July 22, 2008

 The arrest of Radovan Karadzic

ὀψε θɛῷν ἀλέουσίμύλοί, ἀλέουσί δε λɛρṯά
- an ancient Greek proverb quoted by one Sextus Empiricus, Against the Professors (sic). Longfellow's translation:
Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small.
The crimes of Radovan Karadzic, arrested in Belgrade on Friday, ended 13 years ago. It's idle on the part of the Bush gang to think that last-minute executive pardons, and retroactive immunity provisions stuck into unrelated legislation by a sycophantic Congress, will let them off the hook for good. Pinochet and the Argentine death squads also found their immunity rescinded.

That said, Obama's first task, after ending torture by executive order on his inauguration day, and closing Guantanamo, will have to be the setting up of a truth commission to establish the facts. It can't be a reconciliation commission as in South Africa; the victims with very few exceptions have not been US citizens or even residents, but a multinational assortment of jihadi Muslim terrorists, guerrillas, and blowhards, with not a few passers-by. There is no imaginable political process with their communities of origin that can replace the course of justice. The exception is Iraq; and something will have to be worked out with a future Iraqi government on Abu Ghraib.

Unfortunately the legal questions can't be separated from the facts, as the legal enabling of war crimes is itself an evil and possibly a crime. Still, an unimpeachable chronicle of the wrongdoing in all its slimy parts will be an essential basis for future prosecutions, executive action, and legislation. The issue won't be over by the end of Obama's second term.

The alternative is to brush it all under the carpet. This worked in Northern Ireland, where the IRA and UDF were bought off by Tony Blair in the Good Friday Agreement with amnesty and a share of power. The IRA capo Martin McGuinness now drives around Belfast in a limo as First Deputy Minister.

In cases like this - ending an insurrection and civil strife - there's a conflict of values, and peace trumps justice. There's no analogy to the USA. Bush, Cheney, Addington and Rumsfeld aren't rebels to be bought off, but abusers of high office. Why should they get away with it? Their crimes are lesser in scale than those of Milosevic, Pinochet, Bashir, and Karadzic. So what?

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