Friday, May 06, 2016
War Crime, a Term That Has Lost All Meaning
There was a time we were all about "war crimes." We vilified war criminals. They were monsters and not just Nazis either. We wanted nothing more than to see them swinging from a rope.
We built up intricate bodies of law defining crimes of war, crimes against humanity, all these things we would simply not stand for, no sir. Torture, attacks on civilians, commencing hostilities without lawful justification - we worked up a whole codex of unacceptable actions.
First we had Nuremberg and we sent a lot of Nazis packing. Next up we ran a sequel for the Japanese. Then we set up this court in the Hague and we even prosecuted a few of these murderous martial fiends. Who can forget the image of Slobodan Milosevic in the prisoner's dock?
Only then our side, the good guys, got into this war crime business ourselves - big time. We were still okay with putting little nations' monsters to stand trial but we wouldn't be having any of that nonsense for our people.
You can go back as far as Henry Kissinger, ever further back except almost no one recalls their names. Bush, Cheney and their cohort should be languishing in some dismal cellblock right now. They aren't. That won't be happening either.
We still bang up some 90-year old geezer who kept the books at some Nazi concentration camp but these people, who are responsible for civilian deaths by the tens of thousands, no they get a pass.
Israel has an entire campaign strategy, Dahiyeh, that is a tailor-made war crime. It targets civilians. It deliberately targets their essential infrastructure - water, sewer and power plants. It's a blueprint. You start with their civilian infrastructure, take that out. Then you hit their hospitals and their schools. After that you shift your focus to their residential neighbourhoods. Sure that's a flagrant and calculated violation of any number of laws of war and human rights but, hey, it doesn't matter - not when you've got Washington and Ottawa on your side.
Israel isn't our only war crimes ally. What about Saudi Arabia? It loves getting those American cluster bombs and dropping them on Houthi villages in Yemen knowing that Ottawa and Washington will just smile and look the other way.
It seems somebody just bombed a refugee camp in Syria. The UN says it's a war crime. Does it matter? Hardly.
Laws of war and laws of human rights are funny things. Once they become honoured mainly in the breach they become irrelevant. Words like "war crime" that used to stir the soul to righteous indignation are stripped of their currency, reduced to so much lip flap.
Yet they are important. Their decline points the way we're headed, the Brave New World that awaits. In case you're wondering, it won't be kind.