After Donald Trump ordered the assassination of an Iranian general, the U.S. secretary of state has promised that his government won't violate international laws.
Mike Pompeo made the claim today on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos.
The interview followed a controversial tweet by the U.S. president.
In it, Trump claimed that U.S. officials have targeted 52 locations in Iran, including cultural sites.
Stephanopoulos pointed out to Pompeo that the Geneva Conventions outlaw attacks on cultural objects and places of worship.
Moreover, the U.S. Department of Defense war manual highlights the importance of protecting cultural property.
"So why is the president threatening Iran with war crimes?" Stephanopoulos asked.
"We'll behave lawfully," Pompeo responded. "We'll behave inside the system. We always have and we always will. You know this George."
Stephanopoulos then asked Pompeo if the president wasn't being accurate by threatening to attack sites that are important to Iranian culture.
"George, I’ve seen what we are planning in terms of the targets set. I’m sure the Department of Defense is continuing to develop options," Pompeo said. "The American people should know that every target that we strike will be a lawful target, and it will be a target designed with a singular mission, of protecting and defending America.
"President Trump has been diligent about that," Pompeo continued. "He doesn’t want war. Talked about this repeatedly. He is a reluctant participant in this. But he will never shy away from protecting America."
Presidents crossed the line before
Stephanopolous didn't contradict Pompeo when he claimed that America always behaves within the system of international law.
But critics of the United States say it has a long history of committing war crimes.
To cite one example, the UN's former special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak, claimed that former U.S. president George W. Bush forfeited head of state immunity by violating the UN Convention Against Torture.
Then there was former president Bill Clinton promoting a war of aggression in 1999 in the former Yugoslavia without the authorization of the UN Security Council.
This occurred despite the International Military Tribunal at Nuremburg's finding that a war of aggression was the supreme war crime if it wasn't conducted in self-defence and wasn't sanctioned by the security council.
"War is essentially an evil thing," the tribunal ruled after the Second World War. "Its consequences are not confined to the belligerent states alone, but affect the whole world. To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."
George W. Bush replicated this in 2003 with the U.S.-led attack on Iraq, which also didn't have UN Security Council authorization.
And former president Ronald Reagan ordered an invasion of Grenada in 1983 even though there was no real threat to the United States.
Then there was the secret bombing of Cambodia and the U.S.-backed coup and assassination of elected Chilean president Salvador Allende under former U.S. president Richard Nixon.
There's even a debate over whether former president Barack Obama committed war crimes by using drones to conduct attacks on perceived enemies of the United States in other countries.
"Unlike the use of torture, there are circumstances in international law and under the laws of war in which the use of lethal force can be lawful," Amnesty International states on its website. "Much depends on where, how and with what intent such force is used.
"We do not, as yet, have sufficient evidence to make a determination regarding the legality of the US drones program. It has been conducted in secret and in places where it is very difficult to mount an effective investigation."