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[casi] War crimes case planned against U.S

War crimes case planned against U.S
Washington says groups' bid proves ICC a political

Steven Edwards
National Post

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

UNITED NATIONS - A coalition of lawyers and human
rights groups yesterday unveiled a bid to use the UN's
new International Criminal Court as a tool to restrain
American military power.

In a move Washington said vindicated U.S. claims that
the court would be used for political purposes, the
rights activists are working to compile war crimes
cases against the United States and its chief ally in
Iraq, Britain.

"There is a way that the United States can be accused
... of aiding and abetting war crimes," said Michael
Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional

The U.S. last year renounced the ICC, predicting it
would become a political tool for opponents of U.S.
foreign policy to launch frivolous prosecutions
against U.S. military and diplomatic personnel.

"It appears they are trying to manufacture a case
against the United States," said a senior official
with the Bush administration. "So this clearly would
be an example of the type of politicization that we're
concerned with."

As a non-member, the United States would normally be
outside of ICC jurisdiction unless it was suspected of
crimes in a country that is an ICC member, which Iraq
is not.

But the fact that Britain is a member has given the
rights activists a springboard for a case that argues
U.S. air raids that killed civilians were war crimes.

"The U.S. used bombers that took off from England ...
and from Diego Garcia, also U.K. territory," said Mr.
Ratner, referring to a British Indian Ocean island

Britain, as an ICC member, could be prosecuted on a
much wider array of activities that resulted in
civilian deaths, the activists said.

Both U.S. and British officials have repeatedly said
their forces make maximum efforts to avoid civilian
casualties and never target civilians, which would
violate the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

Rights activists joining Mr. Ratner yesterday were
Phil Shiner of the British-based Public Interest
Lawyers, and Roger Norman of the Committee on Economic
and Social Rights.

They said five eminent international lawyers will
outline a case against the United States and Britain
next month for submission first to an international
"alternative" court called the Permanent Peoples'
Tribunal in Rome, then the prosecutor's office of the
ICC in The Hague.

People who had volunteered as Saddam's "human shields"
will be among those contributing testimony. "Any
evidence we can get hold of, we will present," Mr.
Shiner said. "The [ICC] prosecutor would have a duty
to investigate if there was credible evidence."

Mr. Shiner said the activists' case will probe the
coalition's use, or suspected use, of cluster bombs,
depleted uranium ammunition and fuel-air explosives.

These weapons are unauthorized, he claimed, because
they "can't distinguish between civilian or military"

A cluster bomb consists of a canister that breaks
apart to release a large number of small bombs.
Because it has no precision guidance, it can wander
off target if dropped from medium to high altitudes.
Some of the bomblets typically do not explode,
presenting a long-term threat to civilians.

While coalition forces say they do not use such bombs
in civilian areas, U.S. forces launched an
investigation into reports U.S. cluster bombs killed
at least 11 civilians in Hilla, a city 100 kilometres
south of Baghdad and the scene of heavy fighting.

Depleted uranium ammunition can pierce armour. But as
a by-product of uranium enrichment, depleted uranium
is mildly radioactive. It is also a heavy metal, and
therefore potentially poisonous. "We know it has been
used," Mr. Shiner said. However, he admitted the use
of fuel-air explosives, which create giant fire balls,
is not certain.

Mr. Shiner said the activists' case would also
question coalition "methods," citing strikes on
shopping markets and an attack that resulted in the
deaths of two journalists at the Palestine Hotel in
Baghdad. The United States and Britain have said at
least one market strike may have been caused by Iraqi
anti-aircraft fire. U.S. forces said U.S. troops were
returning fire from suspected Iraqi forces in the
Palestine Hotel.

The Bush administration official said: "This is a
baseless accusation and we'll treat it as such."

The ICC opened its doors for evidence collection on
July 1, 2002, and has jurisdiction over crimes
committed after that date. Canada is a strong
supporter of the court. Philippe Kirsch, a Canadian
international law specialist, is president of 18 ICC
judges, but a prosecutor has yet to be selected.

In 2000, the prosecutor for the UN's special war
crimes court for the former Yugoslavia threw out a bid
by activist groups to prosecute NATO for war crimes
over the 1999 bombing of Kosovo.

That experience provided lessons, however.

"We wouldn't be wasting our time if we didn't think
this was credible," Mr. Shiner said.

The rights activists also said yesterday the United
States should rethink its rejection last week of an ad
hoc UN court to deal with the past crimes of Saddam's
regime and any crimes by Iraqis against coalition
forces. The U.S.-proposed alternative was "victors'
justice," according to Mr. Ratner.

The United States is in the process of identifying
Iraqi jurists who can help create new Iraqi courts
that will try key members of Saddam's regime for past
crimes. Washington also reserves the right to try
Iraqis itself for war crimes committed during the
current conflict. Among those alleged crimes are
mistreatment of coalition prisoners and the deceptive
use of the white surrender flag.

Because Iraq is not a member of the ICC, Saddam
Hussein cannot be brought before it.

 Copyright  2003 National Post

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