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Wednesday December 08, 2021

Culture of impunity

November 16, 2021

Many rights activists might have been confused by an unashamed justification offered by the US ruling elite for a March 2019 American air strike on Syrians that killed around 80 people, mostly women and children. But for those sitting in the power corridors of Washington, it is business as usual.

The lethal March 18 strike, targeting the town of Baghuz on the Euphrates River, had triggered calls for an inquiry into the matter. The area which was targeted by the strike forms the Syrian-Iraq border, where members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), with US air support, were besieging the last few IS fighters in the war-torn Arab republic which was under the decades-long rule of the al-Assad family.

Justifying the action, the US Central Command argued that because some women and children had taken up arms for IS, whether through indoctrination or choice, they “could not strictly be classified as civilians”. It claimed the context for the airstrikes was a desperate last stand by IS. “The Isis pocket included thousands of fighters and family members including women and children,” said Captain Bill Urban, the Central Command spokesman.

“The remaining fighters including some women and child combatants, along with many Isis family members, including some who were likely held against their will, decided to make a determined stand in an area that included buildings, tunnels and cliffs. Multiple entreaties to Isis to allow family members to depart the area were rebuffed, and thousands of family members remained in the area of the fighting.”

Recalling the incident, Urban claimed that on the morning of March 18, IS fighters launched a counterattack on SDF positions that lasted several hours, during which an SDF position was in danger of being overrun, and US special forces called in an airstrike. He said that they were unaware that a drone with a high-definition video footage was in the area and relied on a standard definition feed from another drone.

According to the Central Command account, the drones over Baghuz had used all their Hellfire missiles, so the air support available came from F-15s, which dropped three bombs. The bombs killed at least 16 IS fighters, according to the US military assessment. It also confirmed four civilian deaths.

These claims of the US military officials fly in the face of the allegations levelled by some current and former Pentagon officials who believe there had been a cover-up of a likely war crime. They were not the only one to cast doubt over the way the strike was carried out, but according to Western media reports, the Air Force lawyer, Lt Col Dean Korsak, had also taken up the matter with the Pentagon inspector general, but the subsequent report made no mention of the strike. This forced Korsak to send details of the incident to the US Senate Armed Services Committee. It seems that Korsak was apprehensive about a possible retaliation from military officials for sending this to the committee. He expressed this fear in his correspondence with the committee.

According to the emails obtained by the New York Times, Korsak wrote, “I’m putting myself at great risk of military retaliation for sending this.” The lawyer reportedly accused senior ranking US military officials of intentionally and systematically circumventing the deliberate strike process. Gene Tate, a civilian analyst in the inspector general’s office, who complained about the lack of action, was forced out of his job.

It is quite unfortunate that anyone who tries to expose the wrongdoing of the military industrial complex and warmongers is either sent packing or punished to teach lessons to others. Bradley Manning was punished for speaking truth to power. Edward Snowden had to flee the most democratic country of the world after revealing the machinations of the US ruling elite while Julian Assange is suffering from inhumane treatment for challenging the mighty American political leadership and US allies.

While conscientious US citizens and dissenting voices in other parts of the Western capitalist world suffer the consequences of daring to challenge the mighty rulers of the modern world, war criminals like Henry Kissinger, George W Bush, Tony Blair and their acolytes strut around the world lecturing people on peace. Kissinger was responsible for military coups in a number of developing countries, which stoked chaos and unrest, leading to brutal killings of thousands of people.

Tony Blair concocted lies about the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and still unashamedly justifies his immoral stance on the invasion of the Arab country by the US. Bush’s assertions regarding Iraq also turned out to be apocryphal, but he still has the moral audacity to lecture states about the importance of morality in international affairs.

Even before the 2004 Iraq invasion, the worst war crimes were committed against the people of Iraq. More than 500,000 children died because of the inhumane sanctions imposed on the country at the behest of the US and other Western powers. The sanctions forced a few conscientious Americans and UN officials to voice concern over the plight of Iraqi people, but the civilised Western democratic world remained unmoved. Former US secretary state Madeleine Albright unabashedly justified these killings of Iraqi children. The US invasion added to the country’s woes, plunging the country into a sectarian frenzy.

The aggression and ensuing civil war claimed more than 2.5 Iraqi lives besides destroying its infrastructure, causing its plundering by Washington and its allies, and tearing down its social fabric. Since those who played havoc with the lives of Iraqis remained unaccounted for, they were encouraged to sow chaos in Syria, Libya and other parts of the world as well.

Iraq was not the first country to be invaded and destroyed on a false claim, but many in the past were also devastated on the basis of deception and fabrication. Lies were invented or some small incidents were blown out of proportion to achieve ulterior motives and obnoxious goals. For instance, the threat of Vietcong was exaggerated to justify an invasion of one of the world’s poorest countries, in the 1960s.

The offer of Vietnamese communist groups to hold polls in the north was rejected. The country was ruthlessly bombed, killing more than three million people. Laos and Cambodia were not spared either. The three conflicts are estimated to have caused more than five million deaths; millions others were maimed or wounded. No one was held accountable for such crimes.

This lack of accountability is to be blamed on the sense of impunity that the American ruling class has been enjoying for decades. It is this sense which prevents Washington from accepting the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC), prompting it to threaten the court and declaring the UN irrelevant if the global body dares to deviate from the line drawn by the mighty state of America. This strange belief in American exceptionalism prompts the US to raise a hue and cry over war crimes in several parts of the world but prevents it from sending its own soldiers to places where they can be prosecuted.

Some critics believe if an impartial inquiry is conducted into all the conflicts that occurred during the last three hundred years, a number of American presidents and senior officials would be in the dock, answering for the wrongdoing that they committed while in power. Applying the principles of war crimes and strengthening the ICC could be one of the ways to end this culture of impunity that seems to have penetrated in all sections of American life.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

Email: egalitarianism444@ gmail.com