War Crimes
By Aleena Khan

July 16, 2009

A war crime is any of various crimes, such as genocide or the mistreatment of prisoners of war, committed during a war and considered in violation of the conventions of warfare. There have been too many instances where these sorts of criminals have gotten away and it is sad that victims of war have gotten little or no justice at all.

A war crime is committed when you kill the enemy unnecessarily or even when you make the enemy suffer without reason. Technically speaking, prisoners of war should not be executed or wounded if they have surrendered. Hostages are not allowed to be taken, and you cannot starve non-combatants. People who are sick, wounded and old should be taken care of. Innocent children and women should not be targeted under any circumstances. Property belonging to civilians should be spared and nothing should be stolen from them.

World War II was a time when war crimes appeared to be at their peak. Voluminous evidence was presented to prove the plotting of aggressive warfare, the extermination of civilian populations (especially the Jews), and the widespread use of slave labour, the looting of occupied countries, and the maltreatment and murder of prisoners of war. Among those sentenced to death (1946) were Hermann Goering, Joachim von Ribbentrop, and Julius Streicher. Hjalmar Schacht and Franz von Papen were acquitted. The court did not convict Nazi organizations or the German general staff. In 1961, Israel captured, tried, and later executed Adolf Eichmann. It was unfair that the Jews were specifically targeted and were treated very brutally.

Times have not changed much over the years as the US was accused of atrocities during the Vietnam War. Between 1965 and 1973, 201 U.S. soldiers and 77 Marines were convicted of serious crimes against the Vietnamese. The worst case of an American war crime was the massacre at My Lai, on 16 March 1968. The village and surrounding area were assaulted to clear Viet Cong known to be operating in the area. A company of soldiers from Americal Division, following ill-defined orders and rules of engagement, murdered 400 to 500 Vietnamese civilians. The court martial transcripts are sickening to read as they include the indiscriminate execution of men, women, babies and children along with sexual assault and other brutalities perpetrated upon the victims, individually and in groups. A second massacre of ninety to one hundred civilians occurred in the neighbouring hamlet of Co Luy at the same time.

Merely thinking about the torture US soldiers inflicted on the Iraqi prisoners, especially at Abu Ghraib prison, gives me goose bumps. It all started in 2004 when accounts of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse, including torture, rape, sodomy, and homicide of prisoners came to public attention. These acts were committed by personnel of the 372nd Military Police Company of the United States Army together with additional US governmental agencies. All this torture was completely unnecessary and pictures prove that the US army actually enjoyed every moment of it.

It is not just the US that targeted Muslims, but also the Bosnian War was loaded with cases of mass rape and psychological torture, ethnic cleansing and genocide. Serb and Croat forces performed ethnic cleansing of their territories in order to ‘purify’ Republika Srpska and Herzeg-Bosnia. Milosevic and Karadzic wanted to get rid of all the Muslims in the states. Serb forces conducted sexual abuse strategy on Bosnian Muslim girls and women which will later be known as mass rape phenomenon. Between 20,000 and 44,000 women were systematically raped by the Serb forces. Considering the estimates and the demographics of Bosnia, by the end of the war approximately up to seven out of every hundred sexually capable Bosniak women and girls had been raped by Serb forces. The women and young girls were often held captives for up to 8 months or more, before being released or killed, often strategically beyond the possibility of abortion. During this time they were kept under constant fear, trauma, threat, violence, oppression, humiliation, sexual abuse and slavery by soldiers in ages ranging from 20 to 60 years.

Justice has not prevailed when it has come to dealing with war crimes. The Nuremberg trial was only one small step in bringing justice to the many Jewish victims. Some of the US soldiers involved with the Abu Ghraib torture were put into prison for a couple of months. But is this true justice? Does it even make the war criminals feel a tiny iota of the pain and suffering they caused to the prisoners of war or the innocent civilians?


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