Vladimir Putin is a war criminal, but so is George W. Bush who also started an illegal war of aggression in Iraq for which he was never tried.

By Juan Cole, Informed Comment

Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – NPR reports that on Wednesday, President Biden called Russian dictator Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” for the first time. The report notes that this outburst is unusual for Biden, who prizes personal diplomacy and must know that such a charge would make it more difficult to negotiate with Putin down the road.

When reporters pressed Biden on the matter, the president said, “I think he is a war criminal.”

The observation came, Moira Warburton reported for Reuters, as the US Senate passed a resolution declaring Putin a war criminal, which was introduced by Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC). She writes that the resolution called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague to open an investigation of Russian military officers’ conduct in the Ukraine invasion.

george w bush and vladimir putin

Graham initially called for Putin’s assassination but now says he’d be pleased to see him on trial in the Hague.

Putin is certainly a war criminal. The International Military Tribunal after World War II, operating under the Nuremberg Charter, considered a war of aggression a war crime. Judge Robert Wright wrote, “To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

The United Nations Charter recognizes only two legitimate grounds for war. One is self-defense. Russia was not attacked by Ukraine. The other is when the United Nations Security Council authorizes the countries of the world to intervene against a government that threatens world order. Thus, the Gulf War to remove Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s invasion force from Kuwait was authorized by the UNSC and was a legitimate war. The no-fly zone over Libya in 2011 was also authorized by the UNSC, which did ask the International Criminal Court to try dictator Moammar Gaddafi.

The UN Security Council condemned Putin’s invasion, with 11 of 15 members voting to rebuke him. Russia as a permanent member of the UNSC can exercise a veto, which Putin did, but it is clear what the custodians of international law thought. They thought his invasion was a wrongful war of aggression. The UN General Assembly condemned the invasion by 141 to 5, with 35 abstaining.

The Russian military has engaged in indiscriminate fire on civilian cities, has struck hospitals, and has recklessly or perhaps deliberately endangered noncombatants, which are war crimes. Putin ordered the war, so he is the war criminal-in-chief.

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