Illegal U.S. Wars
The unending and groundless US wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq have been alleged to be illegal under international law as well as undeclared wars in violation of the US constitution. These wars at the time were widely supported by both the Republican and Democratic party establishments and by American news media.
The US invasion of Iraq was based on false premises of “weapons of mass destruction” which were inconsistent with the administration’s knowledge at the time(1) and have been widely recognized as a flimsy pretext. The US media across the political spectrum was involved in peddling false narratives to sell the war to the American people, and has never been held accountable.(2)
While the Iraq war has received the most criticism, the US invasion of Afghanistan was also improper. Despite the “clearest signal yet that [the Taliban] could cooperate with Nato's mission to track down the suspect for September's terror attacks on New York and Washington,”(3) the United States rejected negotiations, with Bush stating that “time is running out.”(4) The US began bombing in Afghanistan shortly thereafter, and rejected subsequent offers from the Taliban to hand Bin Laden over.(5) Nearly twenty years into America’s longest war, recognition has grown that Bush’s refusal to negotiate, refusal to provide evidence, and impatient threats that “time was running out” represented reckless arrogance.
Both Trump and Biden have worked to draw down and remove US forces from Afghanistan and Iraq. Nonetheless, Donald Trump’s betrayal of Kurdish allies into the hands of ancient enemies violated longstanding promises and is cowardly and reprehensible.(6,7)
Abrogations of Human and Civil Rights
Both Republican and Democratic US administrations have engaged in broad abrogation of civil liberties, warrantless wiretapping, and other abuses under the unconstitutional Patriot Act.(8) Sadly, these abuses have received little pushback from ostensible guardians of democracy. As with the Iraq war, American media have been complicit in selling the Patriot Act’s overreaches to the American public.
Human rights abuses perpetrated by the United States government, often with the complicity of other nations, in violated human rights with secret renditions, torture, and holding of suspects at the Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp in Cuba for the express purpose of denying them rights and remedies of the United States Constitution and international norms. Samantha Pearlman noted:
“While the world, including the American public and our President, has expressed its outrage regarding the well-known human rights violations, the facility remains open, and the United States continues to illegally hold detainees.”(9)
We reject the indefinite holding of suspects without charges and without a fair and speedy trial as guaranteed by the US Constitution. The use of the Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp was instituted by President George W. Bush. President Barack Obama failed to shut it down, despite promises to do so in the face of known abuses.
Critics have expressed concern at extra-judicial killings by drone strikes which have also killed an unknown number of civilians. Secret drone strikes increased greatly under Barack Obama.(10) The US Pentagon has routinely claimed far fewer civilian casualties than those attested by local witnesses, while acknowledging that “they rarely talk to air strike witnesses or victims."(11) The process is non-transparent and lacking credible oversight. One journalist who alleged he was targeted by drone strikes and sued to challenge his (alleged) targeting was denied recourse due to the US government claiming state secrets.(12) The New York Times noted in 2015 that “U.S. is often unsure about who will die” in drone strikes.(13) Such conduct is difficult to reconcile with notions of universal human rights and due process.
The Clouded Future
Expansive interpretations of executive authority by the Obama Administration sought to circumvent Congress in enabling unilateral military action with little accountability or oversight.(14) William Arkin explained in Newsweek why “America can’t end its ‘forever wars.’”(15) Arkin noted that contemporary US military engagement is “unaudited and with poor measures of success,” and has become increasingly opaque. He wrote in April 2021:
“The United States today is killing or bombing in perhaps 10 different countries. Some we know for sure: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen. Some occasionally are acknowledged—Libya, Niger, Mali and Uganda. Others are more obscure—Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Lebanon, Nigeria. And still others—the Philippines, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Thailand—are alluded to in fleeting news reports or hinted at in military deployments and supposed war games with host nation forces. Beyond these 21 countries, American special operations forces are routinely present in some 70 additional countries..
“The Defense Department Special Inspector General has also repeatedly complained that data on strikes, on Afghan military readiness and on the state of the many terrorist groups operating in country—data that previously was made available—has also been classified and kept from the public…
“When it comes to other battlefields, public accounting is equally avoided, even when it is required by law. The president's ‘war powers’ reports to Congress omit mention of fighting in controversial countries merely by declaring them ‘classified.’ The Secretary of Defense has also certified that reporting on certain countries is no longer necessary, not because the fighting has ended, but because U.S. ‘troops’ haven't spent more than 60 days in country or the operations cost less than $100 million annually. In this way, reporting on U.S. bombing and killing in Yemen and Lebanon, in East Africa and in ‘Northwest Africa’—already sparse—has disappeared altogether.”
1. Schwarz, Jon. "Lie after Lie: What Colin Powell Knew About Iraq 15 Years Ago and What He Told the U.N." The Intercept, February 6, 2018. https://theintercept.com/2018/02/06/lie-after-lie-what-colin-powell-knew-about-iraq-fifteen-years-ago-and-what-he-told-the-un/
2. Taibbi, Matt. "16 Years Later, How the Press That Sold the Iraq War Got Away With It." Rolling Stone, March 22, 2019. https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/iraq-war-media-fail-matt-taibbi-812230/
3. "Taliban 'will try Bin Laden if US provides evidence.'" The Guardian (UK), October 5, 2001. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/oct/05/afghanistan.terrorism
4. "U.S. rejects Taliban offer to try bin Laden." CNN, October 7, 2001. http://edition.cnn.com/2001/US/10/07/ret.us.taliban/
5. "Bush rejects Taliban offer to hand Bin Laden over." The Guardian (UK), October 14, 2001. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/oct/14/afghanistan.terrorism5
6. Motlagh, Jason. “The Betrayal of the Kurds.” Rolling Stone, December 18, 2019. https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/trump-betrayal-of-the-kurds-927545/
7. Wegner, Peter. “Trump Betrayed the Kurds. He Couldn’t Help Himself.” The Atlantic, October 15, 2019. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/10/trump-betrayed-kurds-whos-next/600004/
8. Associated Press. "Judge rules part of Patriot Act unconstitutional." NBC News, September 26, 2007. https://www.nbcnews.com/id/wbna20999950
9. Pearlman, Samantha. "Human Rights Violations at Guantánamo Bay: How the United States Has Avoided Enforcement of International Norms." Seattle University Law Review, Issue 3 (2015):1109-1138. https://digitalcommons.law.seattleu.edu/sulr/vol38/iss3/8/
10. McKelvey, Tara. "Covering Obama’s Secret War." Columbia Journalism Review, May/June 2011. https://archives.cjr.org/feature/covering_obamas_secret_war.php
11. Knuckey, Sarah, Ole Solvang, Jonathan Horowitz and Radhya Almutawakel. "
Pentagon Admits Major Investigation Flaw: They Rarely Talk to Air Strike Witnesses or Victims." Just Security, June 29, 2017. https://www.justsecurity.org/42675/pentagon-admits-rarely-talks-air-strike-witnesses-victims/
12. Hsu, Spencer S. "U.S. invokes state secrets privilege to block American journalist’s challenge to alleged spot on drone ‘kill list.’" Washington Post, September 24, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/legal-issues/us-invokes-state-secrets-privilege-to-block-american-journalists-challenge-to-alleged-spot-on-drone-kill-list/2019/09/24/15580b88-dee9-11e9-b199-f638bf2c340f_story.html
13. Shane, Scott. "Drone Strikes Reveal Uncomfortable Truth: U.S. Is Often Unsure About Who Will Die." New York Times, April 23, 2015. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/24/world/asia/drone-strikes-reveal-uncomfortable-truth-us-is-often-unsure-about-who-will-die.html
14. Ackerman, Bruce. “Is Obama Enabling the Next President to Launch Illegal Wars?” The Atlantic, August 24, 2016. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/08/obama-illegal-wars/497159/
15. Arkin, William M. “Why America Can't End Its 'Forever Wars.'”Newsweek, April 12, 2021. https://www.newsweek.com/why-america-cant-end-its-forever-wars-1582749