US Failed to Guard Evidence of Abuses Report
evidence of alleged human rights abuses that could be used in upcoming
trials of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his top aides
has apparently been lost or damaged due to U.S. neglect, says a
report released Thursday.
charges continue to fly that U.S.-led coalition forces failed to
secure stockpiles of arms and explosives after invading Iraq, weapons
now turned against them in the violence-ridden occupied nation,
U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) says Pentagon planners also
did not protect potential evidence of massive rights abuses.
a 41-page report, "Iraq: The State of the Evidence," the
group charged that the failure to secure the evidence, particularly
mass burial sites, has frustrated the efforts of families of thousands
of relatives who were "disappeared" during Hussein's rule
to recover records or remains.
what's at stake here, the extent of this negligence is alarming,"
said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of HRW's Middle East
and North Africa Division.
U.S. and Iraqi authorities were aware that these documents and remains
would be crucial to the prosecution of Saddam Hussein and other
former officials, but they did little to safeguard them," she
added in a statement.
report comes at a time of some uncertainty about the fate of the
Iraqi Special Tribunal (IST), the body created in December 2003
by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to take up
a range of crimes allegedly committed by the Iraqi ex-dictator,
including war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
IST's administrator, Salem Chalabi, was summarily fired by Iraq's
interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi earlier this summer, apparently
for political reasons. Allawi has called for expediting the planned
trials of Hussein, who was captured last December, and some two
dozen of his top aides.
a second blow to the IST, the United Nations last month refused
a request by Allawi and the administration of U.S. President George
W. Bush to assist the tribunal in its work.
world body declined because defendants who are convicted by the
IST could face the death penalty and because, in the view of UN
experts who have worked on war-crimes tribunals for Yugoslavia,
Rwanda, and Sierra Leone, its procedures do not meet minimum international
standards of justice.
tribunal's founding statute, for example, allows for defendants'
attorneys to be excluded from interrogations and even court appearances
and also permits the admission of testimony obtained under coercion.
HRW, as well as other independent human rights groups, have also
called the tribunal "fundamentally flawed."
Hussein and his henchmen ruled with exceptional brutality is widely
accepted, although many of his victims fell in wartime probably
about one million Iraqis and Iranians during the bloody war the
two Gulf powers waged between 1980 and 1988.
many as 100,000 more mostly Iraqi soldiers are believed
to have been killed during the 1991 Gulf War over Kuwait.
the former leader's killing of real or suspected dissidents, including
the murder of as many as 70,000 Kurds during the notorious Operation
Anfal during the Iraq-Iran war and another 30,000 to 60,000 Shi'ites
in the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War, are also notorious.
Hussein is believed to be responsible for the executions of as many
as 250,000 civilians since his Ba'ath Party took power in 1968.
documentary records of these abuses were left largely intact by
Iraqi officials as U.S. and coalition forces made their way to Baghdad
in March and April 2003. Since the invasion, more than 250 mass
graves that hold the remains of thousands of victims have been identified
throughout the country.
HRW noted that in the weeks and months that followed the invasion,
U.S. and coalition forces failed to prevent people from looting
thousands of documents or to keep relatives of "disappeared"
persons from digging up remains found in many of the grave sites.
once seized with the problem of disappearing evidence, the coalition
proved slow to secure the offices and deploy forensic experts to
the graves in order to excavate, exhume and classify the remains,
both to ensure that families could know the fate of their relatives
and that the evidence obtained could be used in a court of law.
situation has not much improved since Allawi's government took over
last June, adds the report, which called on him to set up a joint
Iraqi and international Commission for Missing Persons to establish
effective procedures for securing what documentary and forensic
extent of the negligence with which key documentary and forensic
evidence has been treated to date is surprising, given that the
U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi authorities alike knew that trials
of Hussein and key Ba'ath government officials would be important
landmarks in Iraq's political recovery, that successful trials require
solid evidence and that, as international experience has shown,
preserving trial-ready evidence is a difficult task," the report
it continued, "It is not too late to assume custody of millions
of additional pieces of evidence [that] may prove critical in the
proceedings of the upcoming trials."
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 Inter Press Service