by Jim Lobe
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- Amnesty International (AI) has urged the U.S. government to conduct an open investigation into the apparent killing of a wounded prisoner in Iraq by a U.S. soldier and to make the probe's findings public.
The appeal, issued by Amnesty from its London headquarters Tuesday, followed a statement Friday from the world's best-known human rights organization that said AI was "deeply concerned that the rules of war protecting civilians and combatants have been violated in the current fighting between U.S. and Iraqi forces and insurgents" in and around Falluja.
The earlier statement blamed all sides for possible war crimes, noting that 20 Iraqi medical staff and dozens of other citizens were killed when a missile hit a clinic in Falluja during the opening hours of the U.S.-led assault on the city, which had been controlled by insurgents since last April.
Amnesty said the origin of the missile was unknown but that all sides were jeopardising the lives of civilian non-combatants in the city. It noted that U.S. military spokespersons had provided estimates of the number of deaths among an estimated 2,000 insurgents who were believed to have been holed up in Falluja as the assault began one week ago, but not of civilian casualties.
Reports from the city, virtually all of which had been secured by U.S. and Iraqi government forces by Tuesday, were divided as to whether the estimated 1,000-1,200 insurgents U.S. commanders claimed had been killed in the fighting included civilians and, if so, how many.
Some sources claimed that hundreds of non-combatants were included in the death toll, despite the fact that as many as 250,000 of the city's 300,000 inhabitants had fled Falluja in advance.
U.S. forces suffered 37 dead in the week-long assault, as well as another 320 wounded, according to the U.S. military.
Lt Gen John Sattler, the commanding officer of the First Marine Expeditionary Force, announced Tuesday he had ordered a full probe into possible war crimes after one of his troops was filmed by an "embedded" NBC-TV camera crew Saturday shooting at close range an apparently injured and unarmed insurgent who was being held inside a mosque that was reportedly the site of a fierce fire fight the day before.
The scene, which has been broadcast here and around the world, depicted Marines approaching several injured men who had apparently been left there from the previous day.
Narrating the video, NBC correspondent Kevin Sites reported that one of the Marines noticed that one of the injured was breathing. "He's fucking faking he's dead," the Marine shouts, raising his rifle and firing a single shot in the man's direction. At that point, the video as broadcast on U.S. TV, goes black, but an unidentified voice is heard saying, "He's dead now."
In a report that accompanied the footage, Sites said, "The prisoner did not appear to be armed or threatening in any way."
Under international law, military forces have an obligation to protect and provide necessary medical attention to wounded insurgents who are outside of combat, that is, those who no longer pose a threat.
"The deliberate shooting of unarmed and wounded fighters who pose no immediate threat is a war crime under international law," said Amnesty, stressing U.S. authorities should immediately investigate the case and hold perpetrators responsible.
Under the circumstances, the only defense would be that the Marine had reason to believe the insurgent was armed and posed a threat, in which case the shooting would constitute an act of self-defense.
For his part, Sattler insisted, "We follow the law of armed conflict and hold ourselves to a high standard of accountability. The facts of this case will be thoroughly pursued to make an informed decision and to protect the rights of all persons involved."
The military command also announced that the unnamed Marine who fired the shot had been taken off the battlefield and could face a court martial, depending on the results of the probe.
Amnesty noted it had already called on U.S. authorities to investigate another Nov. 11 incident, reported on Britain's Channel Four News, in which a U.S. soldier appeared to have fired one shot in the direction of a wounded insurgent who was off-screen. The soldier then walked away and said, "He's gone."
Coincidentally, the Pentagon announced Tuesday that an army lieutenant has been charged with premeditated murder in a similar incident that occurred in August in Baghdad's Sadr City. Two other soldiers had already been charged with murder over the same incident.
"Unequivocal orders for the proper treatment of unarmed and wounded insurgents must be issued or reinforced to all U.S. and Iraqi military and civilian personnel," Amnesty said.
An analyst at Human Rights Watch (HRW) said his group was also concerned about the incidents. "If there is a general sense that perhaps these rules can be trampled, whether it is this case, whether at Abu Ghraib or in a different context at Guantanamo, in all of these places we see the rules being ignored," Steve Crawshaw of HRW's London office told the Voice of America.
November 19, 2004 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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