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Aaron Bushnell – The US Government’s Lack of Accountability

Staff Writer Leah Napier-Raikes argues that the death of Aaron Bushnell is the product of the increasingly apparent distance between the American people and their duly elected officials.

WARNING – This article involves the topic of suicide. 

It is important to emphasise that while Bushnell’s opposition against the United States’ continuing support of the Israeli military highlights the dire need for a ceasefire, such extreme measures should not be imitated or endorsed. All forms of protest and advocacy should be done safely, and we do not condone or encourage any self-harming or destructive acts in the name of martyrdom. 

On Sunday, February 25th, Aaron Bushnell, a 25-year-old active-duty member of the United States Air Force committed an extreme act of protest by setting himself on fire outside the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC. He sustained severe injuries, passing away several hours later in hospital. 

His actions were an expression of dissent against the ongoing violence carried out by the Israeli military in the Gaza Strip, supported by the United States through military aid. 

He recorded this act, prefacing his actions by explaining he wanted to “no longer be complicit in genocide”, stating that the injuries he will go on to sustain “compared to what people have been experiencing in Palestine, at the hands of their colonizers, it’s not extreme at all. This is what our ruling class has decided will be normalized.” – alluding to the deaths of the 29,000 Palestinians following the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7th, many of which being children

While this unfortunate and tragic incident is rare and extreme, Bushnell’s actions speak to the extreme discontent felt by many against the ongoing violence in Gaza. This act underscores a pressing question: Who currently supports US involvement in Gaza?

Public Opinion in the US

Opinion polls show that 61% of likely US voters are in favour of permanent ceasefire and de-escalation of violence in Gaza, while only 24% were in support of sending additional military aid and weapons to Israel and a further 11% voted in support of sending US troops to assist Israeli forces in Gaza. 

Given that we are seeing such extreme acts of protest from a member of the armed forces, and the majority of US citizens do not support their nation’s involvement in the conflict, we must ask why President Joe Biden continues to supply Israel as the death toll in Gaza continues to climb.  

Transparency Rejected by Senate

On January 16th, US senators rejected a proposal put forth by Bernie Sanders to assess whether military aid provided to Israel is used in compliance with human rights standards and international agreements during the ongoing conflict in Gaza. 

The resolution was nothing more than a simple request for information to ensure transparency around the use of US resources, yet it faced overwhelming opposition and many senators deemed it ‘radical’. Only 11 senators voted in favour of the bill (ten Democrats and one Republican). With both Democrats and Republicans showing unflinching support for Israel, the prevention of human rights violations has taken the back seat to a murky web of self-interest and groupthink.

Israel’s ‘Special Status in the Senate

Former State Department officials assert that, as a result of the vote, State Department officials have effectively bypassed the ‘Leahy Law‘. The Leahy Law refers to two statutory provisions prohibiting the US Government from allocating funds aiding units of foreign security forces when there is credible evidence that the unit is perpetrating severe human rights violations.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) on 26th January 2024 determined that Israel must “take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian aid” within one month. However, Israel has continued to act in violation of the ICJ’s legally binding order, hindering the delivery of essential services and the importation and distribution of fuel and vital aid in Gaza. While Israel’s actions thus far do not constitute genocide or a breach of the Rome Statute according to the ICJ, the scale of suffering experienced by civilians in Gaza may have warranted a higher standard of due care by American legislators.

As the Senate has decided to not assess how American resources are used in Israel, it has failed to act in accordance with legislation, choosing to simply ignore it. This is an unprecedented derogation of these rules in favour of the Israeli government: these special arrangements are not currently in place for any other ally of the United States. 

Lack of Accountability

This recent tragic event involving Aaron Bushnell highlights the extreme discontent felt by many at the ongoing horrors, such as the recent attack on Rafah – the city that the Israeli Army claimed was a ‘safe zone’ for Palestinians. 1.4 million people now find themselves crammed into the city, lacking basic infrastructure and sleeping on the streets.

Meanwhile, the US Government’s refusal to re-evaluate its stance on the delivery of military aid to Israel exposes a grave lack of political awareness. Elected officials have ignored legislation that bars aid for countries guilty of human rights violations, as well as the feelings of a majority of US citizens. The lack of action from elected officials and the refusal to reassess military aid to Israel only deepens the sense of injustice and highlights the urgent need for accountability in US foreign policy decisions. Aaron Bushnell’s tragic protest serves as an unfortunate reminder of these facts.

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