Group Accuses U.S. of War Crimes in Iraq.
A top human rights group Tuesday accused the U.S. military of committing war crimes by demolishing homes of suspected insurgents and arresting the relatives of Iraqi fugitives.
The military denied the charges by Human Rights Watch, saying it only destroyed homes that were being used to store weapons or as fighting positions, adding that all Iraqis detained were suspected of taking part in attacks on coalition forces.
``Assertions that the coalition is intentionally attacking homes as a matter of collective punishment are false,'' said Col. William Darley, a military spokesman. ``People are not arrested because they are related to other suspects -- people are detained because they themselves are suspects.''
The New York-based human rights group said American soldiers demolished at least four Iraqi homes for no apparent military reason other than to punish the families of anti-U.S. guerrilla suspects.
``Troops are entitled to suppress armed attacks, but they can only destroy a civilian structure when it is being used in an attack,'' Kenneth Roth, the group's executive director, said in a statement. ``These demolitions did not meet the test of military necessity.''
The group also accused the U.S. military of kidnapping in two cases in which American soldiers arrested civilians who happened to be related to guerrilla suspects.
In one case, the Army detained the wife and daughter of Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a former top lieutenant of Saddam Hussein and now the most wanted man in Iraq. The two women remain in U.S. custody more than six weeks after they were arrested without charge.
Darley refused to discuss al-Douri's wife and daughter, saying there were ``special circumstances'' surrounding their case.
``Detaining persons for the purpose of compelling actions from the opposing side amounts to hostage-taking, which is a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions -- in other words, a war crime,'' Human Rights Watch said.
Demolishing homes and destroying civilian property as a reprisal or deterrent amounts to collective punishment, which is also prohibited by the Geneva Conventions.
``International law allows occupying forces to detain individuals who have attacked them or who pose security threats,'' Roth said. ``U.S. forces should immediately release anyone being held solely because they are related to a wanted person.''
In a letter to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the group called for a halt to such tactics and asked him to ensure U.S. forces abide by the 1949 Geneva Conventions, holding soldiers accountable for ordering, condoning or carrying out serious violations of the laws of war.
Human Rights Watch also condemned as war crimes bombings, assassinations and other attacks by Iraqi rebels that target civilians.
Military analysts have said many of the U.S. military counterinsurgency tactics resemble those used by Israeli troops on the Arab territories they occupy. Human Rights Watch and other groups have also accused Israel of war crimes.
Recent U.S. methods in Iraq increasingly mimic those Israel uses in the West Bank and Gaza -- house demolitions, setting up impromptu checkpoints, keeping militants on the defensive with frequent arrest raids and, in at least one case, encircling a village and distributing travel permits.
[Source: NY Times Online, NY, Us, 13Jan04]
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