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[casi] Reuters: "U.S. lawyers warn Bush, Rumsfeld, on war crimes"

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24 Jan 2003 20:48
U.S. lawyers warn Bush, Rumsfeld, on war crimes


By Grant McCool

NEW YORK, Jan 24 (Reuters) - A group of U.S. law professors opposed to a possible war on Iraq 
warned U.S. President George W. Bush on Friday that he and senior government officials could be 
prosecuted for war crimes if military tactics violated international humanitarian law.

"Our primary concern ... is the large number of civilian casualties that may result should U.S. and 
coalition forces fail to comply with international humanitarian law in using force against Iraq," 
the group, led by the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, said in a letter to Bush and 
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The group cited the particular need for U.S. and coalition forces to abide by humanitarian law 
requiring warring parties to distinguish between military and civilian areas, use only the level of 
force that is militarily necessary and to use weaponry that is proportionate to what is being 

The letter, which had more than 100 signatories, said the rules had been broken in other recent 

It said air strikes on populated cities, carpet bombing and the use of fuel-air explosives were 
examples of inappropriate military action taken during the 1991 Gulf War, the 1999 Kosovo campaign 
and the 2001 Afghan conflict that led to civilian casualties and might be used again in Iraq.

The letter to Bush and Rumsfeld coincided with similar notes sent this week to British Prime 
Minister Tony Blair and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien by lawyers in those countries.

Ironically, Bush on Wednesday advised Iraqi officers and soldiers to disobey any orders to use 
weapons of mass destruction in the event of a conflict. "If you choose to do so, when Iraq is 
liberated, you will be treated, tried and persecuted as a war criminal," he said.

On Sunday, Rumsfeld said he would favor granting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and senior Iraqi 
leaders immunity from possible war crimes prosecution if it would clear the way for their exile and 
avoid a war.


Government officials in Britain and Canada could theoretically be investigated by the new 
International Criminal Court in The Hague if it was determined that international laws had been 
broken in war. The United States has refused to cooperate with the court and has withdrawn its 
signature from the treaty establishing it.

The letter to Blair, dated Jan. 22, from Public Interest Lawyers said that if Britain's actions in 
Iraq were deemed possible war crimes, "we, and others, will take steps to ensure that you, and 
other leaders of the U.K. government are held accountable."

The Canadian group, Lawyers Against the War, said in its letter dated Jan. 20, that it was putting 
Chretien's government on notice that without explicit U.N. Security Council approval for a war on 
Iraq, "we will pursue all responsible government officials on charges of murder and crimes against 
humanity in both the Canadian and the international criminal courts."

One of the leading signatories to the letter to Bush said although Washington was not a party to 
the ICC, U.S. officials could still be prosecuted under the Geneva Convention.

"War crimes under that convention can be prosecuted wherever the perpetrators are found," said 
Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

He said the situation could be likened to the attempt by a Spanish magistrate to prosecute former 
Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1996 for human rights violations during his rule. 

Jacob Park
Center for Economic and Social Rights
Emergency Campaign on Iraq
<> <> /iraq
tel: 718.237.9145
fax: 718.237-9147 <>

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