You Can’t Fool All the People

Benjamin B. Ferencz

While the ICC was formulating rules of procedure and obtaining and training staff for the new tribunal, the attempts by the U.S. government to throttle the Court continued unabated. President George W. Bush continued to stretch his powers as Executive and as the new “Commander in Chief.” John Bolton continued to bully small nations into signing” immunity agreements” to exempt all Americans and their employees from the reach of the ICC. He was rewarded in August 2005 by being designated by the President to be the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations. That position normally requires approval by the Senate, but Bolton’s appointment was sneaked through as an interim appointment when Congress was not in session.

My warning to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and its Republican Chairman, Richard Lugar, was in vain. The Republican Congress, controlled by conservatives and intimidated by the Religious Right, was not inclined to challenge the White House. A new rule of law was invented for the Pentagon that prisoners of war need not receive humanitarian treatment if the captives are labeled “insurgents,” “terrorists,” or even “suspects.” Holding prisoners without filing charges or allowing legal representation, along with the abusive conduct of some of our military service members, brought the nation into further disrepute. There was no international court competent to judge the merit of such deeds or accusations.

In the House of Representatives, the all-powerful Speaker Thomas DeLay of Texas, ruled with an iron hand that gave him the nickname, “The Hammer.” He castigated the International Criminal Court as “a shady amalgam of every bad idea ever cooked up for world government... threatening the American people with prosecution by Kofi Annan’s kangaroo court.” He even denounced the ICC as a “clear and present danger to the war on terror.” In a stinging peroration recorded in the Congressional Record on July 15, 2004, he warned against allowing “American soldiers to be imprisoned and shipped off to Brussels without their constitutional rights.” It was not surprising that the House Leader should repeat the standard canards about the ICC, but at least he should have known that the Court was not in Brussels, but in The Hague, which is in another country. Reading his tirade made me ashamed that such men could sit in high positions in our government. Had the inmates really taken over the asylum?

The American public, eager to believe their elected representatives, and always supportive of our troops, went along with Congressional and Executive Branch abuses. But as Lincoln wisely predicted, “You can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” In the mid-term elections of 2006, the Republicans were swept out of power. The vitriolic Jesse Helms had disappeared from the political scene toward the end of 2005. His wife later confirmed that he was afflicted with “multi-infarct dementia.” Tom Delay, admonished by the House Ethics Committee in 2004 and accused of taking large sums as political bribes, was indicted in 2005; he was forced to resign in June 2006. Two of his aides went to jail in bribery scandals. As for the provocative Ambassador John Bolton, when it became obvious at the end of 2006, that he had no chance of being confirmed by the Senate, he resigned as the temporary Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations. His tenure there, and his virulent opposition to the ICC, had done nothing to enhance the soiled reputation of our country.