The US and the rest of the international community are right in condemning Vladimir Putin and the Russian army as war criminals. Russians have targeted civilian areas, hospitals and humanitarian corridors. They have used prohibited munitions such as cluster bombs. They have killed thousands of innocents and forced millions to flee as refugees.
“Deliberately attacking civilians is a war crime,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said this week, noting that the US “documents and evaluates” such abuses. “After all the destruction of the last three weeks, it’s hard for me to conclude that the Russians are doing it differently.”
Russia’s behavior has prompted a war crimes investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and a harsh condemnation by President Biden, who has described Putin as “war criminal.”
Atrocities everywhere should be treated as atrocities everywhere. Therefore, if the US is to have any shred of moral credibility in reporting war crimes in Ukraine, it must also allow international bodies to evaluate the prolific war crimes of the US military.
In Afghanistan alone, US forces held detainees in secret prisons at facilities such as Bagram Air Force Base, where they were tortured and sometimes held naked and deprived of sleep. US allies, like Afghan special forces, have carried out extrajudicial killings with shadowy commando teams. The American military regularly conducted combat operations in densely populated urban areas, injuring scores of civilians. The final act of the US war in Afghanistan was a drone strike in Kabul that accidentally killed a family of 10, including seven children.
But the US has firmly resisted longstanding attempts by the International Criminal Court to investigate his conduct in the country. In 2020, the Trump administration even sanctioned the ICC itself. Many observers believe this American pressure has successfully armed the ICC to pull US forces and its allies away from a revived Afghanistan probe in 2021.
Such actions deny long-deferred justice to victims of war crimes and support the valid perception that human rights law and its enforcing agencies are “Western- and Western-erected institutions” and “only instruments for Western policy,” as Shaharzad Akbar, the was chairman of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission until the Taliban took power The interception.
Not that the US has ever been particularly interested in scrutinizing its global armed forces. Unlike Russia, the US is not a signatory to the 1998 Rome Statute, which established the ICC in the first place.
This disparity – that the US seeks to be both the armed enforcer of world norms and the sole exception to them – is a propaganda boon for those who wish to join America and avoid accountability when they commit war crimes.
“Such statements by Mr. Biden are absolutely inadmissible, unacceptable and unforgivable,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov this week on US criticism of Putin as a war criminal. “The main thing is that the head of state, who has been bombing people around the world for many years, has no right to make such statements.”
He’s right. The US position on war crimes seems to be something like Richard Nixon’s famous statement: “If the President does it, that means it’s not illegal.”
One of the amazing things about the global response to the invasion of Ukraine was its moral clarity and international unity. Nations around the world have sanctioned Russia and its leaders, and unlike in previous conflicts, a multitude of private sector companies have joined them, giving up billions in Russia to do the right thing. It’s a level of cohesion and urgency that has eluded us even in the face of other moral and humanitarian catastrophes in our midst, like the climate crisis.
Just as Vladimir Putin alone has much of the power to end the war in Ukraine, only the US really has the power to allow investigations into the American military. One of the perks of being superpowered is that you can decide what rules apply to you. But if we are to live in a world where such arbitrary and hypocritical exercise of power is a thing of the past — in Ukraine, in Afghanistan, or elsewhere — Americans must go beyond half-hearted commitments to international justice.
Recent reports that the Biden administration is reviewing its ICC guidelines are encouraging, but reviews of the guidelines are not enough. The people of countries like Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq and numerous other countries are waiting for the US to reckon with its past actions and its past mistakes. That’s the least these people deserve when the US has taken so much from them.
https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/putin-ukraine-russia-war-crimes-b2039228.html Biden is right to investigate Putin’s war crimes. He was also supposed to investigate American war crimes