The recent United Nation Security Council decision to freeze the assets of the Gaddafi family was heralded as a high-point of international cooperation to fight authoritarian abuse. What has gotten less press attention is the role of the United States in drafting the resolution. The Obama Administration insisted on adding a provision that barred the punishment of mercenaries for war crimes committed in the country — out of concern that the same principle could be used against U.S. contractors in places like Iraq.
The U.S. move is consistent with President Obama’s policy of the last two years in barring the prosecution of any U.S. officials for ordering or carrying out torture of detainees in violation of a host of international agreements. His Administration has also worked to bar any prosecution of U.S. contractors accused of murdering citizens in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The U.S. provision states:
6. Decides that nationals, current or former officials or personnel from a State outside the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya which is not a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court shall be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of that State for all alleged acts or omissions arising out of or related to operations in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya established or authorized by the Council, unless such exclusive jurisdiction has been expressly waived by the State.
In one article, French Permanent Representative Gerard Araud responded to a torrent of criticism over the provisions by explaining
“that’s, that was for one country, it was absolutely necessary for one country to have that considering its parliamentary constraints, and this country we are in. It was a red line for the United States. It was a deal-breaker, and that’s the reason we accepted this text to have the unanimity of the Council.”
Obama’s contribution at this high point of international cooperation is to insert an ignoble provision barring war crimes prosecutions in Libya. We have now come to this. While we once were the leader in war crimes prosecutions, we are now viewed as an enabler of such conduct. What is striking is that none of these individuals — or the victims — are U.S. citizens. While the measure does not prevent prosecution by host nations, it blocks the most likely forum for punishment. The United States has shown how a nation can simply refuse to prosecute individuals who admit to acts that constitute torture or war crimes. Thus, when it allows for mercenaries to “be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction” of their own country, the Obama Administration has already shown how such nations can protect people accused of war crimes and has taken steps to prevent other nations from enforcing international agreements on torture.
We are now viewed as not just hypocritical on human rights, but effectively making war crimes prosecutions as discretionary matter for nations.
In this case, the Obama Administration will guarantee that those mercenaries from Algeria, Ethiopia and Tunisia would not be prosecuted in Libya — the scene of the crimes including gunning down unarmed civilians and other atrocities. It continues a controversial policy of President George W. Bush.