Posted by Phil
Let me preface this post by directing you all to read the post by Laurence here on PHP, a great analysis and response to the Kony2012 movement which should be required reading for anyone interested. I have a slightly different focus in this post, which is to consider US attitudes to tracking down war criminals and criminals, and what I would term the ‘American Way’ in terms of international law enforcement.
The connection I will make is prompted by a Facebook status…which is probably quite a dangerous admission. Seeing people post ‘Remember how we all celebrated when we got Bin Laden, let’s do the same to Kony’ has got me thinking.
I remember very well the day we found out the US Seals had got Bin Laden and rid the world of an evil and dangerous individual. Though I am very much one of those who do not believe the story that there was ever a possibility of bringing him in alive, I still when I think of the US taking him out considering it good riddance. But it isn’t the assassination of Bin Laden itself that sticks in my memory. What sticks in my memory is what we saw on our television screens afterwards. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of people outside the White House, cheering and dancing in the streets, reveling in the demise of that despicable man. I have rarely been so horrified by a country and people I admire so much as I was that day.
Being at Georgetown, I have met many of the students who went down to the White House to celebrate. I know that for those who lost family or friends in the attacks, to hear that the mastermind and inspiration of those crimes was dead must have been a moment of cathartic emotion. I understand, coming from a country that has suffered prolonged campaigns of terrorism, the elation that comes from prevailing against these deplorable people. None of that, however, can justify that reaction.
Deep in the American character there is respect, there is honour, and there is decency in victory. The shooting of an unarmed man as he cowered with his family in the middle of the night, no matter how evil he might be, is not cause for celebration. Satisfaction yes, and relief that the world is rid of such a cruel, sadistic and inhumane being, but not the wild celebrations witnessed in Washington and New York in the aftermath of that mission. There can be no celebration in death, and for those who danced for joy outside the White House that night, I want you to ask yourself, what image do you think you sent across the world? That was the moment that the US had a historic opportunity, to illustrate the values which define it. Victory had been achieved, there was no need to dance around like savages. I realise not all Americans were represented by those partying at the news, I am sure many had a reaction closer to my own. The fact is though I see little understanding of how such reactions are perceived across the world by those that had them. I remember the revulsion we felt at seeing that behaviour in the UK, it was simply inexplicable. I am making no moral equivalency between what Bin Laden did and how some Americans reacted to his death, I am asking Americans to hold themselves to a higher standard than we get from the poorly-educated mobs that behave similarly in the third world at the news of the latest execution.
The reaction to Bin Laden, and the method of his removal, contains within it something very telling about the way American justice is spread out across the world. Drone missiles and machine-gun carrying special forces are the methods of choice of American justice internationally today. The US refuses to sign the Rome Statute and become a constituent member of the International Criminal Court, yet still expects – or rather demands – other countries bow to its authority and jurisdiction. The US has a track record of bullying countries that refuse to extradite individuals to the United States due to the possibility they will face the death penalty, and it is only huge efforts within the Council of Europe and European courts that have now guaranteed that such US strong-arming will be resisted.
This post is not designed to be understood as calling the US some lawless-bloodthirsty cowboy. I do not see it that way, and no one prepared to consider the facts ever could. The point being made is that the highest of ideals are inherent to the US Declaration of Independence, US Constitution, and within American society as a whole. Either the US government and Americans wish to hold themselves to that standard or not, but if they do then actions must accompany the beautiful rhetoric.