Trump’s Planned War Crimes Are Impeachable

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War Crimes Are American Law.

The President of the United States targeted a specific high official of the Iranian government in a military strike, killing Iran’s Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s notorious “Quds” division (just one of his many titles). An argument exists that such targeted assassinations themselves violate U.S. law. However, I accept that as a commander of a dangerous, hostile force Soleimani is a “combatant” and legitimate target under the rules of war (not that any war declared by Congress exists). Soleimani led a force responsible for many deaths, and contributed to the destabilization of the Middle East. I do not mourn for him.

Trump’s assassination of Soleimani carries great risks. He was essentially the second most powerful person in the Iranian government. The blowback from this decision is likely to be substantial, even more destabilizing, and could lead to a major war against Iran. In response to this danger, Trump has responded with his usual diplomacy via Twitter bluster. The tweets are full of chest puffing threats to use “beautiful” high tech American military might to make short work of Iran. Stuff like this:

At least he hasn’t threatened nukes . . . yet. However, in one such tweet Trump did threaten to commit war crimes.

The United States Criminal Code

52 sites, a number based not on military need or expediency, but rather to match the number of hostages taken 40 years ago. The problem here is Trump’s specific threat to target “Iranian culture.” Targeting cultural targets is a war crime, as defined by United States law. Let’s start with that law at 18 U.S.C. 2441.

One would hope that “penalty of death” part would get the President’s attention. Next, we go to the statute’s definition of a war crime.

In essence the United States Code adopts the Geneva and Hague Conventions as United States law.

The Hague Conventions

The most relevant provision of the Hague Convention is Article 27, which is among those specifically listed as adopted by the United States Criminal Code, and it is rather on point.

Trump’s threat to attack cultural targets seems directly aimed at “buildings dedicated to religion, art, science, charitable purposes or historical monuments.”

The Geneva Conventions

The Geneva Conventions of 1949 provide for the protection of civilians in occupied areas. Later variations of the Conventions extend more general protections for civilians against the effects of war. Perhaps most applicable are Article 52 of Protocol I of the Conventions and Article 53 signed in 1977. Article 52 states:

Article 53 is even more on point:

However, while the United States is a signatory to Protocol I, it was not ratified by the Senate as a treaty and it is not incorporated into the United States Criminal Code. Even so, Article 53 is pretty much a restatement of the above cited Hague Convention, which is adopted by the United States Criminal Code. Further it is clear what international law in this regard states.

Conclusion

The President of the United States of America clearly tweeted an intent to commit war crimes as defined and prohibited by the United States Criminal Code. This mere threat is not a crime. However, should Trump consummate this threat, that would be a crime under the Code. His Twitter statement is clear evidence of premeditation and planning, which should be viewed as aggravating factors of the offense. Trump’s pardoning of war criminals should also be viewed as evidence of his contempt for the rule of law in this area, and as encouragement for the illegal acts he orders.

It should also be noted that other members of the Administration involved with such planning would be criminally culpable as well, along with any members of the military who commit the war crimes under the President’s direction.

I don’t make allegations of war crimes without careful consideration. I am a published author in the field who repudiated false claims of war crimes advanced by Ramsey Clark against the Bush Administration relating to conduct of the first war against Iraq. What Trump proposes is unquestionably a war crime.

Written by

Retired lawyer & Army vet in The Villages of Florida. Lifelong: Republican (pre-Trump), Constitution buff, science nerd & dog lover. Twitter: @KeithDB80

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