U.S. news media today reported that the reason why President Barack Obama is ordering all U.S. armed forces, except a few Marine guards at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and a few others with similar tasks, out of Iraq is because the Iraqi government refused to provide immunity for U.S. military personnel in Iraq. That immunity means that U.S. troops could not be taken before an Iraqi court for crimes they commit in Iraq. I am told the U.S. applies this principle throughout the world. I know it does in Colombia, where a U.S. soldier who raped a Colombia woman near the Colombian Army base where he had been assigned was quickly flown out of Colombia to the U.S. so the Colombian justice system could not prosecute him. So even the commission of heinous crimes against the host country’s citizens cannot be prosecuted in that country, according to the agreement under which the U.S. troops are permitted to be in the country.
In reporting on the Iraqi development today, not one of the journalists on the Public Television’s program “Washington Week in Review”, some of the most seasoned reporters this country has produced in recent years, raised the point that the Iraqi government was being quite reasonable in protesting against blanket immunity for U.S. troops in Iraq. Why not? Is the U.S. exempt from the rules which apply to other nations? If, for instance, Canadian or Mexican troops came to the United States for a training mission and one of them raped or murdered a U.S. citizen in this country, would we be satisfied to let that soldier go back immediately to his home country, allowing no prosecution of him in this country? I think not.
The National Council of Churches, a respected church organization in this country, sent through the mail a few days ago a list religions which recognize a principle common to nearly all, if not all, of them: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Why doesn’t that principle apply in this case? And why don’t our best and brightest reporters question what basis the U.S. government has for requiring immunity from crimes committed by our military personnel in other countries? Are we inherently better or more virtuous than other countries? Or is it that might makes right?
The fact is that this principle of immunity for crimes committed in other countries is wrong and should be abandoned. It is a slight to the sovereignty of the countries where it is applied. Its result is likely to be impunity for common crimes by U.S. military personnel committed in other countries.
I believe it is time for other countries to look again at their military agreements with the U.S. and begin to insist upon the removal of the immunity clauses applied to crimes which are not a part of the service for which the U. S. troops have been invited into their country. A good place to begin would be Colombia. After the unabashed concession to U.S. interests that featured the Presidential Administration of Alvaro Uribe Velez, President Juan Manuel Santos should take a step to re-establish Colombian sovereignty by insisting that U.S. military personnel who commit common crimes, such as murder or rape of Colombian citizens, while they are stationed in Colombia, must be tried in Colombian courts.
October 21, 2011