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Jewish World Review May 6, 2003 / 4 Iyar, 5763

James Lileks

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Still think the International Criminal Court was a good idea? | The International Criminal Court, like most international institutions, is a wonderful idea. A noble idea. All it needs to work is planetary government, worldwide democracy and the triumph of reason over tribal loyalties, political doctrines and individual ambition. In other words, it requires that we all live in the world described by the "Star Trek" television shows.

Some think we already do. One of the more fascinating characteristics of those devoted to international law is their insistence that such a thing exists. Oh, it does, but it's something we all accept without too many questions, like Michael Jackson's popularity.

International law is enforceable only as long as a nation consents to it. The United Nations or the European Union or the World Trade Organization can pass a law against genetically modified popcorn, but they can't send cops to your house to take evidence from your microwave.

Good nations sign the treaties and obey the law; bad nations sign them and flout them. Hence high-minded concepts like an international criminal court aren't used against Fidel Castro or Robert Mugabe -- that's like shaming a cat for eating a bird. No, you use the law to beat the real war criminals.

Like Tommy Franks. Good thing the United States didn't submit to the International Criminal Court's jurisdiction, or you'd see more of this:

Jan Fermon, a Brussels-based lawyer representing 10 Iraqi civilians, plans to ask a Belgian court to indict Franks under a Belgian law allowing foreign officials to be sued on accusation of war crimes.

Says a Washington Times dispatch: "The complaint will state that coalition forces are responsible for the indiscriminate killing of Iraqi civilians, the bombing of a marketplace in Baghdad, the shooting of an ambulance and failure to prevent the mass looting of hospitals. ... If arrest warrants were issued, U.S. officials could be arrested on entering Belgium."

So? Who needs to visit Belgium for anything other than advice on the best way to lick a Frenchman's hand? Well, NATO has a few offices there. At least at press time. We could move those to Qatar as well.

To lefty Euros like Fermon, there are two kinds of American generals.

There's the dead-eyed company man with a foot-long cigar screwed in the corner of his mouth. Informed that a missile has hit a market, he says, "That'll teach 'em to shop during a war." Hearty laughter from the subordinates.

The other cliche is the rabid-eyed, bull-necked brute who believes that the best way to win the hearts and minds of the enemy is to splatter the same all over the public square. He'll bomb a market to get one soldier, because that's war; war is hell, and hell is where he hangs his hat.

Both archetypes are criminals! Both deserve to stand in the dock!

Pity that these archetypes have little relationship to reality. You want war crimes? The military could have MOABed any quarrelsome town and saved itself much bother. Resistance in Basra? Boom. Problem solved.

But that wasn't how it worked this time. Given the care that went into targeting government headquarters, you wouldn't be surprised to learn that the Tomahawks shouted PARDON ME or HOT STUFF, COMIN' THROUGH in Arabic as they made their way across town -- and dropped leaflets that gave a toll-free number to call in case you wanted reparations for collateral damage.

But what of the marketplace bombing? Could have been a rocket the Baathists sent up with their usual disregard for where it would come down. It's quite possible the market was hit by coalition munitions -- but not because Gen. Franks had a yen to give Al-Jazeera a week's worth of war-porn. Either a rocket went astray, or an anti-radar missile homed in on a mobile radar the Baathists had driven to the market and parked near the shoppers.

Has anyone pressed the Belgian court to indict the various Baathist officials the United States has in custody? You know, the ones whose government forced pregnant women to strap explosive belts around their wombs?

If the United States hadn't destroyed Saddam's regime, every day in Iraq would have seen a violation of every human right the United Nations professes to uphold. Page through the 10 kajillion laws the United Nations has passed and you'll probably find one that outlaws jails for children, or corrective genital electrotherapy for dissidents.

But that's not the crime. The crime consists of deposing that regime without the consent of a Belgian court.

Who died and made them Capt. Kirk?

JWR contributor James Lileks is a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


04/03/03: The world is ending, the world is ending! Doesn't anybody care!? Why won't anybody listen!?
03/14/03: Kerry and the Dems are banking on American electorate's tendancy to forget history
02/28/03: Roadmap to peace?
02/13/03: We live in an age where the poet has been cast out from the halls of power --- sob, sob
02/10/03: Found: League for International Justice and Peace talking points
01/30/03: The US can go to war whenever it likes for its own reasons, and all the UN can do is pass more worthless paper
01/23/03: People who'd volunteer for the Iraqi army if they saw Saddam wearing a "Free Mumia" button
01/16/03: One of those head vs. heart things
12/27/02: Whistleblowers?
01/06/02: The second year of this jangled millennium
11/16/01: Attack of the 'Patriotism police' and other Hollywood fare
11/12/01: From the bleats of dismay
10/30/01: Osama and the Genie
10/08/01: "We can stop the Bush Death Juggernaut"
11/04/01: America, loathe or it leave it
09/25/01: Do the Europeans actually think that the war on murderous zealotry will be furthered by undercutting America?
08/27/01: If the economy is in a funk, why aren't we dancing?
08/14/01: Dubyah's embarrassing presidential vacation
08/10/01: Hail to our co-chiefs?
08/03/01: Constitution: George the Uniter picked a doozy to unify detractors
07/25/01: The real reason why we need missile defense (What those uppity policy wonks won't tell you!)
06/18/01: Paining the egalitarian soul
06/01/01: One of the stranger indexes you'll ever hear about
05/21/01: One man's toke is another man's snort
05/08/01: Republicans want poisoned water
04/23/01: We bleat as we're sheared
04/10/01: Boys will be boys. And that's the problem
04/06/01: Pity the anti-American Left, they're gonna have a hard time on this one
03/26/01: You've been warned
03/16/01: The GOP's inexplicable desire to fold
02/23/01: Will the Jeb Bush administration attack Saddam in 2011?
02/09/01: In search of the the first ashtray thrown by a member of the First Family
02/06/01: Can you say 'Ayatollah Bush'?
01/24/01: The new Executive Orders
01/22/01: Hey, Dubya: Wanna save Ashcroft? Teach him to rap!
01/09/01: Bubba gets his last licks
01/05/01: The low-down on the coming recession (What those snooty economists won't tell you)
12/23/00: Memo to Dubya: Wanna show who is boss? Nuke 'em!
12/06/00: The Count of Carthage
At the Sore/Loserman Transition HQ
12/01/00: The Count of Carthage
11/28/00: Clinton knows history isn't written by the victors anymore
11/17/00: Chad's the word
11/08/00: The strangest political night
11/07/00: Get ready to return to the Dark Ages

© 2003, James Lileks