US Secretary of State John Kerry opined (in an October 7 appearance with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault) that Russian military actions in Syria “beg for an appropriate investigation of war crimes.” French President Francois Hollande echoed the sentiment.
Kerry might want to keep the fate of his German predecessor, Joachim von Ribbentrop, in mind when making such statements. Ribbentrop, Hitler’s Foreign Minister, was hanged after trial at Nuremberg.
Kerry complains that Russian forces — in Syria helping that country’s government put down a rebellion backed by the United States and al Qaeda (yes, that al Qaeda) — are pursuing a “targeted strategy to terrorize civilians and to kill anybody and everybody who is in the way of their military objectives.” Maybe he’s right. I certainly harbor no love for Vladimir Putin or Bashar al-Assad.
But where, one might ask, has John Kerry been for the last 15 years as the US has pursued a “targeted strategy to terrorize civilians and to kill anybody and everybody who is in the way of their military objectives” in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia at the cost of hundreds of thousands, possibly more than a million, civilian lives?
Why did Secretary Kerry’s conscience go untroubled by possible war crimes repercussions when US forces killed at least 42 civilians in an AC-130U gunship attack on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan a year ago this month?
Where has his deep concern over war crimes been during the decade-plus US terror campaign of drone assassinations across the Middle East, Africa and Asia? Jeremy Scahill, writing for The Intercept, reports that in a two-month sampling of drone strikes in Afghanistan, nearly 90% of those killed were not the actual targets. For some reason, US drone killers seem particularly attracted to wedding parties and other noncombatant civilian activities.
Did the whole war crimes thing perhaps come into perspective for Mr. Kerry on Oct. 12, when US Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) notified him in a letter that the US may be (read: is) culpable for its involvement in Saudi war crimes in Yemen (the US provides arms and aerial refueling support to the Saudi invaders)?
There seem to be plenty of potential war crimes investigations to go around, don’t there? Maybe enough to merit renting a hall in Nuremberg.
Fortunately for Russia, Syria and the US, those three regimes haven’t ratified the Rome Statute and placed themselves under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court for war crimes. The US also lucks out with Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Somalia, none of which are party to the ICC treaty either.
Afghanistan, however, is a Rome Statute party. War crimes there come under ICC jurisdiction, regardless of who commits them. Perhaps an investigation of the Kunduz attack will fulfill Kerry’s desire to see war crimes punished.
And perhaps pigs will fly. Every nation’s ruling class considers itself exceptional and proves it by sheltering its own war criminals from justice whenever possible. Here’s hoping they all end up like Ribbentrop.
Tom Knapp is director of the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism