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International Attorneys Announce Plans to Investigate War Crimes in Iraq: Alleged Crimes by Both U.S. and Iraq Would Be Examined

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A multinational coalition of attorney and legal groups has announced plans to investigate alleged war crimes in Iraq for potential prosecution by the young International Criminal Court or other legal bodies, according to an article from the Inter Press Service. The move is motivated in part by Washington’s recent declaration that it plans to set up its own tribunal to try alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in the nation that it invaded last month, despite widespread calls for an international body that would also examine U.S. conduct in Iraq.

The U.S. military has been condemned for using weapons such as cluster bombs and depleted uranium in its invasion that have a devastating impact on civilians. It is also accused by human rights groups of targeting known civilian sites and journalists’ offices.

The first phase of the coalition’s initiative will take place May 24-25, when five international law experts meet in London to establish the criteria for determining what constitutes “war crimes, crimes against humanity and aggression.” Three months later, the tribunal will sit again in Rome to decide if significant evidence exists that war crimes were committed in Iraq.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: A multinational coalition of jurists and civil society groups says it’s launching an initiative to investigate alleged war crimes in Iraq for potential prosecution by the young International Criminal Court or other legal bodies. The move is motivated in part by Washington’s recent declaration that it plans to set up its own tribunal to try alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in the nation that it invaded last month, Iraq, despite widespread calls for an international body that would also examine U.S. conduct in Iraq.

We’re joined right now by Phil Shiner. He’s just flown in from Britain. He’s with Public Interest Lawyers U.K.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

PHIL SHINER: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about your effort?

PHIL SHINER: Yes. The starting point is that all parties to this conflict are bound by international humanitarian law, and specially Geneva Convention provisions, which outlaw — absolutely prohibit — indiscriminate attacks on civilians or methods of attack or weapon systems that can’t distinguish between a military objective and the surrounding civilian population. And the concern that we have — and by “we,” I mean this international coalition of lawyers in the U.S. and Canada, U.K., Italy, Australia — the concern we have is that we are seeing clear evidence of weapons being used and methods of attack that seem to breach those absolute prohibitions. So, we would be pointing the finger of suspicion at cluster bombs, depleted uranium, fuel air explosives, the attack on the Palestine Hotel with the journalists, the apparent disconnection of electricity supplies, which has had a massive impact on the quality of water. So, all of these and other things, we are concerned about.

And we want to ensure there’s no such concept here of victors’ justice, that it isn’t just Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi leaders who we expect to prosecute, that both sides, as I say, are bound by those provisions, and specifically for the U.K. The U.K. government has ratified the Rome Statute, unlike the U.S. And it could well find itself being investigated and prosecuted.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean when you say ratified its own statute?

PHIL SHINER: The Rome Statute establishes the International Criminal Court, which came into effect on the 2nd of July, 2002. The U.S. have not done that.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what would it mean right now? Well, two things. What would it mean if you wanted to bring U.S. officials or the U.S. government to be tried, if they haven’t ratified the court? And, two, what does it mean if the U.S. says they want to try alleged war criminals in Iraq? Will they be using the International Criminal Court, if they haven’t ratified it?

PHIL SHINER: The problem we have, in terms of making the U.S. accountable to the International Criminal Court, as I say, they’ve not ratified the statute. So, it’s an easy matter to make the U.K. leaders, of the government and of the armed forces, accountable to The Hague.

But as far as the U.S. are concerned, there is a way in which they could be accountable. For example, some of these attacks have been launched from RAF Fairford in the U.K. or Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. And so, the concept of universal jurisdiction and the fact that those attacks have been launched from countries that have ratified the statute means that, in principle, the U.S., too, could be accountable.

As for the U.S.'s plans to try war criminal on the Iraqi side subject to their own military law, we are very concerned about that. We think that we have an International Criminal Court, and that is the procedure to be used here. That's the procedure we intend to use. There would be some very highly suspect legal principles, I think, if the U.S. were to go it alone and do what they’ve been doing in Guantánomo Bay, which is basically to ignore Geneva Convention provisions and to ignore international law, which, unfortunately, is what we’ve seen throughout this conflict, as far as the U.S. are concerned. They’re clearly saying, “We do not care what the international community is saying. We do not care what international law says. We don’t care what the United Nations says. We will do what we want, when we want. We will act unilaterally. We will wage preemptive war on our own terms, with or without the U.K. or any other members of that coalition.” That’s a very, very worrying development.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what specifically, Phil Shiner, are you proposing to do?

PHIL SHINER: What we’re intending to do is we’re going to hold an independent and objective inquiry of our own. And in the first stage, which comes up in London on May the 24th, 25th, we’re going to establish as a matter of principle whether certain weapon systems and methods of attack that have been used in this war are or are not war crimes. So, taking the example of cluster bombs, there are various different types. We need to know in what circumstances a cluster bomb could possibly distinguish between the military objective and the surrounding population. Or is it not possible at all? Same with the rendering useless of electricity supplies. Has it happened? Was it absolutely necessary, according to that military principle of necessity? If not, was it a war crime. So we intend to establish those principles.

And then, later on, in Rome, we’re going to hold the second part of this tribunal, whereby we’ve established the framework of the legal principles, and we will then collect together all the evidence that we can. We have our own website. We’re monitoring the situation very closely through —

AMY GOODMAN: What is the website?

PHIL SHINER: So, we are monitoring major NGOs, like Greenpeace, Human Rights Watch, their monitoring. We will prevent that evidence then to a tribunal of lawyers and others, and they will be asked to adjudicate upon and report to the prosecutors in the International Criminal Court.

AMY GOODMAN: What if the U.S. government says they are creating a situation to prevent a greater crime from taking place, Saddam Hussein imposing the control he did on his country, and the possibility that he would use chemical and biological weapons, though these have not been found?

PHIL SHINER: Well, what you’re talking about there is the doctrine of proportionality. If there was a perceived threat of weapons of mass destruction, then the attacks should be carefully targeted and focused to deal with that threat and only that threat. I don’t think that’s what we’ve seen. And I think it’s very interesting that despite the hysteria about weapons of mass destruction, there appears to be no evidence whatsoever that Iraq had anything left. It seems that UNSCOM, and then later UNMOVIC, did a very good job.

AMY GOODMAN: That he tortured people.


AMY GOODMAN: That he tortured people.

PHIL SHINER: Well, that’s an international human rights issue. And the torturing of people doesn’t justify an invasion to bring about a regime change. If there had been a U.N. Security Council authorization, if the U.S. and the U.K. had got that, which obviously they were never going to get, so would say that this is an aggressive war, it was a crime against peace — but if they had gotten authorization, the terms of the authorization would have dealt with the specific threat that the Security Council wanted to deal with.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Phil Shiner, I want to thank you very much for being with us, of Public Interest Lawyers U.K. The website, again, — the email address that people can get more information. Thanks for being with us.

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