Ah, the rule of law. How often we hear our government leaders angrily demand that the rest of the world adhere to this sacred stricture, most recently as it demands that countries — even countries with which the US has signed no extradition treaty like Russia or China — honor the US charges leveled against National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden and send him to the US for trial.
But the rule of law, in truth, means little to the US, which routinely thumbs its nose at the whole notion.
Take the case of Robert Seldon Lady, the former CIA station chief in Rome Italy. Lady, along with 21 other CIA operatives, was charged years ago with the illegal 2003 kidnapping off a street in Milan of a man that the US claimed was a suspected terrorist. Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr was thrown into a van and then secretly renditioned first to a secret CIA “black site,” and later to Egyptian police, who, he says, tortured him for the US. Four years later, Nasr was released after an Egyptian court ruled that he was not guilty of anything.
Italy indicted 22 Americans in Nasr’s illegal kidnapping, and sought their presence for a trial. The US, ignoring the rule of law, refused to send its agents to Italy, a country with which the US has a long-established extradition treaty, and which is a long-standing member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), so they were tried there in absentia. Lady, as station chief and chief architect of the kidnapping, was found guilty along with 13 others (eight men were acquitted) and was sentenced, also in absentia, to nine years in prison.
Subsequently, following his sentencing, Italy obtained an international warrant for his arrest and sought to have him extradited by the US to accept his punishment, but the US refused.
Seldon himself casually admitted his guilt in an interview in GQ magazine in 2007, saying, “”I worked in intelligence for 25 years and almost no activity I did in those 25 years was legal in the country where it happened. When you work in intelligence, you do things in the country in which you work that are not legal. It’s a life of illegality.” (Just as an exercise in thinking outside the propaganda box, imagine hearing those words said by some Iranian or Russian agent on the lam, talking about the secret kidnapping and torturing of some American resident for which he had been convicted in a US court.)
Earlier this week, Lady, who had disappeared from view following his conviction, and was thought to be hiding out in Central America, was arrested on an international fugitive warrant in Panama. At that point, Italy made clear that it is seeking his extradition from that country. But late yesterday, scarcely a day after his arrest, Lady was allowed, almost certainly under US pressure on Panama, to escape to safety in the United States, which has no intention of surrendering him to Italy.
The US attitude towards international law in this case is clear. In 2010, documents were leaked from the US Department of Defense (sic) showing that Defense Secretary Robert Gates had worked behind the scenes with then Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, to have the CIA agents’ case dropped, with Berlusconi promising to “do what he could,” and complaining that the Italian courts were run by “a bunch of leftists.” (Berlusconi has himself subsequently been tried and convicted of corruption, in a tax-evasion case that ended with him sentenced to four years in prison. More recently, he was also tried and convicted of sex with an underage girl, and was sentenced separately to seven years in prison.
The US, since Snowden went public with his expose that the NSA is spying on the electronic communications of all Americans, as well as on hundreds of millions of other people around the world, including in nations supposedly allied with the US, the Obama administration has been leaning heavily on countries of Europe, Asia and especially Latin America, to keep them from granting him asylum. Even Russia, where Snowden is currently trapped because the US has publicly announced the cancellation of his US passport, has been subjected to threats and pressure in an effort to keep that country from granting him even temporary asylum. In his case, the US position is that other nations of the world must “follow the rule of law,” and hand Snowden over to the US for prosecution.
But as Snowden and the human rights attorneys who are working with him have pointed out, it is a grave violation of international law to deny anyone the right of humanitarian asylum. That doesn’t matter to the US, though, which is brazenly warning all countries that those who offer Snowden asylum, or even safe passage, will “pay a price” not just immediately but “for years to come.”
The rule of law, as far as the US is concerned, is clearly considered by the Obama administration, like the Bush/Cheney administration before it, to be only for the weak and the poor. Washington makes it clear that international law doesn’t apply to the US.