The Global (In)justice System

One of the major fallacies of our time is the idea that we have entered a new era in which human rights are being attended to more than in the past, with new systems of international crime prosecutions brought into play and a greater recognition and acceptance of international humanitarian law and the "responsibility to protect" (R2P) against global misbehavior. The fact of the matter is that all of these supposed improvements are hugely politicized and actually serve the powerful while they carry out their own expansionist and pacification operations. As these operations are the prime source of injustice in the world, in reality the supposedly benevolent enterprises actually facilitate injustice rather than bring justice.


This is dramatically illustrated by the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC), organized as a follow-up to the ad hoc tribunals set up for Yugoslavia and Rwanda. A basic feature of all three of these tribunals has been that they exclude from their jurisdiction the crime of cross-border attacks on other countries; that is, aggression, the "supreme international crime" in the judgment of the Nuremberg court, but a bit awkward for the United States, as that crime is part of its standard modus operandi. As clearly as Hitler’s invasion of Poland, the Bush-Blair invasion of Iraq was a supreme international crime and should have led to those leaders being put in the dock.

In fact, the head of the ICC, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, could not even find that the U.S. invasion/occupation involved enough cases of "targeting of civilians," "willful killings," or "excessive attacks" to meet a "threshold of gravity" requirement for crimes of war. But he found both that and "genocide" in Darfur, which involved far fewer deaths and refugees than the Iraq invasion-occupation. So in Luis Moreno-Ocampo’s system of justice—lauded in 1998 by Kofi Annan as ending the era when "no earthly court could judge powerful men who committed crimes against humanity"—the most powerful people continue to have impunity and only their targets are eligible for "justice."

A dramatic feature of the ICC’s work is that all 14 of its indictees to date are black Africans. In the system of justice that it administers, not only is U.S. aggression out, but so is any finding of criminality in the white North. Also free from indictment are black African clients of the white North. Paul Kagame, head of Rwanda, and Yoweri Museveni, dictator of Uganda, are exempt on this basis, although both are mass killers in their own countries and on an even larger scale in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In The Politics of Genocide, David Peterson and I quote an internal State Department report of September 1994 which asserts that Kagame’s forces were killing 10,000 Hutu civilians per month but without the slightest effect on U.S. support for Kagame. Elsewhere, we have cited a UN report on the DRC which estimates that 3.5 million excess deaths had occurred in 5 Eastern provinces of the DRC between August 1998 to April 2002, "as a direct result of the occupation by Rwanda and Uganda." But Kagame and Museveni are U.S. clients and they are facilitating the West’s exploitation of the DRC, so international (in)justice and the Western propaganda system adapt.


International justice established special tribunals for both Yugoslavia and Rwanda, but not for Iraq, Palestine, or the DRC. In the last three, the mass killers and ethnic cleansers were the great Northern powers and their client states. In the first two, the villains were governments that were on the great power (notably, U.S.) target list. Tribunals could only be established in the latter cases. The total number of civilians killed in Bosnia from 1992-95 was something like 65,000, whereas the excess deaths in Iraq resulting from the "sanctions of mass destruction" and then the invasion-occupation may be as large as two million. But not only did the 10- or 20-fold greater deaths in Iraq not produce a tribunal to deal with the war criminals, the UN and Security Council collaborated with the war criminals. In both phases of the death-dealing, they formally imposed and enforced the sanctions and then, after doing nothing to stop the invasion, actually gave the invading (and then occupying) power management rights over the invaded country.

The function of these tribunals has had nothing to do with justice, but, on the contrary, has served to provide a seemingly judicial, but essentially PR and propaganda cover for the U.S.-NATO wars on, and dismantlement of, Yugoslavia; and for U.S.-client Kagame and his RPF wars and subversion in Rwanda and the DRC. The United States may have targeted civilian facilities, used illegal weapons, and been responsible for the deaths of over 1,000 Serb civilians in its war on Yugoslavia, but there was no way any U.S. official would be brought before the International Criminal Tribunal of the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). NATO PR person Jamie Shea explained, "When [ICTY prosecutor] Justice Arbour starts her investigation, she will because we will allow her to." Likewise, Arbour’s successor Carla Del Ponte declared that she was "very satisfied that there was no deliberate targeting of civilians or of unlawful military targets by NATO during the bombing campaign," without even having opened an investigation on the subject. The State Department may have found that Kagame’s forces were killing 10,000 Hutu civilians a month in April 1994 and ICTR investigator Michael Hourigan may have found solid evidence that Kagame was responsible for the shooting down of Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane on April 6, 1994—the "triggering" event in the Rwanda death scene. But no Kagame or RPF official or soldier has yet been indicted by the ICTR and none will be. These are not judicial entities serving justice. They are political instruments serving political ends. This is a strong statement, but its truth can be found in books like John Laughland’s Travesty, Michael Mandel’s How America Gets Away With Murder, and Germinal Civikov’s The Crown Witness (reviewed by me in Z Magazine, but nowhere else on the U.S. left).


In the case of Israel, we have witnessed a pair of Israeli wars of aggression on Lebanon, the murderous attack on Gaza and the deliberate starvation of that population, the steady violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention among dozens of other law violations over many years, and a long-term process of ethnic cleansing unmatched anywhere else in the world for duration and blatancy. According to B’Tselem’s news release of its July 2010 report, "By Hook and by Crook: Israel’s Settlement Policy in the West Bank": "Some half a million Israelis are now living over the Green Line: more than 300,000 in 121 settlements and about one hundred outposts, which control 42 percent of the land area of the West Bank, and the rest in twelve neighborhoods that Israel established on land it annexed to the Jerusalem Municipality."

Not only are these processes uncontested by the leaders of the "humanitarian intervention" powers, they are aided and protected by them. Whereas, in the case of Yugoslavia, the R2P powers insisted on that country’s allowing a large international monitoring operation into Kosovo prior to a bombing attack, in the case of Israel, the United States has vetoed any international monitors while it supplies the weapons for more effective ethnic cleansing operations. No monitors, let alone tribunals, here.

Lockerbie Case

The Lockerbie case has been in the news recently, based on the claim that BP was a force in getting Britain to allow the release, on allegedly compassionate grounds, of the Libyan, AbdelBasset Ali Al-Megrahi, convicted in 2001 of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103. The news reports on this revival of the case all stress the BP and commercial factors influencing the British decision, along with the fact that Al-Megrahi was the only person convicted of that crime (a model is John Burns’s "BP Faces New Scrutiny in Lockerbie Case: Confirms Role in Release of Only Man Convicted in ’88 Bombing," NYT, July 16, 2010). Burns and his colleagues regularly ignore the context, which suggests that Al-Megrahi is innocent, that the 2001 trial in which he was convicted was a judicial farce and overwhelmingly politicized, and that a 2007 Scottish Review Commission had found six separate grounds on which the 2001 decision may have been a miscarriage of justice. There is a very good chance that the 2001 decision would have been overturned, which would have been awkward for British and U.S. officials. The deal precluded this embarrassment.

The bombing of Pan Am 103 followed by five and a half months the U.S. shooting down of Iranian Air Flight 655, with the loss of 290 civilian lives. It is of interest that this bombing resulted in no international sanctions or even reprimands and that the naval commander of the USS Vincennes, Captain Will Rogers, who carried out this action, was not only greeted as a hero on his return to the U.S., he got the Legion of Merit for "exceptionally meritorious service." Al-Megrahi was never treated publicly in Libya as a hero before or after his trial, but his welcome in Libya after his compassionate release made the U.S. mainstream media furious.

Although Iran and its agents in Syria and West Germany were initially believed and claimed to be the Pan Am 103 bombers (a convincing case and evidence was produced in support of this plausible line of thought), in 1989 and 1990 political changes in the Middle East (U.S. hostages in Lebanon, the Gulf War with Iraq) made a Western rapprochement with Syria and Iran important. Lo and behold, the case against Iran, Syria, and the PLFP in West Germany suddenly faded away, and the case was built against Libya, always a convenient scapegoat. This case against Libya was "circumstantial," but, more importantly, corrupt. The Scottish crime scene was violated by an immediate swarm of U.S. agents, the evidence was dealt with by both U.S. and British experts who had earlier been guilty of doctoring evidence, and the CIA’s reluctantly disclosed Libyan witness was shown to be a liar, among other serious weaknesses with the case (see Paul Foot, "The Flight From Justice," Private Eye, May/June 2001, and John Ashton and Ian Ferguson, Cover-Up of Convenience, Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing, 2001).

Scottish law professor Robert Black, who had helped arrange for the trial, called the 2001 decision "the most disgraceful miscarriage of justice in Scotland for a hundred years." UN observer Hans Kochler found the decision "totally incomprehensible." But neither Kochler nor Black were cited in the New York Times and this travesty was institutionalized as valid international justice in the mainstream media. Al-Megrahi is still today "the Lockerbie bomber" who spent 10 years in a Scottish prison, while Vincennes Captain Will Rogers remains untouchable and a hero.

In the New World Order, with a single over-militarized superpower aggressively projecting power on many fronts, without any containing rival, and spinning out of control, the global systems of justice yield remarkably perverse results.


Edward S. Herman is an economist, media critic and author of numerous articles and books. His latest (with David Peterson) is The Politics of Genocide. (See review in this issue.)