Sunday, 8 September 2013

The USA, Syria and the World

A guest article by Mary-Sue Haliburton

Introduction by Koozma

Many Western governments, including Canada, are calling for military action in the Syrian civil war. However, this action is fraught with enormous danger because there is no right answer, except a negotiated peace. Military intervention against another country would be morally wrong, a violation of international law, as well as a disaster to the civilian population with huge costs in human lives and basic infrastructure.

Photo by Peter Biesterfeld at the Syrian Demonstration
in Ottawa, Canada, August 31, 2013

The guest article below is by Mary-Sue Haliburton, a peace activist in Ottawa, Canada with the Canadian Dept. of Peace Initiative. Mary-Sue reveals how the USA fails to honestly look at itself in the mirror and refuses to admit the legitimacy of any form of international court over its citizens. 'We can do no wrong' is the sentiment. This stance provides an excuse not to sign the International Criminal Court which is a recognized global body setting a standard of acceptable human behaviour. This position shows the current USA leadership's addiction to violence and its propensity to be a military power (with over 1000 military bases around the world) bullying its neighbours at will, without regards to the due process of law.

But the challenge of the 21st century is to go in a different direction — it is to see ourselves as citizens of one world community and to persistently seek every effort to prevent wars and ultimately create a sustainable nonkilling society.

Leaders of the world, let's do our part to give hope to our children and grandchildren. Remember: the 'enemy' is a friend in the making. With friendship, we can create great harmony in the world.

The American dilemma: Is military reaction to war crimes
based on refusal of ICC jurisdiction over Americans?

by Mary-Sue Haliburton, 4 September 2013

Instead of whether or not the allegations against Bashar Assad can be confirmed, the real challenge in the Syrian crisis is the Americans' fixed belief that evidence of a war crime justifies a military response as a reaction. Although Syria has not attacked the United States, American hawks are describing this military attack as a 'retaliation'.

Photo by Peter Biesterfeld at the Ottawa Syrian Demonstration
August 31, 2013

Does the American Constitution negate respect for International Criminal Court Proceedings?

Since American political culture refuses to admit the validity and legitimate jurisdiction of any form of international court over their own citizens, the U.S. has never signed on to the International Criminal Court (ICC). So even dealing war crimes even in other countries, it appears that American foreign policy (war policy in particular) simply cannot admit legal action as an alternative to police action. And yet in most democratic nations the police are partnered with but subject to the judiciary.

The idea of police action with no associated legality is at the core of this crisis

Americans have long held that their Constitution is uniquely admirable and effective in promoting freedom and justice. This is part of their unshakeable 'American exceptionalism' — a belief that their nation's governmental system is perfect due to the famous 'checks and balances' and is 'therefore' incorruptible. People holding that belief assume that their country can do no wrong. But it's due to American behaviour in policing the world without any application of due process that many in the world don't share that belief in American incorruptibility and justice.

Military policing actions without internationally-recognized due process

Due to this blind spot of not being able to recognize the validity of an international legal proceeding lest it would override their national courts, Americans insist on application of their political decisions outside their own borders by means of military action alone. Even the requirement for a UN vote to establish at least a semblance of legality has been set aside. We can't help recalling recent cases in which a 'coalition of the willing' helped to carry out an American military agenda that had no UN agreement nor ICC judgment behind it.

The perception of other nations is that the U.S. acts unjustly against them. This perception is unfortunately being reinforced once again by the Obama administration's response to the allegation of Syrian government crossing the 'red line' of using chemical weapons.

Within their own nation would ordinary Americans accept being punished based on opinions circulated in the press, without any trial by a jury of their peers, and without due process being conducted before qualified judges? I doubt it. But that is what they expect other nations to accept.

Canadian policy embraces ICC

Canada not only acknowledges the validity of the International Criminal Court, our country has actively supported its development. Prominent Canadian judges have been appointed to the ICC. Therefore, as Canadians it is logical and consistent with our policy to think of calling for a criminal trial of suspects in the nerve-gas attacks. This should begin with an open-ended enquiry considering all possible perpetrators. And to keep this gas attack in perspective, we should keep in mind the extent of criminal activity by the foreign jihadists within Syria's borders, and make sure those crimes are being investigated as well.

Competence of National Courts subject to ICC determination

However, Americans appear to approach the subject of war crimes in other nations from the angle that they have jurisdiction over the world, but that the world has no input to the quality of judgment being exercised by the United States. The World Court and its supporters are well aware that internationalist-minded Americans struggle deeply with this issue. (The International Criminal Court in a New Era with ICC President Philippe Kirsch and Judge Patricia Wald, Inside Justice, 13 Feb 2009.)


'One of the big hurdles for the United States to become a state party to the ICC is the issue of complementarity. When ICC Prosecutor Moreno-Campo spoke last spring in Washington, DC, he was unable to answer a question from a professor of international criminal law about complementarity with respect to U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. When pressed on whether he would consider the domestic U.S. system to be adequate in its prosecutions for crimes committed in Iraq, the ICC Prosecutor raised his eyebrows in such a way that the room fell silent and then into laughter.

'The overall message was clear, if the United States would become a state party, the ICC could determine whether the U.S. judicial system is adequate with respect to prosecuting its elected leaders, government officials, uniformed service members, civilian contractors with private military and security companies, and other civilians.'

That is the problem in a nutshell. This gives some background context to Obama's recent pardon issued to the previous president. If its own courts were subject to the world court, would the US be able to issue such pardons to its leaders who have launched wars without UN or ICC sanction?

Philippe Kirsch, President ICC
On the one hand the ICC is a fully-functional judiciary, but on the other hand, this world body has no army of its own. And the nation with the world's best-equipped army is still not supporting the international court's role in the world, but rather tends to mount military campaigns to serve its own national or, more precisely, its corporate interests.

In the Q&A section, Mr. Kirsch and the American Judge Patricia Wald try (and sometimes fail) to address serious challenges to a possible American role and to the ICC's function and usefulness in a Q&A segment. The questions they did not answer reveal the depth of the disagreement between the narrow view of American exceptionalism, and the world's view that one nation should not be able to override international laws and treaties at will.

EXCERPT: Question: Would the court cooperate in dual investigations?

Mr. Kirsch: It would be difficult for the ICC to engage in a joint project because of complementarity. The ICC must decide whether the domestic system is adequate and working properly. A joint project could compromise that impartiality and independence of the court in making that decision.

Question: For the United States to become a state party, would the Article 98 agreements need to be revoked?

Judge Wald: It is possible that the agreements were too broad in scope. See the American Society of International Law (ASIL) task force on U.S. Policy Toward the International Criminal Court (ICC). On February 2, 2009, the task force recommended an 'examination of U.S. policy concerning the scope, applicability, and implementation of Article 98 Agreements concerning the protections afforded to U.S. personnel and others in the territory of States that have joined the Court.' The Article 98 agreements are not the predominate obstacle.

It appears that much negotiation must take place before America could sign, never mind get its political sector to ratify, participation in and respect for the international court. But does this make continuing to exercise unilateral police actions inevitable? Could there be a middle ground in which targeting of only one side in a conflict as being in violation of international law can be widened to admit also addressing war crimes being committed by the opponents in that conflict as well?

The United States is conspicuously absent from a list of signatory states to the ICC : States Parties to the Rome Statute of the ICC according to the UN General Assembly Regional Groups 121 Ratification as of 2 April 2012.

In the meantime, the UN's investigation team has gathered evidence and will come out with a report concerning the August chemical attacks in Syria. On that basis, and only on that basis, should the world community of nations proceed to take appropriate corrective actions against the perpetrators, whoever they turn out to be. And if we take into account the stories of Syrian refugees about the murders and atrocities committed by the foreign jihadists operating within Syria as well as their supply chain, it's evident that the world must take action to stop the violence on both sides.

Appropriate actions don't involve killing more civilians with missiles and bombs as a way to stop mass killings in Syria (or anywhere else).

'Responsibility to Protect' implodes

What seems to be happening is that the famous principle 'Responsibility to Protect' is being perverted into 'licence to launch military attack' — regardless of how many of the civilian population in the subject nation would end up dying in the inevitable escalation of hostilities to an international scale.

More bombings, combat actions, retaliatory attacks by Syria and its allies against the U.S. (and against any NATO partners involving themselves in this police action in the absence of recognized judgment), riots and other chaos are likely to result from this incursion. Supposedly launched to keep the people safe, as we have seen in Iraq, long-range missile strikes into Syria is likely kill hundreds of thousands more Syrian civilians. That's not counting the toll there and in surrounding nations that's likely to result from a further retaliatory exchange between Assad's forces and his allies against Turkey, NATO troops in Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia that could well ensue.

If the recent letter from Pope Francis carries any weight, 'Responsibility to Protect' should indeed be exercised primarily as a negotiation process in support of the conflicted nation's civil society as their people work to correct their own situation. The world's leaders should focus their efforts on reducing the level of fighting, and on stopping the flow of weapons to all sides in the conflict, rather than escalating it with military intervention. (Pope urges G20 leaders to seek Syria peace talks, The Guardian, 5 September 2013.)

Pope Francis wrote:

'To the leaders present, to each and every one, I make a heartfelt appeal for them to help find ways to overcome the conflicting positions and to lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution.

'Rather, let there be a renewed commitment to seek, with courage and determination, a peaceful solution through dialogue and negotiation of the parties, unanimously supported by the international community.'

On Saturday September 7th, a vigil will take place in St. Peter's Square for to all people of 'good will', the pope said, whether they are Catholics or of different religions, or even no religious affiliation. Anyone can also participate in a day of fasting for peace around the world. We don't have to be world leaders to join in prayer for peace. (Embrace peace, Pope tells massive prayer vigil, EWTN News, 7 Sept 2013.)

It takes two to tango

Unilateral cessation of military action by the Assad government — which is what the mass media describes as the main demand of the 'West' — is impossible as long as foreign jihadists such as the al-Nusra militants are committing suicide bombings and terrorizing Syrian citizens.

As an alternative approach to stopping the mass murders, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson recommended in a CBC Radio interview that the world should collaborate to stop the smuggling of weapons and foreign extremist fighters into Syria. (Finding parallels between Syria and Iraq, The Current, CBC Radio, 3 Sept 2013.)

The problem is that a military strike — based on 'intelligence' and promoted by mass media and secret discussions among leaders — bypasses any form of justice system in which rules of evidence apply.
Americans blandly expect all other nations to get on board with this attack. But others are questioning whether 'intelligence' can really be sufficient to convict one in an international court of law. Whether or not the other nations do respect those international courts, in rejecting such courts as having jurisdiction over themselves Americans deny their applicability internationally — and thus may end up being instrumental in denying real justice to the rest of the world.

In watching these arguments and assertions over the past decade, there appears to be a gap in the American national psyche. The refusal and inability to cooperate with the world criminal court is what underlies their insistence that a military response is the only reaction that fits the crime.

Koozma recommends


  1. Very well written article by Mary-Sue Haliburton and wonderful introduction by Koozma; I loved the sentence: "Remember: the 'enemy' is a friend in the making.With friendship, we can create great harmony in the world".
    Obama was quoted last week saying that he would ask the Congress before "bombing Syria"...imagine if an alien came down from another planet and heard this sentence! It may not be that the United States and other likeminded countries wish to cause the horrors war brings, it may just be that they have not taken the possibility of aggression out of the equation. What would nations do if there were no weapons nor people available to fight? Would they not have to find a peaceful solution?

    I was wondering about this, so my husband and I made a video on unity and peace for Syria called: "Hands OFF Syria - Hands ON Humanism"
    It has had over 2,000 views in one week and every person has expressed pro-peace sentiments. I am sure our peaceful voices will be heard, it's just a matter of time. We just need to keep in mind: "With friendship, we can create great harmony in the world."
    Love and Peace, Always <3

    1. Congratulations to you and your husband for creating a wonderful video on YouTube! Your images were beautiful, your sounds and singing were haunting, and your messages were relevant with the urgency to get rid of our weapons and start living. No more wars. Love overcomes fear. 'Hands OFF Syria -- Hands ON Humanism'. In just over 6 minutes, you have touched our minds and our hearts. I love you both.