Attorney General Merrick Garland just crossed a bridge that had never been crossed.
On Wednesday, the Department of Justice and Garland announced that four Russian soldiers would be charged with war crimes against Americans abroad.
This is an activation of a 1996 federal law that is unprecedented.
This statute is cited as the "War Crimes Act of 1996," and it was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in August 1996.
This has never been used before Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the charges this week.
The legislation allows war crimes to be charged against individuals who have committed a "grave breach" of the Geneva Conventions, including "willful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health."
This law covers both victims and perpetrators who are members of the U.S. Armed Forces or United States nationals.
There is no doubt that Russia has committed war crimes against Ukraine during this war, but the charges announced by Garland were for acts taken against Americans living in Ukraine.
Garland addressed the nation on Wednesday to announce the charges, in part, stating:
"That is why the Justice Department has filed the first-ever charges under the U.S. war crimes statute against four Russia-affiliated military personnel for heinous crimes against an American citizen. Congress passed the U.S. war crimes statute nearly 30 years ago to give us jurisdiction to prosecute war crimes committed against American citizens abroad.
"In an indictment returned yesterday in the Eastern District of Virginia, we have charged four Russia-affiliated military personnel with war crimes against an American citizen living in Ukraine. The charges include conspiracy to commit war crimes, including war crimes outlawed by the international community after World War II — unlawful confinement, torture, and inhuman treatment."
While not identifying the victim, Garland went on to describe what happened, stating:
"During his 10 days detained by Russia-affiliated forces, the victim in this case was tortured, threatened with sexual assault and execution, forced to perform manual labor, and beaten in the head, chest, and stomach with the soldiers' feet, their fists, and their guns. Again and again, he believed he was going to die.
"These charges against four Russia-affiliated military personnel are the Justice Department's first criminal charges under the U.S. war crimes statute. They are also an important step toward accountability for the Russian regime's illegal war in Ukraine. Our work is far from done."
The charged individuals have been identified as commanding officers Suren Seiranovich Mkrtchyan and Dmitry Budnik, along with two subordinates.
This may be one of the few times this administration will have people on both sides of the aisle completely supporting an action.
It is not often that Biden stands up to foreign governments, but slapping four Russian troops with war crimes is a big and bold move.
Having said that, unless Garland can take these individuals into custody and prosecute them, the charges are useless and nothing more than a PR stunt.
Garland has called this an "important step toward accountability for the Russian regime's illegal war in Ukraine," but I would say justice for that victim would be a far more important step.
If President Zelensky wants to start earning some of that aid that he is getting, task him with tracking these soldiers down, taking them into custody, and turning them over to the United States for prosecution of these crimes.