The Legacy of U.S. War Crimes - Carl Boggs

excerpted from the book

Masters of War

Militarism and Blowback in the Era of American Empire

edited by Carl Boggs

Routledge, 2003, paper


Consistent with the general political mythologies that shroud American foreign and military policies, namely that the U.S. has historically been a force behind human rights, democracy, and lawful behavior in global affairs, any serious public discourse around U.S. culpability for terrible abuses of democratic practice and international law-much less for war crimes or crimes against humanity-has always been taboo, outside legitimate debate. As far as the established media, political system, and academic world are concerned, the nation's international presence has been a taken-for-granted benevolent one, motivated by good intentions and dedicated to human progress despite occasional flaws or mistakes in carrying out its policies. War crimes are demonic, barbaric actions carried out by others-Nazis, Serbs, Iraqis, Rwandans, Chinese, Japanese, and of course terrorists. Even where the U.S. and its allies or surrogates have been clearly shown to commit atrocities of one sort or another, these are justified within the larger humanitarian design of Western values and interests, or they simply wind up obscured to the point of vanishing from public view.

The historical reality is that the U.S. drive for economic, political, and military domination has led to massive and horrific war crimes, to repeated and ~ flagrant violations of international law-a legacy easily documented but one which has been obscured, covered up, or simply ignored within the national c ethos of denial. The U.S. record of war crimes has been, from the nineteenth century to the present, a largely invisible one with no government, no political leaders, no military officials, no lower-level operatives held accountable for criminal actions. A culture of militarism has saturated the public sphere, including academia, endowing all U.S. interventions abroad with a patina of patriotic goodness and democratic sensibilities beyond genuine interrogation. Anyone challenging this mythology is quickly marginalized, branded a traitor or Communist or terrorist or simply a lunatic beyond the pale of reasonable discussion. After 9/11 this situation has worsened: a nominally liberal-democratic system has moved ever more ominously along the road of corporatism, authoritarianism, and narrowing public discourses. American society today exhibits every sign of ideological closure, one-dimensionality, and erosion of civic culture accompanied by the rise of national chauvinism and hostility to foreign influences, exacerbated by the spring 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. Recent ideological trends involve a steadfast refusal to confront the larger context of U.S. foreign policy or to reflect upon the far-reaching consequences of U.S. empire, as if the terrorist attacks occurred in a historical void. Of course psychological denial has profound ramifications, for with it a siege mentality can readily appear-and such a mentality seems to have gripped much of American public life. As Chalmers Johnson writes in Blowback: "What we have freed ourselves of . . . is any genuine consciousness of how we might look to others on this globe. Most Americans are probably unaware of how Washington exercises its global hegemony since so much of this activity takes place either in relative secrecy or under comforting rubrics. Many may, as a start, find it hard to believe that our place in the world even adds up to an empire. Nowhere is this proposition more evident than in the sphere of war crimes discourse.

Sven Lindquist

"The laws of war protect [those] of the same race, class, and culture. The laws of war leave the foreign and the alien [and one might add weak] without protection."

NATO's Hague Tribunal

By the 1990s, after a full century of treaties, conventions, and tribunals designed to establish legal criteria for governing the military behavior of nations no truly universal structure for this purpose had been established. Principles embodied in the various Hague and Geneva Protocols along with the Nuremberg and Tokyo courts set up after World War II-much of which found its way into the UN Charter of 1948-had never become internationally binding in legal or political terms. The great promise of Nuremberg to hold political and military leaders responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity did not come to fruition. Finally, in 1998, a majority of nations ( 139 in all) met in Rome to ratify a treaty creating an International Criminal Court that would allow for binding global jurisdiction. The Court would be a professional, impartial body charged with bringing leaders and others to justice for assorted war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity. In July 2002, the Court became a reality, confirming the long-held hopes of human-rights partisans around the world. Unfortunately, however, the U.S. took a fiercely hostile stance to the Court from the outset, first refusing to sign the treaty and then setting out to sabotage the body's operations. The U.S. government, first under Clinton and then under Bush, insisted upon "guarantees" that no American officials or military personnel could be brought before the Tribunal; the nation with the only truly global military presence wanted immunity.

The U.S. was threatening to paralyze UN peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and elsewhere if it could not receive assurance that Americans would be insulated from Criminal Court prosecution-conditions that backers of the Court found politically and legally untenable. Having refused to endorse the Tribunal, the U.S. now demanded special exemption from possible charges, arguing that it might be the target of "politically-motivated" legal actions. Despite broad support for the Court, Bush was able to say (in early July 2002): ". . . the one thing we're not going to do is sign on to the Criminal Court." Within a week of this statement, the U.S. was able to muscle through the Security Council a resolution granting U.S. troops and officials a renewable one-year exemption from investigation or prosecution by the International Court. But the U.S. exemption turned out to be outrageously illegal not to mention politically corrupt. As one long-time observer at the UN remarked: "We do not think it is the business of the Security Council to interpret treaties that are negotiated somewhere else." The resolution was not only in flagrant opposition to the world consensus, it effectively validated the idea that the U.S. is free to stand outside the canons of international law. Such exceptionalism renders the Court and its procedures a mockery, since laws and procedures clearly require universality to be legitimate and effective. At precisely the time all this was taking place, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld outlined a series of sweeping proposals that would drastically weaken Congressional oversight of the Pentagon-the idea being to provide the military with more freedom than ever to conduct its domestic and global business, a move Justified by the war against terrorism. Further, U.S. efforts to subvert the Criminal Court while expanding the scope of Pentagon power coincided with Bush's aggressive new strategy of "preemptive strike" directed, for the moment, against Iraq.

... the ICTY as a first-rate fraud. From the very outset this Tribunal was totally biased and one-sided, hardly the product of universal jurisprudence-inevitable given that the Tribunal was set up and financed by the NATO powers (above all the U.S.) and received the bulk of its investigative and informational resources from these same powers, the very powers that carried out seven weeks of intensive military aggression against the Serbs. The fraudulence is quickly shown by the obvious one-sidedness of the indictments: after many years of violent civil wars involving not only Serbs but Croatians, Bosnian Muslims, Kosovar Albanians, and myriad paramilitary groups of varying ideological and ethnic makeup, not to mention the intense period of covert and armed intervention by NATO powers, we are told to believe that only the Serbs were guilty of atrocities, that all others were simply victims of a singular evil force, that others were victims only while Serbs themselves were never victimized. This scenario, constructed mainly by Western public relations firms and the mass media, defies all logic. Indeed the Serbs could be said to have suffered most, especially when the calculations of merciless NATO/U.S. bombings are taken into account. Without doubt Serbs were responsible for atrocities, but historical evidence from the field, unfiltered by propaganda, shows convincingly that atrocities were committed on all sides and that Serbs too were abundantly on the receiving end of war crimes. The Hague Tribunal has completely ignored this complex history, dismissing those instances where Serbs experienced the horrors of civil war-for example several thousand killed and at least 500,000 displaced in Croatia alone, yet another 330,000 displaced in Kosovo in the wake of U.S.-backed Kosovo Liberation Army terrorism and NATO aerial attacks. In August 1995, the U.S. and Germans supported a bloody Croatian military offensive in the Kraijina region, killing thousands of Serbs and forcing another 200,000 from their homes. Yet when looking at such atrocities, the moral outrage over "ethnic cleansing" that so consumed NATO elites as they targeted Serbs suddenly vanishes. The failure of ICTY to address this terrible anomaly, to investigate and prosecute war crimes across the board, to pursue all combatants involved in the civil wars, demonstrates ipso facto its moral and political bankruptcy.

... the most egregious crimes of war in the Balkans can be laid at the doorstep of the U.S./NATO military forces, guilty of carrying out 79 days of high-tech aerial terrorism with its wanton destruction of civilian targets and population, including virtually all of the Serb infrastructure. Belgrade alone suffered upwards of 10,000 casualties, with thousands more scattered throughout the country. The attacks destroyed power plants, factories, apartment complexes, bridges, water plants, roads, hospitals, schools, and communications networks. NATO targets in Yugoslavia were roughly 60 percent civilian, including 33 hospitals, 344 schools, and 144 industrial plants. The "humanitarian" air squadrons, relying on the comfort and safety of technowar, dropped cluster bombs and delivered missiles tipped with depleted uranium, spewing thousands of tons of toxic chemicals and radiation into the air, water, and crops that will surely produce long-term health and ecological disasters. Beneath the rhetoric of human-rights intervention, a small, poor, weak, relatively defenseless nation of eleven million people was pulverized by largest military machine in history. NATO Commander General Wesley Clark boasted that the aim of the air war was to "demolish, destroy, devastate degrade, and ultimately eliminate the essential infrastructure of Yugoslavia." This of course was no "war" but rather an aerial massacre of defenseless human beings, most of them civilians. Not only did this assault violate the UN Charter prohibiting offensive war against a sovereign nation, it willfully abrogated the whole tradition of Hague and Geneva Protocols declaring illegal the wanton destruction of civilian populations. Whatever the crimes of Milosevic, they would pale in comparison with the U.S./NATO reign of death and destruction in Yugoslavia. NATO leaders were indeed charged with monstrous war crimes in 1999, in a suit that named President Clinton, Defense Secretary William Cohen, Secretary of State Albright, and General Clark along with British leader Tony Blair. With massive evidence at their disposal, including calculated policies of mass murder, the plaintiffs took their case to the Hague Court, hoping for an audience before chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte-but the case was summarily thrown out after U.S. Ieaders protested vehemently. convinced of the mystical (but iron) principle of American immunity.

Crimes Against Peace

Even setting aside forms of intervention such as proxy wars, CIA-sponsored covert action, attempts at economic or political subversion, and blockades, the U.S. record of military aggression waged against sovereign nations since World War 11 stands alone for its criminality and barbaric outcomes. Immersed from the outset in a logic of seemingly perpetual warfare, the American nation-state first achieved imperial status as it expanded westward and outward, then reached maturity through development of the permanent war economy during and after World War II. Since 1945, the U.S. has initiated dozens of military attacks on foreign nations resulting in a gruesome toll: at least eight million deaths, tens of millions wounded, millions more made homeless, and ecological devastation impossible to measure. In the post-9/11 milieu, with the brazen military aggression against Iraq and new U.S. interventions on the horizon, there is sadly no end in sight to this imperial onslaught. With just two possible exceptions (the U.N.-backed Korean venture and recent operations in Afghanistan) these interventions violated commonly held principles of international law.

At the end of World War II, the Germans and Japanese were tried for "crimes against peace"-that is, unprovoked military aggression waged against sovereign nations. Eventually 15 Germans and 24 Japanese were convicted of such offenses, with U.S. prosecutors the most adamant in pursuing guilty verdicts. Nazi elites were prosecuted and convicted of planning and waging war against Poland, the USSR, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Yugoslavia, and Greece. The Charter of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg defined illegal warfare as "planning, preparation, initiation, or waging a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements, or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy [for war]." Drawing on the Nuremberg principles, the nascent UN banned the first use of force, stating that "All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state." According to Steven Ratner, "the illegality of aggression is perhaps the most fundamental norm of modern international law and its prevention the chief purpose of the United Nations." The Charter provides a definitive list of acts of military aggression: invasion, occupation, bombardment, blockade, attack on a nation's armed forces, using territory for aggression, supporting groups to carry out aggression. Such prohibitions are contained in many treaties, convention protocols, and organizational charters drawn up in the several decades since Nuremberg.

At one time or another, the U.S. has violated every one of these principles, holding itself (then as now) above the most hallowed norms of international law.

As William Gibson writes, Vietnam marked the real beginnings of technowar, involving a strategy explicitly designed to minimize ground combat and U.S. casualties, though it would not achieve full expression until Desert Storm in 1991. Aside from nuclear weaponry itself (actually considered at one point), the U.S. military employed everything in its arsenal with the aim of bombing a poor, underdeveloped country into total submission: saturation attacks with 2000-pound bombs, napalm, white phosphorous, cluster bombs, chemical defoliants like Agent Orange, sophisticated missiles, and regular ordnance. Laos and Cambodia also became targets of much the same strategy, in more concentrated dosages. The war left some 1 million bomb craters in Vietnam alone. Commenting on such aerial terrorism, Marilyn Young wrote: "In the South 9000 out of 15,000 hamlets, 25 million acres of farmland and 12 million acres of forest were destroyed and 1.5 million farm animals had been killed; . . . all six of the industrial cities in the North were badly damaged, as were the provincial and district towns and 4000 out of 5,800 agricultural communes. North and South, the land was cratered and planted with tons of unexploded ordnance."

Honing merciless assaults against civilian targets, the U.S. manufactured new types of napalm designed to adhere more closely to the skin, burn more deeply, and cause more horrific injury. During World War II the U.S. had dropped 14,000 tons of napalm, mainly against the Japanese. During the Korean War the total was 32,000 tons. But in Vietnam, from 1963 to 1971, the total was about 373,000 tons of the new, more effective napalm-eleven times the total used in Korea.

Warfare Against Civilians

Contrary to popular mythology, civilian populations have always been the main victims of U.S. military ventures and, more often than not, such victims were clearly intended. Tariq Ali is not exaggerating when he writes: "The massacre of civilian populations was always an integral part of U.S. war strategy." Nor is Edward Herman overstating the case when he observes that "U.S. military policy has long been based on strategies and tactics that involve a heavy civilian toll." This is patently true of aerial warfare, as we have seen, but the perpetual, bloody onslaught against civilians goes far beyond this to include ground operations. .

Carnage in Vietnam resulted not only from aerial bombardments but ground warfare of all types: free-fire zones, search-and-destroy missions, defoliation, soldiers prepared to kill anything that moved. More than 10 million persons were displaced while hundreds of thousands were relocated in "hamlets" that served as concentration camps. Herbicides destroyed millions of acres of jungle and crop land. More than 1200 square miles of land was bulldozed. Towns and villages were bombed, torched, and bulldozed, their inhabitants slaughtered. An entire society was pulverized in the name of "pacification" and "nation-building," codewords for the most ruthless counterinsurgency program ever undertaken.

The standard modus operandi in Vietnam (as in Korea) Was to destroy any impediment to military success in the field-to "kill 'em all," as the title of a BBC documentary on U.S. war crimes in Korea conveys. "Search and destroy" meant attacking not only combatants but civilians, animals, the whole ecology, as part of effective counterinsurgency operations. When troops came upon any village, they usually came in opening fire, often with support of helicopter gunships. U.S. troops were rewarded according to the well-known "body count," never limited simply to identifiable combatants. As one GI put it: "We're here to kill gooks, period." A common GI refrain in Vietnam went: "Bomb the schools and churches. Bomb the rice fields too. Show the children in the courtyards what napalm can do." Still another refrain: "Kill one, they call you a murderer. Kill thousands, and they call you a conqueror. Kill them all, and they won't call you anything." Units that routinely engaged in murder, rape, and mutilation made sure that no soldier would press charges, and few did. Under these conditions prisoners were rarely taken; if so, they were tortured and then executed. At the Dellums Committee hearings in April 1971, several veterans testified as to how military training prepared them for savage, unrestrained killing in the field: above all it was crucial to dehumanize the enemy so that it would be possible to "kill without mercy."

As in Korea, the U.S. military pursued a relentless war of attrition in Vietnam, as well as in Laos and Cambodia. The use of American firepower was nothing short of hysterical, resulting in the loss of three million lives (mostly civilians) across Indochina. The crimes were unspeakable and endless, carried out with a fierce chauvinistic animus, but no political officials or military personnel were ever charged-with the famous exception of Lieutenant William Calley for his role in the My Lai massacres of March 1968, when more than 200 innocent civilians were shot to death. Calley was court-martialed and given a light sentence, serving less than three years for crimes that deserved much harsher punishment. The problem was that My Lai was hardly an aberration; massacres of this sort were common, but never reported or, if reported, covered up by military personnel. As the Bertrand Russell Tribunal made clear at the time, U.S. war crimes were of such a magnitude and implicated so many high-level political and military officials that only a Nuremberg-style international tribunal could have brought justice. Since the perpetrators of mass murder and other crimes of war were able to hide under the cloak of a superpower I there was no Nuremberg and no justice. Indeed one of the leading criminals of the period, President Richard Nixon, would have the last word: "When the President does it, that means it is not illegal"-a maxim that, sadly for Nixon - pertained only to foreign affairs.

It was during Desert Storm that the U.S. military was first able to unveil technowar in its full glory: Iraq became a "free-fire" zone over which 110,000 sorties were flown, dropping some 88,000 tons of bombs on a country with minimal air defenses. As we have seen, the USAF was able to pulverize the Iraqi infrastructure while suffering few casualties of its own (until later, when the terrible health effects of DU and other toxic agents became visible). At the very end of combat with nothing left in doubt, U.S. planes bombed and strafed retreating Iraqi troops, killing at least 30,000-clearly a violation of the Hague and Geneva Protocols. The bombings continued regularly after the main warfare concluded. The U.S. employed thousands of weapons tipped with DU, ensuring that radioactive substances would be left in the water, soil, and food chain for decades.

The harshly punitive and inhuman policy of economic sanctions, enforced mainly by the U.S. and Britain under UN cover, cost at least 500,000 civilian p lives after 1991-maintained on the hypocritical insistence that Iraq dispose of its "weapons of mass destruction." The embargo cruelly blocked vital ports such as medical supplies, water-treatment technology, even certain foodstuffs that, under the excessively broad definition of "dual use," might be considered useful to the military. Sanctions policies of this sort have been employed regularly by the U.S., using its economic clout, as a foreign policy tool since the 1950s. The main victims have been civilians, mostly children. The 1977 Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions prohibit measures that deprive the civilian population of goods indispensable to survival, with Article 18 mandating relief operations to aid civilians suffering "undue hardshlps owing to lack of supplies essential for its survival, such as foodstuffs and medical supplies." In fact the U.S. alone had obstructed every humanitarian effort, mounted by NGOs as well as members of the UN Security Council, to lift the sanctions. Writing in Harper's, Joy Gordon characterized the sanctions as a "legitimized act of mass slaughter." She added: ". . . epidemic suffering is needlessly visited on Iraqis via U.S. fiat inside the UN Security Council. Within that body, the U.S. has consistently thwarted Iraq from satisfying its most basic humanitarian needs, using sanctions as nothing less than a deadly weapon."

In the realm of chemical weapons, the U.S. has been the world leader by far in the production, dissemination, and military use of highly toxic liquids, sprays, incendiary devices, powders, and explosives. The American military first experimented with napalm in World War II, refined its usage in Korea, employed it on a massive scale in Vietnam, and has kept it as part of its arsenal ever since; incendiary bombs follow a similar pattern. It is well known that the U.S. sprayed tens of thousands of tons of herbicides over three million acres in Vietnam from 1965 to 1971, intended to wipe out jungle foliage and crops. The use of Agent Orange polluted Vietnam with 500 pounds of the deadly chemical dioxin, impacting several million Vietnamese along with tens of thousands of American troops. There have been many reports of high levels of cancer and birth defects in regions saturated with Agent Orange. The U.S. Army also employed such toxic chemicals as CS, DM, and CN gasses, designated by the Pentagon as "riot control" agents. According to the Hatfield Report, the legacy of chemical warfare left behind by the U.S. in Indochina would have health and ecological consequences for many decades. For all this the U.S. never offered any apologies, any reparations, anything for cleanup. The U.S. has not shrunk from later use of chemical warfare, including its widespread adoption in Plan Colombia to defoliate coca plantations- nor has it been reluctant to share its scientific knowledge and resources with other nations. In Colombia the U.S. has begun spraying a new Monsanto produced fungus, glyphosate, an herbicide that causes lethal infections in humans.


In January 1998, President Clinton emphasized that the world must "confront the new hazards of chemical and biological weapons, and the outlaw states, terrorists, and organized criminals seeking to acquire them." Anticipating Bush's later rhetoric, he particularly castigated Iraq for acquiring "weapons of mass destruction." Yet it was the U.S. government that initially furnished the Iraqis with a wide variety of chemical and biological agents, exported to Iraq by private American companies licensed by the Department of Commerce, an arrangement going back to at least 1985. Shipments included materials related to anthrax and botulinum toxin, vital to development of whatever program Iraq might still have.

For several decades the U.S. war machine, swollen through expanded national quest for imperial domination, has built its strategic capability around weapons of mass destruction-nuclear, conventional, and economic (sanctions) above all Chemical weapons have been used widely in counterinsurgency while biological weapons, ostensibly retired from the arsenal, have not been the desired option in the wake of the Korean fiasco. In 1972 the U.S., along with 140 other nations signed the Biological Weapons Convention treaty prohibiting the production, development, and use of germ warfare agents. There were still, however, provisions needed for compliance and verification. Discussions aimed at strengthening the treaty continued throughout the 1990s, with the U.S. dead set against inspections that would be considered an infringement on the commercial rights of American chemical and pharmaceutical labs. Finally, even the watered down draft favored by the U.S. was rejected by the Bush administration in July 2002, leaving the world without viable biological weapons prohibitions. Here too the U.S. insisted upon concessions from all other parties but refused any for itself

Given their strategic centrality to the logic of empire-their very threat constitutes a fearsome military force-WMD today represent a nonnegotiable part of the U.S. arsenal. This helps explain why American leaders (Democrats and Republicans alike) have strongly opposed virtually all efforts by nations of the world to establish treaties and conventions limiting production and deployment of WMD. Because of its overwhelming superiority in this area, moreover, the U.S. possesses greater flexibility than ever to pursue aggressive militarism worldwide, which only further reinforces a Hobbesian global anarchy where brute military and economic power obliterates any prospect for binding laws, treaties, ethics, and rules of engagement.

War Crimes by Proxy

In especially shameful U.S. violation of international law and human rights principles has been its support of terrorist regimes and paramilitary groups around the world since the late 1940s, often with the aim of setting up proxy wars, insurgencies, and other forms of mayhem to advance imperial designs. Brutal governments have been aided in Israel, Colombia, Turkey, Chile and Indonesia, rebellions have been financed in Nicaragua, Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan, and death squads have been created in El Salvador and Guatemala. Governments have been overthrown through covert and/or direct intervention, as in Chile and, earlier, in Iran and Guatemala. Proxy activities where U.S. military forces remain in the background while atrocities are carried out mainly by local groups are often the preferred method. Support has taken many forms: direct material assistance, military equipment and weaponry, training and recruitment, intelligence, and political supports within international bodies like the UN. For many decades the U.S. has trained thousands of operatives within the country who would later become members of governments, militias, and death squads complicit in horrendous war crimes. Such crimes by proxy, where perpetrators are knowingly and deliberately provided the resources to carry out their barbaric deeds, make the U.S. just as guilty as the providers and ought to be held just as accountable. Within international law this is known as "aiding and abetting war crimes." Indeed this is one of the major charges against Milosevic at the Hague, where he is accused of helping paramilitary groups in the Balkans (Arkan's Tigers, for example) by means of financial aid, training, weapons shipments, and logistical support. Prosecutors argue that Milosevic is just as culpable of war crimes as if he had taken over formal leadership of the groups involved. Such a proxy relationship to regimes and organizations has been a stock in trade of U.S. foreign and military policy since World War II-yet no U.S. Ieader has ever been held accountable.

From 1980 to the mid-1980s the Central Intelligence Agency recruited, trained, and supported a well-armed Contra network, a made-in-America insurgency set up to overthrow the reformist Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Based in Honduras, the Contras did everything possible to destabilize the system: economic sabotage, mining of harbors, assassination of political officials, and above all the large-scale massacre of civilians as part of subverting public morale. The death toll will never be known, but probably ran well into the thousands. Later, during the 1990s, the U.S. helped recruit, train, and equip local rebellions in Yugoslavia-most notably the right-wing Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA)-operating alongside fascistic governing forces in Croatia and Bosnia, all intended to destabilize the elected rulers of Serbia. During 1995-98 the KLA moved freely throughout Kosovo, killing hundreds of local Serb officials with the goal of liberating the province from Serb control. (The Serb military response to KLA actions was defined as "ethnic cleansing," but the KLA was naturally exempted from such labels in the U.S.) In early August 1995, Croatian military forces, armed by the U.S., Iaunched what turned out to be the most brutal offensive of the Balkan civil wars, destroying huge Serb regions in the province of Krajina, killing several thousand civilians and forcing more than 200,000 from their homes. Trapped Serbians pouring into Bosnia were massacred in large numbers by Croatian and Bosnian military forces, supported by Germany and the U.S. It was a bloody offensive that Clinton's Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, had openly endorsed. While the Hague Tribunal has been quick to charge Milosevic and other Serbs with "ethnic cleansing" and war crimes, nothing has been said about this criminal military aggression directed against civilians nor about U.S. involvement in the very type of proxy war crimes laid at the doorstep of Milosevic.

The U.S. has supported, indeed created, dozens of paramilitary terrorist groups in Latin America alone since the early 1980s. At the School of the Americas, renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation located in Fort Benning, Georgia, the U.S. military has trained thousands of terrorists in the methods of bloody guerrilla warfare directed at legitimate nation-states or local civilian organizations-methods including assassination torture, murder, and death-squad intimidation of specific targets. Graduates of SOA include Roberto d'Aubuisson, who organized a death-squad network in El Salvador during the 1980s, reportedly killing upwards of 10,000 people as part of U.S. and Salvadoran elite campaigns to destroy leftist opposition. Massacres were common, with scores of villages burned to the ground. Death squads were comprised of both civilians and members of the armed forces trained and supported by the U.S. According to the UN Truth Commission on Salvadoran Death Squads, former Major d'Aubuisson helped organize and maintain the paramilitary groups, bringing together American interests, Miami-based exiles, and right-wing Salvadoran forces

In Guatemala, the CIA and Pentagon have supported death-squad activity and governmental repression since the U.S. engineered the overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz in 1954. The killings, presided over by a series of brutal U.S.-backed dictators, have been estimated at over 200,000-made possible by American weapons, equipment, training, money, and logistical aid. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s the Guatemalan death squads were organized primarily by two organizations, the G2 and Archivo, both funded by the CIA and run by CIA-paid Guatemalan military and police officers trained at the SOA and elsewhere. According to witnesses, the G2 has maintained a web of torture centers, secret body dumps, and crematoria. This is nothing less than an ongoing, brutal, criminal U.S. military action by proxy.

U.S. assistance to governing regimes guilty of long-term war crimes against targeted civilian populations struggling for independence and/or human rights has been one of the darkest features of American foreign policy. The Guatemalan repression and murder of tens of thousands of indigenous peoples is just one case in point. The arming and financing of the Iraqi military throughout the 1980s during its brutal war with Iran, including the use of chemical weapons, provides another example.

Between 1965 and 1969, the Indonesian military regime massacred some 500,000 people, virtually anyone linked to the left opposition, with full U.S diplomatic and military support-surely one of the great atrocities of the postwar years, but one that was met with silence in the Western media. A decade later Indonesia invaded East Timor, killing perhaps another 100,000 people for the sin of wanting national self-determination, all while the U.S. continued to arm the regime and block UN measures to halt the carnage. The Suharto regime was one of the favorites of the CIA and the Pentagon owing to its ruthless efficiency. After the 1975 invasion of East Timor, U.S. weapons sales to Jakarta exceeded one billion dollars.

In the case of Turkey, its repression of the huge Kurdish population has continued for decades while the nation remains a close U.S. ally and a major recipient of its financial and military aid. Repression worsened throughout the 1990s as the Turkish Army devastated Kurdish regions, sending hundreds of thousands of poor civilians into flight. Perhaps two million were left homeless while death squads murdered thousands more. Napalm was used on villages, dropped by U.S.-made planes. At this point Turkey had become the single largest importer of U.S. military goods, including F-16 fighter-bombers, M-60 tanks, Cobra gunships, and Blackhawk helicopters in large numbers, all used against the mostly defenseless Kurds.

The Israeli occupation of Palestine with its ruthless political and military actions over many decades is perhaps the most egregious case of U.S. war crimes by proxy. In many respects the state of Israel has been an American outpost in the Middle East, replete with every conceivable form of financial, political, diplomatic, and military backing; it is a relationship sui generis. With the fourth largest army in the world. Israeli militarism has ensured perpetuation of a harsh apartheid system marked by ongoing violations of international law: forced settlement of the land, illegal arrests, torture, relocation of civilian populations, massacres, harsh curfews, assault on cultural institutions, the wanton bulldozing of homes and property, depriving people of basic services. All of this constitutes a blatant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention along with the UN Charter, but efforts to hold the Israelis accountable have been blocked by the U.S., which helps guarantee the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank through its repeated vetoes of UN resolutions. Furthermore, there are 5.5 million Palestinian refugees housed in 59 camps, denied the right to return to their homes in contravention of UN Resolution 194 and international law. The issue of war crimes here cannot be addressed in the U.S. since, as Edward Said notes, "the systematic continuity of Israel's 52-year-old oppression and maltreatment of the Palestinians is virtually unmentionable, a narrative that has no permission to appear." It is the "last taboo." From 1949 to 2000, the U.S. gave more than $90 billion in foreign aid and other grants to

Israel, including $5.5 billion in 1997 alone. There were 18 arms sales to Israel in the year 2000. Thanks to American largesse, the Israelis have the largest fleet of F-16s outside the U.S., an integral part of their vast war machine. The regime of Ariel Sharon is fully backed by the U.S., although Sharon was responsible for horrific attacks against Palestinians, including the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and the massacre of several thousand unarmed civilians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in September 1982.

The very charges leveled against Milosevic at the Hague-the aiding and abetting of war crimes-could be brought against the U.S. hundreds of times over as it uses its preponderant economic, political, and military power to ' wage deadly proxy wars around the globe.

The experience of two disastrous World Wars gave rise to an unprecedented global commitment to international law that would presumably curtail the worst features of human warfare, reflected in the Nuremberg and Tokyo Tribunals, the UN Charter, the Geneva Protocols, and more recently the International Criminal Court set up in Rome. Ideally all states and political actors would have strict obligations to follow moral and legal principles, including definite rules of engagement in warfare. The UN Charter, above all, clearly prohibits military force as an instrument of statecraft except in clear-cut examples of self-defense. Of course the very notion of such a paradigmatic shift in relations among nations always depended upon the emergence of an international community of interests. Despite references here and there to a growing "culture of human rights," however, this pacifistic dream has turned into a Hobbesian nightmare as imperial aggression and armed violence have come to dominate the global scene. In such a milieu, moral and legal criteria, following the "realist" outlook championed by Western powers, have seemingly vanished from the political landscape

There can be no universally valid tenets and practices of international law so long as the U.S. carries out its relentless pursuit of global domination in support of its economic and geopolitical interests. The expansion of U.S. militarism, now reaching every corner of the globe as well as space, is incompatible with a regimen of international law and human rights-as is the neoliberal corporate order that militarism sustains. We are at the point where U.S global hegemony supersedes all hope for shared norms, laws, customs, and treaties.

For the American public ... warfare visited upon other countries has become an entertaining spectacle ...

The Nuremberg principles, adopted by the UN in 1950, state that any person committing an act that constitutes a war crime under international law is legally accountable and subject to punishment, as was the case with German and Japanese defendants. Such principles were regarded as universal, transcending national laws, traditions, and ideologies, binding for all persons whatever their place in the chain of command. No heads of state, no political or military officials, were seen as immune to criminal prosecution. Throughout the postwar years, unfortunately, the U.S. has done everything possible to subvert the Nuremberg principles, which makes its ringing endorsement of human rights and rule of law abstract, hypocritical, meaningless. Indeed the horrific legacy of war crimes and human rights abuses stemming from unfettered U.S. global power has its roots in historical continuity, the result of a deliberate, planned, and systematic pattern of imperial aggrandizement. From this standpoint, war crimes have been a predictable outcome of U.S. relations with other nations and the world, virtually a matter of institutional necessity-easy to get away with, moreover, in the absence of media, political, or intellectual scrutiny. Hiding behind the veneer of "democracy" and "human progress," ruling elites have never come to grips with this criminal history: no apologies, no self-reflection, no reparations, no sense of accountability. The superpower accepts no moral or legal restraints on its ambitions. It would be foolhardy to expect otherwise so long as the U.S. imperial behemoth, championing doctrines of "humanitarian intervention" and "preemptive strike," continues to seek world domination.

Masters of War

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