War Criminals: Theirs and Ours
excerpted from the book
A Guide to the World's Only Superpower
by William Blum
Common Courage Press, 2000
On December 3, 1996, the US Justice Department issued a list
of 16 Japanese citizens who would be barred from entering the
United States because of "war crimes" committed during
the Second World War. Among those denied entry were some who were
alleged to have been members of the infamous "Unit 731",
which, said the Justice Department, "conducted inhumane and
frequently lethal pseudo-medical experiments-on thousands of...prisoners
and civilians," including mass dissections of living humans.
Oddly enough, after the war the man in charge of the Unit 731
program-whose test subjects included captured American soldiers.
General Shiro Ishii, along with a number of his colleagues, had
been granted immunity and freedom in exchange for providing the
United States with details about their experiments, and were promised
that their crimes would not be revealed to the world. The justification
for this policy, advanced by American scientists and military
officials, was, of course, the proverbial, ubiquitous "national
Apart from the hypocrisy of the Justice Department issuing
such a list, we are faced with the fact that any number of countries
would be justified in issuing a list of Americans barred from
entry because of "war crimes" and "crimes against
humanity". Such a list might include the following:
William Clinton, president, for his merciless bombing of the
people of Yugoslavia for 78 days and nights, taking the lives
of many hundreds of civilians, and producing one of the greatest
ecological catastrophes in history; for his relentless continuation
of the sanctions and rocket attacks upon the people of Iraq; and
for his illegal and lethal bombings of Somalia, Bosnia, Sudan
General Wesley Clark, Supreme Allied Commander in Europe,
for his direction of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia with an almost
sadistic fanaticism..."He would rise out of his seat and
slap the table. 'I've got to get the maximum violence out of this
George Bush, president, for the murder of hundreds of thousands
of innocent Iraqi civilians, including many thousands of children,
the result of his 40 days of bombing and the institution of draconian
sanctions; and for his unconscionable bombing of Panama, producing
widespread death, destruction and homelessness, for no discernible
reason that would stand up in a court of law.
General Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
for his prominent role in the attacks on Panama and Iraq, the
latter including destruction of nuclear reactors as well as plants
making biological and chemical agents. It was the first time ever
that live reactors had been bombed, and ran the risk of setting
a dangerous precedent. Hardly more than a month had passed since
the United Nations, under whose mandate the United States was
supposedly operating in Iraq, had passed a resolution reaffirming
its "prohibition of military attacks on nuclear facilities"
in the Middle East. In the wake of the destruction, Powell gloated:
"The two operating reactors they had are both gone, they're
down, they're finished." He was just as cavalier about the
lives of the people of Iraq. In response to a question concerning
the number of Iraqis killed in the war, the good general replied:
"It's really not a number I'm terribly interested in."
And for his part in the cover up of war crimes in Vietnam
by troops of the same brigade that carried out the My Lai massacre.
General Norman Schwarzkopf, Commander in Chief, U.S. Central
Command, for his military leadership of the Iraqi carnage; for
continuing the carnage two days after the cease-fire; for continuing
it against Iraqis trying to surrender.
Ronald Reagan, president, for eight years of death, destruction,
torture and the crushing of hope inflicted upon the people of
El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Grenada by his policies;
and for his bombings of Lebanon, Libya and Iran. He's forgotten
all this, but the world shouldn't.
Elliott Abrams, Assistant Secretary of State under Reagan,
for rewriting history, even as it was happening, by instituting
Iying as public policy. He was indispensable to putting the best
possible face on the atrocities being committed daily by the Contras
in Nicaragua and other Washington allies in Central America, thus
promoting continued support for them; a spinmeister for the ages,
who wrestled facts into ideological submission. "When history
is written," he declared "the Contras will be folk heroes."
Casper Weinberger, Secretary of Defense for seven years under
Reagan, for his official and actual responsibility for the numerous
crimes against humanity perpetrated by the United States in Central
America and the Caribbean, and for the bombing of Libya in 1986.
George Bush pardoned him for Iran-Contra, but he should not be
pardoned for his war crimes.
Lt. Col. Oliver North, assigned to Reagan's National Security
Council, for being a prime mover behind the Contras of Nicaragua
and for his involvement in the planning of the invasion of Grenada,
which took the lives of hundreds of innocent civilians.
Henry Kissinger (who has successfully combined three careers:
scholar, Nobel peace laureate, and war criminal), National Security
Adviser under Nixon and Secretary of State under Nixon and Ford,
for his Machiavellian, amoral, immoral roles in the US interventions
into Angola, Chile, East Timor, Iraq, Vietnam and Cambodia, which
brought unspeakable horror and misery to the peoples of those
Gerald Ford, president, for giving his approval to Indonesia
to use American arms to brutally suppress the people of East Timor,
thus setting in motion a quarter-century-long genocide.
Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense under presidents Kennedy
and Johnson, a prime architect of, and major bearer of responsibility
for, the slaughter in Indochina, from its early days to its extraordinary
escalations; and for the violent suppression of popular movements
General William Westmoreland, Army Chief of Staff, for the
numerous war crimes under his command in Vietnam. In 1971, Telford
Taylor, the chief US prosecutor at the post-World War II Nuremberg
Tribunal, cited the "Yamashita" case as grounds for
indicting Westmoreland. Following the war, a US Army Commission
had sentenced Japanese General Tomayuki Yamashita to be hung for
atrocities committed by his troops in the Philippines. The Commission
held that as the senior commander, Yamashita was responsible for
not stopping the atrocities. The same ruling could of course apply
to General Powell and General Schwarzkopf. Yamashita, in his defense,
presented considerable evidence that he had lacked the communications
to adequately control his troops; yet he was still hung. Taylor
pointed out that with helicopters and modern communications, Westmoreland
and his commanders didn't have this problem.
The crime of bombing
... the bombing of cities from airplanes goes not only unpunished
but virtually unaccused. This is a legacy of World War II. The
Nuremberg and Tokyo judgments are silent on the subject of aerial
bombardment. Since both sides had played a terrible game of urban
destruction-the Allies far more successfully-there was no basis
for criminal charges against Germans or Japanese, and in fact
no such charges were brought. But as Telford Taylor has asked:
"Is there any significant difference between killing a babe-in-arms
by a bomb dropped from a high-flying aircraft, or by an infantryman's
point-blank gunfire?...The aviator's act [is described] as more
'impersonal' than the ground soldier's. This may be psychologically
valid, but surely is not morally satisfactory."
No one ever thinks they're guilty of anything...they're all
just good ol' patriots
"Asked whether he wants to apologize for the suffering
he caused, he looks genuinely confused, has the interpreter repeat
the question, and answers 'No'...'I want you to know that everything
I did, I did for my country." Journalist Nate Thayer interviewing
a dying Pol Pot, 19977
How to deal with the unthinkable
At the close of World War II, the International Military Tribunal
for the Far East was held. At the trial in Tokyo of former Japanese
prime minister Hideki Tojo, his lawyers asked why Tojo's crimes
were any worse than dropping the A-bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
At that moment, the prosecution interrupted the Japanese translation
and ordered the removal of the remarks in the official trial record
and in the press.
The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime
of Genocide ("Genocide Convention"), adopted by the
United Nations General Assembly in 1948..."The Contracting
Parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace
or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they
undertake to prevent and to punish." The Convention then
goes on to define genocide as certain acts, listed therein, "committed
with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical,
racial or religious group, as such."
Missing from this list is perhaps the most significant manifestation
of genocide in modern times: the extermination of people because
of their political ideology. The Nazis became notorious for their
slaughter of Jews and Gypsies, but German fascism, as in Italy,
Spain, Greece, Chile, Indonesia, and elsewhere, was firstly and
primarily directed against socialists and communists, regardless
of any other characteristic. (Hitler, in any event, largely equated
Jews and communists. )
As can be seen in the chapter on "Interventions"
and in other chapters-from China and the Philippines in the 1940s
to Colombia and Mexico in the 1990s, the United States has long
been practicing this politicide. However, the CEOs of The World's
Only Superpower can rest easy. There will be no international
convention against it, and no American official will ever have
to answer to a court for it.
Yugoslavia-another war-crimes trial that will never be
Beginning about two weeks after the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia
began in March 1999, international-law professionals from Canada,
the United Kingdom, Greece and the American Association of Jurists
began to file complaints with the International Criminal Tribunal
for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague, Netherlands, charging
leaders of NATO countries and officials of NATO itself with crimes
similar to those for which the Tribunal had issued indictments
shortly before against Serbian leaders. Amongst the charges filed
were: "grave violations of international humanitarian law",
including "willful killing, willfully causing great suffering
and serious injury to body and health, employment of poisonous
weapons and other weapons to cause unnecessary suffering, wanton
destruction of cities, towns and villages, unlawful attacks on
civilian objects, devastation not necessitated by military objectives,
attacks on undefended buildings and dwellings, destruction and
willful damage done to institutions dedicated to religion, charity
and education, the arts and sciences."
The Canadian suit names 68 leaders, including William Clinton,
Madeleine Albright, William Cohen, Tony Blair, Canadian Prime
Minister Jean Chretien, and NATO officials Javier Solana, Wesley
Clark and Jamie Shea. The complaint also alleges "open violation"
of the United Nations Charter, the NATO treaty itself, the Geneva
Conventions and the Principles of International Law Recognized
by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.
The complaint was submitted along with a considerable amount
of evidence to support the charges. The evidence makes the key
point that it was NATO's bombing campaign which had given rise
to the bulk of the deaths in Yugoslavia, provoked most of the
Serbian atrocities, created an environmental disaster and left
a dangerous legacy of unexploded depleted uranium and cluster
In June, some of the complainants met in The Hague with the
court's chief prosecutor, Louise Arbour of Canada. Although she
cordially received their brief in person, along with three thick
volumes of evidence documenting the alleged war crimes, nothing
of substance came of the meeting, despite repeated follow-up submissions
and letters by the plaintiffs. In November, her successor, Carla
Del Ponte of Switzerland, also met with some of the complainants
and received extensive evidence.
The complainants' brief in November pointed out that the prosecution
of those named by them was "not only a requirement of law,
it is a requirement of justice to the victims and of deterrence
to powerful countries such as those in NATO who, in their military
might and in their control over the media, are lacking in any
other natural restraint such as might deter less powerful countries."
Charging the war's victors, not only its losers, it was argued,
would be a watershed in international criminal law.
In one of the letters to Arbour, Michael Mandel, a professor
of law in Toronto and the initiator of the Canadian suit, stated:
Unfortunately, as you know, many doubts have already been
raised about the impartiality of your Tribunal. In the early days
of the conflict, after a formal and, in our view, justified complaint
against NATO leaders had been laid before it by members of the
Faculty of Law of Belgrade University, you appeared at a press
conference with one of the accused, British Foreign Secretary
Robin Cook, who made a great show of handing you a dossier of
Serbian war crimes. In early May, you appeared at another press
conference with US Secretary of Stare Madeleine Albright, by that
time herself the subject of two formal complaints of war crimes
over the targeting of civilians in Yugoslavia. Albright publicly
announced at that time that the US was the major provider of funds
for the Tribunal and that it had pledged even more money to it.
Arbour herself made little attempt to hide the pro-NATO bias
she wore beneath her robe. She trusted NATO to be its own police,
judge, jury and prison guard. In a year in which the arrest of
General Pinochet was giving an inspiring lift to the cause of
international law and international justice, the International
Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, under Arbour's leadership,
ruled that for the Great Powers it would be business as usual,
particularly the Great Power that was most vulnerable to prosecution,
and which, coincidentally, paid most of her salary. Here are her
I am obviously not commenting on any allegations of violations
of international humanitarian law supposedly perpetrated by nationals
of NATO countries. I accept the assurances given by NATO leaders
that they intend to conduct their operations in the Federal Republic
of Yugoslavia in full compliance with international humanitarian
law. I have reminded many of them, when the occasion presented
itself, of their obligation to conduct fair and open-minded investigations
of any possible deviance from that policy, and of the obligation
of commanders to prevent and punish, if required.
NATO Press Briefing, May 16, 1999:
Question: Does NATO recognize Judge Arbour's jurisdiction
over their activities?
Jamie Shea: I think we have to distinguish between the theoretical
and the practical. I believe that when Justice Arbour starts her
investigation [of the Serbs], she will because we will allow her
to...NATO countries are those that have provided the finance to
set up the Tribunal, we are amongst the majority financiers.
The Tribunal-created in 1993, with the US as the father, the
Security Council as the mother, and Madeleine Albright as the
midwife-also relies on the military assets of the NATO powers
to track down and arrest the suspects it tries for war crimes.
There appeared to be no more happening with the complaint
under Del Ponte than under Arbour, but in late December, in an
interview with The Observer of London, Del Ponte was asked if
she was prepared to press charges against NATO personnel. She
replied: "If I am not willing to do that, I am not in the
right place. I must give up my mission."
The Tribunal then announced that it had completed a study
of possible NATO crimes, which Del Ponte was examining, and that
the study was an appropriate response to public concerns about
NATO's tactics. "It is very important for this tribunal to
assert its authority over any and all authorities to the armed
conflict within the former Yugoslavia."
Was this a sign from heaven that the new millennium was going
to be one of more equal justice? Could this really be?
No, it couldn't. From official quarters, military and civilian,
of the United States and Canada, came disbelief, shock, anger,
Ponte got the message. Four days after The Observer interview
appeared, her office issued a statement: "NATO is not under
investigation by the Office of the Prosecutor of the International
Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. There is no formal
inquiry into the actions of NATO during the conflict in Kosovo."
And there wouldn't be, it was unnecessary to add.
But the claim against NATO-heretofore largely ignored by the
American media-was now out in the open. It was suddenly receiving
a fair amount of publicity, and supporters of the bombing were
put on the defensive. The most common argument made in NATO's
defense, and against war-crime charges, has been that the death
and devastation inflicted upon the civilian sector was "accidental".
This claim, however, must be questioned in light of certain reports.
For example, the commander of NATO's air war, Lt. Gen. Michael
Short, declared at one point:
If you wake up in the morning and you have no power to your
house and no gas to your stove and the bridge you take to work
is down and will be Iying in the Danube for the next 20 years,
I think you begin to ask, "Hey, Slobo, what's this all about?
How much more of this do we have to withstand?"
General Short, said the New York Times, "hopes that the
distress of the Yugoslav public will undermine support for the
authorities in Belgrade."
At another point, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea added: "If
President Milosevic really wants all of his population to have
water and electricity all he has to do is accept NATO's five conditions
and we will stop this campaign."
After the April NATO bombing of a Belgrade office building-
which housed political parties, TV and radio stations, 100 private
companies and more-the Washington Post reported:
Over the past few days, U.S. officials have been quoted as
expressing the hope that members of Serbia's economic elite will
begin to turn against Milosevic once they understand how much
they are likely to lose by continuing to resist NATO demands.
Before missiles were fired into this building, NATO planners
spelled out the risks: "Casualty Estimate 50-100 Government/Party
employees. Unintended Civ. Casualty Est: 250-Apts in expected
blast radius." The planners were saying that about 250 civilians
living in nearby apartment buildings might be killed in the bombing.
What do we have here? We have grown men telling each other:
We'll do A, and we think that B may well be the result. But even
if B does in fact result, we're saying beforehand-as we'll insist
afterward-that it was unintended.
Following World War II there was an urgent need for a permanent
international criminal court to prosecute those accused of war
crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, but the Cold War
intervened. Finally, in 1998 in Rome, the nations of the world
drafted the charter of The International Criminal Court. American
negotiators, however, insisted on provisions in the charter that
would, in essence, give the United States veto power over any
prosecution through its seat on the Security Council. The American
request was rejected, and primarily for this reason the US refused
to join 120 other nations who supported the charter. The ICC is
an instrument Washington can't control sufficiently to keep it
from prosecuting American military and government officials. Senior
US officials have explicitly admitted that this danger is the
reason for their aversion to the proposed new court. But this
is clearly not the case with the International Criminal Tribunal
for the Former Yugoslavia. It's Washington's kind of international
court, a court for the New World Order.
Washington journalist Sam Smith observed in 1999: "It
seems that the international war crimes tribunal has been taking
selective enforcement lessons from the New Jersey State Police.
The only war criminals it indicted this week were those with hard-to-spell
foreign names. No one with a simple Anglican name-say like Clinton
or Blair-was charged."
During its destructive military operations in Yugoslavia,
the United States was supremely unconcerned about the possibility
that anyone would even consider filing charges against NATO at
the Hague, yet we now know that: "Midway through the war
with Yugoslavia, the
Defense Department's top legal office issued guidelines warning
that misuse of cyber attacks could subject U.S. authorities to
war crimes charges." This was a reference to the Pentagon's
considering hacking into Serbian computer networks to disrupt
military operations and basic civilian services.