U.S. Charged With War Crimes

The Evidence File


Protection and organization of Looting

1. The obligation to ensure public order and security

More damaging than the direct impact of the fighting was the looting and arson that erupted as soon as the U.S. and British troops had gained control over the cities. This is particularly alarming as the occupying powers have the responsibility to ensure public order and safety. Moreover, the Fourth Geneva Convention states that an occupying power has the duty "of ensuring and maintaining, with the cooperation of national and local authorities, the medical and hospital establishments and services, public health and hygiene in the occupied territories."
US and UK authorities were repeatedly warned before the conflict by Amnesty International and others that there was a grave risk of widespread disorder, humanitarian crisis and human rights abuses, including revenge attacks, once the Iraqi government's authority was removed. Now that US/UK forces are occupying substantial parts of Iraq, they must live up to their specific responsibilities under international human rights and humanitarian law to protect the rights of Iraqi people.
Referring to the scenes of looting, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan is reported to have said: "Obviously law and order must be a major concern…I think the (Security) Council has also reaffirmed that the Hague Regulation and the Geneva Conventions [on the duties of occupying powers] apply to this conflict and that the coalition has the responsibility for the welfare of the people in this area. And I am sure that will be respected". (AI Index: MDE14/085/2003 Amnesty International)

2. Freedom for the looters

As US and UK tanks have swept into the centre of major Iraqi cities in recent days, numerous observers on the ground have reported on the chaos and lawlessness that have filled the political vacuum created. Beginning in Basra on 7 April, followed by Baghdad on 9 April and Kirkuk the following day, crowds of desperate people have taken to the streets, looting, burning and destroying government offices and, more ominously, institutions vital to their future, including schools, universities and hospitals. In most cases, the occupying forces have stood by, apparently unwilling to take on policing functions.
As early as April 9 Veronique Taveau, spokeswoman for the United Nations Office of the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq (UNOHCI), criticized U.S.-led troops for turning a blind eye to the lawlessness, saying it was a breach of their obligations as an occupying force under international law to prevent chaos. (Suleiman al-Khalidi "Agencies: US-Led Troops Must Rein in Iraq Looters" Reuters, 10 April 2003) Still, the prevailing attitude of the American military and civilian authorities toward the widespread looting that broke out after their occupation of Iraq's major cities was as if they couldn't care less.

"It's untidy. Freedom's untidy. Stuff happens. Free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things," was U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's stupefying reaction. (Brian Whitaker "Free to do bad things" The Guardian, 12 April 2003) White House spokesperson Ari Fleisher even tried to refute any responsibility of the U.S. as occupying power flatly stating that "much of the humanitarian problems of Iraq existed because of Saddam Hussein's regime and the conditions he imposed on the Iraqi people before the first shot was fired in this war." (White House Daily Briefing, 11 April 2003)

On April 10, while several hospitals in Baghdad were being ravaged, U.S. Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal said: "Looting is a problem, but it is not a major threat. People are not being killed in looting. So that's something we have to do as we have the time and capability to do it." (Human Rights Watch "Coalition Forces Must Stop Iraqi Looting" 12 April 2003) One day later, on the occasion of his first visit to Baghdad, U.S. commander Tommy Franks explicitly ordered the U.S. troops explicitly not to use deadly force to prevent looting. (Ravi Nessman "Franks: U.S. stays until free gov't forms" Associated Press, 11 April 2003)
The reluctance of the occupying forces to prevent looting seems to be a case of willful neglect at best, yet there are also reports that U.S. troops actually encouraged Iraqis to go on a rampage.

3. Looting of hospitals

The occupying forces are also obliged to ensure the supply of food and medical supplies. (Amnesty International "An overview of Amnesty International's concerns and position on the conflict in Iraq" 17 April 2003) Therefore the protection and rehabilitation of the medical infrastructure should be one of their priorities.
On April 11 Islamonline reported that the Al-Kindi hospital in Baghdad had been looted the day before. Medicines and two ambulances were stolen and all staff had fled except for two doctors. U.S. troops called to assist replied that they had no orders to intervene. Several Iraqi citizens even accused the American forces of instigating the looting. The report quotes Meshal Shahi saying "They protect the oil Ministry building, the foreign ministry building, but I've seen them with my own eyes encouraging the looters." ("Sensing Foul Play, Iraqis Take Arms To Stop Looting" in Islamonline, 11 April, 2003 (

4. Looting of museums

Before the end of the war, The Sunday Herald reported: "US accused of plans to loot Iraqi antiques". The arts correspondent Liam McDougall writes: "FEARS that Iraq's heritage will face widespread looting at the end of the Gulf war have been heightened after a group of wealthy art dealers secured a high-level meeting with the US administration. It has emerged that a coalition of antiquities collectors and arts lawyers, calling itself the American Council for Cultural Policy (ACCP), met with US defence and state department officials prior to the start of military action to offer its assistance in preserving the country's invaluable archaeological collections. The group is known to consist of a number of influential dealers who favour a relaxation of Iraq's tight restrictions on the ownership and export of antiquities. Its treasurer, William Pearlstein, has described Iraq's laws as 'retentionist' and has said he would support a post-war government that would make it easier to have antiquities dispersed to the US.
Before the Gulf war, a main strand of the ACCP's campaigning has been to persuade its government to revise the Cultural Property Implementation Act in order to minimise efforts by foreign nations to block the import into the US of objects, particularly antiques. News of the group's meeting with the government has alarmed scientists and archaeologists who fear the ACCP is working to a hidden agenda that will see the US authorities ease restrictions on the movement of Iraqi artefacts after a coalition victory in Iraq.

Professor Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, leading Cambridge archaeologist and director of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, said: 'Iraqi antiquities legislation protects Iraq. The last thing one needs is some group of dealer-connected Americans interfering. Any change to those laws would be absolutely monstrous. '
A wave of protest has also come from the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), which says any weakening of Iraq's strict antiquities laws would be 'disastrous'. President Patty Gerstenblith said: 'The ACCP's agenda is to encourage the collecting of antiquities through weakening the laws of archaeologically-rich nations and eliminate national ownership of antiquities to allow for easier export. '
The ACCP has caused deep unease among archaeologists since its creation in 2001. Among its main members are collectors and lawyers with chequered histories in collecting valuable artefacts, including alleged exhibitions of Nazi loot."

5. The looting of the National Museum

The National Museum of Iraq recorded a history of civilizations that began to flourish in the fertile plains of Mesopotamia more than 7,000 years ago. But once American troops entered Baghdad in sufficient force to topple Saddam Hussein's government this week, it took only 48 hours for the museum to be destroyed, with at least 50,000 artifacts carried away by looters.
Officials with crumpled spirits fought back tears and anger at American troops, as they ran down an inventory of the most storied items that they said had been carried away by the thousands of looters who poured into the museum after daybreak on Thursday and remained until dusk on Friday, with only one intervention by American troops, lasting about half an hour, at lunchtime on Thursday.

Nothing remained, museum officials said, at least nothing of real value, from a museum that had been regarded by archaeologists and other specialists as perhaps the richest of all such institutions in the Middle East.
An Iraqi archaeologist who has participated in the excavation of some of the country's 10,000 sites, Raid Abdul Ridhar Muhammad, said he had gone into the street of the Karkh district, a short distance from the eastern bank of the Tigris, at about 1 p.m. on Thursday to find American troops to quell the looting. By that time, he and other museum officials said, the several acres of museum grounds were overrun by thousands of men, women and children, many of them armed with rifles, pistols, axes, knives and clubs, as well as pieces of metal torn from the suspensions of wrecked cars. The crowd was storming out of the complex carrying antiquities on hand carts, bicycles and in boxes. Looters stuffed their pockets with smaller items.

Mr. Muhammad said he found an American Abrams tank in Museum Square, about 300 yards away, and that five marines had followed him back into the museum and opened fire above the looters' heads. This drove several thousand of the marauders out of the museum complex in minutes, he said, but when the tank crewmen left about 30 minutes later, the looters returned.

"I asked them to bring their tank inside the museum grounds," he said. "But they refused and left. About half an hour later, the looters were back, and they threatened to kill me, or to tell the Americans that I am a spy for Saddam Hussein's intelligence, so that the Americans would kill me. So I was frightened, and I went home."

He spoke with deep bitterness against the Americans, as have many Iraqis who have watched looting that began with attacks on government agencies and the palaces and villas of Mr. Hussein, his family and his inner circle broaden into a tidal wave of looting that targeted just about every government institution, even ministries dealing with issues like higher education, trade and agriculture, and hospitals. (New York Times April 12)

6. Organising the looting

A foreign observer, Khaled Bayomi, testified that he saw American troops encourage looting an unspecified administrative building and the Department of Justice. Khaled Bayomi is PhD student at the University of Lund, Sweden, where he since ten years teaches and researches about conflicts in the Middle East.
Khaled Bayomi departed from Malmoe, Sweden to Baghdad, as a human shield, and arrived on the same day the fighting began. About this he can tell us plenty and for a long time, but the most interesting part of his story is his witness-account about the great surge of looting now taking place.

- I had visited a few friends that live in a worn-down area just beyond the Haifa Avenue, on the west bank of the Tigris River. It was April 8 and the fighting was so heavy I couldn't make it over to the other side of the river. On the afternoon it became perfectly quite, and four American tanks pulled up in position on the outskirts of the slum area. From these tanks we heard anxious calls in Arabic, which told the population to come closer.

- During the morning everybody that tried to cross the streets had been fired upon. But during this strange silence people eventually became curious. After three-quarters of an hour the first Baghdad citizens dared to come forward. At that moment the US solders shot two Sudanese guards, who were posted in front of a local administrative building, on the other side of the Haifa Avenue.

- I was just 300 meters away when the guards where murdered. Then they shot the building entrance to pieces, and their Arabic translators in the tanks told people to run for grabs inside the building. Rumours spread rapidly and the house was cleaned out. Moments later tanks broke down the doors to the Justice Department, residing in the neighbouring building, and looting was carried on to there.

- I was standing in a big crowd of civilians that saw all this together with me. They did not take any part in the looting, but were to afraid to take any action against it. Many of them had tears of shame in their eyes. The next morning looting spread to the Museum of Modern Art, which lies another 500 meters to the north. There was also two crowds in place, one that was looting and another one that disgracefully saw it happen.
( Article in Swedish published in Dagens Nyheter, 11 April 2003. by Ole Rothenborg Translated from the Swedish by Kenneth Rasmusson, Copyright Dagens Nyheter 2003. For fair use only/ pour usage équitable seulement).


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