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In the U.S., crimes against humanity don’t warrant impeachment

February 25, 2020
topic:Political violence
tags:#USA, #impeachment, #war crimes, #torture, #International Criminal Court, #Rome Statute, #Democrats, #Republicans
by:Yair Oded
Under the leadership of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Congress impeached President Trump in December for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

The abuse of power charge related to Trump’s withholding of Congress-sanctioned military aid to Ukraine as an attempt to blackmail the Ukrainian president into announcing an investigation into Trump’s political rival, Joe Biden, and his son. The obstruction of Congress charge referred to Trump’s refusal to cooperate with the investigation of the House of Representatives into his actions and instructing his staff to defy their subpoenas.

After being impeached by the House, Trump was acquitted by the Republican-controlled Senate, with GOP senators refusing to call in witnesses and all but ignoring the evidence implicating the president in high crimes and misdemeanors. 

The kangaroo proceedings orchestrated by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should alarm every American, as they bluntly placed partisan interest over the rule of law. But as we contemplate what went down in this recent impeachment drama, let us expand our lenses and consider two things: firstly, why did Democrats focus only on Trump’s Ukraine scandal in their articles of impeachment and disregarded the slew of war crimes and flagrant human rights violations committed by him? And, secondly - how come U.S. presidents have thus far been spared from facing impeachment charges over their extensive illegal military campaigns abroad, killings of civilians, and torturing of prisoners?

From Jackson to Trump - a bloody record of illegal wars

One of the hard truths Americans struggle to face about their political legacy is that the hands of a great number of U.S. presidents are tainted by innocent blood. For centuries, American presidents from both parties have committed, participated in or facilitated egregious war crimes and human rights violations for which they faced no repercussions.

Back in 1831, President Andrew Jackson sanctioned The Trail of Tears - the forced removal of roughly 60,000 Native Americans from their ancestral lands to the designated “Indian Territory” west of the Mississippi River. Throughout this brutal campaign, which was then continued by President Martin Van Buren, American troops raided and looted Native American villages and forced them to embark on an arduous journey westward, during which over 5,000 of them perished. 

Such war crimes plague virtually every presidency in modern U.S history as well. 

During the Vietnam War, which had cost the lives of over 3 million people (including 58,000 Americans), presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon repeatedly misled the American people about an imminent Communist threat to their safety and inspired fear and paranoia in order to perpetuate what is today viewed as a useless and illegal war. 

Then between 1979 and 1990, presidents Roland Reagan and George H. Bush funded ruthless militias, known as Contras, in Nicaragua in order to overthrow the socialist Nicaraguan government. Once news spread regarding the atrocious human rights violations committed by the Contras and their murder of civilians (including women and children), the Reagan administration downplayed such violations and secretly encouraged the continuation of the carnage as a way to bring the country to its knees. After Congress had banned the support of the Contras, the White House engaged in secret, illegal arms sales to the government of Iran, the proceeds from which were covertly funneled to the Contras in Nicaragua. 

During the Clinton presidency, the U.S. military commenced a relentless bombardment campaign in Iraq and enacted crippling economic sanctions that devastated the country and wreaked havoc among civilians. According to a 1995 study sponsored by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation, an estimated 576,000 children under the age of five died as a result of the sanctions. When asked about the death of these Iraqi children on national television back in 1996, Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, replied, “We think it’s worth it.”

Clinton’s successor, President George W. Bush capitalised on the post 9/11 hysteria in the U.S. and made false claims that Sadam Hussein was well on his way to acquiring a nuclear bomb in order to launch an even deadlier war against Iraq and orchestrate an illegal regime change there and in Afghanistan.

As part of his War on Terror, President Bush opened the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison camp in 2002 - a military detention facility where detainees were subject to torture and inhumane interrogation tactics - and began spying on millions of Muslim Americans. 

Later on, President Obama embraced and expanded the U.S. drone programme, and during his first year in office launched more drone strikes than Bush had throughout his entire presidency. It is estimated that Obama’s total of 563 strikes (which were expanded to Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia) resulted in the deaths of between 384 and 807 civilians. Furthermore, while Obama decreased the prison population size at Guantanamo Bay, the remaining prisoners were still subject to torture through waterboarding and force-feeding. 

Trump, who during his campaign trail had practically vowed to commit war crimes (by, for instance, promising to kill terrorists’ relatives), stayed true to his word. Since his inauguration in January 2017, Trump aggressively expanded air strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Somalia. So far, Trump’s air strikes resulted in thousands of civilian casualties, although the exact numbers are impossible to predict since the president issued an order permitting the CIA to keep under wraps the number of civilians killed in U.S. airstrikes in Yemen, Pakistan, and North Africa.

Trump has also vetoed a resolution by Congress to cease American aid to Saudi Arabia’s bloody war in Yemen and, more recently, ordered the killing of Irani General Qassim Suleimani in Iraq and refused to abide by the Iraqi parliament’s decision calling on U.S. troops to evacuate from the country. 

Defying  U.S. and international laws

The unbridled use of military force in foreign countries by U.S. presidents violate both U.S. and international laws and charters. Under Article One of the U.S. Constitution, Congress is endowed with the power to declare war, while Article Two designates the President as commander in chief of the armed forces. Following the Vietnam War, the House of Representatives passed the War Powers Resolution (1973) in order to limit the president’s ability to enter the country into an armed conflict and highlight that only Congress is endowed with the authority to wage war. 

Furthermore, The War Crimes Act of 1996, which was signed into law by President Clinton, states that any breaches of the Geneva Convention, including torture and inhumane treatment, would be prosecuted by the government.

Both of these laws have been repeatedly violated by U.S. presidents. 

Internationally, the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court lays out four core international crimes, among which are war crimes and crimes of aggression (both of which were committed by U.S. administrations, the latest being Trump’s assassination of Suleimani). The Rome Statute also prohibits aiding and abetting other nation’s crimes - a provision that is repeatedly violated by the U.S. as it throws its support behind countless illegitimate wars and military operations (such as the Saudi war in Yemen, Turkey’s war crimes in Syria, numerous coups in South America, etc.)

While the U.S. isn’t party to the Rome Statute, its nationals could still technically be prosecuted if the violations take place on a territory of a country that is signatory to the statute or in cases where the UN Security Council decides to prosecute them (something that never occurs since the U.S. has veto power in the Council). 

Finally, the UN Charter, which is embedded in U.S. law and binds its government, states that no country shall use military force against another unless it has been sanctioned by the Security Council or if it is acting in self-defence. American presidents continue to disregard these provisions, and often resort to lying about or hyperbolising imminent security threats as a way to justify unlawful military operations. 

War: a bi-partisan love affair

It is safe to state that such a steady record of war crimes and acts of aggression by U.S. presidents could not have come to exist without the unwavering support of a majority of lawmakers on both sides of the isle. Time and time again, both Republicans and Democrats opt to shield presidents from culpability for unlawful military operations, and disregard the legal instruments designed to rein in the war powers of the commander in chief. 

Throughout U.S. history, Congress has never used its authority to bring charges against a president under the War Crimes Act or the Torture statute. Such unwillingness to press charges against presidents for war crimes was evident, for example, in House Speaker Pelosi’s refusal to launch an impeachment investigation against President Bush following the Iraq War - “I have said it before and I will say it again: Impeachment is off the table,” Pelosi said in 2006. More recently, Pelosi was reluctant to expand the scope of Trump’s articles of impeachment to include his illegal military operations abroad. 

But it isn’t only inaction on lawmakers' part that permits presidents to commit war crimes without restriction, but also the formers’ proactive mounting of obstacles in the face of justice. In 2002, the Hague Invasion Act was passed with bi-partisan support, and stipulated that the president can take action to liberate American military personnel prosecuted in international criminal courts to which the U.S. isn’t party. 

Human rights at the bottom of the food chain

What lies behind this culture of permissiveness around presidents committing war crimes? Some political analysts argue that vocalising opposition against any military operation is a highly unpopular step to take. A politician attempting to criticise the use of military force could be portrayed as a ‘traitor’ seeking to weaken America’s position on the international stage and compromise its security.

Naturally, the military industrial complex, and the enormous sway arms manufacturers hold over establishment politicians from both parties, plays a big role in preventing the usage of military force from coming under scrutiny. 

It can be argued, however, that at the core of it all lies a basic, alarming disregard for human rights by world leaders and major players. In our society’s race for financial dominance and exertion of unlimited power - the concept of human rights has been cast aside and trampled on to such an extent that it bears virtually no weight in the decision making process of governments and corporations. 

Centuries of brutal military campaigns made it clear that in the eyes of the American government, the lives of foreign nationals, particularly those from developing countries, are worth significantly less than those of Americans. Although it seems that, ultimately, the same disregard for human rights applies to American citizens as well. In a most recent example, President Trump has repeatedly violated the human rights of his own citizens by, for instance, slashing programs designed to help people from low-income backgrounds, gutting environmental mechanisms and attempting to strengthen the fossil fuel industry (which has a direct affect on the safety and health of the population). 

Only when the public takes it upon itself to remind lawmakers of the inalienable rights granted to people by the U.S. constitution and international conventions, and only when we, the people, insist with conviction that these rights prevail over financial and imperial interests - will our leaders be compelled to prosecute the violations of such rights, whether they are committed by ordinary citizens or government officials. 

Article written by:
yair oded profile
Yair Oded
Managing Editor, Author
Embed from Getty Images
One of the hard truths Americans struggle to face about their political legacy is that the hands of a great number of U.S. presidents are tainted by innocent blood.
Embed from Getty Images
Back in 1831, President Andrew Jackson sanctioned The Trail of Tears - the forced removal of roughly 60,000 Native Americans from their ancestral lands to the designated “Indian Territory” west of the Mississippi River.
Embed from Getty Images
During the Vietnam War, which had cost the lives of over 3 million people (including 58,000 Americans), presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon repeatedly misled the American people
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