President Obama Should Investigate Human Rights Abuses in Iraq
Why is an investigation of U.S. abuses in Iraq necessary to close this tragic chapter in U.S. history?
October 27, 2010
President Barack Obama should investigate U.S. forces' involvement in human rights abuses in Iraq, declared Manfred Novak, the UN's chief investigator on torture.
A failure to investigate them would be a failure of the Obama Administration to recognize its obligations under international law, added Nowak. Nowak's demands follow WikiLeaks's massive release of military documents that detail torture, summary executions and war crimes.
Nowak, a professor of constitutional law and human rights at the University of Vienna, is currently the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture. In 2005, he declared that torture remained widespread in China, and that Chinese officials were interfering with his work. He was also one of the five authors of a United Nations report on the detention of captives at the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
According to Nowak, if the files released through WikiLeaks indicate a clear violation of the UN Convention Against Torture, the Obama Administration has a clear obligation to investigate them. He added that UN human rights agreements oblige states to criminalize every form of torture, conducted either directly or indirectly, and to investigate any allegations of abuse.
Although both U.S. and UK officials have insisted that no official record of civilian casualties exists, WikiLeaks's logs show 66,081 non-combatant deaths out of a total of 109,000 fatalities. Although these figures are high, they do not include many more deaths from other causes during the Iraq conflict.
The information released by WikiLeaks details how the U.S. authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers. According to the Pentagon, however, when reports of abuse by the Iraqi police or Iraqi soldiers were received, the U.S. military notified the responsible Iraqi government agency or ministry for investigation and follow-up.
In addition to Nowak's demands, Phil Shiner, a human rights specialist at Public Interest Lawyers in the UK, declared that some of the deaths in the Iraq war logs could have also involved British forces and would be pursued through British courts. Shiner also demanded a public inquiry into allegations that British troops were responsible for Iraqi civilian deaths during the war.
Article Two of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment establishes that:
Already in 2006, Manfred Novak had declared that the situation in Iraq, including the torture of prisoners, was "out of control," with abuses being committed by security forces, militia groups and anti-U.S. insurgents. "Torture may be worse now than under former leader Saddam Hussein," he added.
Article Three of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment states, "No State Party shall expel, return (‘refouler’) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture."
The United States, according to Nowak, therefore had an obligation "whenever they expel, extradite or hand over any detainees to the authorities of another state to assess whether or not these individuals are under specific risk of torture." These obligations probably were not followed by U.S. authorities.
Reacting to this new wave of leaks, the Pentagon stated, "Our enemies will mine this information looking for insights into how we operate, cultivate sources and react in combat situations, even the capability of our equipment." Unless there is a thorough investigation of abuses, however, we cannot expect an effective closure of this tragic chapter in U.S. history.
Unless there is a thorough investigation of abuses, we cannot expect an effective closure of this tragic chapter in U.S. history.
The information released by WikiLeaks details how the U.S. authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers.
According to Nowak, if the files released through WikiLeaks indicate a clear violation of the UN Convention Against Torture, the Obama Administration has a clear obligation to investigate them.