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[Ilya Somin (guest-blogging), April 2, 2006 at 12:04am] Trackbacks
Chuck Taylor in the Dock - Continuing the Trend of Putting Dictators on Trial:

Former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor will soon go on trial for his many crimes. Amidst many negative political developments over the last few years, one clear improvement over the status quo is the increasing trend towards trying and punishing repressive dictators. Taylor will be third in six years, following Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic and, of course, Saddam Hussein.

To be sure, the trials of Saddam and Slobo did not exactly go like clockwork. Milosevic's trial took almost six years and he died in prison before it could be completed. Saddam's trial often seems on the verge of turning into a circus. And we don't yet know whether the UN-supported special tribunal scheduled to try Taylor is going to be any better than the one that bungled Slobo's trial.

Even so, the fact that these people are behind bars and facing punishment is a change from the period between the Nuremberg Trials and 2000, when even the most vicious of dictators rarely had to suffer a fate worse than going into exile to live off the ill-gotten gains they stashed away in their Swiss bank accounts.

Theories of criminal justice hold that the twin purposes of punishment are retribution and deterrence. There is no category of criminals more in need of both than Taylor and his fellow dictators.

Over the last century, repressive dictatorships have been responsible for over 100 million deaths If we can deter even a small percentage of this kind of carnage in the future, it will be more than worth it.

UPDATE: A standard criticism of these trials is that they only target dictators who run afoul of US or Western strategic interests. This is a very hard argument to make in the case of Milosevic, where there were few if any Western strategic interests involved (unless preventing mass murder is itself circularly defined as a "strategic" interest). It is an even tougher argument in the case of Taylor, which involved even fewer Western interests than that of Milosevic (and in any case the Western role in Taylor's overthrow and arrest was fairly modest). The Saddam case is different, of course. It clearly did involve major US interests not directly related to Saddam's record of repression. Even here, however, had Saddam been a relatively benign ruler, he would have been less likely to take many of the actions that led him to run afoul of the US in the first place (invading Kuwait, seeking to acquire WMD, supporting terrorists, etc.).

Defending the Indefensible:
It should be mentioned that the only political figures who are subjected to such trials are from countries that have been or can easily be dominated. We do not subject our own leaders to liability for crimes committed in office.
4.2.2006 1:26am
cirby (mail):

We do not subject our own leaders to liability for crimes committed in office.


Well, aside from Nixon. And Clinton. And a number of Congressmen. And political appointees. Er...
4.2.2006 1:51am
Ray (mail):
I've noticed that throughout history in general, leaders were somehow not held to the same liability as a common citizen. Even when their own power was nil, and they were helpless before the conquering king or whomever.

Far enough back, and there was usually some superstition or religious logic to not treating leadership as common, and this somehow sequed to our modern life. Now, it's that no one wants to sully the office itself, any more than has already been done by the office holder. I think the basic psychology behind it is to preserve some sense of detachment from the common, or the pedestrian, and if we see Cynthia McKinney doing a perp walk, it kind of tarnishes all elected officials.

As for the only dictators who are so treated, I think it unaccurate to imply that only the third world dictators are treated as such. Germany at Nuremberg comes to mind, but with all of the Soviet dictators, Pol Pot, Mao, et al, it was the sociliast facilitators in the West that kep them out of the hot seat.
4.2.2006 1:56am
Steve:
Justice delayed is justice denied. Is there really no way to make these trials more expeditious, while still affording appropriate due process?
4.2.2006 4:11am
Shangui (mail):
but with all of the Soviet dictators, Pol Pot, Mao, et al, it was the sociliast facilitators in the West that kep them out of the hot seat.

Please elaborate. How exactly did the "socialist facilitators" in the West keep Pol Pot and Mao "out of the hot seat"? What does this even mean? Are you saying that were it not for these "facilitators" that Soviet Premiers and Mao would have been brought up in front of a war crimes tribunal? Who were these powerful people who managed to keep this from happening? How exactly would we have put Mao, for example, on trial? And was Pol Pot not overthrown by the communist government in Vietnam?
4.2.2006 10:07am
Shangui (mail):
Just to be clear, I fully agree with the sentiment that many on the left in the US and Europe willfully ignored mounds of evidence that, for example, the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward before it were politically motivated disasters that killed tens of millions of people. But that's different from the claim that these people somehow kept Mao from being prosecuted when he otherwise would have been.
4.2.2006 10:31am
MDJD2B (mail):
It should be mentioned that the only political figures who are subjected to such trials are from countries that have been or can easily be dominated. We do not subject our own leaders to liability for crimes committed in office.

The downside to prosecuting high leaders ( is that it creates motivation for leaders to hold on to power illegally, lwst they be imprisoned. The pardoning of President Nixon, for example, took some of the flavor of a coup d'etat out of his fall from office. And, had President Clinton been convicted in the Senate and removed, it would have been a bad idea to prosecute him for obstruction of justice.

Assume (for the sake of argument) that crimes were attributable to Presidents and their high security officials when Iraqis were tortured, when the US Air Force bombed Servbian cities, when Marines invaded Granada, when the US firebombed Tokyo,etc. Fear of prosecution might motivate the respective responsible leaders to attempt to cling to power by extralegal means. Allowing our high leadersip to leave office in honor and peac removes this temptation. This benefit outweighs any benefit arising from their prosecution. Furthermore, a culture of prosecuting former officials would lead to an effort by ins to try to convict outs, as so friquently happened in Athenian democracy. this would tend to subvvert democracy, and would also make leadership unattractive to able people.

My argument does not apply to illegitimate regimes. Prosecuting Taylor will not destabilize Liberia. In might not apply to crimes of a very high magnitude. And it does not aply to lower officials, or to ordinay corruption, as with Spiro Agnew.
4.2.2006 10:53am
Shangui (mail):
There'd be no need for prosecutions of dictators if the people were just sufficiently armed. With guns. Lots and lots and lots of big guns.

Wasn't Iraq one of the most heavily armed countries in the world under Saddam? Weren't there huge numbers of arms in Liberia? It seems to me unlikely that a heavily armed populace would necessarily all agree on the single goal of overthrowing a dictator and starting a democracy. Continuous fighting between rival factions seems like it has been much more of the norm. Now you may consider this preferable to a dictatorship, but that's a different claim.
4.2.2006 11:06am
Ship Erect (mail) (www):
Does it strike anyone else as odd that the possibility of a trial (and potential death sentence) in the far-off future could act as any kind of deterrent to murderous dictators?

I've never been comfortable with the idea that anyone who is otherwise law-abiding is somehow deterred from killing someone because of the death penalty, and I think it's even less plausible here. The kinds of people who rise to power and become authoritarian iron-fisted rulers are not known for caring about the rule of law, so why should they even recognize a court that they probably believe they will, one day, overthrow? Nor are dictators known for their rationality, either (at least those who have killed in the mega-death range; Castro and Qadafi seem, relatively, to want to engage diplomatically).

Also, WWI was the biggest deterrent against dictatorial aggression man has ever created: everyone witnessed, firsthand, what happens when countries are destroyed as punishment for even participating in, let alone losing, a war begun irrationallly. Global economic and social depression. And yet, Hitler and Lenin both arose with dreams of world conquest far grander than their predecessors. Wasn't a key lesson that Hitler learned from WWI was that countries can rather easily get away with the systematic killing of specific ethnic groups, using the Armenian genocide example?

It seems to me that dictatorial trials are an attempt by the somewhat civilized part of the globe to etch their crimes into history forever, drafting the international language for "DO NOT DO THIS." And, of course, Hitler and Stalin are the most reviled political figures in history. However, that side of the planet has had to stomach several bitter lessons from these trials: the banality of evil in Hitler, the impossibility of finality with Milosevic, the inherent media platform given to Saddam (a popular cultural figure in the years since the Gulf War). The penalties the Western world has paid have been far greater than those by the defendants.
4.2.2006 11:25am
Ship Erect (mail) (www):
Wow, never in a million years did I think that I would agree with you, Mr. Kopel. At least, up until the "guns guns guns." Must be an April Fool's hangover.
4.2.2006 11:27am
Average Joe (mail):
Shangui and Ship Erect,
If you look at the e-mail address in the "Dave Kopel" post, you will see that it is: dave@guns-more-guns.org. Somehow, I do not think that address is Dave's real e-mail address. His website does not have a direct e-mail, and his main contact is the Independence Institute, which would have an e-mail address of the form something@i2i.org. I am suspicious of the authorship of the "Dave Kopel" post above.
4.2.2006 11:56am
Shangui (mail):
Average Joe,

Thanks, and apologies to the real Dave Kopel. For whoever posted in his name, that's really obnoxious and the post should be deleted.
4.2.2006 12:11pm
Per Son:
The West only goes after dictators it temporarly doesn't like. For instance, Pinochet did not become bad until he killed one American - but he was fantabulous and supported while killing thousands of Chileans.

The Shah is another, as was Franco . . . and the list oes on. Nevertheless, I am happy to see at least a few prosecuted, and will smile when Pinochet spends his last dying days in prison.
4.2.2006 12:23pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
But that's different from the claim that these people somehow kept Mao from being prosecuted when he otherwise would have been.

And let's not forget who finally normalized relations with China.
4.2.2006 12:25pm
bornyesterday (mail) (www):
The only dictators who go to court are failed dictators.
4.2.2006 12:31pm
BU2L (mail):
Per Son,

We don't have the luxury of going after every criminal dictator. Until the world becomes a more cosmopolitan place, (which it won't), the primary goal of our foreign policy will be advancing American interests. Advancing those sometimes compels to hop in the sack with bad people, usually to keep even worse people at bay.

Pinochet was "fantabulous" because he was a counterweight to a lot of things in the region that we rightly considered worse at the time. Same goes for Saddam.
4.2.2006 12:47pm
Bruce Wilder (www):
Shall we consider the case of George W. Bush?

He is more than arguably guilty of the "crime" of aggressive war against Iraq. With the reporting of additional British memos in the last week in U.S. newspapers, there is now unrefuted evidence that he knowingly and recklessly pursued a war of conquest without provocation. We prosecuted Germans and Japanese for that. (I am not saying he would be found actually guilty in a fair trial with a full range of evidence, though he might; I am saying that he is indictable on the publicly available evidence, now.)

He has "authorized" or permitted by considered neglect violations of Geneva Conventions to which the U.S. has subscribed, and violations of statutes governing torture and detainment, as well as statutes governing surveillance and investigation. Shall we do anything about that? Is there anything we can do?

I take seriously the idea that we endanger peaceful succession in office, by prosecuting malfeasance at the highest level. The bogus Whitewater investigation, and the impeachment of Clinton seem to have further inoculated the country against using the remedies we have available, such as they are.

Is the Republic doomed either way? Doomed to a dictatorship by an Imperial Presidency or doomed to partisan interpretations of any attempt to hold a misbehaving President for misbehavior related to policy?
4.2.2006 12:50pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
The only dictators who go to court are failed dictators.

War criminals are all lousy strategists. Why, every single one of them lost a war! {/irony}
4.2.2006 1:06pm
Goober (mail):
Anyone else look at "Chuck Taylor in the Dock" and immediately think the designer of the greatest sneakers ever was being prosecuted?

{crickets chirping)

Anyone?
4.2.2006 1:42pm
Per Son:
BU2L:

What is worse than torturing and killing and/or disappearing thousands of innocent men, women, and children? What is worse than overthrowing democratically elected givernments and murdering the leaders?

Why should ITT and other private bodies (including the AFL-CIO) interests be more important than torturing and killing and/or disappearing thousands of innocent men, women, and children?
4.2.2006 1:44pm
byomtov (mail):
the primary goal of our foreign policy will be advancing American interests. Advancing those sometimes compels to hop in the sack with bad people, usually to keep even worse people at bay.

Fine. So prosecution of the likes of Taylor is partly a function of national interest politics, and not entirely due to outrage at his behavior, since we are quite prepared to let criminal behavior go unpunished when it's our SOB. So maybe the self-congratulation over high moral standards could be turned down just a bit.
4.2.2006 1:44pm
Anon762:
I'm still very troubled by the notion of an ex post court enforcing "international law" that the defendant never accepted. I just don't see how these courts can claim jurisdiction without making a mockery of Western standards of justice. Nuremberg, Milosevic, Saddam -- they all strike me as kangaroo courts.
4.2.2006 1:46pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
I'm still very troubled by the notion of an ex post court enforcing "international law" that the defendant never accepted. I just don't see how these courts can claim jurisdiction without making a mockery of Western standards of justice. Nuremberg, Milosevic, Saddam -- they all strike me as kangaroo courts.

So you don't accept the proposition of international law or that there are internationally accepted norms of behavior. But I bet you are willing to accept the enforcement of contracts and international trade agreements across international borders. Why should IBM or Shell be protected in Nigeria from capricious actions but not real, living, breathing people?
4.2.2006 1:53pm
Ken Arromdee (mail):
Why should IBM or Shell be protected in Nigeria from capricious actions but not real, living, breathing people?

The only way IBM and Shell are protected from capricious actions by Nigeria is that people outside Nigeria can refuse to trade with or give aid to Nigeria as a result. No outside force will put Nigerians on trial or jail them.
4.2.2006 2:04pm
Anon762:
So you don't accept the proposition of international law or that there are internationally accepted norms of behavior.

I accept internationally accepted norms of behavior, sure. I accept international law in the form of multilateral treaties. I'm troubled by the enforcement of the laws of the powerful countries (e.g. us) on less powerful ones that haven't agreed to such enforcement. If the tables were turned, I wouldn't want China throwing US reporters in jail for writing anti-communist articles.

Courts of law are all well and good, but in my opinion, you need a font of authority to make the courts legitimate. Without that, you've got a court with no jurisdiction and no legitimate authority.
4.2.2006 2:20pm
Vovan:
I'd love to see Yeltsin on trial, and Kuchma with him - too bad they were "elected".
4.2.2006 3:11pm
Ray (mail):
shangui,

The point being that the western powers are so selective on which atrocities require international intervention. It's not so recondite as to require reiteration. Do you honestly presume to say that all dictators are treated the same by the international community, particularly the west? Communist dictators were regularly defended with a religious fervor by mainstream intellectuals in the west.

Had the Ukrainian famine been caused by a so-called right wing dictator, would it have been covered so smoothly by the NYTimes? Would our own President have met with the same thug, agreeing to give away entire countries to that man's control?

Yes, yes, the first poster is right in his implication that we reserve prosecution for some, while ignoring much more heinous acts by others.
4.2.2006 3:25pm
Shangui (mail):
Would our own President have met with the same thug, agreeing to give away entire countries to that man's control?

But as a later poster pointed out, it was Nixon, hardly a communist sympathizer, who met with Mao and shook his hand. And this was in the midst of the Cultural Revolution. As I pointed out, it was a communist government that got Pol Pot out of power.
4.2.2006 3:31pm
Ross Levatter (mail):
The faux David Kopel actually had a point. Here's the problem: a relatively small group of men who have committed attrocities on mass numbers of people. There is no serious debate about their guilt. The evidence is plain. But putting them on trial creates, as many above have well argued, kangeroo courts, a trail of a war's losers by the war's winners. Hard to take seriously as objective justice. What's the solution? Someone needs to just shoot them. It's quick. It's just. It avoids years of show trials. It creates the proper incentives: knowing if one loses a war one faces an international "trial" leads one to fight on without truce; knowing one will get shot if one commits mass murder, no questions asked, is at least an incentive in the right direction.
4.2.2006 3:31pm
Ray (mail):
Bruce

Shall we consider the case of George W. Bush?


That was the not so overt implication of the very first post. Surpised it took everyone so long to get to the man.

And yes, my initial reaction was to post "Chuck Taylor?! The Converse guy!? Who knew?!"
4.2.2006 3:32pm
Kovarsky (mail):
arming the people has worked wonders in africa.

i continue to fail to understand how leaders can be tried under law that isnt even constituted at the time their crime was committed.
4.2.2006 3:32pm
Ray (mail):

But as a later poster pointed out, it was Nixon, hardly a communist sympathizer, who met with Mao and shook his hand. And this was in the midst of the Cultural Revolution. As I pointed out, it was a communist government that got Pol Pot out of power.


None of which contradicts my assertions that the west winks at certain dictators, and condemns others. Whether it was FDR cozying up to Stalin (not to mention the secret meetings sans-Churchill) or Nixon shaking Mao's hand. You're making the case for me.
4.2.2006 3:35pm
Ray (mail):
Shang,

You obviously think I'm a dyed in the wool Republican who is trying to point at communist sympathizers on the Left.

So your effort has been to act incredulous as if my assertion were not based on historical fact, and then resort to that same historical fact whenever a Republican was involved. Thus, in your own mind, turning the tables on my point.

However, the point remains, as you have so nicely pointed out, we prosecute some, shake hands with others.

And you'll do better to argue the merits of an issue, and leave off prognosticating my party affiliation.
4.2.2006 3:39pm
Paradox:
One can try leaders by enacting an ex-post facto law or invoking natural law. If one eschews natural law, one cannot thereby argue that ex-post facto laws are inherently illegitimate. Absent natural law, ex-post facto laws are just another law justifiable by legal positivism.
4.2.2006 3:41pm
Ray (mail):
And more to the point of the Somin's thread, I disagree with any international body coming in and doing the people's work. If the "people" rise up and demand Taylor's hide, that's their business. But when outside entities come in to facilitate this, it is just wrong.

It is akin to the UN coming in and holding criminal proceedings against President Clinton for the illegal sales of missile technology to China. They're case would have been of course, the global threat that it caused, but they couldn't because we, as the Faux Kopel might say, have all of the guns.

And for war criminals being prosecuted by the victors, that's just part of war. They're lucky that they weren't just strung up or shot on sight, as might have been the case in earlier times. At least under the rubric of international courts, they have some kind of chance of maybe living their lives out in a jail cell.
4.2.2006 3:45pm
Ray (mail):
If one eschews natural law, one cannot thereby argue that ex-post facto laws are inherently illegitimate.

Nice!
4.2.2006 3:47pm
Kovarsky (mail):
Paradox

I don't understand why rejecting natural law requires ex post facto laws to be illegitimate, unless you are reasoning from the premise that there must be some way to try dictators.

I guess all founding documents are illegitimate in some way, in that they derive their authority from an unspecified set of procedures. That ambiguity must be tolerated, however, in the interest of the rule of law. I don't understand what interest is served by trying ex-leaders under ex post facto laws. I guess in some countries it represents the ultimate civics lesson for a nascent democracy, but not when the trials are conducted the way hussein's is.
4.2.2006 3:47pm
Kovarsky (mail):
excuse me, "why rejecting natural law requires ex post facto laws to be LEGITIMATE."
4.2.2006 3:48pm
Ray (mail):
Well, I'll let Paradox arguing his/her own points, but in a nutshell, natural law is based on the concept that there is a right and wrong, that morality, in a broad sense, is objective. Murder, rape, theft etc. No one can honestly deny that these things are wrong.

Under natural law, ex-post facto is simply wrong, for obvious reasons. Eschewing natural law, one presumably dismisses the concept of an objective right v. wrong. Having thus created a subjective foundation for right and wrong, then one is theoretically free to create a use for ex post facto laws under the guise of the rule of law.
4.2.2006 3:57pm
Justin (mail):
You know what would have even better of a deterrant? Actually stopping the genocide in Sudan, and saving the lives of millions of people, rather than investing your entire military operations (and any chance of military support for future "human rights" endeavors) on a war that was done for reasons completely unrelated to Hussein's past war crimes, and then using that (excuse? blame?) when the war failed to be an effective and efficient use of money orthe lives of either Americans or the Iraqis we're getting quite efficient at killing as well.
4.2.2006 3:57pm
Ray (mail):
Perhaps Paradox is trying to say that you get what you asked for. If you (the you that we use when broadly speaking) want to do away with natural law theories, that there is an objective right &wrong, then you're left to deal with the ensuing ambiguities.
4.2.2006 4:00pm
Kovarsky (mail):
I understand what natural law is. I mean what it is other than the last refuge of a bad argument.

I don't think the modern "ex post facto" discussion really has anything to do with natural law. It's perfectly justifiable under a number of instrumental (and for us, constitutional) theories. Of course in some abstract sense "everything is relative" if you don't accept "natural law." But because this is a fairly unremarkable insight, I'm not clear why its especially operative with respect to ex post facto laws.
4.2.2006 4:08pm
Ray (mail):
Kov,
Well, I'll let Paradox take the natural law issue from there. I'm speculating that he has a larger point to make on the rule of law, but it is only my speculation. I'm sure he'll be back.

More to the point at hand. I agree that Taylor shouldn't be tried ex post facto, but not every trial of a fallen leader will fall under this heading.

Saddam is a defeated leader of a country at war. This, regardless of one's opinion on how, or why we went to war. That is another discussion (Justin).

When a country goes to war, what do we do with the defeated leader? Leave him behind to foment revolt? Kill him outright? Exile him?

All fodder for more posts I suppose, but Saddam and Taylor are apples and oranges. So I reiterate an earlier post, if the "people" want Taylor's hide, then that is their business, but when the UN or some international force of law comes in, that is wrong. If for no other reason, where were those international law givers while the acts were being committed? (Hello Rwanda.)
4.2.2006 4:16pm
Justin (mail):
Ray, that is *not* another discussion.

IS wrote:

Over the last century, repressive dictatorships have been responsible for over 100 million deaths If we can deter even a small percentage of this kind of carnage in the future, it will be more than worth it.

But if we're not punishing genocide and mass murder, and instead simply arbitrarily ending certain regimes that happen to have that connection, there's no deterrence. Only if punishment is ACTUALLY RELATED to the event that one would like to deter can deterrence actually take place.
4.2.2006 4:21pm
Ray (mail):
Justin
You're assertion is to equivocate President Bush with dictators that are responsible for millions of deaths. To argue from your premise is to assume that the war in Iraq is both wrong, and illegal.

In other words, you've found President Bush guilty, when that may or may not be the case. We're discussing how to prosecute, if at all, dictators namely, that are universally recognized as guilty. Taylor, Mao, Stalin, Saddam et al.

So yes, you have a different discussion at hand; that of proving Bush's guilt in the first place.
4.2.2006 4:38pm
Ray (mail):
And more to the broader point of deterrence, I don't believe madmen will be deterred. Seems obvious to me by the simple definition of a madman.
4.2.2006 4:43pm
Ray (mail):
Instead of some vague notion of deterrence, that wouldn't work anyway, the more efficient way to save mankind from dictators, would be to recognize a country's right to defend themselves, even against perceived threats.

Now, Justin thinks I'm writing of our preemptive war in Iraq, but I'm referring to the buildup to WWII. Look at Hitler's pre-war conquest and how western Europe facilitated those conquests. Through treaties, allegiances, etc, if Hitler had been stood up to before his war machine got rolling, literally millions would have been saved.

And thus, millions died in the name of diplomatic deterrence.
4.2.2006 4:48pm
Shangui (mail):
Ray,

You write: "You obviously think I'm a dyed in the wool Republican who is trying to point at communist sympathizers on the Left...However, the point remains, as you have so nicely pointed out, we prosecute some, shake hands with others.
And you'll do better to argue the merits of an issue, and leave off prognosticating my party affiliation."

Actually, it the question of your party affiliation hadn't occurred to me (and you'll notice that I never mentioned it, in spite of your claim that I have been "prognosticating" about it) and I certainly agree with you that "we prosecute some, shake hands with others." How could anyone possible disagree with this? The "some" and "others" are often the same person at different times (with Saddam as an obvious example). However, you previously wrote, "...but with all of the Soviet dictators, Pol Pot, Mao, et al, it was the sociliast facilitators in the West that kep them out of the hot seat." My point, which had nothing to do with your political affliation, was that I wanted more explanation about how this happened. Surely you don't simply mean the the NYT was easy on Mao and that this allowed him to maintain power. And surely you don't think that Nixon would be generally considered to be a "socialist facilitator." So, if Mao is getting supported by Nixon and the KR and Pol Pot are getting overthrown by the Vietnamese, then it doesn't make sense to say that they are being kept off the hot seat by socialist facilitators. That's all I'm saying. I think 1) this is pretty self-evidently true and 2) it doesn't let the left in Europe and the US off the hook as they certainly did ignore horrible crimes that were going on.
4.2.2006 4:52pm
Ray (mail):
And going even farther back still, look how many millions of lives could have been saved if certain actions would have taken to fulfillment against the Soviet Union. When they started their cross border conquests, if they had been stopped, . . .

Liddell Hart wrote, rather poignantly, that WWII was lost. This because the stated reasons for going to war was to liberate Poland and rid Europe of a military menace. At the end of WWII, Poland was still enslaved, and a terrible menace remained.
4.2.2006 4:52pm
Ray (mail):
shang

My point, which had nothing to do with your political affliation, was that I wanted more explanation about how this happened. Surely you don't simply mean the the NYT was easy on Mao and that this allowed him to maintain power.


Yes, I believed that you assumed certain political biases, and this is why you chose Nixon of all people. (Bad example for a Republican anyway.)

Surely you know that the media greatly influences the opinons of the people, and the government reacts to those opinions. Would FDR have been able to be so overtly friendly to Uncle Joe, if the majority of our populace knew about the Kulak massacre, among other atrocities?
4.2.2006 4:56pm
Siona Sthrunch (mail):
I don't understand why attorneys, trained to look beyond rhetoric and partisan imagery, would argue the trial of Milosevic was a "clear" improvement. To the contrary, the evidence against Milosevic, such as existed, mainly tended to show he was in a war, and his trial, by most accounts, was tending to demonstrate his lack of culpability for the claimed atrocities. See, e.g., Diana Johnstone, Fools' Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO, and Western Delusions (2002). To equate the equivocal case against Milosevic with the mid-century genocides borders on the offensive.

Even if such trials of heads of state convicted in the court of public opinion does constitute an improvement, it is condescending and inappropriate for Somin to state conclusorily the fact of this improvement is "clear." Generally, attorneys who insist their point is "clear" in the face of clear opposing views only underscore the logical weakness of what they are trying to show. After all, Somin, if it were really so "clear" then why would you need to call it so? Why even discuss it?
4.2.2006 5:06pm
Shangui (mail):
Yes, I believed that you assumed certain political biases, and this is why you chose Nixon of all people. (Bad example for a Republican anyway.)

You said "socialist facilitators" and brought up Mao and Pol Pot as your only specific examples. I mentioned Nixon because 1) he was obviously NOT a "socialist facilitator" under any meaningful definition of that term and 2) he quite famously met with Mao and "opened" China. He is the obvious historical example in refutation of your point and my picking him had nothing to do with your possible political affilitation. As I noted, your other example, Pol Pot was overthrown, not protected, by people who obviously were socialist facilitators.

And as I very clearly said in the last post, I DO think that the left should be held responsible for giving Mao and others a free pass. Of course the media influences people. But even if they had attacked him daily on the frong page, what would we have done? Invaded China (which was, as you will recall, our card against the USSR) and risked nuclear war? In other words, there was a lot more stopping us from overthrowing Mao than the sympathy he engendered on the left.

And by the way, I think Nixon was absolutely correct to do what he did and that the world is a better place for it.
4.2.2006 5:13pm
Justin (mail):
Ray, if you want to argue with a straw man, find one to debate. If you aren't going to discuss my arguments on the terms they actually exist, please don't mention me at all. You have no right to slander me by completely misconstruing my argument and then attacking that as immoral.
4.2.2006 5:33pm
Gary and the Samoyeds (mail) (www):
I find these trials to be unhelpful, even harmful. After the damage is done and the dictator loses power, generally for reasons unrelated to what the trial is for, he haul him into a court, have a trial, declare him guilty, and put him in jail. We all pat ourselves on the back at having done a good deed. "That'll show them!"

Meanwhile, in places like Uzbekistan and Cuba, people are continuing to be killed and tortured. But no one does anything about it, having spent all their moral force on the EX-dictators. In fact, the dictators allowed to speak at the UN.

I'd rather let Taylor or Hussein go free if we killed the people making Sudan a hellhole.
4.2.2006 6:40pm
Ming the Merciless Siamese Cat (mail):
Saddam's trial does not implicate international law, natural, ex post facto or otherwise. Saddam is being tried by an Iraqi national court on charges that he violated Iraqi law in existance at the time of his alleged acts.
4.2.2006 7:07pm
BU2L (mail):
Per Son asks:

BU2L:

What is worse than torturing and killing and/or disappearing thousands of innocent men, women, and children? What is worse than overthrowing democratically elected givernments and murdering the leaders?


The same, but on a larger scale.
4.2.2006 7:09pm
Per Son:
What is the same? I am confused. Also, I noted I said givernment instead of government. Sorry.
4.2.2006 7:16pm
BU2L (mail):
What I mean is that when your choices are, hypothetically speaking, to enable a potentially genocidal government by doing nothing, or destroy it by propping up a "less" genocidal government, you choose the latter.
4.2.2006 7:25pm
Per Son:
And how was Allende's government genocidal (or even potentially). Apart from wanting to nationalize certain industries and increasing social services (milk for all children), what genocide was on the verge of happening.
4.2.2006 7:30pm
therut:
I think the idea that international law and trials are going to save mankind from war and evil is just another human folly. But it gives those who think they are the savior of the world something to do. But sadly alot of intelligent people surely could come up with something better than thinking the Law of the World will lead to peace and harmony and not totalitarian oppression by those same saviors. It see a diaster in the making. One that the true believers will again hang on to till another 100 million are dead.
4.2.2006 9:22pm
Vovan:
A standard criticism of these trials is that they only target dictators who run afoul of US or Western strategic interests. This is a very hard argument to make in the case of Milosevic, where there were few if any Western strategic interests involved (unless preventing mass murder is itself circularly defined as a "strategic" interest).

I would like to respectfully disagree with you if I may. The strategic interest in overthrowing Slobo is the preservation of the European identity, that Slobo was endangering by moving too close to Russia in his economic and political outlook. I don't believe that NATO would have liked to see Russian forces stationed in the middle of its "territory" - Cold war or no Cold war. Europe, and US for that matter, does not like to see Russia revert to its hegemonic ways, and the potential pan-Slavic alliance that both Slobo and Putin mentioned did not sound so good.

The same principle in my opinion underlies the current European position toward Lukashenko and Belarus. Sure the elections were rigged, but the comparissons made between him and Hitler or Stalin, and the threat he presents to the Europe - are absurd.
4.3.2006 1:51am
Ilya Somin:
In brief reply to Vovan:

It is true that the Europeans and the US would not want a Slobo-Russian alignment. However, Slobo did not try to cozy up to Russia in any significant way until AFTER the Western military intervention began in 1995. Nor did Russia (which in 1995 was under a fairly pro-Western government) take much interest in the situation until that point. Even after 1995 and the 1999 Kossovo bombing, there was no prospect of Russian troops being stationed in Serbia.

More to the point, Slobo would have been happy to cut a deal with NATO under which he would distance himself from Russia in exchange for a free hand in the former Yugoslavia, and he repeatedly made that clear in negotiations. Keeping out Russia simply cannot explain NATO policy here, as they could easily have achieved that goal by cutting a deal with Milosevic, while saving themselves the trouble of military intervention.

It is also worth noting that during the 1995-99 period, Putin (who entered office in 2000) was not yet President of Russia and then-President Boris Yeltsin showed much less interest than Putin in reviving Russian imperial ambitions.
4.3.2006 2:48am
Justin (mail):
invading Kuwait - except he asked James Baker III's permission first.

seeking to acquire WMD - Except he wasn't (or at minimum, the Iraqi government was not) seeking to acquire WMDs anymore.

supporting terrorists - other than supporting anti-Israeli terrorists (something to be condemned, but not something that differentiates himself from any number of middle east countries, including allies), he wasn't.

Stick to the facts established by evidence, not BushFacts, please.
4.3.2006 11:42am
Justin (mail):
On an unrelated side note, shouldn't it be AsG, WsMD, etc?
4.3.2006 12:01pm
Vovan:
Professor Somin,

Thank you for the response
4.3.2006 12:48pm
Andy Freeman (mail):
One consequence of ex-dictator trials is that we can't credibly ask current ones to leave with a large pile of cash and spend the rest of their days complaining about Swiss weather.

Instead, we've told them that they should fight to the bitter end because their worst case is the same either way and the fight gives them some chance that they'll avoid it.
4.3.2006 2:04pm
David Matthews (mail):
"It is an even tougher argument in the case of Taylor, which involved even fewer Western interests than that of Milosevic"

Fewer perhaps, but certainly not "none." Charles Taylor had demonstrated ties to Al Qaeda, (see this article from the Washington Post), and there was, and still is, great concern about the potential for Al Qaeda presence in West Africa. Establishing (pro-Western) democracies in Sierra Leone and Liberia is an unsung but important part in combatting terrorist organizations. The roles played by the United States and United Kingdom in the affairs in these two countries, as well as the recent pressure applied on Liberia's President Johnson-Sirleaf and Nigeria's President Obasanjo for the hand-over of Charles Taylor should, I think, be characterized as something more than "modest."
4.3.2006 6:14pm