US Hypocrisy Over Russian ‘War Crimes’

Amid the sludge of propaganda, it’s hard to know what’s really happening in Syria, but the West’s outrage over Russian-inflicted civilian casualties is clearly hypocritical given the U.S.-Israeli slaughters elsewhere in the region, notes Gareth Porter.

By Gareth Porter

The Russian-Syrian bombing campaign in eastern Aleppo, which has ended at least for the time being, has been described in press reports and op-eds as though it were unique in modern military history in its indiscriminateness. In an unusual move for a senior U.S. official, Secretary of State John Kerry called for an investigation of war crimes in Aleppo.

The discussion has been lacking in historical context, however. Certainly the civilian death toll from the bombing and shelling in Aleppo has been high, but many of the strikes may not be all that dissimilar from the major U.S. bombing campaign in Iraq in 2003, nor as indiscriminate as Israel’s recent campaigns in densely populated cities.

At the start of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, President George W. Bush ordered the U.S. military to conduct a devastating aerial assault on Baghdad, known as "shock and awe."

At the start of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, President George W. Bush ordered the U.S. military to conduct a devastating aerial assault on Baghdad, known as “shock and awe.”

The impression that the bombing in Aleppo was uniquely indiscriminate was a result of news reporting and commentary suggesting, by implication, that there are no real military targets in east Aleppo.

But in fact, al-Nusra Front (Al Qaeda’s affiliate) turned Aleppo into the central hub of a massive system of conventional warfare in Aleppo province in late January 2016 when it sent an enormous convoy of at least 200 vehicles with troops and weaponry into eastern Aleppo. A dramatic three-minute al-Nusra video shows what appears to be hundreds of vehicles full of troops and trucks with weapons mounted on them.

The Russian command in Syria has drones observing the routes in and out of Aleppo, so it certainly knew where many of those military sites were located. Syrian opposition sources also revealed that Nusra began immediately to put the military assets at its disposal underground, digging deep bunkers to protect troops, military equipment and tunnels through which troops and weapons could be moved unseen.

The move underground explains the Russian use of bunker-buster bombs for the first time in the war. As the Guardian reported, Justin Bronk of the British defense think tank Royal United Service Institute concluded that the Russians “have high-grade intelligence of the whereabouts of Syrian opposition positions,” mainly because bunker buster bombs are too expensive to use simply to destroy buildings at random.

But like Hamas fighters in Gaza in 2014, the Nusra Front-led command in Aleppo has moved its troops, weapons and command centers around in the tunnels that they have built. So many of the Russian and Syrian air strikes are almost certainly hitting targets that have already been abandoned. And in other cases, the wrong target has undoubtedly been hit.

The Aleppo Health Directorate, a local monitoring group, estimated that 400 civilians had been killed in the first three weeks of bombing in east Aleppo. The United Nations put the death toll at 360.

Drop the Superiority Act

As terrible as that toll of civilian lives is, the United States should drop the stance of moral superiority. When the U.S. military invaded Iraq in 2003, it made no effort to keep track of how many civilians were killed in its bombing and artillery fire, claiming it had no way to tell who was civilian and who was not.

President George W. Bush in a flight suit after landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln to give his "Mission Accomplished" speech about the Iraq War.

President George W. Bush in a flight suit after landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln to give his “Mission Accomplished” speech about the Iraq War on May 1, 2003.

And the best estimates of civilians killed in U.S. and Israeli urban wars don’t provide any basis for moral superiority. A survey of Baghdad’s hospitals by the Los Angeles Times in May 2003 produced an estimate of at least 1,700 civilians killed in the first five weeks of American war. The estimate included those who had died in ground fighting and from unexploded ordnance, but even with those contributing factors subtracted from the total, it would still be far greater than those killed in the assault on east Aleppo on a weekly basis.

The three-week Israeli war on Gaza City in 2009 and the seven-week war on Gaza in 2014 were also far deadlier than Aleppo. The former killed 773 civilians, according to an investigation by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. The latter killed 1,473 Palestinian civilians, according to the UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The one feature of the Russian-Syrian air offensive on east Aleppo that seems most clearly to violate the laws of war is the targeting of hospitals. Media accounts have referred to air strikes with barrel bombs that have hit two major hospitals in the rebel-held part of the city.

The Syrian government has been acting as though it regards the hospitals in eastern Aleppo as serving the Nusra Front command, and the hospitals, which are under intense pressure from the militants who run that part of Aleppo, have fed the government’s suspicions.

As a detailed report by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on the air strikes that hit the Al Quds hospital on April 27 explains, the local organization that created a new system of hospitals in 2011 decided not to declare the hospitals openly but to keep them “underground” – meaning secret from the government.

In fact, of course, the government knows perfectly well where all 10 hospitals in east Aleppo are located. The April 27 air strike that damaged the Al Quds hospital shows how the government has responded. It began with an air strike that destroyed a building across the street from the hospital. The building was a school, but former residents of east Aleppo who have gotten out have confirmed that organizations associated with the al-Qaeda-dominated command have located their offices in schools to try to hide their staff.

Within a few minutes of the initial strike, according to the MSF account, Al Quds hospital staff were pulling survivors out of the rubble and taking them across the street to the emergency room, whereupon the Syrian air force dropped a barrel bomb at the entrance to the emergency room, killing several of the hospital staff, including one doctor. Then it dropped one close enough to the side of the hospital to hit the emergency room and, minutes later, hit a building down the block where hospital staff were staying.

Such attacks on those who try to save the lives of survivors of bombing attacks – sometimes called “double tap” attacks” – are rightly condemned as violations of humanitarian law. And the belief that the staff at the hospital are operating in effect as medics for the adversary’s military does not justify attacking it and the wounded sheltered there.

But such violations of the laws of war are hardly unique to Aleppo or Syria.

Hardly Unique

U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan have hit rescuers or mourners after hitting their initial targets in numerous documented cases. In the 2009 Gaza attacks, the Israeli military argued that Hamas fighters were using hospitals to hide from Israeli bombing, but offered no valid evidence to support it, as the Goldstone Report showed.

An Israeli strike caused a huge explosion in a residential area in Gaza during the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2008-2009. (Photo credit: Al Jazeera)

An Israeli strike caused a huge explosion in a residential area in Gaza during the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2008-2009. (Photo credit: Al Jazeera)

In 2014, the Israelis completely destroyed the Al-Wafa hospital in an air strike recorded for public release after claiming falsely that it had been fired on by Palestinian gunmen.

In its wars in Gaza and in Lebanon, the IDF has gone well beyond the Russian and Syrian Aleppo campaign in refusing to recognize any distinction between civilian targets. It not only targeted civilian offices in both Gaza wars, but treated entire areas of the city as a legitimate target, on the premise that all civilians had been ordered to leave.

And in both Gaza and in Beirut suburb of Dahiya, the IDF levelled several high-rise buildings where they believed Hezbollah had offices. The IDF called it the “Dahiya doctrine”, and threatened “great damage and destruction” on any adversary in any future war in the region.

Heavy bombing in a city is inherently fraught with moral risk, and attacks on genuine civilian targets can never be excused. But such practices have been carried out and legitimized in the past by the very government that is now claiming the role of moral and legal arbiter. That hypocrisy needs to be recognized and curbed as well.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. [This article originally appeared at Middle East Eye.]

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13 comments for “US Hypocrisy Over Russian ‘War Crimes’

  1. Dr. Ibrahim Soudy
    November 4, 2016 at 7:29 pm

    American Hypocrisy!! Are you kidding me?! “Hypocrisy” IS America…….Someone once said that “America is a country that lies to itself about who it is and what it is”………

  2. Realist
    November 4, 2016 at 7:58 pm

    So I guess Washington’s logic is that whenever its “moderate” terrorists remain firmly dug-in because they’ve used civilian shields, that territory must be ceded to them by the Syrian government and their Russian allies. Sounds like an easy road to victory for Daesh et al if Assad and Putin are stupid enough to placate Washington’s demands yet again. Leaving open corridors to total freedom for terrorists not even required to lay down their arms has so far only resulted in Syrian and Russian casualties. Anybody think that the “war crimes” charges should be made retroactive to American actions in, oh at least half a dozen countries in the past few years? Alternatively, Russia can just call their fireworks display to dislodge the mercenary terrorists by the name of “Shock & Awe, version 2” and that should make it all right.

  3. aquadraht
    November 4, 2016 at 8:29 pm

    While I welcome the information, a few comments. First: If hospitals or other medical institutions in a war zone are claiming protection under the Hague regulations on land warfare (originally from 1907, some amendments later) they must be declared, marked, and no military installation must exist close by. Otherwise, they cannot claim immunity. Under customary rules, it is considered unethical and disproportional to target them intentionally, though. The MSF report seems inconclusive to me.

    Much more is the monotonous mention of “barrel bombs”. Since the propaganda by “Brown Moses” Higgins, later Bellingcat, “barrel bombs” have become a trademark for the wickedness and cruelty of the “Assad regime” (another vilifying propaganda term for an internationally recognized government). What, after all, is a “barrel bomb”?

    In short, it is a form of improvised explosive device (IED), consisting of the standard oil barrel (168l) as the hull, filled with explosives, those most times also improvised with fertilizer and other ingredients liking the Oklahoma bomber’s explosive stuff, in addition with fragmenting materials like nails, glass shards, scrap metal etc., less often with military grade explosives such as Hexogen, provided with an impact fuse, sometimes a time fuse in addition.

    Of cause, 100kg or more of explosives are likely to cause damage though clearly less than military grade explosives such as grenades or missiles from MLRS. Moreover, there is hardly a possibility to drop a “barrel bomb” from a warplane as there is no way to seat them beneath the wings or fuselage, not to mention their miserable aerodynamic properties. Such devices have reportedly been dropped from helicopters, most likely rather operated by government affiliated militias than by the regular army.

    The only method to drop “barrel bombs” is rolling the barrel off a helicopter. That way, those weapons are either extremely inaccurate (which may corroborate complaints that civilians have been hit) or an extreme risk for the helicopter crew in case they dive deep and come close to enemy positions, they are in extreme risk of being shot down, and may even take damage from their own bombs. So, these weapons are either inefficient or extremely risky for the user.

    Therefore, I simply disbelieve the extensive use of these instruments, When MSF assert that “barrel bombs” have been dropped intentionally to damage the ambulance and the emergency room, that is utter bullshit at best, and blatant lies at worst.

    The last credible westerner to have entered east Aleppo was Martin Chulov from Guardian, and that was in December, 2015. Noteworthy, Chulov, who visited East Aleppo 10 times, witnessed that the terrorists had installed machine guns and artillery on hospitals’ rooftops, and military staff in some of the floors. Those who are witnessing for MSF and for the public in general, now, are deeply affiliated with the terrorists. I don’t believe a word from them, especially when chanting the mantra of “barrel bombs”.

  4. November 4, 2016 at 8:36 pm

    People would be alive in Syria today, and still have homes, if the War Criminals of the Western world and their allies had not planned these atrocities. See links below:
    This diabolical “plan” is described in the must listen to video below:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUCwCgthp_E
    —————————————————————————-
    “General Wesley Clark: Wars Were Planned – Seven Countries In Five Years”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9RC1Mepk_Sw&feature=player_embedded
    ——————————————————————————————–
    France’s Former Foreign Minister: UK Government Prepared War in Syria Two Years Before 2011 Protests
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kz-s2AAh06I&app=desktop

    http://graysinfo.blogspot.ca/2016/10/the-evidence-of-planning-of-wars.html

  5. Evangelista
    November 4, 2016 at 9:48 pm

    For an interesting read of a ‘prequel’ to the current tensions-tending-toward-a wanted-(by-one-side)-war world situation, I recommend the (September)1939 book “A failed Mission”, by Sergey Lavrov —- I mean, Sir Neville Hendersen…(How could I make such an error of attribution…)

    • Evangelista
      November 7, 2016 at 8:43 pm

      Correction of many errors caused by citing from recollection (when memory fails we ‘recall’): Nevile Henderson, “A Failed Mission”, published in 1940 (in New York). It was the war that began in September, 1939. Also, I dropped the reference in the wrong thread. Too much hurry… …

  6. jimbo
    November 4, 2016 at 11:30 pm

    “They did it first!” “They do it, too.”

    C’mon Consortium News, you are better than that kind of reporting.

    • snedly arkus
      November 5, 2016 at 2:01 am

      What you failed to realize is that the majority of people who die in wars are civilians. They won’t admit it but most military’s could care less about civilians, and that includes the Americans. Much has been made about the Nazi’s bombing cities and civilians but they only started doing it after the British targeted German civilians. The British in WW2 openly admitted targeting civilians and the Americans while not admitting targeted civilians too. Much has been made about the A bombs dropped on Japan but that paled in comparison to the US fire bombing Japanese and German cities and the resulting millions of civilian deaths. Or the millions of civilians killed during the Vietnam war, and the many who have died from cancer due to Agent Orange the US used, and over a million in Cambodia after the US destabilized the region. Or the US encouraging Saddam to fight a war with Iran and who supplied the gas Saddam used on the Iranians. When Saddam was ready to invade Kuwait he asked Bush for assistance to avoid invading, he was broke from the war the US encouraged him to fight, he got nothing but the US doesn’t care what you do. Between sanctions and the war it’s claimed over 2 million Iraqi civilians died. When US Ambassador to the UN Madeline Albright was told over half a million Iraqi children died from the sanctions and was asked was it worth it she answered yes it was. The US has a long history of not caring about civilians contrary to the propaganda we get from Hollywood and the corrupt press.

      • fledrmaus
        November 5, 2016 at 3:15 am

        I would just add the current and future deaths due to depleted uranium contamination in many places and regions.

      • Zachary Smith
        November 7, 2016 at 1:31 am

        Much has been made about the Nazi’s bombing cities and civilians but they only started doing it after the British targeted German civilians

        You really ought to get some more history books.

        1937 Guernica. Admittedly that was just a warmup operation.
        1939 Poland:

        During the German invasion of Poland, the Luftwaffe engaged in massive air raids against Polish cities,[43] bombing civilian infrastructure[43][44] such as hospitals[42][43] and targeting fleeing refugees.[45][46][47][48] Notably, the Luftwaffe bombed Warsaw, Wielu?, and Frampol. It is believed that the bombing of Frampol was an experiment as it had no targetable industry and no military units were stationed there.

        1940 Rotterdam Blitz

        Out of 100 Heinkel He 111s, 57 dropped their ordnance, a combined 97 tons of bombs. In the resulting fire 1.1 square miles (2.8 km2) of the city centre were devastated, including 21 churches and 4 hospitals. The strike killed between 800–1,000 civilians, wounded over 1,000, and made 78,000 homeless.[88][89] Nearly twenty-five thousand homes, 2,320 stores, 775 warehouses and 62 schools were destroyed.[90]

        1940 Britain

        By the last week of August, over half the missions were flown under the cover of dark. On 24 August, fate took a turn, and several off-course German bombers accidentally bombed central areas of London.[122][123][124] The next day, the RAF bombed Berlin for the first time, targeting Tempelhof airfield and the Siemens factories in Siemenstadt

        Even in Britain the Germans struck first, even if it was accidental. Why did they not do as they had in the past and go straight for the civilians? Most likely because the Brits had an air force the Germans respected. It’s a historical fact that the Germans never did use gas attacks because of their fear of certain retaliation.

        By the way, one reason nobody had too much sympathy for the Japanese was on account of the way the Japanese Army had behaved. With very low tech swords and bayonets and bullets that army murdered more people in Nanking than died in Hiroshima. The same Army went on a murder rampage after the Doolittle bombing raid and slaughtered another quarter of a million Chinese. And everybody knew about the Bataan death march. The Japanese women and children suffered for their Army’s sins. There was no great revulsion at all about the fire bomb raids, partly because not a lot of US civilians knew about them. Those who did know, cheered. This exposed an ugly side of US society, but at least some of it was reaction to enemy ugliness. The rest was likely due to the same barbarism we’d inflicted on the Indians, slaves, and other ‘problem’ people like the Mormons.

  7. delia ruhe
    November 5, 2016 at 12:38 am

    I’m trying to figure out who exactly Washington’s totally unconvincing anti-Russian propaganda is aimed at.

    • Sam
      November 5, 2016 at 7:57 am

      The anti-Russian propaganda is an excuse suggestion. Everyone can see that Russia is not the aggressor in Syria or Ukraine. So the propaganda suggests an excuse for those already motivated for any war (the military interests) or who want war in the Mideast (the zionists and opportunists seeking benefits by shouting “antisemitism”). Many fools are afraid to disagree with a majority they perceive (as directed by the zionist mass media), and they signal each other to “believe” for rewards from their group, whether it is church, town, or business.

      The tyrant over democracy must have war to pose falsely as protector and accuse his moral superiors of disloyalty. War requires a wave of fear created with propaganda.

  8. exiled off mainstreet
    November 6, 2016 at 5:42 pm

    Libya was a war crime and a crime against humanity. The yankee imperium used its destabilisation of Libya to create its destabilisation of Syria. Meanwhile, false flag accusations about the Ghouta gas attack in 2013, which evidence reveals was done by the terrorist rebels, were used to try to achieve direct yankee intervention on behalf of the terrorists. Recent wikileaks evidence shows that even the Clintons, who have also been financed by the same sources, the Saudis and Kuwait, know that these regimes are funding the terrorists. Meanwhile, Obama’s support of the Saudi jihad against Yemen, itself an indisputable war crime, renders absurd any statements the yankee regime makes concerning Russian war crimes, particularly since the destabilisation and destruction of the Ukraine appears to have been payback by yankee elements for Putin’s successful diplomatic prevention of the yankee destruction of Syria in 2013. “War crimes are us” is the motto of the 21st century yankee imperium beginning with the occupation of Afghanistan and the illegal destruction of Iraq, Sudan, Libya, and other areas.

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