Recently I decided to read the work of Noam Chomsky for the first time, beginning with Hegemony or Survival. I’m a few chapters in now, and one of the points that Chomsky makes is that the United States continues to show blatant disregard and even contempt for international law and institutions such as the United Nations. Chomsky focuses on the start of the war in Iraq in defiance of the Security Council and the UN in general as one of the United States’ most stark dismissals of international law, but also details similar dismissals with regards to other military engagements. He asserts that this is part and parcel of larger project of the United States, which reserves “the right to resort to force to eliminate any perceived challenge to US global hegemony, which is to be permanent.”
For people paying attention, the US’ disregard for international law – as shown through its preemptive strikes, its dismissals of the Geneva Conventions with regards to torture, its secret renditions, and its snubbing of a litany of treaties and agreements – has been worrisome for a long time. As Chomsky asserts, “when the UN fails to serve as ‘an instrument of American unilateralism’ … it is dismissed.” Essentially, the government of the United States believes that it can do whatever the hell it wants, with a big middle finger raised towards any other nation or international organization that calls it on its murderous, imperialistic bullshit. Or, as John Bolton, our illustrious former UN ambassador, put it: “There is no such thing as the United Nations. There is only the international community, which can only be led by the only remaining superpower, which is the United States.”
So when I read this morning about the Texas execution of a Mexican citizen convicted of murder, the story fit right into the larger pattern of the United States’ perception of itself as supreme. Jose Ernesto Medellin, convicted of the 1993 rape and murder of two teenage girls, was executed Tuesday night despite an order from the International Court of Justice at the Hague to halt the executions of Mexican citizens on Texas’ death row. From the LA Times article:
The International Court of Justice in The Hague sided in 2004 with the Mexican government’s argument that the United States had violated the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations by failing to inform the arrested Mexican nationals of their right to seek help from the Mexican Consulate.
Mexico has asked that all 51 convictions be reviewed, creating the possibility for new trials or outright dismissals. The Hague court had ordered the United States not to execute any of five men on death row in Texas while the court reviewed their cases.
But the court, a branch of the United Nations, has no power to enforce its rulings. A spokesman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, has said that “the world court has no standing in Texas.”
Emphasis added, because the statement so clearly crystallizes not only the attitude of the state of Texas, but of the United States as a whole. Surprisingly enough, the Bush administration attempted to intervene and halt the executions: “Mr Bush wrote a two-paragraph memorandum to the Department of Justice saying Texas courts must obey the ICJ ruling and review Mr Medellín’s conviction and sentence to determine whether his rights were violated because he was not allowed to contact his consulate.” However, as the LA Times reports, “the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the administration’s arguments, ruling 6-3 that under the Constitution, the president did not have the ‘unilateral authority’ to compel state officials to comply with an international treaty.”
Interesting. So the President seems to have unilateral authority to do all sorts of awful things, but not when it comes to enforcing international law? I suppose this makes sense, though; after all, why should individual states not follow the example of the larger nation in its utter disregard for the rule of international law? In these executions, Texas is only applying the precedent that the US government has demonstrated time and time again: the United States can do what it wants, and fuck the rest of the world if they complain.
The LA Times reports that “Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International contend that executing foreign citizens in opposition to the court order could put U.S. citizens abroad at risk of being convicted and even executed for crimes without having access to U.S. consulates or embassies.” Jeffrey Davidow, former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, expands upon that:
So we now find ourselves on the brink of an irrevocable violation of the most important treaty governing consular assistance for our citizens detained in other countries. A failure to comply with this most basic of treaty commitments would significantly impair the ability of our diplomats and leaders to protect the interests — individual and collective — of Americans abroad. Were the tables turned — American citizens arrested abroad and denied consular access, with an ICJ judgment requiring review of those cases for prejudice, and another nation refusing to comply — our leaders would rightly demand that compliance be forthcoming.
Unfortunately, as the United States continues to flout international law, other nations might not be so interested in extending favor to us that they do not get from us. And why should they? Why should other nations not be allowed to exercise their sovereignty just as the United States does? Oh, that’s right: it’s because the people in power in this nation believe in the Rule of Might over the Rule of Law, and the United States just happens to have the biggest guns.