(Philippe Sands, Queen’s Counsel and Professor of Law, University College London)
The BBC has a must-listen show on radio tomorrow titled Called to Account (times noted further below) offering a theatrical version of Tony Blair’s indictment for Iraq War-related crimes. This may inspire many on this side of the Atlantic pond to think about various strategies to hold America’s current political leadership accountable for duplicity and mismanagement of America’s national security portfolio — and particularly for the Iraq War.
Democracy has become a term derided in much of the world today because for many beleaguered peoples it has come to mean Western duplicity, uneven standards between the mighty and the weak, an excuse for invasion and occupation, a code word for regime change, or obsessive focus on ballots rather than healthy civil society institutions like courts and a free media that help to keep power accountable.
If ‘Democracy’ is ever going to shed its bad name, accountability must be one of its fundamental pillars in any genuine system of checks and balances. There should be a price paid for serious errors by national leaders — and an even higher price paid by those who wield power with impunity and who lie to their publics in so-called democracies.
When the revelations of Abu Ghraib became public, Donald Rumsfeld should have resigned. The fact that he did not and was not fired did more to undermine the American brand than virtually anything up until that point. If there was no accountability for crimes of that scale, why should other foreign states abroad empty their torture prisons or work against corruption or not falsely promise reforms to their people while engaging in self-dealing for themselves or their sectarian interests?
America is struggling with the mess it is in and trying to figure out the power dynamics of fixing blame and responsibility for the Iraq War on national leaders. The current reality is that there is little stomach among moderates and conservatives in the United States to impeach Cheney or Bush for lying America into a war whose end one way or another has disastrous consequences for the nation. This may change — and certainly the calls for an impeachment process against Cheney have picked up some momentum, though still not enough to be successful in the view of this writer.
But BBC Radio 4 will be broadcasting a play titled Called to Account this Saturday, 14 July 2007, at 2:30 pm UK Time and at 9:30 am EST. This can be listened to over the web live or downloaded to a podcast for later listening.
One of the principals involved in this production is British barrister and writer Philippe Sands whose book, Lawless World: America and the Making and Breaking of Global Rules — From FDR’s Atlantic Charter to George W. Bush’s Illegal War, exposed the important fact that Prime Minister Blair and President Bush decided on war with Iraq in January 2003 no matter what the outcome of diplomatic efforts.
Sands is a very serious and thoughtful legal commentator who is part of the “reasonable middle” of British political society — and the BBC’s support of such a provocative legal simulation is something that might inspire similar exercises — even in theatrical form if not real — in the United States.
— Steve Clemons