24 Nov Come On, Mother Jones, You Can Do Better (Mitt Romney Edition)
Lord knows I can’t stand Mitt Romney. And I have never bought the idea that Ahmadinejad has committed direct and public incitement of genocide through his inflammatory anti-Israel rhetoric. But this Mother Jones article is still staggeringly awful:
When asked about Iran and Israel at Tuesday’s CNN national security debate, on-and-off Republican front-runner Mitt Romney replied in his typically tough, unambiguously pro-Israel fashion. After chiding the Obama administration for being “disrespectful to our friends” and playing softball with our foes, Romney said that as president he would take the necessary steps to confront the Iranian regime. One of the hallmarks of his plan: indicting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for “violating the genocide convention.” (During the debate, Romney first said “Geneva Conventions” before backtracking and going with “genocide convention.”)
You could give Romney the benefit of the doubt, and assume that he actually did mean to say the “Geneva Conventions” and that, under the pressure of a nationally televised debate, he merely misspoke. But Romney simply meant what he meant; he has been calling for this indictment since at least the end of 2007.
Because Romney has been calling for this indictment since before Iran’s bloody Green Movement protests, it’s safe to assume that he was specifically referring to the Iranian President’s over-the-top, alleged call for Israel to “be wiped off the map.”
And here’s where candidate Romney again steps into the murky waters of international law: The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, as adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in the years after World War II, defines genocide as any number of “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
Experts in the field cite an array of factors that would almost certainly impede Romney’s proposed foreign policy initiative. “There are so many layers to [Romney’s] argument that need to be explored because the implications are very serious,” says Elizabeth Blackney, an anti-genocide activist and communications strategist. Blackney also argues that before any potential Romney administration can determine if Ahmadinejad’s comments or threats would justify US support for an indictment, the former Massachusetts governor needs to elaborate on his plans. “US policy has been to not honor the International Criminal Court; we are not a signatory to the Rome Treaty. So is Romney signaling that he would recommend law enforcement under the [statute]… and fundamentally change American policy toward the ICC and the Genocide Convention? [His comment during the debate] was not very well thought out.”
While there have been other voices arguing in favor of such an indictment, it’s widely interpreted that a statement supposedly egging on genocide is not legally considered a tool of genocide, unless it can be taken into evidence as proving direct intent and premeditation. Furthermore, it would be unprecedented to indict a foreign leader for a genocide that hasn’t even taken place yet.
How many errors are there in these six paragraphs? Let me just mention the three most glaring. First, Romney was clearly correct to cite the Genocide Convention; the Geneva Conventions, of course, say nothing about genocide and apply only in armed conflict (which, last time I checked, doesn’t exist between Iran and Israel). So no, he didn’t misspeak.
Second, nothing in Romney’s statement signals that he intends to “fundamentally change American policy toward the ICC and the Genocide Convention.” If Ms. Blackney or the author of the article had bothered to do five minutes of research, they would have realized that Congress enacted the “Genocide Accountability Act” in 2007, which gives U.S. courts conditional universal jurisdiction over genocide. The U.S. could thus prosecute Ahmadinejad for genocide — assuming it could get its hands on him — regardless of its refusal to join the ICC. So, in fact, it is Ms. Blackney’s and the author’s comments that are “not very well thought out.”
Third, it would indeed be “unprecedented to indict a foreign leader that hasn’t even taken place yet.” But so what? Direct and public incitement to genocide — Article III(c) of the Genocide Convention — is an inchoate crime; it does not in any way require the incited genocide to be carried out. Indeed, the whole point of criminalizing an inchoate form of genocide is to prevent the occurrence of actual genocide. Why would we want to wait until after the genocide took place to prosecute those who incited it?
I love Mother Jones. But the magazine needs to not let its (wholly justified) contempt for Mitt Romney to get in the way of basic journalistic accuracy.