U.S. Military Crimes against Civilians: My Lai and Haditha

Yoselina Guevara López

It is widely known that the United States government has carried out and continues to carry out wars of every kind against sovereign nations in order to impose its geopolitical, economic and military dominance in the world. On the one hand, the U.S. government presents itself as the defender of international law, claiming that its initiatives are in the name of the “international community” or “free countries”, and in this sense it portrays itself as the faithful executor of the resolutions of the United Nations (UN). But at the same time, it boldly declares that it reserves the right to take any war initiative, even without a UN mandate.It is easy to unmask the clumsy attempts of the White House to present the US military as some kind of peace and charity mission coming to the aid of humanity.

Geneva Convention and war crimes

Declaring and waging war on a State is in itself a very serious crime, equivalent to multiplying the crime of murder by a million times. However, even in war, mankind has endowed itself with rules that should be respected, the violation of which is called a “war crime”. After World War I, as scientific progress led to the development of ever more brutal instruments of death, the various countries agreed to ban the use of certain new, particularly devastating weapons, which led to particularly atrocious behavior on the part of those who handled them.
https://redhargentina.files.wordpress.com/2021/08/nagasaki_photo_2.jpg?w=816&h=487Ruins of Nakasaki after the nuclear explosion of August 9, 1945.

This led to the Geneva Convention, ratified by a large number of states, signed in the Swiss city of the same name in August 1949. Exactly four years earlier, in August 1945, the Americans had dropped the uranium bomb Little Boy on the Japanese city of Hiroshima and, three days later, the plutonium bomb Fat Man on the Japanese city of Nagasaki, killing 120,000 people and injuring 130,000. It should be noted that when these bombs were dropped, Hitler’s Germany had already been defeated, and Japan was completely isolated and losing on all fronts. In other words, this war experiment was not carried out to put an end to the Second World War, but to test its devastating capacity on the bodies of more than two hundred thousand innocent people, to send a warning to the Soviet Union and to make it clear to all mankind which nation was the most powerful and which should therefore dominate the world. From that moment on, the international community pronounced “never again”, in fact the preamble of the UN Charter (1) begins with the well-known formula in which the member states declare their determination “to save future generations from the scourge of war”. Four years later, those same nations adopted the Geneva Convention, establishing the famous “jus in bello” which prohibits, among other things:

-The killing of enemies who relinquish their arms and surrender.

-The interrogation of prisoners of war to obtain information about the enemy army.

-Any material, physical, psychological or moral mistreatment of prisoners of war.

-Any action of war which involves only the death of civilians, or which together with the death of enemy soldiers also involves the death of a considerable number of civilians.

-Any action intended to produce suffering in the civilian population such as deprivation of water, food and basic necessities.

-The use, in weapons and projectiles capable of producing wounds that cause special suffering and are difficult to treat.

-The use of any type of chemical or bacteriological weapon.

My Lai Massacre

For the past 72 years, the United States has continuously violated the Geneva Convention, committing a wide range of war crimes against civilians. In the US interventions in Korea (1950-53) and Vietnam (1965-72), the US military, finding itself in great difficulty on the battlefield, made massive use of bombing against the civilian population, massacring them with napalm and cluster bombs (2).

On March 16, 1968 in Vietnam, the US Army carried out one of the most gruesome and cruel massacres in the history of mankind. US soldiers of Company C, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry, 11th Brigade, 23rd Infantry Division, led by Lieutenant William Calley, who in turn was under the command of Captain Ernest Medina, arrived at the village of “Son My”, located about 800 kilometers north of Saigon, on the central coast of South Vietnam. The American soldiers entered “My Lai”, one of the four villages that formed part of “Son My”, there were no clashes because they did not find any members of the Vietnam National Liberation Front (Vietcong) waiting for them, only old men, women and children without any weapons. The soldiers surrounded them and inspected the houses; then, without the civilian population firing a single shot, they began the massacre, the elderly were tortured, the women raped, the children killed.
https://redhargentina.files.wordpress.com/2021/08/my_lai_massacre.jpgThe My Lai massacre was the result not only of the brutality of the intervening unit, but also of the promotion system that the US army implemented based on the number of enemy casualties.

One of the survivors, 80-year-old Pham Thi Thuan, in a 2018 report by journalist Thomas Maresca (3) recounts how she was forced with her two young daughters into a ditch with hundreds of people while the US soldiers took turns shooting. Thuan who miraculously survived with her daughters recalls “I had to step over many bodies…I was crying so much. I wondered what had happened, why we were the only ones who survived.” The testimony of Hugh Thompson, an American pilot (123rd Aviation Battalion Company) who flew over the area and gave an account of what had happened, is terrifying: “Everywhere we looked, we saw corpses…babies, children of two, three, four and five years old, women, very old men”. This officer prevented the continued killing of civilians and organized the evacuation of survivors, ordered his crew to fire on the Americans themselves if they did not stop the killing and attack them. In the record of the investigation conducted by the US Army Services Hugh Thompson stated(4) “there were so many people killed that I didn’t understand why they had been killed and it just didn’t make sense”. It is estimated that more than 500 civilians were killed in “My Lai” and it is considered one of the worst American war crimes in history, but sadly it still goes unpunished.

Haditha repeats My Lai

In 2003 the U.S.-led multinational coalition invaded Iraq to overthrow the government of Saddam Hussein, while unleashing resistance from local armed groups against the foreign invaders. On the morning of November 19, 2005, a U.S. Marine unit was on patrol in “Haditha,” an agricultural town in the heart of Al-Anbar. A U.S. convoy was attacked with a bomb, killing one Marine, 20-year-old Corporal Miguel Terrazas, and wounding two other soldiers. Shortly thereafter, a vengeful fury was unleashed by 12 Marines belonging to the 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment, 1st Marine Division, who stopped a cab coming towards them and shot and killed the driver and four college students. The soldiers then split up and broke into four neighboring houses and began a veritable massacre of unarmed civilians, whose murders were carried out in a methodical manner. They threw grenades and opened fire on the residential houses without any resistance from the population. In a Dantesque operation they killed men, women, children and the elderly for no apparent reason; according to eyewitness accounts and local officials, the civilians who died in “Haditha” were deliberately killed by the Marines. The gravity of the events of November 19, 2005 led several analysts to call the Haditha massacre the “My Lai of Iraq,” the worst case of deliberate killing of Iraqi civilians by the U.S. military. The international criminal court has also listed a series of charges against U.S. soldiers stationed in Afghanistan who have been accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity ranging from torture and cruel treatment, outrage of dignity, rape and other forms of sexual violence.
The Haditha massacre in Iraq in 2005 replicated the international outrage the world experienced over My Lai in Vietnam.

The utopia of international justice

The International Criminal Court was born out of a treaty signed in Rome, Italy as a tribunal to punish those guilty of genocide, human rights violations, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Since the creation of the Court, the United States has shown strong antagonism towards the criminal judges in The Hague. In May 2002, US President Bush declared his intention not to ratify the 2000 agreement already signed by the Clinton administration, and the court became operational on July 1, 2002, at which time US policy towards the tribunal was not to establish a frontal clash but to seek to obstruct the role of this important international court. They preferred to circumvent the court by signing bilateral agreements (known as Article 98 or non-surrender agreements) in which the allied states undertook not to hand over US military and personnel to the International Criminal Court. This was intended to inhibit the jurisdiction of the Court over possible international crimes committed by U.S. citizens present on the territory of the state party to the bilateral agreement.

The International Criminal Court was born out of a treaty signed in Rome, Italy as a tribunal to punish those guilty of genocide, human rights violations, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Since the creation of the Court, the United States has shown strong antagonism towards the criminal judges in The Hague. In May 2002, US President Bush declared his intention not to ratify the 2000 agreement already signed by the Clinton administration, and the court became operational on July 1, 2002, at which time US policy towards the tribunal was not to establish a frontal clash but to seek to obstruct the role of this important international court. They preferred to circumvent the court by signing bilateral agreements (known as Article 98 or non-surrender agreements) in which the allied states undertook not to hand over US military and personnel to the International Criminal Court. This was intended to inhibit the jurisdiction of the Court over possible international crimes committed by U.S. citizens present on the territory of the state party to the bilateral agreement.

On March 5, 2020, the Appeals Chamber of the Tribunal, by unanimous decision, authorized the investigation, requested by Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in 2017, concerning events on the territory of Afghanistan in which U.S. military personnel are alleged to have committed war crimes . In response on June 11, 2020, the by then President of the United States Donald Trump declared the adoption of Executive Order 13928 containing economic sanctions and restrictions on movement within the United States,to officials of the International Criminal Court, and also for anyone providing evidence or participating in investigations against the US military. On April 1, 2021 , after the advent of Joe Biden as President of the United States, the Secretary of State announced the revocation of Executive Order 13928(5) on sanctions on individuals associated with the International Criminal Court (ICC). Although the US government confirmed its “disagreement with the ICC’s actions in relation to the situation in Afghanistan and Palestine”. The position of the current Biden administration is aimed at addressing the issue of the Hague Tribunal, not by imposing sanctions, but “by engaging all interested parties in the ICC process”. This means that in relation to an investigation involving U.S. military personnel, it will be sufficient for the U.S. government to file a complaint with the ICC stating that they are already proceeding with the pertinent internal criminal investigations, in order to block the international process and ensure that the military will not be tried in The Hague. With this, the illusion that under the Biden administration there will be a rethinking of U.S. policy on the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court vanishes. US imperialism is cruel and criminal, its policies do not change, so far Joe Bien has shown himself to be the most catastrophic of US rulers, his maxim seems to be “change everything to change nothing”.

Notes

(1) Charter of the United Nations.

https://www.un.org/es/about-us/un-charter/full-text

(2) Napalm is an incendiary chemical mixture used as an ingredient in bombs; it produces a large flame that incinerates those in close proximity. Single droplets of napalm thrown in all directions stick to people, ignite and continue to burn for 10 minutes causing unbearable suffering. Cluster bombs are large projectiles that, as they approach the ground, explode, dropping hundreds of small anti-personnel mines. Some submunitions explode immediately, others explode later at different times, and others remain ready to explode as a result of vibration or shock. In addition to causing enormous loss of life, they hamper rescue efforts and undermine territory. The United States has used cluster bombs on a large scale in Vietnam, Yugoslavia and Afghanistan.

(3) “50 years after the My Lai massacre, survivors recall: I had to step over so many bodies.” By Thomas Maresca, special to USA Today.

https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2018/03/15/50-years-after-my-lai-massacre-survivors-still-haunted-what-they-saw/427966002/

(4) “Investigation of the My Lai incident. Hearings of the armed services investigating subcommittee of the committee armed services house of representatives ninety -firts congress”. Second session. U.S. Government printing office 69-740 Washington: 1976.

(5) Executive Order on the Termination of Emergency With Respect to the International Criminal Court.

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/04/01/executive-order-on-the-termination-of-emergency-with-respect-to-the-international-criminal-court/

 Yoselina Guevara is a Venezuelan journalist. Teacher. Correspondent of Correo del Alba Magazine in Europe. National Journalism Award Anibal Nazoa 2021 (Venezuela). Her articles have been published in important media worldwide in Spanish, Italian and English.

Translation by Internationalist 360°