Human Rights Lawyer Francis Boyle on US War Crimes, the Refugee Crisis in Europe and More
Monday, 04 April 2016 11:52By Michael Nevradakis, Truthout | Interview
Francis Boyle, professor of international law at the University of Illinois College of Law, is one of the world’s foremost experts of international law and human rights issues. In his long career, he has served as legal counsel and adviser to several world leaders, as well as independence movements, and served on the legal team that led to the conviction of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Tony Blair on war crimes charges at the 2012 Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission.
In this interview, Boyle tackles a number of hot-button issues, including continued allegations of war crimes against members of the US government, analysis of the upcoming US presidential election, discussion of the ongoing conflict in the Middle East and analysis of the legality of Greece’s national debt and memorandum agreements.
Michael Nevradakis: Let’s discuss the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission and the case which led to the conviction of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and others in absentia for war crimes. Tell us about this commission, about this case that you were a part of and its aftermath.
Francis Boyle: There were two different proceedings. The first was against Bush and Tony Blair, for their war of aggression and Nuremberg crime against peace against Iraq. I was part of the team that helped get a unanimous conviction there. The second proceeding was against Bush, Cheney, [Donald] Rumsfeld, [Condoleezza] Rice, [Alberto] Gonzalez and several others for torture and war crimes. Again, I was part of the team that helped get a unanimous conviction, both for torture and for war crimes.
“All these refugees are fleeing because the US government has been destroying their states.”
Those materials have been filed with the International Criminal Court, and I’m doing the best I can to follow up on my own, tracking these people and staying in touch with all the lawyers to see if we could get them apprehended. Bush was about to go to Switzerland [in 2011], and a Swiss parliamentarian aware of my work demanded that the Swiss prosecutor general apprehend and prosecute Bush for torture and war crimes under the domestic implementation of legislation for the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. When word got back to Bush, he didn’t go to Switzerland.
So that’s the way I’m proceeding, and other international human rights experts — I’m not the only one out there, I know the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York is involved, I believe Amnesty International is involved, and there’s some other human rights lawyers I stay in contact with — we’ll keep after these people the best we can.
How does international law view the actions of the Obama administration and the United States today?
I wrote a book that comprehensively covered all the violations of international law, human rights, the laws of war and United States constitutional law by the [George W.] Bush administration, called Tackling America’s Toughest Questions, and in the conclusion — I wrote the conclusion three weeks after Obama was inaugurated — I said it looked like we very well might be getting a third Bush term, and that’s what we’ve got here: two more Bush terms under Obama. He’s pretty much continued the Bush policies, both abroad and here at home, compounding and continuing the Bush police state here in the United States.
Years ago, you had written about the plans of the United States, the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for Ukraine — and indeed for the world — with a stated goal of destroying specific states and listing seven countries that were slated to be taken over. What were those plans and have they come into fruition?
Yes, they have. In my book, The Criminality of Nuclear Deterrence, I have in there a statement by Deputy Secretary of Defense [Paul] Wolfowitz, made right after 9/11, that the United States government was going to get into the business of destroying states, and I analyze that sentence. It’s genocidal. Soon thereafter, NATO Gen. Wesley Clark was in the Pentagon and he was told they had a list of seven Muslim states that they were going to destroy. Basically, they’ve all been taken out now except for Iran. They’ve destroyed Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen; Lebanon has been pretty much paralyzed, and they lopped out South Sudan from Sudan. That process continues, and now they’re moving toward Ukraine and Russia and China. They’re moving directly to confront China.
Is there, in your view, any political candidate — any political force in the United States at the present time — that can put an end to this foreign policy and to the US military machine overseas? For instance, there are many progressives who have placed their hope in Bernie Sanders. Is this hope misguided, in your view?
I’m not going to criticize Senator Sanders here — I’ve dealt with him personally — but everyone had the same hope about Obama during his campaign. Obama was behind me at Harvard Law School, and he moved to the Hyde Park area in Chicago with the University of Chicago, where I was an undergraduate, so I had my own sources out there in Chicago and they told me not to trust Obama, so I never have. Indeed, I didn’t vote for him two times in a row and I was not deluded by Obama, which is why I said — three weeks into his administration in my book, Tackling America’s Toughest Questions — it looked to me like we were going to get a third Bush term. You know, hope springs eternal. Maybe Bernie Sanders will actually do something, I don’t know.
Hillary Clinton is a … war criminal, [who said] “We came, we saw, he died,” mimicking Julius Caesar and laughing … after Col. [Muammar] el-Qaddafi, my former client [at the World Court, in a successful case preventing the US and Britain from taking military action against Libya following the Lockerbie bombing], was sodomized with a knife and beaten to death.
As for the Republicans, none of them look very good at all. The last time around, I did support Jill Stein of the Green Party. I thought she was the best candidate and had the best platform, but unfortunately the Greens, with all due respect to them, didn’t really get themselves organized and accomplish everything. So there we are here in America, what can I say?
The ongoing and worsening conflict in Syria and all across the Middle East has led to a tremendous wave of refugees fleeing their homelands and traveling, under treacherous conditions, to Europe, with Greece often serving as the European entry point for these refugees. What do you make of the European Union’s stance toward the refugee crisis, and what does international law foresee in such circumstances?
All these refugees are fleeing because the United States government has been destroying their states. Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and Libya account for most of them, so that’s why they are fleeing — the outright terror of the aggression, war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity that the United States government is inflicting upon them.
With respect to Europe, all the states are parties to the UN refugee convention; that’s the international law. Unfortunately, it appears that they’re going to be making Greece the scapegoat for all of this, and confining all of these refugees in Greece, if you’re reading the plans here, which is completely unfair. I don’t know exactly how to advise Greece as to how to deal with the situation. The refugee convention is there, but [the refugees are] being made the scapegoat for US policies, and Europe is going along with it.
You have written extensively about growing Israeli belligerence in the Middle East and about the Palestinian right of return. How does international law view Israeli actions in the region, such as the continued construction of settlements, and how can the Palestinian people defend their homeland and their sovereignty, from a legal point of view?
Well, I’ve written three books, including Palestine, Palestinians and International Law, Breaking All the Rules and The Palestinian Right of Return Under International Law, so I’m not going to go through all that, but basically what we have here is outright genocide being perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinians with the full support of the United States government. Israel wants all of Palestine and [it doesn’t] want any Palestinians there, so it’s going to get worse.
I gave the best advice I can to the Palestinian leadership; I’ve worked with them to get them up to the point where they are now a United Nations observer state; I have devised a means whereby they can overcome Obama’s threatened veto of their membership, full-fledged state membership in the United Nations; and I have also offered to sue Israel at the International Court of Justice in The Hague — the World Court — for inflicting genocide against them and trying to stop the settlements, the genocidal siege of Gaza. So, the Palestinian leadership has my recommendations and offer to help…. In 2005, Palestinian civil society contacted me and asked me if I would go in with them on a boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign, which I agreed to do. The BDS campaign has taken off now all over the world. It’s having an impact.
It is also very unfortunate to see Greece move toward working hand in glove with Israel, when [Greece] did have a previous history there of supporting the Palestinians, and I think the Greek people need to make it clear to the current Syriza government that [they are] not going to accept this at all.
Your outspoken criticism of US foreign policy against Israel, your being in favor of independence for Hawai’i and your stances on many other issues have put you on the radar of the FBI and other intelligence agencies. Describe for us an encounter you had with the FBI about a decade ago.
One day, two agents of the FBI and the CIA showed up at my office, misrepresented to my secretary who they were, what they were about. I let them into my office. They proceeded to interrogate me for one hour and tried to get me to become an informant against my Muslim clients, which I refused to do, repeatedly refused. So they went out then and put me on all the United States government’s terrorist watch lists. According to my lawyer, there’s six or seven of them and as far as he can figure out — I was put on all of them. You know, what can I say?
My lawyer did appeal, but he was told I would remain on all of these watch lists until the FBI and CIA take me off, which of course is not going to happen in my lifetime. He did make it possible for me to travel, but there we are.
Over the past six years, successive Greek governments — including the Syriza government — have signed a series of memorandum agreements which have not only imposed harsh economic austerity and resulted in the privatization and sell-off of key public assets, but which have also essentially signed away, at least on paper, Greece’s sovereignty. The EU and the troika have final approval rights over key legislation that is brought before the Greek Parliament, while the memorandum agreements have been placed under the legal authority of the United Kingdom and Luxembourg. Are such agreements valid under international law, and what could Greece do to restore the country’s sovereignty?
It does appear that Syriza has abandoned and betrayed the Greek people and the promises it had made originally to get elected. One could use an argument of economic duress and threats of coercion under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties to try to claw back some of these agreements that Syriza has made [agreements which obligate Greece to enforce further austerity measures, budget cuts and privatizations of public assets].
As for this debt, there is a well-known doctrine under international law known as “odious debt” that I think Greece could consider to repudiate a good deal of this debt. I haven’t studied the elements of the Greek debt, but it does appear there are more than enough elements there that could be repudiated as odious debt.
And then finally, clearly Germany owes massive reparations to Greece for the Nazi occupation and war crimes in Greece during World War II. They still have not paid up, and I think the Greek government or the Greek people need to insist on that, and that gives [them] a lot of leverage against Germany, which is really the most powerful country in Europe right now and is pretty much calling all of the shots here. So [Greece has] a lot of leverage, but the Syriza government has to use it.
What can ordinary people do to not only stand up for human rights and the rule of law, but to also identify political and social movements that will truly stand up for their rights and not betray them?
Well, you just had a general strike in Greece. I thought that was great — it really shows the Greek people have had enough. Everyone taking to the street — I think we need to see more of that in Greece, and then some type of leadership emerge out of those general strikes. It seems to me [that those organizing and participating in the strikes] are really in contact with people. Syriza has forfeited, in my opinion, its right to lead the Greek people. [Syriza is] working in cahoots with the IMF [International Monetary Fund], the World Bank, the European Central Bank, Brussels and Berlin.
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