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War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity

Since World War II, the United States has greatly expanded its global military presence and interventions around the world in order to protect overseas investments and to exploit global resources, including human labor, to establish itself as the dominant super power.

But with the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001, the United States government shifted from simply selectively ignoring human rights norms to categorically asserting the right to overturn decades of hard-won principles of international human rights law. The “war on terror” response to that horrific event brought to a new level and solidified the criminal program of the U.S. government, sacrificing liberty to a false promise of security, encompassing:


  • wars of aggression, unjust occupations, and the use of targeted killing by drones, causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians around the world
  • mass surveillance on whole populations, with intent to chill protest and dissent/indefinite detention and torture of prisoners at Guantánamo and other sites, including torturing hunger strikers with force-feeding
  • torture, intimidation and prosecution of whistleblowers while covering up for those responsible for crimes against humanity.


War Criminals Watch was originally founded to demand prosecutions of the Bush and subsequent Obama administrations’ high officials guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors. The Obama administration was followed by the fascist Trump/Pence coterie. The climate change that Trump supporters deny represents another crime against humanity. And, currently the Biden administration is in place, cataloguing Russia’s war crimes but totally disregarding any and all U.S. war crimes and moving the world towards the ultimate war crime and crime against humanity – nuclear war.

Only an energized and politically active public can force accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity. War criminals must be publicly shamed and prevented from occupying powerful positions in our society. We cannot give in to desperation. This situation is intolerable and must be stopped.  

A Look at International Law and U.S. Behavior

The brutality of the U.S. government’s “war on terror” has been condemned both by the court of international public opinion and by the Principles of International Law governing human rights. The wars of aggression in the Middle East and the torture of those caught up in them are clearly defined as war crimes by the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Conventions, the Convention against Torture and other treaties to which the United States is a signatory. (The United States’ own U.S. War Crimes Act defines torture as a war crime). Seemingly endless war continues in Iraq as well as Libya, Somalia, Pakistan and, most ferociously at this time, in Yemen and Syria. Under the aegis of "national security," additional countries are being drawn into these conflagrations. The “ending” of the U.S. war in Afghanistan continues in a new form as the U.S. holds and refuses to turn back to the current Afghan government its financial resources, leaving the country in dire straits.

The Principles of International Law, recognized by the Nuremberg Tribunal, provide no defense for war crimes. Similarly, the Convention Against Torture, which defines torture as a war crime, provides that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture.”

The prohibition against war crimes is thus absolute. As U.S. Justice Robert Jackson proclaimed at Nuremberg: “No grievances or policies will justify resort to aggressive war. It is utterly renounced and condemned as an instrument of policy. The same applies to other war crimes as well. The war crimes of one’s opponents are no justification for one’s own." As he further stated, “If certain acts of 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.”

We find, however, that because of the political and military power of the United States, that U.S. war criminals are not being brought to court for reckoning.  The United States has refused to put itself under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, making it extremely difficult and time consuming to hold any U.S. official subject to criminal investigation and prosecution.

We have an obligation to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity after they occur as well as to stop the shameful policies that allow them to continue.

During the Obama administration, an aggressive, full-scale whitewashing of the “war on terror” crimes was completed in August 2012, when Attorney General Eric Holder announced the closing without charges of the only two cases under investigation relating to the US torture program. This decision, said The New York Times, "eliminat[es] the last possibility that any criminal charges will be brought as a result of the brutal interrogations carried out by the CIA."

Several leaders accused of Bush-era war crimes remained in the Obama administration – for example, Stanley McChrystal, Robert Gates, David Petraeus, Jonathan Fredman, and, of course, John O. Brennan, former head of the CIA. All have been involved in military and domestic "national security" policy. In April 2012 Brennan was the first Obama administration official to publicly acknowledge the CIA drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan and elsewhere. In his speech at the Wilson Center, he argued for the legality, morality and effectiveness of the program. In 2011/2012 he also helped to codify the process, under the aegis of the Disposition Matrix database by which people outside of war zones are put on the list of drone targets. The reorganization helped "concentrate power" over the process inside the White House.

As for targeting U.S. citizens for drone attacks, former Attorney General Eric Holder openly adduced a new “permission” for such killing with the disingenuous claim that the “due process” clause of the 5th amendment does not require “judicial process.”  In other words, the President can legally kill U.S. citizens by doing “due process” in the White House.

No constraints by courts or Congress were placed on the Obama administration’s war crimes.  Despite Obama’s declaration of transparency in government, a wall of secrecy shrouded the conduct of wars, including drone war and covert operations.  By his words and rash actions, Trump also showed a willingness to attack foreign countries in violation of international law and in disregard of the constraints of the U.S. Constitution which reserves to Congress the power to wage war.  This has been an outgrowth of the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) which was passed by Congress in the aftermath of 9/11 expanding presidential military authority. Even larger numbers of civilians were killed despite and in open violation of U.S. and international law.  Authorization for air strikes is being outsourced more broadly, obfuscating at times the trail of responsibility.  Broad power was given to the CIA to conduct drone strikes, beyond Obama’s delegation of that power to the DoD’s Joint Special Operations Command.  One outgrowth of this is removal of requirements to report on numbers killed during an operation. And, Trump’s stated his interest in using nuclear weaponry – which, fortunately for the planet, didn’t happen during his time in office.

Now, with Democrat Biden in the presidency, the U.S. still does not belong to the I.C.C. although Biden calls for Putin’s prosecution on war crimes charges. Biden has increased the U.S. military budget even beyond Trump’s record-making budget. The wars continue and Biden continues good relations with the Saudi government, pushing for more Saudi oil in order to weaken Russia. The Biden administration still hasn’t reinstated the Obama treaty with Iran. Most dangerous of all, to all life on this planet, rather than pulling back on NATO encirclement of Russia and urging/facilitating negotiations to end the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Biden administration almost daily intensifies U.S. and NATO military assistance of all kinds to Ukraine. The world has been brought to the brink of nuclear catastrophe. In January 2022, the Doomsday Clock had the world at 100 seconds before midnight. With each passing day, we are getting even closer.

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