“What does a country do when compelling evidence shows its leaders have authorised international crimes?”

This is the question Phillipe Sands asks in his latest Op-Ed piece in the Guardian.

Sands argues that the next administration will have to deal with the legacy of human rights abuses left by the Bush Administration, or risk leaving torture and other international crimes open as options for future administrations, poisoning American politics for years to come. Furthermore, Sands argues that if the US doesn’t investigate and prosecute those responsible for crimes like torture, other countries will. The Pinochet treatment will await Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzalez, and their co-conspirators.

Sands sees some progress stateside:

Over recent months, Congress has been looking into the role of senior officials involved in the development of interrogation rules. These have attracted relatively scant attention; little by little, however, senators and congressmen have uncovered the outlines of a potentially far-reaching criminal conspiracy.

The first hearings were convened before the judiciary committee of the House of Representatives, at the instance of its chairman, Congressman John Conyers, apparently off the back of my book Torture Team. Parallel hearings have been held before the Senate armed services committee.

The evidence that has emerged is potentially devastating. It confirms, for instance, that the search for new interrogation techniques for use at Guantánamo began not with the local military but in the offices of Donald Rumsfeld and his chief lawyer, Jim Haynes.

But he’s not hopeful that anyone will be prosecuted in the end of the day. His piece in the Guardian, as well as his Vanity Fair articles and his book, The Torture Team, all reiterate Sands’ argument that, when it comes down to it, Bush Administration will be tried in European courts, in countries with universal jurisdiction laws, if they are ever tried at all.

The American commenters at Comment is Free did not like this conclusion.

Quiet a few brought up the ICC, apparently after not reading Sands very carefully or not understanding that the ICC has nothing whatsoever to do with any of this, but most simply argued against “foreign interference.” The comments were, by and large, a good illustration of the profoundly different and presently irreconcilable American and European views on international justice. Here’s a sampling of the (mostly negative) responses to Sands.

“It is interesting to see the rebirth of European colonialism in a new Human Rights-friendly guise so obvious on CiF. But somehow I’d start with someone smaller. Stepping in to get America’s house is order is a little bit beyond the Europeans and their pet ICC.”

“No American is accountable to you. Ever. You Europeans may buy into the whole collective responsibility thing. We Americans do not. We never have, and we never will. If we did, we would have bought into the ICC, rather than got a nearly global exemption from it. The fact of the matter is, the Constitution is the supreme law for all Americans. Its people are accountable to its tenants. Everything else… every Geneva convention, UN resolution or international treaty… they’re just nice pieces of paper and sentiments. They do not apply to me, or any other American. And I will not be held accountable by anyone except my peers, my brothers, my countrymen. So good luck picking that fight. You want to come after American citizens over the War on Terror? You’re welcome to try. You will find nothing so quickly rallies and unifies Americans than foreigners intruding where they don’t belong. To put it bluntly, keep that crap on your side of the pond. We want nothing to do with it, and we will not be bounded by it.”

“Just to add one last thing, good foreign friends: don’t get in our way while we deal with this. This is our affair; trust it will be dealt with in a satisfactory manner, and don’t bug us. There are many emotions that any American feels when others meddle in affairs that are not theirs to meddle in before we have been proven incapable of dealing with our own business. We are not Germany, we are not defeated, if you want to hold a court to judge us, please defeat us first, and then get the court. Look, dear friends, but don’t touch. If foreigners involve themselves in this matter, then this matter will never be successfully resolved, because America takes care of American business, not the business of foreigners, even that of our dear foreign friends.”

They’ll try. They can’t help themselves. For centuries they’ve speculated and been perplexed why Americans are nothing like them, and moreover want to be nothing like them. They’ve never understood why we don’t aspire to be like them, and why their ideas and ours are often at odds. That we actively try to insulate ourselves from much of what they aspire for the world only frustrates them. They’ve never understood it, and they never will. So they’ll try. They’ll step over that red line, and it will blow up in their face.

And on and on they go, in this fashion, for dozens more comments.

I suspect Sands’ predictions will come true. I expect at least one or two former Bush Administration officials to go to Oktoberfest, or decide they’ve always wanted to see the Louvre, or attend a real Spanish bullfight, and end up in handcuffs shortly after leaving the airport, thanks to some principled prosecutor.

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