The United States, often regarded as a bastion of democracy and freedom, has a long history of electing leaders who wield significant power. However, an unsettling reality looms behind the scenes: US presidents have repeatedly engaged in actions that could be considered “crimes against humanity” without ever facing the consequences of their actions. This article will explore the various factors that enable this disturbing trend, including legal immunity, political influence, and the selective application of international law. By examining these factors, we aim to shed light on a critical issue that demands greater public awareness and accountability.
- Legal Immunity: The Shield of the Presidency
One of the primary factors protecting US presidents from facing the consequences of their actions is legal immunity. This immunity is enshrined in a controversial legal doctrine known as the “Unitary Executive Theory.” According to this theory, the President is the ultimate authority in the executive branch and cannot be held accountable for their actions while in office[^1^]. This concept has been repeatedly invoked to shield presidents from criminal prosecution or civil lawsuits stemming from their official actions[^2^].
- Political Influence: Manipulating the System
In addition to legal immunity, the political influence that presidents wield plays a crucial role in protecting them from facing the consequences of their actions. Presidents often use their power to shape the narrative around their actions, influencing public opinion and ensuring that their transgressions are downplayed or ignored. This influence extends to the institutions responsible for holding the President accountable, such as Congress and the courts, which may be reluctant to take action against a sitting President for fear of the political consequences[^3^].
- The Selective Application of International Law
International law, including the Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute, provides a framework for addressing crimes against humanity[^4^]. However, the US has been selective in its application of these laws, often sidestepping them to avoid holding its leaders accountable. For example, the US is not a party to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which was established to prosecute individuals for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide[^5^]. This decision has allowed US presidents to evade the jurisdiction of the ICC, further insulating them from the consequences of their actions.
Case Studies: Examining Presidential Impunity:
To better understand how US presidents have managed to avoid accountability for their actions, let us examine some notable cases:
The Vietnam War and Lyndon B. Johnson
The Vietnam War was a protracted conflict that resulted in the deaths of millions of Vietnamese civilians and soldiers. President Lyndon B. Johnson escalated US involvement in the war, which included the use of chemical weapons such as Agent Orange and widespread bombings that led to devastating civilian casualties[^6^]. Despite the atrocities committed during his tenure, Johnson never faced any consequences for his role in the war.
The Iraq War and George W. Bush
The 2003 invasion of Iraq, led by President George W. Bush, was predicated on false claims of weapons of mass destruction and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians and the destabilization of the entire region[^7^]. The Bush administration also implemented “enhanced interrogation techniques,” widely regarded as torture, in its pursuit of intelligence from detainees[^8^]. Despite the significant loss of life and breaches of international law, Bush has not been held accountable for his actions.
The Obama Administration and Drone Strikes
Under President Barack Obama, the use of drone strikes dramatically increased, targeting individuals in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia[^9^]. These strikes often resulted in civilian casualties, and the Obama administration has been criticized for its lack of transparency and accountability in its drone program[^10^]. While Obama has acknowledged some of these issues, he has not faced any legal consequences for the civilian deaths that occurred during his tenure.
The Trump Administration and Family Separation Policy
President Donald Trump’s administration implemented a “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, leading to the separation of thousands of children from their families at the US-Mexico border[^11^]. This policy has been widely condemned as a violation of human rights and international law, with the United Nations describing it as “government-sanctioned child abuse”[^12^]. Despite widespread outrage and legal challenges, Trump has not been held accountable for this policy.
The examples discussed above demonstrate a pattern of US presidents engaging in actions that could be considered crimes against humanity, yet consistently evading accountability. The factors that enable this impunity, including legal immunity, political influence, and the selective application of international law, must be addressed if we are to foster a more just and accountable system.
Addressing this issue requires a combination of legal, political, and societal changes. First, the legal framework that grants immunity to sitting presidents must be reevaluated, ensuring that no one is above the law. Second, the United States should reconsider its stance on international institutions like the ICC, embracing the role these organizations play in promoting justice and accountability. Finally, the public must be vigilant and well-informed, demanding transparency and holding leaders accountable for their actions.
- The Unitary Executive Theory: A Dangerous Doctrine for American Democracy.” American Constitution Society, 13 Mar. 2019, www.acslaw.org/expertforum/the-unitary-executive-theory-a-dangerous-doctrine-for-american-democracy/.
- “The Power of the President: Protecting America’s Law Enforcement Officers and Borders.” The White House, 7 Feb. 2019, www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/power-president-protecting-americas-law-enforcement-officers-borders/.
- Binder, Sarah A. “Presidential Accountability in Times of War and Emergency.” Michigan Law Review, vol. 105, no. 4, 2007, pp. 647–707.
- “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” United Nations, www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/.
- “About the Court.” International Criminal Court, www.icc-cpi.int/about.
- McNamara, Robert S. “Why Vietnam? The Causes of the War.” Foreign Affairs, vol. 46, no. 1, 1967, pp. 22–40.
- “Iraq War.” Encyclopædia Britannica, www.britannica.com/event/Iraq-War.
- Lerner, Michael. “Beyond Impeachment: Remove This Regime from Below.” The Intercept, 4 Dec. 2019, theintercept.com/2019/12/04/impeachment-trump-iran-war/.
- “Rendition, Torture, and Accountability for the Role of Medical Professionals.” Physicians for Human Rights, Nov. 2017, phr.org/our-work/resources/rendition-torture-and-accountability-for-the-role-of-medical-professionals/.
- “Report on the Legal and Policy Frameworks Guiding the United States’ Use of Military Force and Related National Security Operations.” The President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, 12 Dec. 2013, obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/sites/default/files/docs/2013-12-12_rg_final_report.pdf.
- “Zero Tolerance Immigration Policy.” American Immigration Council, 5 June 2018, www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/zero-tolerance-immigration-policy.
- “UN Rights Experts Condemn ‘Cruel and Inhumane’ US Border Policy.” United Nations Human Rights, 4 July 2018, www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23305.