The Newsletter 62 Winter 2012

The routine of atrocities

Alex de Jong

Reviewed publication:
Barnett, Louise. 2004. Atrocity and American Military Justice in Southeast Asia. New York: Routledge, 278 pages, ISBN 0415556406 (hardcover)

The commander of the American army unit that killed 24 civilians in the Iraqi village of Haditha was demoted from sergeant to soldier. Two members of the ‘kill team’ that killed Afghani’s for fun are eligible for early release after 8.5 years. Louise Barnett shows how this kind of juridical leniency is not new, by examining atrocities and trials from three episodes in Southeast Asian history: the American occupation of the Philippines, the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during the Second World War, and the American war in Vietnam. She shows how the “history of official prohibition [against torture and the mistreatment of noncombatants] is accompanied by a history of repeated and often systematic violation”. The first and third parts discuss atrocities (“the violent harming of known noncombatants”) committed by American soldiers. The second part discusses the case of Tomoyuki Yamashita, the Japanese general held responsible for atrocities committed during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines.

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