Symbolic victory

KUALA LUMPUR: The recent conviction of former US President George W Bush and several members of his administration by the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal, while largely ignored by foreign media, drew a variety of reactions from bloggers and blog readers.


Bush and seven others – Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales, David Addington, William Haynes, Jay Bybee and John Yoo — were found guilty by the Tribunal on May 11 after four days of testimony over their conduct during American intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq.


“At the end of the week-long hearing, the five-panel tribunal unanimously delivered guilty verdicts against Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and their key legal advisors who were all convicted as war criminals for torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment,” wrote British journalist Yvonne Ridley, who had been covering the tribunal.


“The Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission is also asking that the names of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, Yoo, Bybee, Addington and Haynes be entered and included in the Commission’s Register of War Criminals for public record,” Ridley noted.


This is the second time Bush has been convicted by the KLWCT. Last November, the Tribunal found him and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair guilty of war crimes after a trial that Princeton University law professor Richard Falk said “offers a devastating critique of the persisting failures of international criminal law mechanisms of accountability to administer justice justly, that is, without the filters of impunity provided by existing hierarchies of hard power”.


Writing in his blog shortly after the conviction of Bush and Blair last November, former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad echoed Falk’s assessment, saying the United Nations and the international community had failed to punish powerful world leaders who had committed terrible crimes.


“The world should not accept this failure,” Mahathir wrote. “Somehow some punishment should be meted to countries and leaders guilty of international crimes. Their deeds must be put before a court of law and the verdict pronounced.”


Guardian columnist Seumas Milne has also criticised the selectiveness International Criminal Court, writing on May 15 in an article about the misdeeds of Nato in Libya: “In the 10 years of its existence, the International criminal court has indicted 28 people from seven countries for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Every single one of them is African – even though ICC signatories include war-wracked states such as Colombia and Afghanistan.”


‘Long overdue’


The Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal’s most recent verdict drew mostly praise in blogs focused on American politics and foreign policy, along with criticism of the current US administration for not prosecuting Bush and his co-accused.


Mississippi-based Vjack wrote in the blog Red State Progressive: “I believe that the efforts of this tribunal highlight the need for the U.S. to prosecute Bush and his cronies for war crimes and shine a light on the inexcusable decision by the Obama administration to shield Bush from prosecution.”


Rmuse wrote in American liberal blog Politicususa that it is “shameful” that the United States has not prosecuted Bush and the others who were convicted in Kuala Lumpur.


“George Washington opined that any American who mistreated prisoners of war was guilty of bringing ‘shame, disgrace, and ruin to themselves and their country,’ and over 230 years later, evil men like Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld brought America’s standing in the world to a new low by authorising torture,” he wrote.


“It is a travesty they are not in an isolation cell in a federal penitentiary and that they are able to move about the country as free men,” he continued.


“The witnesses who were tortured are also free because they were found to be innocent, but they still bear the physical and psychological scars from being rounded up like dogs, water-boarded, hung, had their fingernails pulled out with pliers, and kept in isolation by American military personnel and private contractors,” he said.


A commenter in Foreign Policy Journal wrote: “Long overdue! It is unfortunate that our Commander in Chief didn’t have the courage to go after Bush and company. Especially after his speech that no one is above the law, and those who broke the law would be held accountable.”


British journalist and historian Andy Worthington decried the lack of coverage of the tribunal in the Western media but said “the pressure is building”.


“US citizens need to know about this ruling, and also to know that, although there is no direct mechanism whereby it can lead to putting Bush and co. in the dock, the legal basis for the ruling is sound. The only absence of legitimacy is in the US, where the disdain for international laws and treaties continues,” he wrote in the comments section of his blog,” he said.


“America certainly behaves as though no laws apply to it, but having said that, I doubt that Bush or any of his cronies will be in a hurry to visit Malaysia after this ruling,” he added.


Another blogger wrote in Elephant Journal: “While it’s (highly) doubtful the former President and his officials would be arrested on American soil, further trials like this one could make it difficult for them to travel abroad, where they could be arrested due to the principle of universal jurisdiction which applies to torture, war crimes, genocide, extrajudicial executions, and crimes against humanity.”


‘Kangaroo court’


There was also criticism of the Tribunal’s verdict, with Luke Hunt of The Diplomat saying “The KLWCT wouldn’t be described as a kangaroo court if it had any form of legitimacy. It does not.”


“Mahathir’s antics and the unconventional tactics of the KLWCT simply detract from tribunals where very serious issues are being dealt with, such as the genocides in Cambodia and Rwanda,” Hunt said. “Despite their flaws (and there are many) they hold a recognition backed by a U.N. mandate that legitimizes their investigations, prosecutions and findings among the public and victims they serve.”


“The Kuala Lumpur tribunal holds none of these characteristics,” he continued. “Mahathir is an old political stager and may have had his day in court, which should delight him. But to be clear in regards to Bush, Blair and the War on Terror, no one else has legitimately had theirs.”


A commenter at Loonwatch wrote: “What an embarrassment for poor Malaysia. One can only imagine the extent of the politics in that country that resulted in such a confused ‘trial’ (without any defense witnesses of course) verdict like this.”


“I hope the lumpen KualaLumpurians have deep bomb shelters,” wrote a commenter in Foreign Policy Journal. “Any more of this nonsense, and they’re going to need ‘em.”


American blogger Sneigwh acknowledged the Tribunal would probably have no practical effect but said it was significant nonetheless, if only symbolically.


“Maybe expecting a vigorous effort to deal with Bush/Cheney administration’s possible war crimes here in the US was always a quaint concept,” he wrote. “But for now justice has swerved, at least symbolically, to Malaysia.”



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Jordan MacVay