Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Justice and Accountability

ABC News picked up an Agence France Presse article about the dearth of convictions that have resulted from most of the high-profile war crimes incidents in Iraq:

From the Abu Ghraib prison scandal to the Haditha massacre, abuses involving United States soldiers in Iraq are increasingly the subject of detailed investigations, but have resulted in few convictions.

When photographs of US soldiers abusing Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison outside of Baghdad were published in April 2004, the world gasped in horror.

President George W Bush said the abuses were the biggest mistake in the Iraq war.

But after several investigations and years of hearings and military trials, only 11 soldiers - those that appear in the photographs of the incident - have been found guilty. Their sentences range from a few hours of community service to up to 10 years in prison.
The world again recoiled in horror when video footage taken just after the slaughter of 24 Iraqi civilians in the town of Haditha was broadcast. Among other things it showed children who had been killed with shots to the head.

The marines, who had just lost a comrade to a roadside bomb, said they were attacking insurgents.

The military portrayal after an investigation detailed the rage but also the confusion of the young US soldiers operating in hostile territory.

Of the four Marines charged with murder in December, two have since had charges withdrawn, while allegations against a third are also expected to be dismissed.
Four senior marine officers were also accused of failing to properly investigate the killings, but charges against one of them have already been dropped.

Even when the immediate perpetrators are convicted and given appropriate sentences, the larger context is not addressed:
In some cases, soldiers responsible for war crimes face stiff sentences. Three soldiers accused of the rape and murder of a teenage girl and her family in March 2006 in the town of Mahmudiyah received life sentences after pleading guilty.

A fourth soldier who acted as lookout was sentenced to 27 months in jail. The accused ringleader, Steven Green, risks the death penalty.

Two soldiers who admitted killing prisoners in cold blood during a raid on an island on the Tigris River were sentenced to 18 years prison. They insisted they were following orders from their sergeant, who was found guilty of a lesser charge and sentenced to 10 years prison.

During the trial, the soldiers said their unit commander, Colonel Michael Steele, decorated for action in Somalia, ordered them to not take prisoners. Col Steele's speech to the troops was filmed, but upon examination appeared too vague. He was reprimanded and re-assigned.

Human Rights First spokeswoman Hina Shamsi says more accountability is needed.

"None of the cases brought to date has given the systemic accounting the nation needs of what happened, why and how far up the chain of command responsibility lies," she said.

Ms Shamsi says the Jordan case in the Abu Ghraib scandal is an example of a continuing accountability gap.

"[It] leaves more questions unanswered than answered about not just what was going on at Abu Ghraib, but the larger issues on interrogation policies and practices, what was authorised, by whom, and how far on the chain of command it went," she said.

"Trials are a good way of coming at particular individuals' accountability.

"When people do wrong, they should be held accountable, but they are not the answer to the kind of systemic investigation and accountability that needs to occur. Congress can take a leading role."

It could, but it won't.

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