WASHINGTON -- On New Year's Eve, while most Americans were at home or with friends celebrating the advent of a new year, William Jefferson Clinton, with but 21 days left in office, picked up a phone at the Camp David presidential retreat and launched yet another effort to grant himself a legacy. The call prompted David J. Scheffer, "U.S. ambassador-at-large for war-crimes issues," to race from Washington to UN headquarters in New York City to meet a midnight deadline for making the United States a signatory to the 1998 Treaty of Rome and the creation of an International Criminal Court (ICC). With that one phone call, our soon-to-be former head of state gained for himself effusive accolades from the blame-America-first crowd -- and committed the ultimate assault on U.S. sovereignty.
In directing that the United States become one of the last of 138 nations to sign this ill-advised document, Clinton formally obligated us to "uphold the principles and purposes" of the ICC. By so doing, he has endangered the liberty of every American civilian, military or public official, including his successors as president. Most in the so-called mainstream media barely noticed.
But Senator Jesse Helms (Rep-N.C.) did. The chairman of the Senate Committee for Foreign Relations, and an outspoken critic of the United Nations, promptly released a statement declaring that one of his highest priorities in the 107th Congress will be "to protect America's fighting men and women from this international kangaroo court."
The White House, of course, spins it all differently, claiming in a statement that "signature will enhance our ability to further protect U.S. officials from unfounded charges." But, as Senator Helms and other critics point out, that simply isn't true. Neither is the false assurance in the presidential release that "court jurisdictions (sic) over U.S. personnel should come only with U.S. ratification of the treaty." Either Bill Clinton is lying (could that be?), or he hasn't bothered to wade through the fine print of the five-inch thick, 128-article text of the treaty.
The ICC document creates an international star chamber under the auspices of the UN that claims criminal jurisdiction over every person in the world, regardless of whether their nation has ratified the treaty. What this might mean to those of us who have placed their trust in the provisions of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth or Eighth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution will be up to the interpretation of 18 judges -- only one of whom may or may not be an American.
Under the treaty, a U.S. soldier serving in Bosnia could be apprehended by local authorities for an offense, real or imagined, turned over to the ICC and flown to the Hague where he could rot for months, or await trial -- without the benefit of what we consider due process. No speedy trial; no confronting accusers; no protection from double jeopardy; not even the unanimous verdict of a jury is required for conviction. The ICC metes out justice by majority vote of the foreign judges presiding at trail. Articles 15, 42, 53, 54, 86 and 87 of the treaty grant the ICC prosecutor global authority to bring charges anywhere, against anyone. The prosecutor can collect secret evidence that's never revealed to the defendant -- only to the jurists hearing his or her case.
And it's not only "citizen soldiers" who are subject to the whimsy of this system. Article 27 of the treaty grants the ICC jurisdiction over "Heads of Nations, Legislators, Parliamentarians and Other Officials." Military officers don't even have to know that a crime has been committed by the most junior members of their units in order to be investigated and tried. Article 28 demands the prosecution of commanders who "should have known" that their subordinates "were committing or about to commit" crimes.
This sounds fair to those who want to try Slobodan Milosevic, his military commanders, and secret police thugs for decades of brutality in the Balkans. It seems good for the perpetrators of mass genocide in Rwanda, Sierra Leone or East Timor. But what about when it's our president, our Congress, our Secretary of Defense, our CIA director, or our senior military commanders? You don't have to be a xenophobe to ask if this really is about justice -- or is it about suborning American sovereignty?
Given these terrible liabilities, why did Bill Clinton wait until late on New Year's Eve to make us signatories to this horrific treaty? Proponents of the ICC say that it's to protect "human rights." But conspiracy buffs say that our soon-to-be-unemployed-and-disbarred head of state is seeking a pad in New York City, and claim this is all part of his plot to become secretary-general of the U.N. Others observe that it's Bill Clinton's final revenge on the military he loathes. Whatever it is, it's proof that we should be very wary of what lame ducks do in the dark of night.