War Criminals Watch was founded to demand prosecutions of the Bush administration’s high officials and subsequent administrations guilty of "high crimes and misdemeanors." Key officials must be held accountable and prosecuted for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Only an energized and politically active public can make this happen. War criminals must be publicly shamed and prevented from occupying powerful positions in our society. A public accounting will restore lawful conduct.
The brutality of the US government’s “war on terror”has been condemned both by the court of international public opinion and by the Principles of International Law governing human rights. The wars of aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan and the torture of detainees are clearly defined as war crimes by the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Conventions, the Convention against Torture and other treaties to which the United States is a signatory. Under the aegis of "national security," additional countries are being drawn into these on-going wars.
The Principles of International Law, recognized in the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal and in the Judgment of the Tribunal, provide no defense for war crimes. Similarly, the Convention Against Torture, which defines torture as a war crime, provides that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture.”
The prohibition against war crimes is thus absolute. As US Justice Robert Jackson proclaimed at Nuremberg: “No grievances or policies will justify resort to aggressive war. It is utterly renounced and condemned as an instrument of policy. The same applies to other war crimes as well. The war crimes of one’s opponents are no justification for one’s own."
We have an obligation to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity after they occur as well as to stop the shameful policies that allow them to continue.
It is now time to call out President Obama and other members of his administration on the issue of war crimes.
Failure to prosecute Bush era war criminals
In the run-up to the 2008 election Obama recognized how the past casts a long shadow across history. Referring to slavery and racial injustice, he paraphrased William Faulkner’s: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Nevertheless, from the beginning Obama condoned the Bush-era war crimes by not prosecuting Bush officials and by appointing many Bush-era officials to his administration. Before he was even inaugurated, Obama opposed any investigations citing "a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards." Indeed, he has both granted amnesty to the CIA agents involved in torture and offered legal defense against prosecution from any quarter.
In February 2010 the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility issued its report on whether John Yoo and Jay Bybee should be held accountable for their role in writing internal memos providing legal cover for torture, indefinite incarceration without trial, rendition, massive spying and other practices. The report found they engaged in "intentional professional misconduct” by ignoring legal precedent and providing poor legal advice. But it did not hold them accountable for the crimes committed under the cover of their “legal” memos. Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis downgraded the report’s conclusions to “poor judgment.” As a result, two slaps on the wrist are all that have emerged from an investigation into one of the darkest periods of modern US history.
The Obama administration’s aggressive, full-scale whitewashing of the “war on terror” crimes was completed in August 2012, when Attorney General Eric Holder announced the closing without charges of the only two cases under investigation relating to the US torture program: one that resulted in the 2002 death of an Afghan detainee at a secret CIA prison near Kabul and the other the 2003 death of an Iraqi citizen while in CIA custody at Abu Ghraib. This decision, said The New York Times, "eliminat[es] the last possibility that any criminal charges will be brought as a result of the brutal interrogations carried out by the CIA."
Obama war crimes under definitions set forth above
Obama has expanded Bush’s “War on Terror” to a “Global Battlefield” where suspected terrorists anywhere can be subjected to “targeted killings” by drone strikes without charge or trial. This has happened not only in Afghanistan and Iraq but also in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and possibly Mali. The “collateral damage” from these strikes has killed large numbers of women and children as well as young men of military age whom the Obama administration arbitrarily counts as combatants.
Several leaders accused of Bush-era war crimes remained in the Obama administration – for example, Stanley McChrystal, Robert Gates, David Petraeus and Jonathan Fredman, and of course John O. Brennan – now head of the CIA. All have been involved in military and domestic "national security" policy. In April 2012 Brennan was the first Obama administration official to publicly acknowledge the CIA drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan and elsewhere. In his speech at the Wilson Center, he argued for the legality, morality and effectiveness of the program. In 2011/2012 he also helped to codify the process, under the aegis of the Disposition Matrix database by which people outside of war zones are put on the list of drone targets. The reorganization helped "concentrate power" over the process inside the White House administration. The war in Afghanistan was expanded during Obama’s first administration. Military strategy was then under the direction of Gen. David Petraeus, an expert in counterinsurgency. The war continues with fewer US troops and unknown numbers of contractors.
Withdrawal from Iraq has faded into the future. When and if the troops do go, thousands of private military contractors remain. Meanwhile the situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate, with the increasing threat of a full-scale civil war.
Despite Obama’s promises, Guantánamo still has not been closed. It should be noted that 86 of the remaining prisoners have already been cleared for release by the Guantánamo Review Task Force, a group of 60 officials and lawyers from government departments and intelligence agencies who reviewed all the Guantánamo cases in 2009. Many of the prisoners have remained in detention because they are Yemenis. By order of Obama all the remaining 166 prisoners are now held in “indefinite detention” – without charge or trial. Most of the men have been there for 10 or 11 years.
In 2012, a harsher military administration was imposed at Guantánamo. Despairing of their release, the prisoners have staged a prolonged hunger strike. Unless action is taken soon (as June 2013) the strike will result in prisoner deaths.
An unknown number of prisoners in secret detention centers or "black sites" around the world are not allowed access to courts or lawyers or even knowledge of the charges or evidence against them.
Detainees are still enduring prolonged isolation, sleep, sensory deprivation and force-feeding. These techniques cause extreme mental anguish and permanent physical damage and are not permitted under international law. In other words, the US still engages in torture.
Solitary confinement has also taken place on US soil without trial or conviction. Two examples: first, Syed Fahad Hashmi, a Muslim-American student, was held for two and a half years in downtown Manhattan under Special Administrative Measures (SAMS) and subsequently in Colorado under the same conditions after receiving a sentence of 25 years based on a (plea-bargained) informant’s testimony. Second, Bradley Manning, accused of providing material to WikiLeaks, was held in solitary confinement from late May 2010 until April 2011. Even inside his cell, his activities were heavily restricted: banned from exercising, under constant surveillance and denied many of the most basic attributes of civilized imprisonment, including a pillow or sheets for his bed. He was forced to strip naked for inspections and, for the one hour per day when he was freed from isolation, he was barred from accessing any news or current events programs. Bradley Manning’s trial is currently under way with access by news media severely restricted by the military.
No constraints by courts or Congress have been placed on the Obama administration’s war crimes. Despite Obama’s declaration of transparency in government, a wall of secrecy shrouds the conduct of wars, including drone war and covert operations. Meanwhile former Bush officials have new roles in society: professor, lawyer, corporate manager, lecturer on the lucrative speaker circuit and even Obama administration officials. Only the public can demand that these criminal policies stop now! We have an obligation not only to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity after they occur but to put an end to the shameful policies which allow them to continue.
Read, sign and donate to our full-page ad to close Guantánamo published in The New York Times on May 23, 2013. Help us get it printed in other publications. Read our earlier ad, Crimes Are Crimes, No Matter Who Does Them, and watch short video statements by some of the signers.