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Amnesty International issued a widely publicized report on August 5 condemning Ukraine for violating law-of-war rules by positioning its military forces and conducting its military operations in populated residential areas. The same rules Vermont violates by positioning its F-35 jets in a city.

Ukraine’s President Zelensky reacted with anger, accusing Amnesty of shifting the blame from Russia to Ukraine. The head of Amnesty’s Ukrainian organization resigned.

But Amnesty persisted, issuing a further statement on August 7, “Amnesty International’s priority in this and in any conflict is ensuring that civilians are protected. Indeed, this was our sole objective when releasing this latest piece of research. While we fully stand by our findings, we regret the pain caused.”

The Amnesty report said:

  • “Ukrainian forces have put civilians in harm’s way by establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas.”
  • “Researchers found evidence of Ukrainian forces launching strikes from within populated residential areas as well as basing themselves in civilian buildings in 19 towns and villages.
  • “Such [Ukrainian] tactics violate international humanitarian law (IHL) and endanger civilians, as they turn civilian objects into military targets. The ensuing Russian strikes in populated areas have killed civilians and destroyed civilian infrastructure.”
  • “Most residential areas where [Ukrainian] soldiers located themselves were miles away from front lines and viable alternatives were available that would not endanger civilians.”
  • “International humanitarian law requires all parties to a conflict to avoid locating, to the maximum extent feasible, military objectives within or near densely populated areas.”

The Amnesty report responded in advance to the Ukrainian outrage that followed, stating, “Being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian military from respecting international humanitarian law.”

It’s not just Ukraine

Vermont conducts military training operations with 20 F-35 jets from the Burlington International Airport (BTV) in the densely populated City of South Burlington and adjacent the cities of Burlington and Winooski.

“Air-policing” Russia

The Vermont F-35 jets just completed three months of “air-policing” while “forward deployed” in Eastern Europe. The display of missile-armed F-35 jets from Vermont in several countries bordering Russia showcased the conventional and nuclear threat the Vermont-based F-35 jets pose to nuclear-armed US adversaries, including Russia and China.

“Dual capable” F-35 can drop conventional and nuclear bombs

The 2018 US Department of Defense Nuclear Posture Review describes “the return of great power competition” with Russia and China, including foreseeing the current proxy war with Russia over the Ukraine and a future war with China over the South China Sea. It then spells out the danger Russia and China face from the F-35: “The United States is incorporating nuclear capability onto the forward-deployable, nuclear-capable F-35.”

If the current US proxy war or current tensions with China over Taiwan escalate, the 20 F-35 jets stationed at BTV could be hit by Russian or Chinese missiles to prevent them from “forward deployment” to deliver the conventional or nuclear payloads their “air-policing” threatened.

Continuing to conduct the F-35 military training from a runway embedded in a densely populated Vermont city lacks even the flawed justification offered by Ukraine.

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F-35 training adjacent working-class homes, schools, and work-places

Put aside the thought of a nuclear strike on the airport for a moment. Just a single 2,000-pound (1-ton) conventional military bomb striking the runway has a lethal radius of 360 meters (400 yards) and its blast waves “can be expected to cause severe injury and damage as far as 800 metres (875 yards) from the point of impact.”

More than 1000 working-class homes and the pre-K-5 Chamberlin School are within that 875-yard distance from the runway. More than 3000 civilians who use the airport for travel each day would be within 400 yards. Hundreds more civilians work on or near airport grounds. All turned into military targets because the F-35 is right there, illegally training from a runway in a city.

Russian and Chinese nuclear bombs are thousands of times more powerful and have a severe injury and damage radius many times larger than that of a 2000-pound (1-ton) conventional bomb. Embedding the F-35 at BTV uses thousands of Vermont civilians, including a primary school, to human-shield the F-35.

A runway in a city is not a military necessity

In addition to BTV, the 2013 F-35 US Air Force Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) described 5 other suitable choices for basing the F-35, all of them remote from densely populated areas. For example, the EIS says that McEntire Air National Guard base in South Carolina, one of the 5 alternate locations, has just 4% as many people living in its same-sized extreme F-35 noise zone as the 6,663 Vermonters whose homes immediately surround BTV. And that while 7 schools are in the F-35 extreme noise zone at BTV, no schools are in McEntire’s.

Protecting civilians is the law

Not just Amnesty International and IHL protect civilians. Federal law and US military regulations are totally on the side of protecting civilians from military operations. No law of any kind permits such wanton abuse of civilians as positioning F-35 jets in a city, particularly during a shooting war as tensions rise with nuclear-armed adversaries.

The US Constitution empowers the states with control over training their own state national guards within the limit of “the discipline prescribed by Congress.” Congress passed a federal law that requires the states to conduct the Guard training according to the same discipline as the US Armed forces.

US military regulations go further than IHL

Like IHL, US armed forces discipline, including Department of Defense (DoD) Directive 2311.01, and US Air Force Policy Directive 51-4, require “distinction,” or separation of military forces from populated areas during armed conflict. But the DoD and Air Force regulations both go further, requiring adherence to the fundamental law of war principles, including distinction, during “all other military operations” as well.

Citing DoD Directive 2311.01, the DoD Law of War Manual explains that adherence to the law of war standards is required “even in situations that do not constitute ‘war’ or ‘armed conflict’” – including “during military operations outside the context of armed conflict.” It says, “‘elementary considerations of humanity’ have been understood to be ‘even more exacting in peace than in war.’ Thus, these legal standards, at a minimum, must be adhered to in all circumstances.”

The 2018 US law, “Sanctioning the Use of Civilians as Defenseless Shields Act,” states: “It shall be the policy of the United States to officially and publicly condemn the use of innocent civilians as human shields.”

Federal law 10 USC 950t makes any person who uses civilians or civilian property “with the intent to shield a military objective [like the F-35] from attack” subject to trial and punishment by a military commission.

A UN report pursuant to a UN Security Council resolution explains:

No principle is more central to the humanitarian law of war than the obligation to respect the distinction between combatants and non-combatants. That principle is violated and criminal responsibility thereby incurred when organizations deliberately target civilians or when they use civilians as shields or otherwise demonstrate a wanton indifference to the protection of non-combatants.

Not yet too late to follow the law

Continuing the hundreds of F-35 training operations each month in a city, even after the Vermont F-35 “air policing” mission to Russia’s borders, illegally puts thousands of Vermonters needlessly at risk. Foisted on an unwilling public, its 115-decibel noise has been inflicting pain and suffering on a mass scale for nearly 3 years. Now, the continued training with the F-35 makes the city a legitimate military target. The non-compliance to US law and military regulations puts thousands of civilians in harm’s way.

Governor Phil Scott, US Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, Congressman Peter Welch, former Governor Peter Shumlin, Vermont House and Senate leaders, and the present and past Adjutant General and Wing Commander are the Vermont political and military leaders responsible.

If this abuse of civilians in Vermont’s own cities persists while the US proxy war escalates, US law and US military regulations are rendered nugatory. Persistence and courage of the kind Amnesty International displayed with its Ukraine report is urgently needed now to enforce the US law and military regulations and to put a stop to the state-sponsored harm to Vermonters.