Friday, July 05, 2002

"The war-crimes tribunal in The Hague is supposed to put the bad guys behind bars. I never thought it would go after an American journalist," writes Peter Maass in the New York Times. ("First they came for the war criminals, but I said nothing because I was not a war criminal," he might have said.) It's not that he opposes the tribunal; "the attempts to offer justice to victims of genocide are one of the bright spots of our age," he believes. Nor does he "believe journalists should be exempt from subpoenas". It's just that "in most cases the decision to testify should be the journalist's," because "testifying at a war crimes tribunal could imperil a journalist's safety or make it difficult to uncover future misdeeds". (No word from Maass on whether ordinary non-journalistic peons, whose safety is presumably at much greater risk than that of globetrotting New York Times op-ed writers, are entitled to the same discretion about obeying the orders of international tribunals.)

I've written before about journalists' increasing confidence in their own political power, and about the dangers of judicial usurpation of democratic authority. But the two in combination are especially threatening in the context of international affairs, where there are no counterbalancing governmental institutions with genuine democratic legitimacy, and the conformist foreign press corps has a near-monopoly over channels of information about faraway events that reach the Western bodies politic. Now that the spectacularly unaccountable International Criminal Court has been established, it's not hard to guess what two self-appointed groups will be setting its agenda.

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