U.S. State Department BriefingPHILIP REEKER: Okay. Good morning, and welcome to the State Department, to our briefing room today.
The 10th Anniversary of the Iraqi Invasion of KuwaitAugust 2, 2000
(excerpts on document declassification)
As you know, today, August 2nd, 2000, marks the 10th anniversary of the brutal invasion of Kuwait by the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. Ten years ago the world watched as Iraq carried out unprovoked aggression against a neighboring Arab nation.
To brief you today on the 10th anniversary of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, we have Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs C. David Welch and Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues David Scheffer. We will have comments by both gentlemen briefly, and then we'll take your questions.
AMB. SCHEFFER: Thank you, David, and thanks for everyone appearing here today.
Permit me to remind everyone of what happened in Kuwait 10 years ago. Terms such as "brutal," "aggression," and "war crimes" barely begin to describe the reality of what Saddam Hussein's forces did during six and a half months of occupation of Kuwait. We need to remember that reality to understand why the international community, and not just the United States, should hold accountable those who gave the orders for these crimes to be committed.
After the liberation, U.S. Army war crimes investigators and lawyers conducted a comprehensive assessment of Iraqi war crimes. Kuwaiti authorities have since conducted even more comprehensive investigations. Between August 2nd, 1990 and the liberation of Kuwait, we now know that Iraqi forces killed approximately 1,000 civilians. Investigators documented at least two dozen torture sites in Kuwait City. Photographic evidence confirms torture by amputation or injury to various body parts, including eyes, ears, tongues, noses, lips and genitals. Electric shocks were applied to every sensitive body part. Electric drills were used to penetrate chests, legs, or arms of victims. Some victims were killed in acid baths. Women were sexually assaulted, members of families were sometimes forced to watch as other family members were dragged from their homes and shot dead by Iraqi forces.
In addition, as Saddam Hussein's forces were forced to flee Kuwait in February, 1991, he ordered his forces to destroy or release into the Gulf what turned out to be between 7 and 9 million barrels of oil; 590 oil well heads were damaged or destroyed, 508 were set on fire, and 82 were damaged so that oil and gas flowed freely from them. If ever there was a case of a gross violation of military necessity and wanton destruction, the oil fields of Kuwait were such a case.
There is also clear evidence that Iraqi forces engaged in systematic looting, which is a war crime. The orders to loot Kuwait are so clear and widespread that it seems as though Saddam Hussein's son, Uday, must have thought Kuwait was his personal used car lot. Equipment from universities and hospitals was systematically looted and sent to Iraq.
In addition to the crimes against Kuwait and the Kuwaiti people, Iraqi forces took thousands of hostages and used many of them as human shields, which is a violation of the Geneva Conventions. A number of third-country nationals were murdered or sexually assaulted by Iraqi soldiers. All but two of the 21 U.S. soldiers who were taken prisoner during the Gulf War were mistreated, in violation of the Geneva Conventions.
More than 600 Kuwaitis remain unaccounted-for to this day. The fact that Iraq continued to hold Iranian prisoners of war more than 10 years after the end of the Iran-Iraq war gives us hope to this day that these Kuwaitis are alive.
Today we have access to the evidence of crimes that have been committed against the Kuwaiti people and their environment. The Kuwaitis have done an outstanding job in gathering the evidence of the atrocities committed against them. Block by block, they have documented Saddam's campaign against the Kuwaiti people. Through translations of thousands of documents captured by Kuwaiti forces during the liberation, the Center for Research and Studies on Kuwait and other Kuwaiti universities and research centers have compiled an extensive record of the crimes committed on the orders of Saddam Hussein.
For our part, the United States is doing a lot to assist in the documentation of the crimes committed by Saddam Hussein's forces in Kuwait. For example, I am announcing today that we have begun to declassify and make available, through the nongovernmental organization the Iraq Foundation, the first of many documents captured by American forces during the liberation of Kuwait. These first few documents give a sampling of what is in the these thousands of documents. They describe hostage-taking, looting, wanton destruction of property not justified by military necessity, and orders for the destruction of Kuwaiti oil wells. These documents are being made available through the Iraq Foundation's website, which is www.iraqfoundation.org.
By collecting and examining the evidence, we are working hard to bring Saddam Hussein to justice. We believe the evidence justifies an international tribunal, like what exists now for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. In addition, where other countries have laws that permit prosecution under international treaties like the Torture Convention, we encourage them to apply those laws.
By collecting and examining the evidence, we are working to hold Saddam Hussein and his top henchmen accountable for two decades of crimes against the peoples of Iraq, Iran, and Kuwait.
Q Yes, you said that the evidence, the war crimes evidence, justifies an international tribunal on the model of the Rwandan and former Yugoslavia ones. Could you say what you plan to do to promote the establishment of such a tribunal? Is there some -- do you have some kind of plan to get this through the Security Council?
AMB. SCHEFFER: Yes. For quite some time, we have been discussing this proposal with key governments, and we believe that as those discussions evolve in the coming months and as more and more of this compelling evidence makes its way into the public domain, which is what we think is absolutely critical, the compelling character of the evidence against Saddam Hussein will simply not permit a pass on his accountability. Some way, the international community has to face up to more than 20 years of some of the most egregious criminal conduct of the 20th century that Saddam Hussein is responsible for.
So our hope is that, as this evidence becomes more and more compelling, as it is clearly available, translated, and unavoidable, that it simply will make the compelling case that one way or another, there has to be a court of law before which these individuals are investigated, indicted, and someday brought to justice.
Q Do you have a time table, and any kind of time frame for that? Is this something you would like to do within a year or so, or
AMB. SCHEFFER: We would like to see this accomplished in terms of an actual initiative with respect to the launching of official investigations that would lead to indictments. We hope that that can truly be accomplished within the next half year or so.
MR. REEKER: Roy?
Q On that court, Ambassador Scheffer, I wonder -- and on the material that you are planning to release, can you give a better sense of just what you've released, you know, the quality and the quantity that has now come out, and also what you're planning in the next six months?
Secondly, there was one issue at the time of the occupation of Kuwait that was very controversial, and there were a lot of reports in the media about a phoney reported war crime. It had to do, I think, with the maternity ward in a hospital in Kuwait City. And I'm just wondering, what is the outcome of that? I mean, because, in a sense, you -- if you want your documents to be accepted and taken seriously, you have to sort of deal with some of these issues, you know, where there's a claim of inflated or hyped or maybe even wrong facts.
AMB. SCHEFFER: Thanks, Roy.
On your first question, we'll be very frank that the documents that have just been released on the Iraq Foundation website are only the tip of a very, very large iceberg. You're not going to see much there when you go in. And the reason is that there are various stages in bringing this information together and then making it available. One is simply to collect it and get it organized.
Second is to bring the labor to bear that is required for translation of these documents and then synthesizing them in a way that makes them readable and digestible by the public. That is a very, very labor- intensive exercise. War crimes in general is very labor-intensive. You can go so far with technology, but at the end of the day, it's judgment, prosecutors' intelligence, and labor that's required on these documents and on war crimes in general.
And therefore, what I would confirm to you, Roy, is that there's a lot more to come. It's being systematically dealt with in terms of getting it translated. We always have phases where we need to make sure we've got the appropriate amount of labor involved in doing so, and we go through valleys and peaks in terms of the availability of labor, whether it's within the U.S. government or in nongovernmental organizations or in the Kuwaiti government. But there's a lot more to come.
Now what we're trying to give a great deal of focus to right now in this very labor-intensive exercise is the documents that relate to the actual invasion and occupation of Kuwait during the Gulf War, the documents that were seized during the Gulf War. We already have translated -- I don't know if it's tens of thousands of hundreds of thousands of pages of documents from the Anfal campaign, and that's now very available on 176 CD/ROMs. So the Anfal campaign of the late 1990s we have basically socked away as a body of evidence, ready to go any time a prosecutor is prepared to run with it.
The Gulf War is going to take a longer period of time.
But we are also -- and I did this last year, and we continue to do this -- collecting overhead imagery of what is occurring in the southern marshes with respect to the Shi'a. I displayed some of this last year, in October, in New York. And that process continues.
So there is a lot more to go in this process.
Q And a second, brief question is, when did you actually decide to have this declassification operation begun? When was the -- when did you kick that off?
AMB. SCHEFFER: Let's be precise. The declassification of?
Q Of the documents relating to war crimes that are now being posted and that you're planning to release more of in the next six months.
AMB. SCHEFFER: Well, it's just been a process that's been going on for at least a year or more. I'd have to get back to you. I don't know the exact time frame.
(To staff.) Tom, do you have a quick answer to that?
STAFF: (Off mike.)
AMB. SCHEFFER: About a year or so. Yeah.
Q Thank you.
MR. REEKER: Thank you to both our briefers, and thank you all for coming.