What is a war criminal?

Two incidents yesterday led me to wonder what, or, rather, who, constitutes a war criminal.

The first incident was finding out that ex-CIA Director and war profiteer R.J. Woolsey is to be the featured guest for Business Bermuda’s AGM on February 22nd; I wrote about this/him in my previous post.

The second incident was the conviction of a US Marine, in a US Martial Court, for the killing of 24 unarmed civilians in Haditha, Iraq, in 2005. His sentence? Demotion from Staff Sergeant to Private. No jail time, not even the paltry three-months that were initially recommended. Not even a fine, or compensation to relatives of the victims. Just a mere demotion for being convicted of mass-murder.

One cannot but help think that had the dead been American women and children, not Iraqis, and the defendant an Iraqi (or today’s bogeymen, Iranian), he would instead have been convicted of war crimes and sentenced to death or life-imprisonment.

So, what, or who, is a war criminal?

It seems that the definition depends on who you are.

An American, with significant economic and political power, who advocates war, helps fabricate false intelligence to facilitate such a war, and who owns a company – and shares in others – which directly profited from the resulting war, and today advocates a new war (this time with Iran) with which he again stands to profit from, and who engages in hate-speech (stating that ‘most mosques’[and] ‘Muslim organisations [in the USA] are fronts for violent jihadists…’) is not a war criminal.

Instead Mr. Woolsey is a patriot and astute businessman. At least within the sphere of the American Empire. Most other people would no doubt consider such a person a war criminal, or at least guilty of committing crimes against peace, let alone being a war profiteer.

A soldier who massacres, or otherwise participates in the massacring of unarmed civilians is not a war criminal, at least within the sphere of the American Empire. Instead he is merely guilty of ‘dereliction of duty’.

The agents that torture and deprive prisoners of their rights, both under the Geneva conventions and the universal declaration of human rights, are not war criminals within the American Empire. They are merely ‘doing their job’ or simply guilty of ‘improper conduct’.

Such is the hypocrisy of the imperialists. But these are just the most glaring incidents. And Bermuda has played a role in these crimes too.

Bermuda & War Crimes

In the run up – and duration, even today – to the illegal and imperialist wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the smaller, more informal covert wars of the ongoing War on Terror (from Somalia, Yemen, Iran, Pakistan, Palestine, Libya, the Philippines and Indonesia), various elements of the US war machine passed through Bermuda. These were naval vessels and military planes. Additionally, smaller planes used in the transport of ‘detainees’ to Guantanamo Bay, stopped in Bermuda. These planes and ships were refueled by Bermudian workers.

And so Bermudians themselves served to actively facilitate war crimes. As such, are our own people then guilty of war crimes, and does the blame fall on the blue-collar workers or higher officials of State?

Additionally, during the Iraq war, and still today, Bermuda has allowed various companies engaged in war crimes to operate/be registered in Bermuda. Perhaps the most distasteful of such companies have been the ‘private military companies’ (PMCs) – mercenaries to you and me. The most infamous of these was Blackwater Group of companies, which was registered as having Bermudian registration. This company has since changed its name, likely due to the negative press surrounding its activities, and is now known as ‘Academi’ – taken from Platonic philosophy, with the idea of it producing Plato’s ‘guardians’. As with many companies it has various sub-companies, of which its global consulting arm is known today as Greystone Limited. Bermuda has the dubious honour of being home to one of this company’s three offices.

Do the workers in the offices of such companies in Hamilton constitute war criminals? Do the Bermudian civil servants and politicians who have facilitated these companies on our shores constitute war criminals?

It is hard to oppose the machine that is the US military-industrial complex and general empire. Its tentacles are everywhere, and constantly engaged in a propaganda war to deflect, obstruct and confuse. It is easy to resign oneself in the face of the challenge. What can we, in little Bermuda, do to help end these war crimes?

Perhaps not much.

But for a start we can oppose Mr. Woolsey’s guest appearance at Business Bermuda’s AGM on February 22nd, be it through demonstration or written protests to Business Bermuda.

Our workers can also refuse to refuel or supply military vessels that enter our ports. We can even declare our waters and airspace military-free zones.

And we can pressure our politicians to ensure that no companies engaged in war crimes and mercenary activities are based – even in name – in Bermuda.

In itself the above won’t stop the coming war with Iran, or other future illegal imperialist wars. But at least we will have done a little to wash the blood of our hands and not get them any bloodier in the future.

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