A Matter of Sovereignty

Let me say up front that I agree with David Cameron: Abdelbaset Ali Mohamed Al Megrahi should not have been released from prison. I think he was a fall guy for what was a Libyan government planned and executed operation, but he was convicted and barring a successful appeal, he should have stayed in prison.  However, I think the U.S. Senate is way out of line in investigating his release.

This goes back to my most recent post: it is consistently the view of the US government – at least of the Executive and Legislative branches – that the sovereignty of other countries is always secondary to American interests. The Senate has invited Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill, Scottish prison health director Andrew Fraser, former UK Justice Secretary Jack Straw, and former Prime Minister Tony Blair to appear before it to answer questions as to how and why Megrahi was released from prison on compassionate ground. (This despite the fact that Blair had been out of office for nearly two years at the time of the release.)

Though I have no political affinity to any of the Brits invited, I have to agree with the assessment of Jack Straw:

“It is, in my experience, highly unusual for the legislature of one sovereign state to conduct an inquiry into decisions of another sovereign state, including, as in this case, decisions by a devolved administration on the release of a prisoner. There are therefore important issues of principle here which could affect UK governments of any party, and which will need carefully to be considered before I come to a final view.”

In other words, it is none of their business. The crime occurred over Scottish airspace. Even if the bomb was put on the plane somewhere else, at no time in question was the plane in the United States or its airspace. Neither was it even in international airspace, as the death of 11 Scots killed on the ground in Lockerbie made clear. Scotland had jurisdiction then and it has jurisdiction now. It may come as a shock to a lot of Americans, but killing Americans somewhere in the world does not give the government of the United States jurisdiction over that place or the power to investigate their killing. If Americans leave the sovereign territory of the United States, they assume the risk that they may come to harm without the US Government having the right to vindicate their cause.

Perhaps it is David Cameron’s admission that the UK is the junior partner in the Special Relationship both now and for at least the past 70 years that has emboldened the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to think its senior status carries some sort of weight.

Even if, as has been strongly insinuated by New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, BP lobbied – or even, as has been suggested – bribed UK or Scottish officials or ministers, it is not the business of the US Senate. That is true even though BP is responsible for that terrible oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and apparently needs to be punished further, whatever excuse can be found. If there has been impropriety, it is for the UK government to investigate.

Let’s put the shoe on the other foot, since 67 British people died as a result of the 9/11 attacks. Mohammed al-Qahtani, the alleged 20th hijacker, has been tortured and charges against him have been dropped, re-instated, and dropped again.  Should the British Government open an inquiry and invite US officials to appear before it to answer for how they have dealt with it? Should British parliamentarians and ministers be demanding explanantions? If the American public learned of such an inquiry – that is, if the American press even took it seriously enough to report it – the public would be everything from bemused to outraged that another country would think it had jurisdiction to demand American officials explain themselves.

Sovereignty is sovereignty. It’s time the US respected the sovereignty of other nations to the extent it demands respect for its own.

Mugabe’s Friends

When you are a vicious dictator known for fixing elections by intimidating and torturing opponents and any of their supporters, while still managing to have time to drive your country further and further into economic ruin, it’s always nice to know you have friends. In the case of Robert Mugabe, it is China and Russia.

As befits a non-democratic institution, the United Nations is run by a council of fifteen countries, five of which are permanent members, each with veto power, because of the nine votes required to pass any resolution, five of them must come from the five permanent members. That’s why when it comes to severe human rights abuses verging on genocide, Russia and China are always there to keep the world at bay. The two foxes always guarding the global hen house.

After all, China has had to lock down the population of entire cities whenever the Olympic torch has passed through, just to avoid the embarrassment of protesters. And of course most of those protesters are protesting about the Chinese takeover of Tibet, something the United Nations did nothing about because the Communist government of China was not the recognised government of China in the UN at the time.

It wasn’t just Russia and China that voted against sanctions for the Mugabe regime. There was Libya. Yes, the chief perpetrator of terrorism in north Africa is also a member of the Security Council. Now isn’t that comforting? Gee, I can’t imagine why Libya would be against international sanctions applied to a rogue government.

Another vote against sanctions came from Vietnam. No bastion of human rights there. Just this week they only allowed a state-sanctioned Buddhist group to organise the funeral services for Thich Huyen Quang, the leader of a dissident Buddhist group which promotes human rights and religious freedom. He spend many years under house arrest.

So there you have it. This is the body created to maintain world peace and stability. Thanks to the UN, Robert Mugabe will continue to maintain his oppression of the majority of Zimbabweans.