Posted by: Lister | December 20, 2008

Ends and Means

Glenn Greenwald, on “bad” people not being frivolously bad:

Every tyrant can point to real and legitimate threats that they feared.

Ask supporters of Fidel Castro why he imprisoned dissidents and created a police state and they’ll tell you — accurately — that he was the head of a small, defenseless island situated 90 miles to the South of a huge, militaristic superpower that repeatedly tried to overthrow his government and replace it with something it preferred. Ask Hugo Chavez why he rails against the U.S. and has shut down opposition media stations and he’ll point out — truthfully — that the U.S. participated to some extent in a coup attempt to overthrow his democratically elected government and that internal factions inside Venezuela have done the same.

Iranian mullahs really do face internal, foreign-funded revolutionary groups that are violent and which seek to overthrow them. Serbian leaders — including those ultimately convicted of war crimes — had legitimate grievances about the treatment of Serbs outside of Serbia proper and threats posed to Serbian sovereignty. The complaints of Islamic terrorists regarding U.S. hegemony and exploitation in the Middle East are grounded in factual truth, as are those of Gazan terrorists who point to the four-decades-old Israeli occupation. Georgia really did and does face external threats from Russia, and Russia really did have an interest in protecting Russians and South Ossetians under assault from civilian-attacking Georgian artillery. The threat of Israeli invasion which Hezbollah cites is real. Some Muslims really have been persecuted by Hindus.

But none of those facts justify tyranny, terrorism or war crimes. There are virtually always “good reasons” that can be and are cited to justify war crimes and acts of aggression. […] But we don’t accept that justifying reasoning when offered by others. In fact, those who seek merely to explain — let alone justify — the tyranny, extremism and/or violence of Castro, or Chavez, or Hamas, or Slobodan Milosevic or Islamic extremists are immediately condemned for seeking to defend the indefensible, or invoking “root causes” to justify the unjustifiable, or offering mitigating rationale for pure evil.

[…] What determines whether a political leader is good or evil isn’t their nationality. It’s their conduct. And leaders who violate the laws of war and commit war crimes, by definition, aren’t good, even if they are American.

And, also: Demands for war crimes prosecutions are now growing in the mainstream

For obvious reasons, the most blindly loyal Bush followers of the last eight years are desperate to claim that nobody cares any longer about what happened during the Bush administration, that everyone other than the most fringe, vindictive Bush-haters is eager to put it all behind us, forget about it all and, instead, look to the harmonious, sunny future. That’s natural. Those who cheer on shameful and despicable acts always want to encourage everyone to forget what they did, and those who commit crimes naturally seek to dismiss demands for investigations and punishment as nothing more than distractions and vendettas pushed by those who want to wallow in the past.

Surprisingly, though, demands that Bush officials be held accountable for their war crimes are becoming more common in mainstream political discourse, not less so. The mountain of conclusive evidence that has recently emerged directly linking top Bush officials to the worst abuses — combined with Dick Cheney’s brazen, defiant acknowledgment of his role in these crimes (which perfectly tracked Bush’s equally defiant 2005 acknowledgment of his illegal eavesdropping programs and his brazen vow to continue them) — is forcing even the reluctant among us to embrace the necessity of such accountability.

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