It is reported today in The Wall Street Journal, echoed in Swedish media, that the USA is making efforts to build a case against Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad, at the International Criminal Court (ICC), located in the Hague. Now, I'm all for having al-Assad gone as Syrian leader and prosecuted for what he has been doing to his people these last months. But, I must confess that I find it grossly hypocritical, bordering on the perverse, that it is the USA that is doing the pushing in that direction.
Why? For two simple reasons that work together (sources for this can be found here, here, here):
First, the USA does not recognise the legitimacy or authority of the ICC. In fact, the USA (together with China, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Qatar and Israel) voted against the Rome Statute, establishing the court, in 1998. There was a brief moment when (through President Clinton), USA was a bona fide signatory (which can be seen as a declaration of intent of a country). However, one of the first actions of G.W. Bush was to "nullify" that executive action, thereby effectively taking the US policy re. ICC back to square one. In any case, even as signatory, the US never ratified this signature (i.e. formally recognising the authority of ICC) and does not seem bent on doing anything in that direction any time soon.
Second, the USA is continuously putting a lot of effort into undercutting the legitimacy and authority of ICC that arises out of its recognition by many other countries), by setting up special agreements of immunity with countries that do recognise ICC. I don't know what's the price for those concessions, but USA being the economically and military most powerful country in the world, I suppose there has been a few offers that couldn't be refused.
Now, I personally think that it is a sad story that a country that is holding out itself as the leading force for freedom, democracy and justice in the world is unable to see the point of having a legal institution for war crimes and crimes against humanity that is not bound to any particular national interest. However, if that is the position of the USA, so be it. However, to hold that position and at the same time make use of ICC whenever it fits the national interest of the USA, that is highly problematic for more profound reasons.
First, it is a shame- and disgraceful attitude. It is the stance of the free-rider and the parasite. It is hypocrisy taking exponential proportions. And it undermines any claim to seriousness of the US ambition to be the world's leading force for the good.
Second, and this should actually worry US citizens, the US position means that – according to US official policy – the prosecution and possible incarceration of people by an alleged legal body that the US does not see as having legitimate authority is quite alright. Feel the taste of that one and think for a bit about how to square it with the condemnation of what al-Assad, Gadaffi and those other chaps have been doing to their citizens......