United States war crimes

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United States war crimes are the violations of the laws and customs of war of which the United States Armed Forces are accused of committing since the signing of the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907. These have included the summary execution of captured enemy combatants, the mistreatment of prisoners during interrogation (torture), and the use of violence against civilian non-combatants.

The United States Armed Forces are the military forces of the United States of America. It consists of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. The president of the United States is the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces and forms military policy with the Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS), both federal executive departments, acting as the principal organs by which military policy is carried out. All five armed services are among the seven uniformed services of the United States.

Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 Series of international treaties helping establish international law

The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 are a series of international treaties and declarations negotiated at two international peace conferences at The Hague in the Netherlands. Along with the Geneva Conventions, the Hague Conventions were among the first formal statements of the laws of war and war crimes in the body of secular international law. A third conference was planned for 1914 and later rescheduled for 1915, but it did not take place due to the start of World War I.

Summary execution Execution immediately after being accused of a crime, without a fair trial

A summary execution is an execution in which a person is accused of a crime and immediately killed without benefit of a full and fair trial. Executions as the result of summary justice are sometimes included, but the term generally refers to capture, accusation, and execution all conducted simultaneously or within a very short period of time, and without any trial at all. Under international law, refusal to accept lawful surrender in combat and instead killing the person surrendering is also categorized as a summary execution.


War crimes can be prosecuted in the United States through the War Crimes Act of 1996. However, the U.S. Government strongly opposes the International Criminal Court (ICC) treaty, arguing that the Court lacks checks and balances, [1] and thus does not accept ICC jurisdiction over its nationals. [2] [3]

War crime Serious violation of the laws of war

A war crime is an act that constitutes a serious violation of the laws of war that gives rise to individual criminal responsibility. Examples of war crimes include intentionally killing civilians or prisoners, torturing, destroying civilian property, taking hostages, performing a perfidy, raping, using child soldiers, pillaging, declaring that no quarter will be given, and seriously violating the principles of distinction and proportionality, and military necessity.

War Crimes Act of 1996 United States Law

The War Crimes Act of 1996 is a law that defines a war crime to include a "grave breach of the Geneva Conventions", specifically noting that "grave breach" should have the meaning defined in any convention to which the United States is a party. The definition of "grave breach" in some of the Geneva Conventions have text that extend additional protections, but all the Conventions share the following text in common: "... committed against persons or property protected by the Convention: willful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health."

Federal government of the United States National government of the United States

The federal government of the United States is the national government of the United States, a federal republic in North America, composed of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories and several island possessions. The federal government is composed of three distinct branches: legislative, executive and judicial, whose powers are vested by the U.S. Constitution in the Congress, the president and the federal courts, respectively. The powers and duties of these branches are further defined by acts of Congress, including the creation of executive departments and courts inferior to the Supreme Court.

Mexican–American War

When Zachary Taylor began leading American soldiers into Mexico the U.S troops under Taylor's watchful eye at first adhered to the rules of war for the most part and almost exclusively engaged only with enemy soldiers. This gained them some popularity with Mexican civilians who held the occupying Americans in a degree of high regard compared to the Mexican Army who left their wounded to be captured by the enemy as they retreated from the area. In June 1846, this changed when American reinforcements entered the area and began raiding local farms.

Zachary Taylor Twelfth President of the United States

Zachary Taylor was the 12th president of the United States, serving from March 1849 until his death in July 1850. Taylor previously was a career officer in the United States Army, rose to the rank of major general and became a national hero as a result of his victories in the Mexican–American War. As a result, he won election to the White House despite his vague political beliefs. His top priority as president was preserving the Union, but he died sixteen months into his term, before making any progress on the status of slavery, which had been inflaming tensions in Congress.

Many soldiers on garrison duty began committing crimes against civilians such as robbery, rape and murder in order to cure their boredom. This crime wave resulted in American soldiers murdering at least 20 civilians during the first month of occupation. Taylor showed little concern with the crimes his soldiers had been committing and made no attempt to discipline the soldiers responsible for them. This led to public opinion turning against the American troops and resulted in many Mexicans taking up arms and forming guerrilla bands which attacked patrols of U.S soldiers. The attacks continued to get more prevalent especially after the Battle of Monterrey. [4]

Battle of Monterrey 1846 battle during the Mexican–American War

In the Battle of Monterrey during the Mexican–American War, General Pedro de Ampudia and the Mexican Army of the North was defeated by the Army of Occupation, a force of United States Regulars, Volunteers and Texas Rangers under the command of General Zachary Taylor.

During this time anti-Catholic sentiment and racism fueled more attacks on civilians. It was estimated that during this time US troops killed at least 100 civilians, with the majority of them being killed by Col. John C. Hays' 1st Texas Mounted Volunteers. In response to the violence, Mexicans killed an American soldier outside of Monterrey. American troops under the command of Capt. Mabry B. "Mustang" Gray responded to the event by abducting and executing twenty-four unarmed Mexican civilians.

Anti-Catholicism intense dislike or fear of Catholicism, hostility or prejudice towards Catholics

Anti-Catholicism is hostility towards Catholics or opposition to the Catholic Church, its clergy and its adherents. At various points after the Reformation, some majority Protestant states, including England, Prussia, and even Scotland made anti-Catholicism and opposition to the Pope and Catholic rituals major political themes, and the anti-Catholic sentiment which resulted from it frequently lead to religious discrimination against Catholic individuals. Historian John Wolffe identifies four types of anti-Catholicism: constitutional-national, theological, popular and socio-cultural.

John Coffee Hays Texas ranger and politician

John Coffee "Jack" Hays was a captain in the Texas Rangers and a military officer of the Republic of Texas. Hays served in several armed conflicts from 1836 to 1848, including against the Comanche people in Texas and during the Mexican–American War.

Monterrey City in Nuevo León, Mexico

Monterrey is the capital and largest city of the northeastern state of Nuevo León, Mexico. The city is anchor to the Monterrey metropolitan area, the second most productive in Mexico with a GDP (PPP) of US$ 123 billion and the third largest with an estimated population of 4,689,601 people as of 2015. Monterrey is also considered as the city with the best quality of life in the country (México) and serves as a commercial center of northern Mexico and is the base of many significant international corporations, its purchasing power parity-adjusted GDP per capita is considerably higher than the rest of the country's at around US$35,500 to the country's US$18,800. It is considered a Beta World City, cosmopolitan and competitive. Rich in history and culture, it is one of the most developed cities in Mexico and is often regarded as its most "Americanized".

In the coming months the boredom of occupation duties led to additional violence against civilians. In November 1846, a detachment from the 1st Kentucky regiment murdered a young Mexican boy, apparently for sport. Afterwards, Taylor again refused to bring charges against any of the soldiers involved.

The most infamous group of soldiers during this time were the ones serving under Joseph Lane. After Captain Samuel Hamilton Walker was killed in a skirmish there, Lane ordered his men to avenge the dead Texas Ranger by sacking the town of Huamantla. The soldiers quickly became drunk after raiding a liquor store and began targeting the townspeople. Reports described the soldiers raping scores of women many of whom were young girls and murdering dozens of Mexican civilians while they burned down homes. [5] However, these reports of an American rampage were overshadowed by news of Mexican General Antonio López de Santa Anna's resignation after the Huamantla attack, leading to no repercussions against Lane or any of the soldiers involved in the massacre. [6]

Joseph Lane American politician and soldier

Joseph "Joe" Lane was an American politician and soldier. He was a state legislator representing Evansville, Indiana, and then served in the Mexican–American War, becoming a general. President James K. Polk appointed Lane as the first Governor of Oregon Territory. When Oregon was admitted as a state in 1859, Lane was elected one of Oregon's first two U.S. Senators.

Samuel Hamilton Walker Texas ranger and military officer

Samuel Hamilton Walker was an American army officer. He served as Texas Ranger captain and officer of the Republic of Texas and the United States armies. Walker served in several armed conflicts, including the American Indian Wars and the Mexican-American wars.

Huamantla municipal seat in Tlaxcala, Mexico

Huamantla is a small city in Huamantla Municipality located in the eastern half of the Mexican state of Tlaxcala. The area has a long indigenous history, but the city itself was not founded until the early colonial period, in the 1530s. It is mostly agricultural but it is best known for its annual homage to an image of the Virgin Mary called Our Lady of Charity. This includes a month of festivities, the best known of which are the “night no one sleeps” when residents create six km of “carpets” on the streets made from colored sawdust, flowers and other materials. The other is the “Huamantlada” a running of the bulls similar to that in Pamplona.

By the end of the war the number of Mexican civilians killed by American troops was estimated at being over 10,000. [7]

Philippine–American War

Filipino casualties on the first day of war Filipino casualties on the first day of war.jpg
Filipino casualties on the first day of war
General Jacob H. Smith's infamous order "Kill Everyone Over Ten" was the caption in the New York Journal cartoon on May 5, 1902. The Old Glory draped an American shield on which a vulture replaced the bald eagle. The caption at the bottom proclaimed, "Criminals Because They Were Born Ten Years Before We Took the Philippines" Editorial cartoon about Jacob Smith's retaliation for Balangiga.gif
General Jacob H. Smith's infamous order "Kill Everyone Over Ten" was the caption in the New York Journal cartoon on May 5, 1902. The Old Glory draped an American shield on which a vulture replaced the bald eagle. The caption at the bottom proclaimed, "Criminals Because They Were Born Ten Years Before We Took the Philippines"

Following the end of the Spanish–American War in 1898, Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States as part of the peace settlement. This triggered a more than decade-long conflict between the United States Armed Forces and the First Philippine Republic under President Emilio Aguinaldo.

Execution of Moros illustrated on a 1911 commemorative postcard Three Moros rebels hung in Jolo.JPG
Execution of Moros illustrated on a 1911 commemorative postcard

War crimes committed by the United States Army include the March across Samar, which led to the court martial and forcible retirement of Brigadier General Jacob H. Smith.

Smith instructed Major Littleton Waller, commanding officer of a battalion of 315 U.S. Marines assigned to bolster his forces in Samar, regarding the conduct of pacification:

"I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn, the more you kill and burn the better it will please me. I want all persons killed who are capable of bearing arms in actual hostilities against the United States," General Jacob H. Smith said.

Since it was a popular belief among the Americans serving in the Philippines that native males were born with bolos in their hands, Major Littleton "Tony" Waller asked, "I would like to know the limit of age to respect, sir."

"Ten years", Smith said.

"Persons of ten years and older are those designated as being capable of bearing arms?"

"Yes." Smith confirmed his instructions a second time. [8] [9] [10]

A sustained and widespread massacre of Filipino civilians followed. Food and trade to Samar were cut off, intended to starve the revolutionaries into submission. Smith's strategy on Samar involved widespread destruction to force the inhabitants to stop supporting the guerrillas and turn to the Americans from fear and starvation. He used his troops in sweeps of the interior in search for guerrilla bands and in attempts to capture Philippine General Vicente Lukbán, but he did nothing to prevent contact between the guerrillas and the townspeople. American columns marched across the island, destroying homes and shooting people and draft animals.

The exact number of Filipino civilians killed by US troops will never be known. Littleton Waller, in a report, stated that over an eleven-day period his men burned 255 dwellings, shot 13 carabaos and killed 39 people. [11] An exhaustive research made by a British writer in the 1990s put the figure at about 2,500 dead; Filipino historians believe it to be around 50,000. [12] As a consequence of his order in Samar, Smith became known as "Howling Wilderness Smith". [13]

Moro crater massacre FirstBattleofBudDajo.jpg
Moro crater massacre

Regarding the massacres in Bud Dajo, Major Hugh Scott, the District Governor of Sulu Province, where the incidents occurred, recounted that those who fled to the crater "declared they had no intention of fighting, - ran up there only in fright, [and] had some crops planted and desired to cultivate them." [14]

The description of the engagement as a "battle" is disputed because of both the overwhelming firepower of the attackers and the lopsided casualties. The author Vic Hurley wrote, "By no stretch of the imagination could Bud Dajo be termed a 'battle'". [15] Mark Twain condemned the incident strongly in articles [16] [17] and commented, "In what way was it a battle? It has no resemblance to a battle ... We cleaned up our four days' work and made it complete by butchering these helpless people." [18] A higher percentage of Moros were killed than in other incidents now considered massacres. For example, the highest estimate of Native Americans killed at the Wounded Knee Massacre is 300 out of 350 (a death rate of 85 percent), whereas in Bud Dajo there were only six Moro survivors out of a group estimated at 1,000 (a death rate of over 99 percent). As at Wounded Knee, the Moro group included women and children. Moro men in the crater who had arms possessed melee weapons. While fighting was limited to ground action on Jolo, use of naval gunfire contributed significantly to the overwhelming firepower brought to bear against the Moros.

During the engagement, 750 men and officers, under the command of Colonel J.W. Duncan, assaulted the volcanic crater of Bud Dajo (Tausūg: Būd Dahu), which was populated by 800 to 1,000 Tausug villagers.

On March 2, 1906, Wood ordered Colonel J.W. Duncan of the 6th Infantry Regiment (stationed at Zamboanga, the provincial capital) to lead an expedition against Bud Dajo. The assault force consisted of "272 men of the 6th Infantry, 211 [dismounted] men of the 4th Cavalry, 68 men of the 28th Artillery Battery, 51 Philippine Constabulary, 110 men of the 19th Infantry and 6 sailors from the gunboat Pampanga." [19] The battle began on March 5, as mountain guns fired 40 rounds of shrapnel into the crater. [19] During the night, the Americans hauled mountain guns to the crater's edge with block and tackle. At daybreak, the American guns (both the mountain guns and the guns of the Pampanga) opened up on the Moros' fortifications in the crater. American forces then placed a "Machine Gun... in position where it could sweep the crest of the mountain between us and the cotta," killing all Moros in the crater. [20] One account claims that the Moros, armed with krises and spears, refused to surrender and held their positions. Some of the defenders rushed the Americans and were cut down. The Americans charged the surviving Moros with fixed bayonets, and the Moros fought back with their kalis, barung, improvised grenades made with black powder and seashells. [19] Despite the inconsistencies among various accounts of the battle (one in which all occupants of Bud Dajo were gunned down, another in which defenders resisted in fierce hand-to-hand combat), all accounts agree that few, if any, Moros survived.

In response to criticism, Wood's explanation of the high number of women and children killed stated that the women of Bud Dajo dressed as men and joined in the combat, and that the men used children as living shields. [21] [22] Hagedorn supports this explanation, by giving an account of Lt. Gordon Johnston, who was severely wounded by a woman warrior. [23] A second explanation was given by the Governor-General of the Philippines, Henry Clay Ide, who reported that the women and children were collateral damage, having been killed during the artillery barrages. [21] These conflicting explanations of the high number of women and child casualties brought accusations of a cover-up, adding to the criticism. [21] Furthermore, Wood's and Ide's explanation are at odds with Col. J.W. Duncan's March 12, 1906 post-action report describing the placement of a machine-gun at the edge of the crater to fire upon the occupants. [20] Following Duncan's reports, the high number of non-combatants killed can be explained as the result of indiscriminate machine-gun fire.

Despite President McKinley's proclamation of "benevolent assimilation" of the Philippines as a U.S. Territory, American treatment of Philippine soldiers and civilians was far from benevolent.

General Elwell Stephen Otis controlled the flow of information by journalists, often through violent methods, in order to maintain American support for the war. Following the Battle of Manila, Aguinaldo switched his tactics from conventional warfare to guerrilla warfare, causing American generals to establish harsher methods of warfare as well.

Orders given by Otis and General Arthur MacArthur Jr. oversaw the complete destruction of many villages, and the capture and execution of their civilians, in order to incite conflict by Philippine soldiers. Despite Otis' restriction on journalism, many reports by both American and Filipino journalists indicate that American treatment of Filipino prisoners was very harsh, as many were starved and tortured, and many others were executed. [24]

A report written by General J.M. Bell in 1901 states: "I am now assembling in the neighborhood of 2,500 men who will be used in columns of about fifty men each. I take so large a command for the purpose of thoroughly searching each ravine, valley and mountain peak for insurgents and for food, expecting to destroy everything I find outside of towns. All able bodied men will be killed or captured. ... These people need a thrashing to teach them some good common sense; and they should have it for the good of all concerned." [25]

World War I

According to historian Richard Rubin, American Doughboys developed an intense hatred of all soldiers of the Imperial German Army during the Meuse-Argonne Campaign. Rubin claims to have "read, here and there, reports of newly captured German prisoners at Meuse-Argonne being executed rather than sent back behind the lines." [26]

World War II

Pacific theater

On January 26, 1943, the submarine USS Wahoo fired on survivors in lifeboats from the Japanese transport Buyo Maru. Vice Admiral Charles A. Lockwood asserted that the survivors were Japanese soldiers who had turned machine-gun and rifle fire on the Wahoo after she surfaced, and that such resistance was common in submarine warfare. [27] According to the submarine's executive officer, the fire was intended to force the Japanese soldiers to abandon their boats and none of them were deliberately targeted. [28] Historian Clay Blair stated that the submarine's crew fired first and the shipwrecked survivors returned fire with handguns. [29] The survivors were later determined to have included Allied POWs of the Indian 2nd Battalion, 16th Punjab Regiment, who were guarded by Japanese Army Forces from the 26th Field Ordnance Depot. [30] Of 1,126 men originally aboard Buyo Maru, 195 Indians and 87 Japanese died, some killed during the torpedoing of the ship and some killed by the shootings afterwards. [31]

During and after the Battle of the Bismarck Sea (March 3–5, 1943), U.S. PT boats and Allied aircraft attacked Japanese rescue vessels as well as approximately 1,000 survivors from eight sunken Japanese troop transport ships. [32] The stated justification was that the Japanese personnel were close to their military destination and would be promptly returned to service in the battle. [32] Many of the Allied aircrew accepted the attacks as necessary, while others were sickened. [33]

American servicemen in the Pacific War sometimes deliberately killed Japanese soldiers who had surrendered, according to Richard Aldrich, a professor of history at the University of Nottingham. Aldrich published a study of diaries kept by United States and Australian soldiers, wherein it was stated that they sometimes massacred prisoners of war. [34] According to John Dower, in "many instances ... Japanese who did become prisoners were killed on the spot or en route to prison compounds." [35] According to Professor Aldrich, it was common practice for U.S. troops not to take prisoners. [36] His analysis is supported by British historian Niall Ferguson, [37] who also says that, in 1943, "a secret [U.S.] intelligence report noted that only the promise of ice cream and three days leave would ... induce American troops not to kill surrendering Japanese." [38]

Ferguson states that such practices played a role in the ratio of Japanese prisoners to dead being 1:100 in late 1944. That same year, efforts were taken by Allied high commanders to suppress "take no prisoners" attitudes [38] among their personnel (because it hampered intelligence gathering), and to encourage Japanese soldiers to surrender. Ferguson adds that measures by Allied commanders to improve the ratio of Japanese prisoners to Japanese dead resulted in it reaching 1:7, by mid-1945. Nevertheless, "taking no prisoners" was still "standard practice" among U.S. troops at the Battle of Okinawa, in April–June 1945. [39] Ferguson also suggests that "it was not only the fear of disciplinary action or of dishonor that deterred German and Japanese soldiers from surrendering. More important for most soldiers was the perception that prisoners would be killed by the enemy anyway, and so one might as well fight on." [40]

Ulrich Straus, a U.S. Japanologist, suggests that Allied troops on the front line intensely hated Japanese military personnel and were "not easily persuaded" to take or protect prisoners, because they believed, reasonably, that Allied personnel who surrendered got "no mercy" from the Japanese. [41] Allied troops were told that Japanese soldiers were inclined to feign surrender in order to make surprise attacks, [41] a practice which was outlawed by the Hague Convention of 1907. [42] Therefore, according to Straus, "Senior officers opposed the taking of prisoners on the grounds that it needlessly exposed American troops to risks ..." [41] When prisoners were taken at Guadalcanal, Army interrogator Captain Burden noted that many times POWs were shot during transport because "it was too much bother to take [them] in". [43]

U.S. historian James J. Weingartner attributes the very low number of Japanese in U.S. prisoner of war compounds to two important factors, namely (1) a Japanese reluctance to surrender, and (2) a widespread American "conviction that the Japanese were 'animals' or 'subhuman' and unworthy of the normal treatment accorded to prisoners of war. [44] The latter reason is supported by Ferguson, who says that "Allied troops often saw the Japanese in the same way that Germans regarded Russians — as Untermenschen (i.e., "subhuman"). [45]


It has been claimed that some U.S. military personnel raped Okinawan women during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. [46]

Based on several years of research, Okinawan historian Oshiro Masayasu (former director of the Okinawa Prefectural Historical Archives) writes:

Soon after the U.S. Marines landed, all the women of a village on Motobu Peninsula fell into the hands of American soldiers. At the time, there were only women, children, and old people in the village, as all the young men had been mobilized for the war. Soon after landing, the Marines "mopped up" the entire village, but found no signs of Japanese forces. Taking advantage of the situation, they started 'hunting for women' in broad daylight, and women who were hiding in the village or nearby air raid shelters were dragged out one after another. [47]

According to interviews carried out by the New York Times and published by them in 2000, several elderly people from an Okinawan village confessed that after the United States had won the Battle of Okinawa, three armed marines kept coming to the village every week to force the villagers to gather all the local women, who were then carried off into the hills and raped. The article goes deeper into the matter and claims that the villagers' tale — true or not — is part of a "dark, long-kept secret" the unraveling of which "refocused attention on what historians say is one of the most widely ignored crimes of the war": 'the widespread rape of Okinawan women by American servicemen." [48] Although Japanese reports of rape were largely ignored at the time, academic estimates have been that as many as 10,000 Okinawan women may have been raped. It has been claimed that the rape was so prevalent that most Okinawans over age 65 around the year 2000 either knew or had heard of a woman who was raped in the aftermath of the war. [49]

Professor of East Asian Studies and expert on Okinawa, Steve Rabson, said: "I have read many accounts of such rapes in Okinawan newspapers and books, but few people know about them or are willing to talk about them." [49] He notes that plenty of old local books, diaries, articles and other documents refer to rapes by American soldiers of various races and backgrounds. An explanation given for why the US military has no record of any rapes is that few Okinawan women reported abuse, mostly out of fear and embarrassment. According to an Okinawan police spokesman: "Victimized women feel too ashamed to make it public." [49] Those who did report them are believed by historians to have been ignored by the U.S. military police. Many people wondered why it never came to light after the inevitable American-Japanese babies the many women must have given birth to. In interviews, historians and Okinawan elders said that some of those Okinawan women who were raped and did not commit suicide did give birth to biracial children, but that many of them were immediately killed or left behind out of shame, disgust or fearful trauma. More often, however, rape victims underwent crude abortions with the help of village midwives. A large scale effort to determine the possible extent of these crimes has never been conducted. Over five decades after the war had ended, in the late-1990s, the women who were believed to have been raped still overwhelmingly refused to give public statements, instead speaking through relatives and a number of historians and scholars. [49]

There is substantial evidence that the U.S. had at least some knowledge of what was going on. Samuel Saxton, a retired captain, explained that the American veterans and witnesses may have intentionally kept the rape a secret, largely out of shame: "It would be unfair for the public to get the impression that we were all a bunch of rapists after we worked so hard to serve our country." [49] Military officials formally denied the mass rapes, and all surviving related veterans refused the New York Times request for an interview. Masaie Ishihara, a sociology professor, supports this: "There is a lot of historical amnesia out there, many people don't want to acknowledge what really happened." [49] Author George Feifer noted in his book Tennozan: The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb, that by 1946 there had been fewer than 10 reported cases of rape in Okinawa. He explained it was "partly because of shame and disgrace, partly because Americans were victors and occupiers. In all there were probably thousands of incidents, but the victims' silence kept rape another dirty secret of the campaign." [50]

Some other authors have noted that Japanese civilians "were often surprised at the comparatively humane treatment they received from the American enemy." [51] [52] According to Islands of Discontent: Okinawan Responses to Japanese and American Power by Mark Selden, the Americans "did not pursue a policy of torture, rape, and murder of civilians as Japanese military officials had warned." [53]

There were also 1,336 reported rapes during the first 10 days of the occupation of Kanagawa prefecture after the Japanese surrender. [46]

European theater

In the Laconia massacre, U.S. aircraft attacked Germans rescuing survivors from the sinking British troopship in the Atlantic Ocean. Pilots of a United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) B-24 Liberator bomber, despite knowing the U-boat's location, intentions, and the presence of British seamen, killed dozens of Laconia's survivors with bombs and strafing attacks, forcing U-156 to cast its remaining survivors into the sea and crash dive to avoid being destroyed.

The "Canicattì massacre" involved the killing of Italian civilians by Lieutenant Colonel George Herbert McCaffrey. A confidential inquiry was made, but McCaffrey was never charged with any offense relating to the massacre. He died in 1954. This fact remained virtually unknown in the U.S. until 2005, when Joseph S. Salemi of New York University, whose father witnessed it, reported it. [54]

In the "Biscari massacre", which consisted of two instances of mass murder, U.S. troops of the 45th Infantry Division killed roughly 75 prisoners of war, mostly Italian. [55] [56]

According to an article in Der Spiegel by Klaus Wiegrefe, many personal memoirs of Allied soldiers have been wilfully ignored by historians until now because they were at odds with the "greatest generation" mythology surrounding World War II. However, this has recently started to change, with books such as The Day of Battle, by Rick Atkinson, in which he describes Allied war crimes in Italy, and D-Day: The Battle for Normandy, by Antony Beevor. [57] Beevor's latest work suggests that Allied war crimes in Normandy were much more extensive "than was previously realized". [58]

Historian Peter Lieb has found that many U.S. and Canadian units were ordered not to take enemy prisoners during the D-Day landings in Normandy. If this view is correct, it may explain the fate of 64 German prisoners (out of the 130 captured) who did not make it to the POW collecting point on Omaha Beach on the day of the landings. [57]

Near the French village of Audouville-la-Hubert, 30 Wehrmacht prisoners were massacred by U.S. paratroopers. [58]

In the aftermath of the 1944 Malmedy massacre, in which 80 American POWs were murdered by their German captors, a written order from the headquarters of the 328th U.S. Army Infantry Regiment, dated 21 December 1944, stated: "No SS troops or paratroopers will be taken prisoner but [rather they] will be shot on sight." [59] Major-General Raymond Hufft (U.S. Army) gave instructions to his troops not to take prisoners when they crossed the Rhine in 1945. "After the war, when he reflected on the war crimes he authorized, he admitted, 'if the Germans had won, I would have been on trial at Nuremberg instead of them.'" [60] Stephen Ambrose related: "I've interviewed well over 1000 combat veterans. Only one of them said he shot a prisoner ... Perhaps as many as one-third of the veterans...however, related incidents in which they saw other GIs shooting unarmed German prisoners who had their hands up." [61]

"Operation Teardrop" involved eight surviving captured crewmen from the sunken German submarine U-546 being tortured by U.S. military personnel. Historian Philip K. Lundeberg has written that the beating and torture of U-546's survivors was a singular atrocity motivated by the interrogators' need to quickly get information on what the U.S. believed were potential missile attacks on the continental U.S. by German submarines. [62]

SS concentration camp guards being executed at Dachau concentration camp on its day of liberation
(U.S. Army soldier photograph/National Archives) Dachau execution coalyard 1945-04-29.jpg
SS concentration camp guards being executed at Dachau concentration camp on its day of liberation
(U.S. Army soldier photograph/National Archives)

The "Dachau massacre" involved the killing of German prisoners of war and surrendering SS soldiers at the Dachau concentration camp. [63]

Among American WWII veterans who admitted to having committed war crimes was former Mafia hitman Frank Sheeran. In interviews with his biographer Charles Brandt, Sheeran recalled his war service with the Thunderbird Division as the time when he first developed a callousness to the taking of human life. By his own admission, Sheeran participated in numerous massacres and summary executions of German POWs, acts which violated the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 and the 1929 Geneva Convention on POWs. In his interviews with Brandt, Sheeran divided such massacres into four different categories.

1. Revenge killings in the heat of battle. Sheeran told Brandt that, when a German soldier had just killed his close friends and then tried to surrender, he would often "send him to hell, too." He described often witnessing similar behavior by fellow GIs. [64]
2. Orders from unit commanders during a mission. When describing his first murder for organized crime, Sheeran recalled: "It was just like when an officer would tell you to take a couple of German prisoners back behind the line and for you to 'hurry back'. You did what you had to do." [65]
3. The Dachau massacre and other reprisal killings of concentration camp guards and trustee inmates. [66]
4. Calculated attempts to dehumanize and degrade German POWs. While Sheeran's unit was climbing the Harz Mountains, they came upon a Wehrmacht mule train carrying food and drink up the mountainside. The female cooks were first allowed to leave unmolested, then Sheeran and his fellow GI's "ate what we wanted and soiled the rest with our waste." Then the Wehrmacht mule drivers were given shovels and ordered to "dig their own shallow graves." Sheeran later joked that they did so without complaint, likely hoping that he and his buddies would change their minds. But the mule drivers were shot and buried in the holes they had dug. Sheeran explained that by then, "I had no hesitation in doing what I had to do." [67]


Secret wartime files made public only in 2006 reveal that American GIs committed 400 sexual offenses in Europe, including 126 rapes in England, between 1942 and 1945. [68] A study by Robert J. Lilly estimates that a total of 14,000 civilian women in England, France and Germany were raped by American GIs during World War II. [69] [70] It is estimated that there were around 3,500 rapes by American servicemen in France between June 1944 and the end of the war and one historian has claimed that sexual violence against women in liberated France was common. [71]

Korean War

No Gun Ri Massacre

The No Gun Ri massacre refers to an incident of mass killing of an undetermined number of South Korean refugees by U.S. soldiers of the 7th Cavalry Regiment (and in a U.S. air attack) between 26–29 July 1950 at a railroad bridge near the village of Nogeun-ri, 100 miles (160 km) southeast of Seoul. In 2005, the South Korean government certified the names of 163 dead or missing (mostly women, children, and old men) and 55 wounded. It said that many other victims' names were not reported. [72] Over the years survivors' estimates of the dead have ranged from 300 to 500. This episode early in the Korean War gained widespread attention when the Associated Press (AP) published a series of articles in 1999 that subsequently won a Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. [73]

Vietnam War

The Vietnam War Crimes Working Group Files is a collection of (formerly secret) documents compiled by Pentagon investigators in the early 1970s, confirming that atrocities by U.S. forces during the Vietnam War were more extensive than had been officially acknowledged. [74] [75] The documents are housed by the United States National Archives and Records Administration, and detail 320 alleged incidents that were substantiated by United States Army investigators (not including the 1968 My Lai Massacre). (See also Winter Soldier Investigation).

My Lai Massacre

My Lai Massacre My Lai massacre3.jpg
My Lai Massacre

The My Lai Massacre was the mass murder of 347 to 504 unarmed citizens in South Vietnam, almost entirely civilians, most of them women and children, conducted by U.S. soldiers from the Company C of the 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade of the 23rd (Americal) Infantry Division, on 16 March 1968. Some of the victims were raped, beaten, tortured, or maimed, and some of the bodies were found mutilated. The massacre took place in the hamlets of Mỹ Lai and My Khe of Sơn Mỹ village during the Vietnam War. [76] [77] Of the 26 U.S. soldiers initially charged with criminal offenses or war crimes for actions at My Lai, only William Calley was convicted. Initially sentenced to life in prison, Calley had his sentence reduced to ten years, then was released after only three and a half years under house arrest. The incident prompted widespread outrage around the world, and reduced U.S. domestic support for the Vietnam War. Three American Servicemen (Hugh Thompson, Jr., Glenn Andreotta, and Lawrence Colburn), who made an effort to halt the massacre and protect the wounded, were sharply criticized by U.S. Congressmen, and received hate mail, death threats, and mutilated animals on their doorsteps. [78] Thirty years after the event their efforts were honored. [79]

Gulf War

At a 1992 symposium at Albany Law School, international law professor Francis Boyle argued that the Coalition air campaign during the Gulf War fit the definition of genocide due to alleged indiscriminate targeting of civilians and non-military infrastructure. [80]

Highway of Death

Highway of Death Demolished vehicles line Highway 80 on 18 Apr 1991.jpg
Highway of Death

During the American led coalition offensive in the Gulf War, American, Canadian, British and French aircraft and ground forces attacked retreating Iraqi military personnel and fleeing civilian convoys attempting to head towards Baghdad on the night of February 26–27, 1991, resulting in the destruction of thousands of vehicles and 200 to 1,000+ deaths.

Additionally, journalist Seymour Hersh, citing American witnesses, alleged that a platoon of U.S. Bradley Fighting Vehicles from the 1st Brigade, 24th Infantry Division opened fire on a large group of more than 350 disarmed Iraqi soldiers who had surrendered at a makeshift military checkpoint after fleeing the devastation on Highway 8. [81]

War on Terror

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, the U.S. Government adopted several new measures in the classification and treatment of prisoners captured in the War on Terror, including applying the status of unlawful combatant to some prisoners, conducting extraordinary renditions, and using torture ("enhanced interrogation techniques"). Human Rights Watch and others described the measures as being illegal under the Geneva Conventions. [82]

Command responsibility

A presidential memorandum of February 7, 2002, authorized U.S. interrogators of prisoners captured during the War in Afghanistan to deny the prisoners basic protections required by the Geneva Conventions, and thus according to Jordan J. Paust, professor of law and formerly a member of the faculty of the Judge Advocate General's School, "necessarily authorized and ordered violations of the Geneva Conventions, which are war crimes." [83] Based on the president's memorandum, U.S. personnel carried out cruel and inhumane treatment on captured enemy fighters, [84] which necessarily means that the president's memorandum was a plan to violate the Geneva Convention, and such a plan constitutes a war crime under the Geneva Conventions, according to Professor Paust. [85]

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and others have argued that detainees should be considered "unlawful combatants" and as such not be protected by the Geneva Conventions in multiple memoranda regarding these perceived legal gray areas. [86]

Gonzales' statement that denying coverage under the Geneva Conventions "substantially reduces the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act" suggests, to some authors, an awareness by those involved in crafting policies in this area that U.S. officials are involved in acts that could be seen to be war crimes. [87] The U.S. Supreme Court challenged the premise on which this argument is based in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, in which it ruled that Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions applies to detainees in Guantanamo Bay and that the military tribunals used to try these suspects were in violation of U.S. and international law. [88]

Human Rights Watch claimed in 2005 that the principle of "command responsibility" could make high-ranking officials within the Bush administration guilty of the numerous war crimes committed during the War on Terror, either with their knowledge or by persons under their control. [89] On April 14, 2006, Human Rights Watch said that Secretary Donald Rumsfeld could be criminally liable for his alleged involvement in the abuse of Mohammed al-Qahtani. [90] On November 14, 2006, invoking universal jurisdiction, legal proceedings were started in Germany – for their alleged involvement of prisoner abuse – against Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo, George Tenet and others. [91]

The Military Commissions Act of 2006 is seen by some as an amnesty law for crimes committed in the War on Terror by retroactively rewriting the War Crimes Act [92] and by abolishing habeas corpus , effectively making it impossible for detainees to challenge crimes committed against them. [93]

Luis Moreno-Ocampo told The Sunday Telegraph in 2007 that he was willing to start an inquiry by the International Criminal Court (ICC), and possibly a trial, for war crimes committed in Iraq involving British Prime Minister Tony Blair and American President George W. Bush. [94] Though under the Rome Statute, the ICC has no jurisdiction over Bush, since the U.S. is not a State Party to the relevant treaty—unless Bush were accused of crimes inside a State Party, or the UN Security Council (where the U.S. has a veto) requested an investigation. However, Blair does fall under ICC jurisdiction as Britain is a State Party. [95]

Shortly before the end of President Bush's second term in 2009, newsmedia in countries other than the U.S. began publishing the views of those who believe that under the United Nations Convention Against Torture, the U.S. is obligated to hold those responsible for prisoner abuse to account under criminal law. [96] One proponent of this view was the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Professor Manfred Nowak) who, on January 20, 2009, remarked on German television that former president George W. Bush had lost his head of state immunity and under international law the U.S. would now be mandated to start criminal proceedings against all those involved in these violations of the UN Convention Against Torture. [97] Law professor Dietmar Herz explained Nowak's comments by opining that under U.S. and international law former President Bush is criminally responsible for adopting torture as an interrogation tool. [97]

See also


World War II

Vietnam War

War on Terror (2001–2006 period)


US military video depicting the killing of over a dozen people including two Reuters news staff in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad. The video was released 5th April 2010 by WikiLeaks.

Iraq War

Related Research Articles

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The Battle of Okinawa, codenamed Operation Iceberg, was a major battle of the Pacific War fought on the island of Okinawa by United States Marine and Army forces against the Imperial Japanese Army. The initial invasion of Okinawa on April 1, 1945, was the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific Theater of World War II. The 82-day battle lasted from April 1 until June 22, 1945. After a long campaign of island hopping, the Allies were planning to use Kadena Air Base on the large island of Okinawa as a base for Operation Downfall, the planned invasion of the Japanese home islands, 340 mi (550 km) away.

Donald Rumsfeld U.S. Secretary of Defense

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Nanjing Massacre Episode of mass murder and mass rape committed by Japanese troops against the residents of Nanjing

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<i>The Rape of Nanking</i> (book) book

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Manila massacre atrocities committed against Filipino civilians in Manila by Imperial Japanese troops and United States Armed Forces during World War II at the Battle of Manila (February 3 – March 3, 1945), with a civilian death toll of about 100 000

The Manila massacre involved atrocities committed against Filipino civilians in the City of Manila, the capital of the Philippines, by Japanese troops during World War II at the Battle of Manila. The combined death toll of civilians for the battle of Manila was about 100,000.

Allied war crimes include both alleged and legally proven violations of the laws of war by the Allies of World War II against either civilians or military personnel of the Axis powers.

War crimes of the Wehrmacht crimes carried out by the German armed forces during World War II

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Command responsibility doctrine of hierarchical accountability

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Soviet war crimes

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Dalj massacre

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Wartime sexual violence

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Rapes during the occupation of Japan were war rapes or rapes committed under the Allied military occupation of Japan. Allied troops committed a number of rapes during the Battle of Okinawa during the last months of the Pacific War and the subsequent occupation of Japan. The Allies occupied Japan until 1952 following the end of World War II and Okinawa Prefecture remained under US governance for two decades after. Estimates of the incidence of sexual violence by Allied occupation personnel differ considerably.

Human rights abuses in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir state are an ongoing issue. The abuses range from mass killings, enforced disappearances, torture, rape and sexual abuse to political repression and suppression of freedom of speech. The Indian Army, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Border Security Personnel (BSF) and various separatist militant groups have been accused and held accountable for committing severe human rights abuses against Kashmiri civilians.


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  94. Other countries may start prosewcution Von Wolfgang Kaleck Süddeutschen Zeitung, January 19, 2009 (German)
  95. 1 2 Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment calls for prosecution

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