Donald Trump’s New Strategy to Fight ISIS: Crimes Against Humanity?

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This morning, Donald Trump called into “Fox and Friends” to explain what he would do to take down ISIS. While outlining his strategy he voiced some incredibly disturbing, legally questionable, and morally wrong ideas. Check out the clip for yourself:

Yup, Donald Trump said that in order to fight ISIS we have to “take out their families,” and that we’re fighting too politically correct of a war, in which we’re just too worried about civilian casualties.

Here’s the issue: what Donald Trump is advocating for by targeting ISIS members’ families is pretty much a crime against humanity. Whether or not he’d actually ever be held responsible for it is a whole different matter, given that the U.S. is not party to the various international courts that actually punish perpetrators. But what Donald Trump is advocating for isn’t just a show of aggression, or tough tactics against ISIS. It’s fundamentally against what we, as humans, have decided is acceptable in war.

International law is a complicated, very gray field. But there are some basics that it lays out. These are things that we’ve all pretty much universally decided should be illegal in war. There are “peremptory norms,” sometimes referred to as jus cogens, that lay out the things that are never acceptable under any circumstances. Peremptory norms include things like acts of genocide, slavery, and torture. That’s not to say that these things never happen, but more that they are viewed as the worst of the worst. Peremptory norms include crimes against humanity, which specifically forbid killing any civilians on purpose. While it’s pretty well recognized that sometimes civilian casualties are unavoidable, directly targeting civilians is always unacceptable.

There’s also Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions which forbids: “murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture” for “persons taking no active part in the hostilities.” The idea that killing civilians is morally unacceptable has been reiterated in court over and over again, beginning with the Nuremberg Trials. Put very simply: we, as humans, have decided time and time again that directly targeting civilians in war, regardless of who they may be related to, is wrong.

Michael Walzer, a professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study, discussed Trump’s statements with Mic, saying:

The crucial moral and … legal requirement … is to distinguish between combatants and civilians, and noncombatants and to attack only the combatants. To target the innocent is the worst crime of war.

International law truly is a gray area, and the U.S. hasn’t always been great about following it. We haven’t ratified the treaty that created the International Criminal Court, and we have a contentious history with accepting rulings by the International Court of Justice. Yet for one of our leading presidential candidates to argue that we should purposefully and publicly break international principles is beyond the pale. If we stoop to the level of committing atrocities against civilians, we are truly no better than our enemies.

Anneliese Mahoney
Anneliese Mahoney is Managing Editor at Law Street and a Connecticut transplant to Washington D.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University, and a passion for law, politics, and social issues. Contact Anneliese at amahoney@LawStreetMedia.com.



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