So you thought I was joking about how having failed to capture Bin Laden after 8 years, the US is instead making a big deal of charging Osama's driver with "war crimes" --- of being a driver. Literally. I'm not kidding! He is accused of war crimes merely for driving Osama's car around, and that's all:
As the Wall Street Journal reports, Driver Not Tied to Terror Acts (print version headline)
Two days into the first U.S. war-crimes trial since the 1940s, defendant Salim Hamdan's fate seems likely to depend on a single question: whether working as a personal driver for Osama bin Laden is itself an offense that can be punished by life imprisonment.
Mr. Hamdan is charged with conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism. The government argues that even if Mr. Hamdan had no planning role or advance knowledge of terrorist operations, his failure to leave Mr. bin Laden's employ after al Qaeda's deadly attacks on the U.S. embassies in Africa, the USS Cole and the World Trade Center points to his guilt...
Mr. Hamdan lacked the religious fanaticism of hardened al Qaeda operatives, Mr. Soufan said. Life in Mr. bin Laden's circle meant inundation with extremist religious rhetoric praising suicide terrorists and condemning the U.S. Mr. Hamdan "used to get bored with these statements, because he heard them again and again."
This is the first time I have heard of someone being "guilty" of a crime by "failing to leave" the employment of the criminal and not having any role in the crime itself, either before or after it happened. Talk about guilt-by-association! In US domestic law, there is such a thing as an "accessory after the fact", but that applies to people who help the criminal evade capture after he committed the crime.
Similarly, in international law, "guilt is personal". Even the Nuremberg Tribunal declared that mere membership in Nazi organisations was not itself a crime. As Quincy Wright noted in an article published in 1949 in the American Journal of International Law:
Guilt is established by evidence that the acts and intentions of individual were criminal. Evidence concerning the acts or intentions of persons with whom he was associated, the programs on (sic) policies of organizations of which he was a member...have sometimes been admitted as indications of the bad character of the accused, but, in common law, only to rebut the defendant's efforts to prove his good character. No matter how bad his character by general reputation or association, the accused must be considered innocent unless his guilt is established by evidence that he himself committed, attempted, or intended the crime charged.
Now seriously - if driving Osama around is a "war crime" then what does that make Bush and his illegal invasion of Iraq? Or Madeleine Albright with her bold-faced assertion that the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children as a result of US pre-invasion sanctions on Iraq was "worth it"?
Will we be arresting Albright's driver anytime soon then?