Were any government officials in the US or in EU ever charged by international courts for war crimes about Iraq war? We all know Bush and Cheney were never prosecuted....

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    Also, the US conveniently doesn't recognize the authority of international courts, which means that any of the US officials can't be prosecuted for war crimes
    – user7754
    Jul 19, 2016 at 23:42
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    TL;DR: people wave around "war crimes" to denote any military action they are unhappy with for political reason. Saying something is a war crime doesn't make it so unless it actually fits a fairly narrow definition.
    – user4012
    Jul 20, 2016 at 15:07

1 Answer 1


There are very few international courts that can hear criminal cases, and every single one of them has extremely strict limits on what sorts of things it can handle. This is because unlike sovereign states, international bodies have no inherent authority to enact criminal laws, to arrest people, or to imprison people. The only authority they have comes from sovereign states, which tend to be wary of delegating this power to courts that don't answer to them.

Almost all international criminal courts have been narrowly limited to a particular conflict or dictatorship. Many of these were created after a period of dictatorship or civil war, when the new government asked the UN to help set up a neutral court that could try crimes during that period. These courts have their authority granted by the country involved, not by any international authority, and they're only sort of "international courts." No such court has been set up for Iraq.

There are some courts that get their authority from another source; these are truly international courts. There aren't many of these: the International Military Tribunal (i.e. Nuremberg), the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (the same thing but in Tokyo), the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and the International Criminal Court. The first four are, of course, irrelevant to this discussion.

The ICC is fairly new, and has not handled many cases. None of those cases have involved Iraq. There's a preliminary investigation of Iraq, but no official investigation has been opened yet. Neither Iraq nor the US are ICC members, so the ICC cannot prosecute any Americans for anything happening in Iraq (it only has jurisdiction if the defendant is a national of an ICC member, the crime happened on the territory of an ICC member, or the UNSC gives it jurisdiction). It could theoretically prosecute nationals of ICC member states in Europe, but not for invading Iraq: the Statute of Rome left "crime of aggression" undefined, and while a definition has since been adopted, there are two issues with prosecuting for it. First, it hasn't gone into force, and can't do so until 2017 at earliest. Second, the Statute of Rome doesn't allow for ex post facto jurisdiction; no one may be prosecuted for a crime of aggression committed before the definition goes into force.

War crimes are listed under the Statute of Rome as originally adopted, but that's probably narrower than you think. War is an extremely chaotic affair, and the laws of war take that into account. Collateral damage is not inherently a war crime, even if you knew it would happen (you have to try to minimize it and have to weigh expected collateral damage against expected military gain, but you are allowed to attack a military target even if it will kill some civilians as well). An ICC prosecution generally requires that criminal conduct be knowing and intentional; faulty intelligence doesn't mean you committed a war crime, even if what you thought was an enemy stronghold was a family home.

And even for things which are war crimes, the ICC doesn't have jurisdiction unless they're

committed as part of a plan or policy or as part of a large-scale commission of such crimes.

In short: no, no such prosecution has happened. One could happen, but it's not terribly likely.

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