The political leaders of the United States never tire of proudly proclaiming their adherence to the idea that we are a nation of laws, unlike all those other nasty countries that protect abusers and criminals. But the reality is that the US is one of the worst when it comes to bringing its criminals to account, especially if they are high-ranking ones.
President Obama has been the leader in the rehabilitation and protection of Dick Cheney, one of the nation’s worst individuals who, as Human Rights Watch has argued, really should be hauled up before US courts or in the Hague to answer for his crimes. As Glenn Greenwald says, the unveiling of a bust of Cheney yesterday was accompanied by jokes suggesting that he was some kind of avuncular figure rather than someone who was responsible for some of the most horrendous crimes inflicted on so many people.
President Obama made the decision in early 2009 to block the Justice Department from criminally investigating and prosecuting Cheney and his fellow torturers, as well as to protect them from foreign investigations and even civil liability sought by torture victims. Obama did that notwithstanding a campaign decree that even top Bush officials are subject to the rule of law and, more importantly, notwithstanding a treaty signed in 1984 by Ronald Reagan requiring that all signatory states criminally prosecute their own torturers. Obama’s immunizing Bush-era torturers converted torture from a global taboo and decades-old crime into a reasonable, debatable policy question, which is why so many GOP candidates are now openly suggesting its use.
But now, the Obama administration has moved from legally protecting Bush-era war criminals to honoring and gushing over them in public. Yesterday, the House of Representatives unveiled a marble bust of former Vice President Cheney, which — until a person of conscience vandalizes or destroys it — will reside in Emancipation Hall of the U.S. Capitol.
Yesterday, the U.S. government unambiguously signaled to the world that not only does it regard itself as entirely exempt from the laws of wars, the principal Nuremberg prohibition against aggressive invasions, and global prohibitions on torture (something that has been self-evident for many years), but believes that the official perpetrators should be honored and memorialized provided they engage in these crimes on behalf of the U.S. government. That’s a message that most of the U.S. media and thus large parts of the American population will not hear, but much of the world will hear it quite loudly and clearly. How could they not?
And so it goes.