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Democracys Blameless Leaders: From Dresden to Abu Ghraib, How Leaders Evade Accountability for Abuse, Atrocity, and Killing

Neil James Mitchell
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Democracys Blameless Leaders
    Book Description:

    From the American and British counter-insurgency in Iraq to the bombing of Dresden and the Amristar Massacre in India, civilians are often abused and killed when they are caught in the cross-fire of wars and other conflicts. In Democracy's Blameless Leaders, Neil Mitchell examines how leaders in democracies manage the blame for the abuse and the killing of civilians, arguing that politicians are likely to react in a self-interested and opportunistic way and seek to deny and evade accountability. Using empirical evidence from well-known cases of abuse and atrocity committed by the security forces of established, liberal democracies, Mitchell shows that self-interested political leaders will attempt to evade accountability for abuse and atrocity, using a range of well-known techniques including denial, delay, diversion, and delegation to pass blame for abuse and atrocities to the lowest plausible level. Mitchell argues that, despite the conventional wisdom that accountability is a 'central feature' of democracies, it is only a rare and courageous leader who acts differently, exposing the limits of accountability in democratic societies. As democracies remain embroiled in armed conflicts, and continue to try to come to grips with past atrocities, Democracy's Blameless Leaders provides a timely analysis of why these events occur, why leaders behave as they do, and how a more accountable system might be developed.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6337-7
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    The gravitational theory of accountability has one central proposition: blame falls to the bottom, to the fall guy. When things go wrong with a policy, people try to shift the blame. Those best placed to do this are those at the top. Even when there is evidence of complicity at the highest levels of government, blame will find its lowest plausible level. When the news of abuse or atrocity hits the front page, leaders faced with managing the blame are likely to react in a self-interested and opportunistic way and seek to deny and evade accountability. It is a rare...

  6. 2 The Theory of the Fall Guy
    (pp. 13-26)

    Britain’s top soldier at the time of the invasion of Iraq, General Sir Mike Jackson, told the inquiry into the death of Baha Mousa, who was beaten to death by British soldiers in 2003, that “it is absolutely bedrock to the British Army’s philosophy that a commanding officer is responsible for what goes on within his command.”¹ Yet no British officer was held responsible for Baha Mousa’s death, for any other case of unlawful killing or abuse in Iraq, or for the deaths in Londonderry on Bloody Sunday in 1972. No minister was held responsible, either. The Israeli and American...

  7. 3 Evading Accountability
    (pp. 27-47)

    When things go wrong in politics, people seek to deflect the blame. No matter how well designed a constitution, we are dealing with individuals, with power, with selfishness and human failings. There may be examples of leaders who courageously do the right thing, but one should not expect it, any more than Napoleon expected instantaneous courage—“I have rarely met with two o’clock in the morning courage: I mean instantaneous courage.” In general, leaders do not individually and openly face the press at dawn, regardless of the consequences. Instead, in order to rebuild public support, they resort to techniques of...

  8. 4 Amritsar
    (pp. 48-66)

    The killing of more than three hundred civilians in the city of Amritsar took ten minutes on April 13, 1919. It was a ten-minute turning point in the long relationship between Britain and India. With Gandhi’s nonviolent protests forcing the issue, Prime Minister Lloyd George’s coalition government was preparing the ground for Indian self-government. The year before, Britain had reformed its own democracy, extending the franchise to women more than thirty years of age. Yet, reaction, not reform, marked that spring day in the Punjab, with disastrous consequences for the Indian victims and for British authority in the subcontinent. Afterwards,...

  9. 5 Dresden
    (pp. 67-85)

    What could recommend the destruction of this city? In contrast to the massacre at Amritsar, the mass killing of civilians in Dresden and the destruction of urban and residential Germany was government policy. How could frightfulness become the policy of a government led by a man who, as secretary of war twenty-five years earlier, had given an “unanswerable” denunciation of that remedy? Or, for those more interested in the relationship between political systems and policies than in biographical riddles, how could the killing of civilians that culminated in the bombing of Dresden become a sustained policy of a democratic government?...

  10. 6 Londonderry
    (pp. 86-115)

    The story goes that the Irish Taoiseach, or Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, on a visit to the office of the British foreign secretary in 1997, was unhappy to see a portrait of the “murdering bastard” Oliver Cromwell, the seventeenth-century perpetrator of a brutal slaughter in Ireland. Apparently, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook had it taken down.² Ahern’s preoccupation with the portrait shows that the fallout from atrocities in Ireland has a long half-life. We should not be surprised, then, to learn that the management of the blame for the British Army’s 1972 shootings of civilians in Londonderry has taken almost four...

  11. 7 Beirut
    (pp. 116-137)

    The killing of seven hundred or more Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in West Beirut took thirty-six hours. According to the Israeli inquiry that followed, the killings were done by members of an Israeli-allied Lebanese Christian militia. These militiamen were let into the camps on the night of Thursday, September 16, 1982, by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). In the early morning of Saturday, September 18, they were ordered out. After initial doubt over which Christian militia was involved, attention focused on the role and responsibility of Israeli leaders. These leaders included present and future prime ministers....

  12. 8 Baghdad
    (pp. 138-160)

    In 2004, the U.S. secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, faced questions about the treatment of captured Iraqis. Secretary Rumsfeld was due to testify before a U.S. Senate committee about his management of what went on at Baghdad Central Correctional Facility, Abu Ghraib. It was a news story that shocked Americans and dominated headlines around the world. One might spare a thought, as no doubt the secretary did, for the loss of American lives, for what was at stake in the new kind of warfare, for the responsibility of putting young soldiers in such a difficult place, and for the critical...

  13. 9 Baghdad to Basra
    (pp. 161-187)

    The toughest test of a democracy’s commitment to the rule of law is whether it is willing to hold its own people to account. The American poet laureate Charles Simic says democracies fail this test: “What unites many countries in the world, both the ones that don’t give a fig about human rights and the ones that profess they do is their unwillingness to punish their war criminals.”¹ Simic says that “when it comes to accountability, instances of confronting their own guilt are exceedingly rare among nations . . . there’s an unwritten understanding that crimes committed by the United...

  14. 10 A Tale of a Few Cities: Better Leaders, Better Institutions, or a Better Audience?
    (pp. 188-208)

    The times when it must confront guilt are the worst of times for democracy. Submitting an accurate account and admitting responsibility for wrongdoing or for failing to control those who commit it is an option. Whether in the routine cases of unlawful killing or abuse or in the case of the notorious events in Baghdad, Beirut, or Londonderry, leaders choose not to take that option. If blame is assigned, it goes to the fun-seekers on the midnight shift at Abu Ghraib, to the revenge-seekers of the Christian Militia, or to the ill-disciplined soldiers of 1 Para. If punishment is administered,...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 209-240)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 241-250)
  17. Index
    (pp. 251-262)
  18. About the Author
    (pp. 263-263)