Coalition Forces in Iraq are not subject to Iraqi law. According to Coalition Provisional Authority Regulation Number 17, coalition personnel are “immune from local criminal, civil and administrative jurisdiction and from any form of arrest or detention other than by persons acting on behalf of their parent states.”90
Given the absence of Iraqi legal structures to hold coalition forces accountable, it is incumbent on the occupying powers of the participating countries to investigate all allegations of abuse, and to punish those found to have violated domestic military codes, international humanitarian law, or human rights standards. Both the laws of war and non-derogable human rights standards require the investigation of suspicious or apparently unlawful killings, even during times of armed conflict. As of mid-October 2003, the United States military was not fulfilling that obligation, thus creating an atmosphere of impunity for U.S. troops.
Two types of investigations are possible in the U.S. military: administrative and criminal. Administrative procedures such as a Commander’s Inquiry or an Army Regulation 15-6 investigation can result in “adverse administrative action,” such as fines, extra duty or confinement. Criminal investigations involve a military court and can lead to a court martial.
Human Rights Watch is not aware of any criminal investigations into cases of alleged use of excessive or disproportionate force. As of October 1, the U.S. military said it had completed five administrative investigations above the division level, and all of them under the authority of the Deputy Commanding General in Iraq. They are as follows:
A military investigation determined that the soldiers involved had acted within the rules of engagement. The military’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID) also took part in the investigation, JAG officials told Human Rights Watch, but not because it was a criminal investigation; rather, the CID lent its technical skills.100
Reuters responded angrily that it had not been informed directly of the investigation’s results. In a letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Reuters chief executive Tom Glocer said, “I certainly don’t believe that my government intentionally targets Reuters or anyone else’s journalists but let’s just say protecting journalists isn’t high enough on the Pentagon’s priority list.”101
In addition to the cases mentioned above, a high-level investigation is ongoing into the friendly fire killing of eight Iraqi police and a Jordanian guard by the 82nd Airborne in al-Falluja on September 12. The U.S. military apologized for the incident and appointed Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, assistant commander of the 101st Airborne Division, to head an investigation. The U.S. JAG was not aware of other investigations ongoing as of September 23, although officials said they might not know of investigations conducted on the division level.
In addition to the six cases documented in this report that are not being investigated, one glaring absence from the list was the first major altercation in al-Falluja on April 28 and 30, when U.S. troops killed an estimated twenty Iraqis and wounded up to seventy others. Human Rights Watch conducted an in-depth investigation into those two incidents and presented its finding in a May 2003 report, Violent Response: The U.S. Army in al-Falluja. The report called on U.S. authorities to conduct a full, independent and impartial investigation to determine the circumstances that led to the shootings, and to hold accountable anyone found to have committed violations of international humanitarian law.
90 Coalition Provisional Authority Regulation Number 17, Status of the Coalition, Foreign Liaison Missions, Their Personnel and Contractors, June 27, 2003. (All CPA regulations are available at www.cpa-iraq.org.)
91 See “Tensions Simmer in Baghdad After Clash Between U.S. Troops, Shiite Protesters,” by Rory Mulholland, Agence France Presse, August 14, 2003. Human Rights Watch tried unsuccessfully to learn the name of the victim. Four people were injured, however: Ibrahim Najm `Abdulla, 13, Haitham Saddi Muhammad, 21, Qassim Harb Fraih, 33, and Haidar Abd al-Hassan Shati, 28 [Human Rights Watch interviews in al-Sadr City, September 28, 2003.]
92 “U.S. Troops Kill at Least One Iraqi in Capital Protest,” by Drew Brown and Ken Dilanian, Knight Ridder News Service, August 14, 2003.
93 “U.S. Military Apologizes to Shiite Muslims,” by Sameer N. Yacoub, Associated Press, August 14, 2003, and “U.S. Army Apologizes to Shiite Clerics Over Deadly Clash,” by Alexandre Peyrille, Agence France Presse, August 14, 2003.
95 Human Rights Watch interview with Col. Marc Warren, Col. Mike Kelly and Major P.J. Perrone, Baghdad, September 23, 2003.
98 On April 8, a U.S. M1A1 Abrams fired a shell at the 15th floor of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, killing Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk and Spanish cameraman with Telecinco Jose Couso. The Committee to Protect Journalists, which investigated the incident, determined that, while not deliberate, the attack was avoidable. See “Permission to Fire,” by Joel Compagna and Rhonda Roumani, Committee to Protect Journalists, May 2003.
99 “Soldiers Kill Journalist After Mistaking His Camera for an RPG Launcher in Iraq,” by Tarek al-Issawi, Associated Press, August 17, 2003.
100 Human Rights Watch interview with Col. Marc Warren, Col. Mike Kelly and Major P.J. Perrone, Baghdad, September 23, 2003.
101 “Reuters Ire at Iraq Death Probe,” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3142518.stm, last accessed October 17, 2003.