Double Standards for US War Crimes

U.S. pundits cheer when some African warlord or East European brute is dragged before an international tribunal, but not at the thought of justice being meted out to George W. Bush or other architects of post-9/11 torture and aggressive war on Iraq, as John LaForge notes.

By John LaForge

In response to regular reports of atrocities by U.S. soldiers, drone controllers, pilots and interrogators, the White House routinely tries to help. Every president promises to honor U.S. armed forces and says they are the finest military of all, etc.

At Veterans’ Day ceremonies, president fill-in-the-blank boast, “America is and always will be the greatest nation on Earth.” This past Nov. 11, President Barack Obama said that since 9/11 the U.S. is “defining one of the greatest generations of military service this country has ever produced,” and, of course,“[W]e have the best-led, best-trained, best-equipped military in the world.”

Barack Obama and George W. Bush at the White House.

Barack Obama and George W. Bush at the White House.

Really? On Veterans’ Day 2011, one headline blared: “American Soldier is Convicted of Killing Afghan Civilians for Sport.” U.S. aggression, occupation, torture of prisoners, massacres, drone attacks, offshore penal colonies and sexual assaults against our own service members, take the luster from the official self-image of “exceptionality.”

In a bold invitation, Human Rights Watch has called on 154 parties to the UN Convention on Torture to bring charges against U.S. officials under explicit language in the treaty, ratified by the US in 1994.

The treaty requires such action when reputable allegations are not prosecuted by the accused governments, and ours doesn’t need any more evidence, just some of which may be found in these mainstream U.S. media stories:

• “US Practiced Torture after 9/11, Nonpartisan Review Concludes” (Apr. 16, 2013)

• “Afghans Say an American Tortured Civilians” (May 13, 2013)

• “CIA Drones Kill Civilians in Pakistan” (Mar. 18, 2011)

• “GI Kills 16 Afghans, Including 9 Children, in Attacks on Homes” (Mar. 12, 2012)

• “Libya Effort is Called Violation of War Act” (May 26, 2011)

• “NATO and Afghan forces killed 310 civilians over the same period, mostly from airstrikes, the UN reports” (Aug. 3, 2009)

• “100,000 Iraqis killed since U.S. invasion analysis says” (Oct. 29, 2004)

• “U.N. Chief Ignites Firestorm by Calling Iraq War ‘Illegal’” (Sep. 17, 2004);

• “Iraq Says Blast in Baghdad Kills Dozens of Civilians: U.S. Blamed” (Mar. 29, 2003)

• “U.S. Presses for Total Exemption from War Crimes Court” (Oct. 9, 2002)

• “Pentagon Says U.S. Airstrike Killed Women and Children” (Mar. 13, 2002)

• “Bombing Necessary Despite Toll on Civilians, U.S. Envoy Says” (Jan. 9, 2002);

• “U.S. helicopters fire on women, children in Somalia” (Sep. 10, 1993)

• “US forces buried enemy forces alive” (Sep. 13, 1991)

• “200,000 died in Gulf War, and counting” (May 30, 1991)

The Military’s Dirty War on Women

Atrocities against people of occupied or targeted countries aren’t the only ones accumulating. According to a July 2012 report by the Pentagon, over 25,000 sexual assaults occurred in fiscal year 2012, a 37 percent increase from FY 2011. About “500 men and women were assaulted each week last year,” USA Today reported July 25. See: “Reports of Military Sexual Assault Rise Sharply,” NY Times, Nov. 7; & “Sexual Assaults in Military Raise Alarm: 26,000 Cases Last Year,” May 7, 2013.

Throughout the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, according to the Pentagon, 74 percent of females report one or more barriers to reporting sexual assault. In addition, 62 percent of victims who reported sexual assault indicated they experienced some form of retaliation.

This is why, according to Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin., more than 85 percent of all military sexual assaults go unreported. In fact, Sen. Baldwin says, “overall rates of reporting dropped from 13.5 percent in 2011 to 9.8 percent in 2012.”

In view of the staggering numbers, and to help end the cover-up and suppression of sexual assault reporting, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, has proposed removing investigation and disposal of such allegations from the military chain of command and place these cases with military prosecutors.

Currently, commanders — superior to victims and perpetrators — decide whether or not to prosecute an accused G.I. Commanders even have the power to reduce or overturn a judge or jury’s conviction.

Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013, S. 967, would give military prosecutors, instead of commanders, the independent authority to decide whether or not felony cases go to trial. The proposal has earned broad bipartisan support. It would reform the Code of Military Justice to make the system independent at the felony level.

A related bill, the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Act — S. 548 — sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, would prevent those convicted of sexual crimes from serving in the military, improve tracking and review of sexual assault claims in the military, and help ensure victims have access to criminal  justice.

Presidential speeches can’t permanently obscure our record of military outrages. Some congressional reform could at least confront the ones committed against women in uniform.

John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a nuclear watchdog and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, edits its quarterly newsletter, and writes for PeaceVoice.

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4 comments on “Double Standards for US War Crimes

  1. Joe Tedesky on said:

    Well not much has improved since I was honorably discharged from the Navy 41 years ago. You see, my last 2 years I served in Admiral Elmo Zumwalt’s Navy. While Admiral Zumwalt’s Z-grams made a valiant attempt towards modernizing the old style military culture, there were those who hated him. These same haters did everything they could too undermine Admiral Zumwalt’s directives. Elmo Zumwalt also later in life protested against such things as our use of agent orange.

    What needs to happen is a cultural change, and change coming from the very top. Our leaders need to stop leading from a military point of view towards every worldly objective of theirs. Not to mention the blowback, but we can’t have John Yoo’s sitting in back rooms crafting too cute to mention war policies while at the same time trying to create a more civilized military fighting unit.

  2. F. G. Sanford on said:

    My compliments on the effective exposition of war crimes your article provides. The Nuremberg principles, despite the historically cynical manner in which they have been applied, are nevertheless the only moral response humanity has yet contrived to address the inherent immorality of war. Some time ago, an article appeared on this site which mentioned the seemingly incomprehensible utterance of an officer who stated, more or less, “We had to destroy the village in order to save it”. While this seems an ineffable take on reality, I can assure you it is not. Wars are won by killing and demoralizing the civilians who support the opposing forces. He simply confused “save” with “defeat”. All wars produce atrocities. Whether you study Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War’ or Carl von Clauswitz’s ‘Principles of War’ is irrelevant. The three thousand years between them has not changed this fact. That is the moral foundation upon which Chief Justice Robert H. Jackson based his charge:

    “To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

    George W. Bushed bragged of his intention to attack Iraq before he was elected. This is a documented fact. His family represents part of a network which includes the wealthiest financiers, intelligence assets, academics, juridical notables, petroleum magnates, bankers, politicians and media tycoons in the United States. They have shared interests, and without their consent, no charges will ever be levied against any of them. They are above the law. Excuse me, they ARE the law. Any notion that “legal” action will ever be taken against any of these people is fanciful at best, naive at worst.

    I suggest reading, “Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, America’s Invisible Government and the Hidden History of the Last Fifty Years” by Russ Baker. His website is whowhatwhy dot com, or you can check out familyofsecrets dot com. If you look him up on youtube, there are a series of seven interviews with Dave Emory: “Russ Baker Family of Secrets” in the search box will get you there.

    This isn’t “conspiracy theory”. This is the reality America must confront if it values justice. The alternative is to keep believing the “big lie”. But I am afraid that, sooner or later, some other nation may take us to Nuremberg.

  3. And of course the necessity of war cannot provide an excuse where the government is in fact an oligarchy of economic concentrations rather than the servant of the people. The servants of Israel and oil who scammed up the Iraq War are indeed traitors as well as war criminals, including Wolfowitz and his zionist operatives Perlman, Feith, and Wurmser who ran the offices in CIA, DIA, and NSC which produced junk intelligence for the warmongers to cite over every objection of those agencies. Oligarchies do not prosecute themselves, and the veneer of legitimacy provided by the illusory remnants of democratic institutions, as well as oligarchic control of the mass media, prevents any reform.

    At some point we realize that the nation has become an empty suit of armor, which will stand until toppled by others as an obstacle to their own oligarchies, if not to human progress. What it was or might have been, has been entirely digested by the oligarchy of gold, and although individual atoms may be intact, its only practical future is as fertilizer for a better organizational structure.

    • F. G. Sanford on said:

      Joseph, nicely said. I particularly like the “empty suit of armor” metaphor. As oligarchies succumb to atrophy, they become accustomed to having their way. The precarious pitfall of “believing their own press releases” becomes always more enticing. Analysis of historical, political and social events based on sound scholarship is ridiculed by academics and “think tank” denizens who supply the media with a constant stream of manufactured reality designed to obscure the criminal nature of the deep state. This becomes epidemic in the afflicted nation, but not so among their victims, enemies or even among their allies. “Reality” at home becomes a battle between structuralists, functionalists, structural functionalists, experts, analysts, etc. Intelligence communities in other countries take a practical approach: they look at the events, evaluate the results and ask, “How did it happen?” Of course, they are constrained by their own oligarchies, but they have no mandate to validate ours. The players are anonymous at home, but they are well known and carefully studied abroad. For example, virtually no American citizen knows who Andrew Marshall is. But Vladimir Putin most certainly does.

      Oligarchy does not age like fine wine. With time, it succumbs to the myopia of senile self-deception. Its acts of repression become more blatant and brazen. The “think tanks” which relied on withholding the truth or plausible denial eventually resort to outright lies. An example would be failure to call the Egyptian junta a “coup d’etat”. That’s not the most egregious “coup” I can think of, but let it pass. As Chris Hedges predicts, the empire is in decline, and “the descent will be horrifying”. The last enemy oligarchy attacks is always its own population.