Anti-war veterans' group: War crimes are 'encouraged'
At an event in Watertown, New York on Saturday, members of Iraq Veterans Against War charged that war crimes against civilians were encouraged by unit commanders.
"The killing of innocent civilians is policy," said veteran Mike Blake. "It's unit policy and it's Army policy. It's not official policy, but it's what's happens on the ground everyday. It's what unit commanders individually encourage."
Veteran Matt Howard concurred: "These decisions are coming from the top down," Howard said. "The tactics that we use, the policies that the military engages, will create situations, create dynamics, create -- ultimately -- atrocity."
Blake and Howard were among four veterans speaking at Watertown's Different Drummer Cafe, in a preliminary event to the 'Winter Soldier' gathering scheduled in Washington, D.C. in March. Named after the 1971 event in which John Kerry read testimony from soldiers on atrocities they had committed, this year's Winter Soldier will feature Iraq War veterans speaking about war crimes they committed or witnessed.
In Watertown, veteran Jon Turner blamed himself as well as the orders he was given. "It was my decision," Turner said. "I made it. Now I have to live with the fact I see someone's eyes screaming at me after I shot them."
Others have previously questioned US attacks that have killed civilians, though not as sharply.
In 2006, a Berlin attorney filed a war crimes lawsuit against erstwhile Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on behalf of the Center for Constitutional Rights, the International Federation for Human Rights, the Republican Attorneys' Association and more than 40 other national and international human rights groups.
Germany's federal prosecutor announced in April of the following year that she would not take on the suit.
'Collateral' deaths in Afghanistan surpassed Taliban killings in 2007
In July 2007, independent tallied show US and NATO troops were responsible for more civilian deaths in the first half of the year than the Taliban militants they were fighting.
The United Nations counted 314 civilian deaths at the hands of Western-led forces by the end of June of 2007, compared with 279 people killed by the Taliban and other militants.
The rate of Western-caused civilian deaths between January and June exceeded the same measure for all of 2006. Human Rights Watch found US and NATO troops killed 230 civilians in Afghanistan last year. In that same year, the group found at least 669 Afghan civilians were killed as a result of Taliban attacks.
Military leaders said the comparison is fundamentally unfair because civilian deaths caused by Western forces are inadvertent collateral damage whereas the Taliban militants deliberately target innocent people.
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