Haggai's Place

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Your humble narrator is...
...a research analyst at a think tank in the Washington DC area. Born in Israel, raised in Kentucky, movie fanatic and sports nut.
My first-hand account of the Palestinian divestment conference at the U. of Michigan
Archives

:: Friday, June 13, 2003 ::

Let's join the club
American reservations about joining the International Criminal Court are largely based on the possibility of its descending into a hash of trumped-up charges being brought against US personnel by activists with an ax to grind. Belgium's silly universal jurisdiction law is sometimes cited as evidence of what the ICC will become, but now the facts are pointing in a different direction, as with this latest development in Belgium involving a former IDF commander in the Lebanon war:
Belgium will transfer to Israel a war crimes investigation into the alleged involvement of an Israeli general in the 1982 massacre of Palestinians in Lebanon, a government spokesman said on Friday.

"The procedure has been started in the case of (Amos) Yaron," a spokesman for the Belgian Foreign Ministry said.

A group of Palestinian plaintiffs are using a Belgian law that claims universal jurisdiction, allowing the country's courts to try people for crimes against humanity and genocide no matter where they were committed.

Belgium's move should ease fears of a new diplomatic spat between Belgium and Israel. Relations have been strained since a lawsuit was brought against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon under the controversial law.

An Israeli judicial inquiry found in 1983 that Yaron, commander of IDF forces in Beirut at the time, had shown "insensitivity to the dangers of massacre in the camps" after he received reports of killings there by Lebanese Christian militiamen allied to Israel.

Sharon was defence minister at the time of the massacre of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon. The commission found him indirectly responsible for the killings and he resigned, but was never prosecuted.
Of course it's stupid for Belgium to grant itself universal jurisdiction to try anyone in the world for any alleged war crime, no matter where it was supposedly committed or who was involved. But the point here is that not every charge will actually be brought to trial:
A recent amendment allows Belgium to send a lawsuit to the defendant's country if that country has a legal system that guarantees proper handling of the complaint.

The law was changed to stem a flood of complaints against foreign political figures which threatened to clog Belgium's courts and compromise its foreign relations.
If the US joined the ICC, it would of course have some influence over how the proceedings would work. There's little reason to think that frivolous or obviously politicized charges would ever be heard against Americans, as The Economist argued last year when the Bush administration first went to the mat to demand that all Americans everywhere be totally exempt from ICC jurisdiction:
American negotiators [under Clinton, who opposed the ICC but still worked for concessions to the US] played a key role in writing the “elements of crimes” that fall within the remit of the ICC. These cover only “widespread and systematic” atrocities—bombing Afghan weddings by mistake does not qualify. In any case, an atrocity must first be investigated by national authorities. Only if a national government refuses to investigate or prosecute, or mounts a sham trial as a whitewash (Saddam Hussein can't simply acquit himself), would the ICC be able to act. American accusations that the ICC's prosecutor will pursue Americans despite all these obstacles seem wildly exaggerated. The prosecutor cannot open an investigation without the approval of a three-judge panel. If the prosecutor and the judges all go berserk, the countries that have joined the court (most of them America's allies) can remove them.

The purpose of the ICC is to provide a permanent forum to put on trial the likes of Pol Pot and Mr Hussein, not Americans or, for that matter, Europeans. In fact, many developing countries have signed up to the court precisely to gain some legal protection against such monsters. But the Europeans argue that, for the court to make a credible claim to even-handedness, no one can be guaranteed a permanent blanket immunity from its reach. Nearly all America's NATO allies are willing to take the infinitesimal risk that this entails. So far, the Bush administration is not.
If the US joined the ICC, there would almost certainly be some idiots trying to file charges against any Americans they could go after. But there's a huge leap from that--involving a series of extremely unlikely steps--to an instance where any of those charges would actually be heard before the court. This issue has widespread support around the world, and the US won't give up any real sovereignty, except on an almost entirely theoretical level, by joining. With little or nothing to lose, and potentially quite a bit to gain, we should sign up and give it some teeth.
4:59 PM
:: Thursday, June 12, 2003 ::
Trivia break
Not much to add here after yet another terror attack, so how about a movie-related trivia question. I was watching the DVD of a famous old movie again recently, and one of my favorite scenes involves a song with the following lyrics (although the movie isn't a musical):
There is a man, a certain man
And for the poor you may be sure
that he'll do all he can.
Who is this one?
Whose favorite son?
Just by his action has the traction
magnates on the run.
Who likes to smoke?
Enjoys a joke?
And wouldn't get a bit
upset if he were really broke.
With wealth and fame,
he's still the same.
I'll bet you five you're not alive
if you don't know his name!
That's the first verse, and the chorus that follows identifies the main character being sung about. So which movie is this from? It's very famous (though the song isn't). Apparently a song from a recently popular rock album uses these words verbatim as lyrics, which led to a guy writing to Roger Ebert about a strange experience--he watched the movie with his young kids (10 and 14), and they managed to sing along with all the words in that scene despite never having seen the movie before.
12:43 AM
:: Wednesday, June 11, 2003 ::
Saddam hid them...in Bugs Meaney's clubhouse!
Funny stuff from Political Aims about Iraqi WMD:
THE CASE OF THE MISSING WMDs I'm going to stick with the Encyclopedia Brown title for this topic, because that's roughly how serious the administration seems to be about answering the awkward question of what exactly happened to our justification for going to war. Were there ever any weapons -- chemical, biological, nuclear or otherwise? Were they destroyed before the war? Are they now in Syria? Turn to page 92 for the answer (upside-down).
Sticking with the children's literature theme, wasn't the whole buildup to the war a bit like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book? To go to the UN, turn to page 10. To take Dick Cheney's advice and invade immediately, turn to page 24. To make ominous claims of nuclear weapons research based on a widely discredited theory about aluminum tubes, turn to page 123. But I have a feeling that Bush didn't do what I (and everyone else who read those books) did, namely, leave a bunch of bookmarks in all those places where he chose what next step to take in case he wanted to go back and do something else.
10:46 AM
:: Tuesday, June 10, 2003 ::
Was it worth it?
I have some doubts about this assassination attempt on Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi that failed today. Yes, it's a sick joke that anyone believes the supposed lack of connection between the "political" and "military" wings of Hamas, but this guy has been giving interviews and appearing on worldwide TV for a long time now. Would getting rid of him really diminish the organization's ability to launch terror attacks? The political costs of doing it were apparent, and whether it's hypocritical or not for Bush to condemn it as he did, it was a given that he would do so and that there would be a price in terms of less pressure from whatever corners might be encouraging Abu Mazen to get something done. Now it's probably the worst possible outcome--Rantisi's still alive, and Israel is taking the same amount of crap that would have come if they had taken him out.
12:09 PM
:: Sunday, June 08, 2003 ::
This one made me laugh
I saw part of a presentation on TV yesterday by the author Roy Blount Jr., who was talking about his new book "Robert E. Lee." He said that there's never been a convincing portrayal of Lee in the movies, and that he was disappointed once again with the recent "Gods and Generals" despite its having Robert Duvall in the role this time. Blount walked out after about half the movie since he found it boring, with not much onscreen besides long speeches by various characters delivered to no one in particular. He said that a more appropriate name for the movie would have been "The Virginia Monologues," a clever reference to the title of this popular play.
3:08 PM

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