US Forces Postponement of Security Council Vote on Darfur Crimes


3-30-05, 3:07 pm

A vote on a French resolution put before the UN Security Council to refer the crisis and war crimes in Darfur to the International Criminal Court (ICC) was postponed today until Thursday.

The Bush administration strongly opposes the ICC and has worked over the last 4 years to weaken its powers and jurisdiction by seeking exemptions for US forces from the Court's reach.

The problem the Bush administration faces is that if it vetoes the French resolution, it will appear to be blocking justice for the millions of victims of mass killings, torture, and internal displacement in the Darfur region of the Sudan.

The Bush administration last year labeled the crimes committed by the Sudanese government-backed militia, known as the Janjaweed, genocide.

If it blocks what most human rights activists and international legal experts, including the American Bar Association, a large coalition of African-based human rights organizations, and most of the international community, describe as the best recourse for justice and prevention of future crimes – referral to the ICC – it will give the appearance of viewing its rigid ideological opposition to the court as more important than delivering a blow to genocidal crimes.

This conundrum comes on the heels of further evidence exposed by civil liberties and human rights groups based in the US of a widespread and systematic policy of torture adopted by the Bush administration and ordered by the Pentagon that violated Geneva Conventions.

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the ACLU after a lawsuit last November showed that the policy expressed in the infamous Alberto Gonzales 'torture memo' was not confined to a few incidents at Abu Ghraib prison.

After the Abu Ghraib revelations in April of 2004, Bush administration officials attempted to convince the public and concerned international observers that torture and prisoner abuse were the activities of a few bad apples.

The November memos showed that prison facilities is Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, and other parts of Iraq followed similar practices. (See related Political Affairs stories here or here or here.)

A memo just released yesterday by the ACLU reveals that in fact, US generals ordered the use of techniques that violated the Geneva Convention and were in line with the policy adopted by the Bush administration outlined in the Alberto Gonzales 'torture memo.' According to an ACLU statement, Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, who signature appears on the September 2003 memo, and other high-ranking US military officials bear responsibility 'for the widespread abuse of prisoners and must be held accountable.

Donald Rumsfeld ordered these documents withheld from the public on national security grounds until a lawsuit against the Pentagon freed them for public scrutiny. Rumsfeld could not explain, an Agence France Presse story states, how national security would be harmed by publicizing documents that implicated high-ranking generals in what appear to be possible war crimes.

The interrogation techniques ordered by Sanchez were dropped in the months leading up to the public revelations of the Abu Ghraib atrocities, but well within the time period that the US government understood that it probably could not keep the lid on the Abu Ghraib scandal.

In other words, the techniques that the Bush administration outlined as OK to use, understanding fully that they probably violated the Geneva Conventions, and ordered by the Pentagon were changed when it became clear that the administration was about to be embarrassed by a major scandal.

An internal Pentagon report last month claimed that torture and abuse was not done as the result of a policy. So far only a handful of low-ranking enlisted military personnel have been investigated publicly and punished mildly for prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.

According to Human Rights First (HRF), the US currently holds as many as 11,000 prisoners in its detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan alone. HRF suspects and is investigating the possibility that the secretiveness of most of these facilities has heightened the likelihood that prisoner abuse and mistreatment at those locations has continued.

Stinging from such a poor human rights record and presumably eager to get to the bottom of the torture scandal, one might expect that the Bush administration would be leap at the chance to adopt the International Criminal Court as the best tool for punishing and preventing war crimes.

So why the hesitation?

What is there to fear?

--Joel Wendland is managing editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at