US IMPERIALISM – violation of legality abroad and suppression of civil liberties at home

[This article is based on a presentation made by Ian Johnson to the SLP Education School in Yorkshire on 31 August /1 September 2002.]

In the latter part of his life (1880, three years before he died) Karl Marx gave an interview to an American journalist, John Swinton of the New York Sun, in which he was asked his views on every topic you could mention. Ranging from what was his favourite colour – it was red by the way – to ideas, and the meaning of life itself. The interview lasted most of the day and the journalist’s final question to Marx was, “what is life all about?” to which Marx answered with just one word. He replied “Struggle.”

And of course that just about summed it up. Man’s struggle against nature to survive. His struggle to extract from nature the things he needs to survive, for shelter, for food, and as man is part of nature, in the course of changing nature he also changes himself.

In society it is the class struggle and it is crucial to understand that such things as the law and democratic rights are but products of the class struggle and do not stand above it nor are independent of it.

And the class struggle over the last 200-300 years has produced certain rights for the working class, rights that are established in Law and rights that are today under attack, both nationally and internationally.

In this brief presentation I will concentrate on one or two examples of these attacks and changes in International Law and also look at the very recent changes within the United States.

Examples of the changes in International Law

I believe that one of the clearest expressions of the changes in International Law can be found at The Hague Tribunal – The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. (ICTY). Or as the Yugoslavs call it, the WTE – Washington’s Tribunal in Europe!

In case anyone is not aware of the circumstances surrounding the ‘peace agreement’ signed in 1999 by the Yugoslav government with Nato which brought an end to the three month bombing of Yugoslavia, let me inform you of the circumstances in which that ‘peace agreement’ was signed.

I think it will help to set the scene if I just remind you of developments in 1999.

At the outset of the bombing campaign NATO estimated that it would take 48 hours for Yugoslavia to collapse. However, as the days went by this didn’t happen.

So the emphasis of the bombing was deliberately changed to target civilians. They started hitting civilian transportation, hospitals and even schools. 180 schools were hit in the 3-month campaign. However, this new phase was embraced primarily by only the U.S. and Britain.

I remember when I visited Yugoslavia the year after the bombing, we went down to Novi Pazar, a town south of Belgrade. Novi Pazar is 70% Muslim and the local council reflects this. The Mayor of Novi Pazar, a Muslim lady, took us to the council offices and showed us some photo albums. The residents had kept a photographic record of the bombing. The photos showed the victims of the bombing and the people killed ranged from 3-year-old babies to 83-year-old great grandmothers. The Mayor told us that the planes would bomb them and then about ten minutes later they would return and bomb the exact same places again. The aim, of course, was to catch the emergency personnel attending the scene, firemen, medical staff etc. Novi Pazar, a Muslim town, was bombed more than 40 times.

You cannot count on two hands the number of International Laws that were broken by the bombing of Yugoslavia.

Then we come to the ‘peace agreement’ of 10th June 1999. I’ll tell you one of the reasons why the Yugoslav government signed the ‘peace agreement’.

At the end of March the Russian envoy, Victor Chernomyrdin, carried a message to the Yugoslavs from the US and Britain. The message was this: Sign our document or we will use B52s to carpet-bomb Belgrade. This would have resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians. The Russians thought that the US would do it. The Yugoslavs KNEW they would do it. So they signed. They had no illusions about the type of people who were issuing these threats. Thugs and gangsters. Tony Blair is a gangster. The ‘peace agreement’ was signed on 10th June.

The Hague Tribunal is an extension of that illegal war and is being used to set precedents for future use, as well as to turn the truth on its head. It is not only an attack on Slobodan Milosevic and other Yugoslav leaders who resisted Nato, it is an attack on you and me, because The Hague Tribunal is a fascist institution. If they can do it to a Head of State they can certainly do it to you and me. The Tribunal issues sealed indictments and any one of you right now could have an indictment against you.

The original idea for the Tribunal emanated from the Department of the U.S. Army, which should give you an idea of what it is about, and Madeleine Albright drove it through the UN Security Council. Remember, she is the woman who said the deaths of half-a million Iraqi children was a price worth paying.

It is mainly funded by private American Corporations such as Time Warner who own CNN and CNN have exclusive rights to broadcast, or not, the Tribunal’s proceedings. That is why, when the prosecution’s case started to collapse, this so-called ‘trial of the century’, was removed from your television screens. It is also funded by American billionaire financier George Soros through his Open Society Institute. The Open Society Institute operates throughout the old Soviet Bloc, its task being to convert the area to a free enterprise system.

The Tribunal is mainly staffed by Americans, (and a few British), drawn from George Soro’s ‘Central East European Law Institute’. The aim of this Institute is to restructure the legal systems of the former Soviet countries and gear them to the free enterprise system. George Soros also funds the main KLA newspaper in Pristina, Kosovo. So as you can see the Tribunal is a political tool and the standards it is setting are causes for concern. All confessions are deemed to be voluntary. The exact opposite of the standards of even the most dictatorial 3rd World regimes. Hearsay evidence is accepted. The accused is refused private access to counsel.

In the case of Milosevic he is now denied all access to legal advice. The Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic contains lawyers from Russia, Yugoslavia, Canada, the Netherlands and Italy, none are allowed to see Milosevic. The Dutch lawyers who are fighting his illegal extradition to The Hague in the Dutch Courts are not allowed to consult with their client. The Yugoslav lawyers in Belgrade who are fighting the ‘corruption’ charges are not allowed access to their client. In Belgrade these lawyers have met with the Investigating Judge, the Deputy Presiding Judge and the Deputy Minister of Justice, all have admitted that the ‘corruption’ charges are bogus. They have told them that they were put under enormous pressure by the Americans to detain Milosevic, so the charges were made up.

Anonymous prosecution witnesses are allowed; parts of the trial, at the discretion of the judges, can be held in secret, the very essence of a political trial. If any of the accused is found not guilty then the prosecution can appeal and the accused will be detained until the appeal is heard, a process that can take years.

Cross-examination of the prosecution witnesses is strictly limited and a time limit is imposed. When William Walker, the CIA’s man in the Balkans presented his prosecution testimony it took him two full days; Milosevic was told by judge Richard May that he had three hours maximum to cross examine. This is completely illegal.

The leading judge at The Hague, Richard May, who previously was a routine circuit judge operating in the Midlands area, is a failed Labour politician. In the 1979 General Election he stood in Finchley; he lost. He is now Blair’s appointee at the Hague.

At this point I would like to return to the question of all confessions are deemed to be voluntary. And I would like to pay tribute to a courageous gentlemen called Radamir Markovic. Mr Markovic was the Head of the Yugoslav State Security Service during the attack by Nato. Nato forces arrested Markovic after the US backed coup in Yugoslavia. On the 26th July this year he was called as a prosecution witness against Milosevic.

Yet when Mr Markovic took the stand, as a prosecution witness remember, he stated that the Milosevic government did not try to drive ethnic Albanians out of Kosovo. In fact, quite the contrary, the Yugoslav government believed in and promoted a multi-ethnic society. Mr Markovic then announced from the witness box that for the last 17 months he had been in jail and had been tortured by his captors and their associates (who work closely with Tribunal prosecutors). He then stated that at one point he was taken from the jail and taken to a private dinner where an offer was made to him where he and his family would get a new identity with a luxury life in a different country -and no more torture – in exchange for false testimony against Milosevic.

At this point, the chief prosecutor, whose witness this was, appealed to the judge to ‘stop him’. The chief prosecutor’s name ironically, is Jeffrey Nice. And judge Richard May did stop him; he told him that the issue of him being tortured to give false testimony was ‘irrelevant.’

When any witness, in any court case, appeals to the judge that his captors have tortured him, then it is the legal duty of the judge to take the witness into protective custody until his claims can be independently investigated. However, Richard May, Tony Blair’s man at The Hague, returned him to his cell and back into the custody of his torturers to face his fate. No mainstream British media has reported on this incident, yet they all know of it.

Markovic’s courage in defying the power of these gangsters is truly inspirational and I salute him.

You may have heard of the Amici Curiae, the role of which, traditionally, is to advise the Court, nothing more. Yet at The Hague they are self appointed defence counsel, against the wishes of Milosevic. Rather than defending him they are boxing him into a corner. They take up his limited cross-examination time with mundane questioning of the prosecution witnesses. We are told by the Yugoslavs that two of the amici curiae, Vladimiroff and Stephen Kay are MI5.

I would just like to briefly mention the kidnapping of Milosevic in June last year. The night Milosevic was taken there was a sweep in Belgrade where 500 leading cadre from the Socialist Party of Serbia, The New Communist Party and the United Left were also taken. They were taken at night, their doors were kicked in and their families terrorised. According to the Yugoslav Army Unit who were guarding Milosevic the sweep was conducted by Nato troops.

The Tribunal tries to justify Nato’s war and suppress the crimes of Nato, which are truly horrific. However they have no case against Milosevic or the other Yugoslav leaders for that matter. The charges are false. They have only the rehearsed, bought witnesses. They have no authentic case. They know that, Milosevic knows that, and you should know that.

The fiasco that The Hague Tribunal has become is the reason why they are now trying to ‘remove’ Milosevic from the courtroom. Against medical advice (Mr Milosevic suffers from malignant hypertension and angina pectoris, which left untreated can cause death) the judges increased the working day from the previous schedule of a 2 p.m finish to a more exhausting 5 p.m. finish. As Milosevic conducts his own defence his workload is immense and a 5 p.m. finish means that when he is returned to his cell he has to make a choice, either exercise or eat, he cannot do both. By this means the Tribunal hopes to silence him completely. Failing that their second option, against his express wishes, is to appoint a defence lawyer for him, any defence lawyer will do, as long as the former president is silenced.

These are the depths to which this illegal court has sunk.

To finish on the International scene I will briefly comment on what is being done to the civilian population of Iraq.

As most of you will know, Dennis Halliday, who was the UNs Co-ordinator of Humanitarian Relief, resigned in 1998 because, as he stated, the UN Security Council is now out of control. Its actions undermine its own Charter, the Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Convention. Halliday commented, ‘I had been instructed to implement a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide. This is the responsibility particularly of Washington and London.’

Halliday was no revolutionary. He had worked for the UN for 34 years. Likewise his successor, Hans von Spondeck, had over 30 years’ service at the UN but he lasted only until February 2000 when he also resigned. Upon his resignation Spondeck spoke about how the sanctions were responsible for the deaths of thousands of Iraqi children.

“Make no mistake” he said, “this is deliberate. I have not in the past wanted to use the word genocide, but now it is unavoidable”.

Jutta Burghardt, head of the World Food Programme in Iraq, another UN agency, also resigned. She pointed out that Security Council resolution 661 explicitly exempted food and medicines from the sanctions yet during an 8-month period 47,000 children, under the age of 5 had died.

Clearly it is not Mr Milosevic who should be on trial for genocide but Clinton, Bush and Blair!

The recent US preparations for the continuing war against Iraq involved Donald Rumsfield, the US Defence Secretary, appearing before representatives of 19 Nato countries who needed some kind of evidence from Rumsfield about Iraq’s ‘weapons of mass destruction’. They needed something in order to ‘sell’ the war to their own people. Rumsfield was demanding that they support America’s forthcoming war. The Nato heads asked their question about ‘evidence’ and Rumsfield answered, “The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.”

You can just imagine the bemused look on his audience’s faces. ‘Don baby, could ya just run that by us again?’

16 of the 19 Nato nations present wrote letters of complaint to the American government about “lack of evidence”.

US examples of attacks on civil liberties & democratic rights

Let me now turn to the situation within the United States.

We have seen that at The Hague the accused are not allowed private access to legal counsel, and in some cases no access at all. At the beginning of this year US Attorney General John Ashcroft authorised the monitoring of conversations between lawyers and their clients held in federal custody, including people who have been detained but not charged with any crime.

This followed two other executive orders, one that empowers the Attorney General to authorise indefinite detention of suspects and one that suspends the requirement of the law enforcement agencies to release the names of those detained. These moves were widely understood to appertain to non-US citizens.

However, in mid-June this year the US Justice Department spelt it out by asserting the right of the President and the military to indefinitely hold U.S. citizens incommunicado, without formal charges or the right to consult counsel.

These extra-constitutional powers are being justified by the so-called ‘war on terrorism’. This is a lie. There is no ‘war on terrorism’.

Since the Bush Administration came to power it has been heading towards a Presidential dictatorship, whereby the waging of war abroad is accompanied by internal repression and attacks on democratic and civil rights at home.

Fundamental constitutional safeguards – the right of habeas corpus, an order requiring a person to be brought before a judge or into court, especially in order to investigate the right of the authorities to keep him or her imprisoned, the right of the accused to know the charges against them, the right of arrested persons to see a lawyer, the presumption of innocence, all have been set aside.

With scare stories about imminent terrorist attacks the American people are being urged to get used to random police searches, roadblocks, troops patrolling the airports, harbours, bridges and tunnels, and troops on the street.

These latest developments are primarily contained in the creation of ‘The Office of Homeland Security’ and ‘The USA Patriotic Act’.

The Office of Homeland Security combines law enforcement agencies under one umbrella and blurs the distinction between intelligence gathering abroad and domestic intelligence gathering. It concentrates the police forces of the US for the purpose of surveillance and repression against the American people.

One body included in The Office of Homeland Security is the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) which is headed by Bush’s former campaign manager Joseph Albaugh. The FEMA was designated by Ronald Reagan, another freedom loving president, as the lead agency that would impose martial law in the event of internal unrest in the United States. FEMA’s brief also includes the establishing of ‘prison camps’. In other words ‘The Office of Homeland Security’ is there to construct a police state.

The ‘USA Patriotic Act’ is a complete abdication of democratic law and principles. It provides a legal basis for destroying long held rights under the pretext of National Security. This act was prepared long before 11th September. 11th September provided them with the opportunity to rush it into law.

In essence the Patriotic Act is reminiscent of the 1798 Sedition Act which was introduced when the US was at war with France. The Sedition Act made it unlawful for any person to write, print, publish or speak anything malicious about the government or to bring the government into contempt or disrepute.

The ‘Patriotic Act’ also lays down the legal justification for the use of torture. If any person is deemed to have knowledge of ‘terrorist activity’ then the use of torture may be justified.

Under the ‘Patriotic Act’ the Attorney General can throw anyone in jail. All he has to do is point his finger at someone and say the magic words ‘terrorist’ or ‘threat to National Security’ and the suspect is detained, be he foreign or American. The Attorney General need give no reasons or explanations. He is not obliged to provide any evidence.

These new measures, throwing people in jail without telling them what the charge is, a confession through torture being acceptable, no right to counsel, indefinite detention, all these measures are precedents set initially at The Hague Tribunal and now brought home to be used against the American population.

That is why the struggle to abolish the Tribunal and the struggle for democratic rights generally is the same fight. There is no contradiction or diversion.

The ‘Patriotic Act’ allows the intelligence agencies unchecked surveillance powers including tracking emails and Internet usage, monitoring financial transactions and phone tapping and the Act allows the law enforcement agencies to dispense with the 4th Amendment which requires ‘probable cause’.

The American Civil Liberties Union put it like this, ‘The USA Patriotic Act puts the CIA back in the business of spying on Americans’.

US Government officials have emphasised that these measures adopted recently should not be regarded as temporary.

Our old friend Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfield stated that the American people should accept an open-ended war on terrorism and prepare now for the next war. America is going on a war footing, not for a specific conflict in Afghanistan, but indefinitely. Consequently the domestic police measures being undertaken now must also be seen as a permanent state of affairs.

Attorney General Ashcroft clarified this, “America is fighting a war on two fronts. There is a front overseas and there is another front here in the United States”.

These new laws have been introduced at a speed reminiscent of the time when Hitler scrapped the German Constitution in the wake of the Reichstag fire in 1933.

Indeed, you have seen nothing like these new laws since Nazi Germany. In the space of less than 18 months a section of the ruling elite, dominated by the military and oil men, have illegally installed their front man in the Oval Office and overseen the decimation of American bourgeois democracy.

The US Government never secured powers such as these at any point in the 20th Century. Not in World War One, not in World War Two, or during the Cold War, when the enemies were powerful and heavily armed states.

The US defence budget has ballooned to $400 billion while the wealthiest in society have received tax reductions and handouts. These same people commenced to make a further million workers unemployed and at the same time raided their pensions. The State has also raided the Social Security and Medicare accounts and transferred billions of dollars to defence contractors.

They have also initiated what is called the Citizens Corp, in which local residents and students are encouraged to report suspicious activity and any un-American comments to the authorities. Similar to the Hitler youth who were encouraged to snoop on their own parents!

So why is this happening today, when the alleged enemy is a small band of ‘terrorists’ operating out of caves in one of the poorest countries in the world?

Lester Thurow is an economist in Michigan and the compiler of economic data which he published in his work, ‘The Future of Capitalism.’ Here is the result of his findings. He concludes “No country not experiencing a revolution or a military defeat has ever had as rapid or as widespread an increase in inequality as has occurred in the United States over the last 20 years. How far can inequality widen and real wages fall before something snaps in a democracy?” Of course Thurow offers no answers to this question.

However, these new measures, heading unquestionably to the creation of a fascist state, are a reflection of an understanding by the ruling class of the deepening political social and economic crisis of capitalism.

They are engaging in a worldwide struggle between the imperialist powers over control of the world’s markets, raw materials and avenues for profitable investment. The economic crisis itself, expressed in the crisis of over production, is causing multi-billion dollar corporations to collapse. As the crisis deepens and millions of jobs are lost and any kind of social safety net has been dismantled, and pensions wiped out, the social forces that such developments will unleash are terrifying them. These new laws are an attempt, doomed to failure, to control the developing social unrest.

It is important to understand that these developments in the US will be more and more reflected here in the UK and they are not bringing in these new laws as some kind of abstract thing. They are going to use them. They will need them and they are going to use them. And if you resist or object you will be declared a ‘terrorist’.

They are attempting to lay the infrastructure out that will, they hope, finally provide a protest-proof, police state, composed of a tiny ruling elite, served by an under class, kept under constant surveillance.

These developments will however create the objective conditions for the social revolution itself. We have to prepare for this and we have to prepare for this on an international scale. Our immediate task is to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Yugoslavs, the Palestinians, the Colombian workers and peasants, and all those in the front line of resistance.

I have sketched out the measures being taken by the ruling class and now we have to prepare our own measures. We have to build this Party into a force that can intervene in the major clashes ahead.

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