War Crimes & Corrective Action in the United States since 1950

Summary: A review of major incidents suggests the US has had to some degree all of the problems now evident in the Russian government-military apparatus. It improved the transparency of its handling of war crime incidents through the early 1970s, culminating with the removal of a US President who had covered up the extent of the Vietnam War and illegally attempted to discredit the person who disclosed that information. Then the US began backsliding until in the present day persons who’ve performed similar acts of public service find themselves locked away in maximum security prisons, in some cases indefinitely.

We further suggest that the example of the US promoted democratization and liberalization in major powers around the world, contributing to the dissolution of the USSR and opening of China. But the reversal of trend in the US presaged a reversal of trend in the same countries. Nations may receive permission by example. We therefore recommend that an unexpectedly effective measure in combating the atrocities being committed in Ukraine would be for the US to immediately redress the injustice done to disclosers of autocratic abuse and war crimes type of information in the last decade.

No Gun Ri massacre

This incident occurred over 4 days in late July 1950 early in the Korean War.  South Korean refugees were fleeing further south, through the retreating US line.  That line was attacked from the rear.  Reports spread that North Korean soldiers were infiltrating refugee columns.  Troops and their officers were inexperienced and had no training in dealing with civilian refugees.  Orders were issued to fire on Korean civilians in front-line areas.  Who gave the orders and the various circumstances you can read in the Wiki article. 

The incident was covered up until an Associated Press article in 1999.  However, information reached the American military command by way of captured North Korean documents.  North Korea had discovered the massacre.

Eventually, decades later, survivors became bold enough to make claims against the US.  The Associated Press investigated and found the orders.  300 or more had been killed at that one location.  More than 200 other cases of large scale killings by the US military were uncovered in investigations that only ended in 2008.  This series of incidents even after half a century is not really resolved and weighs on the US, likely explaining some of the North Korean distrust and antagonism.

Overthrow of Democratic Government of Iran

From 1951 Iran Premier Mosaddeq began calling for nationalization of British oil companies operating in Iran.  In 1953 President Eisenhower approved orders for a covert CIA operation to overthrow this government.  The Shah was returned to full rule and as a reward signed over 40% of Iranian oil fields to American companies.

The Shah was toppled from power in 1979 and hostages were taken in the US embassy, embarrassing President Jimmy Carter who gave the shah refuge, and contributing to his electoral defeat.  Iran has been our sworn enemy ever since, and is likely to attain status as a nuclear power in the near future.  The long term consequences of the short cited decision to meddle with another country (much like Russia meddling now with Ukraine) has been absolutely devastating for the US.

When I get very excited and urge you to try and prevent Russia from doing something, these are the kinds of consequences I’m trying to avoid.  Putin has to be the stupidest most short-sighted man in the history of the world.  He is following the example of meddlers such as Adolf Hitler and Julius Cesar, all of whom were killed shortly after their meddling.  He has these clear examples to go by, and a professed interest in history.  Yet he picks the wrong lessons, the wrong behavior to copy.

My Lai Massacre

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3pFYlvdyvM

This is a very short video, with the story told by the only survivor.  From the description: “On March 16, 1968, American soldiers of Charlie Company, were sent on what they were told was a mission to confront a crack outfit of their Vietcong enemies. They met no resistance, but over three to four hours killed 504 unarmed civilians.”

News of the incident broke on the evening news in November, 1969.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9fKUdeixBaQ  The report was touched off by a soldier Ronald Ridenhour who heard the story from another soldier.  He is interviewed in the news report.  He wanted to see the people responsible (officers) arrested.  This is true patriotism.

From https://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war/my-lai-massacre-1 we learn that army commanders that Charlie Company should consider anyone found at the village to be active VietCong and destroy the village.  William Calley led the unit.  They “no Viet Cong. Instead, they came across a quiet village of primarily women, children and older men preparing their breakfast rice.”  Calley ordered his men to begin shooting the villagers, using not only machine guns but also grenade launchers.  Only 3 weapons were captured and no military age men were in the village.  Not a single shot was fired against Charlie Company.

The slaughter was ended with helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson landed between the soldiers and retreating villagers and threatened to open fire if they continued their attack.

Calley was given life in prison, later reduced to 20 years.  28 officers were charged in connection with the cover up, but eventually only 14 were charged.  All were acquitted except Calley.  The helicopter pilot was ostracized and received death threats.

Calley claimed he was only following orders given by captain Medina.  Later investigations found this was not an isolated incident.  An operation called “Speedy Express” commanded by General Julian Ewell killed thousands of Vietnamese civilians.

It became untenable to continue fighting in Vietnam after this revelation, but Nixon in secret dragged the war on for almost another 4 years.

Kent State Shootings

Six months later at an anti-war protest at Kent State University, the Ohio National Guard opened fire for 13 seconds, killing 4 and wounding 9 students.  They were protesting the expansion of the Vietnam war into Cambodia.

The excursion into Cambodia may have triggered instabilities that later allowed its overthrow by the Khmer Rouge, who instituted one of the worst genocides in the history of the world.  Meddling in other countries can have terrible, horrible results, especially when it is dishonest and done on false motives to begin with.

The Pentagon Papers – Daniel Ellsberg

A year later Daniel Ellsberg leaked a study of the Vietnam War to the New York Times.  This study showed that the government had systematically lied about the progress of the war, not only to the public but also to Congress, and that the US had secretly enlarged the scope of the war, and kept the extra attacks out of the public media.  Sound familiar?  So what did we do?

First you have to understand what President Nixon did.  Johnson, who committed most of the misdeeds described in the Pentagon Papers, was already out of office.  He had declined to run, likely thinking that his conduct of the war would be exposed if he did run.  Nixon ordered his secret unit called “The Plumbers” to engage in unlawful efforts to discredit Ellsberg.  This came out as part of the Watergate Scandal.

President of the United States Richard Nixon was removed from office.  This is what you have to do when a leader engages in an illegal, secret and unethical war.  This is what Russia must do now.  No matter how painful.  The hole Russia is in will just get deeper and deeper until they do this.

The question is not what country commits no sin, no error.  The question is what do they do about it.  Sad to say, the US does not do as much today as it did back in the 1960s and 1970s, and our prestige in the world greatly suffers for it.  I will cover a few of those later incidents now.

July 12, 2007 Baghdad airstrike

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UaqY12VHFv4

Just watch the video.  The object one man is holding is a camera.  He is a newsman who worked for Reuters news service.  No guns are actually visible in the video.  The man interviewed, who provided the video to news services, is Julian Assange. 

Assange currently resides in the Belmarsh maximum-security prison in London.  The US is still trying to extradite him.  False charges of sexual assault resulted in Assange’s confinement to the Ecuadoran embassy in London for many years.  I don’t recall how they finally got him to a British jail.  But the assault charges were dropped for lack of evidence.

The person who leaked the video is now known as Chelsea Manning.  You can read about her here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chelsea_Manning .  She confided to an online acquaintance that she had leaked the video, and was arrested and charged with 22 offences, including aiding the enemy, a charge that carries the death penalty.  She was acquitted of that, but convicted of pretty much everything else. In 2017 Barak Obama commuted her sentence to time served (about 7 years) and she was released.  She has been periodically fined and jailed since then for refusing to testify against Julian Assange.

Lesser Incidents

The Iran-Contra Affair during the Reagan administration involved selling arms to Iran, which had been banned. It might result in war crimes, but does not itself qualify. In the course of 14 prosecutions, ZERO charges were brought for disclosing the information. However, one could also say that prosecutions went very easy on the participants. See https://www.brown.edu/Research/Understanding_the_Iran_Contra_Affair/prosecutions.php for the record. Only Thomas Clines received any actual jail time. Many persons were pre-emptively pardoned, including the Secretary of Defense.

The Edward Snowden affair also does not rise to the level of war crimes. Snowden revealed that the NSA was engaged in a massive and illegal program of spying on Americans, in the US, without warrants, listening to and collecting most of their phone calls.  He leaked this information to The Guardian and The Washington Post, and fled to Hong Kong.  That became unsafe and he again fled.  He was passing through Moscow Sheremetyevo when the US State Department canceled his passport, making him unable to board a flight to continue on.  He eventually obtained permission to stay in Russia and became president of the Freedom of the Press Foundation.  His fiancée Lindsay Mills eventually emigrated to Russia and they married. Snowden has not tweeted about Ukraine since the invasion, likely because he can’t think of anything to say without going to jail for 15 years in Russia.

Conclusions:

Consider the example set for Putin by the mindless pursuit of Assange and Snowden across international borders. It might be from the re-routing of Bolivian President Evo Morales to land in Austria after he said he might entertain an asylum request from Snowden that Putin got the idea that later led to Belarus forcing down a commercial airliner to arrest a couple of reporters. The US “seems” to have supported false charges of sexual assault against Assange to have him arrested in Britain and possibly extradited to a jurisdiction from which he could be easily extradited to the US. This tells Putin it’s “OK” to make up false charges and evidence. While there are many other dealings with Putin that could be criticized, these are selected because they specifically deal with examples in the area of suppression of the press’ access to information about the behavior of government in spying on their own people and covering up of war crimes.

In order to stand against Putin fully justified, the US would need to give up its pursuit of Julian Assange, perhaps even encouraging him to continue his former activities in support of the war in Ukraine. The US would further need to offer Edward Snowden the chance to return to the US, perhaps in exchange for pleading guilty to relatively minor charges with a promise of probation. Consider how badly this would embarrass Putin and up-end what he must have considered a public relations coup.

Wild allegations that the US was filling the Ukrainian government with Nazis and manufacturing chemical weapons in Ukraine would be taken even less seriously than they are now. It would be absolutely clear that the US allowed and even encouraged 3rd-party monitoring of its actions. The US would become unimpeachable on the matter of war crimes.

This unimpeachability would extend to other actions as well. If the US approved of supplying Polish Mig’s to Ukraine, as a matter similar to supplying other weapons and not as direct participation, the Russian government would have been so stunned by the Assange and Snowden matters they probably would not be able to make a timely response, and the transfer of the aircraft would become a done deal.

Over time, those who would expose misdeeds in Russia would come to believe that history was on their side, and that they had a chance of “getting away with it” and surviving. If the US can change and repudiate its treatment of those who expose war crimes, so could Russia. It happened once before, between the early 1970s and the late 1980s. It can happen again. The totalitarian trend in China also might be nudged in another direction. The cost to the US to try my suggestion is … ha! There isn’t ANY cost. There is NO risk and NO downside. Oh sure, some day some future conscientious person might disclose some evil deed committed by the US. But friends, THAT is NOT a downside. That our own society would benefit is in fact the MAIN benefit.

If you want to support this idea, you can write the President and your other representatives by following these links . . .

https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/

https://www.senate.gov/senators/senators-contact.htm

https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s