Trial by jury, trial by fire

I don't normally do online petitions. Email petitions have a lot of problems; the Web ones address many of those issues, but still seem unlikely to me to be terribly effective in general.

But I couldn't resist this petition for peace, because regardless of whether it's effective or not, it says what I wanted to say, clearly and succinctly. (The final paragraph goes slightly overboard for me in its rhetoric, but only slightly, and I like the rest of it a great deal.)

And it was a good reminder to me that the "we don't want war, but what choice do we have?" mindset is missing something. The key sentence of the petition for me is this: "We implore the powers that be to use, wherever possible, international judicial institutions and international human rights law to bring to justice those responsible for the attacks, rather than the instruments of war, violence or destruction."

Point being: there are accepted international procedures for a government to attempt to acquire custody of an individual residing outside their borders who the government believes has committed a crime. For example, in 1998 Spain attempted to arrest General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte during his visit to the UK, partly on the grounds that during his time in office in Chile he had allegedly tortured and killed Spanish citizens. (You can find brief general background info on Pinochet at For some background on Pinochet's alleged crimes, though I don't know how reliable it is, see Pinochet for Beginners. I wish they hadn't elected to use boldface type throughout.) Note that Spain did not invade or bomb Chile, nor did they invade or bomb the UK for harboring someone they considered a criminal and a murderer of their citizens. They initiated extradition proceedings. This seems to me to be the way civilized nations interact. I don't know a lot about the Pinochet case (those Web pages, things I heard on NPR, and general stuff that may or may not be true absorbed from pop culture), and I do know that things are a little different in the current situation (for example, Pinochet was a head of state at the time; the UK initially ruled that that made him immune from prosecution for any crime). But it does seem to me that the basic parallels are pretty strong. And note that there was no guarantee that Spain would successfully achieve their goal; that happens sometimes when you pursue legal remedies against someone you feel has wronged you.

Henry Kissinger has been accused, in a recent book by Christopher Hitchens (more info in a Salon article), of war crimes. Do we feel that Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia should invade (or bomb) the US in order to bring him to "infinite justice"?

And finally, consider how we treat terrorists within our borders. Imagine a world where you might read this article in a newspaper:

The sleepy little town of Fayetteville, Virginia, has a strong tradition of hospitality.

So it was no surprise to any of the locals that when a young man named Timothy McVeigh showed up at the door of George and Susan Brown and asked if he could stay with them for a few days, they said, "Sure, young man, come on in; you can have the guest bedroom."

But now the FBI has uncovered evidence that McVeigh may have had some connection to the recent bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City. The United States government has notified the residents of Fayetteville that their hospitality has come to an end. "Hand over McVeigh," said Secretary of State Colin Powell, "or we will raze your town to the ground."

...Yes, I know there are plenty of differences here. That there is satire, not a strong analogy, and I have no idea how seriously to take the Taliban's comments about bin Laden being their guest. (In newspaper articles, it always says "guest," but never explains why the quotation marks.) All I'm saying is: if the suspect were an American, we wouldn't be bringing military force to bear on local governments or on civilians; we would be pursuing legal means to capture the suspect, and then the suspect would go on trial in a court of law.

(The question of whether our legal system is appropriate or adequate for dealing with criminals is another big question; I have plenty of issues with our system, and I'm not really satisfied with any of the options we have available. But I think that's a separate argument; if the question is "should we invade Afghanistan or put a criminal into an overcrowded and dangerous prison, after convicting them using possibly biased and flawed processes," the latter seems pretty reasonable by comparison to the former, to me. We can work on reforming the criminal justice system another time.)

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