To Secretary Rumsfeld (cont.)
. . . . . .
In another case, reported on December 3, 2003, U.S. troops of the 173rd Airborne Brigade partially destroyed the home of an elderly couple in the town of Hawija, west of Kirkuk, after explosives were found there. The troops reportedly parked a bulldozer in front of their home and threatened to demolish it unless the couple provided information. After the woman gave the soldiers information, they destroyed the front wall of the compound and took her into custody. “OK, I’m not gonna destroy the house,” Maj. Andrew Rohling, the unit commander, was reported saying. “Just the front, as a show of force.”
• • • • •
The U.S. should be
held accountable for actions
counter to international humanitarian law
A third incident occurred in Tikrit in mid-November 2003, when U.S. forces reportedly used tank and artillery fire to destroy homes belonging to families of Iraqis who allegedly mounted attacks against U.S. forces. A spokesman for the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division said the demolitions were intended to “send a message” to the insurgents and their supporters.
While U.S. troops are entitled to suppress armed attacks against them, civilian property may not be destroyed unless it is making an effective contribution to military action and its destruction offers a definite military advantage. In cases in which the targeted object is normally dedicated to a civilian purpose such as a house, the presumption under the law is that it is not a legitimate target. Destroying civilian property as a reprisal or deterrent amounts to collective punishment and is prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The fourth case involves the arrest by U.S. forces on November 25 of the wife and daughter of General Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, former vice-chair of Iraq’s Revolutionary Command Council and a top Saddam Hussein associate. A spokesman for the 4th Infantry Division was quoted then as saying, “They may be able to shed light on any situation that will improve our general position of finding al-Douri or anyone else.” As far as we are aware, they remain in U.S. custody. U.S. officials have provided no information as to the reason for taking these family members of a wanted person into custody. At the time they were detained U.S. forces also destroyed a house belonging to the family.
The Geneva Conventions permit occupying forces to question civilians. Occupying forces may detain persons who are engaged in hostilities, have otherwise committed unlawful acts, or "for imperative reasons of security." No person can be punished for an offense without individual responsibility or as a collective penalty. And it is forbidden to detain a person as a hostage.
These actions appear to be in violation of U.S. obligations under international humanitarian law. We call on you to take immediate and tangible steps to ensure that actions of U.S. forces in Iraq comply fully with the Geneva Conventions. In the case of persons detained solely on the basis of their familial relation to wanted persons, U.S. forces should release them without delay. The U.S. military command, moreover, should investigate these and other allegations of serious violations of the laws of war, and hold accountable anyone responsible for ordering, condoning, or carrying out such actions.
We look forward to your response.
Human Rights Watch
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