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A Times Editorial

Reopen inquiry into Iraqi civilian deaths

Regardless of whether one agrees with the way Wiki-Leaks releases confidential government records, its latest document dump includes an important, disturbing disclosure. A diplomatic cable includes evidence that U.S. troops in Iraq executed at least 10 civilians, including five children. The cable also suggests the incident was covered up. Although the U.S. military already has cleared American troops of any wrongdoing, the Obama administration has a duty to reopen the case. Ignoring the allegations or chalking the incident up to the fog of war is not an option if the United States wants to stand as a model to Iraq's nascent democracy.

The unclassified cable was from Philip Alston, the United Nations' special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and addressed U.S. officials in the days following the March 2006 incident in the central Iraq town of Ishaqi. The United States maintained that the deadly scene was the result of a firefight with an al-Qaida in Iraq suspect that resulted in the house he was hiding in being destroyed. A U.S. military probe in 2006 cleared the American troops, saying they followed standard procedure and any civilian deaths were unintentional.

But according to Alston's version, which reflects the claims of local townspeople and a report by the Iraqi-run Joint Coordination Center in Tikrit, American troops entered the house of a farmer after being met with gunfire, then killed all the residents and called in an airstrike to destroy the evidence. Alston points to autopsies showing that the bodies were handcuffed and shot in the head. Among those were four women and five children, all of whom were under 6 years old.

Alston said that as of 2010 — his latest data — he had received no U.S. response to his inquiry and the Iraqi government had been equally close-lipped. But now that the public has been made aware of corroborating evidence that Iraqi civilians were summarily executed by American troops, the case should be reopened and further investigated. The Obama administration should do its own independent inquiry and cooperate with Alston's efforts. There are too many unanswered questions and conflicting accounts for the initial military investigation — conducted during a chaotic period of fierce sectarian violence and at a time when the U.S. military was on the defensive for causing excessive civilian deaths — to be the final word.

Reopen inquiry into Iraqi civilian deaths 09/01/11 [Last modified: Thursday, September 1, 2011 5:50pm]
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