Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Hay (Festival) Fever

First it's Hanif Kureishi, slagging off creative writing courses as the "new mental hospitals." Then it's Guardian writer George Monbiot attempting a "citizen's arrest" of former U.S. State Department official and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton as he appeared at the literary festival to hype his new book, Surrender Is Not an Option. (Monbiot's "charging brief" against Bolton is here.)

The Guardian reported that Monbiot's attempt did not succeed. But it's very very likely that such attempts to arrest or indict high-ranking members of the Bush administration as they travel overseas will continue as the current administration winds down and is replaced in January 2009 -- and for a foreseeable time well into the next decade. (And, needless to say, such attempts will only intensify if the last week of the Bush Administration turns into a "pardon fest" of sorts.)

No less a personage than former President Jimmy Carter -- also at Hay, but not threatened with arrest by British columnists -- remarked upon it during his appearance this week at the literary festival. According to the official Hay Festival site, Carter made the remark in an interview (video here):

When pressed by Philippe Sands...on Bush's recent admission that he had authorized interrogation procedures widely seen as amounting to torture, Carter replied that he was sure Bush would be able to live "a peaceful, productive life - in our country" after he leaves the White House. Sands later said that he had "understood that to be 'clear confirmation' that, while Bush would face no challenge in his own country, 'what happened outside the country was another matter entirely.'"

Interestingly enough, it's not just the threat of arrest that may loom over those U.S. officials who are deemed by other international actors to have potentially authorized torture. Carter's own recent visit to Israel -- which included a trip to speak with leaders of Hamas -- may have set a different precedent. At that time, Israel's security agency, Shin Bet, refused to provide security assistance to the Secret Service to protect the former president during his trip.

Thus, the threat of arrest may not be the only factor constraining the travel of U.S. officals caught up in international wrangling over whether or not this country authorized torture. Other countries may simply refuse to extend the use of their security services to assist the Secret Service on such ex-presidential travels abroad. (Or vice-presidential travel, since Dick Cheney will also receive Secret Service protection for a time after he leaves office.)

And as for Mr. Bolton, well, his number one nemesis in the DC political analysis and blogging game, Steve Clemons at The Washington Note, has yet to weigh in on the Monbiot escapade. If he does, I'll definitely share it with you.

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