A First Step toward an International Criminal Court

Article excerpt

IN the violent wake of the Rodney King verdict, the American justice system has received international scrutiny. Critics used the King case to argue that our legal system may not be as fair as we Americans would like to believe. Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi used the occasion to dramatize his point: If an incontrovertible video could not lead to an obvious verdict, how could the Libyan nationals accused by the United States government of the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, possibly hope for a fair trial in an American court?

Many friends of the US question the neutrality of our criminal-justice system, especially in cases with a significant political dimension. If we want to bring the Lockerbie terrorists to justice, the US should support the establishment of an international tribunal to hear the case, thereby reaffirming our commitment to the rule of law as the foundation of a new world order and establishing a precedent that could lead to an international court to which the United Nations Security Council could refer appropriate cases.

The American government has always urged the acceptance of the rule of law, objectively defined and fairly administered, as the basic premise of a world seeking peace and social justice. The trials of war criminals in Nuremberg and Tokyo after World War II were an effort to punish crimes against humanity that transcended national frontiers.

From its earliest days, the UN discussed the creation of an appropriate tribunal for such crimes. Since 1951, the US has been among the countries that have supported "A Draft Code of Crimes Against the Peace and Security of Mankind." The cold war prevented the adoption of such a code, however.

Then in 1987 Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev announced support of the concept of an international criminal court. The next year, the US Senate called upon the president to begin discussions with other countries toward establishing such a court with jurisdiction over international terrorism and drug trafficking. Last March the Senate called for Saddam Hussein to be tried before an international court.

President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker III have brilliantly won UN affirmation of our indictment of the alleged Lockerbie terrorists. The civilized world now shares our insistence that the responsible criminals be prosecuted and punished. If we were to agree to an appropriate international forum rather than a national court for the prosecution of the case, the Libyans would be compelled to submit or else face international sanctions.

The situation is at a stalemate. Libya is not going to deliver its citizens to the hostile control of the US, Britain, and France. …