The politics of the U.S. envoy for war crimes
Date: Monday, December 14 @ 15:31:04 UTC
Topic: Bush and Blair

“Some senior British military officials…suggested privately that Blair, Donald Rumsfeld and others should be charged with war crimes…” [1]

By Stephen Gowans
December 14, 2009 -

Through countless wars – Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and yes, even WWII – the United States has amassed a long record of war crimes, from the abuse and torture of prisoners to the bombing of civilians and the deliberate destruction of hydroelectric dams, sewage and water treatment facilities, factories, bridges, roads, schools, hospitals, and dwellings.

The United States has also played an active role in facilitating Israel’s war crimes, while at the same time obstructing efforts to bring Israeli war criminals to account.

But not only is the United States one of history’s boldest war criminal states, it is also one of the most brazenly hypocritical.

Only an Israeli ambassador at large for the promotion of Palestinian rights, or a Nazi ambassador at large for the defense of national sovereignty in Europe, could match for jaw-dropping chutzpah the existence in the United States of an ambassador at large for war crimes.

And yet the office exists, occupied by Stephen Rapp, who has tried former Liberian president Charles Taylor at The Hague, and plans to keep his efforts focussed on Africa, with prosecutions planned for Congo, Guinea and Kenya. [2]

A U.S. envoy on war crimes is like a U.S. envoy on capital punishment, or waterboarding, or hunger (considering that 50 million U.S. citizens struggle to get enough to eat. [3])

Rapp won’t be going after Israeli officials for war crimes committed in Gaza nearly a year ago, nor will he be looking into the trail of death and destruction that U.S. and allied forces have blazed through Afghanistan and Iraq.

That’s because in the twisted world of Stephen Rapp, war crimes are the exclusive preserve of people on the other side of U.S. foreign policy, while anyone on Rapp’s side is innocent by definition.

Rapp’s mandate is to drag before war crimes tribunals any leader who has failed to do Washington’s bidding, as a warning against defying the United States, while remaining silent on the war crimes Washington’s stooges have carried out, usually on Washington’s behalf.

For example, Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi, who not long ago sent his army into neighboring Somalia on U.S. orders, presides over a military that Human Rights Watch accuses “of extrajudicial killings, rape, torture, forcibly displacing thousands of civilians and using food as a weapon.” [4]

“We don’t like to rank abuses in different parts of the world” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, “but we are talking about village elders being strangled, and women raped until the point of unconsciousness. And it is being done with complete impunity, and with a blind eye from the international community.” [5]

Ethiopian and Israeli war criminals are exempt from Rapp’s scrutiny, as too are the Americans who torture detainees, bomb civilians, and give the orders. According to Rapp, “No legitimately motivated international prosecutor…should ever have a legitimate cause to take a case against an American citizen.” [6]

An intelligent chimp could do Rapp’s job. Wrong side of U.S. foreign policy, guilty. Right side, innocent.

Rapp could only be a credible envoy for war crimes, rather than a transparent tool for advancing U.S. interests, were he to focus first on the considerable crimes of his own country and its allies. Until then, the greatest contribution the United States can make to eliminating war crimes is to stop committing them, or better yet, to stop making war.


1. Richard Norton-Taylor, “Iraq: the legacy – Ill equipped, poorly trained, and mired in a ‘bloody mess’”, The Guardian (UK), April 17, 2009.

2. Colum Lynch, “War crimes envoy has personal touch,” The Washington Post, November 27, 2009.

3. Amy Goldstein, “America’s economic pain brings hunger pangs,” The Washington Post, November 17, 2009.

4. The Guardian (UK), June 12, 2008.

5. Ibid.

6. Lynch.


This article comes from

The URL for this story is: