What the US considers a war crime


Omar Khadr is a Canadian who was captured by US forces in Afghanistan in 2002, tortured, and taken to Guantanamo at the age of 15 making him the youngest person there. (I have written about his case back in 2010 and 2012.) He then spent nearly 13 years there and was tortured repeatedly, then pleaded guilty to a war crime, and was then sent back to Canada to serve the rest of his sentence.

He has just today been released on bail by a judge in Canada who rejected an effort by the Canadian government to keep him imprisoned while he appeals his US conviction of war crimes. Khadr says that he agreed to the war crimes plea just in order to get out of the hellhole that is Guantanamo.

Apart from the fact that the US tortured someone who was a minor and then charged him with war crimes, something that no nation has done to a minor since World War II, what is interesting was the nature of the war crime that he supposedly committed, which was throwing a grenade that killed a US army special forces medic in Afghanistan. So we have a situation where the US invades another country and when the people there fight back, the people resisting a foreign occupying force and targeting members of that occupying force are the ones committing war crimes. This strikes me as a bizarre distortion of that concept. If a foreign army were to occupy the US, would we view a 15-year old boy who takes actions to attack those troops as a terrorist or as a hero?

In some ways this attitude is similar to the policing practices in much of the US. The police can come into your home or stop you in your car and assault you and even try to kill you for no discernible cause, but if you try to resist, it is you who are charged with assault, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct.

It is all part of the authoritarian mindset that says that the state has the exclusive right to use force, whether it is legally and appropriately used or not, and anyone who challenges them is the wrongdoer.

Comments

  1. scottbelyea says

    “This strikes me as a bizarre distortion of that concept. If a foreign army were to occupy the US, would we view a 15-year old boy who takes actions to attack those troops as a terrorist or as a hero?”

    I suggest that you are the one distorting things.

    Try this …

    – An American family moves to country X;

    – They have a son who grows up in X, and who of course is a citizen of X (as well as of the US);

    – At about 15, he goes back to the US and works with the armed forces there.

    – In a firefight following the X invasion of the US, he throws a grenade and kills an X soldier.

    So … how would you expect country X to view him? As a hero? Or as something else? I suggest that this is a more logical view.

    And to forestall some comments, I have little sympathy for how the US or Canada treated Khadr previously, but I don’t see that your formulation is appropriate.

  2. Mano Singham says

    scottbelyea,

    Khadr was a Canadian, not an American so your formulation does not work.

  3. Bakunin says

    The State does claim to have a monopoly on violence; that’s what defines it. It is in the very nature of a State to expand its monopoly as far as possible in order to claim it is more successful than other States. My namesake said it 150 years ago, States ask their Patriots to commit crimes it condemns when done by others.

  4. jimmyfromchicago says

    Killing a medic is a violation of the Geneva Conventions. Of course, the United States claims that the Geneva Conventions don’t protect Afghans fighting the American military–so it’s heads the U.S. wins, tails Omar loses.

  5. says

    The situation of Omar Khadr is more complicated than you say. First off, there is not even good evidence that he threw the grenade, at all. The claim is that he threw a grenade and that he must have been the thrower because he was the only survivor they could arrest and try after a gunfight that resulted in his companions being killed. In other words there could have been another thrower but there was never any attempt to establish that — instead the American soldiers shot him three times in the chest, wounding him severely. During the firefight that took place before Khadr was shot, there were several people throwing grenades and at least 2 were killed.

    The whole thing was a clusterfuck, typical of what the US Army produces while engaging in its “hearts and minds” offensives around the world.

    More importantly, Khadr’s actions would be justifiable because he was defending himself against soldiers who were prosecuting a war of aggression. He had a right to throw that grenade, and the US Army soldier who was killed would not have been killed if he had been back in the US where he belonged.

    The US’ story regarding Khadr is self-contradictory!
    1) If he threw the grenade he was a combatant and falls under Geneva Convention protections for combatants; putting him in Guantanamo as an “illegal combatant” was a war crime.
    2) If he didn’t throw the grenade he was a non-combatant and putting him in Guantanamo as an “illegal combatant” is a war crime.
    There is no third option. If he was throwing grenades, he was as much of a combatant as a Vietcong irregular, local militia, or anyone else bearing weapons.

  6. says

    Killing a medic is a violation of the Geneva Conventions

    There were US troops throwing grenades over the wall into the compound, too. It is more than possible that the grenade that killed the medic was “friendly fire”

    The big problem with Khadr is that he survived. He was horribly shot up, and apparently asked to be killed, but the decision was made to get him medical help. Once that process was begun, then there was the whole question of what to do with him when he managed to survive, so arresting him as an illegal combatant and torturing him seemed like the sensible thing to do, apparently.

  7. Rob Grigjanis says

    The entire case against Khadr was a joke. The ‘evidence’ would have been thrown out of a civilian court. And he was forced to accept a plea deal; plead guilty and serve 8 years, or plead not guilty and we throw away the key. And of course, the Harper government then calls him a self-confessed terrorist, and uses him as a pawn in their “national security” bullshit. It’s fucking nauseating from beginning to end, and just one more reason to get rid of Harper’s gang of opportunists and liars.

  8. says

    So we have a situation where the US invades another country and when the people there fight back, the people resisting a foreign occupying force and targeting members of that occupying force are the ones committing war crimes. This strikes me as a bizarre distortion of that concept. If a foreign army were to occupy the US, would we view a 15-year old boy who takes actions to attack those troops as a terrorist or as a hero?

    Considering that the UN didn’t approve the invasion, the US government and military are guilty of war crimes for the entire war. Every single one of their soldiers, even if they didn’t do anything. Participating or facilitating, they’re still involved.

    In some ways this attitude is similar to the policing practices in much of the US. The police can come into your home or stop you in your car and assault you and even try to kill you for no discernible cause, but if you try to resist, it is you who are charged with assault, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct.

    A better analogy for the shooting is a homeowner who kills cops during a “no knock” invasion of a home. If a person can only see shapes in the dark and doesn’t know they are cops, thinks it’s a violent intruder intent on killing him, how can the person possibly be guilty of “cop killing”?

    Equally idiotic appalling is the idea that a 15 year old is capable of intentionally killing a medic or identifying specific individuals. Grenades are thrown into areas, not aimed at individuals. If killing medics is a “war crime”, then the US is guilty of using medics as a human shield by placing them among and with combat soldiers. The US military is creating situations where medics can be killed to file trumped up charges.

    Meanwhile, the US intentionally targeted hospitals in Baghdad, both by bombing and on foot after their terrorists entered the country. They shot at buildings or physically violated people in them which had doctors and no military value to those resisting US occupation. Why aren’t those US soldiers being charged with war crimes?

    http://www.hrw.org/reports/2003/usa1203/4.5.htm

    And scottbelyea missed the point completely. It sounds more like he’s avoiding it.

  9. Holms says

    So, killing a single combatant invading your home land is now a ‘warcrime’, but invading the land and killing thousands of noncombatants isn’t. Nice.

    And that’s even assuming we buy the conviction at all; the fact that it was obtained imprisoning a minor and torturing him for over a decade rather tarnishes that case.

  10. Holms says

    #5 jimmyfromchicago
    “Killing a medic is a violation of the Geneva Conventions.”

    Killing military medics in a combat zone can be, depending on the circumstances. If it is clear that the person is a medic and thus a noncombatant then it is a war crime to specifically target them; but if it is unclear, or if they were not specifically targeted, then it is not. This medic appears to have been in amongst soldiers in the midst of combat, and might not have been specifically targeted.

    ___
    #6 Marcus
    1) If he threw the grenade he was a combatant and falls under Geneva Convention protections for combatants; putting him in Guantanamo as an “illegal combatant” was a war crime.

    A civilian taking part in combat is actually the very definition of illegal combatant. However, this then prompts the question: why was this civilian taking part in combat? The fact that America was the one to initiate the fight by invading in the first place I think absolves him.

  11. says

    Holms:
    A civilian taking part in combat is actually the very definition of illegal combatant

    If you read international humanitarian law, and the Geneva Conventions, there is no such thing as an “illegal combatant.” There are only “noncombatants” and “combatants” — anyone who is, duh, engaging in combat, is a “combatant.” International humanitarian law specifically says that “combatant” includes insurgents, rebels, and participants in civil war. The term “war” is not even used – “conflict” is preferred.

    If he was taking part in combat he was not a civilian. If he wasn’t taking part in combat, putting 3 bullets through his torso was a war crime. If he was throwing grenades, then he was a combatant, and is covered under the Geneva Conventions for treatment of prisoners.

    if they were not specifically targeted, then it is not

    That is incorrect. That would be an “indiscriminate attack” which is also prohibited, when there are noncombatants. By the way, the US bombed the building he was in, shortly after several noncombatant women fled. That was also an “indiscriminate attack” – as was throwing grenades over the wall into the compound, as the US soldiers were doing.

    My money, for what it’s worth, is that the grenade that killed the medic was “friendly fire” – it’s an interesting coincidence that a bunch of US soldiers were throwing grenades at the same time that the grenade came over the wall and killed the medic. A grenade that hit the top of the wall and bounced back into the US soldiers is not improbable, especially when the soldiers stormed the place and the only two people who were alive were one severely wounded combatant who was on the ground (and was shot in the head) and Khadr, who was shot when he was glimpsed through heavy dust. So you’ve got a wounded combatant who is executed on the spot and Khadr, who is shot to bits and no grenades are found on him.

  12. says

    Marcus Ranum (#12) –

    If you read international humanitarian law, and the Geneva Conventions, there is no such thing as an “illegal combatant.” There are only “noncombatants” and “combatants” — anyone who is, duh, engaging in combat, is a “combatant.”

    Articles 3 and 4 of the Geneva Conventions also explicitly state that if people’s status is undetermined, they are to be treated as prisoners of war until a tribunal determines their status. That means their rights must be protected under international law, that they must be fed, clothed and protected from violence – including torture – and that they must be allowed contact with the Red Cross, which includes medical care and the transmission of personal letters.

    The US government and military deliberately invented “unlawful combatant” to circumvent those rules. By doing so, the US is guilty of war crimes under the Geneva Conventions.

  13. deepak shetty says

    Khadr says that he agreed to the war crimes plea just in order to get out of the hellhole that is Guantanamo.
    What? torture doesn’t make people tell the truth ?- who knew

    @scottbelyea
    So … how would you expect country X to view him? As a hero? Or as something else?
    You are confusing How someone should “expect” with how they would be (practically speaking). I expect the people of the country being invaded to defend themselves , even with violence, to not to be seen as terrorists. Realistically , anyone who opposes the army is seen as the enemy , whichever side you happen to be on.

  14. Holms says

    Marcus
    That is incorrect. That would be an “indiscriminate attack” which is also prohibited, when there are noncombatants.

    Not quite, as the medic in question was participating in the combat and was thus an active combatant.

    If you read international humanitarian law, and the Geneva Conventions, there is no such thing as an “illegal combatant.” There are only “noncombatants” and “combatants” — anyone who is, duh, engaging in combat, is a “combatant.” International humanitarian law specifically says that “combatant” includes insurgents, rebels, and participants in civil war.

    “If civilians directly engage in hostilities, they are considered ” unlawful ” or ” unprivileged ” combatants or belligerents (the treaties of humanitarian law do not expressly contain these terms). They may be prosecuted under the domestic law of the detaining state for such action.”
    International Committee of the Red Cross

    So, the concept does exist in that there are combatants, and some of those combatants are not considered lawful and may be tried on that basis. I did not dispute the point that a combatant awaiting prosecution must still be treated humanely, and this is addressed in their very next sentence:

    “Both lawful and unlawful combatants may be interned in wartime, may be interrogated and may be prosecuted for war crimes. Both are entitled to humane treatment in the hands of the enemy.”

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