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Sunday, November 16, 2014

A tale of two war crimes: MH17 and IR655

Wouldn't it be horrendous if those who shot down MH17 were to receive a medal for their efforts?

On 17 July 2014, Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine while flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpar. It is a tragedy that cost 298 innocent lives.

Investigations are continuing into the tragedy, however it is widely believed that Russian separatists shot the plane down with a weapon supplied by Russia.

Because of the Russian backing of the rebels, some are holding President Vladimir Putin responsible. There is also pressure on Putin to withdraw any Russian troops or involvement in the Ukrainian conflict which has cost thousands of lives.

Australia's Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, demanded that President Putin apologise and pay compensation to the families of the MH17 victims. He claims to have evidence the weapon was immediately smuggled across the border into Russia after the tragedy. If this is the case, Mr Abbott should present this evidence to the investigators.

It is premature to be holding Russia responsible. Investigations are still ongoing and have even raised the possibility of a Ukrainian military jet firing on MH17. There is also the possibility that the jet was shot down by forces within Russia, which would mean a direct involvement from the Russian military. Investigators claim that the plane was hit by a number of high velocity objects that is consistent with it being hit by a surface-to-air BUK missile, which would most likely have been supplied by Russia.

President Obama states Russia's aggression against Ukraine is a 'threat to the world, as we saw in the appalling shoot down of MH17'.

It is a grim irony ... or hypocrisy, in fact, that President Obama decries the tragedy when it was his own nation that shot down a civilian passenger jet, Iranian Air flight 655, on 3 July 1988, killing 290 innocent civilians. The difference between the war crimes of MH17 and IR655 is that IR655 was within Iranian airspace over the Persian Gulf, flying its usual route and its transponder was broadcasting an IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) code on a civilian frequency. The US naval cruiser, the USS Vincennes challenged the jet, got no response and then fired. The crew initially claimed that they thought it was an F-14 Tomcat fighter, even though it was ascending at the time, was travelling relatively slow on a known civilian flight path and using a civilian IFF signal. A 53 page Pentagon report found that the crew testimony was 'erroneous' yet absolved them of any blame.

The crew of the USS Vincennes had more evidence of IF655 being a civilian jet than any Russian separatist in Ukraine would have had about MH17, yet Vincennes still fired and they still attempted to cover-up their crime.

The United States never apologised for the tragedy. In 1996 President Bill Clinton expressed 'deep regret', but this was only after a settlement reached at the International Court of Justice in which the US refused to admit legal liability but agreed to pay compensation of $131 million to Iran, with $61 million going to the families of the victims (around $213,000 each).

The US pinned medals on the crew of the USS Vincennes.

Where was the world-wide condemnation? Where was the world-wide anger? Where was the media? Where was the shirt-fronting?

There is no evidence that we know of which indicates either a sophisticated radar system being used to detect MH17 or that MH17 was challenged prior to the missile being fired. Both of which the USS Vincennes availed themselves prior to shooting down IR655. Whoever shot down MH17 most likely did not realise it was a civilian passenger jet, meaning that as tragic as this was, it was a terrible accident. It is highly unlikely that there was any direct order given, or any intention to attack a civilian airliner.

It is the sentiment of a number of world leaders that Putin be held accountable for the actions of rebels. This is fair enough and should be extended to ensure other nations are held accountable for war crimes committed with their support. For instance, holding the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and other nations that support Israel responsible for Israeli massacres of innocent civilians in Gaza and Israel's breaches of the Geneva Convention in extending settlements into Palestinian territory. Or holding Australia responsible for crimes against humanity committed by the Sri Lankan government against Tamils. After all, Australia recently gifted naval ships to Sri Lanka so they can round up Tamils who may attempt to flee the brutality.

Shooting civilians out of the sky is a war crime, whether it was intentional or not and regardless of whether the perpetrator was Government or a militant. Those who kill civilians should not be exempt from prosecution and certainly should not receive medals.

MH17 is a tragedy and those responsible need to be held accountable. However, the investigation must be conducted without the hyperbole, hysteria and hypocrisy that we are seeing from some quarters.

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