Crime of the Powerful State Crime: case study

Around the world millions of our fellow human beings face serious human rights abuses including physical, sexual abuses, and force labour, each of which “constitute torture under international law” (UN, 1987). The perpetrators of such criminal behaviours are not limited to traditional culprits such as individual criminals, authoritarian and undemocratic regimes, but also by the so called ‘liberal democracy’ nations. In this case study essay I will examine at the topic of state crime as it relates to the United States and its criminal behaviour in Iraq. The essay aims to in the first instance presents a brief history of state organized crimes, It then goes to defines state crime and looks at international law as it relates to state crime including war crimes. The essay focuses four types of war crime identified by Kramer and Michalowski these are; ‘the failure to protect civilians, indiscriminate killing of Iraqi resistance, resulting in further civilian fatalities the torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners and the illegal transformation of the Iraqi economy’ (Kramer & Michalowski, 2005, p.452)

Max Weber argued that states are by nature violence entities because of their ‘monopoly on the legitimate to use physical force’ (Fernandez, 2007, p.242). Historical evidence suggests that state crime is neither new nor rare; the state-supported piracy that happened in Caribbean seas between the sixteen and nineteenth centuries is a good example of state-organized crime (Chambliss, 1986). During this period and much later time, piracy and drug trafficking was very common among western imperial states. For example the Portuguese used pirated opium that was ‘stolen from local traders in Southeast Asia’ and traded with ‘tea, spices and pottery’ (Chambliss, 1986, p.296) And when the French occupied Indochina, they also got involved with the same criminal activities as the Portuguese did, the French even ‘licensed opium dens throughout Indochina’ (Chambliss, 1986) the United States too took part this state led crime, William Chambliss pointed out that The US ‘went a step further than the French and others and provided the opium-growers in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia with transportation for their drugs using CIA airline’ (Chambliss, 1986, p.296)

The definition of state wrongdoings as criminal is thought to be ‘fairly modern phenomenon’ (Fernandez, 2007, p.242). For instance, the Nuremberg Tribunal in 1948 stated “crimes against international law are committed by men, and not by abstract entities, and only by punishing individuals who commit such crimes can the provisions of international law be enforced (quoted in Fernandez, 2007). This view has been contested as academics across the spectrum reconsiders the old concept of crimes against international law is committed by a ‘men’ rather than state.

There are various definition of state crime, William Chambliss defined state crime as ‘acts perpetrated by states or government bureaucrats in the pursuit of their job as representatives of the governments’ (Chambliss, 1986) (Chambliss, 1993, p.291) however, as any other definition, this one has limitations, it does not include violation of international law within the list of state crimes Chambliss stated in his earlier book. Furthermore, Green and Ward (2002) have proposed different definition; their definition includes ‘violations of human rights, and state organizational deviance that would be subject to widespread censure if it were known’ (Green & Ward, 2002) Kramer and Michalowski argue that ‘violations of international’ law by the US and its subsequent invasion of Iraq in 2003 is therefore a form of ‘state crimes’ (Kramer & Michalowski, 2005) ‘that is why such unprovoked invasion is not only a violation of the international law and US domestic law but also a Nuremberg-type “crime against peace’ (Kiernan, 2003, p.846) the US has perpetrated four types of war crime in Iraq

The failure to secure public safety and safeguard civilian rights

First, the US ignored the will of international community and wage an illegal war, its conducts directly contributed the subsequent sectarian war that followed the invasion, and as result ‘failed to secure public safety and protect civilian rights’ (Kramer & Michalowski, 2005, p.452) Under the Geneva Conventions, it is a war crime to launch indiscriminate attacks affecting the civilian population, if it’s clear that such attacks will likely cause death amongst none combatant (Kramer & Michalowski, 2005, p.451). A key responsibility of occupying power is that it must restore and maintain law and order, including the safety of the occupied people; it must also respect the basic human rights of the said people. Rather than meeting these requirements the US violated them, hence ‘insecurity have characterized the reality of occupied Iraq’ (Kramer & Michalowski, 2005, p.452) thus, violating these international obligations is a crime.

Not only did the US dishonour these rules, but it committed undoubtedly war crimes. Because, the US indiscriminately bombed Iraqi towns and cities killing and injuring many thousands of its civilians. International humanitarian law forbids that parties to armed conflict to harm civilians, it requires that they are to ‘limit the methods that are permissible during the conflict’ and they obey the ‘rules governing the behaviour of occupying forces’ (, 1949) it’s the violations of these rules that make the US guilty of war crimes.

The crime committed by the United States and its allies in Iraq is far reaching, thousands of Iraqis are killed, thousands others arrested without probable cause, thousands others abused in US run detention centres not to mention the human rights violations of those held at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, in clear of violations of international human rights principles (Amnesty International, 2004) Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter which states that ‘All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state’ (United Nations, 1945) The US and its coalition of the willing ignored the United Nations charter and invaded a sovereign nation despite the charter’s clear prohibition of illegal wars and without Security Council approval. Thus, the ‘invasion and occupation of Iraq would certainly appear to fit within Green and Ward’s definition of state crime’. (Green & Ward, 2002)

The torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners

Second, a report commission by the US itself has uncovered “numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and cruel criminal abuses in Iraqi prisons by the US forces ” (Antonio, 2004) the report further found that the Iraqi prisoners were intentionally mistreated ‘forced to commit sexual acts were threatened with torture, rape or attack by dogs, and were hidden or not allowed access to Red Cross visits’, (Taguba, 2004) (Davies, 2010, p.187) thus, the conducts of US forces not only violates international law, but it is act of war crimes. Maj. General Antonio Taguba who compiled the report agrees; he wrote that ‘there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account’ (Taguba, 2004) While it’s understandable for any nation to defend itself or to seek and detain those suspected of engaging criminal activities, there are no justification for the US or any other nation engaging in torture, even if the legal arguments were clear the moral case against torture is difficult to ignore and violate international law (Davies, 2010) And according to Green and Ward (2002) such conducts by the US and its agents (its troops, CIA) amounts to war crime. (Green & Ward, 2002).

Furthermore, while the public exposure of abuses and torture in Iraq created a ‘brief furore’ in the US, the ICRC, Amnesty international and other human rights organisations documented far reaching, widespread, and systematic crimes perpetrated by the US troops, (Davies, 2010) the conclusion they have drawn is that, such crimes and wrongdoings ‘extend to the highest levels of the US governments and its agents’ (Davies, 2010, p.187)

Indiscriminate responses to Iraqi resistance

Third, the ‘basic principle of humane warfare that is the avoidance of unnecessary destruction to civilians and properties has been repeatedly violated in Iraq’, (Haas, 2009) The US’s aerial bombing has repeatedly hit civilian targets, caused unnecessary distraction of government and private properties, this is because as Michael Haas (2009) argues to ‘minimize American military casualties’ (Haas, 2009, p.34), But the lives of thousands of Iraqi civilians has been sacrificed for the sake of the lives American soldiers. And under International humanitarian law ‘the failure to secure public safety and protect civilian rights is war crime’ (Kramer & Michalowski, 2005, p.451) ‘A basic principle of human rights law and indeed most domestic legal systems is that the state is legally responsible for the actions of its agents (Crawford, 2002). Therefore, the US troops as well as the CIA as an agents of the US government has perpetrated a crime against humanity.

The illegal transformation of the Iraqi economy

Fourth, there is no doubt the invasion of Iraq by the US was motivated by its desire to control its oil wealth. Upon conquering the country the US scraped longstanding Iraqi laws that protected Iraqi properties from foreign ownership which in turn paved the way for neoliberal economic policies. The role of the US an occupying power should have been to restore order, protect civilians, but still respect and apply the country’s existing laws. The fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 explicitly forbids the US from reforming the economy of Iraq in accordance with its ideology and economic system, (Kramer & Michalowski, 2005) in defiance of such clear international laws, the US ‘sought to transform Iraq’s state dominated economic system into a market economy committed to free trade (Kramer & Michalowski, 2005, p.452) thus, economic reforms ‘that promote neo-liberal structures as the universal norm manifest what might be seen as a new or emerging colonial strategy’ (Mcculloch & Pickering, 2004, p.472)

In conclusion, this essay has pointed out that state crime and state organized crime is neither new nor rare, the although the authoritarians and none democratic regimes commit some of the worst state sponsored crimes, the liberal democracy nations perpetrate similar crimes but in industrial scales, this was demonstrated in the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

I have therefore argued that the actions and the conducts of the US in relations to invasion of Iraq amount to war crimes. The essay pointed out the violations of international agreements in relation to the conducts of and the respect of human rights was violated by the US, hence committed war crime. The essay agreed the four examples of war crimes highlighted by Kramer, and Michalowski (2005) which are; the failure to protect civilians, the indiscriminate killing of Iraqi resistance, resulting in further civilian fatalities the torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners and the illegal transformation of the Iraqi economy.

Works Cited

Amnesty International, 2004. Iraq: One Year on the Human Rights Situation Remains Dire. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 03 December 2011].

Antonio, T., 2004. Taguba Report. findings and recommendations. Washington, USA: US Govenment:available at US Govenment.

Chambliss, W., 1986. State-Organized Crime. Criminology, 27(2), pp.183-208.

Chambliss, W.J., 1993. Making law: the state, the law, and structural contradictions. Indiana, USA: Indiana University Press.

Crawford, J., 2002. The International Law Commission’s Articles on State Responsibility: Introduction, Text and Commentaries. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Davies, N.J.S., 2010. Blood on Our Hands: The American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq. Ann Arbor, MI USA: Nimble Books LLC.

Fernandez, E.K., 2007. Book Review. International Criminal Justice Review, 17(DOI: 10.1177/1057567707306013), p.242.

Green, P. & Ward, T., 2002. State Crime, Human Rights, and the Limits of Criminology, Social Justice. British Journal of Criminology , 27(1), pp.101-15.

Haas, M., 2009. George W. Bush, war criminal?: the Bush administration’s liability for 269 war crimes. Westport, CT USA: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Kiernan, B., 2003. “Collateral Damage” from Cambodia to Iraq. [Online] Blackwell Publishing Available at: [Accessed 05 December 2011].

Kramer, R.C. & Michalowski, R..J., 2005. WAR, AGGRESSION AND STATE CRIME: A Criminological Analysis of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq. British Journal of Criminology, 45(4), p.451.

Mcculloch, u. & Pickering, S., 2004. SUPPRESSING THE FINANCING OF TERRORISM:Financing Terrorism: From Counter-insurgency to Counter-terrorism. British Journal of Criminology, 45, p.472., 1949. Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II). [Online] Available at: [Accessed 03 December 2011].

Taguba, G.A., 2004. Taguba Report. findings and recommendations. Washington, USA: US Govenment: US Govenment:available at

UN, 1987. CONVENTION AGAINST TORTURE and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 12 October 2011].

United Nations, n.d. Charter of the United Nations:CHAPTER I: PURPOSES AND PRINCIPLES. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 03 December 2011].


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