A British judge has issued an arrest warrant for President Obama for war crimes, including air strikes that killed innocent Afghan civilians….
No, this is a lie. There is no arrest warrant for Obama. But there could be soon enough.
That’s because of a concept known as universal jurisdiction, which essentially means that a nation can arrest and prosecute someone who didn’t commit a crime against that nation, but rather for a “universal” crime against humanity like genocide. Some nations, such as Britain, Spain and Belgium, have passed laws that allow prosecutions under universal jurisdiction. Thus a private citizen – not the government – can ask a judge to issue a warrant against the citizen of another nation. This week a London judge, at the request of a pro-Palestinian plaintiff, issued an arrest warrant for former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni for alleged war crimes during the Gaza operation last year. The warrant was later withdrawn on the peculiar grounds that Livni had canceled her visit.
I know what many of you are thinking. I really do. My telepathic powers tell me that you have a vision in your mind of a courtroom, a black-robed judge, and the words “George W. Bush, this court finds you guilty of…” But don’t be so hasty. If George Bush or Tzipi Livni can end up in the dock, so can Barack Obama or any other leader. If we can do it to others, they can do it to us.
Universal jurisdiction sounds great because it sounds right. Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was arrested for crimes against humanity under a warrant issued by a Spanish judge. No sympathy there. Israel itself used its own version of universal jurisdiction to kidnap Nazi mass murderer Adolf Eichmann, and that seemed right. Why should some Serbian mass murderer get away with murder because the Serbian courts won’t prosecute him? If they don’t do it, we’ll do it for them!
The problem is, if we can do it to them, they can do it to us. Consider the charges against Livni, which rest on the Goldstone report, a United Nations-sponsored inquiry that concluded that Israel may have committed war crimes during the Gaza operation. The report was commissioned by the United Nations Human Rights Council, whose membership over the next three years will include such defenders of human rights as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and Zambia. It’s more than lunatics running the asylum; the lunatics now have the right to commit YOU to the asylum.
I don’t like warfare, but I don’t want it replaced by “lawfare”. I don’t favor lawyers conducting our foreign policy any more than I favor corporations like Blackwater waging our wars. The British government said there was no evidence that would support a prosecution against Livni, and yet that judge issued the warrant anyway. So how hard would it be to convince that that a warrant should be issued against any American soldier who served in Iraq or Afghanistan on the grounds that they may committed war crimes? Or better yet, an Iraqi judge?
The British government has promised to change the law to prevent the Livni incident from happening again, and I’m other nations will, too. The alternative is bizarre. If Livni had visited Britain while she was foreign minister, she would have enjoyed diplomatic immunity. But as a former official, she’s vulnerable to a British magistrate who, for all we know, couldn’t find Israel on a map if you paid him. It makes you wonder what Obama has to look forward when he leaves office.
I believe in the rule of law. But relations between nations conducted via lawsuits (talk about the need for tort reform) is not a future I look forward to. There are a few leaders – not to mention terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah – who would look great in an orange jumpsuit. But not if the price is the breakdown in international relations, because diplomacy means dialogue, which is kind of tough when everyone is arresting everyone else.