I have a working knowledge of war crimes. I spent five years defending two men accused of crimes against humanity, violations of the laws and customs of war, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions – simply put “war crimes” – before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. That experience left me with a jaundiced view as to how war crimes are dealt with by the international community. My sad conclusion is that war crimes are only prosecuted if they are committed by others and not by us or our friends – a reprise of the old German “Gott mit unz” syndrome, our cause is just; God or Allah willing.
History is not written by the victor. History is written by those who control the media and are able to censor and silence anyone who has a better version of the truth. War crimes become war crimes only if they have they have been officially declared as such, vetted by gullible public opinion and not measured by objective standards of behavior. Failing the crimes are just business as usual soon forgotten.
War crimes and crimes against humanity appear to be restricted to marginal bit players in distant conflicts. Major players in wars being waged worldwide, the United States, NATO allies, Russia and their proxies are immune from prosecution. Since coming into being in 1998 the International Criminal Court has indicted only 29 individuals citizens of Angola, the Congo, Sudan, the Central African Republic, the Ivory Coast and Mali. With war raging worldwide you would think others would be charged, but that’s not been the case.
I am prompted to make these comments in light of the deadly airstrike on the Doctors Without Borders [MFS -Médecins Sans Frontières] Hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan on October 3 which killed 22, including 12 doctors, nurses and 3 children.
America’s newspaper of record, the New York Times, questions how the MSF Hospital, protected by international law, came to be bombed by United States forces. From the outset the Times obfuscates, hides a clear violation of international rules of war. The Hospital was not “bombed”, as the Times claims, it was attacked by an AC-130 gunship, a ground attack aircraft, with a “wide array of anti-ground weapons that are integrated with sophisticated sensors, navigation and fire control systems … [that] relies on visual targeting.” That gunship targeted the Hospital for a full hour, notwithstanding telecommunications demanding immediate stop to the attack.
The Times calls for an investigation by General John Campbell, the American commander in Afghanistan, who initially called the attack a “mistake … [that] accidently struck civilians” and the killings “justified collateral damage”. He then claimed the attack to be a “U.S. decision made within the U.S. chain of command”. The Times wants the investigation to be headed by a man they have just branded a liar by quoting him as saying “we do not strike those kinds of targets, absolutely” while at the very same time admitting the target and the killings, adding that “we would never intentionally target a protected medical facility”.
Using my 10 year old Dell computer I accessed Google Maps and I was able to bring up on screen a recent satellite image of my home in rural Washington, Connecticut as well as a recent image of downtown Kunduz with the Central Traffic Square, Kabul Bank and Salam University clearly noted and identified. The Times published today a “DigitalGlobe via Bing Maps” crystal clear image of downtown Kunduz and the DSF Hospital compound, a “huge” medical facility.
If the Times reporter and I could access these images with clicks of a mouse you would think that the boys in Air Force blue could do us one better. Only two conclusions are possible: the attack was either the result of criminal negligence or a premeditated war crime, you choose.
The first “war criminal” I defended was accused of torture, beatings, forced sodomy and one death by physical assault over a span of a couple of years in a small village in Bosnia during an internecine civil war. Not much of a transgression by international standards. As Dick Cheney would have it “shit that happens”, but certainly no excuse. My second “war criminal” was a politician far removed from the battlefield without any physical presence on the ground or in the conflict. He was indicted and charged as being part of a “criminal enterprise”, a co-conspirator. Not much of a smoking gun. Nevertheless both were indicted, branded war criminals and served 10 year prison sentences.
It took Edward Snowdon, WikiLeaks and the disclosure of 400,000 United States Army reports to document war crimes in Iraq for the period 2004-2009. London’s Guardian newspaper then reported that its review disclosed “a grim picture of the US and Britain’s legacy in Iraq … [detailing] torture, summary executions and war crimes… [t]he war logs, seen by the Guardian, contain a horrific dossier of cases where US troops killed innocent civilians at checkpoints, on Iraq’s roads and during raids on people’s homes. The victims include dozens of women and children”.
Even with the public disclosure of this information, the documentation of war crimes made by United States armed forces own personnel, no one has been charged, indicted or prosecuted. The criminals have not been brought to justice and remain unpunished.
“There can be no justification for this horrible attack” said Christopher Stokes, the general director of Doctors Without Borders. I agree. It’s high time that we acknowledge either culpable negligence or criminal premeditation and prosecute those responsible no matter how high up the chain of command we have to go. War crimes should not remain unpunished.
Deyan Ranko Brashich, an attorney is a frequent contributor. He was lead defense counsel in Prosecutor v Todorovic and Prosecutor v Krajisnik before the ICTY. He is the author of Letters from America and Contrary Views. His contact and bog “Contrary Views” is at www.deyanbrashich.com