The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for Muammar Gaddafi, his son, and his top intelligence man under the Rome Statute’s provisions constituting crimes against humanity. Good; they are sick murderous tyrants. But who should be next?
The Explanatory Memorandum of the relevant articles of the Rome Statute say actions qualifying as crimes against humanity must “constitute a serious attack on human dignity” but that “murder, extermination, torture, rape, political, racial, or religious persecution and other inhumane acts reach the threshold of crimes against humanity only if they are part of a widespread or systematic practice.” Our government’s practice of piloting Predator drones primarily in the area of Northwest Pakistan almost surely applies.
Begun under Bush and drastically expanded under Obama, the drone program consistently kills civilians although clear statistics are difficult to amass given how isolated the area is and how difficult it is for journalists or human rights groups to get in there and find out for sure. But estimates are available. (Go here for drone statistics.) In 2009, 53 drone strikes that we know about were launched. The high estimate for the number of people killed is 724. In 2010, strikes increased dramatically, numbering 118, and killing, at a low estimate 607 people, and a high estimate 993. So far in 2011 there have been 29 attacks, killing a high estimate of 222 people. From 2004 – 2011, deaths from drone strikes are somewhere between 1,483 – 2,364. If the Brookings Institution is correct that for each drone strike approximately ten civilians are murdered for every 1 militant, that is something like 1,800 civilians killed.
With no signs of this program being eliminated or slowing down at all, it seems to qualify explicitly as a “widespread or systemic practice.” It has killed a number of civilians roughly comparable to the number of civilians claimed dead in Libya just prior to NATO intervention (although not a single organization I’m aware of is keeping close track of civilian casualties in the conflict). Gaddafi has been accused of crimes against humanity. Barack Obama is lauded as the leader of the free world.
If the operational basis of the International Criminal Court epitomizes this hypocrisy, it contradicts its own statement of purpose: “to help end impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community.” They merely uphold this scheme of impunity for powerful criminals.
Keep in mind that I’m really focusing on only one program among many deadly programs. The analysis could of course include so called “kill/capture” operations or night raids in Afghanistan (described in this Frontline episode as a “vast and secret” program) which result in numerous civilian casualties and is quite obviously a “systemic practice.” It could include the general policy of a surge in Afghanistan, which has sharply increased civilian deaths. It could even include the crimes that are officially sanctioned by the U.S., but committed by others, like the recent atrocities in Yemen, Bahrain, Palestine, and elsewhere in the region. With these inclusions, the disproportionate ratios of civilian casualties resulting from widespread and systemic practices of outlaw states make it terribly clear that the ICC is not an unbiased, dispassionate arbiter of justice for major atrocities. Whatever it is, it’s not that.