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Iraq: 'Systematic Disregard for the Law of War'

Iraqi Regime: 'Systematic Disregard for the Law of War'

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 7, 2003 – Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's regime is disobeying long-established rules for military conduct during wartime, senior DoD officials asserted here today.

"The Iraqi regime is not complying with the Geneva Conventions," noted W. Hays Parks, special assistant to the Judge Advocate General for the Army. Parks and Ambassador Pierre-Richard Prosper, U.S. ambassador for war crimes issues, are experts on the law of war and the Geneva Conventions. The two officials outlined Iraqi regime violations of the rules of warfare to Pentagon reporters.

Parks pointed out that Hussein's regime has mistreated U.S. and coalition prisoners of war captured during Operation Iraqi Freedom. And Iraqi fighters who dress as civilians and fake surrenders only to attack coalition troops, and who commit other illegal acts, he emphasized, have clearly violated the rules of warfare.

"I should note that in Operation Desert Storm in 1991 the Iraqis mistreated U.S. and coalition prisoners [of war] and forces in numerous respects," Parks pointed out. Those included physical abuse and torture, forced propaganda statements, food deprivation and denial of International Committee of the Red Cross access until the day of repatriation.

The Iraqis also mistreated Iranian POWs during the Iraqi- Iranian war from 1980 to 1988, Parks said.

Saddam's government, Parks asserted, "has thus displayed a pattern of systematic disregard for the law of war."

Based upon initial reports – including those in the media – coming from the current war in Iraq, "it appears Iraq has once again committed violations of the Geneva Conventions and related laws of war," Parks declared.

He used three examples of violations. In the first, Parks pointed out Iraqi television and Al-Jazeera airing of an Iraqi regime-produced videotape of deceased U.S. or coalition service members. The tape depicts fundamental violations of the Geneva Conventions, such as prohibitions on pillage and ill treatment of the dead, and the duty to respect the personal dignity of all captured combatants. The video also possibly shows violations of prohibitions against willful killing, torture, inhumane treatment or the willful causing of great suffering or serious injury to the body or health of prisoners of war.

The second example is the issue of Iraqi television and Al- Jazeera network airing a tape of U.S. soldiers answering questions in humiliating and insulting circumstances. This was designed, according to Parks, to make the soldiers objects of public curiosity in violation of the prisoner of war convention.

In the third example, he discussed reports that the Iraqi regime has sent forces carrying white flags as if to indicate intention to surrender. This practice repeated an illegal act used by the Iraqi military in the 1991 Gulf War. Parks also talked about reports of Iraqis forces dressed as liberated civilians in the current campaign to draw coalition forces into ambushes. He said these acts of perfidy, or treachery, are among the most fundamental violations of the law of war, endangering coalition forces and innocent Iraqi civilians.

And Parks thinks "there are likely to be additional violations."

The position of the U.S. government "is to do everything in its power to bring to justice anyone, who, by action or inaction, is responsible for violations of the law of war," Parks pointed out.

As was done in the 1991 Gulf War, Hays noted, steps are now being taken to commence an investigation and compilation of evidence of Iraqi regime complicity in war crimes.

Ultimate disposition of this investigation will depend on the evidence collected, identified violations and the individuals who come under U.S. control, Hays said.

In the current war "we have seen a systematic pattern of abuses committed by the Iraqi forces to the extent that we can call them 'textbook,'" Ambassador Prosper noted.

The Iraqi regime has not only repeatedly violated the laws of war," Prosper declared. "It has also demonstrated "a complete disregard for human life."

"By blurring the distinction between combatants and civilians," the ambassador continued, the Iraqi regime "has caused numerous civilian casualties and has put thousands … of Iraqi civilians in harm's way."

The Iraqi people have suffered greatly as a result of these abuses, Prosper pointed out. Iraqi regime forces, he added, have directed mortar- and machine-gun-fire upon civilians as they've tried to flee to coalition forces' control.

Prosper said there have been myriad reports of Iraqi regime use of human shields, where civilians have been involuntarily placed in harm's way and, at times, killed.

Regime forces fighting in civilian clothes also put innocent Iraqis at risk, Prosper declared.

Hussein's regime has also placed military weaponry in schools, hospitals, mosques and nearby historical landmarks, the ambassador stated. He added that reports from Iraq indicate regime ambulances have been used to transport "death squad" members and other irregular forces across battlefields.

Iraqi civilians "have been forced into combat at gunpoint," Prosper pointed out, "or also by threat of death to their family and [other] loved ones." There also are reports of summary executions of military deserters, he added.

As U.S. and coalition troops battle regime forces in Baghdad, "we must brace ourselves for additional abuses," Prosper noted.

Complicity in atrocities and war crimes isn't new for Saddam's followers, the ambassador observed, since "the regime has a long history for the past few decades of inflicting violence and death upon its civilian population."

While the primary mission of U.S. and coalition troops remains defeating Saddam's regime, the troops will also be securing and preserving evidence of war crimes and atrocities that they uncover, Prosper remarked.

"As President Bush has stated: 'War criminals will be prosecuted,'" Prosper emphasized. "The day of Iraq's liberation will also be a day of justice."

For any war crimes committed against U.S. personnel, Prosper noted, "we will investigate and we will prosecute. And, when feasible, this includes war crimes committed against U.S. troops during the Gulf War, he added.

For war crimes committed against the Iraqi people during the current conflict, Prosper said, "we'll explore the range of options available and work to ensure that justice is achieved for the Iraqi people."

There must be accountability for any atrocities or war crimes committed in Iraq, he reiterated, noting that U.S. and coalition officials "will work with the Iraqi people to create an Iraqi-led process that will bring justice for the years of abuses" under Hussein's regime.

"In short, it is in our view that we must reinstate the rule of law within Iraq," Prosper declared. "We must not tolerate the abuses of the Iraqi regime and deem them as 'business as usual.'"


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