The Politics of War Crimes

January 28, 2010 | By | 4 Replies More

I sometimes can’t shake the feeling that everything is wrong.  Down is up, wrong is right, war is peace, and lies are truth.

Take, for example, the issue of torture. We as a society have regressed to the point where we find it acceptable to use torture.  We use it explicitly, openly, without any concern for the consequences.  Of course, some of the consequences (like increasing terrorism) are inevitable, whether we choose to be concerned with them or not.  But that’s really beside the point– right now I am just amazed that we torture people.  That, and the fact that it’s mostly uncontroversial.  The Land of the Free, the Home of the Brave, with tyranny and torture for all.

Since the usual arguments against our torture policy have proven ineffective, I want to elaborate a bit.  The usual arguments involve questions of efficacy– that is, whether torture is effective or not. (It’s not).  In fact, the CIA officer who argued that waterboarding was so effective that it cracked hardcore terrorists the first time  (and within 30 seconds!) has now recanted his story.  When he came out with the story of how waterboarding worked so well, he was called the “Man of the Hour”, but now hardly anyone is mentioning that it was all lies.  Go figure that a CIA guy would lie to his own countrymen too, right?   In any case, the issue of waterboarding, or any of the various “enhanced interrogation techniques“, is a red herring.  The truth is that we are engaged in far worse abuses.

The rack: archaic torture device. via Wikipedia

The rack: archaic torture device. via Wikipedia

You may be able to rationalize to yourself the necessity to waterboard a terrorist, especially if were to prevent some imminent terrorist attack.  But can you also rationalize the following?

  • the United States had imprisoned 2,500 children since 2002 as part of the War on Terror.  You say that doesn’t sound so bad?  We’re just warming up…
  • We then sodomized some of those children, sometimes in front of their mothers.  “And the worst above all of that is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking that your government has.”  Sometimes we sodomized the women.  Maybe you can rationalize that too.  After all, to borrow the words of a senior general, they’re “only Iraqis.” And since when have we cared about Iraqis anyway?  Not since before at least 1996, when then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright opined that the death of some half-million Iraqi children due to US sanctions was “worth it”.
  • Maybe you can rationalize that torture is OK, because we found a lawyer who says it’s legal.  In fact, this lawyer also indicated we can go much further.  Say the President has a evil, nasty terrorist in custody and also happens to have the terrorist’s child in custody.  According to this lawyer, there is no law nor treaty that says it’s illegal for the President to crush the testicles of the innocent child, in order to get answers from the terrorist.
  • But, you may argue that the issue of testicle-crushing was based on a hypothetical question.  Certainly we would never do anything like that in real life?  I suppose that remains to be seen, based on the results of some non-existent investigation into exactly what has been done in our name.  What we do know, is that there are reports of locking children in confined spaces, with insects crawling over them, in the hopes that would persuade their fathers to talk.  Children, aged 7 and 9, tortured for hours at a time.  The reports indicate that the boys were also tied up in debilitating positions for hours on end and beaten.
  • Ah, but these are terrorists!  They are not uniformed members of a military, they are “unlawful combatants” and cannot therefore expect the same protections that we offer during more civilized wars (and what an oxymoron that is!).   Well, that’s certainly a convenient fiction, but fiction nonetheless.  Quoting from the Wikipedia article on “unlawful combatants” : “Every person in enemy hands must be either a prisoner of war and, as such, be covered by the Third Convention; or a civilian covered by the Fourth Convention. Furthermore, “There is no intermediate status; nobody in enemy hands can be outside the law,” because in the opinion of the ICRC, “If civilians directly engage in hostilities, they are considered ‘unlawful’ or ‘unprivileged’ combatants or belligerents (the treaties of humanitarian law do not expressly contain these terms). They may be prosecuted under the domestic law of the detaining state for such action”.”  So either they are prisoners of war and entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions, or they are not, and may be “prosecuted under the domestic law”.  Nothing there that allows torture, especially not torture of the children of an “unlawful combatant”.  Nevermind also, that many of these people who have been detained as terrorists have been released due to a complete lack of any sort of evidence.
  • Well, those dark days are behind us.  The Bush Administration has gone and now we have the Obama Administration.  Candidate Obama campaigned on ending the use of torture, ending extreme rendition programs (whereby we outsource the torture to other countries), and closing the Guantanamo Bay facility (see here, pg. 6).  In fact, on 21 January, 2009 President Obama signed an executive order that ordered Guantanamo Bay closed within one year.  What’s the date today?  Oh, and President Obama disagrees with Candidate Obama on the other areas as well– rendition flights continue, as does torture.
  • In fact, Obama has merely shifted the hemisphere of the abuses.  Rather than continue the worst of the abuses at Guantanamo, they have been moved to Bagram, Afghanistan.  One human-rights lawyer reported “In terms of torture and abuse, Bagram has a far worse history than Guantanamo. There are at least two detainees who died there after being tortured by US interrogators. One of them was strung up by interrogators by his wrists, and then beaten until his legs were “pulpified,” according to the military’s own autopsy report…   Bagram has always been a torture chamber…”  How badly do you have to torture someone before their legs become “pulpified”?
  • Nor are those the only two detainees to die in US custody.  General Barry McCaffrey said “We should never, as a policy, maltreat people under our control, detainees. We tortured people unmercifully. We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the C.I.A.”   Journalist and Human Rights Watch researcher John Sifton puts the number higher than dozens: “To date approximately 100 detainees, including CIA-held detainees, have died during U.S. interrogations, and some are known to have been tortured to death.”
  • Some of those who died in our custody, we called “suicides”.  Now, it’s becoming apparent that they were not suicides at all.  That is, unless you believe the official story which argues that “each prisoner had fashioned a noose from torn sheets and T-shirts and tied it to the top of his cell’s eight-foot-high steel-mesh wall. Each prisoner was able somehow to bind his own hands, and, in at least one case, his own feet, then stuff more rags deep down into his own throat. We are then asked to believe that each prisoner, even as he was choking on those rags, climbed up on his washbasin, slipped his head through the noose, tightened it, and leapt from the washbasin to hang until he asphyxiated. The NCIS report also proposes that the three prisoners, who were held in non-adjoining cells, carried out each of these actions almost simultaneously.”  The bodies which the families received following military autopsies were missing key structures in the neck which would be needed to prove murder by strangulation, rather than by hanging.  Their families indicate there is no way any of the three would have committed suicide.  Two of them were already cleared for release.  The only thing complicating the release of the third man was diplomatic relations between the US and Yemen.  Again, this bears repeating: these men were innocent of any crime.  They were not terrorists, they were people who had been unjustly swept up in our overzealous “War on Terror”.  Please, read the whole article at Harper’s by Scott Horton.

So to summarize– we have tortured and raped children, we have tortured and raped women, we have tortured people to the point of insanity, and we have tortured people to death.  We have attempted to cover up all of the above, and continue to do so.  We have done all this in flagrant violation of international law, not to mention basic humanity.  Our political leaders are so obviously and uncontroversially war criminals that there is even a Wikipedia entry detailing assorted war crimes perpetrated by the United States (and others).  These war crimes include the ongoing war in Iraq, which is classified as a “crime against peace”.

The Principles of the Nuremberg Tribunal, which were adopted by the UN in 1950 make the above actions war crimes.  They are also “grave violations” of the Geneva Conventions, a cornerstone of international law.  Wikipedia says “Nations are also obligated to search for persons alleged to commit these crimes, or ordered them to be committed, and to bring them to trial regardless of their nationality and regardless of the place where the crimes took place.”  There doesn’t seem to be an exception for those who wish to look forward, not back.

The corruption and rot in our system can never be purged as long as we allow these gross violations of human rights and heinous contraventions of international law to go unpunished.  We have brought other torturers and war criminals to justice, we must be willing to do so again. The only difference is that the war criminals are our leaders this time, instead of the leaders of Yugoslavia or Nazi Germany.  Crimes deserve to be punished; we are a nation of laws, or so we are told.  Just ask Timmy “Turbo-tax” Geithner, who became Secretary of the Treasury despite failing to pay his income taxes.  Nor was he the only Cabinet-level appointee to have that problem, although to my knowledge he is the only one testifying on Capitol Hill this week as to his role in a cover-up of the circumstances surrounding the AIG bailout(s).  But I would suggest that until we can confront the most vicious and flagrant violations of the law, we will continue to see examples of fraud, waste, corruption, and abuse from the highest levels of our government.  If we cannot say that torturing and murdering innocent men, women and children is wrong, then nothing is wrong and we should have no expectation of justice ourselves.

Francis A. Boyle, Professor of International Law at the University of Illinois, has filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court requesting that they begin an investigation into these Crimes against Humanity.   The complaint specifically names George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, George Tenet, Condoleezza Rice, and Alberto Gonzales, but the article notes that the Obama adminstration must end the criminal practices of extreme rendition and torture or they risk being named in a future complaint.   If you wish to support the rule of law and put an end to the torture and murder that has been perpetrated in our names, please contact Professor Boyle and express your support at the following address:

Francis A. Boyle
Professor of International Law
Law Building
504 East Pennsylvania Avenue
Champaign, Illinois 61820
Phone: 217-333-7954 – Fax: 217-244-1478


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Category: Corruption, Current Events, law and order, Social justice, War

About the Author ()

is a full-time wage slave and part-time philosopher, writing and living just outside Omaha with his lovely wife and two feline roommates.

Comments (4)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Brynn: You've made a stunningly clear case. Thank you for bringing all of this information together in one place.

    This is an ongoing problem crying out for a solution. The big questions are A) Why do we allow this to continue and B) How do we stop it?

    I'm convinced that Barack Obama thinks that he need to avoid displaying any sign of military weakness, hence his failure to wind down two wars that are draining the economy and helping no one. I suspect that he doesn't halt the torture because he doesn't want to be accused of being soft on terrorism.

    In the meantime, I'm disgusted by these wars and these acts of terrorism that go on in my name.

    I don't want to sound like a broken record, but I suspect that too many Americans just don't CARE that we engage in torture. They just don't consider it to be their problem. And they don't care if the government spies on them.… They figure that there's bad guys out there that should be roughed up. I wonder whether Americans think like this because they watch too much television violence.

    How could we possibly rid average Americans of this malaise? I'm convinced that if 100 people set themselves on fire in front of the White House in protest it would do nothing to stop the torture. If we sent a petition to Congress with 10 million signatures, it would do nothing. If we voted in an entirely new group of politicians, it would do no good. I'm afraid that the threat of terrorism complete with images of Middle Eastern men with bombs is just too overwhelming to American emotions.

    Further, the threat of terror and war is just too tempting a card to play for politicians who want to look strong. Torturing people (so many of them innocent) is a powerful display of seriousness, even if it elicits no important strategic information from the torture victims.

    Any ideas? What would it take to make this a moral issue in which typical Americans feel that they have a stake?

  2. Tim Hogan says:

    I suggest the good professor put the bastards on mock trial for war crimes!

    Get the full facts as we may be able to have them assembled in one arena and dislose them daily. Perhaps televise the mock trial daily on YouTube.

    On a different note, I heard recently that Rummy had as many as five guys to use for decoys so he wouldn't be found!

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's a kind of "terror" we don't discuss much here in the U.S., probably because we are causing it. This is from Amy Goodman at

    "Night raids are US military operations, usually done by Special Forces, that happen at night. They occur when US forces enter people’s homes in the middle of the night, often to find suspects or to look for weapons. Very often, they’ll take people away, and sometimes they even end up killing civilians in the process.

    And one thing I found going throughout the country and interviewing people is that these night raids, which aren’t really talked about outside of Afghanistan, the night raids are the most unpopular actions of coalition forces, more so than air strikes that kill civilians. They’re seen as a major affront to local culture, to the extent where people are actually scared in many places to actually go to sleep at night, because they don’t know who will burst through the door at night and take away their loved ones."

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