Monday, February 2, 2009

An Intriguing Question

Today at Salon, Glenn Greenwald asked an interesting hypothetical question:

Suppose (for the sake of discussion) that: (a) the U.S. learns exactly where Osama bin Laden is located in Pakistan; (b) there is ample evidence that bin Laden (i) perpetrated the 9/11 attacks and (ii) is in the advanced stages of planning new imminent attacks on the U.S.; and (c) the Pakistani Government is either unwilling or unable to apprehend bin Laden in order to extradite him to the U.S. for trial. Further suppose that efforts to compel the Pakistanis to do so through the U.N. are blocked (because, say, China or Russia vetoes any actions).

What, if anything, is the U.S. (under current facts) permitted to do about Osama bin Laden, who -- we're assuming for purposes of these discussions -- clearly perpetrated the 9/11 attacks and is in the process of plotting new attacks? As far as I can tell, the options would be: (a) drop a bomb on him and kill him with no due process; (b) enter Pakistan, apprehend him, and bring him to the U.S. for a trial (i.e., rendition); or (c) do nothing, and just leave him be.

The L.A. Times, Obama & renditions

Actually, he asked two interesting hypothetical questions, thanks to one of his readers:

Suppose (for the sake of discussion) that in 2007: (a) Afghanistan learns exactly where George W. Bush is located in the U.S.; (b) there is ample evidence that W. (i) illegally detained and tortured its citizens and (ii) is continuing these policies with the intention of doing so indefinitely; and (c) the U.S. government (both Dems and Republicans) is either unwilling or unable to apprehend W. in order to extradite him to the the Netherlands for trial. Further suppose that efforts to compel the U.S. to do so through the U.N. are blocked (because, say, the U.S. vetoes any actions).

What, if anything, is Afghanistan (under current facts) permitted to do about Bush, who -- we're assuming for purposes of these discussions -- clearly committed war crimes and is continuing to do so? . . . .Why are the rules different for us?

The L.A. Times, Obama & renditions

To answer the last question first, besides the obvious, which I've illustrated in graphic form with the picture that begins this article, I can't think of any good reason. Needless to say, the bar would be higher for Afghanistan, unless you assumed hypothetically that there's no chance we'd try to snatch Bush back.

My objections to extraordinary rendition as Greenwald has defined it is that it has usually ended with people either being tortured, whether by us or someone else, or left in prison indefinitely with no trial or indictment. As he observes, the previous Administrations that did this allegedly did it either to people who were to stand trial, or who had been convicted in absentia.

We aren't the only country that's ever kidnapped someone to put him on trial. Perhaps the most famous instance of this happening prior to 9/11 was Adolf Eichmann. Eichmann, an accused Nazi war criminal, was kidnapped in Argentina by Israeli agents and taken to Israel for trial.

My own feeling is that the act of rendition itself may be necessary for some time, since there's no way of enforcing any edict of the World Court or other international justice system in a country that doesn't agree to abide by it. Perhaps in the long run, though, the only acceptable way of doing this will be to go through an international court to obtain a warrant. Messy as that idea sounds, it's probably better than letting everyone do it on his own.

What do you think?


5 comments:

pissed off patricia said...

I pretty much agree with you. There has to be a world standard for this sort of thing. How exactly it should work is beyond my mental ability this early in the morning.

Dana Hunter said...

Mah two cents. In which you are, once again, highlighted.

And a further thought: if the United States threw its weight behind the World Court, I do believe it would start to have more meaning worldwide. Obama's caught the world's fancy well enough that he could do that. Of course, the UN-haters at home would go into hysterical fits over the idea of a World Court with teeth - which makes the idea all the more attractive, don't it just?

Pamela D. Hart said...

Greenwald makes one think for sure. However, Bin Laden needs to be caught and punished for 9/11.

Mike at The Big Stick said...

Think about the logistics of getting a 'warrant' from a world court. Time + leaks = Bin Laden goes free.

It's a noble idea but completely unrealistic in my opinion.

Cujo359 said...

PoP, Pamela, and Dana, I pretty much agree. There will certainly be people who are completely against doing anything with the U.N., and they do have a point. We can't control what the U.N. does. Heck, we can't really even control what we do.

There would be logistical hurdles to getting a warrant, and there would doubtless be some rules regarding their execution, Mike. That's the reason I referred to it as "messy". Warrants are fairly easily obtained in this country. A similarly streamlined process could be put into place for a worldwide system. I'm far more concerned about processes that go on in secret, and are done the way individual countries feel like doing them. Not all countries have a military that's as well trained as ours. (Despite that training, we have had excesses in Iraq and Afghanistan. That should make you think about how bad either countries would be at executing a disciplined raid into another country to capture someone.)

Even so, and despite the logistical issues Mike refers to, I still think there has to be a system like this. The thoughts in our own Constitution are noble ideas, but to the extent we live by them, we're safe from our own government. Having a sane system in place that governs extra-national arrests would make us safer from other peoples' governments, as well.