‘Aiding and Abetting’ Crimes is Unlawful, Sometimes

The International Criminal Court has sentenced Charles G. Taylor, the former president of Liberia “to 50 years in prison over his role in atrocities committed in Sierra Leone during its civil war in the 1990s,” reports the New York Times.

As is common for heads of state, Taylor did not physically carry out these crimes himself. Rather he did by proxy, which is why the court convicted him on charges of “aiding and abetting, as well as planning, some of the most heinous and brutal crimes.” Prosecutors introduced evidence, for example, of communications Taylor had with rebel forces while he was in Liberia and they were in Sierra Leone. Other testimony “focused on arms and munitions shipments to those rebels.”

The court’s mandate “covered only those crimes in Sierra Leone between 1996 and 2002, wherein up to 50,000 people were killed.” Those were some interesting years. It just so happens that America was “aiding and abetting, as well as planning” what would become incredibly heinous and brutal crimes which would in many ways surpass what happened in Sierra Leone. But the leadership in Washington didn’t aid and abet these crimes against humanity sitting in a poor nation in Africa, so their crimes aren’t within the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction.

Throughout the 1990s, the Clinton administration provided the Turkish government with the bulk of its arms. As this was happening, the atrocities committed by Turkey against the Kurdish population in the southeast was at its peak. “In the single year 1997 alone,” writes Noam Chomsky, “U.S. arms flow to Turkey exceeded the combined total for the entire Cold War period up to the onset of the state terror campaign.” Under the pretext of suppressing Kurdish separatist rebels, Turkey unleashed a campaign of ethnic cleansing in the southeast, forcibly displacing more than 400,000 impoverished Kurdish villagers. Torture and extra-judicial killings and disappearances were rampant, and the bombing and attacks by security forces led to the deaths of up to 40,000 people. Such a vast and coordinated campaign would have been very difficult without critical U.S. support.

Indonesia had been committing crimes against the people of East Timor from 1975-1999. President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger gave the terrible President Suharto the green light to invade East Timor, an event which led to tens of thousands of deaths and major army atrocities right off the bat. The U.S.-backed state terror – “the United States was then supplying Indonesia’s military with 90 percent of its arms,” writes Reed Brody of the Nation – lasted through to the Clinton administration and by 1999 the dead totaled somewhere around 200,000-250,000 people. “This shows every sign of being planned and coordinated beforehand,” said Sidney Jones of Human Rights Watch in 1999. “The Indonesian army may be trying to teach a lesson not only to the East Timorese but to the people of Aceh and Irian Jaya. The lesson is: if you seek separation from Indonesia, even if support for separation is overwhelming, we will destroy you, and no outside power will come to your aid.”

In 2002, the last year in the ICC’s mandate for conviction of Taylor’s role in aiding and abetting the murder and torture of over 50,000 people, the Bush administration had already begun the sales campaign that would become the lead up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Prior to this, throughout the 1990s, the U.S.-led sanctions regime directly contributed to a dramatic increase in child mortality rates and notoriously resulted in the death of over 500,000 children (that’s ten times more than Taylor has been convicted of helping kill). But very soon after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, the Bush administration began to construct fallacious and distorted justifications for an aggressive, unprovoked war on Iraq. Every initial justification for the invasion has since been conclusively falsified, and the invasion and occupation of the country led to the deaths of well over 600,000 Iraqis. As this was being needlessly carried out, the Bush administration also had set up a worldwide system of torture and indefinite detention without charge or trial, also serious international crimes.

Nobody is saying Taylor isn’t a criminal that deserves to go to jail. But why is America’s leadership sitting comfortably in early retirement after “aiding and abetting” and “planning” crimes that far surpass anything Taylor did? Washington considers itself above the law, which is probably the reason for its refusal to ratify the statute authorizing the ICC, and why it would almost certainly veto any UN Security Council referral to the ICC. When the World Court held in 1984 that the Reagan administration had committed international terrorism – or rather, aided and abetted international terrorism – in Nicaragua through its terrorist proxies in the Contra rebel militias (who committed atrocities from torture to mass murder of tens of thousands of people), Reagan merely dismissed the case and refused to have anything to do with the court. And that’s how to commit massive crimes with impunity (i.e. have the power to ignore the victims). Easy as pie.

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