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President Obama Should Investigate Human Rights Abuses in Iraq

César Chelala

President Barak Obama should investigate US' forces involvement in human rights abuses in Iraq, declared Manfred Novak, the UN's chief investigator on torture. A failure to investigate them would also be a failure of the Obama administration to recognize its obligations under international law, added Nowak. Nowak's demands follow WikiLeak's massive release of military documents that detail torture, summary executions and war crimes.

According to Nowak, if the files released through WikiLeak 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 US and UK officials have insisted that no official record of civilian casualties exist, the Wikileak logs show 66,081 non-combatant deaths out of a total of 109,000 fatalities. Although these are high figures, they do not include many more deaths from other causes during the Iraq conflict.

Information contained in the released information by WikiLeak detail how the US 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 Iraq police or Iraq soldiers were received, the US military notified the responsible government of Iraq 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 2 of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment establishes that, 1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction. 2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture. 3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

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-US insurgents. "Torture may be worse now than under former leader Saddam Hussein," he added.

Article 3 of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment states that "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 US, according to Nowak, had therefore 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 conditions were not probably followed by US 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 US history.


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César Chelala

César Chelala

Dr. César Chelala is an international public health consultant, co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award and two national journalism awards from Argentina.

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