by Brian Covert

The International Criminal Tribunal on Iraq was recently held in Kyoto, Japan. You can find a two-part report I have written about the tribunal on the website of the San Francisco Independent Media Center website at:


(part 1)

By Brian Covert
Independent Journalist

KYOTO, JAPAN ? On the downtown streets of this ancient city, camera-clad tourists and foreigners wearing traditional Japanese kimono robes fluttered about the sidewalks in anticipation of the Gion Matsuri, one of Japan?s biggest annual summer festivals.

Inside a building located on the parade route that day, however, an equally international cast of characters gathered for a slightly more serious occasion: indicting the leaders of the United States, Britain and Japan for war crimes in Iraq.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Iraq was held here Saturday, July 17, and Sunday, July 18, 2004, and featured direct testimony by Iraqi citizens on the state of their nation.

?I hate to say anything good about Saddam?s regime,? said Haifa Zangana, a former political prisoner from Iraq now living in London, ?but regarding women, I would say it is definitely worse at the moment. Definitely worse economically and worse socially.?

An Iraqi Kurd who fled Iraq in 1975 after being tortured in prison, Zangana added: ?The [US-led] occupation did everything wrong to women ? on every single level. We haven?t seen anything improved regarding women? in Iraq.

Zangana was one of three Iraqis invited to give public testimony about Iraq to the Kyoto tribunal, organized by a Japanese organization called the Movement for Democratic Socialism, and other citizens groups.

A parade of activists, journalists, academics and lawyers gave sworn testimony over the two days of the Kyoto tribunal, bearing witness to the continued suffering of the Iraqi people more than one year after the US-led invasion of that country ? and about one month after a US-appointed Iraqi government ostensibly began taking over its nation?s own affairs.

The mock trial in Kyoto was conducted in traditional courtroom style, with presiding judges; a team of public prosecuting lawyers seeking to indict US president George Bush, British prime minister Tony Blair and Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi for war crimes; and a legal team supporting the three leaders in absentia.

The event was conducted in the spirit of the ?people?s tribunals? organized against the Vietnam War of the 1960s by English philosopher Bertrand Russell ? tribunals designed to give a voice to citizens all over the world on matters concerning genocide and war.

?We meet at this tribunal at a moment of grave crisis for the entire world,? Niloufer Bhagwat, a lawyer and vice president of the Bombay-based Indian Association of Lawyers, said in the tribunal?s opening remarks. ?The world is standing on a precipice.?

?The entire system of laws and rules which we created out of the ashes of more than 50 million dead in the Second World War, the entire international legal system, has collapsed,? she said.

Baghwat said the global financial system has also since been overturned by a shady network of corporations around the world, especially in the US. This kind of tribunal, she said, will expose and hold accountable the mega-corporate criminals.

?This is the beginning. One day, and very soon, there will be a trial,? said Baghwat. ?This is the preparation for that trial, when the so-called enterprises and corporates which are behind the political masks operating from government to government will be tried and will get what they deserve.?

Baghwat also served as judge in a similar tribunal, the International Criminal Tribunal for Afghanistan (ICTA) in Tokyo in March 2004, which indicted US president Bush for crimes of aggression against the Afghan people.

The evidence offered and testimony given at the two-day Kyoto tribunal on Iraq focused on five main areas: the US-led attack on Iraq; the occupation of Iraq; the torture of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere; the US massacre of civilians in the town of Fallujah; and the crimes of Japanese prime minister Koizumi, who is accused of ?aiding and abetting? the US and UK in Iraq.

In his opening summary of the tribunal?s indictment, Romeo T. Capulong, chief of the tribunal?s public prosecution team, said he intended to ?introduce evidence beyond any doubt that US President George W. Bush is a war criminal of the worst type....?

?International law experts, human rights activists, anti-war protesters and peace advocates, as well as the larger international community, agree that the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq once again highlight the current and continuing problems that confront ? if not threaten ? the very survival of the human race in this planet,? said Capulong, a leading human rights lawyer from the Philippines.

The International Criminal Tribunal on Iraq, he said, had a moral obligation to stand up for the many victims around the world ?whose lives have been degraded by superpower unilateralism and domination, and an unjust social order.? He included among those victims ?the broader American people, who suffer because of an expensive war in terms of social benefits and services that are sacrificed and denied to them.?

Akio Sugeno, a Japanese attorney and deputy chief of the prosecutors team, said that ?....the Iraq war is almost tantamount to Hitler?s ambition of global rule. ....We need to try him [Bush] for these crimes.?

The tribunal noted that Bush, Blair and Koizumi had all been officially summoned to the Kyoto hearing through government channels. Since the three leaders had not shown up at the tribunal, a team of amicus curiae (?friend of the court?) lawyers was appointed to support the three leaders? actions in absentia, as well as to ?deepen? the arguments that the three leaders themselves had made concerning the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

?We cannot easily label them as criminals,? Japanese attorney Kenichi Ohkubo, head of the amicus curiae team, said of Bush, Blair and Koizumi. ?If they are criminals, then the voters who elected them and the legal systems in each country are also criminal in nature.?

The defense side also questioned the legitimacy of this kind of public tribunal, saying that it had no legal standing in the international justice system.

Organizers estimated that 1,100 people attended the tribunal over the two days it was held in Kyoto.

The Kyoto tribunal is one in a series of ICTI hearings being held throughout Japan, following the drafting of the ICTI statute in July 2003. A similar tribunal in this part of Japan was held in Kobe in May.

By far, the most powerful testimony in Kyoto came from the three Iraqi citizens, who, like all other witnesses at the tribunal, testified under oath.

Sabah al-Mukhtar, an Iraqi attorney living in exile in London, challenged the idea that the United States invaded Iraqi to free its people from Saddam Hussein.

?How can a foreigner liberate a national? An American cannot liberate an Iraqi from an Iraqi,? he said. ?Liberation is a concept that when there is an occupied territory by foreigners, then you liberate the country. But when we turn logic upside-down, and we start saying that the Americans can liberate Iraq, one has to ask: ?Liberate Iraq from whom? Liberate it from the Iraqis???

If Iraqis have been freed, al-Mukhtar said, it has been at the expense of their own lives: ?Tens of thousands of Iraqis have already been ?liberated? [from] life, they have been killed. That is the liberation we are talking about.?

Al-Mukhtar, president of the London-based Arab Lawyers Network, said that the human rights violations now occurring under the US military forces in Iraq are as bad, if not worse, as those that took place under the regime of Saddam Hussein.

?The human rights abuses during the regime of Saddam were reported. But the human rights abuses now ? we have seen them on film,? he said. ?We?ve seen what?s been happening to Abu Ghraib [prison], we know that there are tens of thousands of Iraqis who have not been put to trial. There are today in Iraq at least 10,000 people who are detained without a trial; they have not seen a lawyer, they have not been charged, they have not been put before a court. This is a fact.?

Capulong, the Filipino chief of the Kyoto tribunal?s prosecution team, asked al-Mukhtar why he thought the US had invaded Iraq in the first place.

?I think the objective of the war, the real objective, is to redraw the map [of the Middle East], number one. And to control the oil, number two,? replied al-Mukhtar, a former legal advisor to the Iraqi National Oil Co.

?And thirdly is to impose the new American era on the world. So for instance, in Saudi Arabia, from now on, if they want to teach the Quran, it has to be taught in the way that the Americans accept it. You have to leave [out] some chapters and some verses from the Quran because it doesn?t suit them.?

He cited as evidence the policy of the US ?new conservatism movement? affiliated with the Project for the New American Century, who, he said, ?have planned these moves and planned these actions way before 2003.?

He said the future of countries like Japan that formerly depended heavily on the Arab world for oil is now a precarious one.

?The Americans have the oil, but that is not enough. What is wanted is to control the oil that goes to others. And this country [Japan] is one of the countries that is absolutely on the receiving end,? he said.

?....I?m an oil man, I used to work for the oil industry,? said al-Mukhtar. ?I have a lot of contacts, and a lot of respect and a lot of relationships with Japan. And I know the relationship between Japan and the Arab world. That relationship is now being dramatically changed.?

So chaotic is the situation in Iraq, said al-Mukhtar, that ?at the present moment, I think if I go to Iraq, probably I will not come out alive again.?

On the issue of the systematic torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, South Korean lawyer Cha Ji-Hoon, serving on the prosecution team, said that Bush must be held responsible for such acts.

?President Bush has the power and authority over all US forces as the supreme commander,? Cha said. ?However, he has never taken any measures to prevent or stop this torture. Therefore, President Bush as the military commander is responsible for the abovementioned war crimes and crimes against humanity.?

In Bush?s defense, Ryosuke Kuboki, a lawyer from Tokyo serving on the amicus curiae team, said that the US-led invasion of Iraq could not be helped, given the country?s weak position under a deadly dictator.

?In Iraq, Hussein, as a resilient dictator, imposed a terror regime for years,? Kuboki said. ?The Iraqi people had no power to emancipate themselves from such oppression. So to free them from certain oppression, they needed external forces ? and those were the US and UK forces.?

Summing up the first day?s defense arguments, Kuboki said history would prove the US correct in its policy on Iraq.

?I would like to emphasize that for a society to be reborn, there is inevitably labor pains that a society needs to suffer. And this is something that all of us need to recognize as the truth as we look back upon history.?

The stage was thus contentiously set for Day Two of the International Criminal Tribunal for Iraq in Kyoto, Japan.

(part 2)
By Brian Covert
Independent Journalist

(continued from part 1)

The second day of the two-day International Criminal Tribunal for Iraq in Kyoto, Japan was kicked off by testimony from Haifa Zangana, an Iraqi Kurd now living in exile in London.

Zangana said she had long been opposed to Saddam Hussein?s Ba?ath party when she lived in Iraq, and because of that she was arrested and imprisoned, including at Iraq?s notorious Abu Ghraib prison.

She was tortured, and later, fearing for her life, fled Iraq in 1975, eventually settling in England, where she has continued working as an author, artist and activist.

?Fifteen months after what?s called ?liberation? of Iraq, most Iraqis feel unsafe in their country,? said Zangana. ?Women and children in particular are at risk. ....Kidnapping is widespread, for various reasons, and specifically kidnapping of women and children. It could happen for revenge, it could happen for profit. In some cases it?s been proved that [they] are sold for prostitution.?

She said these crimes against Iraqi girls and women are going uninvestigated in the chaos that now engulfs Iraqi society.

?So many things are happening, and neither the occupying forces nor the Iraqi representatives working for the occupation forces are leading any investigation in these cases,? said Zangana, co-founder of a London-based organization called Act Together that supports Iraqi women.

She said she last visited Iraqi in January of this year, and found a nation in ruins, politically and socially ? conditions, she said, that are much worse now than when Saddam Hussein was in power.

?[O]ver decades, Iraqi women achieved a lot, especially regarding education and regarding health service. Health service used to be free ? now there is total chaos. Iraqi children are dying because of neglect. Women are dying because of the lack of medicine, lack of health care.?

She said the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq has led to widespread unemployment and poverty in her homeland.

?The dismantling of the Iraqi state immediately after the war led to huge, massive unemployment,? Zangana said. ?I mean, how can you be independent if you are staying at home, imprisoned in your house because of lack of security? How can you support yourself and be independent if you can?t work?

?Iraq has the highest level of educated women ? women engineers, women scientists ? in the Middle East,? she continued. ?Yet they are forced at the moment to stay in their houses, not being able to go to work at all, and they are not employed.?

She said the United States, through its political control in Iraq, is contributing to such high unemployment.

?You need a letter of recommendation from one of the political parties chosen by the Americans. If you don?t have this letter, if you don?t prove you are a member of those political parties, you cannot go and work.?

The widespread poverty in Iraq has given rise to an unprecedented situation in Iraq, she said, where women are turning to prostitution to survive.

?Because of poverty, we noticed that there is an increase of prostitution. And prostitution is leading to abortions."

?Abortion is illegal in Iraq. But now we?ve seen the growth of many backstreet, unhygienic [abortion rooms] ? almost killing women in these small rooms in the backstreets of Iraq, Baghdad specifically,? she said. ?I visited one of them and it?s a most horrendous situation women are subjected to. This is part of the whole climate of poverty.?

She added that ?We are not talking about a poor country. We are not talking about an African country suffering from famine. We are talking about the second-richest country in oil in the world.?

Japanese attorney Kenichi Ohkubo of the amicus curiae (defense) team asked Zangana if she believed the Iraqis had really been strong enough to overthrow Saddam Hussein without the help of the US and UK.

?Yes, I do, yes. You see, the Iraqi people did not stop struggling against Saddam?s regime,? said the former Iraqi political prisoner. ?Thirteen years of [UN-imposed] sanctions...weakened the Iraqi people; it didn?t weaken the regime itself. ....For 13 years of sanctions, Iraqis were cut off from the world.....Yes, I think Iraqi people were capable of achieving that.?

?I am a Kurd myself,? Zangana added, referring to the ethnic group that had been persecuted by Saddam Hussein for decades. ?And I am not grateful at all for the American, British, Japanese armies there in Iraq, claiming they are protecting us or liberating us. They did more damage than anybody can ever imagine at the moment.?

Her testimony was immediately followed by that of another Iraqi, Ghazwan al-Mukhtar, a retired engineer who still lives with his family in Iraq. He is the brother of Sabah al-Mukhtar, the Iraqi exile who testified in the first day of the Kyoto tribunal.

Ghazwan al-Mukhtar had studied in the US during the 1960s, and began working for the Iraqi government upon his return to his country. He later opened his own engineering office, and he and his wife, who is a doctor, had been putting their children through medical school.

Al-Mukhtar, who was no fan of the regime of Saddam Hussein when he was in power, said when the US forces dissolved the Iraqi police and military, law and order in Iraq became a thing of the past.

?The crime rate did not increase very much until the beginning of the war [by the US], because there was a functioning police,? he said. ?The [Iraqi] police knew the criminals and they were monitoring them. As soon as the war began, and the police stations were dismantled and the police officers were sent home, the criminal elements [in Iraq] had a field day.

?There was encouragement from the American side to loot and to burn.?

He added that a burnt-out police station near his home was guarded by a police officer with nothing more than a pocket knife to fight off intruders: ?While the criminal elements had all kind of armaments, they had automatic weapons, they had rocket launchers, they had everything ? the policeman had a small knife to protect the police station.?

Al-Mukhtar has been working with Global Exchange, a US nonprofit organization, in setting up the International Occupation Watch Center, a Baghdad-based grassroots group that monitors the situation in Iraq and shares that information with the international community.

He didn?t have to look too far in the beginning, as US military forces closed down and occupied a nearby school, originally founded by American Jesuits, that his child was attending. It was only after he and other local Iraqis demonstrated in front of the foreign press that the US soldiers left the school, he said.

Hospitals in Iraq were equally hard-hit following the US invasion, said al-Mukhtar.

?Because of the deteriorating conditions of the pumps and electricity, you?ve got sewage flowing on the floor! In some hospitals the sewage is flowing on the floor. You go into the hospital and you can?t breathe because it smells so bad, because the pumps stopped working,? he said. ?You try to do an operation on the second floor and move the patient after the operation to the 10th floor, and there is no elevator. What do you do? You carry the patient on a stretcher. It?s very difficult.?

He said that ?conditions are even worse? in the health care field now than they were under Saddam Hussein. ?Mind you, Iraq had the best health system, according to the WHO, in the Middle East in the 1990s. Now because of the war and the sanctions and the other [Gulf] war we have the worst medical facilities in the world.?

Tokyo-based lawyer Akira Ibori of the defense team asked al-Mukhtar if his country hadn?t been helped by the US reconstruction efforts in Iraq.

?You are assuming that there is an honest effort for reconstruction,? al-Mukhtar told the lawyer. ?That?s a big assumption..... There is no real, definite plan for reconstruction. That is visible to us. So the reconstruction is not hampered by the insurgents or the thieves. ....They [the US] have not done the contracting yet, despite the 15 months? the American forces have been Iraq.

During the second day of the tribunal, it was Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi?s turn to come under fire for supporting the US and UK in invading and occupying Iraq. The public prosecuting team asserted that Koizumi was an ?accomplice? to US president George Bush and British prime minister Tony Blair, and thus should stand trial alongside the other two for war crimes in Iraq and crimes against humanity.

But the defense side soundly rejected that argrument.

?Suppose you were in the shoes of the prime minister of Japan. Can you say that you would not have done the same thing that he has done?? a Japanese attorney on the amicus curiae side asked the audience. ?Probably you think Prime Minister Koizumi is dumb. But think about the relationship between Japan and the United States. ...If Japan does not follow the instructions of the United States, and if the US-Japan relationship deteriorates, what would happen? Our economy would collapse.?

?You can say ?No more war?, ?Respect life? and ?We are against the war in Iraq?. That?s easier said than done. But let?s think about the position of Japan? in the world before judging Koizumi, the amicus curiae lawyer said.

International politics wasn?t the only area where the Japanese prime minister came under fire. Kenichi Asano, a journalist and professor of mass communications at Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan, held Koizumi responsible for what he called excessive control of the Japanese press in Iraq, thus effectively covering up war crimes from the Japanese public.

?Today the media are really freeing themselves from the responsibility of serving as an independent press,? Asano said. ?Koizumi has been committing these [war] crimes, and part of that comes from the malfunctioning of the media.?

About 500 Japanese military troops, called Self-Defense Forces, are now based in Samawah, Iraq, following Koizumi?s controversial dispatch of the forces there earlier this year. The majority of public opinion in Japan has long been against such a move.

Samawah is an area with an especially high contamination level of depleted uranium, according to recent news reports in the US.

Asano said that there is only Japanese journalist, a freelancer, based in Samawah. During the first day of testimony, Taku Sakamoto, a reporter for the Tokyo-based , showed some rare footage of Iraq that he and his team was able to gather independently and without Japanese government control.

Asano added that while mainstream Japanese news reporters who do go to Iraq are not officially ?embedded,? as are many journalists with US troops, Japanese reporters nevertheless are forced by the Japanese government to sign a ?pledge? as to what they can and cannot cover in Iraq.

?The mission of journalism and the mission of the Self-Defense Forces are completely different,? said Asano, a former reporter of more than 20 years with Kyodo News wire service and now one of Japan?s most well-known media critics.

?Journalism knows no national boundary,? he said. ?The policies of the news agencies never state that their employees work for the benefit and interest of the Japanese nation. So we shouldn?t confuse the role of journalism with the role of the government or the SDF.?

The tribunal also took testimony from activists in Okinawa, where most of the US military bases in Japan are located. Some of those US soldiers in Okinawa are undergoing training to fight in Iraq.

In a videotaped interview with some Okinawa-based US soldiers that was shown at the Kyoto tribunal, a Japanese activist asked one US soldier how he sees his job. ?World freedom. To defend, like, world freedom,? replied the 22-year-old soldier, drawing laughter from the Kyoto tribunal audience. ?To help make the world a better place. I fight for freedom, pretty much. That?s my job.?

When asked what he thought about the recent Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal in Iraq involving the US military, the soldier replied: ?I don?t think we?re at liberty to discuss our personal feelings or anything like that. So I would have to say ?no comment?.?

The two-day tribunal wound to a close with testimony by Ayca Cubukcu, a Turkish-American activist based in New York who was involved in organizing the New York hearing of the World Tribunal on Iraq (WTI) in May.

The WTI is holding tribunals at various cities around the world, including one scheduled for Hiroshima, Japan, in October.

The information gathered at the two-day Kyoto ICTI meeting ? and its resulting indictment of George Bush, Tony Blair and Junichiro Koizumi for international war crimes ? is to be used at Japan?s final ICTI tribunal in Tokyo in December, with those results then forwarded on to a culminating WTI hearing in Istanbul, Turkey, in March 2005.

Following the closing of the two-day Kyoto tribunal on Sunday, July 18, about 100 people, including the three Iraqi witnesses, joined a peace march through the hot, humid streets of downtown Kyoto, where some harassment of demonstrators by police was witnessed by this reporter.

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