Amnesty Calls for ‘Unequivocal Orders’ to Prevent
War Crimes in Iraq
the wake of the apparent extrajudicial execution by a U.S. soldier
of a wounded Iraqi prisoner in Fallujah, caught on videotape by
NBC, Amnesty International is calling on the U.S. authorities to
issue "unequivocal orders" for the proper treatment of
unarmed or wounded insurgents.
issued by Amnesty from its London headquarters Tuesday, followed
a statement issued Friday by the world's best-known human rights
organization, in which it said it was "deeply concerned that
the rules of war protecting civilians and combatants have been violated
in the current fighting between U.S. and Iraqi forces and insurgents"
in and around Fallujah
earlier statement blamed all sides for possible war crimes, noting
that 20 Iraqi medical staff and dozens of other citizens were killed
when a missile hit a clinic in Fallujah during the opening hours
of the U.S.-led assault on the city, which had been controlled by
insurgents since last April.
said the origin of the missile was unknown, but that all sides were
jeopardizing the lives of civilian noncombatants in the city. It
noted at the same time that U.S. military spokespersons had provided
estimates of the number of deaths among an estimated 2,000 insurgents
who were believed to have been holed up in Fallujah as the assault
began, but not of civilian casualties.
from the city, virtually all of which had been secured by U.S. and
Iraqi government forces by Tuesday, were divided as to whether the
estimated 1,0001,200 insurgents that U.S. commanders claimed
had been killed in the fighting included civilians and, if so, how
many. Some sources claimed that hundreds of noncombatants were included
in the death toll, despite the fact that as many as 250,000 of the
city's 300,000 inhabitants had fled Fallujah in advance.
forces suffered 37 dead in the week-long assault, as well as another
Gen. John Sattler, the commanding officer of the First Marine Expeditionary
Force, announced Tuesday that he had ordered a full investigation
into possible war crimes after one of his troops was filmed by an
"embedded" NBC camera crew Saturday shooting at close
range an apparently injured and unarmed insurgent who was being
held inside a mosque that had reportedly been the site of a fierce
firefight the day before.
scene, which has been broadcast here and around the world, depicted
Marines approaching several injured men who had apparently been
left there from the previous day.
the video, NBC correspondent Kevin Sites reported that one of the
Marines noticed that one of the injured was breathing. "He's
f****** faking he's dead," the Marine shouts, raising his rifle
and firing a single shot in the man's direction. At that point,
the video as broadcast on U.S. television goes black, but an unidentified
voice is heard saying, "He's dead now."
a report that accompanied the footage, Sites said, "The prisoner
did not appear to be armed or threatening in any way."
international law, military forces have an obligation to protect
and provide necessary medical attention to wounded insurgents who
are "hors de combat" or outside of combat
that is, those who no longer pose a threat.
deliberate shooting of unarmed and wounded fighters who pose no
immediate threat is a war crime under international law," said
Amnesty, who stressed that the U.S. authorities should immediately
investigate the case and hold perpetrators responsible.
the circumstances, the only defense would be that the Marine had
reason to believe that the insurgent was armed and posed a threat,
in which case the shooting would constitute an act of self-defense.
his part, Sattler insisted, "We follow the law of armed conflict
and hold ourselves to a high standard of accountability. The facts
of this case will be thoroughly pursued to make an informed decision
and to protect the rights of all persons involved."
military command also announced that the unnamed Marine who fired
the shot had been taken off the battlefield and could face a court
martial depending on the results of the investigation.
stressed that the investigation should be open and transparent and
that the findings should be made public.
noted that it had already called on the U.S. authorities to investigate
another Nov. 11 incident, reported on Britain's Channel Four News,
in which a U.S. soldier appeared to have fired one shot in the direction
of a wounded insurgent who was off-screen. The soldier then walked
away and said, "He's gone."
the Pentagon announced Tuesday that an Army lieutenant has been
charged with premeditated murder in a similar incident that occurred
in August in Baghdad's Sadr City. Two other soldiers had already
been charged with murder over the same incident.
orders for the proper treatment of unarmed and wounded insurgents
must be issued or reinforced to all U.S. and Iraqi military and
civilian personnel," Amnesty said.
analyst at Human Rights Watch (HRW) said his group was also concerned
about the incidents. "If there is a general sense that perhaps
these rules can be trampled, whether it is this case, whether at
Abu Ghraib [prison], or in a different context at Guantanamo, in
all of these places we see the rules being ignored," Steve
Crawshaw of HRW's London office told the Voice of America.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 One World