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Having appeared in early 2004, what remains most important about this detailed analysis from IBC is that, while some of it is now outdated, most of it remains as pertinent today as then, particularly in regard to official disinterest and (perhaps a little less so) media priorities.

The sad milestone of 10,000 civilian deaths, as recorded by IBC, was cited across the political spectrum (though not necessarily with attribution).

As predicted, this milestone proved to be all too transitory.

6. Investigations announced, forgotten, discarded

Here, reproduced as it originally appeared, is a BBC story from the height of the war.

Doctors at a hospital in central Iraq have told the BBC they have dealt with more than 250 fatalities since the start of the US-led war with Iraq. Officials at the Saddam Hussein Hospital in Nasariya said all of the deaths were the result of American bombing and most were civilians. Iraqi authorities said at least 55 civilians have been killed by coalition forces in attacks on Baghdad and other cities in the past 24 hours.

At least 33 of the victims are reported to have died when US helicopter gunships strafed a residential neighbourhood in the city of Hilla on Tuesday. Aid agencies say they are increasingly worried about the mounting number of civilian victims of the war. The doctors at Saddam Hussein Hospital said many homes and schools, which were near military targets in the city, had been hit. They said they had treated more than 1000 injuries.

On Tuesday, officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) - accompanied by Iraqi colleagues - visited a hospital in Hilla, about 100 kilometres (70 miles) south of Baghdad . ICRC spokeswoman Nada Doumani said the team “witnessed a vehicle transporting bodies of men, women and children to the hospital and in the hospital they saw also some 300 injured people and it was very clear that this was the result of heavy fighting and bombings”.

The Red Cross said the hospital was completely unable to cope. US Central Command said it was investigating the claims of the deaths in Hilla, but initial inquires had not “turned up any evidence”. The BBC's defence analyst Stephen Dalziel says the US-led forces have gone out of their way to try to show that this war is against the regime of Saddam Hussein, not the Iraqi people. He says inevitably, though, there have been civilian casualties and in a war being fought under the constant gaze of television cameras, both sides have realised how crucial the propaganda war is. The United States has admitted shooting dead seven women and children at a checkpoint in Najaf a day earlier, but said “the climate established by the Iraqi regime” had contributed to the incident. The human rights organisation, Amnesty International has called on Washington to conduct an independent investigation into the Najaf killings.1

1 Protect civilians, Red Cross says BBC, 2 Apr 2003.

2 Rights Groups Plan to Probe Possible Coalition War Crimes Tosin Sulaiman, San Jose Mercury News, 24 Apr 2003.

3 Cited in a War crimes complaint against [U.S. General Tommy] Franks filed in Belgium on behalf of 19 Iraqi civilians, reproduced at, 14 May 2003.

4 US troops ignored pleas as they cut down Iraqi police Patrick Bishop, Telegraph (London), 12 Sep 2003. (IBC record x154)

On April 24th, the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York announced that it was investigating the Hilla incident among others for potential war crimes.2

Extensive media research has brought to light no further public statement on the Najaf killings by the US Authorities. The issue has simply been allowed to die.

This is not an isolated incident. It is a pattern. Investigations have been confidently announced for many killings which have likewise never been followed up, apparently in an effort to delay bad press long enough for attention to move elsewhere.

In 1992 a document reported to have been prepared for the US Army by one Colonel Henderson prescribed how the US army should deal with “bad news” . One recommended tactic was to announce that an investigation would be conducted, as a means of delaying the impact of the “bad news” on the public.3

Even high-profile events are regularly swept under the carpet of forgetfulness, on the assumption (all too often correct) that media interest will wane to zero after several weeks or at most a month or two. One of the most shocking of these incidents was the night-time massacre of Iraqi civil defence forces, policemen and others near the Jordanian field hospital outside Fallujah in September 2003.4

An insight into the careless nature of such US military “investigations” was afforded by an unedifying exchange between top US brass and reporters some two weeks later. An Associated Press (AP) reporter's question about the September 12th incident was confused by Gen. Richard Sanchez with another to which it bore no resemblance, on August 9th (most probably IBC incident x131 in Baghdad,5 wherein two policemen attempting to surrender were shot dead), for which, Sanchez said, US soldiers had been exonerated of any wrongdoing. Stories which ran throughout the US media about “a U.S. military investigation [which] found no misconduct by U.S. soldiers who killed eight Iraqi policemen...near Fallujah” had to be hastily retracted, with AP resorting to a recorded transcript to show that this error was not theirs but Sanchez's.6

No attempt was subsequently made to answer the original question, which was serious enough: “General, can you give us an update on the investigation into the killing of Iraqi policemen in Fallujah?” Five months later, we are still waiting for that update.

5 IBC record x131 09 Aug 2003.

6 "Questions arise over friendly fire probe" Tarek Al-Issawi, Associated Press, 25 Sep 2003.

7 Iraq's Health Ministry ordered to stop counting civilian dead from war Associated Press, 10 Dec 2003.

At other times the military in its wisdom simply rules out investigations into its conduct from the outset. In yet another incident near Fallujah, referred to in the same AP article cited above, involving a multiple-missile attack on a farmhouse that killed three men and wounded two young boys, Sanchez simply decided a priori that his soldiers “had acted within military rules,” so that naturally enough “he would not order an investigation” .

To some extent, though, such military inquiries are genuinely moot: it is unacceptable to blame soldiers for actions on the ground when those who made the decision to place them there escape all direct investigation. If soldiers are acting “within the rules of engagement” and still killing innocents, including babies and small children, then it is the decision makers who put them in that terrible position whose actions need to be “investigated” most closely.

the CPA doesn't want this to be done

US and UK attitudes to Iraqi civilian deaths have now mysteriously spread to the higher echelons of the (US-appointed) provisional Iraqi government. Until late last year, an official at the Iraqi Health Ministry, a Dr Nagham Mohsen, was compiling casualty figures from hospital records. But, according to an AP report on December 10th 2003, she was that month ordered by her immediate superior, director of planning Dr Nazar Shabandar, to stop collating this data. “We have stopped the collection of this information because our minister didn't agree with it,” Dr Mohsen said, adding: “The CPA doesn't want this to be done.”7 This brazen interference in the legitimate gathering of knowledge by and on behalf of the Iraqi people is, if true, little short of disgraceful, and all involved in the decision must be held publicly to account.

In sum, we have a situation where the perpetrator announces that he will undertake investigations into his own potential crimes, gives no information on the nature or time course of the investigation, and then fails to ever make the results of such investigations public. To add insult to many existing injuries the perpetrator then abuses its dominion over the country's officials and prevents them from recording their own war dead. To say that this is an unsatisfactory situation would be a gross understatement. It goes against every single principle of democratic accountability, and is more reminiscent of the totalitarian dictatorships that the US and UK profess to be opposing.