Trevor Royle / Scotland Sunday Herald – 2004-12-29 00:20:19
(November 20, 2004) — Crime came to the city of Fallujah last week and it was committed under the unforgiving gaze of a television camera, giving it international prominence. When a tense and battle-weary US Marine lifted his assault rifle and fired at a wounded Iraqi, killing him instantly during mopping up operations, he was not only doing a bad thing, he was breaking the law as it is applied to the business of warfare.
The US has not signed up to the International Criminal Court, precisely because it wants to protect its troops from prosecution in peace enforcement operations, but the assault on Fallujah was part of a series of military operations in an internal war and should therefore be subject to the 1949 Geneva Conventions. Under their terms, wounded or incapacitated combatants must be treated humanely and protected from the summary justice of the casual head-shot. The conventions are quite clear on this point. Murder of stricken opponents is not allowed: it is a war crime.
The case is being investigated and no doubt the marine will be punished, but his action symbolises the hopeless muddle that the post-conflict operations in Iraq have become. It also brings into sharper focus the problems facing the coalition forces on the ground.
What kind of war are they fighting and what are its rules? Having been outed on the lack of weapons of mass destruction President George W Bush hides behind the fig-leaf of the interventionist war: it was right to mount a pre-emptive strike against a greater threat, in this case Saddam Hussein.
Prime Minister Tony Blair has fallen in line with the policy and sees no reason to change his mind. The intervention in Iraq might be unpopular, the UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, has called it “illegal”, but both leaders say that it is a just conflict.
If It Is a ‘War,’ Why Does US Ignore Geneva Conventions?
However, if US and British soldiers are engaged in a war – Blair claims that it is now in its second phase – then rules must apply. So far, the US has shown little inclination to pay heed to the Geneva Conventions, witness the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib and the impending appointment of Albert Gonzales as attorney-general. This is the lawyer who advised the Bush administration that the Geneva Conventions were irrelevant because the war against terrorism “renders quaint some of its provisions”.
Small wonder that US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld nodded in agreement because it gave his soldiers carte blanche to act as they saw fit and not as they should. But even if international law has been abandoned, the murder of Iraqis cannot be condoned.
Throughout last week’s fighting in Fallujah, US commanders insisted that it was a joint operation with the Iraqis and that it was being undertaken at the request of Iyad Allawi’s interim government.
US Troops Committing War Crimes Should Be Tried by Iraqi Courts
If that is the case, then the US forces were acting in support of the civil authorities and, by right, should be subject to its laws. Any soldier breaking that code would be handed over to the Iraqi police for criminal investigation.
Of course, that will not happen. Allawi owes his authority to the US and will not rock the boat over one of 1200 Iraqi insurgents killed in Fallujah.
There is an election to be held in January and, in his increasingly Panglossian view of life, that cancels all debts in the bloody pacification of the cities in the Sunni Triangle. Once the troublemakers (or freedom fighters) have been neutralised and the opposition has been crushed, democracy and prosperity will return and everyone will live happily ever after. Forget for a moment that the killing of Iraqis only breeds undying enmity and the thirst for revenge.
Meanwhile, apologists for the gun- toting marine argue that he made the right call because, only the previous day, his unit had lost a man to a booby-trapped corpse.
Faced by the possibility that the Iraqi was playing possum with a hidden gun, the marine decided to be judge, jury and executioner. He could also call on some powerful legal and political support – as a representative of the nation which has embraced the theory of pre-emptive strikes, he was simply acting on the self-same impulse.
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