Crime and Punishment?

“Whoever, whether inside or outside the United States, commits a war crime, in any of the circumstances described in subsection (b) [torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, performing biological experiments, murder, mutilation or maiming, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, rape, sexual assault or abuse, taking hostages], shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for life or any term of years, or both, and if death results to the victim, shall also be subject to the penalty of death…. The term ‘war crime’ means any conduct defined as a grave breach in any of the international conventions signed at Geneva 12 August 1949, or any protocol to such convention to which the United States is a party; … when the United States is a party to such protocol, willfully kills or causes serious injury to civilians.” —United States Code § 2441. War crimes

On December 30, 2006, Saddam Hussein was executed for a war crime: killing 148 Iraqis in the town of Dujail in 1982. Following Hussein’s hanging, President Bush issued a statement that read, in part: “Fair trials were unimaginable under Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical rule. It is a testament to the Iraqi people’s resolve to move forward after decades of repression that, despite his terrible crimes against his own people, Saddam Hussein received a fair trial. This would not have been possible without the Iraqi people’s determination to create a society governed by the rule of law.”

With that in mind, I submit the following events for your consideration:

December, 2001: The Bush administration asked John Yoo, then a lawyer in the Justice Department, to define “torture.” In writing his “Torture Memos” he decided that waterboarding was legal; that the Geneva Convention didn’t apply in the War on Terror; and that cruel and unusual punishment was fine, because the Eighth Amendment didn’t apply because it only ruled out extreme punishment after criminal conviction. Yoo has a framed card on is wall from John Ashcroft that reads: “Thank you for your excellent service to America. We are stronger and safer because of you.” (torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, performing biological experiments, murder, mutilation or maiming, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, rape, sexual assault or abuse, taking hostages)

November 2003: The Grocery Manufacturers of America estimates that about 75% of all processed foods in the United States contain genetically engineered plants, a process that the government started in the 90s without the consent of the American people. Many scientists—including those cited in this article from MIT’s The Thistle—argue that this constitutes experimentation with the health and well-being of U.S. citizens, as the long-term effects of ingesting these modified foods has not been studied. (performing biological experiments)

January, 13, 2004: Specialist Joseph Darby delivered evidence of detainee abuse to the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command. Photos and videos proved that soldiers urinated on prisoners, beat them, jumped on already injured limbs so that they would never heal properly, poured acid on them, sodomized them, dragged them by ropes tied to their penises and shot them. (torture, sexual assault or abuse, mutilation or maiming, cruel or inhuman treatment, murder)

April 11, 2005: Reports surface that American soldiers took two Iraqi women hostage to force their male relatives to give themselves up. The note left on the gate read: “Be a man Muhammad Mukhlif and give yourself up and then we will release your sisters. Otherwise they will spend a long time in detention.” (taking hostages)

March 2008: A 14-year-old Iraqi girl was raped, murdered and burned by two American soldiers (after they murdered her parents and 5-year-old sister). (rape, sexual assault or abuse, murder)

January, 13, 2009: Susan J. Crawford, the top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to try Guantanamo Bay detainees in court found that Mohamed al-Qahtani had been held and tortured for seven years. “The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent…. You think of torture, you think of some horrendous physical act done to an individual. This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive. Clearly coercive. It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge.” (torture)

January 26, 2009: estimates that between 90,441 and 98,730 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the war began. (murder, intentionally causing serious bodily injury)

Hmmm. Where is the American people’s “determination to create a society governed by the rule of law”? Is electing Barack Obama a step in the right direction? What do you think the next step should be?


If you like Kenrya’s opinion, check out the rest of her posts here.

Last 5 posts by kenrya

  • Derek

    Thanks, Kenrya, for this hugely important post. Yes, electing Obama was a step in the right direction, but he is extremely unlikely to make any effort to prosecute or even investigate these and other war crimes, absent an overwhelming crescendo of voices from the American people (and probably not even then). Instead, Obama has indicated a conciliatory “bygones” stance with regard to the outgoing Administration, and — probably because they were such complicit enablers — the Washington press corps would rather let sleeping dogs lie, so no such crescendo will ever be “heard.” Even worse, to me, is the fact that Obama has already committed a war crime, unilaterally ordering the bombing of targets in Pakistan last week:

    “Thousands of tribesmen on Saturday attended the funeral prayers of the victims of Friday’s drone attacks in the North and South Waziristan Agencies. They condemned the killings and asked US President Barack Obama to spend the money on the welfare of the tribal people instead of killing them with sophisticated weapons. . . They claimed that all those killed in the attack were innocent and local villagers, who had nothing to do with militancy or Taliban.”

    To quote Juan Cole: “Bombing Pakistan unilaterally is illegal in international law where Pakistan has not attacked the United States or where there is no United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing such an attack. Please see the Charter of the United Nations, to which the US is a signatory. If the US had a formal treaty with Pakistan, signed off by the legislatures of the two countries, that permitted hot pursuit of militants from Afghan territory, that would bestow a basic legality on it. But the only warrant for the US to shoot Hellfire missiles into Pakistan and kill Pakistani women and children along with militants, is the Bush Doctrine . . . .”

    Now that Obama has begun committing his own war crimes, how likely is it that he’ll pursue investigation or prosecution of those committed by the Bush Administration?

  • kenrya

    To my mind, not at all likely, Derek, which is precisely what prompted me to write this post. I know Obama said all along that he would go after folks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but I have to say my heart dropped into my stomach when I heard about last week’s attack.

  • Derek

    I know you know. Purely rhetorical question, as was the one with which you ended your post.

    This is as good a time as ever to point out that while Obama’s victory was a huge step forward, it could end up amounting to a net setback for real change unless progressives remain vocal and loyal to their ideals rather than to the man. By “net setback” I mean that while it’s relatively easy and rather obvious (yet still commendable) for a moderate like Obama to undo some of the worst missteps of the Bush Administration, we’ll be lucky if we ever get to see real change to some of the broader and more insidious American institutions that predate the Bush regime: Things like the military industrial complex, the prison industrial complex, unwavering and unconditional support for Israeli atrocities, unfair globalist trade practices, and American exceptionalism in general. I’m not at all accusing you of this, but there’s real danger in shielding Obama from criticism or in sitting back and deciding that all is well now, that the progressive dream has been realized. If we do that, if we give our blanket seal of approval to this administration, we in effect normalize such things as the idea that American presidents are above the law, or the notion that it is the basic right of the American military to bomb whomever it pleases, or even the underlying assumption that American foreign policy does and ought to consist mainly in militarism. If the American people allow themselves to be deceived into believing that Obama represents real, deep progressivism, it will be that much harder to pull off their blinders and imagine a future in which the US behaves like other countries.

    That’s why I’m so glad to see you posting on this topic. Where there’s hypocrisy, let’s expose it. And professing deep regard for the rule of law while refusing to prosecute those who have been reliably accused of breaking it — all the while committing war crimes oneself — is the very definition of hypocrisy.