Richard Clarke might be correct about the decisions of Bush and Cheney "falling into the category of war crimes." However, his remarks might also be an indictment of past and present American presidents. According to the United Nations, war crimes are defined in the following manner:
War crimes are criminal acts committed during armed conflicts and the term refers to grave breaches of the rules of warfare...Acts such as torture, destruction of property, and the killing of civilians or hostages can be defined as war crimes, as can the wanton destruction of cities, towns and villages, or any devastation not justified by military necessity.
Therefore, a closer examination of military decisions in the past century might lead to the conclusion that multiple presidents are guilty of war crimes. Were the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki a "breach of the rules of warfare"? How about our use of Agent Orange in Vietnam or the secret bombings of Cambodia and Laos? Furthermore, since Obama has simply continued many Bush-era policies, does this make him guilty of the same crimes? Although there is a clear distinction between these presidents and people like Adolf Eichmann or Pol Pot, there are numerous examples in U.S. history when military decisions have resulted in "wanton destruction of cities" and "the killing of civilians."
On August 6, 1945, Akihiro Takahashi was a 14-year-old junior high school student living in Hiroshima. His eyewitness account of the atomic bombing might easily be viewed as a crime against humanity:
Everything collapsed for as far as I could see. I felt the city of Hiroshima had disappeared all of a sudden. Then I looked at myself and found my clothes had turned into rags due to the heat. I was probably burned at the back of the head, on my back, on both arms and both legs...And on the way we saw many victims. I saw a man whose skin was completely peeled off the upper half of his body and a woman whose eye balls were sticking out. Her whole baby was bleeding. A mother and her baby were lying with a skin completely peeled off. We desperately made a way crawling.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki weren't military instillations; they were cities. According to UCLA, the number of killed and wounded in Hiroshima and Nagasaki totaled 225,000 human beings. As for how these people died, "In the immediate aftermath, a quarter to a third of the population was killed by burns, trauma or radiation, or by a combination of these."
World War Two Air Force General Curtis LeMay is quoted as saying, "If I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal." Therefore, would President Truman have suffered the same fate for the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had the U.S. lost the war? Several decades after the atomic bombs, both Presidents Johnson and Nixon presided over the Vietnam War and both leaders utilized Agent Orange. As stated in History.com, Agent Orange was meant to affect food supply and eventually caused greater damage than first anticipated:
It was later revealed to cause serious health issues-including tumors, birth defects, rashes, psychological symptoms and cancer-among returning U.S. servicemen and their families as well as among the Vietnamese population...U.S. aircraft were deployed to spray powerful mixtures of herbicides around roads, rivers, canals and military bases, as well as on crops that might be used to supply enemy troops. During this process, crops and water sources used by the non-combatant peasant population of South Vietnam could also be hit.
Needless to say, the crops that fed the enemy were also the same food supply that civilians, women and children also utilized for nourishment. In addition to Vietnam veterans who've suffered greatly from Agent Orange, the Vietnamese are still feeling the effects of the chemical in 2014. According to The New York Times, the "Vietnamese accept almost as an article of faith that America's aerial and ground spraying poisoned their environment, perhaps for decades to come, and is to blame for severe birth defects that afflict hundreds of thousands of their children."
Years after LBJ left office, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger bombed Cambodia and Laos without Congressional approval. The Trial of Henry Kissinger by Christopher Hitchens goes into great detail about the case for Kissinger being a war criminal, and there are many people who agree with this sentiment. According to human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell in The Guardian article titled "Why Milosevic but not Kissinger," the Nixon years were highlighted by potential crimes against humanity:
According to the US Senate sub-committee on refugees, from March 1968 to March 1972, in excess of 3 million civilians were killed, wounded or made homeless. During this same period, most of which coincides with Kissinger's role as NSA to the president, the US dropped nearly 4.5 million tons of high explosive on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia -- more than double the tonnage dropped during the whole of the second world war... These are war crimes under the 1957 Geneva Conventions Act.
Tatchell also states that President Nixon's adherence to Kissinger's foreign policy advice might have made him culpable of the same crimes.
Finally, although President Obama ended the use of torture, he continued the drone attacks started under Bush. A Stanford Law School reports states that "there is significant evidence that U.S. drone strikes have injured and killed civilians." Many say they violate international law, especially since civilians are killed in countries that haven't declared war upon the U.S. As for the decisions of presidents before Obama, the use of the atomic bombs, massive bombing campaigns in Vietnam, and chemical weapons like Agent Orange can easily be viewed as war crimes. If President Bush is deemed a war criminal, then the decisions of presidents before and after Bush should be evaluated in the same manner.
Follow H. A. Goodman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/HAGOODMANAUTHOR