Get out of the way of justice. She is blind.
--Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, More Unkempt Thoughts
It is, of course, very exciting for the Iraqis. As Mr. Bush has so often said, they now have their very own government. Describing this wondrous state of affairs that only a short time ago seemed unattainable, Mr. Bush said of the May 20 swearing in of the Iraqi government: “The world saw the beginning of something new-constitutional democracy at the heart of the Middle East. This is a free government under a democratic constitution and its formation marks a victory for the cause of freedom in the Middle East.” Of course that doesn’t mean the Iraqi government can do whatever it wants. It still has to please George Bush. That’s why things are a bit awkward just now.
In early July it was disclosed that Steven D. Green had been arrested and charged with entering an Iraqi home near Mahmudiyah in March, killing a young woman’s mother, father and 5-year old sister and then raping and killing the young woman. In June it was reported that there were four other investigations being conducted into allegations of killings of unarmed civilians by service personnel. July 7, 2006, Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli reported on the killings of 24 Iraqi civilians by marine in Haditha in November. He found that there were inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the initial reports of the incident that were not followed up by senior officers of the Second Marine Division.
The various allegations of criminal conduct by U.S. service personnel against Iraqi civilians have greatly upset Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. He is the prime minister of the “free government under a democratic constitution” that Mr. Bush so proudly described in his May speech. The trouble is, it’s a free government but Mr. Bush gets to tell it what it can and cannot do. One of the things it cannot do is prosecute Americans who commit crimes in Iraq. That’s because, as much as Mr. Bush loves free countries, he doesn’t want them to be free to prosecute American citizens.
When the American-led Coalition Provisional Authority was ruling Iraq until Iraq got its own government in June 2004, it issued an order that said all foreign troops, missions and their consultants were immune from Iraqi law. The reason for that was the Mr. Bush does not think any court other than a United States court should have the right to try American citizens.
Under ordinary procedures once the Iraqi government was in place and the Coalition Provisional Authority quit ruling the country, its orders would be of no further effect. The Iraqi constitution specifically provides that the order remains in place. As a result the Iraqis have to rely on the United States to prosecute those who commit crimes in Iraq. It doesn’t mean that the United States doesn’t care, however. Through the United States Ambassador to Iraq and the top military commander in the country we have apologized for the murder and rape of the Mahmudiya family. The spokesmen said: “We understand this is painful, confusing and disturbing, not only to the family who lost a loved one, but to the Iraqi people as a whole. The loss of a family member can never be undone. The alleged events of that day are absolutely inexcusable and unacceptable behavior.”
In light of these events Mr. al-Maliki almost forgot himself and to whom he is beholden. He had the temerity to suggest that he might ask that the rule granting American soldiers immunity be abrogated. He said: “I’m about to talk to the multinational forces to reach solutions that will put an end to such practices.” Ending immunity won’t happen.
So firmly entrenched is the belief that only U.S. courts should try U.S. citizens that the administration boycotted a ceremony at U.N. headquarters on April 11, 2002 at which delegates from 10 countries deposited instruments of ratification of the International Criminal Court bringing the number of approving countries to a total of 66. Commenting on the boycott, State Department spokesman, Phil Reeker said: “It has a number of fundamental problems. It purports to assert jurisdiction over nationals of states not party to the treaty, contrary to the most basic principles of customary international law governing treaties.” In opposing the treaty the Bush administration is in good company. Russia and China don’t like it either and have refused to sign it.
Mr. Maliki should not worry about justice being done. Mr. Bush runs one of the most democratic countries in the world and justice will surely be done. He can count on it. He has Mr. Bush’s word and Mr. Bush doesn’t lie about everything. It just seems that way.
Christopher Brauchli is a Boulder lawyer and and writes a weekly column for the McClatchy news service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org