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Put Saddam in the Dock for His War Crimes

By Tom LantosRep. Tom Lantos (D) of California is a senior member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. / May 10, 1991



SIX months ago, President Bush and others in the administration were calling Saddam Hussein the new Hitler and demanding decisive military action to expel him from Kuwait. Yet two months after his military forces were routed, Saddam is still president of Iraq. Despite twin uprisings by Kurds in the north and the Shiite population in the south, his hold on power is growing even stronger. There has been no change on the part of the Iraqi tyrant. The recent ruthless actions of the Iraqi military in putt ing down the Kurdish and Shiite opposition demonstrate that Saddam will still use napalm or dump sulfuric acid on innocent women and children. Instead of decrying his brutal policies, there seems to be more official concern about Iraq disintegrating and leaving a power vacuum in the Middle East. The crimes of Saddam are so grievous and such an affront to civilized people everywhere, however, that justice demands we hold the perpetrators responsible. The case against Saddam and his henchmen is clear:

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*Iraq, as a signatory of the United Nations Charter, accepted the obligation to refrain ``from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state'' and to ``settle international disputes by peaceful means.'' The invasion of Kuwait was a blatant violation of that obligation.

*Iraqi authorities committed war crimes by firing missiles on Israel, which was not involved in the Gulf conflict, with the intent of drawing Israel into the war and killing and injuring innocent civilians.

*Iraq, as a signatory of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (the ``Fourth Geneva Convention''), agreed to protect the civilian population of territories it may occupy. The convention obligates nations to take action against any state that engages in ``willful killing, torture, or inhuman treatment,'' and willfully causes ``great suffering or serious injury to body or health, taking of hostages and extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not j ustified by military necessity.'' The Iraqi use of human shields, the looting of Kuwait, and the acts of violence against the Kuwaiti population are precisely the kinds of action prohibited.

*Iraq is a signatory of the Third Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war. Anyone who saw Iraqi television pictures of the American, British, and other military prisoners of war or saw postwar reports from members of the international press can have no doubt that Iraqi authorities physically and psychologically abused prisoners of war.

*Iraq is a signatory of the ``Convention of the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques,'' which obligates nations not to use ``environmental modification techniques having widespread, long-lasting, or severe effects.'' The deliberate Iraqi damage to the environment - spilling massive quantities of oil into the Persian Gulf and setting fire to hundreds of Kuwaiti oil wells - produced enormous water and air pollution and imperiled the health of all reside nts of the region.

*Iraqi authorities have violated international law through the use of chemical weapons against their own citizens. They have indiscriminately shelled and bombed cities of Iraq, and have tortured and summarily executed tens of thousands of Iraqi citizens.

Failure to try, convict, and punish those responsible for such acts would establish a dangerous precedent. We must act under international law to deter the commission of such crimes in the future.

We may not succeed in dislodging Saddam or his subordinates from power in Iraq, and we may not bring them before an international tribunal to stand trial for their crimes, but it is vital that we try. The deterrent value could be significant, even if we do not succeed.

During the Gulf crisis, we heard a great deal about the ``new world order,'' in which the rule of law, rather than brute force, would govern relations among nations. An important step in that direction would be to bring Saddam before the bar of justice to answer for his crimes against humanity.

Saddam and others like him must know that we are not returning to business as usual. They must know that international banditry will provoke the just retribution of the civilized world. It is in the interest of the United States and future generations that we aggressively pursue the establishment of an appropriate war crimes tribunal to try Saddam and other Iraqi officials for their crimes against Kuwait and the entire world.