If certain acts and violations of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them. We are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.
(Chief Prosecutor, Jackson, Nuremberg War Crimes Trials)
Since the foundation of the USA about 250 years ago, Americans have seen themselves as the saviour of mankind and as the unchallenged leader of the “free world”. Since 1798 the USA has undertaken 469 military interventions. 251 of these interventions alone were undertaken over 30 years since 1991.1 Common to almost all of those interventions is that they were carried out from a high moral position, often with altruistic undertones. The USA perceives itself as a force of good directed by God himself against the evils of the world. The US armed forces intervene from principles of a freedom agenda. Most recently we have seen this during the "liberation" of the Iraqi people from the dictatorial rule of Saddam Hussein. In the name of freedom the US armed forces aimed at introducing the first democratic state in the middle east, according to deputy secretary of Defense, Wolfowitz. However, actions taken by the USA are often in direct contradiction to what it dictates others to do. The USA urges nations to adhere to the Universal Human Rights Principles, while the CIA snatches terror suspects in foreign countries and submits them to torture in secret places or as they did in the prison in Abu Ghraib in Iraq, where the US military and CIA contracted mercenaries from such countries as South Africa and Serbia to carry out their dirty work.
Normally such outright conflict between declared policies, built on humanitarian and democratic values on one hand and on the other hand actions which violate these very same values would be met with disrespect and criticism. However, this is not the case when the offender is the US. Europeans and allies usually meet such American behaviour with silence and at best with understanding and support. There is a general acceptance among Western allies that the USA is in its good right to do whatever, it considers best for the USA, even when the implication is that the behaviour in question conflicts with internationally agreed-upon conventions. This is referred to as American Exceptionalism. Why do shifting American governments believe that it is not obliged to follow international conventions? Even those ratified by its government, as in the case of the International Human Rights Convention and the Geneva Convention. Why does the US government believe that international commitments are less relevant to it than to other countries? Curiously, and to mislead the public, the official USA has invented a particular vocabulary to conceal its crimes. American bigotry in international diplomacy is also apparent in their choice of words. Thus torture is referred to as 'enhanced interrogation', and preventive wars are called 'anticipatory self-defence'.
This paper aims to establish sufficient evidence of American bigotry by exposing the falseness of its declared altruism accompanying its foreign policy and military interventions abroad. The USA always undertakes military interventions with missionary passion. Death to innocent civilians – also named ‘collateral damage’ – is presented as a contribution to a better future for the targeted population by introducing it to the principles of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
The contempt American institutions hold towards sovereign nations and international organizations is explored in this article. The two major American parties seldom differ about the need to carry out wars far from home – such as in Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, and currently, a proxy war in Ukraine. A facade of divine justice conceals crimes committed in the name of democracy and human rights in search of markets for transnational corporations.
This hypocritical presentation of America, at home and abroad, inhibits an understanding of the US, as a people and a nation. The result is a citizenry with an absence of self-awareness and ignorant about global issues. Therefore, there is widespread consensus in the USA and the Western World that America is above internationally agreed-upon rules and behavioural norms.
American leadership equals American exceptionalism
We have excluded from this paper an explicit analysis of the USA's violation of the Geneva Convention during its military interventions, especially in Iraq and its global war on terrorism with prisoners held in detention facilities in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. We have only provided a cursory mention of the Rendition Programme implemented by the CIA from 2001 to 2009, when its agents illegally hijacked hundreds of individuals from around the world and submitted them to torture, often without any evidence of a crime committed. Many continue to be imprisoned in the Guantanamo Bay facilities without any formal accusations raised against them.
Another important example of American exceptionalism being left out of this paper is the non-signature to the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). The Americans have signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which is the essential foundation for the pursuit of nuclear disarmament. This is exactly why the USA does not want to sign the treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear weapons. The USA is the only country in the world ever to have applied nuclear bombs on a civilian population. The US began a modernization plan in 2021 for its stock of nuclear arms, with an estimated $44.2 billion to enhance its strike capacities. At the same time, it professed outrage when others sought similar strike capacities, such as North Korea and Iran. Israel is a notable exception.
In our search for a better understanding of the reasons for not committing to declarations ratified by a majority of countries, we will look at three conventions essentially ignored by the US or at best, paid lip service to by this self-proclaimed leader of the Western world:
The Convention of the Rights of the Child.
The Convention on Banning anti-personal Mines (Ottowa Declaration).
The International Criminal Court.
Convention of the Rights of the Child
In November 1989, The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was signed by 140 countries and came into force the following year. As of June 2023, it was ratified by 196 countries, excluding the US. It was hailed as an essential step forward for the protection and survival of children.
Aside from promoting children's rights to better education and healthcare for survival, the ratification was particularly beneficial for children living in countries with poor legislation to protect them from trafficking. Nations that ratify this convention are bound to it by international law. So why does the US not commit to acting in the best interest of its children? All other nations in the world prioritize the development of their children above other national objectives. The answer is explored by an insider of the US armed forces: The US believes that the protection and survival of children could bring at risk its imperial power and its capacity on the battlefield. This was the conclusion of a Lieutenant Colonel of the US Army War College. In a study undertaken at Stanford University in 1999 on “Emerging non-traditional security Issues (ENSI) for the New Millennium”, he demonstrates with exact figures the adverse implications for the armed forces if the US Government should ratify several international conventions and protocols, among them the CRC.2 The military combat preparedness and capability would be severely reduced should the US ratify the CRC and its associated protocols.3 The army would be unable to recruit the necessary personnel to the armed forces if the recruitment age should be raised to eighteen as prescribed by CRC.
Other voices favouring the US ratification of the Convention on Child Rights suggest that the US will have to confront the poor way children are treated by the criminal justice system. Children are treated as adults. Removed from their families, children are denied a meaningful education and adequate mental health treatment. They are held in solitary confinement. And are sometimes subject to physical and sexual abuse. The United States remains the only country in the world to sentence children to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In recent years the U.S. Supreme Court has limited the application of life and death sentences to children. Still, around 2500 people are serving life sentences for crimes they were involved in years ago as children.4
Most Americans are ignorant about the non-compliance of their government to the Convention of the Rights of the Child. Despite this, the State Department annually sponsors an evaluation and ranking of each country on their involvement in child trafficking. Thus when I was the head of UNICEF's office in a Central African country, the US Ambassador to that country would each year contact my office to obtain information about its compliance with various elements of the Child Rights Convention. Non-compliance would blacklist the country by discouraging American companies from making investments there. I understood that the emphasis on children's rights was not based on ethics, but merely to avoid embarrassing the US and its Transnational Corporations from association with a country that did not meet international norms.
The Ottawa Convention
The second example to illustrate American exceptionalism is taken from the international agreement that bans antipersonnel landmines, usually referred to as the Ottawa Convention. It declares the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production, and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and their destruction.5 More than one hundred million anti-personnel land mines are presently scattered around the world, affecting more than 60 countries. Land mines kill or maim an average of 70 people every day or on an annual basis 25000 individuals, many of them children.
During a visit to Cambodia in 2004, I observed the sad impact of land mines and other types of ordinances on its population. Cambodia is one of the most heavily mined areas in the world; some estimates run as high as ten million mines, which is more than one landmine for every two persons. Cambodia is also littered with other kinds of unexploded ordinance left over from half a million tons of bombs dropped on Cambodia by the United States in the late 60s and early 70s.
At the time of my visit to Cambodia, the US president stated, "The United States will not join the Ottawa Convention because its terms would have required us to give up a needed military capability". The US has abstained from each annual pro-ban UNGA resolution since 1997.6 Therefore, when the White House in June 2021 announced American readiness to pursue the Ottowa Convention with some reservations, it was a surprise.7 The State Department informed the public that President Biden had declared that ”the United States will not develop, produce, or acquire anti-personnel landmines, nor export or transfer anti-personnel landmines ’except when necessary (my highlight) for activities related to mine destruction or removal and for the purpose of destruction...”.
It is unclear what this White House announcement means in practical terms since the US would still apply anti-personal landmines (APL) ’when necessary. The study referred to the above non-traditional security issues and included the Convention on banning anti-personal mines. Concluding that compliance with the Ottawa Convention would influence the ability of the USA to shape the outcome of world events.
A paper prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) in September 2022 referred to concerns raised by members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees and the Senate and House Foreign Relations Committees in a letter sent to the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the joint Chief of Staff.8 These concerns include possibly replacing old-type anti-personal landmines with alternatives to persistent APL (which do not self-destruct). The CRS paper also advised seeking cost projection to develop and produce new landmines believed necessary by the Department of Defense (DoD) to meet operational plans.
Some of the issues raised as concerns by the CRS had already been addressed by the Bush administration back in 2007 when United States Congress approved a budget that spent more than one billion dollars to develop two new types of anti-personnel landmines to by-pass the ban imposed by the Ottawa Convention. At the moment, there is no prospect of the US ratifying the convention since the DoD requires alternatives to the landmines to remain the world’s superpower by retaining its belligerent capacity. The US thus continues to be an exception to the Ottawa convention, which seeks to promote peace to enable some of the world’s poorest countries to develop. The fact that the Biden administration appears to resolve this dark chapter in US warfare does not imply that the USA is ready to ratify the convention. This may never come.
International Criminal Court
At the end of the second world war, American lawyers and judges played a significant role in prosecuting persons responsible for the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler. However, today we observe that the US does not want to subject itself to laws which apply to nationals of other countries. As a permanent member of the UN security council, the US worked to develop the Rome Statute, which constitutes the foundation for the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC seeks to address problems of impunity for crimes committed during wars. It was created to bring justice to the world's worst war criminals. The ICC is the first permanent, general, future‐oriented court based on the general principle of law: Equality before the law, and equal law for all’ The Rome Statute was adopted in 1998, and the ICC went into force in 2002.9 The Court has jurisdiction under the Rome Statute to the following crimes:
(a) The crime of genocide;
(b) Crimes against humanity;
(c) War crimes;
(d) The crime of aggression against the sovereignty, territorial integrity, or political independence of another State.
ICC’s jurisdiction includes when a citizen of a non-member country, such as the US, commits war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide on the territory of an ICC member country. That's why US citizens may be subject to the court's jurisdiction as it investigates alleged grave crimes in a signatory state, Afghanistan.
The American Service-Members’ Protection Act of 2002 prohibits an international court from judging American nationals. It aims at preventing cooperation with the ICC. The Bush administration struck bilateral agreements with dozens of countries and obliged them not to hand over U.S. personnel to the ICC. This law authorizes the president of the United States “to use all means necessary and appropriate,” including military force, to liberate a U.S. official, soldier, or contractor “who is being detained or imprisoned by, on behalf of, or at the request of the International Criminal Court”. Since the second world war, the USA has committed numerous war crimes in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, South American countries, Korea, Okinawa, etc. Why should the crimes of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney rate less than those put to justice at the Nuremberg trials? Henry Kissinger, now 100 years of age, was one of the key culprits with Robert S. McNamara in the Vietnam War. The International War Crimes Tribunal, established in Stockholm, in 1967, at the initiative of the British philosopher Bertrand Russel established enough evidence to prove the American government guilty of war crimes. Are they less guilty of the crimes committed in Vietnam than William Calley who was found responsible for the My Lay massacre in Vietnam in 1968? This massacre obliterated an entire village of civilians. Calley was sentenced by a US military tribunal to life imprisonment but was pardoned by President Nixon after only a few days in prison. The case of Calley shows that justice cannot be left in the hands of the offenders. It is more likely to get a fair process by the international community.
In 2021 the ICC was forced to deprioritize its investigations into crimes committed by US forces and the CIA in Afghanistan, following pressure from the USA. The ICC had solid proof that torture had been applied with the full authorization of the head of the CIA. Torture practices included stress positions, deprivation of sleep beyond 72 hours, holding and slapping, confinement in cramped spaces containing insects, and water-boarding. The head of the CIA had obtained such authorization after approval by Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice as well as Attorney General John Ashcroft. Impunity was given priority to these US nationals because it served the imperial interests of the USA.
The hypocrisy nation
The ICC has the backing of 123 countries that have ratified the Rome Statute. Considering the atrocities, including torture and rapes, committed by the USA during wars and its so-called global war against terrorism, its position remains exceptional, when it applies brute force to avoid being subjected to equal justice by the ICC as other offending countries. The best way to describe a nation with this character is to categorize it as a hypocrite.
The hypocrisy of the US is obvious: It says one thing but does quite another. Washington has been claiming to defend "human rights" all day long. But when international institutions try to investigate their crimes against humanity, it shamelessly undermines fairness and justice by slapping sanctions and threats of aggression. Only a bloodthirsty country behaves like this, accustomed to killing and trampling upon human rights in other countries, with no remorse over its war crimes, as long as wars are kept far away from the shores of the USA and as long as the Americans can continue the pursuit of freedom to shop and consume. It even tries hard to cover up the truth and shield criminals. How could such a country call itself a lighthouse for democracy and human rights?
1 Congressional Research Services: Instances and use of United States Armed Forces abroad, 1798 – 2022, 8. March 2022.
2 Emerging Non-Traditional Security Issues for the New Millenium, by Lieutenant Colonel Addison D.Davis IV, Standford University, 1999.
3 The First Optional Protocol restricts the involvement of children in military conflicts, and the second optional protocol prohibits the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography.
4 American Civil Liberties Union.
5 United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs.
6 The convention, which is of unlimited duration and open to all nations, entered into force on March 1, 1999.
7 US State Department website.
8 Congressional Research Service: U.S. Antipersonnel Landmine Use Policy, Updated September 29, 2022.
9 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Done at Rome on 17 July 1998, in force on 1 July 2002, United Nations, Treaty, Series, vol. 2187, No. 38544, Depositary: Secretary-General of the United, Nations.