Guilt by Exoneration... or, Hypocrites "R" Us

Among the Roman legal maxims which seem just as fundamental and reasonable today as they did two millennia ago, two come to mind apropos to the persistent “bad news” from Iraq involving the alleged merciless killing of civilian Iraqis by American soldiers, and the soldiers’ exoneration. They are: one, “when the guilty is acquitted, the judge is condemned;” the other, “no man should be a judge in his own case.”

The judge in this case is the United States military, both its hierarchy in Occupied Iraq, and its hierarchy in the Pentagon. When it exonerates its own soldiers for crimes Iraqis close to the action, or other credible international organizations, feel they have committed, the entire American military appears as responsible for those crimes, not just the individuals perpetrating them. And, it needs to be emphasized that these are not property crimes, but capital crimes ranging from negligent homicide to murder of socially-protected persons (women, children, the disabled and the elderly), Ishaqi and Samara being most prominent, among recent locations, of such exonerations.

For the United States to establish and maintain a minimal level of international propriety and credibility, it cannot follow the illicit principle of “victors’ justice” or, in this case, “occupiers’ justice.” That would be an insolent challenge to the world, making the rule of law and morality applicable to everyone except the US, its protectorates and coalition partners.

In fact, such “occupiers’ justice” would only validate US’ “Iraq doctrine” for other nations to follow or emulate, such as the treatment of Palestinians by Israeli military forces, or other “hot spots” that might appear from time to time. Immunizing the US military from any criminal responsibility is a reckless act bound to discourage peace-seeking, while encouraging future confrontations and added terrorism. Bush’s administration should not, as a matter of good PR if not conscience, allow the US military to be its own judge.

But as much as we might frown to have the American military police itself, how else can it be reasonably done? After all, Iraq remains a war zone, whatever name one wishes to give the insurgency, even if there is an Iraqi government in place. And, aside from the inherent complexity of this situation, America’s voice and vote [translated: the American vocal super-majority] precludes the probability of the US government having its citizens, or their actions, judged by anyone who is not beholden to the stars and stripes. Bi-partisan political leadership in the US has consistently catered to jingoistic feelings American might have, convincing them that little which is outside American jurisdiction is trustworthy… such as, anything-UN, or any international criminal courts.

So if the world wishes for America to participate in any type of a diplomatic game, the rules need to be written accordingly. And in this particular subject of war crimes, the first rule to abide by would have to give the United States a sole prosecutorial role of its citizens, military or civilian, in Iraq. Our basic concern here is one of criminal behavior by American military personnel while performing military duties which might result in capital crimes against Iraqis or foreign noncombatants domiciled in Iraq.

As a starting point, why couldn’t a protocol be created to establish a way for the US military, the Iraqi government and a Board of Inquiry to collaborate in the investigative and analytical phases of any probe? Such protocol could be based on some shared understandings and principles. Why a third party… a Board of Inquiry? Simply because if the Board has the proper composition, it would add the all-important factor: credibility. Most communities where these alleged crimes are being committed are Sunni, and they may not feel they are being justly represented by the current Iraqi leadership.

A board or panel of inquiry should have a diverse, humane and qualified membership. Not to be put in an ombudsman-role, non-Iraqi Muslims conversant with both culture and language would likely provide the best option in facilitating the gathering and interpretation of evidence.

A major lesson from recent-past wars (Afghanistan, Bosnia… Rwanda) has told us that stability cannot take place without the airing of crime and human rights violations, and accountability for missing persons. After four years, the question of alleged mass atrocities still begs resolution in Afghanistan, where the US has had the power to ensure an investigation but failed to do so, not so much to cover up for its troops, but to exonerate (via inaction) the crimes perpetrated by its ally, the Northern Alliance.

This coming week we are likely to hear and read about the “military findings” on Haditha, and what prosecutorial steps, if any, are to be taken with the marines involved. The truth of the matter is that two-thirds of the American public won’t care if there is a minimization of charges or cover-up, and the other one-third will have little faith in what the military have to say.

Well… here comes Haditha, and one gets the feeling that here comes the same judge. Whatever the findings, America would be better served if in these cases the US military is not the sole judge in its own case. In this regard, things haven’t changed much in two millennia.

Americans, through their leaders, seem to be telling the world: If we are not on the side of truth, we have no recourse but to force truth to come to our side. If that doesn’t stand for hypocrisy, I don’t know what does.