How to Commit War Crimes and Get Away With It

Since the War on Terror began almost 20 years ago, there has been no serious war crime investigation of any power that is closely aligned with the US.

By Vijay Prashad and cross-posted from Asia Times.

As President Donald Trump fired his navy secretary on Twitter. The main reason was that the navy secretary did not follow Trump’s advice regarding Special Warfare Operator Edward Gallagher. Trump wanted Gallagher to retain his position as a Navy SEAL (Sea, Air and Land Team member). Gallagher was accused of stabbing to death a wounded ISIS fighter in 2017; he was also accused of other incidents including the murders of a schoolgirl and an elderly man, and then of obstruction of justice. In July this year, 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 on to the front pages only because of Trump’s intervention. Otherwise, when such 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 US-NATO war on Afghanistan began in 2001, while the US war on Iraq began in 2003. Hardly a day goes by in these countries when 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 Physicians for Human Rights. In 2009, it became clear that the administration of US president 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

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