Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is reportedly closing a decades-old office in the State Department that has helped pursue justice for victims of war crimes.
The “Office of Global Criminal Justice” advises the secretary of state on issues surrounding war crimes and genocide. It was established by Bill Clinton’s secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, a woman who barely batted an eyelid while overseeing the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children.
According to Newsweek, the office has supported criminal courts in Rwanda, former Yugoslavia, Cambodia, and the Central African Republic. This alone should give one an idea of the office’s intentions and prerogatives: it is often concerned with punishing African nations — as the International Criminal Court (ICC) is often accused of doing — as well as America’s adversaries but also tends to ignore the actions of the United States and its allies.
That being said, the timing of the office’s closure is somewhat suspect. Amnesty International just released a report that heavily implicates the United States in a number of criminal acts in Mosul, Iraq. A credible Kurdish intelligence source also just revealed documents to the Independent that show the conflict in Mosul may have resulted in over 40,000 civilian deaths in a nine-month period. No one doubts that ISIS has had a hand in civilian casualties, but we also know from a number of sources that, at the very least, American bombs alone have likely killed at least 4,500 civilians in Mosul, with thousands more still buried under the rubble. Whether we like to admit it or not, the U.S. has killed thousands of civilians in a mere nine-month long conflict.
“It just makes official what has been U.S. policy since 9/11, which is that there will be no notice taken of war crimes because so many of them were being committed by our own allies, our military and intelligence officers and our elected officials,” Maj. Todd E. Pierce, a former judge advocate general and defense attorney at Guantanamo, told Newsweek.
Newsweek also spoke with Amherst College law professor Lawrence Douglas, who specializes in war crimes. Douglas said the move “should be a source of deep regret domestically and cause for grave concern abroad. The closing makes a powerful statement—that the Trump administration cares little about the protection of human rights and nothing about the vital work of international criminal courts. Perpetrators of atrocities the world over will, however, be pleased.”
Clearly, the U.S. has little interest in crimes and atrocities when they’re committed by their own military and their allies. Until the beginning of June this year, the U.S. had only two personnel investigating war crimes in Iraq and Syria full time. The number is now seven.
America’s drone program, which Barack Obama rapidly accelerated and Trump inherited, has also attracted much-needed criticism concerning its legality, as has support for Saudi Arabia’s brutal assault on Yemen. In aiding Saudi Arabia by refueling planes, providing intelligence, sitting in the control and command center, and providing arms and munitions, legal scholars have warned that the U.S. could become a co-belligerent in the war, in turn exposing liability for war crimes.
The U.S. is also implicated in war crimes in Afghanistan and is most likely committing war crimes in Syria – a double-edged war crime because the U.S. has no legal justification to bomb Syrian territory in the first place.
If the U.S. wants to carry on its practices without attracting any legal ramifications, one must wonder why it feels the right to cry foul every time reports come out alleging human rights abuses and criminal acts committed by America’s adversaries.
As Newsweek noted, although the war crimes office’s closure has not yet been confirmed by the State Department, if it is finalized, it would mark just one example of a “wide-ranging overhaul.” For example, the State Department recently closed the Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism even though Donald Trump was legally required to staff the office. Trump is essentially axing these programs so he can justify his proposed massive increase in defense spending, which will ironically likely lead to the U.S. military committing more criminal acts overseas.
If the U.S. wants free rein to keep committing atrocities all over the world, perhaps it should stay quiet when it believes (or wants us to believe) other countries are also engaging in similar behavior. It certainly shouldn’t hold the rest of the world up to the very standards the U.S. government has shown no signs of upholding. The impending closure of a mostly ineffective war crimes office is just the latest example of the U.S. showing virtually no dedication to human rights or holding criminals accountable for their abhorrent actions.