What Crimes Are Considered War Crimes in the United States?

Posted on in Violent Crime

war-crimesEarlier this year, President Donald Trump announced that he was considering granting pardons to a handful of individuals accused of war crimes. While he has since stepped back from the plan to pardon, it had many questioning what constitutes a war crime in the United States? Are war crimes punished internationally?

War Crimes and the International Criminal Court

It is true that there is an International Criminal Court that prosecutes war crimes. However, here in the United States, those accused of committing a war crime are prosecuted domestically. That means that defendants are tried and, if convicted, sentenced in the American federal court system.

The federal courts have adopted the Geneva Conventions. This means that although the trial will take place in America, it will follow international law.

What Are War Crimes?

War is awful, and many unimaginable acts occur during battle. The Geneva Conventions though, recognize that war does not grant anyone serving the right to act in any manner they choose. There is also a global understanding that many times innocent people are caught in the middle, but they still deserve protection from the atrocities of war. The law also recognizes that just because one may be considered an enemy in war, that enemy still has the right to be treated correctly.

War crimes are covered under the federal War Crimes Act. According to the Act, a war crime is defined as a “grave breach” from Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. The Act continues to define a grave breach as any act committed against a person that involves intentional killing, torture, and inhuman treatment. Intentionally causing a person to sustain severe suffering or serious injury to their body or health are considered war crimes, as are biological experiments.

The Statute of Limitations on War Crimes

Someone that has been to war for America and committed a war crime can be prosecuted for it regardless of whether the crime happened in the United States or in a foreign country. Just as there is a statute of limitations on other crimes in the country, certain war crimes also have a limited timeframe in which someone can face charges. However, not all do.

If a war crime involved taking the life of another human being, there is no statute of limitations. That means a person can be charged for that murder at any time. All other war crimes typically have a statute of limitations of five years.

Been Charged with a Federal Crime? Call an Illinois Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer

Although few American citizens will be charged with a war crime, many are charged with a federal crime every day. If you have been charged with any federal crime, contact our dedicated Chicago federal criminal defense lawyer today. At the Law Offices of Hal M. Garfinkel, we have the necessary knowledge about the federal courts, the procedural rules they require, and how to build you a solid defense that will help you retain your freedom. Call us today at 312-629-0669 for your free consultation so we can begin discussing your case.


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