Rights Lawyers See Possibility of a War Crime
By MICHAEL JANOFSKY
Published: November 13, 2004
WASHINGTON, Nov. 12 - Human rights experts said Friday that American soldiers might have committed a war crime on Thursday when they sent fleeing Iraqi civilians back into Falluja.
Citing several articles of the Geneva Conventions, the experts said recognized laws of war require military forces to protect civilians as refugees and forbid returning them to a combat zone. "This is highly problematical conduct in terms of exposing people to grave danger by returning them to an area where fighting is going on," said Jordan Paust, a law professor at the University of Houston and a former Army prosecutor.
James Ross, senior legal adviser to Human Rights Watch, said, "If that's what happened, it would be a war crime."
A stream of refugees, about 300 men, women and children, were detained by American soldiers as they left southern Falluja by car and on foot. The women and children were allowed to proceed. The men were tested for any residues left by the handling of explosives. All tested negative, but they were sent back.
A Defense Department spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Joe Carpenter, defended the actions of American troops in Iraq, saying: "Our forces over there are not haphazardly operating indiscriminately, targeting individuals or civilians. The rules of engagement are researched and vetted, and our forces closely follow them."
Because the United States has refused to take part in the International Criminal Court, it is unclear whether American troops could be held accountable.