Impunity and the Building of Civilization

In his expose of Pinochet’s crimes, The Condor Years, John Dinges describes the Spanish efforts to bring Pinochet to justice as based on “a fairly simple principle of international law” [27]:

that truly egregious crimes, those that rise to the level of crimes against humanity such as those forever engraved in human consciousness by the Nazi atrocities of World War II, are matters of universal jurisdiction.

Dinges observes that “Finding the truth and documenting it in a credible international court, sending a message for history about the end of impunity—these were measures of justice as important as any possible punishment of the guilty.” [Dinges, 29]

Stages of Terminating Impunity:

1. No impunity for defeated enemies.

2. No impunity for allies.

3. No impunity for our own ex-leaders.

4. No impunity for our serving leaders.

If history is, at its core, the story of the struggle of mankind to create civilization, one plank in the structure of civilization that has been at the center of the action over the last century has been that of international law. The first nail attaching this plank to the structure of civilization that the forces of civilization have been trying to drive home over the past century was the principle that defeated enemies may not have impunity (Nuremberg); the second nail was the principle that our allies may not have impunity (Pinochet) [Dinges, 40] ; the third nail will be the principle that even the living retired leaders of a superpower must bow before international law. I won’t even mention the fourth nail, concerning current leaders of a superpower, since we are not even close to driving home the third nail, as evidenced by Washington’s steady refusal to consider any legal actions against U.S. officials or even corporate officials suspected of crimes either in a war theater or on the financial front. Impunity in Washington remains fully in force for the elite, even without the self-serving laws that Pinochet believed would protect him. (The far-sighted perp passed a “self-amnesty” law in 1978! [Dinges, 27.]) The edifice of civilization is constructed slowly…and more by little sung heroes than by the “Great Men” we all hear so much about.

One comment on “Impunity and the Building of Civilization

  1. […] Impunity and the Building of Civilization — On making impunity illegal […]

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