In May, 2002, the following leaflet was circulated to G.I.s on Okinawa. The leaflet raises for U.S. servicemen, as well as for the highest U.S. leaders in Washington, the issue of responsibility for war crimes in light of international law.These are issues that confront the U.S. military globally.
TO ALL U.S. GIs: THIS MEANS YOU!
On May 6, US President Bush announced that the US is not going to cooperate with the new International Criminal Court (ICC). This Court was established by an international treaty (signed by then President Clinton) for the purpose of prosecuting war crimes.
Why won’t the US cooperate? Isn’t the US opposed to war crimes?
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld explained that “the court would be an obstacle to the fight against terrorism. . . . by potentially opening American servicemen and women to prosecution.”(New York Times, May 7)
This means you.
War Crimes? What war crimes? What counts as a war crime?
In general there are two kinds. One is violation of the laws of war, things like using poison gas, torturing prisoners, raping women, or killing civilians intentionally.
But there is another kind. The Charter of the United Nations says, “All Members shall refrain. . . from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. . . .”(Article 2) In other words, starting a war by, for example, invading a country, is a war crime. In the Nuremberg trials (where Nazi war criminals were tried after World War II) this was called the crime against peace: “namely, planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression . . ..” (Nuremberg Charter, Art. 6). International law doesn’t allow exceptions, like “unless it’s in your national interest”, or “unless that country has a bad government.”
Invasion/aggression is a war crime, and that’s it.
Invasion? What Invasion? Where?
Read the newspapers carefully, and you’ll get the answer. For example, here is the New York Times again, April 28: “The Bush administration, in developing a potential approach for toppling President Saddam Hussein of Iraq, is concentrating its attention on a major air campaign and ground invasion, with initial estimates contemplating the use of 70,000 to 250,000 troops.”
So that’s why the Bush administration doesn’t want to give any international court the power to prosecute Americans for war crimes!
But this “250,000 troops” probably means you too, right? So remember, if anyone gives you any orders that are in violation of the laws of war you are not obligated to obey them. In fact you are obligated not to obey them. If you do carry them out you will be fully responsible as the willing participant in a war crime.
What you do is your decision. Good luck!
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