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October 22, 2003

By Randall B. Hamud

On May 15, 2003, the Los Angeles Times reported that a Belgian legislator had lodged a war crimes complaint against US Army General Tommy Franks, as commander, and Marine Corps Lt. Col. Brian (Bryan is correct) P. McCoy for the latter's alleged killing of Iraqi and Jordanian civilians during the battle for Baghdad. ("Belgian Says Gen. Franks Committed War Crimes", Los Angeles Times, page A12.) I suspect that the complaint arose from Peter Maas's April 20, 2003, New York Times story entitled "Good Kills," in which Mr. Maas, a reporter embedded with the Third Battalion, Fourth Marines, witnessed and recounted an incident that occurred on April, 6, 2003, at the Diyala Bridge in Southeastern Baghdad. On its face, Mr. Maas's startling account seems to provide prima facie proof of the possible commission of a war crime by Col. McCoy and his troops.

My question is simple: why must a Belgian legislator rather than American authorities be the first to raise a hue and cry about this incident?

The specifics are appalling. Putting aside Col. McCoy's bravado for Mr. Maas's and posterity's benefit, "Lordy, heck of a day. Good kills," the Colonel repeatedly allowed his men to fire on vehicles packed with unarmed civilians. Time and again, civilian-laden vehicles appeared in the gun-sights of Col. McCoy's troops; and time and again without proper warning they fired at the vehicles.

Mr. Maas himself counted six vehicles that came under fire. "Most of them contained corpses or had corpses near them." Fortunately, one of the civilians, a woman, survived the killing field; but her sister, who sat next to her in their vehicle, was not so lucky.

The United States War Crimes statute (18 United States Code section 2441) forbids the commission of a "war crime" by any member of the United States Armed forces.

The pertinent provisions of the statute define a "war crime" as any conduct which is a grave breach of the four Geneva Conventions, any violation of Geneva Common Article 3 [Articles 1 - 3 are identical in all four Geneva conventions -- Ed.], or any violation of Articles 23, 25, 27, or 28 of the Annex to the Hague Convention IV of 1907. Those provisions, in turn, prohibit violence against innocent civilians. Mr. Maas's account clearly raises the question of whether Col. McCoy and his troops violated section 2441 on April 6th.

Recall that in the year 2000 allegations were raised that US troops had committed war crimes in 1950 during the Korean War by firing on civilians at a bridge located at No Gun Ri in South Korea. However, by the year 2000, witnesses were dead; memories were faded; and documents were long destroyed. The truth will never be known.

Such is not the case with Col. McCoy and his troops actions at the Diyala bridge on April 6, 2003. The witnesses are still alive, some of the victims are too; the Colonel is available for questioning; and so are his troops.

Let an investigation by American military authorities begin immediately before the truth of what happened at the Diyala Bridge on that terrible day becomes but another "casualty of war".

Randall B. Hamud
Attorney at Law
1200 3rd Ave, Ste 1321
San Diego, CA 92101

Tel: 619-696-0815
Fax: 858-457-1934

2003 Randall B. Hamud

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