You would think that a New York Times article about prosecuting Iranian officials for human rights abuses would mention that the US was complicit in the abuses, and that the legal impediments to prosecuting Iranian officials are largely the result of American efforts to ensure its own impunity and immunity from international law.
The New York Times has an article entitled "Years of Torture in Iran Comes to Light" which is about an ad-hoc group that has formed a self-designated tribunal to judge the human rights abuses of the Islamic Republic, concentrating on the large-scale executions which happened there in 1988 of leftists opposed to the regime which had been consolidating power after the war with Iraq. It is a great article with some moving testimony but the problem is that it leaves out some crucial facts.
The selection of Mr Asadi as the article's main protagonist is quite ironic since he was reportedly imprisoned due to this membership in the Tudeh Party of Iran, which was the main Communist party there. And in 1983, the top members of the organization were rounded up and executed thanks to the fact that the CIA had provided a list of the members to the government of the newly-founded Islamic Republic, in order to stem Soviet influence in Iran and also as a way to start currying favor with the Ayatullahs as part of what later became known as the Iran-Contra scandal. This was even mentioned in the Tower Commission report on the scandal, yet the New York Times completely leaves it out of history since no doubt it would sully its Good-turns-Evil narrative, and complicate it with inconvenient nuances that implicate the US in the Evil.
Then, there is the whole question of whether the abuses by Iranian officials, for example, constituted torture. The US has been leading the world in redefining the terms in order to fit what it calls "enhanced interrogation techniques" which includes activities any sane person would consider to be torture, as being legal. Read this if you're curious to know if the US thought its torture of prisoners was A-Legal, and not really torture as the term is legally defined by the US itself (a definition that would allow the crushing of a child's testicles), and B- would not constitute a crime under international law subject to prosecution by international tribunals.
The NY Times article then goes on to discuss the legalities and obstacles in the way of prosecuting the Iranian officials before the International Criminal Court ("ICC".) But this is what the New York Times leaves out: Iran signed the ICC treaty in Dec 31, 2000--so did the US. But the US then backed out of the treaty and does not consider it to be binding on the US. In fact the US has been the single biggest obstacle to the ICC's development, and American politicians are hardly supportive of it.
(The ICC itself is one of the main menacing characters in the standard scaremongering conspiracy theories held by the Right in the US, which regularly also rants about "black helicopters" from the UN invading the US as part of an effort to create a "one world governmet" and take away the right of private gun ownership in the US whilst laying the groundwork for the rise of an Islamic Caliphate etc. etc.)
Of course, US opposition to the ICC is easily understandable. While US officials insist on raising the spectre of "politically-motivated prosecutions by rogue tribunals," in fact the reasons for US opposition to the ICC is that international law would hinder the exercise of US power abroad. The sort of treatment meted out to detainees that the US considers to be legal, is considered to be torture under international law and so would make American officials liable (waterboarding, for example, is now deemed to be a legal interrogation technique in the US but even the US considered it to be torture when applied to American prisoners.) More significantly, the ICC also has jurisdiction over the international crime of "aggression" -- illegal military attacks by one state against another. Considering the number of times that the US gets into military confrontations in other nations (234 times in 195 years, or an average of more than once a year -- and that was before the "War on Terror.") American officials aren't keen on getting hauled in front of an ICC tribunal.
And the lengths that the US has gone to kill off the ICC is quite funny: While Clinton signed the treaty which created the International Criminal Court (the treaty is known as the Rome Statute) on Dec 31, 2000, his successor, President Bush, "unsigned" the US from the ICC treaty on May 6, 2002, when Bush declared that neither he nor any future US president would submit the treaty to the US Senate to ratified.
Furthermore, in order to ensure that American personnel can never be taken in front of the ICC tribunal and held to answer for charges of human rights abuses or war crimes, the US has entered into a series of separate, bilateral immunity agreements with individual countries around the world that are intended to defeat ICC jurisdiction over Americans worldwide. These agreements were often obtained through the use of diplomatic strong-arm tactics over the countries involved. And these bilateral treaties act in addition to an annually-renewed blanket immunity that the US has regularly obtained from the UN for its own peace-keeping troops-- which in turn was obtained after the US threatened to cut off the financing UN peace-keeping operations around the world. And as if all that was not enough, the US passed a law that authorizes the President to "use all means necessary" to free any American that should ever be taken into custody by the ICC,and which denies US military assistance to any country that refused to guarantee immunity from ICC prosecution for Americans on its soil.
Indeed, none other than fomer US Sec of Defense Donald Rumsfeld pressed for the US to unsign the ICC treaty, stating:
The ICC's entry into force on July 1st means that our men and women in uniform -- as well as current and future U.S. officials -- could be at risk of prosecution by the ICC. We intend to make clear, in several ways, that the United States rejects the jurisdictional claims of the ICC. The United States will regard as illegitimate any attempt by the court or state parties to the treaty to assert the ICC's jurisdiction over American citizens.
When Rumsfeld included the phrase "as well as current and former officials," he had probably had himself in mind. And so here's yet another point that the New York Times article in question conveniently left out: in addition to undermining the ICC, and redefining the legality of "torture", the US has pressed other nations to weaken their own separate domestic laws that allow the prosecutions for human rights abuses and war crimes, creating precedents that effectively give high officials and heads of states life-time immunity for their actions.
I've written about this before. Belgium, for example had two domestic laws (one drafted in 1990 and another in 1993) which granted the Belgian courts "universal jurisdiction" over war crimes. This meant that Belgian courts and prosecutors could put on trial and punish anyone, from any country, who had committed war crimes or torture anywhere in the world. Human rights lawyers and activists widely lauded Belgium for having such expansive laws that showed such courageous committment to prosecuting international criminals and fulfilling Belgium's obligations under the 4th Geneva Convention and the 1984 Convention on Torture, which require all states to take responsibility the prosecution of the perpetrators of such henious crimes.
But when charges were sought against Israeli PM Ariel Sharon for his role in the massacre of over 1000 people in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, and later also against high level Bush administration officials for their atrocities in Iraq and elsewhere, Belgian courts quickly re-interpretted the law to limit its application, and then the Beglian parliament changed the law so as to prevent its application to certain countries. This happened in no small part thanks to intense pressure by the US which included threats by Rumsfeld to limit Belgium's invovlement in NATO, because as he put it, Belgium's efforts to enforce its legal obligation to prosecute war crimes and atrocities meant that "Belgium appears not to respect the sovereignty of other countries."
That's right -- he invoked American sovereignty as defense against internationa prosecution for war crimes and atrocities. Sovereignty is a right. In other words, government officials have a right to engage in atrocities, and are immune from prosecution for their actions - according to the US Sec of Defense.
As one analyst put it, the joint US-Israeli efforts to undermine the principle of universal jurisdiction in countries such as Belgium meant, in effect, that people could in fact get away with committing atrocities in disregard of international law:
This Israeli and US intervention was an unprecedented act of interference in a sovereign state’s judicial and political processes which weakened a number of legally sound attempts at attaining international justice in Belgian courts, including cases against the former Chadean dictator Hissene Habre.
Belgium, of course, was just one example. The same thing happened when Germany sought to charge Rumsfeld, and also when charges against Rumsfeld wer brought in France. In fact when dismissing the charges against Rumsfeld, the French prosecuors -- in a rather novel decision that practically un-did years of prior judicial precedent in human rights law -- ruled that heads of state continued to have immunity from prosecution even after they left office (at least in the case of Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials. As international lawyers have noted, such immunity was not recognized when African heads of state were prosecuted for war crimes.)
And as I wrote before, no international court could prosecute Rumsfeld, since the US was not part of the ICC. No foreign court could prosecute Rumsfeld either, since they would inevitably follow Belgium. And attempts file lawsuits against the same American officials in domestic US courts were all fruitless too, because the US government invoked something called the "State Secrets Privilege" and claimed that since any lawsuit or trial of American officials risked the disclosure of national security secrets, then the courts had to ignore the complaints. The courts promptly complied since once invoked, the State Secrets Privilege is not open to question by judges.
So, in effect, if you're being "officially" tortured, you have no claim and no legal right to redress -- not in the US (since the "state secrets" privilege can be arbitrarily invoked to kick our case out the courthouse doors) and not in any other country (since "official immunity" protects the tortureers.)
So much for international humanitarian law.
That's right, ladies and gentlemen, this means that government officials such as Rumsfeld and Sharon and others constitute something rather unique in the world: a class of people who are effectively not answerable to any law, anywhere.
In conclusion, and going back to the original subject of this post which was the New York Times article about prosecuting Iranian officials for atrocities, you would think that the New York Times would bother to mention any of this. After all, you would think that readers would be interested in learning not only that the US was complicit in the mass executions of leftists in Iran in 1988 mentioned by the article, but that the legal impediments to prosecuting Iranian officials for such conduct are largely the result of American efforts to ensure its own impunity and immunity from prosecution for international human rights violations. But, like I've said before, you would be mistaken to think so.