John Kerry was for the International Criminal Court before he was (sort of) against it, and he will likely be for it again after Nov. 2.
But try tracking down where he stands today and you will run into his fixed political modus operandi before you find his fixed policy position. That M.O. consists of issuing carefully qualified statements designed to obscure, while not necessarily contradicting, his basic underlying stance -- in this case, support for a global tribunal that would trump our Constitution.
In their first two debates, President Bush attacked Kerry for supporting the ICC. Yet, Kerry never said a word in rebuttal. This was particularly odd because between the two debates, The Boston Globe ran an article entitled "Kerry Opposes Role in Tribunal/U.S. Concerns Not Yet Met, He Says." It quoted Kerry spokesman Mark Kitchens: "George W. Bush once again chose to mislead the American people about John Kerry's position [on the ICC]."
So, what precisely is Kerry's position? The Globe conceded it had a hard time prying it out of him. "Kerry's statement on the court, e-mailed to a Globe reporter Saturday night," the paper said, "came after repeated inquiries over the past six weeks and two days after another request the morning of the [first] debate."
"My number one priority is to protect the servicemen and women who protect America from harm," Kerry told the Globe. "Therefore, I don't believe the United States should join the International Criminal Court until our concerns are addressed and the Court develops a solid track record of fair prosecutions of the world's worst criminals." However, the Globe said, Kerry added (with ellipses inserted by the Globe): "I will not continue the obsessive and self-defeating campaign President Bush has waged against the ICC and the close American allies that support it. . . . All he's done is to alienate our closest allies and diminish his own authority in the world."
What campaign did Bush wage against the ICC? "In his statement to the Globe," the paper said, "Kerry criticized Bush's attempts to pressure countries, many of which have ratified the treaty, into bilateral arrangements that would prevent them from turning over U.S. citizens to the court. The administration has so far signed such pacts with 94 nations."
Why on Earth would Kerry resent this excellent defense of U.S. sovereignty?
In 1993, Kerry signed up as one of only eight co-sponsors to a resolution proposed by Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut. It was titled: "A joint resolution calling for the United States to support efforts of the United Nations to conclude an international agreement to establish an international criminal court."
In a Jan. 28, 1993, Senate speech explaining the resolution, Dodd clearly suggested this court should have the power to prosecute Americans. "We cannot push for the establishment of an international tribunal and pretend at the same time that we are exempt from its reach," he said.
On Dec. 21, 2000, 10 days before the deadline for signing the Rome Treaty establishing the ICC, Kerry joined 17 other senators in a letter urging President Clinton to sign it. The letter (http://www.amicc.org/docs/Senate12_00.pdf), posted online by The American Non-Governmental Organizations Coalition for the International Criminal Court (whose members include the United Methodist Church), assumed Americans would be tried by the court and rebutted fears they would be tried unfairly.
"The ICC represents an historic step forward in the international effort to punish and deter war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide," the senators wrote. "Throughout the years of negotiations on the ICC, the United States has secured significant safeguards to ensure that American soldiers are not subjected to politically motivated actions by the Court . . ."
Kerry and the others fretted that the flocking sparrows of this peeping tribunal might clip the wings of the American eagle. "The ICC will have jurisdiction over nations that are not party to the Treaty whether or not the U.S. signs," they warned Clinton. "If we do not sign, or even worse, if we seek to undermine the ICC's authority, there is a strong possibility that the Court's prosecutors and judges will see themselves in opposition to the U.S. and our official personnel."
Clinton caved and signed the treaty. In 2002, Bush unsigned it.
This year, Kerry responded to a questionnaire from the group Peace Action: "I support U.S. participation in the International Criminal Court, but also believe U.S. officials, including soldiers, should be provided some protection from politically motivated prosecutions."
So, here we have the great debater's bottom-line on an International Criminal Court whose members already include Venezuela, Cambodia, Colombia and Niger: It can prosecute Americans as long as it is not politically motivated when doing so.