Speaking of war crimes … committed by U.S. presidents
Bradley Blankenship
U.S. President Joe Biden. /CFP

U.S. President Joe Biden. /CFP

Editor's note: Bradley Blankenship is a Prague-based American journalist, political analyst and freelance reporter. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

U.S. President Joe Biden, on April 4, called for a war crimes trial to be mounted against Russian President Vladimir Putin over his special military operation in Ukraine in the wake of reports of mass civilian casualties in the town of Bucha, near Kyiv. "This guy is brutal, and what's happening in Bucha is outrageous, and everyone has seen it," Biden told reporters as he described Putin as "a war criminal" just a day after images of dead bodies in the streets of the town emerged. 

For its part, that same day, the Russian Foreign Ministry reiterated that it would ask the UN Security Council to meet over what it described as "criminal provocations by Ukrainian soldiers and radicals" in Bucha. According to Moscow, the images from Ukraine were "another staged performance by the Kyiv regime" and that Ukraine was spreading "deliberately false information" about Russian forces.

In my view, the images from Bucha were indeed disturbing and should be investigated fully and impartially. However, with regard to the American president's moral grandstanding, I am reminded of a quote by the famous American dissident, Noam Chomsky.

"If the Nuremberg laws were applied, then every post-war American president would have been hanged," he said in a 1990 speech. "By violation of the Nuremberg laws, I mean the same kind of crimes for which people were hanged in Nuremberg. And Nuremberg means Nuremberg and Tokyo."

In this thought experiment, Chomsky hastily gives the example of Japanese war criminal General Yamashita, who "was hanged on the grounds that troops in the Philippines, which were technically under his command… had carried out atrocities, so he was hanged." He adds, "Well, try that one out and you've already wiped out everybody."

This is an astute observation given America's long history of being at war, literally for the vast majority of its time as a sovereign nation. Indeed, many American presidents after World War II would be hanged for the same crimes that the fascists and their collaborators were hanged for – because they did exactly the same. This spans both major parties, Republicans and Democrats, and goes from figures such as Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan. 

Iraqi soldiers surrender to U.S. Marines with India Co., 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division following a gunfight near Az Bayer, Iraq, March 21, 2003. /CFP

Iraqi soldiers surrender to U.S. Marines with India Co., 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division following a gunfight near Az Bayer, Iraq, March 21, 2003. /CFP

But we don't even have to postulate about this in terms of some kind of posthumous criminal trial. By this standard, there are, to this day, war criminals alive who have committed crimes while in the White House – including, almost certainly, Biden himself. Let's look just at the last four presidents, namely George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

Bush was responsible for the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, which led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands. American soldiers committed documented war crimes during both of these offensive wars while under Bush's command. Bush also established torture camps around the world, including at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.

Labeled a weak liberal by his political opponents and having won a Nobel Peace Prize, Obama actually expanded Bush's wars to bomb seven countries in 2016 alone (that we know of). Perhaps the most egregious example of the Obama administration's bellicosity was the U.S.-led NATO intervention in Libya in 2011 that overthrew Muammar Gaddafi. NATO's bombings killed an untold number of civilians and, to this day, Libya remains a failed state that has seen a resurgence in human trafficking and international terrorism.

Trump's presidency was marred with controversy over war crimes. In fact, the Trump administration went so far as to sanction even members of the International Criminal Court (ICC) who began investigating American troops for alleged war crimes.

Since Biden took office, the American military has on multiple occasions, though notably in a Kabul airstrike that killed 10 civilians, including up to seven children, killed civilians and committed war crimes under Biden's command. 

All of these examples speak to how little moral high ground the U.S. has when alleging war crimes committed by other countries. Likewise, it also demonstrates how any application of international humanitarian law that does not include American presidents – who are, notably, also commanders in chief of the military – is rendered meaningless. 

We should at least look at what Biden said as a step up from his predecessors. After all, Gaddafi was beaten to death without a trial and Saddam Hussein was hanged after a verdict issued by a kangaroo court, both of which were broadcast on the evening news to millions of viewers.

At the minimum, Biden apparently wants to follow procedures – even if he did, in another signature gaffe, brazenly call for regime change just weeks ago. But if the sitting U.S. president really wants to put his money where his mouth is on war crimes, he should hand over the likes of George Bush to the Hague.

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