Toronto Star, January 13, 2004
Rights group accuses U.S. of Iraq abuses
American military commits war crimes, organization charges
 

BAGHDAD (AP) - A top human rights group today accused the U.S.
military of committing war crimes by demolishing homes of suspected
insurgents and arresting the relatives of Iraqi fugitives.
The military denied the charges by Human Rights Watch, saying it only
destroyed homes that were being used to store weapons or as fighting
positions, adding that all Iraqis detained were suspected of taking
part in attacks on coalition forces.

"Assertions that the coalition is intentionally attacking homes as a
matter of collective punishment are false," said Col. William Darley,
a military spokesman. "People are not arrested because they are
related to other suspects - people are detained because they
themselves are suspects."

The New York-based human rights group said American soldiers
demolished at least four Iraqi homes for no apparent military reason
other than to punish the families of anti-U.S. guerrilla suspects.

"Troops are entitled to suppress armed attacks, but they can only
destroy a civilian structure when it is being used in an attack,"
Kenneth Roth, the group's executive director, said in a
statement. "These demolitions did not meet the test of military
necessity."

The group also accused the U.S. military of kidnapping in two cases
in which American soldiers arrested civilians who happened to be
related to guerrilla suspects.

In one case, the army detained the wife and daughter of Izzat Ibrahim
al-Douri, a former top lieutenant of Saddam Hussein and now the most
wanted man in Iraq. The two women remain in U.S. custody more than
six weeks after they were arrested without charge.

Darley refused to discuss al-Douri's wife and daughter, saying there
were "special circumstances" surrounding their case.

"Detaining persons for the purpose of compelling actions from the
opposing side amounts to hostage-taking, which is a grave breach of
the 1949 Geneva Conventions - in other words, a war crime," Human
Rights Watch said.

Demolishing homes and destroying civilian property as a reprisal or
deterrent amounts to collective punishment, which is also prohibited
by the Geneva Conventions.

"International law allows occupying forces to detain individuals who
have attacked them or who pose security threats," Roth said. "U.S.
forces should immediately release anyone being held solely because
they are related to a wanted person."

In a letter to Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the group called
for a halt to such tactics and asked him to ensure U.S. forces abide
by the Geneva Conventions, holding soldiers accountable for ordering,
condoning or carrying out serious violations of the laws of war.

Human Rights Watch also condemned as war crimes bombings,
assassinations and other attacks by Iraqi rebels that target
civilians.

Military analysts have said many of the U.S. military
counterinsurgency tactics resemble those used by Israeli troops on
the Arab territories they occupy. Human Rights Watch and other groups
have also accused Israel of war crimes.

Recent U.S. methods in Iraq increasingly mimic those Israel uses in
the West Bank and Gaza - house demolitions, setting up impromptu
checkpoints, keeping militants on the defensive with frequent arrest
raids and, in at least one case, encircling a village and
distributing travel permits.