Clinton Is The World’s Leading Active War Criminal

S. Herman

use war crimes to encompass the commission of all acts declared illegal under
international rules of war as enumerated in the various Hague and Geneva
agreements and conventions and pronounced in the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals.
Among these acts are the carrying out of wars of aggression, the use of poison
gases and other inhumane weapons, deliberately killing and starving civilian
populations, and the use of force beyond military necessity. War crimes can be
carried out directly or through proxy forces that are funded, encouraged, and
protected in their own war criminality. This means that inaction—failure to
discourage or prevent the carrying out of war crimes known to be going on,
planned for enlargement, and preventable—is itself a form of war criminality.
Thus, if the Clinton administration knew that Indonesia was killing large
numbers of East Timorese and planned to ravage East Timor on a larger scale if
it lost an independence referendum, and did nothing to prevent the crimes,
Clinton and associates were guilty of war crimes by inaction.

Clinton and

put the adjective "active" in the title to this article because
Indonesia’s now retired president Suharto probably holds the overall top place
today, as the person responsible for three genocides (Indonesia, East Timor, and
West Papua). But Suharto had 33 years to carry out his crimes whereas Clinton
has become competitive within 7 years. Who can doubt that if Clinton had more
time to add to his mark in history he would easily top Suharto?

There are links
between Suharto and Clinton. When Suharto visited Washington in 1995 a Clinton
administration official was quoted in the New York Times as saying that
Suharto was "our kind of guy." But it would be wrong to infer from this that
the Clinton official was expressing approval of Suharto’s mass murders;
rather, he was saying that Suharto was easy to do business with in arranging
trade deals and joint public relations statements. Still, it was quite clear
that Suharto’s murders and dictatorial rule were of little consequence to the
Clinton leadership, not detracting significantly enough to make Suharto a "bad

This brings us to
the deeper connection between Clinton and the U.S. economic and political
establishment to Suharto’s crimes: because Suharto has been "our kind of
guy" since 1965 when he took power during his first genocidal outburst, he has
been protected and given positive support by the U.S. establishment, which
therefore has a shared responsibility for his crimes. This was clearly evident
in the U.S. provision of arms and diplomatic support during the first round of
Indonesian genocide in East Timor, and has now been followed up with U.S.
support for the second round where this country, with the closest links to the
Indonesian military, took no action to curb its client’s behavior.

This form of war
crime—by the provision of military support and follow-up inaction as the proxy
army kills—is a longstanding U.S. mode of operation. These U.S.-organized
and/or supported proxy armies have mainly killed people the U.S. wants killed,
although sometimes they have "gone too far" and their excesses may be
deplored, though not stopped. This purposefulness was most obvious and notorious
in the rise of the National Security State in Latin America in the 1950s and
thereafter. Internal documents make clear the official worry over Castroism, the
hostility to popular movements seeking "an immediate improvement in the low
living standard of the masses" (NSC, 1954), and the determination to combat
them. This was done through U.S. military aid, training, arms supply, and the
anti-populist politicization of the Latin military, who served as U.S.
gendarmes. The triumph of these U.S. proxies was closely correlated with the
ending of democracy—11 constitutional regimes were overthrown by our Latin
American gendarmes in the 1960s—along with the rise of death squads,
disappearances, and systems of torture.

With the help and
genius of the U.S. media, however, the U.S. connection to and responsibility for
this continent wide regression was not acknowledged—it was all a remarkable
happenstance that we regretted but apparently couldn’t do anything about. On
the other hand, in the phony campaign of the 1980s to blame the Soviet Union for
the world’s terrorism, it was enough to find any link of the terrorists to the
Soviets for the latter to be responsible. As the London Economist said,
"The Soviet Union, as it were, merely puts the gun on the table and leaves
others to wage a global war by proxy." But although the United States did far
more than "leave guns on the table," the actions of its proxies were never
its responsibility.

Arrogance, and Criminality

follows in a great tradition, although the special characteristics of the man
and his Administration, along with the end of the limited Soviet containment of
U.S. anti-populist interventionism, have helped make a long-standing global
rogue into a super-rogue. The U.S. has long considered that it has the right to
intervene at will among the "savages" occupying its own backyard in Latin
America, but especially after World War II when its predominance was
overwhelming and its global interests were growing rapidly its managers felt it
could straighten things out everywhere. Because of U.S. power and the
longstanding racist arrogance of its leaders, they have never felt that laws
apply to themselves—they only apply to others. And what for the Soviet Union
would be described as "aggression" or "subversion" was felt to be
perfectly reasonable when done by us. The Soviet Union was declared to be
engaging in subversion and even aggression in Central America when
Czechoslovakia shipped one boatload of arms to Guatemala in May 1954 as that
virtually disarmed country, under relentless U.S. subversive attack, was within
a month of being subjected to a U.S.-organized proxy invasion. The U.S. could
deliberately subvert a dozen countries in Latin America via arms, military
training, and support of coups (most notably Brazil and Chile) and not be guilty
of any misbehavior at all.

It could also
invade and bomb other countries at its discretion and be free from international
sanction. In the case of Indochina, the U.S. and its supportive media
accomplished another propaganda miracle. It committed blatant aggression,
overturned the Geneva Accords of 1954, installed its puppet in "South
Vietnam," and in the process of trying to keep that puppet in power, killed as
many as 4 million people and virtually destroyed all of Vietnam, Cambodia, and
Laos. It did this using the most fearsome technology—including the largest
quantity of chemical weapons ever employed—against virtually defenseless
peasant societies. The racism underpinning this mass killing was strong: "In
Vietnam racism became a patriotic virtue. All Vietnamese became ‘dinks,’
‘slopes,’ ‘slants,’ or ‘gooks’ and the only good one was a dead
one." And there was great enthusiasm for "skunk hunts" and "turkey
shoots" that killed innumerable farmers and their wives and children. (Philip
Knightley, The First Casualty).

But the only
"crimes" the world now recognizes in connection with this holocaust are
those of Pol Pot, whose criminality was real, but less far reaching than that of
the U.S., in an important sense a derivative of the larger U.S. assault,
disruption, and mass killing. In the United States, however, this country is
seen as having "lost" the war because of an adversarial media and the
insufficient use of force (the conservative view); or as a result of a "tragic
error" carried out with the "best intentions" (the liberal view); or in a
noble failed effort that was a "necessary" part of the struggle of good
against evil (the latest revisionism, harking back to old Cold War and neocon

The propaganda
system allows the U.S. leadership to commit crimes without limit and with no
suggestion of misbehavior or criminality; in fact, major war criminals like
Henry Kissinger appear regularly on TV to comment on the crimes of the
derivative butchers. The loyal U.S. allies neither contest this vision of
criminality nor seriously impede the global rogue’s behavior.

From Truman to

of its power and global interests U.S. leaders have committed crimes as a matter
of course and structural necessity. A strict application of international law
would, I believe, have given every U.S. president of the past 50 years Nuremberg
treatment. The sainted Harry Truman, for example, not only dropped atom bombs on
two Japanese cities, in clear violation of the rules against the use of inhumane
weapons and targeting civilians, he was also the engineer of the vicious U.S.
counterinsurgency war in Greece in 1947-1949 that reestablished the rule of
fascists who had sided with the Nazis. In Korea also, although others too were
guilty of serious crimes, Truman’s ferocious use of air power in which "we
burned down every town in North Korea and South Korea, too" (General Curtis
LeMay), made him principally responsible for the devastation of Korea, the
killing of perhaps four million Koreans, and the firming up of the power of the
murderous dictator Syngman Rhee. In its heavy use of napalm in all these victim
countries, the sponsorship of torture and concentration camps in Greece during
that war, the ruthless use of airpower against civilian targets and a food
deprivation strategy in Korea, the Truman administration gave advance notice of
the kind of merciless anti-people war the U.S. would bring to its culmination in

Jumping to
Clinton’s immediate predecessor George Bush, war crimes were committed in his
invasion of Panama in 1989, arguably a war of aggression in clear violation of
the OAS agreement and the UN Charter. It was done to capture a leader who was
involved in the drug trade, although the U.S. had backed him for many years with
full knowledge of and no objection to his drug connections—until he ceased to
be cooperative in support of the U.S. war on Nicaragua. Several thousand
Panamanian civilians were killed and scores of thousands injured in the U.S.
invasion, many in bombing raids on civilian areas in Panama City.

criminality escalated in his war against Iraq. Although the U.S. was able to
obtain Security Council agreement to this assault, it evaded efforts at a
peaceable settlement in violation of the UN Charter, so that even this UN
sanctioned war can be called a war of aggression. The war was also fought with
the use of weapons that would be condemned in a hypothetical Bush-Iraq War
Crimes Tribunal, including enhanced uranium shells and fuel air bombs. Thousands
of helpless Iraqi conscripts and fleeing refugees were butchered in cold blood
in the "turkey shoot" on the "Highway of Death," and hundreds of Iraqis
were deliberately buried alive in the sand and large numbers were dumped in
unmarked burial sites in violation of the rules of war. The civil society
infrastructure of Iraq was shattered far beyond any military justification. In
the aftermath, Bush insisted on the continuation of sanctions that prevented
recovery of the civil society and was responsible for many thousands of civilian
deaths from disease and starvation. This was first class criminality.

Postmodern War Criminality

brings us to Bill Clinton, who has gone beyond the Bush record of criminality,
and has brought to the commission of war crimes a new eclectic reach and
postmodern style. A skilled public relations person, he has refined the rhetoric
of humanistic and ethical concern and can apologize with seeming great sincerity
for our earlier regrettable sponsorship and support of mass murder in Guatemala
while carrying out similar or even more vicious policies in Colombia and Iraq at
the same moment.

military and other aggressive forays abroad have been partly a result of his
political weakness, the need to divert attention from his domestic policy
failures, and the longstanding need of Democrats to prove their anti-Communist
and militaristic credentials. It will be recalled that Truman could not end the
Korean War; its termination had to await the arrival of the Republican
Eisenhower. Kennedy and Johnson could not get us out of the Vietnam War; it took
Nixon, although with a horrendous time lag.

crimes range from ad hoc bombings to boycotts and sanctions designed to starve
into submission, to support of ethnic cleansing in brutal counterinsurgency
warfare, and to aggression and devastation by bombing designed to return rogues
to the stone age and keep them there.

On June 26, 1993,
Clinton bombed Baghdad in retaliation for an alleged but unproven Iraq plot to
assassinate former President George Bush. Eight Iraqi civilians, including the
distinguished Iraqi artist Layla al-Attar were killed in the raid, and 12 more
were wounded. This kind of unilateral action in response to an unproven charge
is a violation of international law. The legal excuse given by U.S. officials,
which they relied on in justification of the bombing of Libya in 1986, is the
right to self defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter. But that Article
requires that the response be to an immediate threat to the retaliating party,
clearly not the case, and therefore a legal fraud. This was a crime—petty by
the usual U.S. standard—but still a crime. And it had the further repellent
feature that it was done almost surely for purely internal political
reasons—to show Clinton’s toughness, despite his Vietnam War record, and to
countervail right-wing attacks on his lack of militancy.

The same point
can be made as regards his 1998 bombing of Afghanistan and the Sudan. Unknown
numbers were killed in Afghanistan (and by the missiles that accidentally landed
in Pakistan), and the pharmaceutical factory destroyed in the Sudan was the
major source of medical drugs in that poor country. All evidence points to the
fact that the Sudan factory destroyed had no connection whatever to chemical
weapons or Bin Laden, and was bombed on the basis of insufficient and poorly
evaluated data. But following the attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa, Clinton
felt compelled to act for internal political reasons once again, and there are
no international constraints or costs to him or his country if he chooses to
bomb small and weak countries to score political points at home. This was rogue
and criminal behavior.

Clinton has given
unstinting support to Turkey in its war against its indigenous Kurds. He has
also escalated his aid to Colombia. In both of these countries the civilian
casualties from counterinsurgency warfare and death squad operations during the
Clinton years has exceeded the pre-NATO bombing deaths in Kosovo by a large

In the Clinton
years these recurrent U.S. policies have impacted heavily on Cuba and most
dramatically on Iraq. The tightening of the embargo on Cuba under the Toricelli-Helms
bill, signed into law and enforced by Clinton, which banned the sale of U.S.
food and curtailed access to water treatment chemicals and medicines, took a
heavy toll. According to a 1997 report of the American Association of World
Health, the food sale ban "has contributed to serious nutritional deficits,
particularly among pregnant women, leading to an increase in low birth-weight
babies. In addition, food shortages were linked to a devastating outbreak of
neuropathy numbering in the tens of thousands. By one estimate, daily caloric
intake dropped 33 percent between 1989 and 1993." The decisive offsetting
consideration, however, was that Clinton was able to preserve some of his
political support from the powerful Cuban lobby in Florida.

The most
monumental of Clinton’s war crimes, however, has been his policy of sanctions
on Iraq, supplemented by the maintenance of intense satellite surveillance and
regular bombing attacks that have often resulted in civilian casualties. UNICEF
reports that in 1999 more than 1 million Iraqi children under 5 were suffering
from chronic malnutrition, and some 4,000-5,000 children are dying per month
beyond normal death rates from the combination of malnutrition and disease.
Death from disease was greatly increased by the shortage of potable water and
medicines, that has led to a 20-fold increase in malaria (among other ailments).
This vicious sanctions system, causing a creeping extermination of a people, has
already caused more than a million excess deaths, and it is claimed by John and
Karl Mueller that Clinton’s "sanctions of mass destruction" have caused
"the deaths of more people in Iraq than have been slain by all so-called
weapons of mass destruction [nuclear and chemical] throughout all history" (Foreign
, May/June 1999). U.S. mainstream reporters, who have so eagerly
followed the distress of the Kosovo Albanians, somehow never get to Iraq for
pictures of the thousands of malnourished children.

One of the
notable features of the NATO-U.S. war against Yugoslavia was the gradual
extension of targeting to civilian infrastructure and civilian
facilities—therefore civilians who would be in houses, hospitals, schools,
trains, factories, power stations, and broadcasting facilities. Two months after
the war was over, the BBC "revealed" that the attack on Yugoslav television
on April 23 was part of an escalation of NATO bombing whereby the target list
was extended to non-military objectives; Nato was "taking off the gloves."
According to Yugoslav authorities, 60 percent of NATO targets were civilian,
including 33 hospitals and 344 schools, as well as 144 major industrial plants
and a large petro-chemical plant whose bombing caused a pollution catastrophe.
John Pilger noted that the list of civilian targets included "housing estates,
hotels, libraries, youth centres, theatres, museums, churches and 14th century
monasteries on the World Heritage list. Farms have been bombed and their crops
set afire."

targeting was in open violation of the laws of war, although this was certainly
neither publicized nor condemned in the mainstream media; U.S. pundits like
Thomas Friedman of the New York Times frequently called for a more
aggressive bombing of Serb civilian targets and the commission of more war
crimes (Rachel Coen, "Lessons of War: Leading papers call for more attacks on
civilian targets next time," EXTRA!Update, August 1999). There can be
little doubt that Yugoslavia finally agreed to a military exit from Kosovo
mainly because they recognized that, although their forces had not been defeated
on the battlefield, the NATO strategy of attacking civilian targets in violation
of international law, was subject to no limits.

On May 27, in the
midst of this criminal operation by NATO, Louise Arbour, chief prosecutor of
International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia, issued an indictment of
Milosevic for war crimes, thereby implicitly exonerating and facilitating the
NATO commission of war crimes. By allowing her Tribunal to be so mobilized in
NATO propaganda service, Arbour and her colleagues were arguably guilty of war
crimes themselves.

The U.S. played
an important role in the "international community’s" failure in Rwanda, as
it worked hard to prevent any international action to interfere with the
gigantic 1994 massacres (Omaar and de Waal, "Genocide in Rwanda: U.S.
Complicity By Silence," CovertAction, Spring 1995). Bill Clinton has
apologized for this, suggesting that his recognition of the earlier failure
spurred him on to his Kosovo policy, which involved his commission of further
war crimes under the guise of a "humanitarian intervention" that was devoid
of humanitarian intent or effect.

Furthermore, in
1998-1999 Clinton was once more put to the test in East Timor, where he and his
Administration knew of the Indonesian plans to interfere with the referendum and
eventually to take revenge for any ensuing defeat, but did nothing whatsoever to
prevent this criminal performance. This was worse than Rwanda in that Clinton
had long advance knowledge of Indonesian intentions and easy access and close
links to Indonesian leaders that made prevention relatively easy. But prevention
would have been at the cost of disturbing the long and warm relationship of
Clinton and his associates with the killers. Clinton once again easily failed
the moral test, and is guilty of criminal behavior by inaction.


leaders commit war crimes as a matter of institutional necessity, as their
imperial role calls for keeping subordinate peoples in their proper place and
assuring a "favorable climate of investment" everywhere. They do this by
using their economic power, but also by means of "bombs bursting in the air"
and by supporting Diem, Mobutu, Pinochet, Suharto, Savimbi, Marcos, Fujimori,
Salinas, and scores of similar leaders. War crimes also come easily because U.S.
leaders consider themselves to be the vehicles of a higher morality and truth
and can operate in violation of law without cost. It is also immensely helpful
that their mainstream media agree that their country is above the law and will
support and rationalize each and every venture and the commission of war crimes.

Thus, Clinton’s
civilian extermination policy in Iraq, which the Muellers contend has killed
more people that all the chemical and nuclear weapons throughout history, is
completely normalized in the U.S. and brings no discredit to this country via
the elite-dominated global system. The defeat of Milosevic, not on the
battlefield, but by an expanding attack on the civil society of Serbia in direct
violation of the rules of war, also raises few eyebrows in the West and is not
seen as incompatible with the new "humanitarian" foreign policy of this
country and NATO. While hostage taking is viewed as a form of terrorism,
treating the entire populations of Iraq and Serbia as hostages, and imposing
mass suffering and death on them to achieve a political end, is acceptable in
the West.

But whatever the
success of doublethink in making the commission of war crimes feasible, Clinton
has broken new ground as a war criminal, and people with any concern for human
rights should recognize him as the true world leader in this sphere.

Edward S. Herman is an economist and media analyst. His latest book is The
Myth of the Liberal Media: An Edward Herman Reader (Peter Lang).