by Simon Tisdall
In the opinion of many legal experts, the US government broke international
law when it waged war on Iraq without explicit UN backing. Unrepentant, it
has reserved the right to take similar action again, unilaterally if need
But another key pillar of global jurisprudence - laws concerning individual
liberty, dignity and human rights - is proving harder for Washington to
ignore . . .
Areas in which the US government or its agents have traditionally assumed
legal immunity when acting in the national interest are also coming under
The American Civil Liberties Union, representing eight Afghan and Iraqi
former detainees, is suing the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and
three army commanders for allegedly ordering "the abandonment of our
nation's inviolable and deep-rooted prohibition against torture or other
cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment". . . .
A multibillion-dollar class action now before a Brooklyn court has
potentially even broader implications for US adherence to international law.
The civil suit, brought on behalf of several million Vietnamese people,
alleges that US chemical companies, including Monsanto and Dow Chemical,
committed war crimes by supplying the government with Agent Orange in the
Vietnam war. . . .
The companies have argued, in effect, that they were only following orders.
But Judge Jack Weinstein suggested a parallel with Zyklon B, the gas used in
Nazi death camps. Two Zyklon B manufacturers were convicted of war crimes
and executed by the US and its allies after 1945. . . .
But as human rights law continues to develop beyond the reach of executive
power, the future waging of unjust or illegal wars could become an
increasingly problematic and costly forensic business.
"U.S. Undermines International Criminal
Court," The Wisdom Fund, June 13, 2003
"Wrongful Death Compensation," The
Wisdom Fund, November 26, 2003
Adam Liptak, "U.S. Says
It Has Withdrawn From World Judicial Body," New York Times, March 10, 2005
["In the Third Reich," the decision said, "all power of the state was
centered in Hitler; yet his orders did not serve as a defense at Nuremberg,"
where war crimes trials were conducted after World War II.--William
Orange Case for Millions of Vietnamese Is Dismissed," New York Times,
March 10, 2005]