We recently discussed the shocking tweet from President Donald Trump that the United States might target cultural sites in retaliation of any response from Iran to our killing of an Iranian general. I suggested at the time that Trump may have been referring to legitimate target with dual cultural significance and strongly suggested a clarification. Well, he has now clarified and doubled down that he may target cultural sites — an act that is widely viewed as a war crime.
While flying back to Washington from Florida, President Trump insisted that he is considering the destruction of Iranian cultural sites. The statement contradicts Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who sought to walk back the earlier tweet. Trump told the media that “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.”
It does work that way because Iran is an outlaw regime that engages in terrorism. That is why it is isolated and denounced. The United States cannot fight such terrorism with a threat of committing war crimes. It not only destroys our long-standing position in avoiding such targets, but it pushes away allies who are not going to participate in operations that violated international law. It denies this country the moral high ground at a time that we must make the case to the world that we have a legitimate cause against Iran.
As I discussed earlier, there are a variety of international protections for such sites, including but not limited to the 1907 Hague Convention, which requires countries to take “all necessary steps” for the protection of “buildings dedicated to religion, art, science, or charitable purposes, historic monuments, hospitals, and places where the sick and wounded are collected”. There is also a prohibition in Protocol I of the 1949 Geneva Convention of “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”.
We are parties to those treaties. Indeed, we were the greatest driving force in the protection of such sites and the creation of this international legal principle.