(IPS) WASHINGTON --
International said Nov. 21, that U.S. forces appeared to be destroying houses in Iraq as a form of collective punishment for attacks on U.S. troops and warned that the practice would violate the Geneva Conventions. A Pentagon spokesman emphatically denied the charge.
The human rights group said it had sent a letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld demanding clarification whether the demolitions as a form of collective punishment or deterrence were officially permitted, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).
"If such proved to be the case, it would constitute a clear violation of international humanitarian law," the group said in the letter.
While a Pentagon spokesman acknowledged that U.S. forces had destroyed "facilities," including houses, in the course of recent military operations, he emphatically denied they were intended as a form of collective punishment or retaliation for attacks.
"We have destroyed facilities that were being used by former regime loyalists or terrorists either as a place from which to stage attacks, or as a safe house to avoid capture, or as a facility from which to construct improvised explosive devices," said Lieutenant Colonel Jim Cassella.
"The idea that this is some type of collective punishment is just absolutely without merit," he said.
"In some cases, there have been incidents where these thugs have been using homes to do this, and in all cases where that happened the people who lived there were evacuated and then afterwards were relocated," he said.
"But what we are doing here is attacking the terrorist infrastructure to deny them the ability to plan, organize and initiate attacks," he said.
Amnesty International said it had learned that 15 houses were destroyed in the Tikrit area since November 16 in what Washington calls "military operations."
It said in one case a family in the village of al-Haweda was reportedly given five minutes to evacuate their house before it was razed by tank and helicopter fire.
The organization said it received reports of a Nov. 10 incident in which soldiers gave people living in a farmhouse near the town of al-Mamudiya south of Baghdad 30 minutes to leave. The farmhouse was bombed and destroyed later in the day by F-16 fighters, it said.
It said the bombing appeared to have been carried out in retaliation for an attack several days earlier on a convoy in which a U.S. officer was killed.
Six people were arrested at the farmhouse a day after the convoy attack when weapons were found in a truck outside. More weapons and ammunition were said to have been found in a search of the house, Amnesty said.
"It seems that the destruction of the Najim family house was carried out as collective punishment and not for 'absolute military necessity,'" Amnesty said.
The organization noted that Article 33 of the fourth Geneva Convention states: "Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited."
Article 53 states: "Any destruction by the occupying power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations."
Amnesty's report comes only days after a French politician described the U.S. army methods in trying to stop mounting anti-U.S. attacks as "brutal", and Russia criticized Washington's "excessive" tendency to use force in Iraq.
On November 18, Francois Gere, director of France's Institute for Diplomacy and Defense said: "These are just the type of operations which encourage people to think they are dealing with a brutal army of occupation."
Gere's statements came as Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov further criticized the "excessive" tendency of the United States to use military force, saying that the level of violence in Iraq showed Moscow was right to oppose the U.S.-led invasion.
The condemnations came as U.S. commanders have taken off the gloves in their battle with Iraqi fighters, resorting to air strikes, heavy artillery against alleged resistance positions and satellite-guided missiles in their newest offensive Operation Ivy Cyclone II.
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