March 11, 2005
The Guardian

International Law Starts to Bring Washington Back Into the Fold

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 be.

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 challenge.

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Adam Liptak, "U.S. Says It Has Withdrawn From World Judicial Body," New York Times, March 10, 2005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 Glaberson, "Agent Orange Case for Millions of Vietnamese Is Dismissed," New York Times, March 10, 2005]

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