International court will restrict liberties

Anthony Sanders

Do you believe in the liberties enshrined in our Bill of Rights? Do you object to the continuing infringement of our liberties, most notably evidenced in the USA Patriot Act? Do you think giving increased powers to courts and law enforcement agencies does more to endanger our freedoms than to secure our safety?

If so, you shouldn’t support the newly created International Criminal Court.

You might think the ICC was created to prosecute dictators who have committed heinous crimes such as genocide. You might wonder how that could endanger the liberties we treasure as Americans. While the ICC doesn’t endanger our liberties now, it has the potential to in the future.

The ICC came into existence this year after the requisite 60 countries signed on to its treaty. The United States had signed the treaty, but rescinded its backing earlier this year. Therefore, the court does not apply to U.S. citizens. For now, at least.

Many human rights defenders dream that the court will bring to justice those who are immune to prosecution in their home countries. With an independent permanent court available, some hope those individuals will be held accountable for their crimes. As it currently stands, the ICC’s statute empowers it to persecute individuals for “genocide,” “crimes against humanity,” “war crimes” and “the crime of aggression.”

Contrary to what some of the court’s opponents have said, its current statute does safeguard some of the “rights of the accused” protected by our Constitution. The right to an attorney, the right to remain silent and the requirement of a warrant for an arrest are all included. The rights to trial by jury, and to meet one’s accuser, however, are not.

But all this could change. First of all, the language of the statute defining “crimes against humanity” invites all kinds of room for judicial interpretation. For instance, the statue leaves open-ended the meaning of an act that “intentionally causes great suffering.” This is a far cry from a ban on genocide. Could putting a prisoner to death fall under this definition? If the United States eventually submits itself to the court, would the governor of a death penalty state stand as guilty for executing a convict? What about the members of the jury who issued the death sentence?

Even worse, the court’s statute doesn’t even bother to define a “crime of aggression.” It leaves that up to latter amending procedures. By the court’s terms, amendments may be made starting seven years from now. The crime’s definition was deliberately delayed so officials would have time over the next seven years to think of other acts they’d like to meld into the meaning of “aggression.”

Some suggest that such things as “serious threats to the environment” or “committing outrages on personal dignity” should become crimes. This last proposal could encompass “negative acts” such as not providing free medical care. Many people on the international scene would love to criminalize such behavior. Would you want the officials of the U.S. government brought before a foreign court for merely not extending socialized medicine to its citizens? You may desire or not desire socialized medicine, but do you really think its absence should be a criminal offense?

If you do, there’s no limit to the behavior that may be criminalized. Another proposal was to make drug trafficking a “crime of aggression.” Do you, for example, think running pot across international lines should land you in front of a tribunal of foreign judges?

The ICC’s statute may be amended by a simple two-thirds vote of its member nations. In the future, the same politicians who want to arrest members of sovereign governments for not implementing social policy may wish to turn back the procedural safeguards in the court’s statute. Who knows what might go.

As an independent organization, the court will protect its own interests, lobbying for more power and jurisdiction. Rights such as a speedy and public trial may become mere “formalities” interfering with the court’s objectives. Because the court’s member nations do not have the same traditions of liberty that we do, the court may get its way and the rights of the accused will be thrown into the dustbin of history.

So, do you care about civil liberties? Do you trust the U.S. government to protect your freedoms? No? Then why trust a court created by governments not even nominally bound to our Constitution? God help us if we ever get a Patriot Act for the entire world.