Why the United States Rejects the International Criminal Court

Published: 2003-08-01

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The United States' rejection of the International Criminal Court (ICC), coupled with its demand for immunity for its military forces, has been received with disdain and outrage by most countries. It is astounding that the very country which created the League of Nations and United Nations-and which orchestrated the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal (IMT) along with its counterpart in Tokyo, presenting them to the world as a monumental judicial achievement-now refuses to participate in the ICC. What is the ICC, except an impartial and demilitarized IMT? What has driven the US to its present position? What are the reasons for its bitter resistance to international cooperation?

1. The Openly Discussed Reasons

1.1. The Arrogance of Power

The USA sees itself as the sole remaining superpower. As such, it is unwilling to give up a iota of its sovereignty to any international body, regardless of how congenial it might be. Its rationale is: "We did not fight so many bloody wars to be told by any third party, now that we are the big winners, what we can and can not do. That is not going to happen." Such reasoning also explains its excessive use of the veto in the United Nations Security Council.

1.2. American Troops Serve only under American Commanders

It is axiomatic for the US that its troops are never commanded by foreigners. For Americans, this 'self-evident truth' is not a recent development, as it dates to their Revolution. Once they had won independence from Great Britain, they vowed to always command their own troops directly, as a matter of principle. They conceive of 'loaning out' their soldiers to foreign powers or subordinating them to foreign control in any way (including the jurisdiction of an international military court) as regression to feudalistic conditions. This attitude of course greatly complicates all international military cooperation, but the Americans dismiss this with a shrug of the shoulders. And so, when one points out to the Americans that if all countries followed their example there could be no such thing as a combined multinational military force, they reply that the United States are not just any country. In short, they see themselves as a unique people with a unique system of laws and a unique nationality, forged by countless bloody struggles. In times of war they field the most powerful military force and so, as the classic Roman expression goes, "Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi" (What is allowable for Jupiter is not allowable for the ox.) In other words: whatever rules exist apply to others, not the US. In their opinion, that is really all that needs to be said. Again, this rationale explains their abuse of veto power in the UN.

1.3. The US Demands for Unhampered Freedom of Action in its War against Terrorism

The former Inspector General of the German Armed Forces (Bundeswehr), General Naumann, recently pointed out that antiterrorist operations are legitimate "only if carried out under a UN mandate or with the invitation of the concerned country."[1] It is obvious that neither of these conditions prevailed in the invasion of Iraq. Under no circumstances is the USA willing for its military operations to be dependent on an uncertain majority in the UN Security Council, and this is true whether the operations are defensive, offensive or preemptive. The US finds the Security Council useful for vetoing actions and resolutions which are unacceptable to the US; but where its own military actions are concerned, it prefers to act independently. An analogous situation exists with the International Criminal Court (ICC), an international court designed to deal with aggression and war crimes. The United States do not want to be officially branded as an "Aggressor Nation" for attacking Iraq or other nations. Similar considerations have led Israel and China to reject the ICC. The US preference to continue under the rules governing relations between enemy states also reflects this position: half a century after the end of World War II, the US retains the right to intervene in Germany in case developments occur there which it might find objectionable. Thus US rejectionism is a combination of (1) arrogance of power and (2) safeguarding a major power's freedom to act unilaterally.

1.4. The US Wants to Protect its Troops from "Politically Motivated Punitive Measures"

This is the most blatant argument for the US policy of rejection, for it implies that the ICC would lend itself to political misuse and is therefore unqualified. This is most certainly not the case. One must assume that the ICC will be staffed with highly qualified jurists; it is in fact already so staffed. No, behind this argument are memories of its own "politically motivated war crimes prosecutions" which it carried out in the grossly unfair and legally questionable charges, procedures, and sentences of the military tribunals at Nuremberg and Tokyo. The Americans know perfectly well that in those trials the defense was held under extreme constraints in order to expedite "politically motivated war crimes prosecutions." The Americans are obviously afraid that their soldiers might receive the same treatment before the ICC, even though there are no reasons for such an assumption. The ICC would without doubt conduct its proceedings strictly according to international law. There is absolutely no reason to assume that it would constrain the defense as the US did at Nuremberg and Tokyo.

So much for the official and public reasons given by the US for its rejection of the ICC. Let us now consider another category of its reasons for rejection.

2. Reasons which Are Not Publicly Discussed

The ruling elite of the USA are all too familiar with the lack of discipline in their armed forces, a reflection of the widely disseminated lack of proper conduct in their general population. The American rulers can never be confident of discipline and conduct in the military ranks. They are very worried that in future wars, as well as in the present war against terrorism, their forces will commit-indeed, have already committed-massive violations of human rights.

History suggests that these fears are not unfounded. Beginning with the genocidal Indian wars and continuing to the present, the US military have conducted themselves with little regard for the rules of civilized warfare. Consider the frontier slogan "the only good Indian is a dead one" and the battle of Wounded Knee. During the American Civil War, the US applied the genocidal strategy of attacking undefended civilian populations of the Confederacy, ushering in the modern concept of total war. "My Lai," "Free Fire Zones" and the Phoenix Program in Vietnam suggest that this strategy still prevails. If atrocities committed under these strategies should be brought before an international war crimes court, the US would be greatly embarrassed. We must realize that American atrocities have not been restricted to isolated incidents. They have in fact been extremely wide spread; one could say, the rule rather than the exception. The best evidence for this conclusion comes from American sources.

2.1. The Observations of Charles A. Lindbergh

Lindbergh, who won world renown in 1927 by crossing the Atlantic in the "Spirit of St. Louis," was an outspoken opponent of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and consequently harassed throughout his lifetime. When the US entered World War II in December 1941, Lindbergh was not allowed to serve in the US Air Corps. He was, however, allowed to serve his country as technical consultant and test pilot. Beginning in 1944, he was assigned to both the Pacific and European Theatres of Operation in this capacity. In 1970, he published his diary, The Wartime Journals of Charles A. Lindbergh. They make clear why the US has misgivings about the conduct of its troops and the charges which could ensue from an international war crimes court. Following are a few quotations:

21st May 1944 (New Guinea, page 813f.)

General Arnold came with a jeep to take me over to see General (Robert B.) McClure. Another tour of the beachhead with General McClure, this time to see the coast positions. [...] The Army engineers are putting in a road through this area-still in rough condition but passable for our jeep with all four wheels pushing. Several places along it, Japanese skulls had been set up on posts [...]."

21st June 1944 (p. 853f.)

"General's account of killing a Japanese soldier: A technical sergeant in an advanced area some weeks ago complained that he had been with combat forces in the Pacific for over two years and never had a chance to do any fighting himself-that he would like the chance to kill at least one Jap before he went home. He was invited to go out on a patrol into enemy territory.

The sergeant saw no Jap to shoot, but members of the patrol took a prisoner. The Jap prisoner was brought to the sergeant with the statement that here was his opportunity to kill a Jap.

'But I can't kill that man! He's a prisoner. He's defenseless.'

'Hell, this is war. We'll show you how to kill the son of a bitch.'

One of the patrol members offered the Jap a cigarette and a light, and as he started to smoke an arm was thrown around his head and his throat 'slit from ear to ear.'

The entire procedure was thoroughly approved by the general giving the account."[2]

26th June 1944 (pp. 856f.)

"The talk drifted to prisoners of war and the small percentage of Japanese soldiers taken prisoner. 'Oh, we could take more if we wanted to,' one of the officers replied. 'But our boys don't like to take prisoners.'

'We had a couple of thousand down at -, but only a hundred or two were turned in. They had an accident with the rest. It doesn't encourage the rest to surrender when they hear of their buddies being marched out on the flying field and machine guns turned loose on them.'

'Or after a couple of them get shot with their hands up in the air,' another officer chimed in.

'Well, take the -th. They found one of their men pretty badly mutilated. After that, you can bet they didn't capture very many Japs.'

The talk drifted to air combats and parachute jumps. All of the pilots insisted it was proper to shoot enemy airmen coming down in their parachutes."[3]

28th June 1944 (p. 859)

"I am shocked at the attitude of our American troops. They have no respect for death, the courage of an enemy soldier, or many of the ordinary decencies of life. They think nothing whatever of robbing the body of a dead Jap and call him a 'son of a bitch' while they do so. I said during a discussion that regardless of what the Japs did, I did not see how we could gain anything or claim that we represented a civilized state if we killed them by torture. 'Well, some of our boys do kick their teeth in, but they usually kill them first,' one of the officers said in half apology."

13th July 1944 (p. 875)

"It was freely admitted that some of our soldiers tortured Jap prisoners and were as cruel and barbaric at times as the Japs themselves. Our men think nothing of shooting a Japanese prisoner or a soldier attempting to surrender. They treat the Jap with less respect than they would give to an animal, and these acts are condoned by almost everyone."

24th July 1944 (p. 882-884)

"Going down the hill, we came to a pass with the bodies of a Japanese officer and ten or twelve soldiers [...]. And as one of the officers with me said, 'I see that the infantry have been up to their favorite occupation,' i.e., knocking out all the teeth that contain gold fillings for souvenirs.

[...In the bomb crater] bottom were lying the bodies of five or six Jap soldiers, partly covered with a truckload of garbage our troops had dumped on top of them. [...]

We climbed down the ladder past the bodies of more soldiers and picked our way over to the entrance of one of the caves. This is the cave where the Japs reportedly tried to surrender and were told by our troops to 'get the hell back in and fight it out.'"

11th August 1944 (pp. 901f.)

"A major says that American soldiers never meet the higher type of Australian girl because our men have carried on in such a manner that to be seen with an American uniform in Sydney practically identifies a girl as a whore."

"'The officers wanted some prisoners to question but couldn't get any until they offered two weeks' leave in Sydney for each one turned in. Then they got more than they could handle.'

'But when they cut out giving leave, the prisoners stopped coming in. The boys just said they couldn't catch any.'

'The Aussies are still worse. You remember the time they had to take those prisoners south by plane? One of the pilots told me they just pushed them out over the mountains and reported that the Japs committed hara-kiri on the way.'

'Well, you remember when our troops captured that Jap hospital? There wasn't anyone alive in it when they got through.'"

30 August 1944 (Tarawa, p. 915)

"the general desire was to kill and not take prisoners. Even when prisoners were taken, the naval officer said, they were lined up and asked which ones could speak English. Those who were able to speak English were taken for questioning. The others 'simply weren't taken.'"

4th Sep 1944 (Kwajalein, p. 917)

"One of the doctors on the island tells me that some of the Marines dug up Japanese bodies to get gold-filled teeth for souvenirs."

In Europe after the war, Lindbergh wrote the following:

18th May 1945 (p. 947, near Munich)

"The fact is that our American soldiers are out for loot wherever they can get it. [...] To destroy and loot is considered entirely proper and the right thing to do as far as the G.I. is concerned."

19th May 1945 (p. 953)

"Here, our soldiers use the term 'liberate' to describe the method of obtaining loot. Anything taken from an enemy home or person is 'liberated' in the language of the G.I. Leica cameras are 'liberated' (probably the most desired item); guns, food, art. Anything taken without being paid for is 'liberated.' A soldier who rapes a German woman has 'liberated' her."

20 May 1945 (p. 955, near Munich)

"[...] a young medical officer [...] tells me how our people have been making the Germans talk when they at first refuse to do so-solitary confinement on bread and water; and, if that doesn't work, solitary confinement with no bread and water. Our people had become alarmed at the condition of some of their prisoners, and he had been called in to examine them."

24 May 1945 (p. 961, Heilbronn)

"One of the officers (American) tells me that [German] prisoners are in the open day and night, rain or shine, and with very little food."

8th June 1945 (p. 980f., between Nuremberg and Leipzig)

"Stop at a battalion ordnance station in a small village for an extra tire. Lunch with the local officers. They talk of the S.S. troops they have in their 'cage.'

'The last time I saw them, they were sweeping up the streets with their hands,' said one of the officers.

'Do you mean literally or figuratively?' I asked.

The officers seemed to hate Germans in general, and the S.S. above all else. 'We rotate being in charge of the cage,' a young lieutenant told me. 'The fellows try to outdo each other in handling the S.S.'

'For instance?' I asked.

'Oh, one of the best is to make them stretch out their arms and lean against a wall. They start falling down after about half an hour. Then we say, 'S.S. goot?' And if they answer, 'S.S. goot,' we make them do it again.'"

9th June 1945 (p. 989f., Dessau)

"All of the ex-prisoners of war seemed to me surprisingly well fed-both those going into and these coming from the Russian area. Faces showed the signs of years of captivity; there was no doubt about that. But I did not see the signs of starvation that I expected after reading the accounts of the way these people have been treated. [...] There is an abundance of food in the American Army, and few men seem to care how hungry the German children are outside the door."

10th June 1945 (pp. 992f.), Nordhausen

"Since it was still daylight we decided to go to the underground factory before looking for our billets. [...] To reach the entrance we had to drive through Camp Dora, an ex-German prison camp from which a large percentage of the factory's workers were obtained. [...] Their clothing was dirty but seemed adequate for the season. From their bodies and faces one would judge that they were not too badly fed."

11th June 1945 (p. 997, Nordhausen)

"A long line of such incidents parades before my mind; the story of our Marines firing on unarmed Japanese survivors who swam ashore on the beach at Midway; the accounts of our machine-gunning prisoners on a Hollandia airstrip; of the Australians pushing captured Japanese soldiers out of the transport planes which were taking them south over the New Guinea mountains ('the Aussies reported them as committing hara-kiri or 'resisting''); of the shinbones cut, for letter openers and pen trays, from newly killed Japanese bodies on Noemfoor; of the young pilot who was 'going to cream that Jap hospital one of these days'; of American soldiers poking through the mouths of Japanese corpses for gold-filled teeth ('the infantry's favorite occupation'); of Jap heads buried in anthills 'to get them clean for souvenirs';"

Such was Charles Lindbergh's testimony.

2.2. Lindbergh's Reports Confirmed by other Allied War Correspondents

A. Report by Edgar L. Jones[4]

The American war correspondent Edgar L. Jones wrote the following summarization in February 1946, shortly after the end of World War II:

"What kind of war do civilians suppose we fought, anyway? We shot prisoners in cold blood, wiped out hospitals, strafed lifeboats, killed or mistreated enemy civilians, finished off the enemy wounded, tossed the dying into a hole with the dead, and in the Pacific boiled the flesh off enemy skulls to make table ornaments for sweethearts, or carved their bones into letter openers"

B. Excerpts from John W. Dower's War Without Mercy[5]

"The Japanese accused the Allies of mutilating Japanese war dead for souvenirs, attacking and sinking hospital ships, shooting sailors who had abandoned ship and pilots who had bailed out, killing wounded soldiers on the battlefield, and torturing and executing prisoners-all of which did take place." (pp. 61f.)

Defense worker N. Nickolson writes to her sweetheart thanking him for his letter and "souvenir." This skull of a Japanese soldier bears the inscription: "Here is a good Jap – a dead one!"

On page 63 Dower relates the command of an Australian major general to shoot wounded Japanese prisoners. "But sir, they are wounded and want to surrender," protested a colonel. "You heard me, Colonel," said the general; "I want no prisoners. Shoot them all." And they were all shot.

Also on page 63, he quotes the memoirs of the American professor of biology E. B. Sledge:[6]

"Sledge, deeply religious and patriotic, watched his comrades go over the edge: severing the hand of a dead Japanese as a battlefield trophy, 'harvesting gold teeth' from the enemy dead, urinating in a corpse's upturned mouth, shooting a terrified old Okinawan woman and casually dismissing her as 'just an old gook woman who wanted me to put her out of her misery.'"

On page 65 Dower describes an even more gruesome scene, from page 120 of Sledge's memoirs:

"In the diary of a seaman, published after the war, we find tucked away in an entry in July 1944 the casual mention of a Marine who had already collected seventeen gold teeth, the last from a Japanese soldier on Saipan who was wounded and still moving his hands. Sledge, in his memoir of Pelehu and Okinawa, records an even more excruciating scene of a wounded Japanese thrashing an the ground as a Marine slit his cheeks open and carved his gold-crowned teeth out with a kabar. [...]

In April 1943, the Baltimore Sun ran a story about a local mother who had petitioned authorities to permit her son to mail her an ear he had cut off a Japanese soldier in the South Pacific. She wished to nail it to her front door for all to see. On the very same day, the Detroit Free Press deemed newsworthy the story of an underage youth who had enlisted and 'bribed' his chaplain not to disclose his age by promising him the third pair of ears he collected.

Scalps, bones, and skulls were somewhat rarer trophies, but the latter two achieved special notoriety in both the United States and Japan when an American serviceman sent President Roosevelt a letter opener made from the bone of a dead Japanese (the president refused it), and Life published a full-page photograph of an attractive blonde posing with a Japanese skull she had been sent by her fiancé in the Pacific." [7]

And in the footnote on page 330:

"The Life photo appeared in the issue for May 22, 1944, 35, with the caption 'Arizona war worker writes her Navy boyfriend a thank-you note for the Jap skull he sent her."

On page 66, Dower describes a truly horrendous atrocity:

"A U.S. submarine commander who sank a Japanese transport and then spent upwards of an hour killing the hundreds and possibly thousands of Japanese survivors with his deck guns, for example, was commended and publicly honored by his superiors even though he included an account of the slaughter in his official report."

Dower provides additional information concerning this incident in his footnote 94 (page 330) to a book by Clay Blair:[8]

"The submarine was the Wahoo, and the episode occurred off the north coast of New Guinea in January 1943. One of the officers on the Wahoo, recalling the occasion, spoke of the commander's 'overwhelming biological hatred of the enemy'; [...] The submarine commander, following this mission, was awarded both the Navy Cross and, from General MacArthur, an Army Distinguished Service Cross."

The mass murderer was not only tolerated, he was decorated! From p. 67:

"An equally grim butchery took place an March 4, 1943, the day after the three-day battle of the Bismarck Sea, when U.S. and Australian aircraft systematically searched the seas for Japanese survivors and strafed every raft and lifeboat they found."

Such events were by no means kept secret, as he points out on page 67. In its issue of 15th March 1943, Time Magazine stated:

"low-flying fighters turned lifeboats towed by motor barges, and packed with Jap survivors, into bloody sieves."

Likewise, no attempt was made to hide the fact that very few prisoners were taken; on the contrary. Dower writes on page 68:

"An article published by a U.S. Army captain shortly after the war, for example, carried the proud title 'The 41st Didn't Take Prisoners.'[9] The article dealt with the 41st Division under MacArthur's command, nicknamed 'the Butchers' in Tokyo Rose's propaganda broadcasts, and characterized the combat in the Pacific in typical terms as 'a merciless struggle, with no holds barred.'"

Obviously a colonel in the US Army was proud of these atrocities and did not hesitate to publicize them.

Even the highest ranking American officers incited murderous frenzy in a very primitive manner. On page 71 Dower quotes the Australian general Blamey who addressed his troops, as well as the New York Times (9th Jan 1943, p. 1) as follows:

"Your enemy is a curious race-a cross between the human being and the ape. [...] You know that we have to exterminate these vermin [...]. We must exterminate the Japanese. [...] The Jap is a little barbarian. [...] Our troops have the right view of the Japs. They regard them as vermin."

Neither President Roosevelt, after receiving a letter opener made from the bones of a Japanese soldier, nor the American public, after publication of the photo in Life Magazine of the Japanese skull sent by a Marine to his sweetheart, or after the reports by Charles Lindbergh, Edgar Jones, or John Dower, expressed disapproval of the beastly conduct of US troops. Most significantly, they undertook no measures to guard against repetitions of these atrocities.

2.3. Keeping Prisoners in Cages is Customary Procedure for US Troops

The caged and tortured SS men described by Lindbergh, quoted in 2.1. above, are not the only prisoners of the US who have been treated this way In the US interrogation center at Guantanamo, Cuba, Taliban prisoners are subjected to the same barbarous confinement, which is broadcast on worldwide television.

Perhaps the best known instance of caging prisoners is the notorious case of the world famous American poet Ezra Pound (1885-1972), a supporter of Mussolini who lived in Italy during World War II and broadcast polemics against Roosevelt and the Jews. Captured by the Americans in Genoa in August 1945, he was first placed under house arrest. His subsequent treatment is described by Charles Norman in his book Ezra Pound:[10]

"Then he was taken to a military prison compound near Pisa. This was the Disciplinary Training Center of the Mediterranean Theater of Operations."

The word "training" is an American euphemism. Pound's lawyer, Julien Cornell, made the following notes after his first conversation with the poet in the Federal prison at Washington, DC on 20th November 1945 (p. 397):

"'At Pisa, Pound was confined in a cage made of air-strip, and in solitary confinement.[...][11] Cage was in yard with little shelter from sun or rain. Bright lights on stockade shone at night. Two guards outside at all times. Slept on cement floor with 6 blankets. Can for toilet. Allowed no reading matter except Confucius he was working on. Incommunicado. Was told nobody knew where he was.

'After 3 weeks, Pound collapsed. Taken out of cage and put in tent. Partial amnesia. Claustrophobia. Not allowed to talk to other prisoners (told this was ordered by Washington)."

Norman continues:

"Some of the 'trainees' were destined for federal prisons in the United States, some were hanged at Aversa, and others were shot down in attempts to escape. Pound was the only civilian prisoner. The commandant during his incarceration was Lt. Col. John L. Steele, whose name occurs in The Pisan Cantos, as do the names of fellow prisoners. A medical section attendant has recalled seeing, one May night, the blue light of acetylene torches reinforcing the cage that was to hold Ezra Pound. It was on the extreme end of a row of such cages. The excuse for this, and for the cage itself, was the fear that Fascists might attempt to rescue him. No such attempt was ever made, and it was an incredible barbarity for Americans to conceive and execute."

The government intended to charge Pound with high treason. Instead, they declared him insane and imprisoned him for almost 13 years in St. Elizabeth Hospital, Washington DC. Thanks to international pressure, he was finally released in 1959. He returned to Italy where he lived with his daughter at Brunnenberg Castle in Meran until his death in Venice on 1st November 1972.

2.4. The Human Vultures of Hiroshima

After the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan capitulated on 15th August 1945. In the Fall of 1945, Air Corps General Anderson assigned a camera team of the US Bomber Command to fly to Japan and document on location the total defeat of Japan "before the grass grows green again." The documentary film had the working title "Defeated Japan." The camera team was supplied with the best equipment and personnel available and even given a special train in which it traveled throughout Japan.

The head of the team was Lt. Daniel McGovern, who had worked as camera man on "The Memphis Belle," a documentary about an American bomber airplane. For a short time, the commanding officer of this project had been Ronald Reagan. McGovern's camera team shot a total of 100,000 feet of color film, 9 hours on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and 30 hours on the rest of Japan. The scenes depicted are so horrible that the Pentagon classified the entire film as "Top Secret" in 1946.

In 1983, on the initiative of Japan, the Pentagon finally released it. Robert Harris of the BBC then edited the film into a movie which includes interviews of contemporary witnesses, including Daniel McGovern. The title of the Harris film is "Hollywood Goes to Hiroshima-A Film of the Japanese Holocaust, 1945." The German version was broadcast by Walter Halfer of West German TV Broadcasting Company. The following passages are quoted and retranslated from the German version (the author has a video copy.)

(Narrator): "In that winter of 1945/46, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were afflicted with sickness and suffering to an extent which science has never before witnessed. For the scientific researcher, the atom bomb survivors represented ideal objects for study. Their wounds were minutely examined and photographed. Among the researchers was a British mission, which observed that the number of dead in Hiroshima alone was greater than the total number of bombing victims during the Battle of Britain."

Ezra Pound

Not all of those rummaging through the rubble of Hiroshima were scientists, as Daniel McGovern will always remember.

(Daniel McGovern): "There was one thing which I found so disgusting that I never wanted to talk about it. A human form was rummaging about with two leather pouches strapped to its waist. One pouch was for silver, the other for gold. This creature was prying silver and gold from the skulls of rotting corpses. I saw it with my own eyes."

(Narrator) "And what was this creature?"

(McGovern): " An Army officer."

(Narrator): " An American officer?"

(McGovern): "Yes, American."

(Narrator): "He was robbing gold and silver from the corpses?"

(McGovern): "Yes. It was the most repulsive thing I saw there. If I had been in charge I would have had him shot."

2.5. In Vietnam, US Soldiers again Behaved Like Barbarians

Eddie Adams, who in 1968 made the famous photograph of a Vietnamese police official executing a Vietcong lieutenant with his revolver (for which he received the Pulitzer Prize), wrote the following for the US news magazine Newsweek:[12]

"There were things a hell of a lot worse that happened in Vietnam. We had pictures that we never released. There were pictures of Americans holding heads of Viet Cong they'd chopped off. I talked to one soldier who said, 'Oh, you should have been here a little while ago, you missed it. I cut me a head out of one of them Viet Cong. I just buried it.' Very gruesome. But this is a war. People are dying, your friends are getting killed, people are blown away. There aren't any rules. There aren't any."

Such is the American concept of war: No rules.

2.6. The Barbarous Methods Used by US Forces During the German War Crimes Trials

In order to illustrate the conduct of the Americans in Germany, let me quote a few passages from the book by Friedrich Oscar, Über Galgen wächst kein Gras (No Grass Grows Over the Gallows).[13]

"On the 27th of January 1949, Senator William Langer introduced a resolution before the US Senate, recorded in the Congressional Record of the first session of the 81st Congress. It is entitled 'American Military Justice: A Shame for All Americans' and reads as follows:

'A two man civil commission, dispatched by Secretary of State Royall to gain an overview of the proceedings at Nuremberg, returned to the US and reported that the following methods were used to force confessions from the accused: Kicks and blows which knocked out prisoners' teeth and fractured their chins; mock trials; solitary confinement; burning splinters shoved under their fingernails; deceptions by phony priests; extreme deprivation of food; broken promises of visits; and promises of release in return for collaboration.'"

According to the Congressional Record for the Senate (Item No. 134 dated 26th July 1949, page 10397), Senator McCarthy delivered the following remarks in a major address. Here is a short extract from a long speech:[14]

"As Bishop Theophilus Wurm of Stuttgart, the aged leader of German Protestantism, said in a blistering statement issued to the press on the one-sidedness and the problematic character of the methods used in the war crimes trials:

'Never will the people of the town of Schwabisch Hall, who in the nights heard the cries of pain of the tortured beyond the prison walls, be made to believe that these investigators were servants of justice and not servants of revenge.'"

Oscar's book is a veritable catalog of terrifying but well documented accounts of postwar American atrocities.

3. On Balance

We have seen that, in addition to avoiding "politically motivated criminal accusations" against American troops, there are other, stronger motives for Washington's rejection of the ICC. These are concerns that such accusations would expose numerous atrocities committed by members of the US armed forces. What can one expect from an army whose officers encourage their troops to do the following?

  • Place the heads of dead enemies on stakes;
  • Kill prisoners by cutting their throats;
  • Machinegun large groups of prisoners;
  • Shoot enemy soldiers who are in process of surrendering, with hands held high;
  • Approve of "knocking off" enemy pilots parachuting to earth;
  • Capture an enemy hospital, then bomb and kill all the patients;
  • Condone plundering and desecrating the bodies of the dead;
  • Barbarously torture prisoners, often to death;
  • Pry out the gold filled teeth of dead and wounded prisoners;
  • Send enemy prisoners back to their positions in order to shoot or burn them to death;
  • Take prisoners only when rewarded with leave time;
  • Routinely put wounded enemy to death;
  • Excavate bodies of enemy soldiers so as to pry out gold filled teeth;
  • Bury wounded enemy soldiers alive
  • Impound prisoners in the open, without protection from the elements, and allow them to starve;
  • Deliberately sink lifeboats filled with survivors of torpedoed ships;
  • Bury the skulls of enemy dead in ant beds to "polish" them before sending them home as souvenirs;
  • Make letter openers from the bones of enemy dead;
  • Lock prisoners in cages like gorillas and torment them;
  • Proudly pose holding the severed heads of enemy soldiers;
  • Cut out the hearts of fallen enemy soldiers;
  • Shoot hundreds of survivors of sunken ships as they helplessly swim or float;
  • Extort confessions with beatings, burning splinters, fake trials, withholding promised religious visits, etc.;
  • Rape and plunder civilian populations of conquered lands.
  • What is one to think of an army if one of its officers observes other officers going about like "human vultures" in the ruins of a devastated city, prying out gold filled teeth from decomposing corpses, and does not report such desecrations?
  • There is little reason to expect that such an army, whose countless atrocities are catalogued by its own side, will show improvement in the future.

The American war correspondent Edgar L. Jones described this situation very succinctly: [15]

"We Americans have the dangerous tendency to assume a 'holier than thou' attitude toward other nations... We consider ourselves nobler than others, and consequently in a better position to decide what is right and what is wrong. When victors, we consider ourselves righteous in bringing our defeated enemies to trial for their crimes against humanity, but we should be realistic enough to perceive that if we had been defeated and tried before an international court we too would be found guilty of massive human rights violations." (Retranslated)

When Jones asked an American colonel of infantry if he had addressed his battalion before battle, the colonel answered::[16]

"Yes, I gave them a lecture on the ethics of war. I told them that there are two kinds of ethics: one for us and one for the yellow bellied bastards on the other side." (Retranslated)

This is the real motivation for American rejectionism. They assume and demand an ethic for themselves which is different from that of their enemies. This is the reason why they demand immunity from the International Criminal Court. If there were no special privileges for the US, Americans would present a miserable figure before the ICC. The US government would have to admit that it is unable or unwilling to instill proper discipline in its armed forces, unable to guarantee that its forces will abide by the Geneva Convention and the Haag Protocol on Land Warfare. Such an admission is not in the interests of the US, who presumes to set an example for the world. The US has no choice except to hinder exposure with every means at its command.


First published as "Warum Washington den ISG nicht mag", in Deutschland in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 50(3) (2002), pp. 11-17; translated by James Damon.

[1] Frankfurter Allgemeine, Sunday Edition, 7.March .2002, pp. 1f.
[2] Translator's Note: Norman Mailer describes killing prisoners and other atrocities in his novel The Naked and the Dead, published 1948. Based on his experiences in the Pacific, it depicts the plight of a young lieutenant caught between murderous, insubordinate enlisted men and a sinister senior officer who uses the men's depravity as a device for controlling them.
[3] In this context it should be noted that Col. Howard A. Buechner, in his book Dachau. The Hour of the Avenger (Thunderbird Press, Inc., Metairic, Louisiana, USA, 1986) wrote laconically on p. XVII:

"According to Joseph Lawrence, author of 'Fighting Soldier' [Fighting Soldier. The AFF in 1918, Colorado Associated University Press, 1986], it was common practice for American soldiers to shoot prisoners in WWI."

On p. 104 of his book, Lawrence reports how he brought a wounded German prisoner of war to a U.S. field hospital, where an American physician told him: "Get him out and shoot him!"
[4] Edgar L. Jones, "One war is enough!," in The Atlantic Monthly, Febr. 1946, pp. 48-53.
[5] Faber and Faber, London-Boston 1986,, pp. 60-73 and 328-331.
[6] With the old breed at Pelaliu and Okinawa, Presidio Press, 1981.
[7] New York Times, Aug. 10 and 14, 1944.
[8] Silent Victory: The US Submarine War against Japan, Lippincott, 1975, pp. 384ff.
[9] George S. Andrew, "The 41st didn't take prisoners," in Saturday Evening Post, July 27, 1946, pp. 22ff.
[10] The Macmillan Company, New York 1960, pp. 396f.
[11] This was the infamous "Gorilla Cage" described by Matthias Wegner in his review of the book by Mary de Rachewitz, Diskretionen. Die Erinnerungen der Tochter Ezra Pounds (Discretions: Memoirs of the Daughter of Ezra Pound) Haymon Publishing House, Innsbruck 1993. Reviewed in Frankfurter Allgemeine Dec. 22, 1993, p. 28.
[12] April 15, 1985, p. 65.
[13] Erasmus Publishing House, Braunschweig 1950, p. 35ff.
[14] Ibid, pp. 38-41.
[15] Op. cit. (note ) p. 49.
[16] Ibid., p. 56.

Additional information about this document
Property Value
Author(s): Dr. Dieter Bartling
Title: Why the United States Rejects the International Criminal Court
  • James Damon: translation
Published: 2003-08-01
First posted on CODOH: June 16, 2012, 7 p.m.
Last revision:
Comments: First published in German as "Warum Washington den ISG nicht mag", in "Deutschland in Geschichte und Gegenwart," 50(3) (2002), pp. 11-17.
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