It’s true – Russian president Vladimir Putin is a war criminal. As I wrote when the conflict with Ukraine began: “the attack on Ukraine was a clear violation of international law, and there is absolutely no excuse for this invasion.”
In fact, launching a war of aggression is the most serious crime under international law. As the Nuremberg tribunal stated in the aftermath of the Second World War:
“To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”
The International Criminal Court, which was created over two decades ago to investigate war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity, established a treaty known as the Rome Statute.
And yes, the International Criminal Court was right to issue an arrest warrant for Putin’s actions, specifically for the unlawful deportation of Ukrainian children from occupied areas of Ukraine to Russia.
Not surprisingly, there was a bipartisan push in Congress to hold Putin to account for his horrific actions.
And yet – the hypocrisy of the U.S. and its allies is astounding.
It’s not just that Washington (like Moscow) has never officially joined the ICC or recognized its right to hold their leaders accountable.
The most glaring element of U.S. hypocrisy is that its leaders have been guilty of dozens and dozens of more brutal war crimes, beginning with the genocidal treatment of the Native peoples of this continent, extending to the Monroe doctrine and its invasions of countries such as Cuba, the Philippines, and Mexico. (President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1904 ‘corollary’ to the Monroe Doctrine asserted the U.S. government’s right to invade any country in the Western Hemisphere).
However, this short essay will just deal with some of the worst war crimes that Washington has committed since the Second World War.
In 1953, the United States and its ally, Great Britain, staged a coup against the democratically-elected and non-sectarian government of Iran, primarily to prevent the Iranian people from gaining control of their own oil fields. Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, was a beloved figure in Iran. During his tenure, he introduced a range of social and economic policies, the most significant being the nationalization of the Iranian oil industry. The U.S. and Britain then staged a coup and installed Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah, whose brutal dictatorship was overthrown in 1979 by the fundamentalist religious forces of the Ayatollah Khomeini – and which is still in power today.
(In 2013, the CIA publicly admitted for the first time its involvement in the 1953 coup).
In 1954, the CIA destroyed the democratic government of Guatemala, whose President, Jacobo Árbenz, had the audacity to declare that the U.S.-based United Fruit Company should give some land back to the poor peasants of his country. A vicious dictatorship was then installed. (By a strange “coincidence”, U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother, CIA director Allen Dulles, had close ties to the United Fruit Company).
Overall, the U.S. intervened militarily in Latin America dozens of times in the 1950s and beyond, such as the military coups in Brazil and Chile, invading Panama and Grenada (and the Bay of Pigs in Cuba) and perhaps most dramatically in Central America, especially in the 1980s. They backed the death squads in Honduras and El Salvador and launched a full-scale guerrilla war against the democratic Sandinista government of Nicaragua, which escalated dramatically under Ronald Reagan.
As detailed by David Vine in, The United States of War, the CIA-run “contras” killed 40-50,000 Nicaraguans.” Moreover, according to former Foreign Service officer Todd Greentree, the Contras were, “‘brigands and brutes who raped women, executed prisoners, and enjoyed murdering civilians.'”
The toll was: “75,000 dead in El Salvador, and 200,000 dead in Guatemala, in what’s widely considered a genocide. The majority in each case were civilians and poor peasants…”
Overall, “between just 1946 and 2000, the CIA intervened in an estimated eighty-one national elections…” around the world.
The U.S. supported government repression in Indonesia in the mid-1960s that resulted in the deaths of between 800,000 to a million civilians.
And then there was the genocidal U.S. attack on Vietnam (as well as Cambodia and Laos).
When the French colonialists were defeated in Vietnam in 1954, the Geneva Treaty called for national elections in 1956. Washington sabotaged it because, as President Eisenhower admitted, the nationalist leader Ho Chi Minh would win 80% of the vote. So “Ike” created a puppet dictatorship in the southern part of Vietnam and installed its leader. When Vietnamese resistance came close to victory in the early 1960s, Washington increased its military presence.
It seems that John F. Kennedy had decided in 1963 to start withdrawing troops, but he did not live to carry out his plan.
In 1964, then President Lyndon Johnson orchestrated a phony “attack” supposedly carried out by the North Vietnamese against U.S. warships. This “Gulf of Tonkin” lie led the U.S. Congress to give Johnson a blank check to escalate the killing and extend the bombing to North Vietnam.
The war crimes committed by the United States in Indochina ranged from horrific massacres, such as at My Lai, to carpet bombing and the use of napalm, a chemical which sticks to a person’s skin while it burns.
The United States dropped more bombs on Indochina that in all of World War Two.
As I noted elsewhere,
“Although the United States lost the military conflict, more than three million Indochinese were killed, with more than 58,000 Americans dead or missing. By the standards established by the United States and its allies after the Second World War at Nuremburg and in the UN Charter, Mr. Johnson and his advisers would be considered war criminals.”
Johnson, his sucessor Richard Nixon, and Nixon’s Secretary of State Henry Kissinger are all war criminals.
In the 1980s, Washington was a strong ally of the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, providing billions in aid and supporting him in the war with Iran, even after Hussain used poison gas against his Kurdish citizens. However, that relationship deteriorated, and after the United States attacked Iraq following its invasion of Kuwait, President George H. W. Bush declared the end of the so-called “Vietnam syndrome” – the reluctance of the U.S. public to support large-scale wars.
The brutal sanctions that Bush and President Clinton imposed on Iraq brought incredible suffering to the people of that country. In one of the most shocking moments during a 60 Minutes interview in 1996, journalist Lesley Stahl discussed with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright how much the Iraqi people had been suffering from the sanctions placed on the country following 1991’s Gulf War. “We have heard that half a million [Iraqi] children have died. I mean, that is more children than died in Hiroshima,” Stahl said. “And, you know, is the price worth it?” “I think that is a very hard choice,” Albright answered, “but the price, we think, the price is worth it.”
While the figure was later found by public health specialists to be exaggerated, child mortality in Iraq, before and after the 2003 U.S. invasion, has been twice that of neighboring countries.
Finally, there is the all-out U.S. attack on Iraq and Afghanistan that began 20 years ago.
“Removing Saddam Hussein from power had been a long-term goal for many in the Bush/Cheney administration…Shortly before the 2000 presidential election, a prominent group of neoconservatives, organized as the Project for a New American Century, articulated this goal…of ensuring complete U.S. geopolitical-economic domination…” [David Vine. The United States of War, p. 272.] The terrorist attacks of 9/11 gave these warmongers an excuse to launch what Bush called a “crusade” in the Middle East, which as Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve acknowledged was: “…largely about oil”.
As I have noted,
As everyone now knows, the Bush administration made two serious allegations as their excuse to begin what UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan…called an “illegal” war: that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and that ties existed between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.
Both were lies.
This act of ‘preventive’ war was a violation of international law, and George Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and others in that circle may also be considered war criminals.
And, I would add, so should Colin Powell, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and a host of lesser bureaucrats who knew better, but who chose to support an invasion that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and perhaps two hundred thousand Afghans, and has contributed so much to the violence and misery in the Middle East today, including millions of desperate refugees.
Needless to say, none of these criminals have ever faced justice.
So yes, do call out Putin for the war criminal that he is, but his crimes pale in comparison to those of so many of the people in power in Washington.