Feature

WikiLeaks exposes U.S. war crimes

The U.S. military logs from the Afghan conflict recently made public by WikiLeaks reveal a staggering toll of innocent lives.

“Barack Obama’s war in Afghanistan is as dirty as that of his predecessor George W. Bush,” said Spain’s Cuarto Poder in an editorial. The tens of thousands of U.S. military logs from the Afghan conflict recently made public by WikiLeaks reveal a staggering toll of innocent lives. According to the documents, U.S. and coalition troops make almost no efforts to avoid killing civilians. Instead, they use a “scorched earth strategy,” committing egregious human-rights violations “every day, every hour, and in every location.” To take just one example, the documents describe how U.S. soldiers fleeing a suicide bombing opened fire indiscriminately, killing 19 civilians. Officers on the scene then forced journalists who were present to delete their photos of the carnage, and the soldiers made no mention of the deaths in their official report. “It’s as if the Geneva Conventions didn’t exist.”

Let’s not mince words: These are “war crimes,” said Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror. The WikiLeaks trove even shows that the U.S. has created what amounts to “death squads”—special-forces units devoted to the assassination of targeted Taliban leaders. These squads operate with total impunity, killing countless innocents for every militant they pick off. This “imperial war” has taken on a “demonic nature.” But there’s little chance the war criminals will ever be prosecuted. The U.S. did not sign the treaty that established the International Criminal Court, the forum for trying war crimes, “because it argued that the U.S. judicial system was strong and credible enough to try war crimes suspects who are U.S. citizens.” Of course, in practice, the Americans shrug off allegations against their soldiers.

That’s simply the American way, said K. Selim in Algeria’s Le Quotidien d’Oran. Remember the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War? An entire U.S. Army unit killed hundreds of women and children, raping and torturing many of them first. Yet after this “especially horrific episode in the history of humanity,” only one American, a junior officer, was convicted. More recently, the Marines were never disciplined for using chemical weapons, in the form of white phosphorous bombs, against Iraqi civilians in Fallujah in 2004. Americans simply don’t care all that much about the lives of foreigners. “Any traffic accident in their own country arouses more emotion.”

But it’s not only the U.S. soldiers who behave “as if Afghan lives were worthless,” said Afghanistan’s Rah-e Nejat. Other NATO armies in the coalition—including from countries that have signed the International Criminal Court treaty—are just as bad. The WikiLeaks logs describe more than 100 cases of civilians being killed—all of them incidents that NATO never reported to Afghan officials. They include an attack by French forces on a bus carrying Afghan children, and an attack by Polish forces on a wedding ceremony, in which the bride and groom were both killed. Those are war crimes, pure and simple. Afghan anger at the slaughter has been smoldering for years. If the international community refuses to prosecute the war criminals, that anger could “catch fire, and possibly overwhelm the foreign troops.”

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