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WebMemo #260 on Iraq

April 17, 2003

Saddam Hussein's Violations of the Geneva Convention

By

As fighting in Iraq winds down and coalition forces stamp out the last remaining pockets of resistance, coalition forces and humanitarian agencies are only beginning to document the atrocities that occurred under this brutal regime. According to senior officials at the U.S. Department of State, "the Iraqi regime has not only acted contrary to international laws and treaties in fighting coalition forces, but has also ignored these laws regarding protection of Iraqi civilians."[1]

 

The laws on war have a long history. In 1907, the international community convened the first of a series of diplomatic conferences that endeavored to codify the "laws and customs of war." The first of these conferences was the 1907 Hague Convention on the Conduct of War. After World War II, the international community met again to expand these customary laws of war to meet with the changing times. The result was the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, which introduced the concept of individual criminal liability and "universal jurisdiction" to try individuals responsible for "grave breaches" of the Geneva Conventions.

 

Restoring law and order to Iraq and encouraging the growth of freedom requires that the members of Saddam Hussein's regime be brought to justice for their years of systematic brutality and oppression of the Iraqi people. However, this process will not be easy and will require extensive investigation and documentation.

 

The United States and coalition allies have agreed to work with the new Iraqi government to develop the legal framework to bring the members of Saddam Hussein's regime to justice. Coalition forces are working hard to document the war crimes committed by this brutal regime, some of which are listed below.

 

Iraq's Actions

 

  • On March 23, Iraqi soldiers and Fedayeen fighters killed 10 U.S. soldiers and injured 40 in an ambush after feigning surrender by waving a white flag and then opening fire on the U.S. soldiers preparing to accept their surrender.
  • Numerous reports have detailed how Iraqi soldiers have violated the "principles of distinction" by disguising themselves as Iraqi civilians and concealing their weapons and military status, attempting to draw U.S. soldiers into an ambush.
  • An embedded reporter traveling with Marines on the road to Nasiriya reported taking fire from Iraqi soldiers dressed as civilians on a bridge outside the city of Nasiriya. By disguising themselves as civilians, Iraqi soldiers blurred the distinction between soldier and civilian in an effort to limit the force of the American military response. As part of this effort, the Iraqi soldiers stockpiled weapons and other heavy military equipment in several houses and moved freely among the houses disguised as civilians.
  • Iraqi officials have sanctioned the use of terrorist tactics to kill coalition forces. In several instances, Iraqi soldiers have disguised themselves as Iraqi civilians and then detonated concealed explosives. In one case, a pregnant woman pretending to be in distress lured three American soldiers guarding a checkpoint to her, and then the driver of the vehicle detonated an explosive device killing all three soldiers, the pregnant woman, and the driver.
  • On April 3, a non-commissioned Iraqi Army officer posing as a taxi driver detonated an explosive device in his car at a checkpoint, seriously wounding four American soldiers.

Violations

 

If proven upon further investigation, these actions would violate:

 

  1. Article 37, paragraph 1, of the Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I)[2]

It is prohibited to kill, injure or capture an adversary and resort to perfidy. Acts inviting the confidence of an adversary to lead him to believe that he is entitled to, or is obliged to accord, protection under the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, with intent to betray that confidence, shall constitute perfidy. The following acts are examples of perfidy: (a) the feigning of an intent to negotiate under a flag of truce or of a surrender; (b) the feigning of an incapacitation by wounds or sickness; (c) the feigning of civilian, non-combatant status; and (d) the feigning of protected status by the use of signs, emblems or uniforms of the United Nations or of neutral or other States not parties to the conflict.

 

  1. Article 38, paragraph 1, of Protocol I

It is also prohibited to misuse deliberately in an armed conflict other internationally recognized protective emblems, signs or signals, including the flag of truce, and the protective emblem of cultural property.

 

  1. Article 44, paragraph 3, of Protocol I

In order to promote the protection of the civilian population from the effects of hostilities, combatants are obliged to distinguish themselves from the civilian population while they are engaged in an attack or in a military operation preparatory to an attack. Recognizing, however, that there are situations in armed conflicts where, owing to the nature of the hostilities an armed combatant cannot so distinguish himself, he shall retain his status as a combatant, provided that, in such situations, he carries his arms openly: (a) during each military engagement, and (b) during such time as he is visible to the adversary while he is engaged in a military deployment preceding the launching of an attack in which he is to participate.

 

  1. Article 51, paragraph 7, of Protocol I

The presence or movements of the civilian population or individual civilians shall not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations, in particular in attempts to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield, favour or impede military operations. The parties to the conflict shall not direct the movement of the civilian population or individual civilians in order to attempt to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield military operations.

 

Iraq's Actions

 

  • Numerous reports from the U.S. Army's Third Infantry Division and British Intelligence forces on the ground in Iraq indicate that Iraqi Republican Guards and Fedayeen Saddam paramilitary forces have attempted to use women and children as human shields.
  • The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards near Basra reported that, on March 30, Fedayeen fighters were seen dragging at least four to five children between five and eight years old across a road in the village of Kuj Al Mum to act as human shields while the Fedayeen took fire from U.S. artillery.
  • On March 31, Iraqi Republican Guards were seen using woman and children as human shields in the town of Hindiyah. An armored unit from the Third Infantry Division reported exchanging heavy fire with Iraqi troops. After several hours, the Iraqi troops re-emerged from abandoned Iraqi bunkers cloaked by women and children.

Violations

 

If proven upon further investigation, these actions would violate:

 

  1. Article 51, paragraphs 6 and 7, of Protocol I

Attacks against the civilian population or civilians by way of reprisals are prohibited….

 

  1. Article 3, paragraph 1, of the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War

Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, color, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria. To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons: (a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; (b) taking of hostages; (c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment; (d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

 

3.   Article 28 of the Fourth Geneva Convention

 

The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations.

 

  1. Article 58, subparagraphs (a), (b), and (c), of Protocol I

The parties to the conflict shall, to the maximum extent feasible: (a) without prejudice to Article 49 of the Fourth Convention, endeavor to remove the civilian population, individual civilians and civilian objects under their control from the vicinity of military objectives; (b) avoid locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas; (c) take the other necessary precautions to protect the civilian population, individual civilians and civilian objects under their control against the dangers resulting from military operations.

 

  1. Article 32 of the Fourth Geneva Convention

The High Contracting Parties specifically agree that each of them is prohibited from taking any measure of such a character as to cause the physical suffering or extermination of protected persons in their hands. This prohibition applies not only to murder, torture, corporal punishments, mutilation and medical or scientific experiments not necessitated by the medical treatment of a protected person, but also to any other measures of brutality whether applied by civilian or military agents.

 

Iraq's Actions

 

  • Reports indicate that Iraqi soldiers positioned themselves in civilian structures, such as hospitals and schools, using them as command posts and to conduct other military operations. In Nasiriyah, on March 25, U.S. troops discovered a hospital being used as a base for Fedayeen "death squads." Inside the hospital, they found a cache of weapons, a tank, and 3,000 chemical warfare suits with gas masks.
  • Additional reports indicate that ambulances and other medical convoys were used to deliver military orders and transport Fedayeen paramilitary fighters. On March 31, three U.S. soldiers were wounded after Iraqi Fedayeen fighters used a Red Crescent ambulance to attack them near Nasiriya, according to military reports.

Violations

 

If proven upon further investigation, these actions would violate:

 

  1. Article 58, subparagraphs (a), (b), and (c), of Protocol I
  2. Article 38, paragraph 1, of Protocol I

It is prohibited to make improper use of the distinctive emblem of the red cross, red crescent or red lion and sun or of other emblems, signs or signals provided for by the Conventions or by this Protocol.

 

  1. Article 12, paragraph 4, of Protocol I

Under no circumstances shall medical units be used in an attempt to shield military objectives from attack. Whenever possible, the Parties to the conflict shall ensure that medical units are so sited that attacks against military objectives do not imperil their safety.

 

  1. Article 48 of Protocol I

Basic Rule: In order to ensure respect for and protection of the civilian population and civilian objects, the Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives.

 

  1. Article 18 of the Fourth Geneva Convention

Civilian hospitals organized to give care to the wounded and sick, the infirm and maternity cases, may in no circumstances be the object of attack but shall at all times be respected and protected by the Parties to the conflict.

 

Iraq's Actions

 

  • In the port city of Umm Qasr, coalition forces discovered several classrooms in a school that were stocked with grenades, RPGs, and Iraqi military uniforms.

Violations

 

If proven upon further investigation, this action would violate:

 

  1. Article 58, subparagraphs (a), (b), and (c), of Protocol I

Iraq's Actions

  • Reports indicate that large caches of weapons and other heavy military equipment were stored or located near mosques and other historical and cultural landmarks.

Violations

 

If proven upon further investigation, these actions would violate:

 

  1. Article 58, subparagraphs (a), (b), and (c), of Protocol I
  2. Article 53 of Protocol I

Protection of cultural objects and of places of worship: Without prejudice to the provisions of the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict of 14 May 1954, and of other relevant international instruments, it is prohibited: (a) to commit any acts of hostility directed against the historic monuments, works of art or places of worship which constitute the cultural or spiritual heritage of peoples; (b) to use such objects in support of the military effort; (c) to make such objects the object of reprisals.

 

Iraq's Actions

 

  • On March 26, Fedayeen "death squads" were reported to have fired on a U.S. helicopter that was evacuating wounded Iraqi children.

Violations

 

If proven upon further investigation, this action would violate:

 

  1. Article 22 of the Fourth Geneva Convention

Aircraft exclusively employed for the removal of wounded and sick civilians, the infirm and maternity cases or for the transport of medical personnel and equipment, shall not be attacked, but shall be respected while flying at heights, times and on routes specifically agreed upon between all the parties to the conflict concerned.

 

  1. Article 35 of the First Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in the Armed Forces in the Field, August 12, 1949

Transports of wounded and sick or of medical equipment shall be respected and protected in the same way as mobile medical units.

 

Iraq's Actions

 

  • British forces encircling Basra detailed numerous acts of vengeance and the slaughter of innocent civilians fleeing Basra. According to their reports, Iraqi forces opened fire on thousands of civilians, raining bullets and mortar shells on non-combatants trying to escape the city.
  • Coalition forces reported seeing an Iraqi woman waving a white flag at coalition forces. She was found the next morning hanging from a light post on the street. According to U.S. defense officials, similar acts of revenge have been reported in Samawa, Nasiriyah, and Basra.

Violations

 

If proven upon further investigation, these actions would violate:

 

  1. Article 3, paragraph 1, of the Fourth Geneva Convention
  2. Article 41, paragraph 1, of Protocol I

Safeguard of an enemy hors de combat: A person who is recognized or who, in circumstances, should be recognized to be hors de combat shall not be made the object of attack.

 

  1. Article 51, paragraph 6, of Protocol I

Attacks against the civilian population or civilians by way of reprisals are prohibited.

 

Iraq's Actions

 

  • On March 28, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld reported that Iraqi officials had sent "execution squads" comprised of Special Republican Guard members or elite Fedayeen soldiers loyal to Saddam Hussein's regime into Iraqi cities to threaten Iraqi regular army soldiers that were unwilling to fight coalition troops. Numerous reports describe how "execution squads" forced members of the Iraqi army to fight at gunpoint, threatening to execute their families. Some reports detail brutal acts such as cutting out the tongues of soldiers accused of disloyalty and group beheadings.
  • In Basra, civilians who fled the city claim remnants of the ruling Baath party had rounded up all eligible males in the town and forced them to fight with the Iraqi 51st Division. If they refused, they were shot.
  • Coalition forces have discovered the bodies of several regular Iraqi army soldiers on the road to Baghdad. Witnesses have reported that the victims were found shot in the head in a manner being described as "execution style." They believe these soldiers were being coerced to fight coalition forces.

Violations

 

If proven upon further investigation, these actions would violate:

 

  1. Article 3, paragraph 1, of the Fourth Geneva Convention
  2. Article 75, paragraph 2, subparagraphs (a), (c), (d), and (e), of Protocol I

The following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever, whether committed by civilian or by military agents: (a) violence to the life, health, or physical or mental well-being of persons, in particular: (i) murder; (iii) corporal punishment; (c) the taking of hostages; (d) collective punishments; and (e) threats to commit any of the foregoing acts.

 

  1. Article 51, paragraph 6, of Protocol I

Attacks against the civilian population or civilians by way of reprisals are prohibited.

 

Iraq's Actions

 

  • On March 27, Brigadier General Vincent Brooks reported that Iraqi children were being taken from their homes and their families told that the males must fight for the regime or their children would be executed. Reports from embedded journalists in Nasiriya revealed that U.S. soldiers were forced to return fire on Iraqi youths to defend themselves against the children being forced to fire on U.S. soldiers.
  • Kurdistani Nuwe, the newspaper of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), reported on March 24 that 16 Kurdish youths were executed. Reports indicate that the youths had been arrested as a pre-emptive measure to thwart their involvement with coalition forces coming to liberate Iraq.

Violations

 

If proven upon further investigation, these actions would violate:

 

  1. Article 3, paragraph 1, of the Fourth Geneva Convention
  2. Article 77, paragraphs 1, 2, and 5, of Protocol I

1. Children shall be the object of special respect and shall be protected against any form of indecent assault. The parties to the conflict shall provide them with the care and aid they require, whether because of their age or for any reason. 2. The parties to the conflict shall take all feasible measures in order that children who have not attained the age of fifteen years do not take a direct part in hostilities and, in particular, they shall refrain from recruiting them into their armed forces. 5. The death penalty for an offence related to the armed conflict shall not be executed on persons who had not attained the age of eighteen years at the time the offence was committed.

 

Iraq's Actions

 

  • Defense officials have received accounts of Special Republican Guard troops and Fedayeen forces dressing in U.S. military uniforms, accepting the surrender of other Iraqi forces, and then executing those soldiers that surrendered.

Violation

 

If proven upon further investigation, these actions would violate:

 

  1. Article 39, paragraph 2, of Protocol I

It is prohibited to make use of the flags or military emblems, insignia or uniforms of adverse parties while engaging in attacks or in order to shield, favour, protect or impede military operations.

 

Iraq's Actions

 

  • On April 1, PFC Jessica Lynch, a member of the 507th maintenance company captured on March 23, was rescued from a hospital in the city of Nasiriyah. She was badly injured, suffering from two broken legs and severe back injuries. PFC Lynch was not allowed to eat for the nine days of her internment.

Violation

 

If proven upon further investigation, these actions would violate:

 

  1. Article 26 of the Third Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War

The basic daily food rations shall be sufficient in quantity, quality and variety to keep prisoners of war in good health and to prevent loss of weight or the development of nutritional deficiencies. Account shall also be taken of the habitual diet of the prisoners. Sufficient drinking water shall be supplied to prisoners of war.

 

Iraq's Actions

 

  • The International Committee of the Red Cross was blocked by Iraq from seeing American prisoners of war as required by the Geneva Conventions.

Violation

 

If proven upon further investigation, this action would violate:

 

  1. Article 126 of the Third Geneva Convention

Representatives or delegates of the Protecting Powers shall have permission to go to all places where prisoners of war may be, particularly to places of internment, imprisonment and labour, and shall have access to all premises occupied by prisoners of war; they shall also be allowed to go to the places of departure, passage and arrival of prisoners who are being transferred. They shall be able to interview the prisoners, and in particular the prisoners' representatives, without witnesses, either personally or through an interpreter. Representatives and delegates of the Protecting Powers shall have full liberty to select the places they wish to visit. The duration and frequency of these visits shall not be restricted. Visits may not be prohibited except for reasons of imperative military necessity, and then only as an exceptional and temporary measure. The delegates of the International Committee of the Red Cross shall enjoy the same prerogatives. The appointment of such delegates shall be submitted to the approval of the Power detaining the prisoners of war to be visited.

 

Iraq's Actions

 

  • On March 23, Iraqi officials released a lengthy videotape of deceased U.S. service members being put on display. The video footage shows an Iraqi man wearing surgical gloves pulling back a soldier's shirt to show his skin, and later smiling for the camera as he turned the head of one of the dead soldiers so the camera could come in for a close-up of the serviceman's bloodied face. Images of the dead coalition servicemen revealed that some of the soldiers appeared to have been shot in the head. The videotape was broadcast on both Iraqi state television and the Qatar-based satellite television station Al Jazeera. The bodies were later identified as members of the 507th maintenance company who were ambushed in Nasiriyah.
  • On March 26, Iraqi state television and Al Jazeera television showed video footage of what is believed to be two dead British soldiers. The two soldiers were shown lying on the ground several feet from their convoy in bloodstained uniforms. A crowd of armed civilians was shown celebrating around the bodies. The soldiers are believed to be two members of the 7th Armored Brigade, missing after a battle in Az Zubayr.

Violations

 

If proven upon further investigation, these actions would violate:

 

  1. Article 15 of the First Geneva Convention

At all times, and particularly after an engagement, Parties to the conflict shall, without delay, take all possible measures to search for and collect the wounded and sick, to protect them against pillage and ill-treatment, to ensure their adequate care, and to search for the dead and to prevent their being despoiled.

 

  1. Article 17 of the First Geneva Convention

…They shall further ensure that the dead are honorably interred….

 

Iraq's Actions

 

  • Videotape that aired on Iraqi state television and Al Jazeera on March 23 showing deceased U.S. soldiers also included footage of U.S. prisoners of war (POWs) being interrogated by Iraqi officials. Some of the captured soldiers appeared to be disoriented and badly injured in the video. One of the female POWs was shown lying on the ground with a bandaged ankle. The POWs were identified as members of the 507th maintenance company who were ambushed in Nasiriya after taking a wrong turn.
  • On April 13, U.S. marines recovered seven POWs on the road from Samara to Tikrit. Five of the POWs were members of the 507th maintenance company ambushed in Nasiriya. The other two were Army Apache helicopter pilots shot down on March 24. All of the soldiers were found in stable condition, with minor injuries. One POW suffered a bullet wound in her leg. The soldiers were found out of uniform wearing striped pajamas. Based on initial interviews, the soldiers said their captors interrogated them the day they were captured. Throughout their internment, they were denied showers and exercise. According to the rescued POWs, Iraqi Republican Guards stationed an artillery gun in the prison, making their location a legitimate military target.

Violations

 

If proven upon further investigation, these actions would violate:

 

  1. Article 13 of the Third Geneva Convention

Prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidations and against insults and public curiosity. Measures of reprisal against prisoners of war are prohibited.

 

  1. Article 14 of the Third Geneva Convention

Prisoners of war are entitled in all circumstances to respect for their persons and their honour. Prisoners of war shall retain the full civil capacity, which they enjoyed at the time of their capture. The Detaining Power may not restrict the exercise, either within or without its own territory, or the rights such capacity confers except in so far as the captivity requires.

 

  1. Article 17 of the Third Geneva Convention

Every prisoner of war, when questioned on the subject, is bound to give only his surname, first names, and rank, date of birth, and army, regimental, personal or serial number, or failing this, equivalent information. No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.

 

  1. Article 17 of the Third Geneva Convention

All effects and articles of personal use, except arms, horses, military equipment and military documents, shall remain in the possession of prisoners of war, likewise their metal helmets and gas masks and like articles issued for personal protection. Effects and articles used for their clothing or feeding shall likewise remain in their possession, even if such effects and articles belong to their regulation military equipment.

 

  1. Article 23 of the Third Geneva Convention

No prisoner of war may at any time be sent to, or detained in areas where he may be exposed to the fire of the combat zone, nor may his presence be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations.

 

  1. Article 29 of the Third Geneva Convention

The Detaining Power shall be bound to take all sanitary measures necessary to ensure the cleanliness and healthfulness of camps and to prevent epidemics. Prisoners of war shall have for their use, day and night, conveniences, which conform to the rules of hygiene and are maintained in a constant state of cleanliness. In any camps in which women prisoners of war are accommodated, separate conveniences shall be provided for them. Also, apart from the baths and showers with which the camps shall be furnished prisoners of war shall be provided with sufficient water and soap for their personal toilet and for washing their personal laundry; the necessary installations, facilities and time shall be granted them for that purpose.

 

 

This fact sheet prepared by Carrie Satterlee, Research Assistant at The Heritage Foundation

[1]Edmund F. Scherr, "U.S. Gathers Evidence of War Crimes by Iraqi Regime: Interview with Top Official on War Crimes Issues," Washington File, April 3, 2003, at usinfo.state.gov/regional/nea/iraq/text2003/0403warcrimes.htm.

[2]The United States and Iraq are both signatories of the four Geneva Conventions; however, neither the U.S. nor Iraq ratified the two additional protocols to the Geneva Conventions incorporated on June 8, 1977. Although the U.S. is not a signatory of the two protocols, the U.S. Department of the Army has codified nearly all the language of the two protocols in the U.S. Army Field Manual, The Law of Land Warfare.

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