding the 9/11 attacks.

Diplomats advised to compare 9/11 cases to Nazi war crime trials sixty years ago in Nuremberg, Germany:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Anticipating international criticism over plans to seek the death penalty for accused September 11, 2001, terrorists, the State Department is advising U.S. diplomats to point out that Nazis were executed after their war crime trials. The memo says U.S. diplomats should draw from the points in the memo "in responding to foreign government and media requests."

One portion of the memo reads:

Q: "Doesn't the application of the death penalty to these defendants violate international law?"

A: "No. International humanitarian law contemplates the use of the death penalty for serious violations of the laws of war. The most serious war criminals sentenced at Nuremberg were executed for their actions" at the end of World War II. (Full Story)

Ironic, isn't it? Here's an administration that has stubbornly, and largely successfully, hidden, withheld and even destroyed, documents that could implicate it in crimes from conspiracy and collusion with energy companies to fabricating evidence to justify an illegal war against Iraq to torture.

Then what do they do? They issue an unclassified cable to diplomats containing all the reasoning and justifications for it's own future in the dock of international justice.

Their effort to justify the death penalty for three al Qaida terrorists, may become the closing argument some future prosecutor will use against defendants Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, et al. (Heretofore referred to as "The Gang of Four.")

Now, do I believe I will some day see the Gang of Four in the dock facing death sentences? No. Real life doesn't work that way. These days only defeated, weak, third-world tyrants face such ultimate justice. And even then, they rarely face a hangman's noose. At best modern tyrants simply get long prison terms -- and even that's rare.

Also these days the number of "civilized" nations that still employ the death penalty has been whittled down pretty much down to the US, China and Iran. Great company, huh?

Nevertheless, in raising Nuremberg as precedent for its desire to snuff three terrorists, they have reminded the world that, just sixty years ago, public officials guilty of war crimes were held accountable. They were put on public trial, forced to face their surviving victims, forced to listen to the suffering they caused and the millions that died because of their orders and misdeeds.

Much of the evidence presented against those Nuremberg defendants were captured documents. They were faced with their own documents, containing their own words, their own orders, all over their own signatures.

The lessons that should have been learned from Nuremberg was that liability for wrong-doing accrued to all wrong-doers, no matter how high or low they ranked on the organizational chart.

So, fast forwarding sixty years, what will become of those who followed the illegal orders of our leaders -- the CIA, the FBI, telecom companies and others? Nuremberg clearly and unequivocally established that "following orders" was no defense for committing crimes.

That should mean that more than the Gang of Four need to worry about future judicial accountability. And worried they are. That's why the CIA destroyed those torture tapes, and why the White House erased over 5 million emails. And it's why telecommunication companies are begging the White House for immunity for complying with the administration's illegal warrantless wiretapping.

If some future tribunal finds the Gang of Four and their accomplices guilty, prosecutors will only need to present yesterday's cable to US diplomats during the punishment phase of their trial.

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