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War Crimes and Commanders-in-Chief

George Bush and Tomoyuki Yamashita

by DAVE LINDORFF

It’s pretty easy to trace the war crime of torture in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay back to the Oval Office. The memos are all there.

But George Bush is guilty of worse war crimes than torture, bad as torture may be. He is also guilty of violating another Geneva Convention involving the protection of non-combatants.

The U.S. military has violated a number of basic international rules of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, not even counting the biggest one–starting an unprovoked war of aggression.

For starters, there was the much-touted "Shock&Awe" campaign of aerial bombardment of Baghdad, which targeted markets, targeted sites located in residential districts, and which used weapons in an urban setting–depleted uranium shells, anti-personnel bombs, incendiary bombs, etc.–which were guaranteed to kill many civilians, and which in many cases are banned, or banned in such situations.

In Fallujah, we had another war crime–an act of massive retribution against a civilian population for an action by enemy fighters. Recall that it was allegedly enemy fighters in Fallujah who killed and then mutilated the bodies of four mercenary soldiers working for the Americans. It was that incident that led Washington to decide on crushing Fallujah as punishment. A first attempt to invade the city failed and was called off as casualties mounted to what the White House considered politically unacceptable levels. A new bigger attack was planned, with the aim of leveling the city of 300,000, but it was held off until after the 2004 election for fear high US casualties might hurt Bush’s chances. The invasion of Fallujah was clearly a political act, with heavy involvement by the White House.

Retribution against civilian populations for the actions of enemy fighters is expressly forbidden and is a serious war crime under the Geneva Conventions.

After US troops had Fallujah surrounded, refugees were still streaming out of the city. The New York Times’ Dexter Filkins reported that US troops were turning back into the city all males "of combat age," which the US in Iraq has been interpreting generally to mean over 12. All those sent back into the deathtrap of Fallujah were subject to bombardment by napalm, depleted uranium shells, phosphorus bombs (a weapon that is illegal if used against people, but which the military admits was so used in Fallujah). Under the geneva Conventions, civilians must be allowed to flee the scene of a battle.

But why would all these war crimes make George Bush a war criminal? He wasn’t making the orders was he?

Well, ask Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita-a man who died the same month Bush was born, in a February 60 years ago. Actually you can’t ask the general, who commanded Japanese forces in the Phillippines and later all across the Pacific, because he’s dead. He was executed after the war by America following a military tribunal that accused and tried him for allegedly being responsibile for the war crimes committed by his troops.

Evidence linking Gen. Yamashita directly to those many crimes was lacking at the trial, but the decision was that by not maintaining control over his soldiers, and not stopping them from committing war crimes, Yamashita was responsible for those crimes himself, and deserved to die.

Ordinarily, one might say that a president is not that involved in running the military, and that the responsibility for soldiers’ behavior should rest with the top generals, or maybe the Secretary of Defense. But this president insists at every opportunity that he is not a president, but rather a commander-in-chief. It’s his justification for breaking the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, for saying he will authorize torture if he feels like it, for refusing to provide information to Congress, for eliminating habeas corpus, for ruling that captured fighters in Afghanistan and elsewhere aren’t POWs. The list goes on and on.

Basically, Bush, in his own view, is a Commander-in-Chief first, and a President second.

Fine, if that’s how he wants it, he should have to take the good with the bad. How was it with Spiderman? "With great power comes great responsibility."

That includes responsibility for the crimes being committed by the U.S. military under his command.

If it was right for Gen. Yamashita to be executed for his soldiers’ misdeeds, it is certainly right for Commander-in-Chief Bush to be impeached for the misdeeds of soldiers under him–and then to be charged as a war criminal himself.

DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled "This Can’t be Happening!" is published by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net.

He can be reached at: dlindorff@yahoo.com