Civilian killings & Human Shields: US absolves itself yet faults Sri Lanka
If the publication of civilian casualties as a result of the United States’ military operations overseas – in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan – “would pose a threat to the national security of the United States”, President Donald Trump in an Executive Order a couple of months ago has given discretionary powers to the Secretary of Defence to use his judgment whether to reveal such information or not.
The (December 2016) revised version of the 2015 Law of War Manual of the United States Government, states that when there is doubt about the identity of potential targets, commanders need not presume civilians are there.
The revised Manual indicates that at least some ‘voluntary’ human shields could be said to be “directly participating in hostilities” which would mean that they lose their protection from attack and would not need to be considered in the proportionality calculation.
The Proportionality Rule means combatants must refrain from attacks in which the expected loss of life or injury to civilians, and damage to civilian objects incidental to the attack, would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage expected to be gained.
While bringing pressure on other nations which were involved in non-international warfare – such as the one fought by Sri Lanka against the Tamil Tigers – to bring their military commanders to trial for alleged deaths of civilians during such battles or advocating to refrain from elevating such persons to higher positions in their respective military units, the United States, while engaged in numerous massacres of civilians during its ‘Global War on Terror’ since 9/11, has taken covert and overt measures to conceal such incidents and prevented from prosecuting or court martial those military personnel found responsible for intentional massacres of civilians during operations abroad.
The following account is a clear manifestation of how indifferent Washington was of killings (or massacres) of unarmed civilians by U.S. military personnel operating in other countries engaged in its Global War on Terror and absolving such military personnel engaged in such gruesome acts.
Here’s the grim scene and the aftermath of US antics:
Eight men are walking door-to-door in a small town, knocking down doors and shooting anyone they find. By the end of this violent rampage, they have murdered a total of twenty-four people at close range for no reason. They are arrested and subsequently found guilty in court of massacring civilians in cold blood. In a twist of fate, however, the same court decides that these men should be acquitted, giving no reason, and rules that there will be no possibility of appeal.
This nightmarish scenario became a reality for dozens of families in mid-January 2012 after a Southern California military court allowed a marine convicted of massacring 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians in their homes to go free with only a minor pay dock and demotion. The seven other marines involved in the 2005 massacre in the Iraqi town of Haditha, meanwhile, had previously been acquitted or had the charges dropped, despite the overwhelming evidence of their participation in the killings.
Sergeant Frank D. Wuterich, the marine who led the bloodbath, ordered his troops to shoot first and ask questions later, and because of this many were holding out hope that despite letting seven of the killers off the hook, justice would be served. This faith in the American justice system was severely misguided, was The Harvard Crimson accounted on February 10, 2012 .
The case’s verdict confirms something that has become frighteningly clear over the last decade: American troops will not be held responsible for the crimes they commit abroad. Americans have long conceived of their fighting forces as a noble lot who uphold values of integrity and justice in their conduct. While this does generally hold true, the unwillingness of the military to meaningfully punish those who engage in atrocities against citizens of other nations means that the United States military is complicit in the crimes against humanity being committed in our name, wrote Crimson.
Last week a query by a leading Sri Lanka media outlet posed to the American Ambassador Alaina B. Teplitz: The United States (U.S.) expressed concerns about the appointment of Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva as the Army Commander. People will interpret it as infringement of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. What have you got to say about it?
To which she replied: My obligation is to share the policies and decisions of the U.S. That is what we have done in this statement. We have expressed our concern for Sri Lanka’s reputation, the government’s commitment to its people regarding justice and accountability. We are not asking the government to appoint this person or that person. We are only articulating our position on this matter.
The next question to the ambassador was: However, he is facing allegations only. What do you think of it, to which she replied Yes, I think that is one of the challenges right now. One of the commitments made by the government is to truth, reconciliation and accountability. So, there needs to be a process to address them fully. There are credible allegations in the case of Gen. Silva. There will be a good outcome. They can go before court. Then, court can make a decision accordingly. But, that has not happened. At this moment, we have all the allegations. Whether they are serious, credible or not are different issues. But, there is a lot of documentation in this case. That has been put together by the UN and other organizations. During the 30-year war, terrible things happened – perpetrated by both sides to the conflict. There is a need to get to the bottom of them.
It is important to note that the Haditha Massacre did not occur in isolation, but has followed years of atrocities committed at various levels of the United States Armed Forces with a shocking degree of official complicity. In 2006, U.S. forces killed ten members of a single family in their home in Al-Balad without punishment. Additionally, the torture of thousands of detained Iraqi civilians at Abu Ghraib has been well documented, with few consequences for the perpetrators.
In Afghanistan, meanwhile, U.S. soldiers and unpiloted drones have killed thousands of civilians, including nearly a hundred people at Granai alone and another forty-seven civilians at a wedding party in Deh Bala. As of yet, no one has been punished for any of these massacres.
The Asian Tribune sometimes back carried a report analyzing the 2015-proclaimed Law of War Manual by the U.S. Department of Defence. The Manual was amended in June 2016 as well as December of that year. The Manual is undoubtedly a guide to nations such as Sri Lanka which had engaged in a non-international war, and could get some valuable hints in subsequent developments to which Washington was responsible in globalizing the Eelam War IV.
The issues the Asian Tribune is touching here are ones Washington has been highlighting since the Eelam War IV ended in May 2009: Death of civilians which leads to accountability and transparency.
The US Department of Defense in the two subsequent revisions did not alter a section in the original 2015 Manual that states that when there is doubt about the identity of potential targets, commanders need not presume civilians are there. The revised Manual indicates (220.127.116.11) that at least some ‘voluntary’ human shields could be said to be “directly participating in hostilities” which would mean that they lose their protection from attack and would not need to be considered in the proportionality calculation.
Here’s Section 18.104.22.168 declares in the Manual: When the attacking forces causes harm (let’s for a moment assume the attacking forces are the Government of Sri Lanka military forces) that are the responsibility of the defending forces (assuming defending forces are the Tamil Tigers cadre) due to its use of voluntary human shields or due to employment of civilian personnel in or on military objectives, the responsibility of the defending forces is a factor that may be considered in determining whether such harm is excessive. In other words: Harms caused by the attacking force to voluntary human shields are the responsibility of the defending forces.
The issue that needs to be raised is: How can it be said that someone knowingly, actively, and – especially – voluntarily attempting to shield an otherwise legitimate military target from attack is doing anything other than directly participating in hostilities.
The Endeavor of the Asian Tribune here is to provide a reading and interpretation of the U.S. Law of War Manual. This reading is vital at a time when the American Ambassador Teplitz in several statements has insinuated – we use the term insinuate – that Shavendra Silva was not suitable for the position of Army Commander having in her mind the civilian deaths during the final (March-May 2009) months of the battle between the GSL military and the Tamil Tigers fighting cadre. Gen. Silva commanded the Army’s 58thDivision in the final battle that defeated the Tamil Tigers.
Based on the Manual declarations, the enemy use of voluntary human shield may be considered as a factor in assessing the legality of an attack. Based on the facts and circumstances of a particular case, the commander may determine that persons characterized as voluntary human shields are taking direct part in hostilities.
It has been argued that it would undermine the legitimacy of Law of War if war fighters were told that legally-protected civilians were nevertheless allowed to volunteer to be human shields and thus effectively defend legitimate military targets.
It is to the interest of Sri Lanka’s national image and its standing in international forums, even at this late stage, that Sri Lankan defence strategists carefully look into what Washington and its overseas diplomatic representatives – which include Ambassador Alaina B. Teplitz – pronounce and proclaim what Sri Lanka should have done and need to undertake, and how those pronouncements go contrary to the position and stand taken by Washington in its own Law of Manual 2015 and the subsequent revisions in June and December 2016.
The Asian Tribune in this Political Note has endeavoured to highlight Washington’s sheer hypocrisy the manner in which it dealt with Sri Lanka during the war and thereafter to this day when Lt. General Shavendra Silva was installed as the Commander of the Army.
Two years ago this writer published a book Tamil Tigers’ Debt to America: U.S. Foreign-Policy Adventurism & Sri Lanka’s Dilemma with extensive research and investigative analysis – using the broad knowledge gained during his official association with the U.S. Department of Defence – disclosing Washington’s utter hypocrisy in its foreign policy dealings.
– Asian Tribune –