US Failing to Properly Probe War Crimes, UN Expert Says
May 28, 2009A U.N. human rights expert said Thursday that the United States is failing to properly investigate alleged war crimes committed by its soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Although some cases are investigated and lead to prosecutions, others aren't or result in lenient sentences, said Philip Alston, the U.N. Human Rights Council's independent investigator on extrajudicial killings.
"There have been chronic and deplorable accountability failures with respect to policies, practices and conduct that resulted in alleged unlawful killings - including possible war crimes - in the United States' international operations," Alston said in a report dated May 26 and published on a U.N. Web site.
Officials at the U.S. mission in Geneva said they were unable to comment immediately on the report, which is scheduled to be presented to the rights council Wednesday.
Alston, a New York University law professor, stressed he saw no evidence on a recent trip to Afghanistan that U.S. forces were committing "widespread" abuses or war crimes.
The U.S. military has conducted dozens of investigations into misconduct by soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, some of which have resulted in trials and convictions.
But among numerous cases mentioned in the report, Alston cited that of Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer, convicted of negligent homicide in the death of Abed Hamed Mowhoush, an Iraqi general who had turned himself in to military authorities. Mowhoush suffocated after his head was covered with a sleeping bag and an electrical cord wrapped around his neck. Welshofer was fined and ordered reprimanded, without jail time.
The U.N. investigator raised the case with U.S. authorities but said he has yet to receive a response.
Alston also criticized the lack of solid statistics on civilian casualties in Afghanistan or Iraq.
Figures collected by the U.S. military on Iraqi civilians killed at checkpoints because they were mistaken for suicide bombers had resulted in changes to military procedure that saved lives, he said.
Alston, an Australian, also examined alleged instances of illegal executions inside the United States, and recommended a systematic review of the death penalty in those states that apply it.
Like other U.N. human rights investigators, Alston is independent and unpaid, but his expenses are covered by the United Nations. His reports have no legal impact, but serve to highlight what he sees as abuses. He is reporting next week on Brazil, Afghanistan, Kenya and Central African Republic.
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