Haditha, Iraq, 19 November 2005. Five unarmed Iraqi men, a taxi driver and four teenagers, are ordered out of their car and shot dead in the street by US Army Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich. And then Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz urinates on the bloody remains of one of the men just fatally shot by his squad leader. The Marines then proceed to storm two houses and kill numerous men, women and children, including some still in their beds wearing pyjamas.
Dela Cruz testified in 2012 that Wuterich later asked him to lie about the circumstances of the killings. By 17 June 2008, six defendants had their cases dropped and a seventh was found not guilty. The exception was now-Private Frank Wuterich. Wuterich was convicted of a single count of negligent dereliction of duty on 24 January 2012. Wuterich received a rank reduction and pay cut but avoided jail time.
Ever since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, we have heard of numerous such stories of egregious human rights violations committed by US personnel in the eight-year-long war that took 209,309 lives. Not to mention, the invasion was based on false claims and, essentially, illegal. And yet, not only did the US or its allies face any consequences for committing war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen and other places, the US is not even a signatory to the Rome Statute, which gives the International Criminal Court jurisdiction over its actions.
And now, the same US is reportedly collecting evidence of possible war crimes, human rights abuses and violations of international law by Russia during its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
This is the same US who is firmly opposed to and is 'deeply disappointed' by the International Criminal Court's (ICC) probe into possible war crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories where its close ally, Isreal, killed 62 Palestinian civilians in three separate airstrikes, even though there were no evident military targets in the vicinity of the attacks as recently as last May.
This is also the same US that maintained the Guantánamo detention camp where people have been held for years without being charged with a crime. At Guantanamo, prisoners have been tortured and mistreated, there have been multiple reports of custodial deaths and when tried, prisoners are not even given fair trials.
Once again, this is the same US that helped Indonesian dictator Suharto systematically exterminate up to a million Indonesians for affiliation with the Indonesian Communist Party in 1965. Who can forget about the deadliest conflict of the Cold War era, the Korean War, where approximately 3 million people died, where the US carpet-bombed vast civilian areas, killing thousands of people.
War crimes of the West
On 16 September 2007, employees of Blackwater Security Consulting, a private military company contracted by the US government to provide security services in Iraq, opened fire on civilians in response to an approaching car, killing 17 and wounding 20 more.
The event later became known as The Nisour Square massacre. In 2014, four Blackwater employees were tried and convicted in US federal court. All four were pardoned by President Donald Trump in December 2020.
After the mass murder of unarmed South Vietnamese civilians by US troops in Sơn Tịnh District, South Vietnam, on 16 March 1968 - known as the Mỹ Lai massacre - was exposed by whistle-blowers after a year of cover-ups by the US Army, many Americans cried for justice. Not to forget the US remains the only country to use nuclear weapons. They detonated atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
In 2011, the UN voted to intervene in Libya to stop Mummar Gaddafi's brutal quelling of a popular uprising and protect civilians. In a war fought expressly to protect civilians, US-led NATO forces (featuring American and British naval forces, French Air Force, British Royal Air Force, Royal Canadian Air Force) airstrikes had killed at least 60 civilians in 20 events, a UN commission reported.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 September attacks in 2001, the US government adopted several new measures in the classification and treatment of prisoners captured in the so-called War on Terror, including applying the status of unlawful combatant to some prisoners, conducting extraordinary renditions and using torture.
Human Rights Watch has described the measures as being illegal under the Geneva Conventions. The torture of detainees was extensively detailed in the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture.
A presidential memorandum dated 7 February 2002, authorised US interrogators of prisoners captured during the War in Afghanistan to deny the prisoners basic protections required by the Geneva Conventions. Essentially, okaying war crimes.
The war that the US and its allies brought to Iraq's doorsteps was neither in self-defence against armed attack nor sanctioned by a UN Security Council resolution authorising the use of force, according to the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) in Geneva. Thus, the Iraq invasion is a war of aggression.
In 2011, the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission (KLWCC) found ex-US president George W Bush and former British Premiere Tony Blair guilty of crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, and genocide as a result of their roles in the Iraq War.
Since 26 March, 2015, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have led a military campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen. As documented by multiple human rights organisations, the Saudi/UAE-led coalition has consistently attacked civilians and civilian infrastructures including hospitals, schools, school children, weddings, farms and water wells in clear violation of the laws of war.
For decades, the US has provided Saudi Arabia and the UAE with arms and military training. In contravention of US arms trade law and international law, the US continues to sell Saudi Arabia and the UAE weapons for use in Yemen.
The US military has also provided the coalition with intelligence, logistical support, targeting assistance and training. This assistance has continued for years without the Congressional authorisation required by US law.
The UK, too, continues to sell coalition countries arms for use in Yemen in direct violation of its obligations under the Arms Trade Treaty and EU Common Position on military exports.
All these, however, does not absolve Russia of its war crimes in any way. The Russian list of war crimes in Chechnya alone includes the use of prohibited cluster bombs in the 1995 Shali cluster bomb attack, which targeted a market, a gas station and a hospital.
In its report released on 26 March 1996, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNHCR) accused the Russian troops of firing on and killing civilians at checkpoints and summarily executing captured Chechen men, both civilians and fighters. Two cases involved Russian soldiers murdering humanitarian aid workers who tried to save a civilian from execution on a street in Grozny.
But the fact remains that the US leadership and its western allies, quick to take Russia to task for its war crimes in Ukraine, not only have blood on their hands but also turned a blind eye to their own misadventures.
War crimes in any shape or form can not be justified under any circumstances, no matter the perpetrator. The silence that engulfs the western front when it comes to taking responsibility for their own crimes must be broken. The strong must pay for preying on the helpless.