Trump doubled down on his threat to target cultural sites in Iran — an act that could be considered a war crime

sbaker@businessinsider.com (Sinéad Baker)
Donald Trump

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  • President Donald Trump has defended his threat to target cultural sites in Iran if the country retaliates for the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
  • Trump had said the US would target 52 sites, including some cultural ones, if Iran were to strike any American citizens or US sites.
  • But deliberately targeting cultural sites or cultural heritage sites could amount to a war crime under international law.
  • On Sunday evening, Trump doubled down. "They're allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people, and we're not allowed to touch their cultural sites?" he said. "It doesn't work that way."
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US President Donald Trump has doubled down on his threat to target cultural sites in Iran — an act that can be considered a war crime.

Trump spoke with White House reporters on Sunday evening, and he defended his earlier statement that the US was targeting such sites and argued that the US had the right to do so.

"They're allowed to kill our people," he said, according to a pool report from journalists at the scene. "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."

Trump had tweeted earlier Sunday that the US was preparing in case Iran retaliated for the killing in a US airstrike last week of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

"Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD," he wrote.

"The USA wants no more threats!"

As Business Insider's John Haltiwanger previously reported, the act of destroying cultural sites during an armed conflict can be considered a war crime under international law.

Trump Iran

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United Nations Resolution 2347 condemns "the unlawful destruction of cultural heritage, including the destruction of religious sites and artefacts, and the looting and smuggling of cultural property from archaeological sites, museums, libraries, archives, and other sites, notably by terrorist groups."

And Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions prohibits "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" as well as using such objects to support a military effort and making such objects the subject of reprisals.

The International Criminal Court, of which the US is not a member, also previously ruled that the destruction of cultural heritage was a war crime, in a 2012 case involving a group affiliated with Al Qaeda.

Iran warned the US about taking aim its cultural sites.

Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted on Sunday accusing Trump of having committed "grave breaches" of international law over Soleimani's death and writing that "Targeting cultural sites is a WAR CRIME."

"Those masquerading as diplomats and those who shamelessly sat to identify Iranian cultural & civilian targets should not even bother to open a law dictionary," he wrote.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended Trump's tweets but did not directly answer when asked on CNN's "State of the Nation" whether the US was actually preparing to target Iranian cultural sites.

"We're going to do the things that are right and the things that are consistent with American law," Pompeo said.

Qassem Soleimani

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Trump warned on Sunday that the US "will quickly & fully strike back, & perhaps in a disproportionate manner" if Iran were to "strike any U.S. person or target."

Iran's response to Soleimani's killing could take many forms, from targeting US military bases or US citizens around the world to launching a cyberattack on the country.

Several of the US's European allies on Sunday called for "restraint and responsibility."

In a joint statement, the leaders of the United Kingdom, France, and Germany said there was an "urgent need for de-escalation" and insisted the current cycle of violence "must be stopped."

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