The war in Iraq cannot be justified as an intervention in defense of human rights even though it ended a brutal regime, Human Rights Watch said Monday, dismissing one of the Bush administration’s main arguments for the invasion.
While Saddam Hussein had an atrocious human rights record and life has improved for Iraqis since his ouster, his worst actions occurred long before the war, the advocacy group said in its annual report. It said there was no ongoing or imminent mass killing in Iraq when the conflict began.
President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair cited the threat from Saddam’s alleged weapons of mass destruction as their main reason for attacking Iraq. But as coalition forces have failed to find evidence of such weapons, both leaders have also highlighted the brutality of the regime when justifying military intervention.
Human Rights Watch, however, rejected such claims.
“The Bush administration cannot justify the war in Iraq as a humanitarian intervention, and neither can Tony Blair,” executive director Kenneth Roth said.
Atrocities such as Saddam’s 1988 mass killing of Kurds would have justified humanitarian intervention, Roth said.
“But such interventions should be reserved for stopping an imminent or ongoing slaughter,” he added. “They shouldn’t be used belatedly to address atrocities that were ignored in the past.”
The 407-page Human Rights Watch World Report 2004 also said the U.S. government was applying “war rules” to the struggle against global terrorism and denying terror suspects their rights. It suggested that “police rules” of law enforcement should be applied in such cases instead.
“In times of war you can detain someone summarily until the end of the war and you can shoot to kill. And those are two powers that the Bush administration wants to have globally,” Roth said. “I think that’s very dangerous.”
Human Rights Watch criticized the United States for detaining 660 so-called “enemy combatants” without charges at a U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Most of the detainees were captured in Afghanistan.
“The administration’s actions display a perilous belief that, in the fight against terrorism, the executive is above the law,” the report said.
Government officials have said the lengthy detentions are vital to intelligence-gathering and that the information gleaned from prisoners has led to arrests around the world.
Chechnya, other reports
The New York-based group further said that European and other governments were ignoring human rights abuses in the conflict in Chechnya, which Russia characterizes as its contribution to the global war on terror.
The annual survey featured 15 essays related to war and human rights. But unlike previous versions, it did not include summaries of human rights events in countries where Human Rights Watch works. Instead, information on those nations was available on the group’s Web site at www.hrw.org.