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USA: The “Laws” on War Crimes Apply to Everyone—Except US, of Course

U.S. President Biden accused Russia of “war crimes” and has now escalated this with charges of “genocide.” First and foremost, for the unprecedented hypocrisy of this, go here and here.

Biden’s officials floated and invoked the International Criminal Court (ICC) as the potential forum to adjudicate these “war crimes.” But neither Biden nor the American bourgeois media mention the inconvenient fact that the U.S. itself has never agreed to be part of or respect the authority of the ICC. Moreover, the U.S. has attacked the ICC for decades.

The Rome Statute is a treaty that went into effect in 2002, signed by more than 120 countries (the U.S. and Russia are among the countries not parties to the Statute, along with other major powers like China and India). The ICC is the enforcement apparatus for the Rome Statute. As a set of intra-governmental agreements, mainly crafted and dominated by the Western European imperialists around EU/NATO, the Rome Statute purports to set “rules of the game” for conflict, including war, applicable largely to signatories of the agreements. In that context, the Rome Statute bans torture; sexual violence; attacks on civilians; systematic racial oppression; humiliating and degrading treatment in the context of a war; and using starvation as a weapon of war.

While these are legitimate "abstract and theoretical" standards to be upheld even under this system of capitalism-imperialism, in reality, there are virtually no means to actually enforce these, and all this is routinely ignored, and what are mainly brought to trial are various oppositional largely “non-state” groups and individuals, as and when it serves the interests of some particular oppressive state, or group of states, in the so-called “international community.”

USA: How Dare Anyone Try to Apply Laws Against War Crimes to Us!

By any definition, the USA is #1 in war crimes and crimes against humanity. To see for oneself, read the list of acts defined as war crimes in Article 8 of the Rome Statute and then compare that list to the partial list of U.S. war crimes documented in The United States of Atrocity: When It Comes to War Crimes, USA Is “Number One”. Human Rights Watch (HRW) is an organization with close ties to the U.S. State Department, and a consistent record of ignoring or downplaying human rights abuses committed by the U.S. and its allies. But HRW produced a report documenting how the U.S. government has aggressively moved to bully and silence the ICC when its investigations dare to come close to identifying U.S. war crimes. For example:

  • In the context of moves to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity carried out by the U.S. in the “war on terror,” Bush signed into law the “American Servicemembers Protection Act” in 2002, authorizing the use of military force to “liberate” any American or citizen of a U.S.-allied country being held by the ICC.
  • Under the fascist Trump/Pence regime, the U.S. government threatened retaliatory steps against ICC staff and member countries should the court investigate U.S. or allied country citizens. Trump told the UN General Assembly that the “United States will provide no support or recognition to the International Criminal Court. As far as America is concerned the ICC has no jurisdiction, no legitimacy, and no authority.”


Aftermath of U.S. drone attack in Afghanistan, April 2019    Photo: AP

  • On March 15, 2019, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. would impose visa bans on ICC officials involved in the court’s potential investigation of U.S. citizens for alleged crimes in Afghanistan. He said that the U.S. would be prepared to take further actions, including economic sanctions, “if the ICC does not change its course.” The Trump regime confirmed in early April 2019 that it had revoked the visa of the ICC Prosecutor.
  • Pompeo publicly threatened by name two staff members of the ICC on March 17, 2020, stating that he was “considering what the United States’ next steps ought to be with respect to these individuals and all those who are putting Americans at risk.” Pompeo said he wanted to identify people responsible for the investigation – and their family members – and implied he could seek actions against them. On May 15, 2020, Pompeo vowed to “exact consequences” if the ICC “continues down its current course” – that is, if the court moved forward with an investigation into Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people (as well as alleged war crimes by Palestinian forces).
Palestinian woman expresses anger at massive carnage caused by Israeli airstrike.


Palestinian woman expresses anger at massive carnage caused by Israeli airstrike on Gaza, May 2021.     Photo: Anadolu Agency-Ali-Jadallah

  • Trump issued a sweeping executive order on June 11, 2020, authorizing asset freezes and family entry bans that could be imposed against certain ICC officials. The executive order also provided for the same sanctions against anyone who assisted certain ICC investigations.

While the Democrats brand themselves as relying on “alliances” and “diplomacy” and Biden revoked Trump’s specific executive order targeting specific ICC officials, he framed that change as a tactical adjustment in the context of a sweeping reassertion that the ICC had no right to investigate U.S. war crimes.

Yet, and however, the U.S. now finds the ICC a legitimate forum to adjudicate these claims against Russia—in conjunction with Western European imperialist powers closely allied with the U.S. 

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