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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2006, Vol, 6 No. 1 .

How America Gets Away With Murder: Illegal Wars, Collateral Damage and Crimes Against Humanity
Michael Mandel

Pluto Press: London, 2004, 320 pages, pb 14.99, ISBN: 0-7453-2151-8

If you want a hard hitting book that tells it like it is and holds no punches, then Mandel?s How America Gets Away With Murder: Illegal Wars, Collateral Damage and Crimes Against Humanity is a book for you. Written by Michael Mandel, a Professor of Law at York University, Canada, it takes a legalistic and moral approach to analysing America?s illegal wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo.

Unlike some more academic books on the subject, Mandel does not mince words or leave the reader guessing where his own views lie: ?America?s war on Iraq in 2003 was its third illegal war in just under four years. Each one was a bloody horror, but the Iraq war distinguished itself both for its bloodiness and for the flagrancy of its illegality? (3). This sets the tone for the book, with Mandel arguing that America is guilty of the ?supreme crime of aggressive war? (247) from which all the lesser war crimes flow.

Mandel begins the book by examining the illegality of America?s acts of aggression in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo (in Kosovo under the auspices of NATO). He does not examine civilian deaths in minute detail as other writers (such as Pilger) do, except to provide a few examples to illustrate his argument. The fact that there are civilian deaths (?collateral damage?), that America knows of them and continues its aggressions regardless, establishes a prima facie case of murder. Defences of so?called ?self?defence?, ?regime change? and ?humanitarian intervention? soon lose credibility when examined in context rather than the hollow media rhetoric and sensationalist propaganda surrounding the wars at the time. Based on this understanding, he devotes the final two chapters of the book to analysing the international effort aimed at bringing America before the International Criminal Tribunal of the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and its failure to even get a hearing. Throughout this, he uses the actual trial of Milosevic as an example of the difficulty, but the absolute necessity, of prosecuting those responsible for war crimes. Fundamentally, Mandel does not argue against Milosevic?s prosecution but is instead saying that an international prohibition on war crimes must be applied impartially and fairly on all countries, and not be subject to the old adage ?might is right?.

Essentially, this book reads as if it were the prosecution?s argument before the International Criminal Court (ICC) attempting to bring the political leaders of America to account for the terror perpetrated against other nations. Essentially, it is Mandel?s voicing of the prosecution?s case that should rightly have been heard before the ICC, but was foisted by America?s intimidation of prosecutor Carla Del Ponte. If the ICC is to be a court with real teeth, Mandel seems to say, it must not operate on political whim but must instead prosecute for crimes against humanity without fear or favour. The implication for Mandel is that leaving America, a nation with numerous military ?deployments? in foreign countries, free from the jurisdiction and watchful eye of the ICT is in itself a terrible crime.

My dilemma with any book like this is that those who read it are already in favour of the author?s views, and just wish to solidify their own knowledge on the matter. I must admit I fall into this category. Unfortunately the people who will read this are unlikely to be those who were in favour of America?s aggressive wars ? the Rumsfelds, Cheneys and Rices of the world. Therefore for me, this was a book already ?preaching to the converted? ? a book whose readership will be decided by its very provocative title alone. Therefore, not withstanding these comments, this book would be most valuable to lawyers and academics interested in international law?s treatment of wars and human rights interventions. More importantly though, this book should be essential reading for anyone who thought America?s attacks on Iraq, Afghanistan or the former Yugoslavia were justified. Fundamentally though, readers should read this book if they believe ?collective solutions to human rights problems are always more successful than violent, unilateral ones?(251). In a time when rogue states are operating outside the directives and ethos of the United Nations, and America exhibits rogue-behaviour, such a book is essential reading.

Adam Guise, Arts, Law and Education graduate, Southern Cross University, Australia

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