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John Bolton: Frightened by Glenn Greenwald and Manfred Nowak


In the May 6 Washington Post, John Bolton, George W. Bush’s UN "Ambassador" pens a screed accusing President Obama of "Prosecutions by Proxy". For someone formerly representing our country at the United Nations, Bolton displays an amazing ignorance of international law while voicing his characteristic venom and reality avoidance.

Bolton’s premise is that Obama, by showing "passivity before the threatened foreign prosecution of Bush administration officials", is getting "by inaction what he fears doing directly". Bolton’s fear is that these foreign prosecutions risk "grave long-term damage to the United States".

Bolton relies on the intellectually bankrupt argument for immunity that is common inside the Beltway: "I believe strongly that criminalizing policy disagreements is both inappropriate and destructive."

The heart of Bolton’s fear-mongering about an "unaccountable" foreign prosecution of Justice Deparment lawyers who drew up the torture authorizations is Glenn Greenwald’s interview last month with Manfred Nowak. Interestingly, Bolton shorten’s Nowak’s title. His full title is UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. Bolton conveniently drops the "on Torture" part of the title. In that interview, Nowak points out that the United States is obligated, under its joining with the Convention Against Torture, to investigate and prosecute credible reports of torture. Nowak also points out that other signatories are obligated to carry out such prosecutions if it turns out that US chooses not to pursue prosecutions of its violations of the Convention.

From his time at the UN, Bolton has to know that Nowak is correct. Further, with the excellent job that Greenwald did in getting Nowak to describe the legal situation in accessible language, Bolton knows that anyone who looks seriously at the interview transcript will know that prosecutions are unavoidable. When the prosecutions begin, Bolton’s whole world view will come tumbling down around his feet and he will learn that the United States is no different than any other country in its obligations to abide by the rules of civilization.

Bolton retreats to the position that only the US should determine the fate of those who ordered torture:

Instead, the critical question is who judges the official actions that U.S. personnel took while holding government office. Is it our own executive and judicial branches, within our constitutional structures and protections, or some unaccountable foreign or international magistrate in some unaccountable distant court? The proper U.S. position is to insist that our Constitution alone governs any review of our officials’ conduct.

This position, of course, is a complete misreading of the situation as outlined by Nowak. Should the US undertake an investigation and find the attorneys innocent, then the international prosecutions would be free to continue. Similarly, the prosecutions would not be derailed by a Presidential pardon, even though Bolton does not call for one in the Op-Ed.

Bolton ends with what he hopes is a warning to Obama:

Otherwise, in four or eight years, like Mary Robinson before them, future second-guessers will decide, say, that U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan constitute war crimes, and that former commander in chief Obama must be hauled before the bar of some mini-state to stand trial. After all, his decisions involve risking civilian deaths, not just shoving terrorists into a wall (and no protective neck braces, either).

Bolton thinks that Obama should, acting only in his own self-interest, shut down all international prosecutions of US-ordered torture because Obama himself could be at risk of his own prosecution for war crimes.

Wouldn’t it be simpler to let US law and international law work together to prosecute crimes that already have occurred and to shape current actions so that they are within US and international law? Bolton is merely arguing for the right of the United States to break any law or treaty that it wants, anywhere, any time. That is not a sane world, but then we all knew Bolton left sanity behind long ago. All he has is his fear, and it is looking more and more like his worst fears will be realized.

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Jim White

Jim White

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