War crimes on the Northern Plains: #NoDAPL
Police arrest an elder in ceremonial garb who was praying near Cannon Ball, N.D. | Unicorn Riot/Creative Commons

War crimes are being committed against Native Americans by the Morton County Sheriff’s department in North Dakota. President Obama must take action. I am receiving word that demonstrators are being hooded; there are reports of waterboarding; there are reports of young Native females arrested without cause and strip searched. These are human rights violations that are reminiscent of the atrocities committed by U.S. military forces in Iraq at Abu Ghraib prison in 2003.

Even as I write this column I am receiving information that the Standing Rock water protectors are under a vicious, brutal attack by county law enforcement. (Editors’ note: part of the encampment at Standing Rock was cleared by law enforcement Oct. 27, with over 140 people arrested.)

The water protectors are standing their ground in this face of this hideous, racist assault by these police.  This can only end in tragedy.

Where are Obama and Clinton?

Where is President Obama? A couple of days ago, the Chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Harold Frazier, met with Obama in Los Angeles on the pipeline issue. Obama made little response on the matter. For the President not to respond makes him morally complicit in any tragedy that takes place.  He is duty bound to take action when U.S. citizens are being subjected to war crimes on U.S. soil. Native Americans are American citizens, a fact he seems to have forgotten.

As for Hillary Clinton, she has been disgracefully mute on the pipeline issue.  Muteness should cost her heavily in the election. With no response whatsoever from her I can only assume that she is in favor of the pipeline. Therefore, I can only vote a third ticket and encourage others to do the same.  For those who are strong advocates of her candidacy they do a disservice to her and the peoples’ movement by not demanding that she take a position on this lie-threatening pipeline. Presently, as for myself, if she does not support Standing Rock I would not vote for her if my life depended on it.

Abuses by police

In the meantime, tensions are rapidly escalating in the conflict between state and local police and the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes in North Dakota, with war crimes being committed against the Native American protectors. I say war crimes as defined in US Army Field Manuals on intelligence collection (FM 2-22.3 Human Intelligence Collector Operations, September 2006) and counterinsurgency (FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency, December 2006). Both booklets proclaim that “no person in the custody or under the control of DOD, regardless of nationality or physical condition shall be subject to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment as defined in US jurisprudence.”

Specific practices held to be unlawful in the manuals include the following:

  1. Forcing the detainee to be naked, perform sexual acts or pose in a sexual manner
  2. Hooding, that is, placing hoods or sacks over the head of a detainee; using duct tape over the eyes;
  3. Applying beatings, electric shock, burns or other forms of physical pain;
  4. Using military attack dogs (pipeline security guards have already violated this prohibition)
  5. Inducing hypothermia or heat injury;
  6. Conducting mock executions;
  7. Depriving detainee of necessary food, water or medical care

In reference to hooding there is already the posting of a photo by the Morton County Sheriff’s Department of the hooding of a water protector arrested on Saturday, October 22, 2016. This is meant to inspire terror in those opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline. There are also reports of waterboarding by law enforcement, hideous practices of the fascistic, brown shirt mentality of North Dakota law. These hideous jackals are wild beasts turned loose on peaceful demonstrators- men, women, children, and the elderly.

The other acts of torture involve the strip searching of young Native females and holding them naked in jail cells overnight. Both of these represent violations of the above-cited manuals on torture.

There are reports that the police are constructing cages, resembling those in which dogs are held, to hold water protectors, because of a shortage of jail cells. This is an atrocity in the making that is escalating, and is reminiscent of the early history of the US when genocide was in full throttle against Native People.

The Sheriff of Morton County has begun to sound more and more like the law enforcement of the 1960’s South. In one of his latest statements, he blamed the opposition of the water protectors on “agitators.” Shades of the role of police in defending segregation and the Ku Klux Klan during the days of civil rights demonstrations in the South.

On the frontlines

In the meantime, the stage has been set for more confrontations between the protectors and the fascist police with the setting up of tipis in the very pathway of the pipeline. The police are continuing to target journalists and take their equipment and footage.

My latest call to the Sacred Stone Camp today brought this response: “We are headed to the frontline.” Subsequently, I heard the police attack had begun. The President cannot ignore the war crimes that are being committed against non-violent demonstrators.


Albert Bender
Albert Bender

Albert Bender is a Cherokee activist, historian, political columnist, and freelance reporter for Native and Non-Native publications. He is currently writing a legal treatise on Native American sovereignty and working on a book on the war crimes committed by the U.S. against the Maya people in the Guatemalan civil war He is a consulting attorney on Indigenous sovereignty, land restoration, and Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) issues and a former staff attorney with Legal Services of Eastern Oklahoma (LSEO) in Muskogee, Okla.