(CNSNews.com) – Six months after finding President George W. Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair “guilty” of crimes against peace, a “tribunal” in Malaysia is now hearing torture and war crimes charges against Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and six others.
The so-called “Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission” is an initiative of the “Kuala Lumpur Foundation to Criminalize War,” an organization created by former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad in 2007 to focus on allegations of abuses by Western governments in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.
Mahathir, an anti-Western populist, attributed the move at the time to his view that the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague was biased. His tribunal’s aim is to hold “perpetrators of war crimes to account for their actions especially when relevant international judicial organs fail to do so.”
Scheduled to last six days, the hearing that opened in Kuala Lumpur on Monday is considering charges relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars launched in 2001 and 2003. The “accused” are Bush, Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, then-White House Counsel (and later Attorney-General) Alberto Gonzales, then-legal counsel to the vice president David Addington, then-general counsel to the Pentagon William Haynes II, then-Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, and then-former Deputy Assistant Attorney-General John Choon Yoo.
The commission has all the pomp and jargon of a legal proceeding, with a presiding panel of five retired judges and legal scholars, as well as prosecutors, defense counsel – in this case a person acting in an “amicus curiae” capacity – and witnesses.
But it has no authority whatsoever, and in the event of a “conviction” can do little more than put out a press release.
“In the event the tribunal convicts any of the accused, the only sanction is that the name of the guilty person will be entered in the Commission’s Register of War Criminals and publicized worldwide,” says a statement on its website.
In response to queries Tuesday, a “prosecuting lawyer” involved in the tribunal said that the only two names on the register thus far are those of Bush and Blair. The two were found “guilty” after a four-day hearing last November of committing crimes against peace during the Iraq war.
Asked what the point was of adding names to the register, the lawyer said it “serves as a record of persons convicted.”
“Notifications are sent out to international bodies – including the ICC – and governments for their attention that such a finding has been made and for their further action,” he said.
Since war crimes were covered by universal jurisdiction, the tribunal judgments “can be used by any government to arrest and subject convicted persons to a trial.”
“No leader would want to be known as a ‘war criminal,’” the lawyer added. “It also serves as a reminder against future leaders that they cannot act with impunity.”
The lawyer said the ICC had failed to investigate more than 240 complaints filed relating to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The tribunal was one response to concerns that had arisen around the world as a result of the “total paralysis of the international institutions.”
The tribunal receives no support from the Malaysian or any other government, he said.
‘Ostracize these people’
Monday’s hearing heard accounts from two witnesses.
Abbas Abid, an Iraqi electrical engineer, recounted harrowing claims of torture at the Jadriyah prison after being captured by U.S. and Iraqi soldiers in August 2005. (In Nov. 2005, U.S. forces raided a secret prison in the Baghdad neighborhood of Jadriyah, where 174 mostly Sunni prisoners were found, some showing signs of torture. The facility was run by the Iraqi Interior Ministry, headed at the time by a Shi’ite with close ties to the Badr brigades.)
The second witness was Moazzam Begg, a radical British Islamist arrested in Pakistan in early 2002 and held by the U.S. military until Bush ordered his release in 2005. Pentagon officials said he had undergone terrorist training in Afghanistan before his capture.
After his release, Begg formed an organization to campaign on behalf of war on terror detainees. He has been called “Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban.”
Begg told the tribunal in Malaysia that his mental health had suffered during 20 months of solitary confinement at Guantanamo Bay.
On the sidelines of the hearing, Mahathir told Iran’s state-funded Press TV on Monday that he hopes that “people in the world will take notice.”
“They should actually ostracize these people.,” he said. “A person who murders one person should be hanged, but a person who causes the death of so many people should be honored? This is actually not in keeping with our ideas about civilization.”
Mahathir, who dominated political life in Malaysia for 22 years before resigning in 2003, was a vocal critic of the West, with a reputation for anti-Jewish rhetoric. Shortly after retiring he urged American Muslims, “in the name of Islam,” to vote for Sen. John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election in order to defeat Bush.
Among those involved in Mahathir’s project are two former U.N. bureaucrats, both of whom resigned their positions as humanitarian coordinators in Iraq to protest sanctions against the regime. Denis Halliday of Ireland resigned in 1998, and Hans Christof von Sponeck of Germany resigned two years later.