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From the President to ISIS: What Makes a War Criminal?

For years there has been a lot of talk of war crimes and American Presidents. Once it became clear that neither the Iraq nor Afghan wars would be over quickly, President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and others were called war criminals daily. While many of their detractors saw the entire Global War on Terror as a kind of criminal deception, the specific charges most often brought up was the sanctioning of torture during it. In fact, President Obama was forced to announce early in his first term that he would not prosecute Bush administration officials.

However, five years later, one of Barack Obama’s biggest champions in the campaign has now dubbed him with the “war crimes” label. Dr. Cornel West, a religious professor and philosopher, according to Mediaite.com, said since “the U.S. gives financial and military support to Israel…that makes President Obama a ‘war criminal.’” This is not the first time West has levied this charge as he has been a vocal opponent of the President’s use of drones.

According to CBS News, human rights officials at the United Nations are accusing both “Israel and Hamas militants of committing war crimes in the latest Gaza war.” They cite Israel’s attacks on weapons caches in civilian areas and Hamas for placing the weapons there in the first place. One right-wing blogger suggests that saying Israel is committing war crimes, means that Colin Powell – who is noted as the father of the “overwhelming force” military strategy – is also a war criminal. Those on the left may think he is for his role in the WMD lies that led to the Iraq invasion.

There should be more discretion used when accusing world leaders and the soldiers who serve them of war crimes. A report from The Wall Street Journal details how a Syrian defector’s photographs have documented what he called “a genocidal massacre.” While Dr. West and other anti-war activists have a legitimate beef with the President about children deaths in drone strikes, 233 of them is certainly not genocide.

From a certain point-of-view, all war is a crime. When the charge of war crimes is made out of anger for political effect, it lessens the meaning of it. War isn’t some gentlemen’s sport with clear rules of fair play. It’s bloody, brutal, and any glory in it comes from simple survival. What separates America and Israel from Assad’s thugs in Syria or the ISIS fighters battling them and assaulting Iraq is that our measure of success is by achieving the mission objective with as few civilians hurt as possible. They measure their success by how many.

Photo by Luke Dorny via Flickr

About the author

Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. Along with news and current events, he writes about parenting, art, and personal stories. His serial fiction story "The Prophet Hustle" is available at JukePop.com and a forthcoming independent ebook about the cam-modeling industry "Dirty Little Windows" will be available later this summer.