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American Immunity: War Crimes and the Limits of International Law

Research output: Book/Report/ProceedingsBook

Publication date2013
Place of PublicationAmherst, Mass
PublisherUniversity of Massachusetts Press
Number of pages280
ISBN (Print)9781625340467
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This book is a study of the “jurisdictional gap” that existed for 40 years as a result of a United States Supreme Court decision in 1955. This decision determined that U.S. military veterans could not be prosecuted by court martial for crimes that they had committed beyond the nation’s borders and which were not detected until the suspects were separated from the military services. Because of the territorial limitations on the jurisdiction of U.S. civilian courts, this meant that there was no court in which veteran suspects could be tried for war crimes. Consequently, numerous American citizens literally got away with murder. This article traces the legislative history of the attempts to close the jurisdictional gap from 1955 to 2000, when the U.S. Congress vested jurisdiction over such crimes and suspects in federal district courts; it assesses the reasons for the years of failure to pass remedial legislation, as well as the pressures that ultimately led to the passage of the law that plugged the jurisdictional gap; and it analyses the verdicts and implications of the first two cases in which U.S. veterans of the war in Iraq were tried for crimes against Iraqi civilians.