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UN calls for probe into US inaction on torture

By Daniel Tencer
Saturday, October 23, 2010 22:17 EDT
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‘Fragmentary order 242′ allowed US forces to ignore torture allegations: report

The United Nations’ point man on torture is calling on the Obama administration to open a full investigation into newly-released documents that suggest the US may have turned a blind eye to torture in Iraq.

Manfred Nowak, the UN’s special rapporteur on torture, told the BBC Saturday that the US has an “obligation” to look into reports of torture within the nearly 400,000 war documents released by WikiLeaks on Friday.

The documents chronicle numerous allegations of torture by Iraqi forces against their own citizens, as well as what appears to have been a standing order in the US military to ignore the allegations — potentially a violation of international conventions on torture.

“There is an obligation to investigate whenever there are credible allegations torture has happened – and these allegations are more than credible – and then it is up to the courts,” Nowak, an Austrian human rights lawyer, said, as quoted at the Telegraph.

“It is then up to the courts on the one hand to bring the perpetrators to justice and also on the other hand to provide the victims with adequate reparation for the harm they have suffered.”

“Nowak said that UN human rights agreements obliged states to criminalize every form of torture, whether directly or indirectly, and to investigate any allegations of abuse,” adds the Guardian.

In a separate article, the Guardian reports on “Frago 242,” an order to ignore reports of Iraqi-on-Iraqi torture:

A frago is a “fragmentary order” which summarizes a complex requirement. This one, issued in June 2004, about a year after the invasion of Iraq, orders coalition troops not to investigate any breach of the laws of armed conflict, such as the abuse of detainees, unless it directly involves members of the coalition. Where the alleged abuse is committed by Iraqi on Iraqi, “only an initial report will be made … No further investigation will be required unless directed by HQ”.

Frago 242 appears to have been issued as part of the wider political effort to pass the management of security from the coalition to Iraqi hands. In effect, it means that the regime has been forced to change its political constitution but allowed to retain its use of torture.

The systematic viciousness of the old dictatorship when Saddam Hussein’s security agencies enforced order without any regard for law continues, reinforced by the chaotic savagery of the new criminal, political and sectarian groups which have emerged since the invasion in 2003 and which have infiltrated some police and army units, using Iraq’s detention cells for their private vendettas.

Other documents in the WikiLeaks release may tie US forces more directly to potential war crimes. In one incident, an Apache helicopter is reported to have fired on two Iraqis who had earlier fired mortars at US troops but had surrendered.

“An additional protocol to the Geneva Conventions on the protection of victims of international armed conflicts states that a person who ‘clearly expresses an intention to surrender’ is ‘hors de combat’ and therefore ‘shall not be made the object of attack,’” Der Spiegel notes. “That raises the question of whether the pilots involved in the … incident might have committed a war crime.”

The documents may also have legal repercussions inside Iraq. The Christian Science Monitor reports that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has said the documents could show up in Iraqi courtrooms — presumably either in criminal trials or in lawsuits.

“For ordinary Iraqis, it didn’t appear to have sunk in that the 400,000 documents, released Friday by the WikiLeaks website, contained details of the deaths of thousands of people that could finally provide answers and even evidence for some of the tragedies of the war,” CSM reported.

CHEMICAL WEAPONS FOUND

Noah Shachtman at Wired reports that the war documents show there were chemical weapons in Iraq after all — though nothing on the scale of the WMD program Saddam Hussein was alleged to have by those backing the invasion.

[For years after the invasion] US troops continued to find chemical weapons labs, encounter insurgent specialists in toxins, and uncover weapons of mass destruction.

An initial glance at the WikiLeaks war logs doesn’t reveal evidence of some massive WMD program by the Saddam Hussein regime — the Bush administration’s most (in)famous rationale for invading Iraq. But chemical weapons, especially, did not vanish from the Iraqi battlefield. Remnants of Saddam’s toxic arsenal, largely destroyed after the Gulf War, remained. Jihadists, insurgents and foreign (possibly Iranian) agitators turned to these stockpiles during the Iraq conflict — and may have brewed up their own deadly agents.

In August 2004, for instance, American forces surreptitiously purchased what they believed to be containers of liquid sulfur mustard, a toxic “blister agent” used as a chemical weapon since World War I. The troops tested the liquid, and “reported two positive results for blister.” The chemical was then “triple-sealed and transported to a secure site” outside their base.

‘VERY SKILLED’ HACK ATTACK ON WIKILEAKS

Wikileaks was the target of “very skilled” hackers who managed to shut down the organization’s private instant messaging network was hacked and disabled days before the document leak on Friday, reports Andy Greenberg at his Forbes blog.

A Wikileaks source who asks to remain anonymous now says that the organization’s XMPP server in Amsterdam, used to host its encrypted instant messaging communications, was compromised earlier this week by an unknown attacker, and the chat service had to be relocated to another server in Germany. “The server got attacked, hacked, and the private keys got out,” says the source. “We needed new private keys. Now it’s back online and secure.”

The source added that the attack represented the first breach in Wikileaks’ history, and that “the people who are behind it are very skilled,” declining to comment further on the details of the hack.

 
 
 
 
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