July 09, 2008

Seth Gitell on the War Crimes Conference

Eroding the Constitution

By SETH GITELL | July 1, 2008

Even at these historically low popularity ratings for President Bush — 23%, according to a Bloomberg poll — it's hard to believe that most Americans would like to see the president jailed or hung as a result of his presidency.

But, if the dean of the Massachusetts School of Law, Lawrence Velvel, gets his way, that's the punishment a group of legal scholars and advocates will attempt to mete on Mr. Bush after he leaves the White House.

Mr. Velvel will host a conference in September aimed at preparing war crimes prosecutions against the president and members of his administration. Mr. Velvel hopes that the meeting will lay the groundwork "to pursue the guilty as long as necessary," according to a column he wrote for OpedNews.com. "Because domestic politics are obviously useless for holding the guilty accountable, we must try to do what was done in the 1940s to the leaders of nations who committed evil. We must try to have them held accountable in courts of law. And we must insist on appropriate punishments, including, if guilt is found, the hangings visited upon top Germans and Japanese."

So far discussion of the conference has been limited to the blogosphere. Both the RedMassGroup and the DailyKos have had items on it. But it's easy to imagine a push for a prosecution against Mr. Bush in an international venue, particularly in Europe, where hatred of America's president is de rigueur in hip quarters. That's what Mr. Velvel appears to be hoping: "In Italy, Germany and France, there are courts, and there are also international tribunals, that will prosecute these people."

As far out of the mainstream as Mr. Velvel might seem, "the issue of war crimes" is on "the front burner," Scott Horton wrote in the New Republic on June 19. "Is it likely that prosecutions will be brought overseas? Yes. It is reasonably likely," Mr. Horton wrote. He warned that administration officials "will need to be careful about their travel plans."

Attempts to bring war crimes charges against President Bush may be the next big thing for the "Impeach Bush" crowd. In June, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat of Cleveland, read articles of impeachment against the president on the House floor. That matter was referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where it likely will reside for the remainder of Mr. Bush's term. Unlike threatening impeachment, the threat of which ends when Mr. Bush leaves office, the war crimes advocates can talk about bringing him to trial for forever.

As far as what of Mr. Bush's activities constitute potential offenses to merit jail or execution, Mr. Velvel provides a bill of particulars. "We not only have a years-long unwinnable war, but also torture, kidnappings and renderings to foreign countries for torture, many years of detention without trial of people who are innocent," he wrote in his oped.

To suggest, as the law school dean does, that any of this might be equivalent to the despots of the Axis Powers during World War II is offensive. "This is truly outrageous," the Heritage Foundation's director of U.S.-Senate relations, Brian Darling, said. "It shows how far out of the mainstream many in the legal community are." Mr. Darling also warns that permitting foreign judges to have jurisdiction in America would allow international law to trump our own and "erode the United States constitution."

One of the goals the school's dean has for the conference is for it to "make the prosecutions an issue in the 2008 political campaign." What the candidates should condemn is the possibility of international war crimes tribunals against Mr. Bush.

Mr. Gitell (gitell.com) is a contributing editor of The New York Sun.

No comments: