An ICC warrant against Putin is good – and hypocritical

It’s good that the ICC has charged Putin with war crimes. But what about the blood on the hands of the US and Israel?

Protestors calling for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp demonstrate in Trafalgar Square, in London, Britain, January 8, 2022. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Protesters calling for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp demonstrate in Trafalgar Square, in London, UK, January 8, 2022 [Henry Nicholls/Reuters]

As faithful readers of this column may know, I write a lot about hypocrisy.

Sometimes, it disappoints me. Sometimes, it offends me. Sometimes, it angers me. But state-sanctioned duplicity, in particular, never surprises me.

Still, I try to call it out wherever and whenever I see and hear it, if only to let the hypocrites and their enablers know that someone, somewhere, has exposed their, at times, infuriating insincerity.

I will begin with the career hypocrites at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague which will then lead me to the career hypocrites at the US White House, State Department and Pentagon.

Late last week, the ICC made out an arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin after the global court concluded that the Russian leader had committed war crimes in connection with the abduction and deportation of thousands of Ukrainian children since Russia’s invasion in February 2022.

The ICC found that Putin and another Russian official bore personal criminal responsibility for the forced “resettlement” of Ukrainian children.

The ICC defended its decision to charge Putin with a war crime and seek his arrest by insisting “that the public awareness of the warrants may contribute to the prevention of the further commission of crimes”.

Western and European capitals and establishment news media have universally cheered the ICC for taking the necessary step of issuing – for the first time – a warrant against a leader of one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

Officials and diplomats described the ICC’s tricky gambit as “the start of the process of accountability” that confirms that Putin is “a pariah” responsible for “crime[s] of aggression.”

This, despite the fact that the unprecedented move is largely symbolic since Moscow does not recognise the court’s jurisdiction or extradite its nationals.

Now, before I am accused of being a Putin “stooge” or “lackey” by commentators or readers more interested in hyperbole than the truth, I have written often of my deep and abiding antipathy towards Russia’s grotesque, crimes-against-humanity-happy president who is little more than a thug.

I am glad that the ICC has charged Putin with a war crime. He has earned it.

But here’s the hypocritical rub.

There are other leaders of other nations – including the United States and Israel – who regard themselves as exempt from the ICC’s authority and who have also earned being charged with war crimes by the court.

Apparently, according to the ICC, a string of American presidents and soldiers who launched a string of disfiguring wars on several still scarred continents and set up a covert, international abduction and torture racket have never, ever committed a war crime of any sort.

Apparently, according to the ICC, a cocksure British prime minister and his soldiers who joined their evangelical American cousins to invade Iraq and Afghanistan, destroying countless towns and cities and killing and making refugees of millions of innocents, have never, ever committed a war crime of any sort.

Apparently, according to the ICC, so-called “elite” Australian soldiers who murdered scores of Afghan civilians, including slicing children’s throats as part of a sick initiation ritual, have never, ever committed a war crime of any sort.

Apparently, according to the ICC, a slew of Israeli prime ministers, soldiers and their proxies who have, for generations, targeted Palestinian kids, women and men and “civilian infrastructure” in the occupied West Bank, Jerusalem, Gaza, Lebanon and beyond, have never, ever committed a war crime of any sort.

If the ICC found the belated courage to accuse the US, Britain, Australia or Israel of war crimes and serve arrest warrants for any number of current and former heads of state, that could, in the court’s words, “contribute to the prevention of the further commission of crimes”.

Of course, like Putin, the US and Israel would dismiss any charges instantly as having no legal merit. Give it a try, I say. Let the Americans and Israelis wail like colicky babies, too.

In any event, the hypocrite-in-chief, US President Joe Biden, welcomed the ICC’s actions as “justified” and having made “a very strong point”.

In the next sentence, Biden revealed his and America’s blatant hypocrisy when he qualified his congratulatory remarks by reminding reporters that the US does not recognise the ICC’s jurisdiction.

“But the question is – [the ICC is] not recognised internationally by us either,” Biden said.

Indeed, on September 2, 2020, the US slammed the ICC as “broken and corrupted” and derailed a probe into possible war crimes in Afghanistan by imposing sanctions on the court’s top prosecutor who had the audacity to investigate the dubious conduct of American soldiers. In an obscene quid pro quo, the ICC dropped the probe after then-US President Donald Trump and company dropped the sanctions.

Then, on March 3, 2021, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken blasted the ICC prosecutor in a press release for having opened an “investigation into the Palestinian situation”.

“The United States firmly opposes and is deeply disappointed by this decision,” Blinken howled. “The ICC has no jurisdiction over this matter. Israel is not a party to the ICC and has not consented to the Court’s jurisdiction, and we have serious concerns about the ICC’s attempts to exercise its jurisdiction over Israeli personnel.”

Well, well, well.

The US applauds the ICC when it charges Russia with war crimes and excoriates the same body when it starts looking into whether America committed war crimes in Afghanistan and Israel against besieged Palestinians.

The Pentagon has compounded the president’s hypocrisy by reportedly refusing to share with the ICC evidence gathered by US intelligence services of Russian atrocities in Ukraine for fear that providing the court with such incriminating information may set “a precedent that might help pave the way for it to prosecute Americans”.

Translation: Yes, the Pentagon believes that Putin is a bad guy who has done bad things to good people in Ukraine. The Pentagon also believes that if it gives the ICC stuff that may help prove that Putin is a bad guy who does bad stuff to good people, it might lead to America’s “good guys” in battle fatigues ending up in the same dock in the Hague because the court might suddenly discover that they have done lots of bad stuff to good people, too. And America can’t have that.

The New York Times says that President Biden hasn’t decided yet whether he agrees with the Pentagon or not.

My guess is that the hypocrite-in-chief will side with the hypocrites-in-uniform. Otherwise, other hypocrites-in-suits in Congress and newsrooms will cackle that the president has betrayed America and its good guys in battle fatigues.

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.