The US has reacted with anger to claims that General Tommy Franks, the US commander of the war in Iraq, could be charged with war crimes.
A Belgian lawyer has said he is aiming to file a case next week on behalf of 19 Iraqi civilians alleging among other things that General Franks did nothing to stop the looting of hospitals in Baghdad and that coalition forces fired on an ambulance.
The case echoes a similar motion brought against the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, which strained relations between Belgium and Israel.
The Bush administration has indicated it will treat any prosecution as a major diplomatic incident.
Do you think coalition military leaders could be prosecuted for war crimes over the conflict in Iraq?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
For Americans, there is no higher law than the Constitution
Patrick, Pennsylvania, USA
It does not matter. For Americans, there is no higher law than the Constitution. This is why we do not participate in the ICC. These charges only prove the wisdom of our decision. By the way - who will arrest Gen. Franks? The Belgium army?!
Patrick, Pennsylvania, USA
If no weapons of mass destruction are found, I believe that alone would be a reason to closely look at this question. After all, that was Mr. Bush's excuse for invading the country. Secondly, the coalition forces did absolutely nothing to stop the looting because basically they did not care. In their opinions it was only Iraq's history and who cares? Certainly not them. But this should also include the British and Mr. Blair.
This has got to be a joke! Is liberating a country a war crime? If an indictment is handed to General Franks, this will certainly make the international tribunal irrelevant. How can any sane human being compare Gen. Franks and the US action in Iraq to the atrocities committed by true war criminals in Rwanda and Yugoslavia?
If the Belgian courts are serious then they should also charge themselves, Russia, Germany, Canada and France with the crimes of neglect. The criminal neglect of the innocent Iraqi people against Saddam and his regime is directly responsible for the deaths of over 200,000 innocent Iraqis.
Lexington, KY USA
Finally there is someone who would show these leaders that they are not above law
Bravo Belgian lawyer. Finally there is someone who would show these leaders that they are not above law. Be it Blair, Bush, Sharon or Franks. The war was from start illegal and based on deceits and lies. Now the time has come to punish these criminals who have committed a grave crime in the name of democracy and liberation. Please show these people in such a way so that in future no one leader can abuse their powers. If they are proved wrong and guilty they should be tried just like Milosevic.
The war against the Iraqi regime is totally legal and justified. Saddam repeatedly violated the conditions of the 1991 ceasefire and 18 UN resolutions for over 11 years, but the UN did not enforce their own resolutions or the ceasefire. Thus, the Belgians are completely wrong. The only war crime is that the UN allowed the Butcher of Baghdad to continue his crimes against humanity.
No one should be above the law. Those who are in command - presidents, prime ministers, generals, and others who by their actions are responsible for the killing or injuring of human beings and the destruction of property without provocation, should be brought before an international court of justice, and made to answer for their actions.
Laurie Vella, Victoria, Australia
An open investigation would be better than just letting the issue smoulder. Might even lead to a better definition of who is responsible for what in future conflicts.
George S. Gordon Jr., USA
How many cases did the Belgian court file against Saddam?
By any standard, the recent war with Iraq had minimal civilian casualties. Yes, innocents were killed as happens in any war, but only a small number compared to the number of innocents killed by Saddam's regime. How many cases did the Belgian court file against Saddam? How about North Korea? Iran?
The lack of concern for innocent human suffering is a classic case of a war crime. The US rush to war without first considering the very real possibility of civilian casualties cries out for someone to be held to account, this goes right up the chain of command even to President Bush.
Richard Small, USA
I do not think that would be the right thing to do. Why not start with Saddam Hussein and his ministers? Though the former Iraqi president is not available, yet, but other top officials of the regime are. So, prosecute them.
Mary Remete, Hungary
Yes, coalition leaders should face charges of war crimes. The civilian casualties in Iraq were unnecessary. Many occurred when the coalition decided to bomb civilian neighbourhoods in a failed attempt to assassinate Saddam Hussein. This is clearly contrary to international law.
J. Dan Miner,
Yes of course, the coalition leaders may face war crimes charges but it's impossible at the time being because of their superpowers, huge so modern and sophisticated arsenals and the strongest economy in the world. They control every part/corner in the world. They may face war crime charges in the future; if they are weakened or other powers emerged.
Nabil Abdel Ahad Abdel Baky,
The absence of "peace-lobby" interest in indicting Iraqi leaders speaks volumes
Will the Belgian courts want to have all the credibility of "Comic Ali?" Policy disagreements are not crimes, and hyperbolic, sanctimonious accusations do not contribute to meaningful debate. The absence of "peace-lobby" interest in indicting Iraqi leaders speaks volumes about their true motivations. There are forums for political speech than don't involve the legal system in the process.
John P, UK
Of course the American leaders will not be prosecuted for war crimes. They won. Interestingly the question is not whether they are guilty.
Toby Stewart, Australia
They could and they should. There should be some legal reaction against them for bombing civilian facilities, for shooting at journalists and arresting them, for using cluster bombs. Not to mention the numerous violations of international laws and regulations in the post war situation. There should be a commander held responsible when "the liberators" shoot the "liberated" unarmed civilians.
Dobrin Banov, Switzerland
In this instance, no. Whilst I remain sympathetic to elements of the anti-war protesters I also felt that with no useful alternatives forthcoming, military action was the only action to take to rid the globe of this evil dictator. This petty lawsuit is merely an attempt by some nobody lawyer to raise his profile among his peers and nothing more. Should this action occur it will be a sad day indeed. It would mean that we have all allowed the legal profession to become the self appointed governors of this planet where they feel they solely are allowed to determine what is right and what is wrong in the world and can earn a tidy sum whilst they debate this amongst themselves.
Paul H, UK
Mr Blair and Mr Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld should all be tried in an international court for their crimes against humanity
The use of depleted uranium in weapons with a half life of several billion years is one of the worst crimes against humanity.
Second the use of ILLEGAL CLUSTER BOMBS is a crime against the children of Afghanistan and Iraq who continue to be killed and maimed every day picking up and playing with these often attractive and colourful devices. Mr Blair and Mr Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld should all be tried in an international court for their crimes against international law of warfare (aggressive pre-emptive strike ), international crimes against Humanity and environmental crime against our planet.
Karola , Switzerland
ANY leader should be brought to trial if the international rules of engagement have been breached. If I remember rightly, during the campaign, the American's insisted that that Iraq treat their POW's in line with the Geneva Convention, despite flaunting the very laws themselves and initiating what many believe as an illegal war!! This is just another example of American Gross Hypocrisy!!
I am a Belgian and also really ashamed of what our government is doing and saying But please don't think that all the Belgians are thinking like their awful government a great deal of the Belgian people appreciate USA.
Where were the "principled" and "moral" Belgium and France when Saddam was responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths
There is no "debate", there appears to be only "anti-Americanism". Where were the "principled" and "moral" Belgium and France when Saddam: was responsible for hundreds of thousands Iranian and Iraqi casualties and for 100,000 Northern Iraqis'/Kurd deaths (5,000 to 10,000 by ("where are the WMD") poison gas or when he was responsible for thousands of Kuwaiti deaths (not to mention the environmental damage - where were the environmentalists?).
General Franks, via Pres. Bush, has removed the latest "Scourge of God (or Allah, if you prefer)" who prevented his own people (Shias in Iraq ARE Iraqis) from worshipping according to their religion (Note: I believe that ALL must respect the religion of others).
USA (but living and working in The Netherlands)
All men are equal before the law and there can be no exceptions. If there is sufficient evidence for war crimes and crimes against humanity the people responsible should be prosecuted so that the rule of law can be firmly established even in beleaguered Iraq. Only then will the world become more secure and safe for the rest of humanity.
Start a war crimes trial against Gen Franks? Why don't the Belgians try Saddam Hussein and his ministers first?
Yes, war crimes trials are warranted but not practical. More effective would be the filing of civil suits in U.S. courts by the victims of cluster bombs, trigger happy "brave" soldiers; and, most importantly, the past, present and future cancer patients resulting from the worst weapon of all, depleted uranium. Where are the greedy lawyers? Hundreds of billions of dollars in rightful lawsuits are there for the taking! After all, Americans understand money better than anything else!
Bernard Marcazzo, Italian citizen living in France
In 1993, the Belgian Parliament passed a law adopting the Geneva Conventions of 1949 to its national legislation. This enables Belgian courts to prosecute individuals accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes regardless of the crimes' connection to Belgium or the accused's presence on Belgian soil.
Therefore coalition military leaders can be prosecuted for war crimes if a case can be made. And since Belgian Constitution guarantees a full separation of power (executive, legislative and judiciary), a possible prosecution constitutes by no means a political act; it's only jurisprudence at work.
Military leaders, as all leaders has to stay responsible for the acts performed by their soldiers. A war crime is a war crime, even though the war criminal could happen to be an American one.
A crime is a crime, be it committed by a poor Somalian or by an American general
What makes the US think that they can demand other country's leaders, like Slobodan Milosevic, to be tried at international tribunals yet refuse to go there themselves when called upon? A crime is a crime, be it committed by a poor Somalian or by an American general. Perhaps, the people living in Iraq have a different story to tell about the US "liberating" them from a dictator that they previously installed.
Sure. A crime is a crime, no matter who commits it. And charges should be laid accordingly. Gen. Franks is full responsible.
F. Koller, France
The Belgian courts are established on the moral basis to protect human rights beyond the borders of Europe. Unfortunately, the US is one of a few nations who does not recognize the new international courts. Therefore, General Tommy Franks will more than likely just join the ranks of people living freely like Ariel Sharon, Henry Kissenger, or Robert Mugabe who just have to make sure not to visit Belgium or Holland on their next vacation.
Loic, Belgian in DC
Belgian and the rest of the American haters should wake up and realize their time can be better served by bringing justice to the millions suffer under dictatorship around the world. No wonder Americans don't want to be a part of the International community that can't do anything right except try to take a cheap shot at them.
To paraphrase some of the great leaders of this country "If you haven't done anything than you don't have anything to be afraid of"
It just goes to show that the "anti-war" crowd was in reality only anti-US
What a ridiculous charge. It just goes to show that the "anti-war" crowd was in reality only anti-U.S. Belgium and France are all but openly hostile and probably should be considered enemies of the U.S. now.
All wars of aggression are war crimes. A war without casus belli is a war of aggression. Given the absence
of casus belli (no link to Al Qaeda and no WMD) the Bush/Blair war is a waw crime, and all participants are indictable.
The invasion of Iraq was also interference with the UN inspection effort; especially in light of the US resistance to allowing the inspectors back in. The US became an occupying power the moment a US flag was raised in Umm Qasr, however briefly. Other governments may have to walk a diplomatic fine line and perhaps kowtow to the US. However, individual consumers can certainly pass their own judgements and in the process simultaneously allow competitive industries to grow globally while denying the US access to the markets it so desperately needs to continue on its current despotic path.
Atul Mehta, Canada
It is obscene arrogance to suggest that US soldiers have intentionally caused civilians harm at any time.
The record, from every source, shows clearly that US lives were lost to preserve the lives of others.
None of the accusers can claim to be half as honourable.
Bush and his complete administration lied to the US and world about Iraqi's Weapons Program. Therefore, everyone of them should be tried for war crimes
Anthony M. D'Amato, United States
The US will consider the charges "political harassment"??? I guess we didn't harass El Salvador, Nicaragua, Grenada, Libya, Iran, Panama, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq...
The best action would be for a democratic Iraq sign up to the international court
The best action would be for a democratic Iraq sign up to the international court, investigate the all too many instances of Iraqi deaths at the hands of nervous / trigger happy / undisciplined /careless US troops as well as many other factors and press for charges internationally, for justice and as a celebration of the values of democracy that has been bestow upon them. Full co-operation must undoubtedly be forth-coming from the Coalition, since these are values it felt important enough to enforce upon Iraq.
Barry B, UK
Why don't you ask the newly freed people of Iraq if their liberators should be jailed? Whether or not the war was justified is not for anyone else to decide.
Joe Smo, USA
Any country that attacks another without direct provocation is committing a violent crime - just as if you attack someone who lives a block away believing that person is a member of a street gang that robbed a petrol station recently.
Dan Smart, USA
No good deed goes unpunished. The world better learn quickly not to bite the hand that feeds it. The U.S. people are growing frustrated with the leftist arrogance.
American arrogance knows no bounds. What did they expect, to commit international piracy without censure?
How dare they believe they are above the law?
Bravo Belgium! The fact that American apologists are getting so worked up by this only proves that states like Belgium and France are far from 'insignificant'. The Belgians are right to question the actions of the US government as it seems they are incapable of doing it themselves. And Americans remember, it was the 'insignificant' French state that financed your Independence. No France, no USA.
I seriously doubt that General Franks will lose any sleep over this
By what authority does Belgium have over citizens from other countries? Who set them up as judge and jury? Does Belgium have charges against Osama bin Laden? Probably not. I seriously doubt that General Franks will lose any sleep over this.
Johnny from USA: "by what authority does Belgium have over citizens from other countries?". How can you claim to be so opposed to one country trying to exert its authority over others when this is exactly what your own country is doing?
Stephen Speed, UK
The Americans think they and Israel are above the law. The world should realise that this policy is not new and will not be affected by filing any law suits. These cases will be ignored just as the UN and other world bodies have been ignored over the years. How many UN resolutions were vetoed by the US in favour of Israel? How many passed UN resolutions were ignored by Israel? The only way is economic boycott of these countries. People's power should be demonstrated.
This is what always happens. When a US citizen is involved in such actions the US calls it self defence. But when someone else is involved then it is a crime. Hypocrisy at its best.
For an illegal war built on lies and deceit? I believe that charges are in order. It must not happen again.
I oppose the war, but this action plays into the hands of the neo Conservatives and advances their unilateralist agenda.
Steve Knoll, US
This is the best way to deal with American hegemony
This is the best way to deal with American hegemony, and they must pay the price for an illegal and immoral war, not only Tommy Franks but as Commander-in-Chief Bush and Rumsfeld must be charged with war crimes.
Shabbeer Moosvi, India
I'm outraged by this. During 1981-1990, more than 20,000 Iraqi citizens were arrested and disappeared. How can anyone be more concerned about prosecuting General Franks than finding and prosecuting Iraqi criminals who committed horrible atrocities with malice and forethought?
Virginia McReynolds, USA
What are you, kidding? This is getting ridiculous. It seems to me that the Belgian lawyer and his clients are either after publicity, or just vengeful against the US. It is pathetic. More seriously though, on the question of war crimes: if coalition military leaders specifically and purposefully targeted civilian areas/people because they wanted to kill civilians, then yes, they should be prosecuted. But I doubt this to be the case.
Sure. A crime is a crime, no matter who commits it. And charges should be laid accordingly.
Belgium would be wise not to antagonise the US
I hope this Belgian lawyer thinks very hard before filing that case. Right now, most Americans think nothing of Belgium other than that it is an inconsequential and argumentative little nation that is the pawn of its larger, but similarly inconsequential neighbour. Belgium would be wise not to unduly antagonise the US or repercussions will follow; as the collaborationist French Government will soon find out.
It's not so much a problem for the US as they did not sign up to the International Criminal Court and will simply ignore or threaten anyone who tries to question their actions. However, If I was in Tony Blair's shoes I would be a bit concerned about this.
Anyway, General Franks should not face charges. He was ordered to come up with a strategy for invading Iraq - the decision to actually go ahead and do it was made by his superiors.
The US administration is unilaterally assuming that the invasion was justified
It is very simple to deduce whether coalition military leaders could be charged with war crimes. The question is whether world opinion regards the invasion of Iraq as illegal or otherwise. This can be determined by the International Court. If the invasion is classified as illegal and defying international law then the military leaders should face war crimes charges. At the present moment it seems that the US administration is unilaterally assuming that the invasion was justified.
"We believe the Belgian Government needs to be diligent in taking steps to prevent abuse of the legal system for political ends," - Richard Boucher, US State Department spokesman. Perhaps the US State Department should consider removing the log from its own eye before lecturing the world on abuses of legal systems.
Not only could Franks, Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Perle and Powell be indicted for war crimes - they should be. These men ignored legitimate diplomatic process and are now responsible for the unwarranted killings of thousands of unwilling innocents and combatants under utterly false pretences. The members of the USA's unelected administration are gutting the American public trust solely to fuel their wars of economic conquest, and deserve no less than prosecution.
The US must take its head out of the sand and participate in the proceedings of the International Court. US citizens are as likely as anyone else to commit war crimes and should be answerable to the international community. The insecurity that stops Americans from seeing this is very damaging to the image of democracy in the wider world.
There should be one rule. If Franks and the US soldiers are guilty of not following the 'rules of conduct' then yes they should be charged with war crimes and prosecuted at The Hague. Similarly the US should face charges on the issue of the prisoners of war held in violation of the Geneva Convention in Cuba. But in both cases I doubt that anything will happen as the US administration will never cede jurisdiction, it holds itself above international law and the mighty dollar talks. I feel sorry for my country.
This will only make it easier for the US to dismiss international courts as irrelevant in the future
This is so sad it's almost funny. This lawyer is going to accomplish nothing more than to trivialise the concept of war crimes, and to delegitimize the court that accepts this silly case. This is a complete exercise in futility that is going to serve neither the interests of "justice" nor the international community at large. It will simply provide further proof that international courts are nothing but political tools for factions to further their agendas, and will only make it easier for the US to dismiss them as irrelevant in the future.
I consider that the there is every logical reason to pursue Tommy Franks and others for war crimes. Might is not right in my book and never will be. Unfortunately it is something we might realistically have to fear for in future. Any attempt to curtail it now has my vote. Please include Bush and Blair in the indictment.
A Belgian nobody lawyer is trying to make a name for himself, nothing more. With a bent for this sort of opportunistic self promotion he should really consider a career in politics.
Perhaps the Belgians would be better off bringing charges against Saddam and co
This is the latest in a long line of these cases, and I suspect that it will die a quiet death like all the others. Perhaps the Belgians would be better off bringing charges against Saddam and co.
Whether they are guilty or not is irrelevant. Of course they won't be prosecuted. After all they won the war and the victor never pays for any crimes. Also, when has the Bush administration ever demonstrated any concern for the rule of international law?
Alex H, UK
All sides should be accountable. Just because one side think of themselves as the 'goodies' does not mean they can do (or fail to do) whatever they like.
This just goes to show the wisdom of the US not wishing to participate in the world court.