Iraq: U.S.-Led Forces Failed to Secure Key Evidence

Official Documents Looted, Mass Graves Left Unprotected
(Amman, November 4, 2004) — U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq failed  during last year’s invasion to safeguard official documents and the  remains of victims in mass graves, Human Rights Watch said in a report  released today. As a result, crucial evidence for the upcoming trials of  Saddam Hussein and other former Iraqi officials has likely been lost or  seriously tainted.   The 41-page report, “Iraq: The State of the Evidence,” details what  happened to some of the key archival and forensic evidence that the U.S.- led coalition and, more recently, the Iraqi interim government failed to  secure.   In April 2003, former Iraqi officials left behind volumes of official papers  documenting criminal policies and practices. In the past year and a half,  more than 250 mass graves have been identified, some of which contain  the remains of thousands of victims of Saddam Hussein’s rule.   “Given what’s at stake here, the extent of this negligence is alarming,”  said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the Middle East and North  Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. “U.S. and Iraqi authorities were  aware that these documents and remains would be crucial to the  prosecution of Saddam Hussein and other former officials, but they did  little to safeguard them.”   Human Rights Watch said that in the weeks and months following the  invasion of Iraq, U.S.-led coalition forces failed to prevent people from  freely looting thousands of official documents, or to keep relatives of  “disappeared” persons from digging up remains found in some mass  gravesites. Coalition forces subsequently failed to put in place the  professional expertise and assistance necessary to ensure proper  classification and exhumation procedures. As a result, it is very likely that  key evidentiary materials have been lost or tainted.   In the case of mass graves, these failures have also frustrated the ability of  families to know the fate of thousands of missing relatives who  “disappeared” during Saddam Hussein’s rule.   Human Rights Watch urged Iraq’s interim government, with international  assistance, to set up a joint Iraqi and international Commission for Missing  Persons to establish effective procedures for protecting mass graves and  conducting exhumations, and a similar body to oversee the handling of  documents of the former government.   “This material needs urgent attention. The evidence will be critical to any  upcoming trial proceedings,” Whitson said. “And it will also be crucial for  Iraqis as they attempt to construct an accurate record of the atrocities they  suffered under Ba`th Party rule.”   ----------- Please help support the research that made this bulletin possible. In order to protect our objectivity, Human Rights Watch does not accept funding from any government. We depend entirely on the generosity of people like you. To make a contribution, please visit  

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