On Feb. 5, 2020, the United States Senate voted to acquit Donald Trump on two articles of impeachment presented by the House of Representatives. The vote followed Senate refusal of witness testimony, veiling in secrecy what, as even many of the Republican arguments conceded, was Trump’s likely illegal withholding of congressionally-allocated military aid to the Ukrainian government in hopes of receiving dirt on Joe Biden, a political rival.
Consider the first article; “Using the powers of his high office, President Trump solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 United States presidential election.” In Trump’s defense, we have heard, from Senator James Lankford, for example, “I do actually think he’s concerned about corruption.” According to Lankford’s argument, Joe Biden threatened to withhold aid from Ukraine unless they fired a prosecutor investigating gas company, Burisma, for which Biden’s son Hunter worked. Because Biden had familial financial interests in the prosecutor’s firing, withholding aid was fundamentally corrupt.
If the Democrats only accepted this logic, the charge of the first article would be undeniable. If Donald Trump withheld aid from Ukraine in order to investigate a political rival, even if his reasoning was to fight corruption, it would still be a conflict of interest and corrupt. But it appears the Democrats would rather defend Joe Biden, a darling of the Democratic Party, than remove Trump from office.
To a broader point, submitting only two articles of impeachment is laughable when considering the fundamentally criminal nature of the Trump administration. According to Article VI of the Constitution, “all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land,” meaning that the treaties that the U.S. signed at the 1949 Geneva Conventions banning “collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism,” are the law.
Before the end of Trump’s first year in office, some 3,000 civilians were killed by drone and air strikes across the Middle East and Africa. Between the start of operations to take the Syrian city of Raqqa in June 2017 and the recapture of the city from ISIS in October, coalition air strikes killed more than 1,800 civilians. Raqqa was flattened, its destruction comparable to that of Aleppo or Damascus.
On May 26, 2017, air strikes on a building allegedly containing two snipers in an ISIS-held city in eastern Syria killed 106 civilians, forty-two of them children. If less than two percent of casualties are militants, it is hard not to deem this a “collective penalty.” The day before, the U.S. acknowledged over a hundred people had been killed in a U.S.-led coalition air strike on Mossul, Iraq in March. Amongst the body count were family members of ISIS, including forty children.
Air strikes in Afghanistan continue to rain terror, death and destruction on the civilian population. In 2019, US forces killed some 1,400 civilians—more than the Taliban. In Somalia in 2017, the number of US caused civilian deaths reached double digits, according to a Guardian investigation. While the military claims just two civilians have been killed in ten years of operations, Amnesty International found, “in just five of the more than 100 strikes in the past two years,” fourteen civilians were killed.
Articles concerning war crimes were never put forth likely due to the fact that Democratic and Republican administrations alike commit them. By the end of Obama’s tenure, some 4,000 civilians had been killed by drone strikes. Bush Jr.’s foreign policy was undoubtedly criminal as he lied the U.S. into a war in Iraq. When Nancy Pelosi was asked in 2014 about why she didn’t pursue impeachment against Bush, she replied, “I do think people could have made a case about President Bush, but I did not want to go down that path because of what it would mean for the American people.” Twenty years after the fact, the precedent that could have been set is missed as she took the American people “down that path” and failed.
During the impeachment, I was reminded of Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman’s analysis of the Watergate scandal and its effective removal of a sitting president. In 1988’s Manufacturing Consent, they wrote, “[The aggrieved] Democratic party represents powerful domestic interests, solidly based in the business community. Nixon’s actions were therefore a scandal. The Socialist Workers party… represents no powerful interests. Therefore, there was no scandal when it was revealed… that the FBI had been disrupting its activities by illegal break-ins and other measures for a decade.” They go on to cite Nixon’s secret bombing of Cambodia, COINTELPRO, and FBI complicity in the planned assassination of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton as impeachable offenses scarcely reported in the media let alone heard in Congress.
Looking at Trump’s impeachment, we see the same thing. Civilian deaths in American strikes are just a fraction of the Trump administration’s criminal actions. It’s likely that Trump’s agencies have been complicit in dismantling democracy in Bolivia and Brazil, while aiding the war crimes of Turkey and Saudi Arabia; also criminal under the Geneva treaties. The family separations at the borders and the subsequent deaths of minors are certainly criminal under international law. But the aggrieved parties in these cases have no voice and represent no powerful interests. Therefore, two measly Articles of Impeachment and a failed vote in the Senate on behalf of the aggrieved Joe Biden is all we get, while the Trump administration continues rampaging over the powerless.