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Saturday, April 5

Iraqi war crimes won't go unnoticed

By Derrick DePledge | GNS

WASHINGTON - President Bush on Saturday accused Iraqi soldiers of war crimes in what he described as ``acts of cowardice and murder.''

In his weekly radio address to the nation, the president said soldiers loyal to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had shielded themselves with women and children and terrorized Iraqi citizens.

``They have killed Iraqi citizens who welcome coalition troops, and they have forced other Iraqis into battle by threatening to torture or kill their families,'' Bush said. ``They have executed prisoners of war; waged attacks under the white flag of truce; and concealed combat forces in civilian neighborhoods, schools, hospitals and mosques.''

The United States is carefully documenting reports of possible war crimes in Iraq and building a separate catalogue of previous war crimes by Saddam's government for potential prosecution on two fronts after the war ends.

A provisional Iraqi government, with support from the United States and other allies, likely would deal with allegations against Saddam from before the war, such as the use of chemical weapons on the Kurds, according to a senior U.S. diplomat involved in investigating war crimes.

The United States, either through military tribunals or other courts, likely would prosecute any war crimes that Iraqi soldiers commit against U.S. forces during the war. Great Britain may be involved in the legal proceedings or could adopt its own method to handle war crimes against British forces.

U.S. forces in Iraq and officials at the Pentagon and the State Department are gathering evidence and flagging individual battlefield reports for investigation after the war.

``It's systematic and continuous behavior across the country,'' the senior diplomat said of the Iraqis.

Army Maj. Ted Wadsworth, a Pentagon spokesman, said U.S. soldiers have been trained in the laws of war and are expected to report any abuses up the chain of command.

``Every soldier is ultimately an intelligence officer,'' he said.

Like the war itself, the United States likely will conduct any war crimes prosecutions largely on its terms. In the past, the United States has worked with its allies and the United Nations on war crimes cases. And certain developments in Iraq, such as Iraq's potential use of chemical or biological weapons, could prompt a more international response after the war.

The United States, Britain, France and the Soviet Union formed the Nuremberg tribunal to prosecute Nazis after World War II. More recently, the United States was a leader of the NATO military force in Kosovo, but a U.N. tribunal is prosecuting former Yugoslavia President Slobodan Milosevic for alleged war crimes.

The new International Criminal Court in the Hague, which was created to settle war crimes allegations, will have no role in Iraq because the United States and Iraq are not among the 89 nations - including Britain - that belong to the court.

The Clinton administration had supported the independent court, but President Bush withdrew the United States from participating out of concern that other countries might challenge the United States for using military force, like in Iraq, to protect its interests.

``It could be exposed to politics, or it could be exploited,'' the senior diplomat said.

Some human-rights groups and political and military analysts question whether the United States has lost some of its moral authority by withdrawing from the court and waging war with Iraq without the unanimous endorsement of the U.N. Security Council.

``I think we come in for a lot of international criticism because this war was seen as illegal in the first place,'' said John Quigley, a professor of international law at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others also have criticized Bush for not designating several hundred foreign nationals being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in a terrorism investigation as prisoners of war. The Bush administration, which has said the prisoners are being treated humanely, maintains that terrorism suspects from the war in Afghanistan and elsewhere are ``enemy combatants'' who were not fighting on behalf of a specific country.

The Geneva Conventions are intended as international standards to govern conduct on the battlefield and to protect the sick and wounded, prisoners of war and civilians during military conflicts. Iraq has said it would follow the conventions in the treatment of prisoners of war but also has urged its citizens to resist the U.S. and British invasion and has sanctioned civilians' suicide attacks.

Richard Gabriel, a former Army major and a military historian at Daniel Webster College in Manchester, N.H., said U.S. allegations of Iraqi war crimes may be an attempt to further justify the war in the international community as much as establishing a legal case for prosecution.

Saddam, and other Iraqis the U.S. believes are responsible for atrocities, may not survive to face a war crimes tribunal.

``The argument being made is a moral one,'' Gabriel said. ``We're out here by ourselves.''