Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Legal Authority: Hold U.S. Leaders Responsible For War Crimes Or Face More of Same‏

By Sherwood Ross

Unless Americans hold their leaders accountable for their criminal conduct, even if it means the death penalty, future leaders will commit crimes as well, a prominent law school dean warns.

“Unless and until this starts being done, and I stress the need for the gallows when the crime warrants it, we will never be without major crooks, without causers of major disasters, in big business, in government, in economics and in war,” writes Lawrence Velvel, dean of the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover and an award-winning essayist.

“Unless and until we start sending the even worse criminal warmongers and torture mongers to the gallows, we will in the long run keep getting more of the same. We will recoil from the disaster only to find ourselves facing a similar economic or warmongering disaster five or ten or twenty years from now,” Velvel wrote.

As to the economic and business side of it, by now nobody needs persuading that one disaster can and does follow another, Velvel says. As for starting wars, “who, if he or she lived through Viet Nam, would have thunk it could happen again, yet (former President George W.) Bush and (former Vice President Dick) Cheney and their fellow mental dwarfs saw to it that it did,” he added.

Velvel noted that “It was the fear of being held to account in courts even though this had never happened before that led the Executive to commission exonerating legal memoranda from the John Yoos and their ilk in the Department of Justice and the Pentagon. For George Bush, Richard Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and Henry Kissinger to swing, or even for them to spend years in jail, would be a powerful lesson to future American leaders.”

He added, “It is not amiss to note that leaders of Germany and Japan from the end of World War II until today have never advocated the kinds of policies advocated by generations of their predecessors. There are several reasons for this, but one cannot discount the importance of the leaders’ knowledge that their predecessors swung in the 1940s.”

Velvel called for, “A culture of honesty, a culture of competence, a concern for the other guy, not just oneself---all of this is crucial to a decent society and can collectively be summed up within the individual by whether or not he or she has a decent internal code of honor.”

“But look as hard as you want, and you are not going to find that internal code in most people, at least not in people who are big deals in this society,” Velvel explains. “It was recently said of (former Secretary of State) Condoleezza Rice that her only core principle is success. What was said to be true of her---and I personally think worse of her than that---is an oft true principle of American life in general. There is no decent internal code of honor among the big shots, who care for success alone. The absence of such a code, and of the elements comprising it, in the big shots and many others is, I think, as often said here, the single most profound tragedy of our country, because it causes so many others.”

Velvel states: “Today, there is no accountability for our leaders, nor do their own families face death on the front lines as occurred during the Civil War (when several Cabinet officials’ sons or brothers faced battle) and World War II (when one of FDR’s sons participated in extraordinarily dangerous missions in the Pacific). Today there are, rather, only very different factors---factors that make it easy and safe for leaders to fight wars; there are half trillion dollar appropriations, huge standing military forces which the President orders into combat all around the world at the proverbial drop of a hat, a compliant congress that refuses to do its duty, and an incompetent, if not venal, mainstream media.

Writing of Obama, Velvel said that he “seems to be drinking the same Kool Aid that was drunk by, and destroyed the presidencies of, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and George W. Bush.” Velvel said that President Obama’s actions in Afghanistan “indicate he has learned nothing from the debacles in Indo China and Iraq. They are especially dumb for having been made by a guy who is quite smart….”

Velvel is cofounder and dean of the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover, a law school purposefully dedicated to providing a quality, affordable education for students from minority, immigrant, and low-income backgrounds who would otherwise not be able to afford a legal education and practice law. He is also founder of the American College of History and Legal Studies, scheduled to open in Salem, N.H., this August.

(Sherwood Ross is a media consultant to the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover. Contact him at sherwoodross10@gmail.com)

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