The Common Good
September-October 2001

Just Desserts

by Duane Shank | September-October 2001

The consequence for war crimes? It depends.

One day this summer, two announcements were issued by the White House. The first was a statement by President Bush: "I applaud today's transfer of indicted war criminal Slobodan Milosevic to the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague," Bush said. "This very important step by the leaders in Belgrade ensures that Milosevic can finally be tried for his war crimes and crimes against humanity.... The transfer of Milosevic to the Hague is an unequivocal message to those persons who brought such tragedy to the Balkans that they will be held accountable for their crimes."

In the next statement, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice announced the appointment of Elliott Abrams as special assistant to the president and senior director for democracy, human rights, and international operations at the National Security Council.

How soon we forget! From 1985 to 1989, as assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, Abrams managed the Reagan administration's wars in Central America. Wars that left more than 70,000 dead in El Salvador, the vast majority of them civilians killed by El Salvador's armed forces and paramilitary death squads supported by the United States. In Guatemala, as many as 100,000-mostly Mayan-died. And as many as 50,000 died in the contra war against Nicaragua's Sandinista government, attacks supported and funded by Abrams. In October 1991, Abrams admitted to two criminal charges of withholding information from House and Senate committees during testimony in 1986 about his knowledge of secret efforts to aid the anti-Sandinista guerrillas and his role in soliciting a $10 million contribution for the contras from the Sultan of Brunei. His human rights-abuse rap sheet is a long one.

Maybe we should amend the president's announcement to say, "The appointment of Abrams as my special assistant for democracy and human rights is an unequivocal message to those persons who brought such tragedy to Central America that they will be rewarded for their crimes."

Duane Shank is issues and policy adviser at Sojourners.

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