Chicago Tribune, Sec 2 Perspective, Sunday, May 23, 1999, pp1 and 5
WAR CRIMES LAW APPLIES TO U.S. TOO
by Walter J. Rockler
As justification for our murderously destructive bombing campaign in
Yugoslavia, it is of coarse necessary for the U.S. to charge that the
Serbs have engaged in inhuman conduct, and that President Slobodan
Milosevic, the head Serb demon, is a war criminal almost without peer.
President Clinton assures us of this in frequent briefings, during which
he engages in rethorical combat with Milosevic. But shouting "war
criminal" only emphasizes that those who live in glass houses should be
careful about throwing stones.
We have engaged in fragrant military aggression, ceaselessly attacking a
small country primarily to demonstrate that we run the world. The
rationale that we are simply enforcing international morality, even if
it were true, would not excuse the military aggression and wide spread
killing that it entails. It also does not lessen the culpability of the
authors of this aggression.
As a primary source of international law, the judgment of the Nuremberg
Tribunal in the 1945-1946 case of the major Nazi war criminals is plain
and clear. Our leaders often invoke and praise the judgement, but
obviously have not read it. The International Court declared:
"To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an
international crime, it is the supreme international crime deferring
only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the
accumulated evil of the whole."
At Nuremberg, the United States and Britain pressed the prosecution of
Nazi leaders for planing and initiating aggressive war. Supreme Court
Justice Robert Jackson, the head of American prosecution staff, asserted
"that launching a war aggression is a crime and that no political or
economic situation can justify it." He also declared that "if certain
acts in violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the
United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not
prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we
would not be willing to have invoked against us."
The United Nations Charter views aggression similarly. Articles 2(4) and
(7) prohibit interventions in the domestic jurisdiction of any country
and threats of force or the use of force by one state against the
another. The General Assembly of the UN in Resolution 2131, "declaration
on the Inadmissibility of Intervention," reinforced the view that a
forceful military intervention in any country is aggression and crime
Putting a "NATO" label on aggressive policy and conduct does not give
that conduct any sanctity. This is simply a perversion of the North
Atlantic Treaty organization, formed as a defensive alliance under the
UN Charter. The North Atlantic Treaty pledged its signatories to refrain
from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the
purposes of the United Nations, and it explicitly recognized "the
primary responsibility of the Security Council (of United Nations) for
the maintenance of international peace and security." Obviously, in
bypassing UN approval for the current bombing, the U.S. and NATO have
violated the basic obligation.
>From another standpoint of international law, the current conduct of the
bombing by United States and NATO constitutes a continued war crime.
Contrary to the beliefs of our war planners, unrestricted air bombing is
barred under international law. Bombing the "infrastructure" of a
country - waterworks, electricity, plants, bridges, factories,
television and radio locations -is not an attack limited to legitimate
military objectives. Our bombing has also caused an excessive loss of
life and injury to civilians, which violates another standard. We have
now killed hundreds, if not thousands, of Serbs, Montenegrins and
Albanians, even some Chinese, in our pursuit of humanitarian ideals.
In addition to shredding the UN Charter and perverting the purpose of
NATO, Clinton also has violated at least two provisions of the United
States Constitution. Under Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution,
Congress, not the president, holds the power to declare war and to
punish offenses against the law of nations. Alexander Hamilton in The
Federalist No. 69 pointed out one difference between a monarchy and the
presidency under the new form of government: A king could use his army
as he pleased; the president would have no such unlimited power. Under
Article VI of the Constitution, treaties, far from being mere scraps of
paper as we now deem them to be, are part of the supreme law of the
United States. Of course, these days a supine Congress, fascinated only
by details of sexual misconduct, can hardly be expected to enforce
Nor can a great deal be expected from the media. Reports rely on
controlled handouts of the State Department, Pentagon and NATO, seeing
their duty as one adding colorful details to official intimations of
Serbs atrocities. Thus, the observation of a NATO press relations
officer that a freshly plowed field, seen from 30,000 feet up, might be
the site of a massacre has been disseminated as news.
The notion that humanitarian violations can be redressed with random
destruction and killing by advanced technological means is inherently
suspect. This is mere pretext for our arrogant assertion of dominance
and power in defiance of international law. We make the nonnegotiable
demands and rules, and implement them by military force. It is all
remindful of Henrik Ibsen's "Don't use that foreign word "ideals." We
have that excellent word "lies."
Walter J. Rockler, a Washington lawyer, was a prosecutor at Nuremberg
War Crimes Trial.
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