President George W. Bush has vowed that his administration will prosecute war criminals. His father made similar promises during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, but not a single Iraqi was prosecuted. The reason? The Iraqis responsible for the 1991 war crimes never came under coalition control, so there were no trials. That let 500 alleged Iraqi war criminals off the hook, according to a 14-page Pentagon report recently made public.
Among atrocities cited in the report is the controversial account of 120 Kuwaiti infants removed from incubators by Iraqi soldiers and left to die. Initially, Amnesty International expressed doubts about the validity of this story that exploded in the headlines during January 1992, but the Pentagon says it is true in its Report on Iraqi War Crimes (Desert Shield/Desert Storm).
The report says a team of U.S. Army investigators combed through Kuwait City medical records and concluded that between August 1990 and March 3, 1991, a total of 1,082 Kuwaiti civilian deaths could be attributed directly to Iraqi criminal conduct. "The deaths include 120 babies left to die after being removed from the incubators that were taken to Iraq; 153 children between the ages of 1 and 13 killed for various reasons; and 57 mentally ill individuals killed simply because of their handicap. All of these deaths constitute grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention," says the official report.
Investigators stated that they have identified a number of Iraqi soldiers responsible for war crimes in Kuwait. Some of those initially were taken prisoner but released in the fog of the immediate postwar era or through a series of mix-ups, including soldiers who did not provide their real names or ranks.
The 1,226 war-crime files and records of the Department of State and the Defense Intelligence Agency show that more than 4,900 hostages were taken by Iraq during the gulf war, 106 of whom were used by the Iraqis as human shields. A total of 47 U.S. military personnel initially were listed as missing in action or as prisoners of war (POWs). Of those, say the Pentagon documents, 26 were captured, held prisoner by Iraq and repatriated in the first week of March 1991. According to the report, all the POWs were victims of war crimes, including physical beatings and sexual assaults, and Iraqi officials "perpetrated numerous war crimes against both military and civilian personnel of the United States and Kuwait. The War Crimes Documentation Center has assembled the evidence to prove it."
While Pentagon investigators never got the chance to present the evidence, they might get that opportunity now. In fact, the Bush administration has made it clear that surviving Iraqi perpetrators, ranging from the rank of foot soldier to President Saddam Hussein, will face charges. "War criminals will be hunted relentlessly and judged severely," Bush has pledged. Saddam, his Ba'ath Party officials and their immediate subordinates will be tried, though where and by whom already has created an international debate.
Bush has several options, including setting up military tribunals similar to those currently being used for suspected terrorists. Other options include trial in traditional criminal courts or allowing the U.N. Security Council to set up a special court. Another possibility is to create an ad hoc international court, such as the one being used in the ongoing trial of Slobodan Milosevic, who ruled Yugoslavia for 13 years.
So far the one option that Bush definitely has ruled out is turning these matters over to the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague, created as the world's first permanent war-crimes court. Neither the United States nor Iraq have accepted jurisdiction of the court. While it was created under a treaty signed by former president Bill Clinton, the Bush team sees the ICC as a political charade that might bring bogus charges against U.S. soldiers or …