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In Colombia, Bush Did The Right Thing -- For The Wrong Reason

by Christopher Brauchli

Bush Punishes 35 Nations For Supporting International Criminal Court
There was good news from the State Department on July 1, 2003. It was that President Bush has suspended aid to 35 countries over their refusal to pledge to give American citizens immunity before the International Criminal Court (ICC), a court created to try people charged with genocide and other crimes against humanity. Mr. Bush doesn't like the idea that an international tribunal run by foreigners has authority to try American citizens for conduct that it, but not Mr. Bush, believes fall within its jurisdiction.

A number of countries have signed the treaty. Mr. Bush wants those countries to agree that U.S. citizens who are arrested will be turned over to the U.S. and not to the ICC. Mr. Bush warned signatories to the treaty that the U.S. would deny military aid to any country that became a member of the new court but refused to give exemptions to Americans serving within that country's borders. Among the countries refusing to give exemptions was Colombia and therein good news.

Colombia provides the world with lots of heroin and cocaine. It provides the U.S. with lots of oil. Mr. Bush supports the export of oil to the U.S. but opposes the export of cocaine to anywhere. In October of 2002 it was announced that in addition to the aid the administration had been providing Colombia to assist it in combating drug exports, the administration planned to furnish military aid to help protect a pipeline that carries oil from Occidental Petroleum's facility in northeastern Columbia to the Caribbean coast whence it is shipped to the U.S. On February 13, 2002 Secretary of State Colin Powell told Congress that Colombia should be given $100 million in military support to protect the pipeline. In response, Congress appropriated $94 million for a counter-insurgency program to help Colombia's government combat two rebel groups and a paramilitary force responsible for attacks on the pipeline.

Some thought protecting a private United States corporation's pipeline with military assistance sponsored in part by the U.S. might eventually lead the U.S. into some sort of a Vietnam-like quagmire. Mr. Bush was not concerned about that. He was simply acting out of compassion for the oil business. Although himself a failure in that business, those who were not failures are in large part responsible for where he is today and he was happy to help them out. And therein lies a strange tale. In refusing to provide further military assistance to the 35 countries that refused to bow down to Mr. Bush and honor his demand, Mr. Bush put what he perceives to be the national interest ahead of helping the oil business.

One of the affected countries from which aid is being withheld is Colombia. That means that not only will the drug war there be curtailed, but more importantly, training troops to defend the pipeline will also end. Of course it may not matter much this year since Colombia has received all but $5 million of the total of more than $100 million it is to receive. However, next year none of that money will be available. (July 8 it was reported that because of its progress in reining in paramilitary forces, $27 million of Colombian military aid would be released. How that comports with the July 1 announcement is a mystery I can't solve.)

Those who thought we had no business protecting private oil interests in Colombia will be delighted that Colombia supports the ICC and that the Bush administration will no longer spend taxpayers' money defending an oil company's pipe line. Those who like heroin and cocaine will be pleased that their export should now be considerably easier.

Some may think Mr. Bush is cutting off his nose to spite his face. That is not the case. Protecting U.S. citizens from arrest and trial by foreign tribunals, so Mr. Bush thinks, is more important than what he's willing to forego in Colombia and the 34 other countries from which aid will be withheld. That's because of Mr. Bush's concerns about the ICC.

Mr. Bush is worried that U.S. citizens subject to the court's jurisdiction may be tried before a tribunal in which judge, prosecutor and jury are all selected by the country making the arrest. He is worried that defendants will not be told of the crimes with which they are charged before the trials take place. He is worried that there will not be a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. He is worried that the defendants will not be permitted to confront their accusers. He is worried that the identity of those being tried will be kept secret. He is worried that accepted rules of evidence will not apply. He is worried that the authority trying a defendant will appoint the lawyer to represent the defendant. He is worried that the only authority to whom a convicted person will be permitted to appeal will be the person who brought the charges rather than an independent court. He is worried that even if acquitted, a defendant may continue to be held indefinitely following the trial. He is worried that a U.S. citizen tried by the ICC will be treated that way because that is the way the six captives at Guantanamo, whose upcoming trials by a U.S. military tribunal have just been announced, are going to be treated. He needn't worry. The ICC has a better sense of justice than Mr. Bush.

Christopher Brauchli is a Boulder lawyer and and writes a weekly column for Boulder Daily Camera and the Knight Ridder news service

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Albion Monitor July 12, 2003 (

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