Friday, October 17, 2008

GETTING READY FOR THE WAR CRIMES TRIALS OF THE BUSH REGIME

Nat Hentoff, Village Voice - Over the weekend of September 13 and 14, a historic gathering in Andover, Massachusetts, took place and garnered little media attention. But at that two-day conference, serious plans were laid for a war-crimes trial of the Bush administration. Convened by Lawrence Velvel, dean of the Massachusetts School of Law, the scheduled participants included two people who have been cited as authorities in this column. . .

This was no ranting MoveOn.org event - instead, its goal is a war-crimes trial beyond anything that has ever been attempted in American judicial history, a goal that echoes the words of Jackson himself: "The common sense of mankind demands that law shall not stop with the punishment of petty crimes by little people. It must also reach men [and women] who possess themselves of great power and make deliberate and concerted use of it to set in motion evils which leave no home in the world untouched.". . .

The conference set about planning trials to determine the guilt of key actors in the Bush administration (and their authorizing lawyers) for having committed war crimes under both American and international law, and to determine the appropriate punishments. Among the items on the conference's agenda: "Creating an umbrella coordinating committee with representatives from an increasing number of organizations involved in war crimes cases; creating a center to keep track of and organize . . . relevant briefs and facts on war crimes and prosecutions of war criminals; establishing a chief prosecutor's office such as Nuremberg's."

Keeping in mind the high likelihood that a domestic trial would take much more time and be subject to far more pressure as the full scope of the administration's appalling war crimes was revealed, the conferees also sought to find out "which international tribunals, foreign tribunals and domestic tribunals (if any) can be used and how to begin cases and/or obtain prosecutions before them." . . .

Opening the Andover conference, Dean Lawrence Velvel of the Massachusetts School of Law said: "The goal will be to engage in action so that the conference will not have been . . . merely an exercise in self-expression." (Remember, there is no statute of limitations on murder and many international crimes.)

Velvel listed some of the proposals for action that were raised during the conference. I'll keep score on them and others in this column. Here are some:

- "Requesting state bar authorities to disbar the lawyers who were part of the executive cabal to authorize torture and other abuses that are crimes under international law, domestic law, or both." . . .

- "Obtaining inspector general reports of what was done in given federal departments, like the Department of Justice, the Pentagon, the State Department, the CIA, etc." This won't work, however, unless there is insistent public pressure from such groups as the American Bar Association, the ACLU, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the Electronic Privacy Foundation, and the Constitution Project, among others, insisting that inspector generals be appointed who are fearlessly independent . . .

-"A march of many thousands of American lawyers on the Department of Justice - a la civil rights or Vietnam War marches or the Million Man March. The purpose of the march would be to highlight lawyers' belief that crimes were committed and must be published." American lawyers already have an honorable working model for such a march. Large numbers of Pakistani lawyers took to the streets to protest against then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf when he removed all the country's Supreme Court justices, and placed the chief justice under house arrest for having resisted Musharraf's gutting of Pakistan's Constitution and rule of law.

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