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President Joe Biden confirmed to Fox News’ Jacqui Heinrich on Wednesday that he personally views Russian President Vladimir Putin as “a war criminal.”
As the president walked past Heinrich following the conclusion of a reportedly unrelated White House event, she asked, “Mr. President, after everything we’ve seen, are you ready to call Putin a war criminal?”
The president initially replied “no” and continued walking away.
But about half a minute later, after he’d shaken a few hands and reached the edge of the room, the president suddenly turned around, “circled back” to Heinrich and asked her, “Did you ask me whether I would call [Putin]?”
Heinrich then clarified the question, prompting the president to reply, “Oh! I, I think he is a war criminal.”
🚨This marks the first time the administration has referred to the Russian President as a war criminal – until now, officials have shied away from that language.
POTUS tells me “I think he is a war criminal”
(Thanks to @kwelkernbc for the camera work 🎥) pic.twitter.com/u4fLdkxMbt
— Jacqui Heinrich (@JacquiHeinrich) March 16, 2022
While his remark was understandable, it nevertheless triggered concerns that the designation of Putin as a “war criminal” might provoke backlash from Russia. And indeed, the Kremlin reportedly released a statement soon afterward declaring the president’s words “unforgivable.”
“We believe such rhetoric to be unacceptable and unforgivable on the part of the head of a state, whose bombs have killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world,” Putin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, according to The Times of Israel.
Questioned about the president’s words later Wednesday afternoon, White House press secretary Jen Psaki stressed that it was by no means an official declaration.
“I think the president was … he was speaking from his heart and speaking from what he’s seen on television, which is barbaric actions by a brutal dictator, through his invasion of a foreign country,” she said.
She then suggested that any official declarations would come from the State Department.
“There is a legal process that continues to … be underway at the State Department. That’s a process that they would have any updates on,” she said.
Later during the same briefing, Psaki was essentially asked what changed.
“I mean, this war has now been going on for three weeks. So far the president has declined to use this label. As you note, there is an ongoing, sort of, formal process before you can use this term. So something must have changed for the president to feel like he can take this additional step today. What? What else is he seeing?” a reporter asked.
“The president was answering a direct question that was asked and responding to what he has seen on television,” the White House press secretary responded.
“We have all seen barbaric acts, horrific acts by a foreign dictator in a country that is threatening and taking the lives of civilians, impacting hospitals, women who are pregnant, journalists, others. And I think he was answering a direct question.”
Note what the second reporter said about there being a “formal process before you can use this term.”
An Associated Press report published following the president’s remarks noted that “declaring someone a war criminal is not as simple as just saying the words,” as “[t]here are set definitions and processes for determining who’s a war criminal and how they should be punished.”
And indeed, that process is reportedly already underway.
“The U.S. and 44 other countries are working together to investigate possible violations and abuses, after the passage of a resolution by the United Nations Human Rights Council to establish a commission of inquiry. There is another probe by the International Criminal Court, an independent body based in the Netherlands,” according to the AP.
So what’s up with Biden calling Putin a war criminal? The AP noted that though there is an official war criminal designation, the term is also often used in a “colloquial” way as “a generic term for someone who’s awful.” That, it is believed, was how the president had used the term.
The thing about colloquial language, however, is that anybody can use it in any which way they desire. And so following the president’s remarks, critics — especially anti-war leftists — began accusing him and the United States by proxy of committing war crimes:
You are a war criminal, God forbid you die in the greatest torment. Who knows how many wars you have caused so far, and here you are playing a peacemaker. pic.twitter.com/t7ExIG1S2B
— DexaCS (@dexa_cs) March 17, 2022
The USA has inflicted appalling devastation and horror on Syria Iraq Yemen Cuba et al with its illegal wars and sanctions and in the case of Syria illegal occupation and theft of its oil. The USA is a Rogue State and you are a war criminal. So zip it 🤐 pic.twitter.com/DCbQuwHCO2
— TruthfulUnicorn 🇸🇾 🇵🇸 (@TruthfulUnicor1) March 16, 2022
You are the real War Criminal. You’re a disgusting human been!!! pic.twitter.com/fAv36qarub
— 🇨🇺RolandotheBruce🎗#SoyMozimista #Nosoyborrego (@rolandoideas12) March 17, 2022
@POTUS What about you @JoeBiden @POTUS are you a war criminal? No you are psychopathic war criminal all we have to do is look at your war criminal records. You are a psychopath war criminal @JoeBiden @POTUS pic.twitter.com/Tlc1Kru1Zs
— Attila (@AttilaSovereign) March 16, 2022
You are currently supporting a genocide in yemen by saudi arabia, no one cares, where is your sympathy? Every us president is a war criminal, you don’t have to point to putin. #george bushjun
— uwe voigt (@um72de) March 17, 2022
@POTUS Hilarious, calling Putin a war criminal. He’s not wrong, but my brother in Christ, you are the President of the United States. War criminal is in your job description.
— ☭Lenin’s Magic Train Ride☭ (@Ltrainlogic678) March 17, 2022
Believe me, Putin will win and you will kneel to him. You are a war criminal of the first class. Have you forgotten Iraq, Syria, Libya, Palestine, Vietnam and Japan. Every patch of earth bears witness to your crimes.
— 爪ㄖ卄卂爪爪乇ᗪ.K (@MALKENDY4) March 16, 2022
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