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Unpunished and unrepentant: the war criminals who get away with murder

March 23, 2023 at 1:45 pm

The remains of a building which survived the US nuclear bomb that hit the Japanese city of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945 [Daisy Ridley]

When the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W Bush flouted international law and unleashed Shock and Awe on Iraq in March 2003, the attack and invasion had unintended consequences which could probably lead us directly to the equally illegal invasion of Ukraine by Russia’s Vladimir Putin in February last year. The only major difference is that, in Ukraine, the fickle international community has issued an arrest warrant for Putin accusing him of war crimes. Blair and Bush, meanwhile, are still at large, unpunished and unrepentant. There have been no arrest warrants for them; they’re just two of many war criminals who get away with murder.

This highlights the futility of war and what happens when aggressors, with little imagination beyond bombs and bullets, will go to any lengths to get their own way.

I was reminded of this yesterday when my daughter Daisy sent me pictures of the memorials in Japan to arguably the biggest war crime of all when, back in August 1945, US President Harry S Truman dropped two nuclear bombs on civilians.

I’ve no doubt that Bush’s presidential decision-making process which led him and Blair to take the illegal path to war in 2003 without UN backing involved the same sort of discussions as those which led to those atom bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the tail end of World War Two. The US military and its political bosses got away scot-free for killing a quarter of a million people instantly, and maiming many due to radiation, the effects of which are still seen today.

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The photographs Daisy took show Hiroshima’s city centre where the bomb exploded. Only the iconic skeletons of three concrete buildings are still standing.

“We’ve all seen these images in books but without much context,” she told me. “By being there, though, and listening to the stories, it’s difficult to understand how human beings could do that to other human beings. It was a difficult reminder that it can still happen today and calls for more questions about what’s happening in Ukraine.”

Her observations are chilling. Would Putin use nuclear weapons many, many more times powerful than those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as the media often speculates and pro-Ukraine politicians claim? If he does — and we must hope and pray that he doesn’t — the precedent has already been set by the US and its allies. No one has ever been held to account in a court of law for the war crime in Hiroshima. No one has ever been held to account for the illegal war in Iraq. And no one is likely to be held to account in the International Criminal Court (ICC) for attacks on civilians in Ukraine. In fact, as Israel has shown many times in occupied and besieged Gaza, it seems you can bomb heavily populated civilian areas these days without any comeback at all, not even a slap on the wrist.

The morality-free Tel Aviv government was at it again on Wednesday morning in Syria, where people are still reeling and recovering from a massive earthquake. At around 4am yesterday, the Israel “Defence” Forces launched renewed missile strikes on Aleppo International Airport, the second attack on the civilian airport since the 7.7 magnitude quake devastated the region.

At the time of writing it was said that there were no casualties, but it is a simple fact that when Israel unleashes its missiles, people suffer. In this latest example of consequence-free aggression, it is significant that the airport is one of the main ports of entry for humanitarian aid for the earthquake victims. Israel’s target may have been “Iran-linked”, but civilians will suffer because the airport was shut down. Civilians desperate for emergency relief will have to wait agonisingly longer for it to arrive.

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If this isn’t a war crime — and Israel has been a serial offender in Palestine over the years — then the signals it sends out to despots like Putin are clear.

When Israeli bombs damaged the runway and forced the closure of Aleppo Airport earlier this month, the UN made it clear that, “The impact of this closure impedes humanitarian access and could have drastic humanitarian consequences for millions of people who have been affected by the earthquake.” The international organisation pointed out that Aleppo is “one of the worst earthquake-impacted governorates in Syria.”

Even though Israel was told by the UN that attacks must never be directed against civilians or civilian objects, the occupation state is deaf to such reminders and always has been. At least five people were killed, and 15 were critically injured on 18 February when Israeli warplanes bombed a residential neighbourhood in Damascus. Yet another Israeli war crime, but there is no international appetite for ending the impunity that the Zionist apartheid state has enjoyed during its more obvious crimes, from the ethnic cleansing and massacres of the 1948 Nakba, to killing journalists and medics by sniper fire. And thousands of other civilians along the way.

It is quite clear we live in an unjust world where might is right. Twenty years after the invasion of Iraq, the country is still in turmoil. The poor people of Ukraine, meanwhile, seem destined for years of war as the Russian president swaggers around the world stage with no fear of reprisals. For someone charged by the ICC with war crimes, his sneer and hubris speak volumes.

And who will try to restrain Israel which has launched hundreds of attacks inside Syria over nearly a decade; bombed, invaded and occupied Lebanon; and continues to bomb and kill Palestinians while occupying and stealing their land?

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The countries which we might expect to take a lead in upholding international laws and conventions, including the US and Britain, have all taken part in illegal invasions around the world. They, along with the likes of Russia and Israel are engaged in what can only be called state terrorism. They are inherently immoral and guilty of crimes for which we know no one will ever be held to account. That is why there are 100 million refugees in the world today, innocents forcibly displaced by the actions of nation states whose leaders know that their crimes will go unpunished. Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Palestine, Syria, Ukraine… the list is long, and growing.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.