Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Killing Bin Laden was clearly unlawful

Benjamin Ferencz
When Osama bin Laden was killed I was in France, without an internet connection, so I had to let this event pass. But I was struck by how much the way he was executed ressembled what Israeli's call targeted killings, the unlawful execution of Palestinians they suspect of having committed attacks in the past or being able to execute those in the future. Also it fits into a trend of what the Americans are doing quite regularly in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen  nowadays: killing by unmanned drone. I was happy to stumble on a piece where Glenn Greenwald (Salon.com) quotes the former prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials after World War II, Benjamin Ferencz, who was very outspoken about the fact that killing Bin Laden in stead of taking him prisoner, was clearly a violation of international law and against the spirit and letter of Nuremberg. 
And another point that Ferencz made: by giving the order to kill him, president Obama wasted the opportunity to question Bin Laden openly, in a court of law, about the way the attack on the Twin Towers was done and the reasons behind it.          

Benjamin Ferencz is a 92-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen, American combat soldier during World War II, and a prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, where he prosecuted numerous Nazi war criminals, including some responsible for the deaths of upward of 100,000 innocent people.  He gave a fascinating (and shockingly articulate) 13-minute interview yesterday to the CBC in Canada about the bin Laden killing, the Nuremberg principles, and the U.S. role in the world.  Without endorsing everything he said, I hope as many people as possible will listen to it.
All of Ferencz's answers are thought-provoking -- including his discussion of how the Nuremberg Principles apply to bin Laden -- but there's one answer he gave which I particularly want to highlight; it was in response to this question: "so what should we have learned from Nuremberg that we still haven't learned"?  His answer:

I'm afraid most of the lessons of Nuremberg have passed, unfortunately.  The world has accepted them, but the U.S. seems reluctant to do so.  The principal lesson we learned from Nuremberg is that a war of aggression -- that means, a war in violation of international law, in violation of the UN charter, and not in self-defense -- is the supreme international crime, because all the other crimes happen in war.  And every leader who is responsible for planning and perpetrating that crime should be held to account in a court of law, and the law applies equally to everyone.
These lessons were hailed throughout the world -- I hailed them, I was involved in them -- and it saddens me to no end when Americans are asked:  why don't you support the Nuremberg principles on aggression?  And the response is:  Nuremberg?  That was then, this is now.  Forget it.
Click here to read the rest of Greenwald's piece

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