How to Commit War Crimes—and Get Away With It
By Vijay Prashad
December 08, 2019 "Information Clearing House" - U.S. President Donald Trump sacked his Navy secretary on Twitter. The main reason is that the Navy secretary did not follow Trump’s advice regarding Navy Special Warfare Operator Edward Gallagher. Trump wanted Gallagher to retain his position as a Navy Seal. Gallagher was accused of stabbing to death a wounded fighter of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) in 2017; he was also accused of other incidents of murder (of a schoolgirl and an elderly man), and then of obstruction of justice. In July 2019, a military court acquitted Gallagher of most of the charges but found him guilty of posing with the body of the fighter who had been stabbed to death.
Gallagher’s situation emerged onto the front pages only because of the intervention of Trump. Otherwise, these accusations of war crimes or “misconduct” emerge, they are sometimes investigated, and then they just dissipate. Report upon report has accumulated over the past 16 years of war crimes committed in Afghanistan and Iraq. The U.S.-NATO war on Afghanistan began in 2001, while the U.S. war on Iraq began in 2003. Hardly a day goes by in these countries where their combatants aren’t committing war crimes.
As early as December 21, 2001, the United Nations inquired about reports of “summary execution of prisoners after capture”; the immediate news was that about 2,000 Taliban prisoners at Qala-i-Jangi, near Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, had been “suffocated to death or shot in container trucks,” according to a report by the Physicians for Human Rights. In 2009, it became clear that the administration of George W. Bush had obstructed any investigation into this particular atrocity. Not one person has seen the inside of a court for this war crime.
What is a “war crime”? The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court—which went into effect in 2002 but was drafted in 1998—defines war crimes as “serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in international armed conflict.” These include attacks against civilians, attacks against those who have surrendered, attacks with biological and chemical weapons, and attacks against medical and cultural institutions.
The Rome Statute builds on 100 years of legal precedent established in the Geneva Conventions and the Hague Conventions. There is no ambiguity in the Statute, which should be read by schoolchildren in countries that are prone to prosecute wars.
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