That no war criminal and no country that have committed crimes against humanity should ever be allowed to escape prosecution and international justice is beyond dispute. Crucial evidence to this end should never be ignored either. But there is one small problem here:
The United States is not fit to lecture us on human rights, much less police the world and deal with the war criminals in the world. Since it has withdrawn funding from the International Criminal Court, since it has waged wars against Syria and Yemen, and since its occupying forces have carried out atrocities elsewhere in the world, including rape, torture and mass murder of civilians, how can the US wield justice for others? The “world’s policeman” is itself the worst war criminal in the world.
For one, Tillerson’s comment comes just a few days after the US attacked Syria killing several innocent civilians – over bogus allegations of a “gas attack” carried out by the Syrian government, but before any sort of international investigation could be carried out on the claims. It also comes amid growing US talk about further attacks against Syria on other pretexts, including some very confusing messages about US intervention if Syria continues to bomb terrorist positions, and threats to punish Russia if they continue to support the Syrian government against US-backed, Al-Qaeda-allied “moderate” rebels.
Likewise, the US doesn’t have any intention to punish crimes committed by its own allies against civilians “anywhere in the world.” They plainly have no intention to punish Saudi Arabia for its war crimes in Yemen; nor for its all-out support for various Wahhabi-Takfiri terrorist groups that are committing crimes against humanity in Iraq and Syria; nor for its support of the Al Khalifa regime for their violent crackdowns against pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain.
Nor is that all. The United States does not represent the best option for victims of grave human rights violations and war crimes to attain justice. According to the International Criminal Court (ICC), the US has many flaws:
The ICC states that the United States crimes include violations of the laws and customs of war committed by the US Armed Forces since the beginning of the War on Terror in 2001. These include the summary execution of captured enemy combatants, the torture and mistreatment of prisoners during interrogation, the use of drones to assassinate innocent bystanders, and the use of violence against civilian non-combatants. In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, the US government also adopted several new measures in the classification and treatment of prisoners captured in the War on Terror, including applying the status of unlawful combatant to some prisoners, conducting extraordinary renditions, and using torture.
Human Rights Watch and others describe these measures as being illegal under the Geneva Conventions. Likewise, the ICC says these war crimes can be prosecuted in the United States through the War Crimes Act of 1996. However, the US government does not accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court over its nationals, as the US directly opposes and is not a party to the Court.
All this and more is more than enough to uphold the unquestionable fact that the United States is indeed not fit to “police the world,” much less “hit Syria again,” justify further intervention, and punish all those “who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world.” Whatever the case, the crimes committed by US Armed Forces in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen have a negative impact on its image throughout the region and the world. Add to the perception that the US also has a disregard for civilian life, and you get the idea why the US is not fit to lecture us on human rights and punishment of war criminals.
This is not just an idle, one-off argument. Despite international outcry, the Trump White House has said it would “definitely consider” further military action in Syria. The Trump administration has also signaled it would play a central role in forcing regime change, with Press Secretary Sean Spicer telling reporters that the US government “can’t imagine a Syria with Assad in charge”.
This policy is not about punishing criminals; nor is it about “defeating ISIL” ahead of removing President Bashar Assad from power. This is about Washington’s authoritarian, criminal instincts, voicing support for those seeking a US role in regime change – ISIL and Qaeda-allied militants and their patrons, mainly Israel and Saudi Arabia. As put by the United States’ UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, “regime change for Syria is desirable.”
To this end, Trump’s air strikes – the first direct military action the US has taken in Syria – signify a more globalist position for war-party Washington. As repeatedly mentioned by Trump, Spicer and Tillerson, the “Trump Doctrine” on foreign policy is “America First”. This is about “we have a defined national interest whenever we act.” This national interest is not designed to “prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons”. Nor is it designed to punish those “who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world.”
There is no strong moral authority coming from Washington anymore. The United States must sort out its own war crimes and human rights abuses before lecturing others or punishing others. It is unacceptable for the Trump White House to get a pass on new Syria strikes. It is in absolute and complete contradiction of International Law and International Humanitarian Law.
The fact that the US seems to be abandoning any kind of role in maintaining a consistent message on International Law affects the calculations of its government. They are just going to think there is no price to pay for “hitting Syria again”. It will embolden them, and at the end of the line, human rights defenders in Syria which are at the forefront of the War on Terror will pay a heavier price. It is not going to be pretty. It will make for a more unstable region in the medium and the long term.