War Crimes: John Kerry’s Really Got Some Kind of Nerve

Detention report and Mugshots of Joachim von R...
Detention report and Mugshots of Joachim von Ribbentrop (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

US Secretary of State John Kerry opined (in an October 7 appearance with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault) that Russian military actions in Syria “beg for an appropriate investigation of war crimes.” French President Francois Hollande echoed the sentiment.

Kerry might want to keep the fate of his German predecessor, Joachim von Ribbentrop, in mind when making such statements. Ribbentrop, Hitler’s Foreign Minister, was hanged after trial at Nuremberg.

Kerry complains that Russian forces — in Syria helping that country’s government put down a rebellion backed by the United States and al Qaeda (yes, that al  Qaeda) — are pursuing a “targeted strategy to terrorize civilians and to kill anybody and everybody who is in the way of their military objectives.” Maybe he’s right. I certainly harbor no love for Vladimir Putin or Bashar al-Assad.

But where, one might ask, has John Kerry been for the last 15 years as the US has pursued a “targeted strategy to terrorize civilians and to kill anybody and everybody who is in the way of their military objectives” in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia at the cost of hundreds of thousands, possibly more than a million, civilian lives?

Why did Secretary Kerry’s conscience go untroubled by possible war crimes repercussions when US  forces killed at least 42 civilians in an AC-130U gunship attack on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan a year ago this month?

Where  has his deep concern over war crimes been during the decade-plus US terror campaign of drone assassinations across the Middle East, Africa and Asia? Jeremy Scahill, writing for The Intercept, reports that in a  two-month sampling of drone strikes in Afghanistan, nearly 90% of those killed were not the actual targets. For some reason, US drone killers seem particularly attracted to wedding parties and other noncombatant civilian activities.

Did the whole war crimes thing perhaps come into perspective for Mr. Kerry on October 12, when US Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA)  notified him in a letter that the US may be (read: is) culpable for its involvement in Saudi war crimes in Yemen (the US provides arms and aerial refueling support to the Saudi invaders)?

There seem to be plenty of potential war crimes investigations to go around, don’t there? Maybe enough to merit renting a hall in Nuremberg.

Fortunately for Russia, Syria and the US, those three regimes haven’t ratified the Rome Statute and placed themselves under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court for war crimes. The US also lucks out with Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Somalia, none of which are party to the ICC treaty either.

Afghanistan, however, is a Rome Statute party. War crimes there come under ICC jurisdiction, regardless of who commits them. Perhaps an investigation of the Kunduz attack will fulfill Kerry’s desire to see war crimes punished.

And perhaps pigs will fly. Every nation’s ruling class considers itself exceptional and proves it by sheltering its own war criminals from justice whenever possible. Here’s hoping they all end up like Ribbentrop.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


Hillary Clinton, Closet Libertarian? Not Likely.

Hillary Clinton in Concord, New Hampshire
Hillary Clinton in Concord, New Hampshire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“My dream,” Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is alleged to have said in a 2013 speech to an audience in the banking industry, “is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders.” The quote comes from an email addressed to (among others) Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, released late last week by Wikileaks.

The speech excerpts were — probably not coincidentally — overshadowed by the release of an 11-year-old recording of Republican nominee Donald Trump making lewd and demeaning remarks about using his star power to bully women into sexual liaisons. But in my opinion they’re at least as important. Everyone already knew that Trump was a slimy misogynist. Nobody, at least outside Wall Street and Clinton’s inner circle, knew what she got paid millions of dollars to say behind closed doors.

I have to confess that, as a libertarian, I get a Chris Matthews style thrill going up my leg when I hear a major party presidential candidate cited in favor of “open trade and open borders.” Even the Libertarian Party’s 2016 presidential ticket isn’t on record with as clear a statement of their party’s message on those two issues (or, frankly, on many others).

But of course there’s a catch. The thrill comes to a screeching halt when I remember that Mrs. Clinton is as thoroughgoing a liar as has ever graced the national political stage. She seems to lie about pretty much everything, pretty much all the time.  Whether it’s sniper fire in Bosnia, her negligent handling of classified information, her response to the attack on US facilities  in Benghazi, or her dodgy responses to questions about her health, Clinton’s relationships with truth tend to look an awful lot like Trump’s relationships with women.

The only reason to think that Clinton might actually have meant what she said is that she felt the need to keep it a secret. In a speech to the National Multi-Family Housing Council (a lobbying group for landlords), also in 2013, she allegedly said “if everybody’s watching, you know, all of the back room discussions and the deals, you know, then people get a little nervous, to say the least. So, you need both a public and a private position.” So maybe “open trade and open borders” really does reflect her true innermost thoughts.

But I wouldn’t count on it. With politicians like Trump and Clinton, it’s hard to go wrong by assuming the worst.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


Surveillance State 2016: Orwell was an Optimist

English: George Orwell in Hampstead On the cor...
English: George Orwell in Hampstead On the corner of Pond Street and South End Road, opposite the Royal Free Hospital. The bookshop has long gone. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reuters reports that troubled Internet giant Yahoo! “complied with a classified US government demand, scanning hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts at the behest of the National Security Agency or FBI.” According to surveillance experts consulted by Reuters it’s probably “the first case to surface of a US Internet company agreeing to an intelligence agency’s request by searching all arriving messages, as opposed to examining stored messages or scanning a small number of accounts in real time.”

Disturbing? Yes. Surprising? No. Nor is it paranoid to assume that other web mail providers have done the same without admitting it (yet).

Any excuse for not knowing that the US government spies on Americans all the time, everywhere, for various reasons (and sometimes for no discernible reason at all), disappeared in 2013 when former NSA analyst Edward Snowden revealed the existence of PRISM and other illegal domestic spy operations.

Most of us are easy surveillance targets even before the state intercepts our emails at the provider level. And as for the people the state takes an individualized interest in? If you’re singled out for special attention, the resources governments have at their disposal to track your every activity are, if finite, nearly inexhaustible as a practical matter:

Ubiquitous public-facing cameras. “Stingray” type fake cell towers. Spyware for hijacking webcams and microphones. There are more ways to keep track of where you are, who you’re with, and what you are doing or saying than you can shake a stick at, unless you want it noted in your permanent record that you shook a stick at 1:40pm on October 7th.

In George Orwell’s classic 1984, still the classic surveillance state dystopia, the regime placed a “telescreen” on the wall of each residence. How many surveillance instruments are in your home or on your body, placed there not by the state but by you yourself? Probably at least one computer and at least one cell phone, each equipped with vulnerable camera and microphone. The cell phone can also be used to track your whereabouts 24/7/365 as long as there’s a battery in it (I don’t know about you, but my new phone’s battery isn’t removable).

You’re far easier to spy on than Orwell’s protagonist, Winston Smith, could possibly have imagined.

What to do about it? History doesn’t run backward; the technologies which make us easy to spy on aren’t going to disappear, nor would we want to live  without them.

The governments which use those tools against us, on the other hand, aren’t quite so indispensable. Living without them would mean some adjustments, of course, but we’d be better off in the long run. Our rulers’ greatest fear is that we’ll notice — and act on — that fact.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.