War crimes are things that the powerless do
When a man with a gun steals from a bank, he's called a bank robber, and he's looking at hard time.
When a CEO steals from a bank, it's called fraud, maybe, and he has to pay a fine.
When a man with a truck bomb blows up a wedding, or a school, or a hospital, he's called a terrorist.
When a man with a Reaper drone blows up a wedding, or a school, or a hospital, it's called collateral damage.
This disparity was supposed to be partly addressed with the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC). When national courts are unwilling or unable to prosecute criminals, the ICC would step in.
That was the thinking anyway.
Last week, the new chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court — the only international body with the authority to prosecute individuals over genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes — sought to reopen a previously suspended investigation in Afghanistan but with a caveat. The probe would not include conduct by the United States and its allies, including the U.S.-backed former Afghan government, all of which have committed crimes that fall squarely within the court’s jurisdiction.
The court’s prosecutor, Karim Khan, who has been on the job for just over three months, wrote in a statement that his office would focus exclusively on crimes committed by the Taliban and by the Islamic State Khorasan Province, or IS-K, the Islamic State group’s affiliate in Afghanistan.
“This just proves one more time to Afghans that international mechanisms do not value their life when foreigners are involved and international forces are involved,” Shaharzad Akbar, who chaired Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission until the Taliban took control of the country in August, told The Intercept. “This decision reinforces the perception that these institutions set up in the West and by the West are just instruments for the West’s political agenda.”
The Taliban commits war crimes. The U.S. military does not.
Not because of the crimes, but because who is committing them.
But this disparity isn't limited to just the U.S. The Saudis also have immunity when it comes to committing war crimes.
The UN Human Rights Council voted to end the mandate of experts investigating war crimes in Yemen in a blow to Western nations who wanted the probe to continue.
The 47-member council voted against renewing the mandate of the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen (GEE) on Thursday, which in August 2018 reported evidence of possible war crimes committed by all sides, including a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia has been in the past accused of attempting to shut down the investigation, with Human Rights Watch in September 2018 saying Riyadh was making a “blatant attempt to avoid scrutiny” of its conduct in Yemen.
The Saudis have bombed almost every hospital in Yemen, but that isn't a war crime apparently.
Finally, let's look at Libya.
The report, which was based on research in Libya, Tunisia and Italy and interviews with over 150 people, acknowledges that the work of the mission had been obstructed by the Western-backed government in Tripoli.
While it focuses on crimes carried out between 2016 and 2020, the report begins by acknowledging: “Since the fall of the [Muammar] Gaddafi regime in 2011, the fragmentation of the State and the proliferation of weapons and of militias vying for control of territory and resources has severely undermined the rule of law in Libya. Libya has also been the theater of quasi-uninterrupted armed conflicts” resulting in crimes “against the most vulnerable, including women, children, members of ethnic minorities, migrants, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons.”
Nowhere, however, does the report refer to what precipitated the fall of the Gaddafi regime, the disintegration of both Libya’s state and its society and the resulting mass violence, i.e., the more than seven-month war of aggression launched by the United States and NATO in March of 2011.
While I'm sure there's been war crimes since 2016, the war started 5 years earlier.