Time to Indict George W Bush for War Crimes?

Requests periodically recur for the indictment of U.S. President George W Bush, perhaps in front of an International Court, for various charges of war crimes, from the making-up of the “evidence” against Saddam Hussein to the list of abuses by American soldiers in Iraq and at Guantanamo against their prisoners, to the use of torture to extract information and confessions from terrorist suspects.

What is the feasibility of all that? It depends. Of the fact that the build-up to the war in Iraq in 2003 was based on nothing, I do not think there can be any doubt. Furthermore, it was definitely not me the one in charge whilst abuses and torture were (are?) being practiced. If Bush were a private citizen, the whole thing would already be in the hands of prosecutors and defense lawyers, trying to establish the boundaries between law, crime and ineptitude.

But Bush is no private citizen. Instead, he has spent eight years at the top of the Superpower. What hope could then be in getting him indicted, let alone sentenced?

First thing to be clarified is, would there be any role for an International Court? I do not think so. What future U.S. Administration would take the responsibility of establishing a precedent, sending a former president abroad to answer for war crimes? The only possibility is via the American own justice system.

Even in that case, one would have to present shock-and-awe evidence of criminal intent. It is true that, however slowly, the Congress is publishing reports very critical of the choices and behaviour of members of the Bush Administration, such as the results of the Senate Intelligence Committee chaired by Senator John D. “Jay” Rockefeller IV (D, W Va.), published about a month ago. But first of all, behind all that it’s simple partisan struggle, Democrats against Republicans in a fight which little interest in finding the truth about the President: because the only thing they care about is of course, getting re-elected.

To leave everything in the hands of various parliamentary committees, from this point of view, only serves to hush-hush the whole thing, with potential defendants more likely to die of old age than of attending a single hearing in a court of law. Ah, and to polarize the electorate for no overall gain (another positive opportunity for the politicians, and a pernicious disaster for the electorate itself).

One should therefore more than welcome the latest proposal by Nicholas D Kristof, from the pages of International Herald Tribune: forget the parliamentary committees, the courts, the discussions on the legality of Presidential decisions, in favor of a “Truth Commission” (TC) modeled on the one that helped South Africa become a democratic nation without bloodshed.

The TC would be something coming out of the U.S. themselves, thereby dismissing suggestions of “international interference”; it would only establish a single precedent, namely the fact that Presidents are responsible for what they do, and for what they leave behind; many of the “crimes” would be out in the open, because perpetrators just as in South Africa would prefer sincerity in front of the TC, to the danger of being brought in front of a criminal court.

At the end of the day, what Justice is the one that never comes to conclusions? It is much better to “know the truth”, because it allows us to dream to be able to avoid repeating the same mistakes in the future.