Thursday, February 21, 2008

And Satan Said: 'Recite the Names of the People You Killed.'

The other day a Chilean journalist asked whether the Spanish Guatemala genocide prosecution was mainly "symbolic," but I said that it was more than that since international arrest warrants had been issued. (Re. the prosecution see postings of February 5, 7, and 9, 2008).

What neither of us knew was that as we were speaking one of the defendants had just died, and that the International Herald Tribune/ AP headline would read: "Former Guatemalan police director wanted in Spain for crimes against humanity dies" (International Herald Tribune website, February 18, 2008).

Though that only begins to ping the surface of the lake of blood that is his legacy, it is not a bad summing-up of the life of Col. German Chupina, torturer, rapist, murderer, and steward of the American Chamber of Commerce in Guatemala (AMCHAM).

(See postings of December 2, 2007, "'Go ahead, kill them. Just be sure to fill out your expense account.,'"and February 9, 2008, "It's Not the Man, It's the Mission. The Whisperers of Death.").

That's one small benefit of trying to enforce the murder laws, even in a world that doesn't yet want to. Sometimes the proceeding makes chroniclers feel free to call things by their proper names.

That didn't much happen with Suharto, who was a bigger fish and better connected, and who was, in any event, never brought up before a murder tribunal.

(The New York Times managed to start its story on the man who surpassed Saddam and rivaled Pol Pot: "Indonesia embraced Suharto as a great leader Sunday, greeting his death with official solemnity and with surging, shouting crowds..." [Seth Mydans, "In death, ex-dictator elicits grief and tributes," in International Herald Tribune, January 28, 2008]; for poor victims', rather than rich perpetrators', perspectives see posting of January 13, 2008, "General Suharto of Indonesia. One Small Man Leaves a Million Corpses." ).

But imagine if proceedings, even after the fact, were brought against those who deserved it. In the US there's a popular TV cop show, "Cold Case," devoted to that notion.

But the show only deals with common criminals, like people who kill kids -- that is, people who kill kids while not on state business, or with no state political motive.

US Presidential libraries would have to start devoting exhibits in their biographical dioramas. 'The Early Years,' 'The Race for the White House,' 'The State Terrorism Tribunal.'

Though these cases are small breakthroughs, they're big, because they happen on a big, important front.

Yesterday's Haaretz tells the story of Israeli Gen. Doron Almog who, in 2005, cowered in a plane for two hours on the tarmac at London's Heathrow airport and thereby "escaped arrest for alleged war crimes ... because U.K. police feared an arrest would spark a shootout with Israeli security officials..." ( Haaretz Service, "Report: IDF general dodged U.K. arrest as police feared shootout," Haaretz, February 20, 2008.)

He wasn't such a shrinking violet when he allegedly lobbed flesh-shredding flechette shells at Gaza civilians or was smashing 50 homes there, but its different when you're not playing on your home court, and there's real law enforcement, with guns.

As it happened, this outbreak of law enforcement was unexpected, and quickly contained. Citizens had complained, a local British court had issued a warrant, the cops went to do their job, and after the general had returned to Israel -- where the cops had no job to do -- the British Foreign Office apologized profusely.

The general deplaned.

Tony Blair recently went to the trouble of commenting that a similar contemplated British case against Avi Dichter, Israel's Public Security Minister, was "utter nonsense" (The case concerns a "targeted killing" that killed the target's wife and three children, among others. Dichter last year threatened Palestinians with a "Nakba" -- cataclysm -- if they kept remembering their 1948 Nakba), an interesting remark by Blair, a man now tasked by the Quartet as an honest broker on Israel-Palestine, and who backed an Iraq invasion that his own Foreign Office's deputy legal adviser called "a crime of aggression" (which is prosecutable).

(For Blair quote: Barak Ravid, "Sources: Blair 'shocked' by Dichter fears of arrest in U.K.," Haaretz, February 8, 2008. For Dichter quote: Meron Benvenisti, "Time to Stop Mourning," Haaretz, December 12, 2007. For legal adviser quote see posting of January 17, 2008, "US Precision Bombing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Killing Civilians, Carefully.").

So what would Chupina and Suharto talk about, if they met, at the boiling pool, in Hell?

'CIA Station Chiefs I have known?'

In Chupina's case, it would include V. Harwood Blocker 3d, 1977-1980; Barry Royden, 1980; and Robert Hultslander, 1981-83 (see my "The Country Team," The Nation [US], June 5, 1995).

Or maybe Satan would step in: 'OK Chupina, OK Suharto, before you get to eat (if they eat down there), recite for me, from memory, the names of all the people you killed.'

You know how long it takes to recite a million names, or even some mere thousands?

And what if, as is likely, they didn't know or have forgotten most of the names?

Maybe even Satan wouldn't be that cruel.

For true viciousness, you must look aboveground.

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