Transcript: World After Covid with
Marjorie Cohn and Helena Cobban

Webinar recorded on July 22, 2020 


Video and Session Transcript

Helena Cobban (00:00:01):

Hi everybody. I'm Helena Cobban, I'm the president of Just World Educational. And I'm really happy to welcome you to this - I think it's the seventh - session of our webinar series, “The World After COVID.” The series has been going really well. If you want to learn any more about it, just head over to this URL here,, and you can see videos of the past sessions and related materials, bios for the people in the upcoming sessions, and so on and so forth. So we've looked at many aspects of this issue of this changing world we're entering since the beginning, since the Covid crisis began.

One of the things that I've been interested in is the degree to which U.S. leaders have, until now, often felt able to act with impunity just about anywhere outside of U.S. borders and to extend the umbrella of impunity to key partners around the world, such as Israel.

So what might we expect to happen to this impunity in the new world that is likely to emerge from the global tragedy that is COVID-19? That's one of my big questions, and the other is what has been the current state of U.S. and Israeli impunity until now?

So here to explore these questions with us, we have Professor Marjorie Cohn, a professor emerita at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego and the past president of the National Lawyers Guild. Marjorie, it's good to have you with us.

Marjorie Cohn (00:01:41):

Thanks for having me, Helena.

Helena Cobban (00:01:44):

This is how today's session will work behind the scenes here. We have Charlotte Kates, my colleague, who is located, for what it's worth, in British Columbia, Canada. I'm here in Washington, D.C. and I think Marjorie is with us from San Diego. We're going to be communicating mainly through the chat box. Actually it's Charlotte, who will be mainly communicating through the chat box. So if you have any technical questions, send them to her there. If you have any substantive questions that you want posed at the end of the session, put them into the chat box and Charlotte will be hosting and running the whole of the Q and A session that we will have.

And I guess that's just about it for how you need to understand how this session is going to go before we get into the conversation with Marjorie Cohn. I just want to remind you that the video of today's session will, like those of all the preceding ones, be published at our resource center at this URL, I invite everybody to visit and explore the resource center where they'll find many really informative videos and resources.

Marjorie, you've done a lot of writing on Truthout, on your blog, and elsewhere about different ways that the U.S. has acted with impunity around the world. Two of the key areas in which it's done this so far have been with respect to sanctions and with respect to the use of military force. So let's take these two separately. What has the U.S. been doing in the area of sanctions that contravenes international law?

I know that a lot of people on previous sessions in the webinars have been interested in this topic. And then what can we, who are concerned citizens of the United States and other countries, do to end or change this situation?

Marjorie Cohn (00:04:00):

Well, just to take two examples, Iran and Venezuela, two recent examples.

First of all, Iran. During the Obama administration, there was a negotiation, which resulted in the Iran nuclear deal, which prevented Iran from developing a nuclear program toward the end of getting nuclear weapons.

And in return, Iran was relieved of the punishing sanctions that were devastating its economy. And Iran was complying with this deal, but those sanctions had been imposed by the United Nations. And then they were lifted. At the time of the end of the deal as well, they were imposed by the United Nations at the behest of the United States. The United States put tremendous pressure to get these sanctions. And many of the sanctions by the United States, they were U.A. sanctions, unilateral sanctions, actually where the United States would punish other countries if they trade with Iran to punish Iran. And those were in place.

But what Trump did was to make them much worse and much tougher during his administration. And then as part of Trump's strategy to undo every good thing that Obama did.

And Obama certainly did some bad things, but he also did some good things, including participating in the negotiations around this Iran nuclear deal, which was working according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran was complying, making the world presumably safer, because Iran would not be developing nuclear weapons. But what Trump did was to withdraw the United States from that Iran nuclear deal. And then, since the U.S. was no longer complying, Iran began to enrich uranium in violation of the deal, and the deal was no longer enforced for all practical purposes.

But what happened when Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal was that these punishing sanctions went back into effect.

They snapped back into effect, and in fact, Trump added more. And so this is Iran,  and Iran has been devastated. Their economy is devastated. They're devastated by the pandemic. It's making it much worse because these sanctions are preventing medical assistance and other humanitarian assistance from reaching Iran.

But interestingly, what Trump has done with his shenanigans around Iran, and that's kind of putting it mildly, is to throw Iran into China's arms. And so China and Iran have negotiated a strategic partnership, which includes selling of oil and includes economic and corporate and telecommunications exchanges and increased military cooperation. And this of course has heightened - it hasn't actually gone into effect because the Iranian parliament has to okay it, but the Ayatollah has okayed it. And so it's going to go into effect and China, of course, is a nuclear power, as is the United States.

So there's already a lot of skirmishing between China and the U.S. in addition to skirmishes between the U.S. and Iran. And so this is going to presumably make Trump think twice before going after Iran in any big way since now, China will be behind Iran.

Then the other example is Venezuela, where since the Bolivarian revolution, where Hugo Chavez was a very, very popular president and he died. And then Nicolas Maduro took over, who is continuing that Bolivarian revolution, that socialist revolution, but there's also a lot of corruption in his government. But the United States has been trying to change Venezuela's regime to kick out Maduri and put in Juan Guaido, who is the U.S. chosen puppet to take over Venezuela and of course, get their hands on, get U.S. corporate hands on Venezuela's oil.

Now, the, the coup that Trump has attempted on a couple of occasions in particular against the Maduro government has failed. But meanwhile, the United States has imposed punishing sanctions, additional punishing sanctions, on the economy of Venezuela, which is really floundering not just because of corruption, but largely because of the sanctions by the United States.

And so here's Trump making that situation much worse, while behind the scenes trying to illegally change Venezuela's regime. It's illegal under many different international and regional treaties to change the regime, forcibly change the regime of another country. So those are two examples of U.S. sanctions, punishing sanctions, in the case of Iran and Venezuela.

Helena Cobban (00:09:29):

So let's go to the part of the question about, as the power of the U.S. government in international affairs declines, which it is doing very, very rapidly right now under the impact of the Coronashock, what should concern citizens and people here in the United States or around the world or sensible governments, let us say, of which I suppose there are still a few, what should we be doing to try to end these abuses that the U.S. government has been committing? And, two, can we hold accountable the people who've made these, I would say, often deeply illegitimate decisions?

Marjorie Cohn (00:10:15):

Well, the first order of business is to get Trump out of there. I think that he is doing more damage to more people in the world in a short period of time on a daily basis. I don't want to say he's the worst war criminal. I mean, Bush killed perhaps a million people in his illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama used drones to illegally kill people in seven different countries and did massive surveillance.

So I don't want to say this is all Trump's fault, but Trump is pouring gasoline on the fire and making things much worse. Take the pandemic, for example. He was in denial for months about the severity of it; months where the United States could have, with proper leadership, strong leadership, effective leadership could have really tamped down the number of infections and deaths. And I hold him personally responsible for untold numbers of deaths.

While he has been in denial, he's solely coming out of denial. Meanwhile, he is trying to apparently fudge the numbers by taking the statistics away from the Centers for Disease Control. Hospitals don't have to report to the CDC anymore. They report directly to the White House. Do we trust the White House to accurately report the statistics? Of course not. Almost everything that comes out of that White House is a lie.

He is into trying to prevent Congress from appropriating money for effective testing, which is of course part and parcel of getting this pandemic under control, that with a vaccine and of course, social distancing, masks and and hand-washing, which he should have been screaming about from the rooftops from day one. So what has happened in the process, while many people are being infected and dying, and of course he's blaming it on China because the first recorded infection was in China, and this is part of his whole demonization of China.

But what has happened is that it, his strategy - if you can call it a strategy - has backfired and his poll numbers are plummeting. Now, in the meantime, he is engaging - his administration is engaging in widespread voter suppression tactics to make sure that, to try to get him back in the White House although his poll numbers are falling. And this is having ramifications around the world. I mean, there are countries, many countries that won't even accept Americans coming into their country because there's such a high rate of infection in the United States.

Helena Cobban (00:13:04):

I actually predicted that back in early May and now some people are calling our country here, Cootiestan because we have a bad case of the cooties. Is there anything that we can do? I mean, how about responsibility to protect? Maybe we could try to invoke the United Nations principles of, like, it is actually the responsibility of our government to protect our people. And this government is, as you noted, responsible for tens of thousands of additional deaths, I mean, maybe we could actually appeal for help to international bodies. What do you think?

Marjorie Cohn (00:13:45):

Well, this responsibility to protect doctrine is not enshrined in any treaty or any law. And, unfortunately, it's been used primarily by the United States to illegally go into countries and change their regime.

Libya is a good example. And it in some ways undercuts the UN charter, but the United Nations system is perfectly suited to take on that role. There's the Security Council, which has the five permanent members, including the United States, which would likely veto any kind of sanctions against the U.S. for its behavior during this coronavirus and other imperial, aggressive things that the United States has done. But there is also the General Assembly.

When people say the United Nations, they talk about it as if it's a monolith, but it's not. There are different sections of the UN. There's the Security Council, which has the role to establish and maintain international peace and security.

And the Security Council has the authority to order the use of military force. Although the United States loves to - the U.S. government loves to - use military force and attack other countries without the sanction of the UN Security Xouncil, but there's also a provision called the uniting for peace resolution, which gives the General Assembly. The General Assembly is the democratic body of the UN where it's one country, one vote. So the United States does not dominate the General Assembly, but this uniting for peace resolution gives the General Assembly the authority in the absence of Security Council action, because the Security Council is unable or unwilling to act for some reason.

It gives the General Assembly the power to establish and maintain international peace and security, and even order the use of military force. And so if the countries of the world, 198, I believe, I could be wrong, one or two on either side - of the General Assembly meet and convene and condemn the United States, the U.S. government, and impose sanctions.

The U.S. government can certainly thumb its nose at that, and enforcement is kind of an elusive concept when we're talking about the UN system, but there is a real - there's a real consequence and it's called it's called the mobilization of shame.

And that is that the United States in this instance is shamed in the eyes of the world because it is such an outlier. There is also the International Court of Justice, which is the judicial arm of the UN and the Security Council or any UN organ can ask the Security Council and ask the International Court of Justice, also known as the World Court, for an advisory opinion about international legal issues.

Then there's the International Criminal Court, distinguished from the World Court. The World Court, or the ICJ, the International Court of Justice deals with conflicts between states, between countries. But the International Criminal Court, the ICC, is a criminal body that actually has the power to prosecute, to arrest, prosecute, and punish people who commit - leaders and officials who commit the most heinous of all crimes. And that is war crimes crimes against humanity, genocide, and the crime of aggression.

Helena Cobban (00:17:34):

So if we could just pause there for a moment. I think that's a really interesting idea that you came up with, a uniting for peace resolution of the General Assembly. As I recall, the only time that was used was regarding Korea back in 1951, and the U.S. used it to mobilize support against North Korea. And was that when, I forget the dates, but you know, the Soviets kind of backed out and didn't do anything. And, and the, the U.S. managed to get the uniting for peace resolution. I think that is something that, you know, come November, December, January, we may need to be looking at all kinds of international instruments and ways that we as U.S. citizens might be able to seek international help if there is an interference in our electoral system.

So thanks for thinking of that. And also the International Court of Justice, because there are many, many countries that have serious differences with the U.S. over the pandemic and other issues. And it's good to remember that they do have potential recourse through the World Court, just as there was back over Nicaragua, over North Vietnam.

And of course, the big one in the Middle East was when the ICJ gave an advisory ruling on the Israelis’ annexation wall in Palestine. So those are modalities that I think U.S. citizens need to keep in mind. We're not inviting the U.S. at the UN to send black helicopters to land in Minnesota or anything, but there are things that we can do with allies around the world to try to ensure the integrity of our election system, for example and it's worth bearing that in mind.

So now let's segue to the International Criminal Court. Just before you do that, I want to remind people, which I think I had not done before, that my colleague Charlotte Kates is actually also sharing very helpful links in the chat box. So if they want to go to the chat box, they can find helpful links coming up at relevant points in the conversation.

So, let's segue to the International Criminal Court, the ICC, which occupies a fairly anomalous position in us foreign policy. The U.S. has refused to join them Rome statute. Obama tried, but then he couldn't get it ratified by the Senate, but it is not a member of the International Criminal Court, but it's fixed to use the court as a stick to threaten various opponents around the world.

And, meantime, it has long shielded Israel and Israeli officials from being held accountable at the ICC. And now most recently in March, I think it was when the Trump administration issued a ban on visas for ICC staff and their families from even entering the U.S., if the ICC investigates possible U.S. atrocities in Afghanistan or elsewhere. Can you tell us more about this simmering dispute between the Trump administration and the ICC?

Marjorie Cohn (00:21:04):

Yes. Well, first, to clarify the ICC was 50 years in development and it has the participation of most of the countries in the world. And it has judges from many different countries, many different regions, you know, an independent judiciary.

But during the Clinton administration, as Clinton was leaving office, he signed the Rome statute for the International Criminal Court of the ICC. Now, a signature does not make a country a party. A signature is an intent to ratify. So he wanted the United States to be in the dialogue. So he signed it. But when he took over - George W. Bush -  Clinton recommended to Bush that he not send the Rome statute to the Senate for advice and consent to ratification.

And it requires, under the Constitution, two thirds of the senators to agree to ratification. And then the president can ratify a treaty, and the Rome statute is a treaty.

Well, not only didn't George W. Bush send the Rome statute to the Senate for advice and consent to ratification - in an unprecedented move, Bush removed the U.S. signature from the treaty. So the United States is not a party to the treaty. Neither is Israel by the way, and this is not a coincidence.

And so when the ICC - and the ICC is made up of the office of the prosecutor, the pretrial chamber and the appeals chamber - when the office of the prosecutor takes action that the U.S. government doesn't like, for example, recently, Trump screams the ICC doesn't have jurisdiction over the United States because the United States is not a party to the Rome statute, but under the Rome statute, even if a country, and remember the ICC is a criminal body, it prosecutes individuals, not countries.

So if an individual was from the United States, for example, the United States is not a party to the Rome statute . But if the U.S. national committed a crime, or is suspected or alleged to have committed a crime in the territory of a state that is a party to the Rome statute, then the ICC has jurisdiction.

Helena Cobban (00:23:30):

And if I could just interject here, this is a map of the countries that are parties to the ICC. So all the ones that are - the green ones. And there in the middle of Asia is Afghanistan. So Afghanistan is a state party of the ICC.

Marjorie Cohn (00:23:59):

So yes, what happened was that the ICC’s prosecutor, chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, launched what's called a preliminary examination, where she gathers evidence. It takes a long, long time, sometimes years, to determine whether or not she has reason to believe that crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC have been committed.

And if she determines yes, then she can go to the pretrial chamber and ask for permission to open a formal investigation, which, and if the if the formal investigation is approved, then the prosecutor can issue subpoenas, make arrests, et cetera. Well, Bensouda determined after her preliminary examination that U.S. military and CIA leaders, in conjunction with Afghan leaders, had committed war crimes in Afghanistan and in the CIA black sites - many of which are parties to the Rome statute.

And this included torture, inhuman treatment, et cetera. And she asked - Bensouda, the prosecutor of the ICC, went to the pretrial chamber of the ICC and said, I would like to launch a formal investigation into these alleged war crimes in Afghanistan and the CIA black sites. And meanwhile, the Trump administration started punishing the ICC and withdrew, as you said, withdrew Bensouda’s visa to come to the United States for a UN meeting.

 And the pretrial chamber of the ICC, apparently intimidated by the U.S. pressure said, yes, we agree with the prosecutor that there is reason to believe that U.S. military and CIA leaders committed war crimes, but in the interest of justice, we are going to deny her request to open a formal investigation, because we don't think of that the primary characters would actually cooperate with an investigation. And this was actually unprecedented.

Helena Cobban (00:26:04):

Really, was their judgment to make?

Marjorie Cohn (00:26:08):

Well, yes, exactly. They actually, and the appeals chamber, which reversed the pretrial chamber’s refusal to allow an investigation said as much. So, and a lot of us on the left have criticized the International Criminal Court for just prosecuting African leaders and not really standing up to the United States and Israel, and looking with clear eyes at alleged war crimes by the U.S. or by Israel, for example.

But in an unprecedented move, a gutsy move, the appeals chamber of the ICC reversed the decision of the pretrial chamber and said, yes, we are authorizing the prosecutor to go forward with a full investigation. And this of course has incensed the Trump administration, even though we're talking about war crimes committed during the Bush administration, the torture, et cetera Obama is famous for refusing to hold Bush officials liable for their war crimes.

When just before his inauguration, he said, yes, well, you know, things happened and what we want is to look forward, not backward. And his attorney general, Eric Holder, refused to pursue that. He investigated two of the most egregious cases of torture and murder by the CIA, and then decided, well, there wasn't enough evidence to go forward. And there was a widespread - one of the things that the ICC prosecutor determined was that this was not just a few bad apples, a few rogue officials.

This was part of a plan, part of a policy, by the Bush administration, and the interrogation policy that had at its cornerstone, torture. So she found that, and Trump was, was very upset. And also the ICC prosecutor launched a preliminary examination of the commission of war crimes in the occupied Palestinian Territories, committed by Israeli leaders and to a lesser extent by some Palestinians.

And she determined that there was reason to believe that Israeli leaders had committed war crimes in the occupied Palestinian Territories. And she recommended to the pretrial chamber that it allow her to pursue a full investigation, but she hedged a little bit. And I said, if the pretrial chamber determines that the ICC has jurisdiction over the occupied Palestinian Territories, even though Bensouda herself, the prosecutor, did conclude that there was jurisdiction. And so Israel says, well, okay, the ICC does not have jurisdiction. Because Israel is not a party to the ICC statute and Palestine is not a state, and that's where these allegations, alleged crimes, occurred.

But in 2012, the General Assembly of the UN recognized Palestine as a nonmember observers state in the United Nations, and then Palestine acceded to the Rome statute, thereby becoming a member of the states parties of the International Criminal Court.

And so the ICC prosecutor found that, in fact, the ICC did have jurisdiction over these alleged Israeli war crimes. So what Trump did in the face of the formal investigation going forward into U.S. officials committing war crimes in Afghanistan and the black sites and the prosecutor's recommendation to the ICC pretrial chamber, that it allow her to mount an investigation into Israeli and to a lesser extent, Palestinian war crimes, Trump issued - declared a national emergency.

He loves to declare a national emergency and do whatever the hell he wants. And so on June 11th, Trump declared a national emergency and signed an executive order. And it says that any attempt, any ICC attempt to investigate arrest, detain, or prosecute any personnel of the United States or its allies, AKA Israel, without consent to the court's jurisdiction, constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.

And so he orders the freezing of assets and family travel bans against ICC officials and others who have participated in, or assisted investigations, arrests, and detentions and prosecutions, but it's not necessary in order to be subject to Trump's sanctions. It's not necessary that the individual employee of the ICC actually be involved in any of these actions, because his order covers any ICC employee or agent whom the Secretary of State, the U.S. Secretary of State determines would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.

And there has been a war crimes complaint filed with the ICC against Trump, Netanyahu, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, and Jared Kushner, Trump's right hand man, for the commission of war crimes by Israel, in the occupied Palestinian toward territories, because of Israel's ongoing illegal building of settlements, which is a war crime, on Palestinian land, but also the Israeli government indicated it intends to annex 30% of the West Bank, which is highly illegal and constitutes a war crime.

Helena Cobban (00:32:16):

Now, Israel already has annexed East Jerusalem, which is a big chunk of the West Bank, and it's annexed the Golan area, which is part of Syria. So, I mean, you know, the war crimes that Israel commits go on and on and on, and it would be great if we could hold accountable, both Israeli leaders and the U.S. leaders who have enabled all of this.

I'm not sure that that's going to change so long as Washington has this kind of grip on global power that it has had since 1945, but things are changing. So how do you see the prospects for the International Criminal Court and the global push for accountability that it has represented for many people as Washington's global power declines, given that the rising highest power that's out there in the world is China, which has also never joined the ICC? I mean, do the prospects for ICC effectiveness increase or decrease as this global shift takes place?

Marjorie Cohn (00:33:33):

Well, keep in mind, Helena, that when Israel indicated its intent to annex 30% of the West Bank and enshrine in their law, what they have been extensively doing in practice anyway, there was tremendous outcry by European countries, by Arab countries, by countries all over the world. And the ICC Rome statute also has a provision to hold accountable for war crimes leaders who aid and abet war crimes.

And so, and I've written about this a fair amount, that U.S. leaders have aided and abetted Israel's war crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories knowingly. First of all, providing $3.8 billion a year in military assistance, Israel would not be able to commit its war crimes against the Palestinians and its crimes against humanity were it not for us propping it up with this military assistance. But the annexation of 30% of the West Bank was set to occur on July the first.

And it did not occur. First of all, Netanyahu was on trial for corruption. And second of all, Benny Gantz, who is not much better than Netanyahu at all, but who formed a unity government with Netanyahu - Gantz at one point was opposed to annexation. Now they've put the annexation on hold, ostensibly for political reasons.

Who knows what's going to happen, but there's been such an outcry that perhaps Israel is responding to that, even though Trump in his, it's called a peace to prosperity plan which Kushner came up with, which is not going to create any peace or prosperity for anyone, really it enshrines in it support of this illegal annexation.

So that's another part of this aiding and abetting. So to answer your question about the ICC - as I said, many people on the left have been quite critical of the ICC for backing down from investigating or even mounting preliminary examinations against countries like Israel, like the United States, but now with the appeals chamber standing up and reversing the pretrial chamber and saying, we're going to allow a full investigation of U.S. military and CIA officials.

And we'll see what happens with the prosecutor's referral of the Israeli war crimes. This, I think may be a shift, and it may be motivated by push back and blow back and and, you know, a very, very firm and angry response from other countries in the world to what U.S. and Israeli leaders are doing.

Helena Cobban (00:36:41):

So if we circle back a little bit to the question of the ICJ, the International Court of Justice, which as you described earlier, litigates disputes between states. And the distinctive thing about the International Criminal Court is that it looks at the actions of individuals. It is in that sense, a criminal court, such as we would know here, you know, a person is accused, an individual is accused of committing a crime.

I know there have been criticisms of the ICC in the past, that this kind of highly individualized version of wrongdoing and accountability is a sort of a Western idea. Whereas every day, international institutions like the IMF or the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund are imposing horrendous economic conditions on the peoples in the global South, but there's no way to hold those big international institutions responsible in the same way.

And that the criminal court,  it has been used a lot, the ICC, by a sort of Western dominated body which is located in the Hague in the Netherlands, primarily against people in, I mean, individual leaders in sub-Saharan Africa.

And there was even a move about a dozen years ago, or maybe more recently than that, by some African countries to leave the ICC, which some that had been persuaded to join and they left it. What do you think about these kinds of criticisms and problems that people have expressed about the ICC?

Marjorie Cohn (00:38:37):

Well, they're well taken, Helena, and the ICC is not the only body that can hold leaders criminally accountable. There is also the very well-established doctrine called universal jurisdiction. And this was used - it basically says that countries can bring foreign nationals to justice and in criminal courts for the most heinous of crimes, even if those crimes did not have any direct relationship with the country, bringing those people to justice. And Israel used universal jurisdiction to try, convict and execute Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the Holocaust, for his crimes, even though they didn't have any direct relationship with Israel. The United States has used universal jurisdiction, for example, to try, convict, and sentence Chucky Taylor of Liberia to time in federal prison for torture, even though that had no direct connection with the United States.

Now, during the Bush administration, there were some attempts to hold U.S. leaders accountable under universal jurisdiction. For example, the country of Belgium was investigating Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for the war crime of torture. So he was intimately involved in the U.S. program of torture, and the Bush administration threatened Belgium and said, if you don't drop this investigation against Rumsfeld, we are going to arrange to pull the headquarters of NATO out of Brussels and Belgium backed down.

And likewise, Spain was investigating some of these, not just Rumsfeld, but some of the Bush torture lawyers, John Yoo, who's now in the news, who are advising Trump on how he can do anything he wants and get away with it, including - hopefully not - stealing the election, but John Yoo, one of the most infamous torture lawyers was one of the people that that Spain was investigating.

And there were some back channel communications between the Obama administration and the Spanish government and ultimately the Spanish government backed down. So the problem, I mean, universal jurisdiction is a real doctrine and should be used. But the problem is that the United States heretofore has been so powerful that it basically blackmails countries.

There’s another instance of U.S. blackmail. And that is that during the Bush administration, the U.S. government blackmailed about a hundred countries that were parties to the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court and had them commit not to hand over U.S. nationals to the International Criminal Court, or they would lose foreign aid.

And so this is real blackmail, and there's also another horrific provision that Congress passed during the Bush administration. It's called the American Service Members Protection Act, which says, there's a clause called the Hague invasion clause, which says that if any U.S. national is brought before the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands, that the U.S. can use military force to extract him or her. It hasn't been used yet, but the possibilities - of course the potential is frightening.

So heretofore, the United States has levied - the U.S. government has levied - tremendous pressure. In the run up to the Iraq war, where Bush was contemplating his illegal war on Iraq, many of us were speaking out and trying to get the General Assembly to convene under the uniting for peace resolution to prevent the Bush administration from going forward with its illegal invasion of Iraq.

But behind the scenes, once again, the U.S. government blackmailed countries in the General Assembly, and that did not occur. So the question then, is the United States still as powerful and threatening and intimidating as it once was? Or has it been weakened and debilitated? And so its blackmail and threats won't be as effective in the future? And, we'll see.

Helena Cobban (00:43:02):

Yes, well, we've certainly been exploring that a little bit in some of our previous sessions, including the fact that, you know, Iran, sent five tankers worth of petroleum products to Venezuela in open defiance of Washington's unilateral sanctions on Venezuela, and also on Iran, come to think of it.

And there are some breaks in U.S. omnipotence, let's say, around the world. Thank you so much, Marjorie for giving us that great broad view of the status of impunity and accountability efforts around the world. I think we have some questions now. So I'm going to hand over to my colleague Charlotte Kates, who will be the host for the Q and A session, and she will then hand it back to me. And if any of you have questions, I see there are three in the Q and A box, and there may be some in the chat box, if you could probably send them to the Q and A – no, send them to the chat box, because we don't want Charlotte to have to look everywhere, but she will deal with the ones from the Q and A box first, I think. Anyway, over to you Charlotte. Thank you.

Charlotte Kates (00:44:11):

Thank you so much, Helena. And thank you so much, Marjorie for an insightful and informative conversation. I do want to let people know that all of the information that we have provided in the chat, all of the links will all be available at the resources page on the Just World Educational site. So if you visit the resources page, you'll be able to have access to all of the things that we've provided in the chat as well.

So with that being said, just to turn to the questions, there are a lot of questions about how the U.S. political situation will relate to the issues that you discussed. So you mentioned that Obama was also responsible for a lot of terrible things, and Beth Cogswell would like to ask, what were some of those things? She hears about drones and illegal surveillance, but wonders, are there other things? How have these policies been continued or accentuated by Trump and what is the human rights legacy of the Obama administration internationally?

Marjorie Cohn (00:45:18):

Yes, thank you for that question. During the Bush administration, they had just started to use killer drones. The first time was in Yemen, taking out a convoy of people traveling in trucks. And what Obama did was to really enshrine drone warfare and illegal aggression using drones in many different countries. And so now that technology has developed even further and drones are being used in a much more, I should say, effective way. Obama used drones and killed people in seven different countries. And the report was, on “terror Tuesdays,” Obama and his high officials would sit in the White House and go over what was called the “kill list” to decide which individuals would be taken out with no due process, totally illegal under U.S. and international law.

And many, many people were killed in this way under the Obama administration and many people who weren't even suspected of committing so-called terrorist acts, women, children, civilians being caught up in that. Edward Snowden, a very famous whistleblower who's now in, under a grant of asylum, in Russia exposed during the Obama administration's massive surveillance of people in the United States tracing what's called metadata.

And although they're not supposed to be reading the content of our communications they can collect all of the URLs we visit, the emails we send, the phone calls we make. And so Obama took the illegal surveillance program to a new level, and then set the stage for Trump to step up these human rights violations.

And Trump has used drones and bombs for that matter, in Syria for example. Trump. Trump gave an illegal order to kill Qassem Soleimani, who was the Iranian top general, of Iran. And that took place in Iraq, where the United States had the right to be, but taking out and killing Soleimani and Iraqis and other people as well, went beyond the terms of the agreement that the United States had with Iraq.

And so Iraq complained about that as well, and that has led to an escalation of tensions between the United States and Iran. So I would say that you know, Bush is one of the, one of the leading war criminals in the history of the world. Having killed untold numbers of people, including many, many civilians, in his two illegal wars. Obama continued with human rights violations, taking drone warfare and surveillance to a new level. And Trump is the recipient of the table that Bush and Obama set for him, becoming a war criminal in his own right.

Charlotte Kates (00:48:44):

Thank you so much Marjorie for that discussion. And now, moving forward and looking towards the 2020 elections and what's happening now, are there any indications that have Biden administration would reject military adventurism, covert action and economic warfare?

William Bosch asks, is there an indication that the Biden administration would actually turn toward diplomacy, development and soft power instruments, or would we expect really more of the same as we saw under the Obama administration? What are your thoughts on this?

Marjorie Cohn (00:49:18)

Well, I think the answer really has to do with the composition of Congress and how willing Congress is to stand up to the executive and assert their Constitutional power over warmaking. There are some that the Democrats in Congress - and the Democrats control the House of Representatives - have passed a number of resolutions that then die in the Republican-controlled Senate to try to put the brakes on Trump's illegal use of force in Iran, for example, without congressional approval.

There is an authorization for the use of military force from 2001 and one from 2002. The 2001 had to do with Afghanistan, 2002 had to do with Iraq under Saddam Hussein. And successive administrations, including the Obama administration, have used those two AUMFs as an excuse to invade countries that aren't, aren't even covered by that AUMF.

While there are some attempts in Congress, as we speak, the Democratically controlled House of Representatives, to try to put conditions on those AUMF, not to repeal them, because those repeals have, have failed in the future.

But if the Senate changes hands and becomes controlled - and is once again controlled by the Democrats, then it is conceivable that Congress will repeal some of these, one or both of these AUMFs and stand up to a President Biden and tie his hands and say, look, the Constitution gives only Congress the ability to declare war, but that remains to be seen.

Charlotte Kates (00:51:09):

Thank you. Smadar Lavie asks, how does the present crisis, the economic crisis that's taking place in Lebanon, factor into your analysis of China's impact on the Middle East - you know, economically, politically and otherwise, especially in regards to the U.S./Israel alliance? And we also have one more question. I'd like to ask the both of them to you together, just so that we can wrap up the Q and A session for the day. Ardeth Platte asks something that you've spoken about, but also something that you might want to explore more, which is - how can the U.S. be held accountable for its violation of treaties? There've been many treaties that the United States has signed that the president continued to break. Even the Non-Proliferation Treaty is in danger, and there are many others, of course, as we're seeing what's happening with the ICC. So how can the U.S. be held accountable for this?

Marjorie Cohn (00:52:08):

Well, in terms of the second question, popular opposition is really important. And when we are subsumed with the coronavirus and that's impacting every facet of our lives, the economy is suffering tremendously as a result. And there are massive uprisings in cities all over the country in support of Black lives and opposed to white supremacy. We lose sight of the two real existential threats to the future of the world, and that is nuclear weapons and climate change. And you mentioned the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and it gets short shrift in the corporate media.

But in fact, that's something that people like Dan Ellsberg, who was a nuclear war planner, and others have tried to bring to the fore, and we need to do more education of people about how the tensions between the U.S. and China and the U.S. and Russia, for example, are exacerbated by the U.S. pulling out of these treaties.

Trump has pulled out of a number of these nuclear treaties and, and that's very, very dangerous. And in terms of the U.S. and China, this is really, really dangerous because Trump is - actually, the Defense Department is - actually asking Congress for $20 billion to beef up U.S. presence in the Pacific. And the U.S. Navy sent three warships to the waters off Malaysia because an unarmed Chinese vessel was conducting routine seismic surveys.

And in early July, the Pentagon sent two aircraft carrier strike groups to the South China Sea because the Chinese Navy was conducting exercises and Trump, who can't accept blame for anything blames the coronavirus on China. He calls - Pompeo calls China, the central threat of our times. And you know, Trump is siding with Hong Kong over China.

The UK is siding with the U.S. over Hong Kong. And so this is really, really heating up. And the U.S. maintains a baseline of over 60,000 U.S. forces in or near the Persian Gulf. And by early 2020, about 14,000 U.S. military personnel had been added. And so you have the very real threat, and as Trump becomes more and more desperate as his poll numbers fall and you know, he's trying to militarize U.S. Democrat-controlled U.S. cities all over the country with his secret military force to create chaos, to then come in and say, you need a strong leader. And Joe Biden will just, you know, create more terrorism.

He is going to be very desperate and could do something that could presumably get us into a war with China. And that would be just devastating. He's rattling the sabers, and so all bets are off about what could happen.

Charlotte Kates (00:55:36):

Thank you so much Marjorie for those insightful answers. And now I'm going to turn things back over to Helena Cobban, the president of Just World Educational, for some concluding thoughts.

Helena Cobban (00:55:47):

Thank you very much, really, for putting us back in the context of U.S. military spending and the obvious need for us to redirect spending priorities. Another point about, about expeditionary internationalism, which is the way that some people in the Pentagon talk about overseas adventures,  is that actually that the coronavirus has been hitting U.S. military facilities and ships very badly. So, I mean, maybe we should just look after the the pandemic problem and not think about trying to send young men and women over in overcrowded ships to go and confront the Chinese in the South China Sea, which for some reason is not called the extreme Western American sea. It's called the South China Sea for a reason.

But you know, those are very good priorities to bear in mind. This is a great continuing conversation. We've dealt with many aspects of this in earlier webinar sessions. So I'm really thrilled as Just World Educational president to be able to bring together all these conversations and put them onto our resource page. The videos are all there. The transcripts are there, related links are there, we're going to be using these materials quite intensively in the coming weeks to produce other forms of ways of pushing this very multidimensional multi-issue conversation forward.

And we do have a great conversation lined up for next week. Next Wednesday, we're going to have a return of the international jurist, Richard Falk, who actually inaugurated this series with a webinar in which, unfortunately, his video wasn't working. It's still worth looking at because you can hear his hear his audio, but he's going to come back with the former - Richard Falk is going to be coming back with the former senior UN humanitarian official Hans von Sponeck, and we're going to have two guests, and it should be a very informative session.

So I invite you all to come back next Wednesday. We are going to be using August to digest, reflect upon and exploit some of the amazing materials we've created, and we'll be continuing to plan what we will do with this World After COVID project in the fall.

All these things do cost money, and we would love to have your support. So if you want to go to our website,, there's a donate button there, click on it and throw in whatever you can to help us bring these important conversations in a multiple of different ways to the public here in the U.S. and also outside the U.S.

Marjorie Cohn, thank you so much for giving us your time and your amazing expertise as we look at these issues of international justice, accountability, and impunity. It was great to have you with us.

Marjorie Cohn (00:59:09):

Thank you so much, Helena. And thank you, Charlotte.

Helena Cobban (00:59:09):

I should have stopped sharing so that we could have seen Marjorie, but anyway, Marjorie, you were great. Thank you. I want to remind everyone that we do welcome your evaluations, which you will be led to as you exit the Zoom. I really apologize that last week we had prepared an evaluation and then we'd failed to link it correctly to the Zoom. You have to do various things in Zoom. This week, I think we have linked the evaluation, and really your feedback is very, very helpful as we plan where to take the project in the weeks and months going forward. Just to wrap up, I want to thank Charlotte Kates, who's been helping us with every aspect of this project, and I want to thank all of you, the attendees who come and ask your great questions. And see you next week with Richard Falk and Hans von Sponeck. Thank you. Stay safe. Goodbye.


Session Resources

Speakers for the Session


Marjorie Cohn


Helena Cobban

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