David Rothkopf

Qaddafi’s ‘why me?’ moment: Who deserves an ICC arrest warrant more than him?

Imagine being Muammar al-Qaddafi. There you are, struggling with the day-to-day challenges of trying to get a decent colorist and botox doc to come to your bunker, and the International Criminal Court issues an arrest warrant for you for crimes against humanity. You’re thinking, "crimes against fashion" sure, I would understand that. People are jealous ...

CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images
CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images

Imagine being Muammar al-Qaddafi. There you are, struggling with the day-to-day challenges of trying to get a decent colorist and botox doc to come to your bunker, and the International Criminal Court issues an arrest warrant for you for crimes against humanity. You’re thinking, "crimes against fashion" sure, I would understand that. People are jealous they can’t rock the gold epaulets like I do. But crimes against humanity? I’m just following the job description to which every other leader in my region adheres. Sure, I’m trying to put down a rebellion. Abraham Lincoln did the same thing, it resulted in way more killing and mayhem than has happened here, and he’s on the five dollar bill.

"What about Assad?" he must be asking any remaining Ukrainian nurse practitioners as he is shuttled from one hiding place to another?

"What about the Bahrainis? What about Ahmadinejad? What about every one of my local colleagues who have dropped the hammer on the people trying to push us from office?"

"Heck, what about the NATO powers that were supposedly not authorized to pursue regime change here who keep "accidentally" bombing every place in town where I have stopped to take a nap?"

"What about George W.T.F. Bush?" he must be asking aloud while daubing shoe polish on his moustache and wondering silently who does Tom Selleck’s? "He and Cheney violated every international law on the books, invaded a country, hundreds of thousands of innocent people died, and what do they get? Presidential libraries! Book contracts! State of the art pacemakers!"

Of course, Qaddafi has every reason to be bitter. The international community singled him out and has starkly and apparently unabashedly ignored far worse violations by Bashir al Assad, to pick just the most egregious case of a double standard. Not that Qaddafi doesn’t deserve the arrest warrant issued by the ICC on Monday. Not that the world won’t be a better place when he is out of office or better, behind bars paying for his brutality, his sponsorship for terror and his myriad abuses against his own people. But, if ever a guy was having a "why me" moment, it must be him as he reads about Syrian crackdowns, recalls the Iranian crackdown, watches as leaders from North Korea to China to Myanmar to Russia to Zimbabwe to Sudan to the Congo to Venezuela order their opponents locked up or worse.

That’s the problem with the administration of international justice. It’s not that the Qaddafis and the Mladics of this world don’t deserve to end up in the slammer. It’s not that they are not getting their just desserts. It’s that justice is not applied equally around the world.

It’s that among the anachronisms of our time, far too many leaders are able to hide behind an impenetrable veil of sovereignty when they commit acts that otherwise would be seen as indefensibly illegal. Too many are able to successfully justify their actions politically and even make moral cases for their immorality. Whereas with run-of-the-mill criminals, those who cooperate with the authorities end up living under an assumed name in witness protection programs, when crimes are committed on behalf of the authorities they start out under assumed names — like self-defense or preserving order or honoring a faith or national heritage. In fact, most big time offenses actually might better be oxymoronically described as crimes on behalf of humanity.

For those who might be offended at the notion that a certifiable madman like Qaddafi could be considered in this context alongside an elected president of the United States, like George Bush, therein lies the rub. By purely objective criteria, which of these men’s violations of international laws cost more lives?

Before you answer, ask yourself also: would the world be a better place if national leaders were more accountable under international law, had to be able to more clearly defend their actions? It may be seen as inflammatory, but it is an issue worth considering given the number of crimes that have been committed by states in the name of sovereign prerogatives. In fact, committing atrocities in the name of the state is only rivaled by committing atrocities in the name of religion as the most ruthless engine of mass murder in history.

The greater problem may well be that there are not enough judges, not enough jails, to accommodate all those who have abused their political power to commit the most unconscionable of crimes. That said, there is no harm in starting with Qaddafi, provided we have the appetite and the intention to get to the others as soon as space on the docket and jail space allow.

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