Trump's Defense secretary just completely contradicted the president's threat to commit war crimes

Trump's Defense secretary just completely contradicted the president's threat to commit war crimes
President Donald J. Trump congratulates newly sworn-in Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Tuesday, July 23, 2019, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)

Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Monday completely undercut President Donald Trump's advocacy of war crimes, telling CNN that the administration "will follow the laws of armed conflict."

Trump had raised the prospect of violating these laws over the weekend, saying on Twitter: 'Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD."

As many people pointed out, this is a clear violation of the Geneva Convention, which prohibits "any acts of hostility directed against the historic monuments, works of art or places of worship which constitute the cultural or spiritual heritage of peoples.” Others pointed out that Trump's threat could violate other laws of war, such as the requirement that attacks be proportionate.

CNN pressed Esper on whether his comments meant that the military wouldn't target cultural sites under his watch, he said: "That's the laws of armed conflict."

When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was asked about Trump's war crimes threat on Sunday, he took the more dishonest strategy of flatly denying the plain truth, saying: "President Trump didn't say he'd go after a cultural site — read what he said." Of course, that's exactly what Trump said.

Trump refused to back down on Sunday from his threat in comments to pool reporters, undercutting Pompeo even further, saying: "They're allowed to kill our people, they're allowed to torture and maim our people, they're allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people, and we're not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It doesn't work that way."

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