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Practical Idealism and the International Criminal Court
John Kusumi

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The world may have peacemakers, and the world may have war makers. The world-wide environment for war makers has now changed, where the International Criminal Court (ICC) augurs a new era of history. For the first time, the world has routine recourse for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. War makers who cross the line may be indicted and prosecuted.

This offers new hope on the issue of life or death for average civilians. For the record, Practical Idealism stands in favor of life, and opposed to death. For war makers who weigh the decision, the ICC adds weight in the balance, for decisions which favor life over death. As a result, Practical Idealism welcomes this development in human history.

From the practical standpoint of an administration, some reservations or questions are understandable. Yet, the current U.S. administration has surpassed such a balance point, by going to fierce opposition and resistance to the ICC. That backlash speaks of rule makers resisting rules, and authorities resisting authority. Such behavior is routine within human nature, but seems hypocritical when it comes from those who are responsible, ostensibly, for the stewardship of society. While that matter could form the basis of another Op-Ed, the present one returns to the ICC.

Where does the ICC fit into our paradigm or model of government? Should ordinary people think of this as another layer of government, threatening national sovereignty? Where do we stand in relation to this?

A natural question arises about the interrelationship of governments. Does it now "go from the UN, to nations, to states, to cities, to people?" No. We can simplify. I believe we need no change to standard conceptions of national sovereignty, and that we can dispense with complex, stilted reasoning. The ICC indicts people -- individuals, not governments. We can picture this without nations, states, or cities. Here, it seems to go from the UN, to people.

We all stand in some relationship to the UN. We can have varied reactions, but the UN now has three messages for people:

Thou shalt not commit genocide;
Thou shalt not commit war crimes; and,
Thou shalt not commit crimes against humanity.
I believe this accurately captures the general idea of the ICC. Implementation details, over which an administration could quibble, pale in significance next to the monumental import and meaning of this event. The court does claim jurisdiction and the ability to name any individual, world-wide. Whether valued by the U.S. administration or not, these matters exist. They will mean different things to civilians, to troops, and to administrations.

For civilians, this is entirely a good thing. Many would say, "it's about time," if not long overdue. For vulnerable or long suffering populations, it is high time for such relief, or light at the end of the tunnel. As an American civilian, I find it unobjectionable -- my do list, having no genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity, is unaffected. As the leader of a human rights organization, I in fact celebrated. (The China Support Network put out a statement on April 12, 2002, welcoming the ICC's arrival.) Civilians in other troubled regions will be even more welcoming of this development. In some places, as one civilian said, "It is a life and death fight of the populace against a handful of demagogues, traitors and tyrants."

For troops, it may be important to brush up on the rules of engagement, and such things as the Geneva conventions and the elements of war crimes. Absent any campaign of genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity, the practical effect of the new era may be simply to suggest, "think twice about the rules of engagement; and, check the target before pulling the trigger." In professional armed forces, this should not be too much to ask, nor unduly burdensome.

Practical Idealism embraces the general idea of the ICC, yet notes reservations or questions over implementation specifics. Are the elements of war crimes too restrictive, and would strict adherence to these concerns inhibit the ability of a military to do its job? At the end of day, I believe that our armed forces must be enabled to do their job effectively, and that extra casualties may result from excess delays for processing. Subduing danger becomes the high priority to elevate, and may take precedence. I therefore have this open question about the ICC.

What are the standards for balance and fairness in the application of the ICC? How accountable must commanders be for their subordinates? It may become more important for subordinates to "keep the brass out of trouble." And, in an exchange where tactics escalate into war crimes, does it matter which side escalated first? Answers to these questions remain to be seen, and it is difficult to evaluate the ICC without these answers.

One area of concern, well raised by critics of the court, is the lack of recourse, checks, and balances. As a civilian in favor of life, I don't have great sympathy for those who would be tried by the ICC. I believe that to face charges of genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity, that it takes a murderous element. Those convicted must have blood on their hands. The crimes are sufficiently heinous that our world is better off with the universal prohibition against such acts. But, what if the court sets a precedent that is widely disagreed with? Again, it's an open question.

Given the foregoing concerns, I believe it is valid if an administration reserves judgment about the ICC. That should be over concerns about specifics -- not the general idea. The general idea is to cause history's ethnic cleansers to think twice, giving reason for pause. The changed environment is everyone's -- the message is there, even for terrorists. In some ways, by forcing war makers to think it through, the ICC is already doing its job. The world is better off with this deterrent to history's worst crimes.

*John Kusumi, of Cheshire, CT, is the former 18-year-old for U.S. President (1984). Kusumi found himself to be the same age as college students in Tiananmen Square, when he founded the China Support Network in 1989. For more information, visit

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