List of Atrocities committed by the United States of America
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The United States of America has committed a long list of atrocities in its nearly 245-year lifespan, as well as even before it became a country, whether they would be against an ethnic group or a foreign nation. The US Government has apologized for most of the crimes listed on this page. This can include war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Alien and Sedition Acts
Passed by President John Adams in 1798, the Alien Friends Act and the Sedition Act criminalized criticism of the American government, the Alien Friends Act in particular making criticism of the government by naturalized citizens punishable by deportation. Both of these laws were allowed to expire in 1801 under the following president, Thomas Jefferson.
Mistreatment of Native Americans
Relocation of and War against Native Americans
The United States, in its infancy, relocated Native Americans to certain reserves in order to make space for farming, most infamous of which was the Trail of Tears. Sometimes, the government even waged war against them. Many of these events occurred during the presidency of Andrew Jackson and later under Benjamin Harrison. The United States also has had a history violating peace treaties with various Native American nations.
Removal and forced assimilation of Native American children
When the US government found out that Native American populations were increasing and still resisted against US policies, they decided to come up with a new solution by forcibly removing thousands of children from their families to assimilate them into white culture, based on Colonel Richard Pratt's ideologies to "kill the Indian and save the man". Under the Dawes Act of 1887, Indigenous children who were forced to assimilate into white society were forbidden to speak their native language or practice their own religion. Many of the children would get beaten up or locked in asylums for speaking their language and many parents of the removed children were also incarcerated when they refused to turn their children over. Eventually, when boarding schools began to shut down, the government decided to use another tactic to assimilate children by having them adopted by white families. The vast majority of the children weren't orphans and were ripped away from families who wanted to keep them.
Forced sterilization of Native American women
During the 1960's to 1970's, the Indian Health Service applied thousands of forced sterilizations on Native American women between the ages of 15 and 44, with 3,406 women being sterilized between 1973 and 1976. In 1976, the U.S. General Accounting Office admitted that this took place in at least four of the 12 Indian Health Service regions.
From late 1845 to 1846, American president James Polk orchestrated the start of the Mexican-American War by ordering American troops to line up along the Mexican border, provoking Mexico into attacking and providing an excuse for the US to invade and conquer Mexico, thus achieving Polk's goal to expand US territory.
Mistreatment of African-Americans
Slavery of African-Americans
A period of time lasting centuries where the US brought over people from Africa, just to enslave them. This was considered as an okay thing to do, but quickly turned into a controversial subject. The act reached its climax in the American Civil War and was banned after that.
Discrimination against African-Americans
Despite the end of the American Civil War, it continued to have a lasting influence on America well into the 1960's as institutionalized discrimination and racism against blacks remained in place, as well as the influence of the Ku Klux Klan on American politics, particularly in the South. Following a rise in hate crimes such as lynchings all while law enforcement looked the other way (if they didn't outright perpetrate said acts), the Civil Rights Movement began in the 50's and 60's, eventually leading to better treatment of blacks in America.
Banning of Chinese Americans
Chinese Americans were considered as illegal in the late 19th and early 20th century. This ban lasted for a couple of years, until the act was pulled out.
Sinking of USS Maine
On the 15th of February 1897, the USS Maine was destroyed in an explosion in Havana Harbour, Cuba, killing 266 crew members and leading to the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. The cause of the explosion has never officially been discovered, but America is widely believed to have been responsible.
Invasion of the Philippines
In 1899, president William McKinley ordered the invasion of the Philippines in order to extend the USA's "manifest destiny" to become a leading player on the world stage. During the occupation, US troops slaughtered 200,000 Filipino civilians, and McKinley subsequently ordered the destruction of crops and the establishment of Concentration Camps in order to "educate the populace about Christianity" after they resisted.
When the United States entered World War I, it was widely believed that German immigrants couldn't fully assimilate into American society and many people feared that any people of German descent could be a spy or saboteur for the Kaiser. The US Government banned the German language and many German Americans were placed in internment camps, while others were lynched by mobs, including a man named Robert Prager.
Tulsa Race Riot of 1921
Considered one of the worst incidents of racial violence in the history of the United States, the Tulsa race riot (also known as the Greenwood Massacre) was a massacre as a result of a white mob consisting of civilians, policeman, and National Guardsmen attacked residents and businesses of the African-American community of Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Buck v Bell
In 1927 the supreme court ruled the sterilization of "unfit" people such as epileptics, drunks and criminals to be constitutional under US law after Virginia ordered the sterilization of Carrie Buck. Although this was initially outlawed in 1942 the sterilization of mental patients continued until the 1970s.
From 1920 to 1939, the US Bureau of Immigration conducted many illegal raids on the Mexican-American community and deported a large number of Mexican workers with the intention of creating free jobs for American-born citizens during the Great Depression. The methods employed by the Bureau of Immigration during this time were later found to be unconstitutional by the Wickersham Commission.
Prohibition Chemist's War
During prohibition, the US government killed 10,000 of their own citizens with poisoned industrial alcohol to deter people from drinking it.
In 1932, the United States Public Health Service and the Centre for Disease Control conducted a study of syphilis during which 600 African-American men infected with the disease were tricked into participating under the promise of free healthcare, deliberately left untreated and encouraged to continue to have sex with the uninfected in the hopes of proving that African-Americans were more likely to contract and spread syphilis. The experiment resulted in numerous participants dying due to lack of treatment and 19 children being born with congenital syphilis until it was finally discontinued 40 years later.
When members of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party gathered in the city of Ponce to hold a peaceful demonstration to commemorate the abolition of slavery, Governor Blanton Winship ordered the colonial police to shoot the protesters, resulting in the death of 19 civilians (including children) and 2 policemen killed by other policemen.
Complicity in the Holocaust
During the Voyage of the Damned, during which 937 Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany were ferried round the world looking for somewhere that would take them, the anti-semitic Secretary of State Cordell Hull ordered the US Navy to block them from docking in America, leading to 254 of the passengers being killed during the Holocaust after returning to Germany. Hull also banned American Jews from funding efforts to stop the Holocaust, and ordered all Jewish citizens be deported after being accused of discrimination despite being aware that they would be killed if sent to Europe.
Martial Law in Hawaii
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Imperial Japan during World War II, the National Guard took over Hawaii and declared martial law. The American government distrusted the Hawaiian people and systematically stripped away many of their rights, forcing them to carry ID cards, censoring their media and using many of the people essentially as slave labour to dig bomb shelters until 1944 when martial law ended.
Internment of Japanese Americans
During WW2, the US moved all Japanese Americans living in the west to concentration camps, meant to keep them from society out of fear that any of them could be a spy or saboteur, per an executive order issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This is considered an act of ethnic cleansing. These ended once WW2 ended.
From 1946 to 1948, the United States military conducted 23 nuclear tests on the Pacific island of Bikini Atoll, contaminating the water and rendering the island virtually uninhabitable. The nuclear fallout poisoned several nearby Japanese fishermen, one of whom died, and the US government later resettled three families to Bikini Atoll without first testing whether or not it was safe, leading to them being poisoned.
During the late 1940s and 1950s, a large number of allegations were made in the United States of people being supposedly communists, most of which were not valid arguments. During the time that Joseph McCarthy was a United States senator, many people lost their jobs or were jailed for allegedly being "communists."
From 1948 to 1975, the US Army Chemical Corps engaged in experiments on about 7, 000 human test subjects in order to test the effects of nerve agents on humans. The experiments involved exposing the test subjects to chemical weapons such as sarin and mustard gas, as well as psychoactive drugs such as LSD and PCP. It was ultimately halted in 1975 following a government investigation.
The US government initiated "Operation Ajax" in 1953, with the help of the British government and a group of Iranian insurgents. This was a plan to overthrow prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in order to increase the power of exiled ruler Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, thus resulting in Pahlavi giving a monopoly on Iranian oil to the two countries.
Possibly one of the most infamous examples of the United States committing atrocities against its own citizens, Project MK-Ultra was a series of illegal mind-control experiments performed on American and Canadian citizens by the CIA from 1953 to 1973. The techniques used included use of psychoactive drugs, electroshock therapy, isolation and even sexual abuse in an attempt to manipulate the subject's mental state.
The so-called "Operation PBSuccess" was a covert CIA operation to overthrow the democratically elected government of Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala. The reason for the operation was that the government of Jacobo Árbenz enacted an agrarian reform that affected the interests of the United Fruit Company, for which the United States government saw it as a communist threat. In the first instance, the US government began to finance Carlos Castillo Armas and his rebels, which became known as "Operation PBFortune", so that they later invaded the country from the border with Honduras and El Salvador. After the invasion, Árbenz is overthrown, and in Guatemala a series of military dictatorships backed by the United States are implemented, thus beginning the darkest period in the history of Guatemala.
COINTELPRO (Counter-Intelligence Program) was a series of covert projects started in 1956 and carried out by the FBI under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover and William C. Sullivan to discredit and disrupt "subversive political organisations", such as the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Panther Party and the feminist movement. COINTELPRO utilised tactics such as blackmail, false imprisonment and even outright murder to silence prominent members of the groups, until it was eventually discontinued in 1971.
Operation Gladio was a clandestine network of paramilitary organizations that operated in the capitalist countries of Europe under the leadership of NATO and the CIA during the Cold War. Originally they were created to confront a possible invasion of the Soviet Union into Europe, but since that never happened, they dedicated themselves to committing terrorist attacks in Europe and then blaming communist organizations for these acts. Finally, in 1990, and with the end of the Cold War, this clandestine network of paramilitary organizations was discovered and exposed.
Started in 1962, Project 112 was a biological experimentation program implemented by the Department of Defence during which humans were exposed to chemical weapons such as sarin, and various bacterial toxins such as staphylococcus. Most dangerously, DoD agents released several anthrax strains in Washington DC, which is now known to have almost caused a city-wide anthrax epidemic.
Panama Riots of 1964
During the violent riots that occurred in Panama in 1964 due to the US occupation of the Panama Canal Zone, the US police harshly repressed protesters, killing some Panamanians who were not committing acts of violence.
Complicity in the Indonesian mass killings of 1965–66
When the dictator Suharto was doing his great purge against the communists in Indonesia, the United States assisted in multiple ways in the massacres, such as the sale of weapons, training of the military, handing out lists with names of members of the Communist Party of Indonesia, and encouraging the violence.
Operation Condor was a campaign of state terror perpetrated by various right-wing military dictatorships in South America and heavily supported by the CIA during the Cold War, in an attempt to combat Communism and Soviet influence in South America. The campaign was overseen by the Nixon administration and supported by Henry Kissinger. Notable South American dictators who were involved included Augusto Pinochet of Chile, Alfredo Stroessner of Paraguay, Hugo Banzer of Bolivia, and Jorge Rafael Videla of Argentina.
In 1968, the USA used an agreement signed two years previously to demand that the UK depopulate the Chagos Archipelago to make room for military installations. This resulted in the British colonial government of Chagos under the command of Bruce Greatbatch blockading fishing and killing dogs in order to force the Chagossians to leave, before eventually removing them by force and banning them from returning.
Cambodia bombing campaign
Operation Menu and Operation Freedom Deal were both apart of a secret bombing campaign carried out on Cambodia by the Nixon administration (and directed by Henry Kissinger) resulted in heavy civilian casualties in Cambodia as well as portions of Laos and Vietnam. Though the target was the North Vietnamese leadership, there were considerably more civilian casualties than North Vietnamese casualties. The campaign also indirectly lead to the rise of Pol Pot and allowed the Khmer Rouge to take power in the country in 1975.
On May 4th 1970, a student protest against the Vietnam War at Kent State University, Ohio, was fired on by the National Guard, killing four students and injuring nine, some of whom were simply watching the protest or walking nearby.
Complicity in the 1971 Bangladesh Genocide
During the genocide in Bangladesh by the Yahya Khan-lead Pakistani government, the Nixon administration attempted to suppress reports of the genocide in order to maintain an alliance with Pakistan, and supplied the Pakistani government with weapons despite being aware that the genocide was taking place, and Congress voting against continuing to supply weapons to Pakistan.
Activities in Chad
The United States, alongside France, were instrumental in bringing dictator Hissène Habré to power in Chad and supported him against Muammar Gaddafi during Chad's war with Libya. Under President Ronald Reagan, the United States gave covert CIA paramilitary support to help Habré take power and remained one of Habré's strongest allies throughout his rule, providing his regime with massive amounts of military aid. The United States also used a clandestine base in Chad to train captured Libyan soldiers whom it was organizing into an anti-Gaddafi force.
In 1979, the CIA launched Operation Cyclone, a secret operation to arm and finance the mujahideen in order to force the Soviet Union to withdraw aid from Afghanistan and decrease the influence of Communism in the area. The operation was halted in 1989 following Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, but funding to militant groups continued until the Gulf War.
In 1986, it was discovered that senior officials of the Ronald Reagan government were selling arms to Ruhollah Khomeini's Iran, and with the money obtained they financed the Nicaraguan Contras in their conflict against the Sandinista National Liberation Front.
Complicity in the Rwandan Genocide
According to declassified government documents, the US was aware in 1994 that the Rwandan Genocide was about to take place but refused to take action, even lobbying for United Nations peacekeepers to be removed from the country. The government also refused to jam the extremist radio broadcasts inciting the genocide because of concerns over cost and international law.
Since the Clinton administration, the United States has bombed Somalia multiple times during its civil war, either to confront warlords or terrorist groups. During many of these bombings, many Somali civilians who had nothing to do with the conflict have died.
In 1999 during the Kosovo War in the context of the Yugoslav Wars, the United States and other NATO countries launched a series of bombings on Yugoslavia in response to the ethnic cleansing that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević was carrying out in Kosovo. These bombings ended with the destruction of the infrastructure and economy of Yugoslavia and caused a considerable number of casualties, most of them civilians.
Dakota Access Pipeline
During construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, as members of the Lakota Sioux tribe at the Standing Rock Reservation tried to peacefully protest against the construction, a number of police officers used excessive force against the unarmed protesters by using concussion grenades, teargas canisters, rubber bullets, and water cannons in freezing temperatures. Many of the protesters were severely injured and others were unlawfully arrested and placed in jail after being strip-searched. Other protesters were also blasted with sound cannons and placed in dog kennels after being stripped.
Family Separation Policy
In 2018, a law by President Donald Trump came into effect to separate the children of illegal immigrants from their parents, leaving them in detention centers on the border with Mexico. Although it has been a measure supported by many, it has been shown that within the centers children live in poor conditions, with poor health, with some children locked in cages and several accusations of abuse towards children, apart from not allowing them seeing his parents, which has been condemned by many humanitarian and human rights organizations.
- On 12th September 1942, the British naval vessel the RMS Laconia was sunk by a German U-Boat, the crew of which then began a rescue attempt. However, the German rescuers were strafed by the US Air Force, killing many of the British survivors in the process.
- On 26th January 1943, the submarine the USS Yahoo fired on several lifeboats from the Japanese transport ship the Buyo Maru. The US military refused to apologise for this, claiming that the men in the lifeboats had fired first, however Japanese survivors dispute this account.
- The US Navy also attacked Japanese rescue vessels and lifeboats during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea in order to eliminate the Japanese seamen before they could return to duty.
- The Canicattì Massacre took place during the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943, when the United States army shot and killed eight Italian civilians in the village of Canicattì.
- On 14th July 1943, the Biscari Massacre occurred. This was in fact two separate incidents during which Sergeant Horace West and Captain John Compton both extrajudicially executed groups of POWs during the occupation of Sicily.
- 30 German prisoners were shot by American paratroopers near the village of Audouville-la-Hubert.
- After the liberation of Dachau, a German Concentration camp, American soldiers, disgusted by what they saw, rounded up the guards and shot and killed 35-50 of them in what is known as the Dachau Massacre.
- Operation Teardrop was a torture program implemented by the US Navy in April and May 1945, wherein German personnel captured after the destruction of the German U-Boat U-546 were abusively interrogated by US officers for information about alleged planned missile attacks, resulting in one committing suicide.
- During the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, US Marines rounded up all of the civilians of a village in the Motobu Peninsula. After failing to find any Japanese soldiers, they proceeded to rape several women, and were testified to have returned several times over a period of multiple weeks to take the women to the hills and gang-rape them.
- It has also been estimated that a total of 14, 000 women in England, France and Germany were raped by American servicemen during World War II.
- In August of the same year, the United States dropped two atomic bombs in Japan, one in Hiroshima and one in Nagasaki, with the aim of making Japan surrender. Although many have supported this decision because it led to the surrender of Japan, the truth is that between 129,000 and 246,000 people died during the bombings, the vast majority of them civilians.
- From 26th - 29th July 1950, around 400 South Korean civilians fleeing from North Korean troops in Yongdong were killed by the United States military in what is now known as the No Gun Ri Massacre. This began on the 26th, when the US Air Force bombed the refugees, and the 2nd Battalion and 7th US Cavalry Regiment subsequently slaughtered more of them until they were eventually saved by the arrival of the North Korean army.
- The Sinchon Massacre occurred between 17th October and 7th December 1950, when the American and South Korean military forces brutally murdered around 35380 North Korean civilians in the town of Sinchon during their advance into North Korea.
- The best known example of American war crimes during the Vietnam War is the My Lai Massacre, perpetrated by soldiers of the U.S. Army on March 16, 1968. Men, women, and children were gang-raped, mutilated, and murdered, with children as young as 12 being among the victims.
- It has been estimated that around 5,500 attacks against civilians were committed by US forces from 1960 to 1972, with at least 4000 people killed.
- CIA contractor David Passaro beat an Afghan man named Abdul Wali to death on June 21, 2003.
- From January to May 2010 a group of five American soldiers known as the Kill Team murdered at least three Afghan civilians (including one teenager) in faked combat situations and took photos of the bodies.
- On July 3, 2010, 39 civilians were killed in the 2010 Sangin airstrike, when the village of Sangin was bombed by US forces. The US and NATO initially denied that it had taken place.
- US Army soldier Robert Bales massacred 16 civilians in the villages of Balandi and Alkozai in Afghanistan on March 11, 2012, including 9 children.
- Illegal weapons such as white phosphorus and MK-77 incendiary bombs were used against Iraqi insurgents by USAF forces during the First Battle of Fallujah. No-one was charged.
- Also during the First Battle of Fallujah, Duncan Hunter's US Marine Corps unit deliberately targeted and killed civilians, and fired on ambulances carrying wounded Iraqi soldiers.
- The Abu Ghraib torture scandal broke after it was revealed that US army and CIA personnel such as Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick had abused innocent detainees physically, mentally and sexually under the orders of Ricardo Sánchez. Eleven soldiers were convicted over the allegations and two others faced non-judicial punishment after their role came to light.
- A fourteen-year-old girl was gang-raped and murdered and her family shot to death on March 12, 2006 by members of the 502nd Infantry Regiment, who celebrated the massacre with chicken wings and alcohol.