Here’s a hypothetical situation: Obama is elected president by a sweeping majority in November after a long and arduous campaign against John McCain. George W. Bush quietly leaves office and Obama is sworn in. America takes a sigh of relief knowing it has an effective leader at the helm. Upon taking office, Obama begins his removal of the troops from Iraq, but quickly learns that conditions are unstable. He continues to remove troops, knowing that we can do nothing to quell the insurrection to come. The war is coming to a close. Then something happens.
Presidents Ahmadinejad and Chavez publicly announce they want an investigation launched into the legality of the war in Iraq. Sensing the U.S. leader is new and weak and that their allegations of war crimes will resonate around the world, they announce that Bush and his senior administration officials should be held accountable to an investigation into their handling of the war.
Many other nations, embittered by years of hostile U.S. policies, jump on the bandwagon and demand an international tribunal like the Nuremberg Trials after World War II. Maybe enough countries demand an investigation that a crucial ally, like Spain or England, joins the call.
Sensing a situation of extreme vulnerability, the Republican party of the United States combats the allegations of war crimes with a media blitz. It doesn’t stick – the world demands an inquiry. Public polling indicates that even Americans themselves want to see a trial.
But Obama is a wise man. He knows if we give up the former president and his advisors, we will seem weak and powerless, formally acknowledging the debt of tolerance we owe the other nations of the world. But he knows he can’t ignore the planet beckoning for justice and he will have to act. What will he do?
This situation is as plausible as it is scary. The war in Iraq was not well received. It has tarnished the reputation of this nation and has been hailed as an imperialist war during capitalist times. There are many vocal opponents of this war at home and abroad, and some of the more ferocious opponents are heads of state. To think that the political world will let Bush and his cronies get away with the war in Iraq is naive. Justice will be served.
But who will administer the justice? Will they be held in an international court, held to the standard of international law? What charges will be levied against them? What will the investigation uncover? Which nations will support the investigation? Which nations will not? Will the news networks cover the allegations seriously? Will they brush them aside?
Public disapproval for the Bush administration will soon hit a global critical mass and justice will be demanded. The Bush White House has seen a turnover rate incomparable with its predecessors. It has seen press secretaries, generals, senior aides and Republican allies come and go, many publicly acknowledging their disapproval with the tactics of the Bush administration. The fallout is growing.
On Oct. 17, 1998, the former Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, was visiting England for medical treatment. A brassy Spanish prosecutor arrested Pinochet and charged him with systematic torture, murder, illegal detention and forced disappearances against Spanish citizens living in Chile during Pinochet’s bloody rule. This was a landmark event in judicial history. It was the first time a former dictator was arrested under the principle of “universal jurisdiction.” A series of intense legal battles ensued. Pinochet was placed under house arrest for the 16-month duration of the first trial. He was eventually released back to Chile for medical reasons. Upon his return to Chile and once numerous plots of murder and extortion were revealed by the first trial held in Britain, high-ranking Chilean judges and politicians turned against him and charged him with similar crimes. He was convicted of over 30 counts of kidnapping and one count of murder and sentenced to lifetime house arrest on Oct. 30, 2006, at age 91. He died 41 days later.
There is precedent for the case against the Bush administration in international court. The Pinochet cases and the Nuremberg Trials demonstrate this. The question is when and where this ball drops and what President Obama will do about it.