Friday, August 19, 2005

Beacon No. 59: Immunize Our Tourists, Señor


Juan Forero's "Bush's Aid Cuts on Court Issue Roil Neighbors" in this morning's Times describes the side deals the U.S. is making with other nations to keep its citizens out of the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

The Bush administration has long objected to the ICC, which was set up "to be the first permanent tribunal for prosecuting crimes like genocide," having jurisdiction over U.S. soldiers since they are so frequently stationed overseas and called to combat or peacekeeping duties in places where black and white can turn out, in hindsight, to have been gray.

I can understand how the administration sees the U.S., with its unparalleled reach, breadth of interests and worldwide dispersal of citizens, as "uniquely vulnerable" to what would amount to nuisance suits by the world's other 200-odd countries every time an American soldier made a bad, ill-informed or simply unlucky decision that caused death or injury. And in fact, Forero writes, protections for U.S. forces are built into the ICC:

There are also safeguards that would give the United States' own military and civilian courts jurisdiction over Americans.

What this means is that under the ICC, U.S. citizens already enjoy "extraterritoriality," a privilege that raised hackles centuries ago when Britain demanded it in both India and in its North American colonies—and that helped spark rebellions in both those areas.

But the U.S. has gone a step further, demanding that other nations codify their inferior status in separate agreements, pledging that they won't ship U.S. citizens to the Hague for prosecution.

Regardless of whether these agreements are reciprocal—so that the U.S. would also pledge to not turn over citizens of, say, Mali to the ICC if requested to do so—the U.S. is punishing countries that don't sign agreements by cutting off economic aid:

American budgetary records show that Uruguay, whose new left-leaning government has vocally declined to sign an immunity agreement, has lost $1.5 million since 2003. Costa Rica has lost about $500,000, and unstable Bolivia has lost $1.5 million.

In addition, the United States International Military Education and Training program, which pays for Latin American military officers to study in the United States, has cut its rolls by 770 officers a year, from an average class of 3,000, military officials said.

Most nations that have lost money are cash-strapped, like Dominica, a Caribbean island which lost $400,000 and was unable to operate its only Coast Guard boat for two years. That meant no drug patrols or searches for fishermen lost at sea, said Crispin Gregoire, Dominica's ambassador to the United Nations.

"We were reeling from the impact of lost aid, and our economy was not in the greatest shape," he said. "The government decided to yield and we ended up signing."

Peru, a close Bush administration ally, has lost about $4 million "You feel the cuts, yes," said Congressman Luis Ibérico, president of the committee that oversees military spending and the antidrug campaign. "These are small amounts, but nevertheless, they're necessary to support our military personnel."

Painful as the cuts are, many countries say they will not budge before American pressure.

"We will not change our principles for any amount of money," said Michael I. King, the Barbados ambassador to the Organization of American States. "We're not going to belly up for $300,000 in training funds."

Worse, from a soft-power standpoint, the U.S. law exempts NATO allies and other wealthy countries from penalties if they don't sign—a welcome recognition that the world's Japans and Australias and Germanys would just laugh at such short-sighted bullying.

And finally, the new agreements don't just protect soldiers and policy-makers. No, according to Forero's article U.S. tourists are also exempt from being turned over to the Hague for committing genocide. Thank goodness; who knows what mischief U.S. tourists currently engage between the time their cruise ships dock and when they finally scamper out of the last dockside trinket shop and up the gangway.

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