Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin calls for an investigation into the March 18, 2019 U.S. airstrikes in Baghuz, Syria, following the revelations of the New York Times indicating that they had killed dozens of women and children. Three 500-pound bombs were dropped on civilians gathered near the last Islamic State entrenchment in eastern Syria.
The American command did not recognize the losses caused by the strike (80 victims) until after the Times had shared his information with him. The American armed forces had tried by all means to cover up the crime. Bulldozers buried the bodies of women and children at the scene of the strike. The Pentagon Inspector General’s public report was censored. And a whistleblower who tried to pass evidence of the atrocity to Congress was removed from his post.
In war as in war
US Central Command in Qatar said the airstrikes were justified because wives and children of Islamic State fighters – at times – took up arms, adding that “no formal war crime notification, no investigation criminal or no disciplinary action was warranted ”.
This case shows the systemic impunity that has prevailed at the highest levels of the military hierarchy for decades. This is the norm when the United States is at war.
The Pentagon’s use of lethal force is not only justified when its soldiers come under fire, it is permitted if the Americans simply believe the enemy displays “hostile intent.” In 2009, an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress broadened the definition of human shields. Being close to a terrorist is enough to qualify a civilian as a human shield and therefore to allow his elimination.
It’s no surprise that the Pentagon thought it might get away with the Baghouz massacre. American war crimes do not mobilize much public opinion and therefore elicit virtually no negative reaction from elected officials.
An email obtained by the NOW revealed that the Pentagon only launched a war crime investigation when there was a high potential for media attention or when images of the atrocity could cause an uproar in the victim country or internationally.
Democrats and Republicans, same pretexts
Republicans have repeatedly defended killings of civilians by US forces in the name of the fight against terrorism. For the same reason, Democrats in Congress have justified Israeli bombing of civilian targets in Gaza.
Biden is pursuing Trump’s foreign policy which he has consistently condemned. Its support for Israel is also unconditional. It is arming the Saudi and Emirati forces which killed tens of thousands of civilians in airstrikes in Yemen.
American administrations, both Democrat and Republican, place strategic considerations above human rights. Sadly, this is true for most of the rulers on the planet.