The official statement from Angus Campbell, the Australian Chief of the Defense Force, delivering an apology to the people of Afghanistan for the crimes committed by Australian military personnel in the country’s territory from 2005 to 2016 has been something debated energetically in the past few days in many countries, and is seen as a significant act indicating A. Campbell’s public accountability.
The day before, Australian authorities had published a report on the violations committed by the Australian military in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2016, something which was based on the testimony of more than 400 witnesses, and analyses done on tens of thousands of documents that described the crimes committed – and unjustified by military actions on the battlefield; most of these occurred from 2009 to 2013.
It is worth noting that Australia, as part of the US-led coalition, sent its military to Afghanistan in 2001, and up until 2013 there were about 1,500 Australian soldiers in the country, while since 2013 about 300 people have remained who are involved in training and drill work with local military personnel. An investigation into the crimes by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan began in 2017.
The investigation indicated 25 active duty and former Australian military service personnel, and said that the commanders of Australian SAS patrols in Afghanistan often forced recruits to dispatch prisoners to get their first experience with killing. This practice was called “baptism by blood”.
In his speech, General Angus Campbell announced that cases against 19 active duty and former Australian military personnel would soon be referred to a specially designated investigator to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to prosecute the alleged murders of 39 Afghan residents, most of whom were taken into captivity when they were unarmed. The military bases and units mentioned in the report will be reorganized or disbanded, the people mentioned in the report will be stripped of their awards and ranks, and the families of the victims will need to be paid out compensation.
Against the backdrop of this responsible act of civil participation on the part of Australia towards the perpetrators of war crimes in recent years, discussions have intensified in many countries about the need for court hearings before the international community for these kinds of crimes committed by the United States and its allies during recent armed interventions.
Specifically, reminders have been made that Western states initiated a war in Libya, relying on “fake news” about the massacres and crimes by the Gaddafi regime for the purposes of advancing their own interests in capturing this country. Along with that, despite the fact that because of this war a powerful state in Africa was completely destroyed, and its leader executed, the war crimes committed by Western countries remain unpunished to the present day, something which international experts have repeatedly called for. Although in recent days in France there has been a lot of talk about the alleged financing of Nicolas Sarkozy’s election campaign by Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2007, the International Criminal Court, which the UN has entrusted with the mission of prosecuting those responsible for serious crimes, has still not delivered its opinion on the responsibility borne by countries in the West, and their allies, for this war.
The US and Britain have been pointedly accused of maintaining a persistent veil of silence over their war crimes. It is well-known that the United States had a falling out with the International Criminal Court (ICC), calling the organization “effectively dead”, and imposed sanctions on ICC judges because of the court’s policy towards the United States and its ally, Israel. These actions taken by Washington, and the Trump administration’s attacks on the International Criminal Court, according to British experts have demonstrated the unsightly face of American “exceptionalism”, which since 2012 has been behind the drive to wreak havoc on Fatou Bensouda, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, who initiated the opening of an official investigation on possible crimes committed by the Americans and the Taliban (an organization banned in the Russian Federation – Ed.) in Afghanistan since 2001. Meanwhile, the United States has much to be held accountable for: alleged unlawful killings and arrests, torture, and massive casualties among the civilian population, all of which can be qualified as war crimes in Afghanistan.
However, this is not the only country where the United States has made its mark in terms of war crimes. According to a report published by Turkish media given by the Qatar-based Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), more than 3,000 Syrian civilians have been killed in Syria alone since 2014, and the fate of another 8,000 people remains unknown.
The United States may also be guilty of war crimes in Somalia – something which has been pointed out by American media outlets, citing a report from Amnesty International. Despite statements by the US military that no civilian has allegedly been killed due to airstrikes on terrorists in this African country, the human rights organization found that in at least five instances civilian casualties and injuries occurred.
As noted by the Turkish media, “wherever the United States sets foot, interfering in countries’ domestic politics and their national interests in an attempt to change the course of history, large-scale tragedies occur. Vietnam, Japan, Korea, Cuba, Panama, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Mexico, the Philippines, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and, finally, Syria – you can see the bloody traces of the United States all over”.
Great Britain, following the example set by the United States, also opposed the ICC, and refused to ratify a new amendment in the International Criminal Court that would expand the organization’s authority, and permit it to review cases involving aggressive actions taken toward states. According to experts, had this law been passed earlier, the British authorities would have abandoned their invasion of Iraq in 2003. As for the activity performed by the British justice system, it would be pertinent to reiterate how in 2017 a former Iraqi general filed a lawsuit against Tony Blair in London for military aggression he had authorized in Iraq, and for the need to bring British soldiers to justice for war crimes in the country. However, London judges did not find any grounds in English law to prosecute the former head of state.
For good reason, international justice should be considered a great achievement for humanity, since it allows victims to have redress, and serves as a warning to potential criminals. However, many wars and armed conflicts, as before, do not lead to the international community convicting those guilty of starting them, or those who have committed war crimes. Unfortunately, frequently in cases where there is a clear winner in a war, only the defeated end up being prosecuted, and the issue revolving around whether people should be tried for war crimes is one that remains unresolved.
Vladimir Platov, an expert on issues in the Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.