Has anyone been more honored in caring for the human condition than Desmond Tutu?
The former South African archbishop and primate received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984; the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism in 1986; the Pacem in Terris Award in 1987; the Sydney Peace Prize in 1999; the Gandhi Peace Prize in 2005; and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.
So it’s no wonder the international press and media blanketed papers and airwaves this weekend with Tutu’s version of CFR‘s Pure Outrage: He wrote in U.K. Guardian‘s The Observer that former U.S. President George W. Bush and former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair should be tried before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague for their invasion of Iraq.
In an op-ed titled “Why I had no choice but to spurn Tony Blair,” Tutu apologized for his sudden decision to skip the Discovery Invest Leadership Summit in Johannesburg last week. “As the date drew nearer,” he said at the op-ed’s end, “I felt an increasingly profound sense of discomfort about attending a summit on ‘leadership’ with Mr. Blair.”
But Tutu led off his op-ed, not with discomfort, but moral outrage:
The immorality of the United States and Great Britain’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003, premised on the lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, has destabilised and polarised the world to a greater extent than any other conflict in history.
He went on to say the U.S. and U.K. heads chose to “behave like playground bullies and drive us further apart. They have driven us to the edge of a precipice where we now stand – with the spectre of Syria and Iran before us.”
The cost of the decision to rid Iraq of its by-all-accounts despotic and murderous leader [Saddam Hussein] has been staggering, beginning in Iraq itself. Last year, an average of 6.5 people died there each day in suicide attacks and vehicle bombs, according to the Iraqi Body Count project. More than 110,000 Iraqis have died in the conflict since 2003 and millions have been displaced. By the end of last year, nearly 4,500 American soldiers had been killed and more than 32,000 wounded.
On these grounds alone, in a consistent world, those responsible for this suffering and loss of life should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in the Hague.
The ICC is a permanent tribunal created to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. While it’s based in the Hague, it can prosecute cases anywhere.
But there’s a problem: The ICC was created in 2002 under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. But in that same year, the U.S., Israel and Sudan informed the U.N. secretary general they wouldn’t become a part of the treaty, and therefore not subject to any prosecutions. The following year, Bush ordered U.S. troops to invade Iraq.
So, while Tutu, in his humanitarian wisdom sees the criminality in Bush’s and Blair’s war actions, international politics keeps the former president out of judicial harm’s way.
National politics has shown the same result. When Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich filed a bill to impeach Bush while he was still in office, Democratic majority leader Nancy Pelosi refused to let it proceed to a full House vote. And President Barack Obama has avoided any effort to investigate the Bush Administration’s activities in Iraq.
In fact, the U.S. refusal to take part in the ICC also protects Obama from any international prosecution for the CIA’s deadly drone strikes in the Middle East, which have caused the deaths of suspected terrorists, hundreds of innocents, and even U.S. citizens.
Avoidance of the treaty would also protect Mitt Romney, who’s expressed no plan to stop the drone strikes or further foreign invasions if elected president in November.
But both Obama and Romney may also find Tutu publicly judging their actions in the near future. The question is, will others follow Tutu’s lead, and somehow seek international justice against major powers the way they have against dictators from smaller countries.
That possibility evidently led him to publicly respond to Tutu’s criticism:
To repeat the old canard that we lied about the intelligence is completely wrong as every single independent analysis of the evidence has shown. And to say that the fact that Saddam massacred hundreds of thousands of his citizens is irrelevant to the morality of removing him is bizarre.
However, history shows that the U.S. helped put Saddam in power. And neither the U.S. or U.K. seemed to concern themselves with his abuses, or his power, until he refused to let Bechtel build an oil refinery in Iraq in the ’80s, and his invasion of Kuwait in 1990, when the U.S. and Great Britain repelled the Iraqi advance. Let him abuse his own people. But he’d better not mess with the oil market. The crux of American foreign policy at work.