Victims of Iraq War File Lawsuit

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Posted by Sadie from ? ( on Wednesday, May 14, 2003 at 5:15PM :

How about filing a lawsuit against Bush (& Cheney, Rumsfeld, etc.), too?
May 13, 2003
Agence France Presse

Victims of Iraq War File Lawsuit Against US Commander

Relatives of victims of the Iraq war were expected to file a lawsuit alleging war crimes against US General Tommy Franks, the commander of coalition forces during the conflict, a lawyer said.

The plaintiffs, mostly Iraqis, were filing the suit under a disputed Belgian "universal competence" law which allows charges to be brought regardless of where the alleged crimes took place.

Their suit relates to about 20 alleged crimes during the Iraq war, including three cases in which US troops are accused of firing on ambulances, said lawyer Jan Fermon.

The plaintiffs include Dima Tahbub, widow of Tareq Ayub, a Jordanian correspondent for Qatar-based Arabic satellite broadcaster Al-Jazeera, who was killed on April 8 in a US bombing, he said.

The "universal competence" law, in force since 1993, allows Belgian courts to rule on alleged crimes under international law, regardless of where they were committed, the nationality of the accused or the victims.

The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, said the lawsuit was very serious and could have an effect on the travel arrangements of US officials, although it would be up to diplomats to work out the exact consequences.

"It's looked upon by the US government as a very, very serious situation... It is serious and it could clearly have an impact on where we gather," he said.

The impending lawsuit had already sparked alarm in the US government, which remains concerned about the controversial law despite recent moves by the Belgian parliament to limit its scope.

The lawsuit shows "the danger of a judicial system that's open to politically motivated charges," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said last month.

The Belgian lawyer said some of the allegations were backed up by witness statements by two doctors from a Belgian medical aid group, "Medecins pour le Tiers-Monde" (Doctors for the Third World).

Fermon is also representing several victims of fragmentation bombs as well as civilians fired upon when US troops entered Baghdad, he said.

The lawsuit will also relate to the ransacking of a cultural center"under the eyes of American soldiers".

In early April, Belgian lawmakers tightened up the law to increase the power of federal prosecutors to decide whether to proceed with a suit.

The amendments also curtailed the ability of foreigners to file suit in Belgium and allowed the government to refer certain cases back to the accused party's own country.

In March US Secretary of State Colin Powell said that, unless restricted, the law could affect Belgium's status as an international hub for the activities of both the European Union and NATO.

Some 30 current or former political leaders are facing legal action under the law, including Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, former US president George Bush and Powell.

Copyright 2003 AFP

-- Sadie
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