Thursday, October 16, 2008

the Pinochet principle

"Bush officials might want to double-think that European vacation," writes Andrew Sullivan, commenting on this Guardian article on the Pinochet principle:

...it seems that Pinochet's case caused concerns at the highest levels of the Bush administration, as described in a revealing account by a former lawyer in the Bush administration, Jack Goldsmith. He describes how, during 2002, Henry Kissinger found himself on the sharp end of the Pinochet case. Reportedly livid, a rattled Kissinger complained to his old chum Donald Rumsfeld, who was already worrying about "lawfare" (the use of law to achieve operational objectives). Rumsfeld instructed the chief lawyer at the Pentagon, Jim Haynes, to address the problems posed by this "judicialisation of international politics".

Haynes passed the assignment on to Goldsmith, whose memo reached the National Security Council, which also worried about the threat of foreign judges. According to Goldsmith, the NSC couldn't work out what to do about the problem.

We now know that while this was going on, Rumsfeld and Haynes and others at the Pentagon were secretly circumventing international laws like the Geneva conventions and the torture convention and removing international constraints on the interrogation of detainees at Guantánamo and in Iraq. Torture and other international crimes followed. So did the Abu Ghraib photos. Amid the welter of legal opinions received by the administration none, it seems, bothered to examine the consequences of the House of Lords judgment for senior US officials.

The legacy of the arrest warrant signed in Hampstead 10 years today, is the Pinochet principle, that no one is above the law. It may one day come to haunt the very people who sought to set it aside. If, that is, they ever dare to set foot outside the United States.

I would add, however, that Pinochet got away with torture and murder.