Is U.S. Committing War Crimes?

By Bill Ramsey

St. LOUIS, May 3

«Is U.S. Committing War Crimes from on High?» asks Bill Ramsey in a column published by the St. Louis-Post Dispatch on May 3. «If one knows that dropping bombs on targets that have both civilian and military functions will inevitably take or harm civilian lives, can one claim that one does not intend to kill and therefore is not responsible for those who die in the attack?» the author asks. Here is an excerpt from Mr. Ramsey's column:

«The 1949 Geneva Conventions and their 1977 Protocols define crimes against humanity as attacks on civilian populations or civilian objects. Civilian objects are defined as those indispensable to the survival of a population; and drinking water installations are designated as a civilian objects.

Those water pipes in Belgrade are not legitimate targets under international standards.

The Geneva Conventions and Protocols prohibit indiscriminate attacks. An attack is «indiscriminate» when its effect cannot be limited and thus harms military and civilian targets without distinction. Indiscriminate attacks include those that may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life or injury to civilians. Where there is doubt, a potential target must presumed to be civilian.

Does Clinton's decision to use an air-war strategy that he knows will kill civilians amount to a violation of the Geneva Conventions? Is our government committing war crimes in a futile attempt to halt Milosevic's horrendous war crimes?

The 1945 the Nuremberg Charter declares that the «wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity» is punishable as a war crime. NATO said its target in Surdulica was an army barracks. Surdulica is near Serbia border with Bulgaria, not Kosovo. Can NATO identify a «military necessity» that warranted the risk of destroying homes and killing civilians in Surdulica? If not, did it commit a war crime? Are «war-related factories» now to include «word factories» like that Serbian television station struck on April 23, killing 15 civilian journalists?

Amnesty International reminded NATO that international humanitarian law not only prohibits attacks on civilians and civilian sites. It also requires stringent safeguards when carrying out attacks against «military objectives,» including giving effective advance warning of attacks that may affect the civilian population.

International law also sets conditions on decisions to wage war. If they are not met, then another category of war crime called a crime against peace is committed. Under the U.N. Charter, collective military action by member states to prevent crimes against humanity requires Security Council approval. By what authority is NATO making war? All diplomatic options must be exhausted and negotiations cannot proceed under the threat of force.

Does «Sign or we bomb» meet to these conditions? [...]

How many mornings will we have to hear «regrettable but inevitable» from places like Serbia, Iraq, Sudan and Panama before we realize that modern air war is a blunt and deadly instrument that cannot confine itself within even the minimum humanitarian standards that arose from the ashes of WW II?»

Bob Djurdjevic
Phoenix, Arizona
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