Amnesty: US-Backed Coalition Violated International Law in Mosul Killings
July 13, 2017
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Amnesty International & Bethan McKernan / The Independent & Charlie Savage / The New York Times
A new report into human rights abuses during battle for Iraqi city claims US-led coalition forces used 'unnecessary' force and indiscriminate targeting which could constitute war crimes.
The Children of Mosul (Al Jazeera)
Amnesty: US-Backed Coalition
Violated International Law in Mosul Killings
Troops Used Unnecessary Force and Indiscriminate Targeting
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(July 11, 2017) -- A new report from human rights group Amnesty International today is harshly critical of the tactics used by Iraq forces and their allies (i.e. the US) in the invasion and occupation of the ISIS-held city of Mosul, saying they flagrantly violated international law and might amount to war crimes.
The report centered on the massive civilian death toll in attacks, particularly escalating as the battle moved into western Mosul, saying Iraqi forces regularly used unnecessary amounts of force and indiscriminate targeting which put civilians at undue risk.
Amnesty research director Lynn Maalouf was quick to note that ISIS had unlawfully used human shields, but that this "does not lessen the legal obligation of pro-government forces to protect civilians."
That position is true from a legal perspective, but appears to stand in contrast to the Pentagon's statements, which have couched all of the biggest incidents of civilian deaths in their airstrikes as ISIS' fault. Indeed, the US "Law of War Manual" has struggled with this issue in recent revisions.
Amnesty officials criticized the use of imprecise explosive weapons in the attacks on densely populated parts of Mosul that were known to be full of civilians unable to escape, saying it was inappropriate, and amounted to repeated violations of international law with respect to targeting civilians.
Amnesty also took issue with the drastic under reporting of civilian deaths in Mosul, saying 5.805 were likely killed in just a four month span. While the Pentagon hasn't offered its own figures for that entire period yet, their figures for the four months are likely to be no more than a couple of hundred.
Pentagon officials were naturally dismissive of the reports, with Gen. Stephen Townsend insisting they were untrue, and that Amnesty is not in "a position of authority" and therefore has no right to make such statements about the war crimes in the first place.
Townsend went on to echo the usual claims of "extraordinary care" by the US, despite the massive body count, bragging he believes the war in Mosul was the most precise ever, in the history of the human race.
At Any Cost:
The Civilian Catastrophe in West Mosul, Iraq
The battle for west Mosul has caused a civilian catastrophe
Civilians in west Mosul have been ruthlessly exploited by the armed group calling itself the Islamic State (IS), which has systematically moved them into zones of conflict, used them as human shields, and prevented them from escaping to safety.
They have also been subjected to relentless unlawful attacks by Iraqi government forces and members of the US-led coalition (hereon referred to as pro-government forces). In March and May 2017, Amnesty International researchers visited northern Iraq to document violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses by all sides of the conflict in west Mosul.
The findings were published today in a new report: "At Any Cost: The Civilian Catastrophe in West Mosul, Iraq." See the full report at this link.
Mosul: Amnesty International Calls
For Investigation into Civilian Deaths after ISIS Defeat
Bethan McKernan / The Independent
BEIRUT (July 11, 2017) – Human rights organisation Amnesty International has called for a independent investigation into the unnecessary loss of civilian life caused by the US-led coalition's fight against ISIS in Mosul.
Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi arrived in Mosul -- Iraq's second largest city -- on Sunday, declaring it free of jihadi militants for the first time since ISIS swept across the border from Syria in the summer of 2014.
The victory, however, has come at a heavy cost. There is barely any city left to declare liberated, and the 12th-century al-Nuri mosque, the city's heart, was destroyed last month.
Almost one million people were displaced from their homes during the battle, and many thousands of civilians killed. Some have been caught in the crossfire after being used as human shields, or targeted by ISIS snipers. The report also detailed how those attempting to flee the violence were murdered in execution-style killings and their bodies hung from electricity lines as a warning to others.
Aside from ISIS's atrocities, however, many in Mosul have also died as a result of US-led coalition bombing.
A new report into the scale of the human rights abuses, released by Amnesty International on Tuesday, claims the US and its allies used imprecise and unnecessarily powerful weapons, contributing to the heavy civilian death toll.
The human rights violations may constitute war crimes and an independent investigation was needed, the group said.
"ISIS's use of people as human shields does not lessen the legal obligation of pro-government forces to protect civilians," Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International's Middle East research director, said in a statement.
"The scale and gravity of the loss of civilian lives during the military operation to retake Mosul must immediately be publicly acknowledged at the highest levels of government in Iraq and states that are part of the US-led coalition.
"The horrors that the people of Mosul have witnessed and the disregard for human life by all parties to this conflict must not go unpunished. Entire families have been wiped out, many of whom are still buried under the rubble today.
"The people of Mosul deserve to know, from their government, that there will be justice and reparation so that the harrowing impact of this operation is duly addressed."
War Manual Revised, Now
Limits US Attacks on Human Shields
Experts Warn Revised Manual Still Falls Short of Legal Standards
Jason Ditz / Anti-War.com
(December 14, 2016) -- The US "Law of War Manual" has undergone a substantial change from its 2015 version, aiming to avoid at least some of the loudest condemnations from lawyers and human rights groups about the manual's advice on US military personnel attacking innocent civilians in war zones, which is supposed to be the whole purpose of the guide in the first place.
The 2015 version of the manual suggested a broad collection of civilians could simply be killed with impunity, and that their deaths could safely be ignored when deciding if an attack was "proportional" under international law. This included civilians being forced into being human shields, along with civilians working at a facility whose continued operation "helps the enemy."
Legal experts warned this was a major misinterpretation of international law, and it likely played a role in US officials declaring all the civilians in major cities to be de facto human shields during military operations in places like Mosul, since it made their lives legally meaningless, at least according to the book.
The new book insists that "unvoluntary" human shields now must be given full protection under the laws of war, though the manual continued to insist that people who voluntarily remain in an area where they are shielding something the US wants to bomb are not afforded such protection.
Rutgers law professor Adil Haque was the most specific critic of both books quoted in the media, saying the new version is an improvement but continues to fall short. He warned the manual's concept of "passive" human shields who don't even know their shielding something covered "pretty much every civilian in ISIS-controlled cities and towns."
He also expressed disappointment that the manual continues to argue that when there is any doubt about the identity of a potential target, commanders can simply assume none of the people present are civilians.
To Protect Civilians, Pentagon Tightens Rules on Combat
Charlie Savage / The New York Times
(December 14, 2017) -- The Pentagon has revised a 2015 manual for waging combat while obeying the international laws of war, tightening rules for when it is lawful to fire on a military target even though civilians -- from human shields to workers at weapons factories -- are nearby.
The changes, announced late on Tuesday, are the second time this year that the Defense Department has modified its Law of War Manual in response to criticism that portions were inaccurate or dangerous. In July, it overhauled sections of the manual to better protect journalists working in battlefield areas.
"Protecting civilians in armed conflict is critical, and it's important that our legal guidance is clear and practical," said Jennifer O'Connor, the Pentagon's general counsel. "This version of the manual provides greater clarity and also reflects important developments such as the president's recent executive order on civilian casualties."
Several legal specialists, who had criticized the old version of the manual as misrepresenting the law of armed conflict in ways that endangered civilians, praised some of the changes but criticized others as still muddled.
Adil Haque, a law professor at Rutgers University who has criticized the manual, offered a mixed review of the changes, saying, "It's definitely an improvement," but arguing that some parts still fell short.
The changes focus largely on a section of the manual that discusses the principle of proportionality. In war, it can be lawful to fire on a military target even if civilians are nearby and will be killed as a consequence, but only if the anticipated collateral damage is proportionate to a legitimate military objective.
The original version of the manual suggested that commanders could exclude entire categories of civilians when analyzing proportionality before firing, like civilians used as human shields or those who accompany an enemy force, like mechanics and food workers. They also could exclude civilians working at a place that helps sustain the enemy, like an arms factory.
The manual now makes it clear that commanders selecting targets must take into account the anticipated harm to such civilians, too. In particular, it says that involuntary human shields are fully protected under the proportionality rule.
That is "very important since that category includes both civilians actively forced to shield military targets and civilians passively used to shield military targets without their knowledge or consent (think of the armed group that fires rockets from a residential neighborhood, hospital, etc.)," Mr. Haque wrote in an email. "That's pretty much every civilian in ISIS-controlled cities and towns."
Still, the revised manual suggests that voluntary human shields and civilians employed in jobs related to military objectives may count for less in such analysis than ordinary civilians. Some scholars object to the idea that the law of war permits using a sliding scale when deciding how much protection various civilians will receive.
Mr. Haque found it "really disappointing" that the revisions did not alter a section that states that when there is doubt about the identity of potential targets, commanders need not presume civilians are there.
The manual is the latest in a series that trace back to the Lieber Code, devised by Francis Lieber, a legal scholar and philosopher, whose instructions for war were issued to Union soldiers during the Civil War by President Abraham Lincoln.
The Pentagon had worked on developing the current manual for two decades and finally issued it in 2015 after a difficult bureaucratic process; other parts of the government with expertise in international law, like the State and the Justice Departments, did not sign off on it.
The changes to the manual's discussion of civilian protections came after months of criticism from various legal scholars about the wording in the 2015 version.
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