In the dock
Every officer who carries out an order involving serious human rights violations must take into consideration that he will find himself in the dock.
The arrest warrant that awaited Major General (res.) Doron Almog in Great Britain, and similar arrest warrants that may await other senior officers like Dan Halutz and Moshe Ya'alon, are not a diplomatic incident between Israel and Great Britain. Similar warrants could crop up in every country that has added the Geneva Convention to its body of laws - when a complaint is issued in these countries of a severe human rights violation, its legal authorities can try any person, even if they are not a citizen of that country and even if they carried out the alleged crimes in another country. According to the ruling of the Court of Appeals in The Hague, immunity from prosecution is extended only to presiding heads of state and foreign ministers.
The countries of the free world have decided that because it is not always possible to depend on countries to try their own war criminals, punishment for serious crimes should pursue their perpetrators to any place they seek asylum. The universal authority other nations have taken on themselves has been applied with great enthusiasm in recent years, as a counterweight to the U.S. opposition to cooperation with the International War Crimes Tribunal. Thus in Switzerland and Germany, citizens from the former Yugoslavia were convicted for human rights violations in Bosnia, and Pakistani nationals were tried in Great Britain for crimes committed in Afghanistan.
Tony Blair would probably have been happy to prevent the issuing of the arrest warrant against Almog, knowing that his officers stationed in Iraq might be subjected to similar treatment elsewhere in Europe. But in Great Britain, as in other democracies, law enforcement authorities operate independently. Supporters of the separation of powers cannot complain to the government of Great Britain for persecuting Israelis. The international wave of terror has changed the rules of the game, and many enlightened countries are taking measures that are not commensurate with the protection of human rights. This is not to say that countries, especially democracies, can do whatever they choose when it comes to the war on terror. Courts are meant to serve as moral barriers against the use of unreasonable means. However the courts in Israel turned their heads when asked to address the demolition of hundreds of houses in Gaza, the expropriation of private lands for the use of the occupying country, and the expulsion of 25,000 Palestinians from their homes in Hebron to expand the Jewish quarter. None of these constitutes valid means in the war on terror. The vacuum created by judges in Israel in dealing with these issues is what led to the appeal to the legal authorities in Europe.
One can complain about the hypocrisy of legal authorities who are tough on Israel and easy on other countries. One can ascribe political and anti-Semitic motives to plaintiffs and judges. But it is hard to claim that our hands are clean. Every officer who carries out an order involving serious human rights violations must take into consideration that he will find himself in the dock. An unbalanced and disproportionate use of universal authority to bring individuals to trial may sometimes be excessive and unjust, but the abrogation of the option to pursue war criminals wherever they may be could bring the wheels of justice grinding to a halt.