U.S. Charged With War Crimes

The Evidence File


Civilian casualties

1. International humanitarian law

International Humanitarian Law, particularly the Law of Geneva consisting of the four 1949 Geneva Conventions and the two 1977 Additional Protocols, obliges the belligerents to make a distinction between persons taking part in the hostilities and the civilian population. The latter should be spared as much as possible. Therefore, indiscriminate attacks and use of indiscriminate weapons are prohibited. International humanitarian law is a body of rules and principles that seek to mitigate the effects of war. It prohibits attacks which do not attempt to distinguish between military targets and civilians or civilian objects (indiscriminate attacks). It also prohibits attacks which, although aimed at a legitimate military target, have a disproportionate impact on civilians or
civilian objects.

According to the Statute of the International Criminal Court, "war crimes" include:
- Intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such or against
individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities;
- Intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects or widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated.

There are numerous eyewitness accounts of U.S. and British attacks on civilians. The cases mentioned here constitute by no means a comprehensive list of all the civilian casualties reported. They only want to draw the attention to some incidents that demand further investigation as, in the words of Amnesty International, U.S. and British forces "may have breached international humanitarian law." (Beth Osborne Daponte, M. A. "A Case Study in Estimating Casualties from War and Its Aftermath: The 1991 Persian Gulf War" 1993)

2. General estimations

Before the start of the war, researchers estimated that the total possible deaths on all sides during the conflict and the following three months could range from 48,000 to over 260,000. Additional deaths from post war adverse health effects could reach 200,000. The majority of casualties would be civilians, almost exclusively Iraqis. (MEDACT and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) "Collateral Damage: The health and environmental costs of war on Iraq" November 2002)
A leaked United Nations (U.N.) document, "Likely Humanitarian Scenarios," estimated that 500.000 people would be left injured or sick and observed that the population of Iraq is exceptionally vulnerable because more than 12 years of sanctions caused 60 percent of Iraq's 23 million people to be impoverished and dependent on state rationing. (Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq "Confidential UN Document Predicts Humanitarian Emergency in Event of War on Iraq" Press Release, 7 January 2003)

A recent pre-war fact-finding mission to Iraq confirmed these findings and compared the living conditions of the country's population to those of people living in a giant refugee camp. ("The human costs of war in Iraq" Center for Economic and Social Rights, 2003)
As of May 6, "" estimated that between 2.233 and 2.706 civilians have died in the war on Iraq based on published reports (See end) However, the accuracy of the estimates is limited as they are mainly based on reports in the Western media. There is reason to believe that the figures mentioned so far are underestimations. Other estimates of civilian casualties in the media went as high as 20.000 on April 20 (The Economist, 5 April 2003)

Doubtlessly, many more have been injured and it is still impossible to predict how many will die under the military occupation and because of indirect effects of the war. The real civilian death toll will probably never be known as the Pentagon has repeatedly stressed that it does not intend to count civilian casualties. (Bradley Graham and Dan Morgan "U.S. Has No Plans to Count Civilian Casualties" Washington Post, 15)

3. Civilian killings according to Amnesty International and others

According to Amnesty International: " The US and UK governments have repeatedly stated that they have "no quarrel with the Iraqi people". However, the reality is that prolonged and intense bombardment in or near residential areas has destroyed homes and livelihoods, and has maimed and killed civilians, including children. The following incidents demand investigation. They are by no means a comprehensive list of all the civilian casualties reported, but serve to highlight the extent of the suffering and the urgent need to establish the truth and ensure that such tragedies are not repeated."
Many of the incidents involving civilian casualties cannot be explained away as "civilians caught in the crossfire" or "human error." It appears, for example, that civilians have intentionally been shot at and that it has been standard operating procedure at American checkpoints to aim indiscriminately at any vehicle or even pedestrian coming in their direction.

23 March : Five Syrian nationals were killed and a further ten were hurt when a US missile hit a bus in Rutba, western Iraq, as it was returning to Syria. A US military spokesman admitted that a US missile had hit the bus and said that the real target was a bridge. It is unclear why the bridge was attacked and why it could not have been attacked at a time when there was less likely to be civilian traffic.

25 March : At least 14 civilians died and another 30 were injured in Baghdad on March 25 when a shopping area was hit during an air raid. According to BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan, two missiles hit a busy shopping area, several hundred meters from any military buildings. ("'Many dead after Baghdad shops hit" BBC News, 26 March 2003)

28 March : At least 55 civilians died when the market in the Shula district of Baghdad was hit. MATW doctor Geert Van Moorter was at a nearby hospital a few hours after the incident. He reported: "The hospital was a scene from hell. Complete chaos. Blood was everywhere. Patients were shouting and screaming. Doctors heroically trying to save their patients. In that one small, 200-bed hospital they counted 55 dead, 15 of them children. The pictures I made are too horrifying to send." He added that the market is located in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Baghdad and that there are no military targets, not even big buildings, within several kilometers."
Both the US and UK governments publicly suggested that the explosion was "probably" caused by an ageing Iraqi anti-aircraft missile. However, according to the Independent newspaper, the remains of a serial number of a missile were found at the scene, identifying it as one manufactured in Texas, the USA, by Raytheon, the world's biggest producer of "smart armaments", and sold to the US Navy. The missile is believed to have been either a HARM (High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile) device, or a Paveway laserguided bomb. Although the US authorities acknowledged that one of their jets fired at least one missile in the area that day, an official US source claimed that the shrapnel could have been planted at the scene by Iraqi officials. (Robert Fisk "In Baghdad, blood and bandages for the innocent" The Independent, 30 March 2003; Cahal Milmo "The proof: marketplace deaths were caused by a US missile" The Independent, 2 April 2003)
However this kind of "explanations" are in accordance with a study of a document made in 92 by US colonel Henderson. He explained how the US army should deal with "bad news": 1. trying to restrain access. 2. Exposing that "different hypothesis should be presented" and that "investigation would be conducted, delaying the impact of the "bad news" on the public. Adverse forces are often accused by US militaries for their own breachs of international law.

March 30 : Mark Franchetti, a journalist for The Times, reported about the recent battles for the bridges around Nasiriya. He witnessed that the American marines were given orders "to shoot at any vehicle that drove towards American positions." Franchetti described how during the night "we listened a dozen times as the machine guns opened fire, cutting through cars and trucks like paper." The following day he found the wreckage of some 15 vehicles and counted 12 dead civilians who had been trying to leave Nasiriya overnight. (Mark Franchetti "US Marines Turn Fire on Civilians at the Bridge of Death" The Times, 30 March 2003)

31 March : A US Apache helicopter reportedly fired on and destroyed a pickup
truck in the region of al-Haidariya near al-Hilla. The sole survivor, Razeq al-Kadhem al-Khafaji, told an AFP journalist how 15 members of his family were killed in the attack. He said the family was fleeing fierce fighting in al-Nasiriya, further south, when their truck was blown up. Sitting among the 15 coffins at the local hospital, he said he had lost his wife, six children, his father, his mother, his three brothers and their wives. The circumstances of the attack have not been clarified to AI's knowledge.

31 March : Soldiers with the US Army's 3rd Infantry Division killed seven women and children when they opened fire on an unidentified four-wheel drive vehicle as it approached a US checkpoint near al-Najaf. According to a Pentagon spokesman, initial reports indicated that "the soldiers responded in accordance with the rules of engagement to protect themselves". However, this does not appear to be consistent with the version reported in the Washington Post, which indicated that the officer in command at the scene believed at the time that no warning shots were fired. It asserts that the officer roared at the platoon leader, "You just [expletive] killed a family because you didn't fire a warning shot soon enough!"
This version belies the official explanation that the soldiers acted in accordance with the rules of engagement as apparently no warning shots were fired. (William Branigin "A Gruesome Scene on Highway 9: 10 Dead After Vehicle Shelled at Checkpoint" Washington Post, 1 April 2003)

1 April : In the morning, Hilla, a small town south of Baghdad, was hit by air raids. According to eyewitness accounts recorded by MATW doctors Colette Moulaert and Geert Van Moorter, some 20 to 25 bombs were dropped on poor, residential neighborhoods. In the next half an hour, the hospital of Hilla received 150 seriously injured patients. According to one of the hospital's doctors, Dr. Mahmoud Al-Mukhtar, the wounds were probably caused by cluster bombs. The use of cluster bombs in Hilla was also confirmed by the international media.20 The AFP counted at least 73 civilian deaths in Hilla over several days and their correspondent reported that at the scene of the bombing dozens of parts of cluster bombs were peppered over a large area. ("Bombings kill 48 more civilians south of Baghdad" AFP, 2 April 2003)

3 April : Roland Huguenin the spokesperson of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Baghdad, said they saw "incredible" levels of civilian casualties south of Baghdad including "a truckload" of dismembered women and children. ("Red Cross horrified by number of dead civilians" CTV, 3 April 2003)

6 April : Ali Ismaeel Abbas, 12, was asleep when a missile obliterated his home and most of his family, leaving him orphaned, badly burned and without arms, according to a Reuters report. The boy's father, pregnant mother, brother, aunt, three cousins and three other relatives were killed in night-time missile strikes on their house in Diala Bridge district east of Baghdad.

6 - 7 April : Laurent Van der Stockt, a Belgian photographer who followed the advancing Third Marine Battalion, testified in the French newspaper Le Monde that American snipers were ordered to kill anything coming in their direction when they were attacking a bridge in the outskirts of Baghdad on April 6 and 7. "With my own eyes I saw about fifteen civilians killed in two days," he says, "I've gone through enough wars to know that it's always dirty, that civilians are always the first victims. But the way it was happening here, it was insane." "J'ai vu directement une quinzaine de civils tués en deux jours. Je connais assez la guerre pour savoir qu'elle est toujours sale, que les civils sont les premières victimes. Mais comme ça, c'est absurde."
( Michel Guerrin "J'ai vu des marines américains tuer des civils" Le Monde, April 13, 2003)

8 April : Arab News war correspondent Essam Al-Ghalib writes :"This is no longer a war against Saddam and his regime, if it ever was. It has become a war against the Iraqi people," In Sanawa, witnesses told him how American troops were firing at suspected Iraqi positions, some located in residential areas: "One Iraqi soldier will enter a neighborhood and fire a few shots at the fighter plane, and they will respond with a barrage of shots killing as many as 50 civilians in the effort to get him." In the city of Hamza, the Baath Party center was bombed from the air. Twenty-two corpses had already been been removed. (Essam Al-Ghalib "Mounting Iraqi civilian casualties. Is it war against the Iraqi people?" Arab News, 8 April 2003)

9 April : Between 50 to 100 civilians were killed on Highway 8, outside Baghdad, when American troops countered an ambush by Iraqi Republican Guards on a highway with a lot of civilian traffic. "I have got to protect my soldiers," the U.S. commander justified the firing on civilian cars, "because we don't know if it's a car-load of explosives or RPGs." (Robert Fisk "We're here to fight the regime, not civilians, but I had to save my men" The Independent, 11 April 2003)

10 April : Financial Times journalist Paul Eedle, witnessed that while they were invading Baghdad, "The marines shot anything that they considered remotely a threat." He saw U.S. marines open fire on unarmed men, women and children three times in three hours. They killed five people and injured five others, including a six-year-old girl. (Paul Eedle "The marines shot anything they considered a threat" The Financial Times, 10 April 2003)

10 April : Even in territories that were already under the control of the U.S. troops, civilians were killed and maimed by indiscriminate gunfire. On April 10, for example, U.S. Marines admitted killing two children at a checkpoint near Nasiriya. ("US marines kill two children in checkpoint error" ABC News, 11 April 2003)

14 April : U.S. Marines admitted shooting dead at least seven Iraqis in Mosul. The incident happened during protests against a pro-U.S. speech by the newly installed local governor. ("US admits killing `at least seven' in Mosul" The Times, 16 April 2003)

28 April : In a similar incident on April 28 in the city of Fallujah, 13 civilians were killed and 75 injured by U.S. troops who fired on peaceful demonstrators. ("U.S. soldiers fire on Iraqi protesters; hospital chief says 13 Iraqis are dead" Associated Press, 29 April 2003)


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