This gallery contains 16 photos.
“Of all the crimes committed against the Kurdish people through history, Halabja has come to symbolize the worst repression of the Kurdish People. Halabja was a town of 70,000 people located in Southern Kurdistan (Iraqi Kurdistan) about 8-10 miles from the Iranian border. In 16 of March 1988 the town became a target of a chemical bomb attack over three days. During these three days, the Iraqi regime brutally attacked the town and the surrounding district with bombs, artillery and chemical bombs. The chemical weapons were the most destructive of them all. At least 5,000 of the town’s inhabitants died immediately as the result of the chemical bombings and up to 12,000 people died during the course of those three days. The chemicals used involved mustard gas, nerve agent and possibly cyanide.
The town of Halabja was bombarded more than twenty times by warplanes of the Iraqi regime with both cluster and chemical bombs. In the streets and alleys of Halabja there were dead bodies piled up over one another. (…)
The world should not forget this day and especially not the Kurdish people. We shall learn from the genocides committed to any people living on this planet and prevent anything that could lead to another mass murder or genocide. Today Turkey and Iran are bombing villages in Southern Kurdistan and keep doing so with the silence nor any condemnation of the world leading powers. (…)”
Up to 182,000 Kurds were killed between 1987-89 in the Anfal (“the spoils”) campaign, including thousands who fell where they stood — mothers clutching babies, villagers trying in vain to run to safety — in Halabja when gassed with chemical agents including mustard gas and sarin in March 1988. After being tried for crimes against humanity, the orchestrator of the Anfal campaign — in which 4,000 villages in Iraqi Kurdistan were destroyed, 250 towns were tainted by chemical weapons, and tens of thousands of Kurds were summarily executed or disappeared — Ali Hassan al-Majid, aka Saddam’s cousin, was sentenced to hang for crimes against humanity.
However, the presidential council did not approve the executions of the other two officials from Saddam’s regime who were tried with al-Majid: Hussein Rashid Mohammed, former deputy director of operations for the Iraqi armed forces, and former defense minister Sultan Hashim al-Taie. Sunni leaders had voiced objections to the two sentences, saying the men were forced to follow Saddam’s nefarious orders. Chemical Ali, convicted in June 2007, will be the fifth official from Saddam’s regime to hang for crimes of the Hussein era.
Now that his execution has been approved by Kurdish President Jalal Talabani and the Sunni and Shiite vice presidents, Ali could be executed at any time.
Human Rights Watch details tapes of Chemical Ali speaking in meetings with senior Baath Party officials in 1988 and 1989. An excerpt from a 1988 tape:
“…We continued the deportations. I told the mustashars that they might say that they like their villages and that they won’t leave. I said I cannot let your village stay because I will attack it with chemical weapons. Then you and your family will die. You must leave right now. Because I cannot tell you the same day that I am going to attack with chemical weapons. I will kill them all with chemical weapons! Who is going to say anything? The international community? F**k them! The international community and those who listen to them.
… This is my intention, and I want you to take serious note of it. As soon as we complete the deportations, we will start attacking them everywhere according to a systematic military plan. Even their strongholds. In our attacks we will take back one third or one half of what is under their control. If we can try to take two-thirds, then we will surround them in a small pocket and attack them with chemical weapons. I will not attack them with chemicals just one day, but I will continue to attack them with chemicals for fifteen days. Then I will announce that anyone who wishes to surrender with his gun will be allowed to do so. Anyone willing to come back is welcome, and those who do not return will be attacked again with new, destructive chemicals. I will not mention the name of the chemical because that is classified information. But I will say with new destructive weapons that will destroy you.”
Ali first had to face trial as a co-defendant in the 1992 execution of several dozen merchants accused of profiteering before his sentence could be carried out.
As we neared the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war, yet another mass grave was discovered in a country that is pocked with crude burial sites dating back to Saddam Hussein’s Baathist rule that began in 1979. That grave — the largest yet in Diyala province — was discovered March 7, 2008, near an orchard, and contains the remains of about 100 people, the decomposition initially suggesting that they had been there for some time. Unfortunately, the discovery is nothing new. The best way to get an idea of the magnitude of these finds is to check out this albumthat Iraqis have kept, detailing the business of trying to identify the victims, trying to find answers, and mourning the dead. How the bodies are found at each site tell a story: victims blindfolded, victims shot at point-blank range, victims including women and children, and sometimes women clutching children. How the families are sent home with plastic bags containing the remains of their loved ones, with shrouded women and men alike wailing over the cold, plain bags.
Who are the people in these graves? The State Department says most identified graves contain victims from:
- “The 1983 attack against Kurdish citizens belonging to the Barzani tribe, 8,000 of whom were rounded up by the regime in northern Iraq and executed in deserts at great distances from their homes.
- The 1988 Anfal campaign, during which as many as 182,000 people disappeared. Most of the men were separated from their families and were executed in deserts in the west and southwest of Iraq. The remains of some of their wives and children have also been found in mass graves.
- Chemical attacks against Kurdish villages from 1986 to 1988, including the Halabja attack, when the Iraqi Air Force dropped sarin, VX and tabun chemical agents on the civilian population, killing 5,000 people immediately and causing long-term medical problems, related deaths, and birth defects among the progeny of thousands more.
- The 1991 massacre of Iraqi Shi’a Muslims after the Shi’a uprising at the end of the Gulf war, in which tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians in such regions as Basra and Al-Hillah were killed.
- The 1991 Kurdish massacre, which targeted civilians and soldiers who fought for autonomy in northern Iraq after the Gulf war.”
A man named Taimour spoke to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council in 2005 about surviving one of these purges:
- “In 1988, I was 12 years old and lived in a village in north of Iraq with my family. One day the Iraqi government brought some tanks and helicopters and soldiers. They came to the village and they burned down more than 4,500 villages, including my village. They took us to a huge military base, which also can be a jail, on the border of Iran and Iraq. …
After ten days they took us to a military base for mainly Kurdish people. Before we entered the jail they separated the men from the women. They put the children and the women on the side and put them in jail. Of course, the same thing happened there. The weather was very hot and we barely had food, a lot of children died because of hunger and a lot of women were raped. The Iraqi soldiers would come into the jail and look at women and whichever they preferred they would take her, rape her and kill her.
After living for thirty days a horrible life there, 6:00 o’clock one morning they brought 30 buses that were closed—no windows—and you could barely breathe. They put children and women in there and they drove all the day until 7:00 o’clock at night. When we got to the border of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, before we got to the place where they were to shoot us and kill us, they took everybody out and they gave us some water. I think the water had some kind of drug because when I drank the water my whole body became numb. I couldn’t even feel it.
They handcuffed me, they closed my eyes and they threw me into the bus—not just me but everybody else. They drove another ten minutes and then stopped. When they stopped they opened the door, and when they opened the door I opened my eyes and I looked. There were holes dug for us with bulldozers. A lot of holes were dug. I would say more than a hundred holes, and they threw everybody in there and they waited for the weather to get dark and then they started shooting at innocent people, children and women, with machine guns, AK-47s.
There was a woman who was pregnant and about to give birth inside the car when they were driving. They threw her into the hole and they shot her so many times her stomach got ripped and the baby fell out. This is something I saw with my own eyes—I was there in the same hole.
I got shot in my left shoulder. I tried to run at the soldier—I was trying to stop the shooting, which I couldn’t. I was trying to tell him—I didn’t speak Arabic at that time—I was trying to tell him that we’re just children and women. We’re innocent people. We haven’t done anything. There’s no reason for you guys to kill us. It didn’t work. They threw me back into the hole and they started shooting at us again, and that’s when I got three to four bullets in my back. …”
Taimour played dead, taking cover under other bodies, waited until dark and till he could no longer hear soldiers above, and was able to stagger away. He went as far as he could before collapsing, and he was rescued by Bedouins.
Written by Kristi Mayo
SKELETONIZED REMAINS that were carefully unearthed from the desert sands of Iraq tell their own story: the bones of an adult, still dressed in a woman’s apparel, lie supine. The skull is perforated by a bullet hole. Tucked in the space between the ribs and the left humerus is a much smaller skeleton, bones in the skull un-fused, and the fully clothed body partially swaddled in a blanket.
All around this pair lie other human remains, piled one on top of the other. Some are blindfolded, others have their hands bound. They have been excavated from one of the documented mass graves in the Iraqi desert, the result of Saddam Hussein’s attempt to wipe out the Kurdish people during the 1980s and 1990s
In the fall of 2004, the Mass Graves Investigation Team (MGIT)—a group of archaeologists, anthropologists, and other forensic experts—came together under the leadership of Dr. Michael K. Trimble of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Their mission was to recover evidence of genocide—evidence that would subsequently be used by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Regime Crimes Liaison Office (RCLO) in the trials against Hussein and other members of the former Iraqi regime.
Before beginning this historic project, the team leaders realized the importance of the evidence that they would be recovering and handling. All of the human remains, cultural objects, and other associated evidence—plus the actual exhumation, processing, and chain of custody of that evidence—would need to be thoroughly documented with photographs. There were multiple questions confronting the team leaders: How would they capture those images? How should they protect the integrity of those images? How could they organize them in such a way that they could be presented in trial?
Digital photography appeared to be the obvious solution to the team’s immediate needs, but concerns still existed about the ability to defend the integrity of the digital images in court. So Trimble made a phone call to an expert who had spent his career defend-ing the technology of digital imaging, David Knoerlein
The mission of a lifetime
During the time he spent working as the forensic analyst in the digital-imaging lab at Broward County (Florida) Sheriff’s Office, Knoerlein had the opportunity to defend digital-image enhancement in important cases such as State of Florida v. Victor Reyes (see ETM, July-August 2003, Vol. 1, No. 2). His reputation as an expert in the field led Trimble to call Knoerlein in 2004 and ask him to serve as the imaging systems manager for the Mass Graves Investigation Team.
When he received that phone call, Knoerlein was initially hesitant to take leave from his job at the sheriff’s office to photograph mass graves in a war zone. But then his wife encouraged him by describing it as the chance of a lifetime. “Not everyone gets the chance of a lifetime,” she told him, “and those who do, don’t always take it.”
“That was the phrase that got me going,” said Knoerlein. “Through most of my career, I had been one of the people fighting for the acceptance of digital imaging in law enforcement in the United States, and here I would have a chance to do the same thing in a world court. This was the big show. I figured if I could create an all-digital system that could withstand the challenges in a world court, then we could bring it back home and we shouldn’t have any problem with the court system in the United States accepting it.”
Before leaving home, Knoerlein had a lot of work to do, including making equipment lists and establishing the digital-imaging guidelines and procedures that the team would follow. He said establishing standard operating procedures (SOPs) was probably the most important part of his preparation.
“I explained to the people in charge that the only way this would work was if I created a system that I could monitor—and then everyone involved would need to be trained on how to use that system,” said Knoerlein. “We would write up the SOPs, and each individual involved in digital imaging would need to follow those SOPs specifically. If they didn’t, then it could discredit the entire operation.”
Upon arriving in Iraq for the first of seven trips he would make over a period of three years, Knoerlein quickly realized that no amount of preparation guarantees smooth operation in a war zone. Equipment trickled into the base camp, one small shipment at a time—if it made it there at all. Some of the equipment was stolen or blown up in a landmine incident.
The first mission was the most difficult, said Knoerlein, due to the lack of resources and situations that forced some improvisation and revisions to the SOPs. But it served as an important learning experience that paved the way for the following missions to run much smoother. The subsequent missions were also easier because the team moved to a permanent location on a military base in Baghdad—an eight-tent laboratory facility that they named the Forensic Analysis Facility (FAF).
Complicated database of images
By the time the team was on its second mission, the digital-imaging workflow had been well established. A careful understanding—and precise execution —of the SOPs by every member of the team was key, because the digital-imaging lab became a sort of hub for the entire operation.
“Almost every expert—whether it was an anthropologist or a cultural-objects analyst or a document archivist
—dealt with digital imaging in the course of their work,” said Knoerlein. “All of those images had to be put into the database.”
That database began as a commercially available version of software—created by DataWorks Plus—that was intended for law-enforcement applications. The program was tailored over time by Knoerlein, working with the DataWorks Plus technicians, to meet the specific needs of the operation. This was a secure database that preserved the images in their original, unaltered format. It also helped organize the images by allowing the digital-imaging team to catalog the images, add notes, and assign multiple codes to each—codes that made it much easier to search for specific types of images in the ever-growing database.
“In the database, first you would have the mass-grave number that was assigned to that particular location and province. Then, each set of remains was assigned an individual case number,” Knoerlein explained.
Anything associated with that set of remains—such as clothing, jewelry, documents, or other cultural objects—was filed under that case number. Then, the team established a list of codes that could be assigned to note the significant elements that were shown in each photograph. For example, an image showing detail of trauma to a bone would list a trauma number, such as Trauma 1 or Trauma 4, depending on the severity of the injury. There was a different code for each part of the anat-omy, as well. Multiple codes could be assigned to a single image.
Adding this search function was critical when image-driven reports, consisting of thousands of pages, were compiled for presentation in court.
“As the archaeologists were writing their reports, they would get on the radio and call me and ask for Evidence Number XYZ, Image Number 000, and I was able to pull up the image, put it on a CD or a thumb drive, run it over to them, and they could insert it right into the report.”
Adding the images to the database was one of the final steps in the process. Some of the most important SOPs established for this project dictated how the images were taken, what kinds of images were captured, and how they were handled before they were even uploaded to the database.
Images that were captured at the dig site and, later, in the laboratory, were categorized into one of two groups: reference images and detail images.
Reference images were shot in a lower-quality, compressed format, such as a JPEG. They included overall shots taken at the dig site; perpendicular shots of individual remains in situ (in place) at the gravesite; full-skeletal layout photographs taken in the laboratory; and images of each item of clothing and cultural objects after they were cleaned at the laboratory.
Detail images were shot as uncompressed TIFFs. These images, taken with a scale in place next to the object, showed important details of evidence, such as trauma to a bone or imperfections caused by projectiles in clothing. The high resolution of these detail images was intended to allow for further analysis by experts if necessary.
As these images were captured in the field or in the laboratory, the photographer was required to keep a written photo log. This included notes about the subject of each image. It was critical that the photographer account for every image, and that no images be deleted from the camera’s memory card.
“There was absolutely no deleting allowed, anywhere,” said Knoerlein. “No one deleted a bad shot, or even a picture of their foot. That stayed in and was actually recorded in the log as: Picture of foot. Accident.”
At the end of each day, the photographer working in the field uploaded the images from the camera’s memory card to a laptop, and then burned a CD of the original, unaltered images. This CD would be packaged with the day’s photo log. When the photographer returned from the field to the project’s image-management database, he would load the images into the database along with his field notes.
At the FAF, team members responsible for capturing images throughout the day’s work would deliver to the imaging-systems manager a job folder containing the memory card, the photo log, and other associated materials such as CDs. With the help of an assistant, this data was loaded into the database.
As images were acquired into the database, the original, unaltered, full-resolution image was automatically off-loaded by the DataWorks Plus soft-ware onto a separate hard drive, while two new copies of each image were generated in the database: (1) a low-resolution thumbnail and (2) a higher-resolution JPEG. The hard drives where the unaltered originals were stored were then cloned several times to serve as redundant backups.
“We ended up with about a dozen 250-gigabyte hard drives, and we would make two or three copies of each hard drive,” said Knoerlein. As the project got into full swing, digital images were being delivered at the end of the day from a multitude of sources:
“For one set of remains at one site, you would have images taken at the site of that set of remains; the skeletal-layout shot taken by the anthropologist; the detailed images of the skull or bones; the clothing; digital x-rays; and digital scans of film x-rays for anything bigger than a skull,” listed Knoerlein.
“In the meantime, the mapping team would be working in their tent, using their data to put together map images. The map image showing the location of that one set of remains in the gravesite would need to be added to the digital database, as well.
“At the same time, if they recovered documents, those needed to be photo-graphed before and after they were cleaned. Then I would perform a high-resolution scan and perform enhancements—so the full-resolution scan and the enhanced image would be included in the database.
“We also had all the images coming in from the intake tent and the archive tent, where photographs were taken to document chain of custody any time a packaged piece of evidence was sealed or unsealed.”
SOPs spelled success
Providing guidance to all of the people involved in the creation of digital images for this project was the biggest challenge for Knoerlein. “The most important thing I did was create procedures and policies and SOPs that were strictly adhered to,” said Knoerlein. “I set up the procedures based on talking with everybody involved in the project. And then we refined them as the team got better at it.”
In the end, photographs of evidence collected during the operation were presented in trial, both in a PowerPoint presentation and as reports consisting of thousands of pages. And no one questioned the validity of those images.
“It is not a new idea to tell people in the U.S. that if they’re going to use digital, they need to have procedures in place,” Knoerlein said. “This project just proved that. When our images went to court, we did not get challenged.”
The 90,000 images in the team’s database helped complete the story of the genocide in northern Iraq:
At one site, more than 100 people were herded into a pit and fired upon. A total of 123 bodies were recovered and processed by the team at that site. There were more remains, but only a certain percentage of the total number in that gravesite were exhumed. Of the 123 victims, none were males, 25 were adult females, and 98 were children. Many showed trauma to the hands or arms, signs that they tried to protect their faces from the bullets. Forensic-mapping images show where the victims stood, where their assailants stood, and where the cartridge cases fell.
The cultural-objects analysts dressed the mannequins in the victims’ clothing and photographed them. Today, these images can bring the victims’ tattered shirts and dresses to life.
In court, Trimble showed one image of a mannequin dressed in a pregnant victim’s clothes. “Trimble said there were tears in the eyes of the judges when he presented that particular image,” said Knoerlein. “The images were very dramatic.”
“90,000 Images,” written by Kristi Mayo
May-June 2008 (Volume 6, Number 3)
Evidence Technology Magazine
Anfal is “the name given by the Iraqis to a series of military actions which lasted from February 23 until September 6, 1988. While it is impossible to understand the Anfal campaign without reference to the final phase of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War, Anfal was not merely a function of that war. Rather, the winding-up of the conflict on Iraq’s terms was the immediate historical circumstance that gave Baghdad the opportunity to bring to a climax its longstanding efforts to bring the Kurds to heal.”
The Kurds in Control
The Kurds in Control , National Geography
Since the aftermath of the 1991 gulf war, nearly four million Kurds have enjoyed complete autonomy in the region of Iraqi Kurdistan—protected from Saddam under a “no-fly zone” north of the 36th parallel and behind the defensive wall of the Kurds’ highly disciplined army, the peshmerga. They have held region-wide elections, formed a legislature, and chosen a president, establishing a world entirely apart from Baghdad—a de facto independent state. For the first time in their long history, Kurds are wielding significant political power, successfully negotiating for control over their own military forces and authority over new oil discoveries in their own terrain. Under the federated Iraq being called for by the international community, they would have powers of autonomy that match—or even exceed—what they now enjoy.
But in the end, the essential Kurdish truth today is that they can’t give up the dream of outright independence. After 14 years of self-rule, the Kurds can no longer imagine themselves as Iraqis. To travel through Kurdistan is to follow an intense national debate whose central issue is no longer the pros and cons of full, unambiguous separation from Iraq. It’s how best to secure it. I came to think of it as a debate between Builders and Warriors.
A 13-year-old girl put the distinction into words. I met Mivan Majid in a mountain park above the city of Suleimaniya, where she was taking the evening air with her father and younger sister. To the north and east the jagged ridges of the Zagros Mountains, marking Iraqi Kurdistan’s border with Iran, were receding into dusk. To the south, the immense Mesopotamian plain was a sunset-gilded carpet stretching toward Baghdad and the Persian Gulf. I needed some air myself—we’d stopped at the park after our escape from the oil field—and I involuntarily flinched when a tall, gangly teenager in faded blue jeans tapped me on the arm.
“Hey,” she said, “are you guys American?”
That’s an uncomfortable question in the Middle East today, but her casual manner put me immediately at ease. She had remarkable poise and proceeded to grill me in near-perfect California slang, which she’d picked up from an expatriate girlfriend.
When I learned her age, it struck me that Mivan Majid was the Kurdish dream personified. She had never known a day under the rule of Baghdad. Suleimaniya, her hometown and the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan’s eastern sector, has been under unbroken Kurdish control since 1992, the very year of her birth. She wanted to be an engineer, Mivan told me, “because they build such cool things: houses, roads, shopping centers. It’s like, when you’re an engineer you don’t get hung up on our terrible history. You look ahead.”
Report by NG : National Geography
Get the whole story in the pages of National Geographic magazine.
The Genocide of the Iraqi Kurds and Trial of Saddam Hussein
The First Step in the Nomination of a
Justice is a Vacancy on the Court
By Michael J. Kelly, Associate Professor of Law
Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent
to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious
group, as such:
[a] Killing members of the group;
[b] Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
[c] Deliberately inß icting on the group conditions of life calculated to
bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
[d] Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
[e] Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Saddam Hussein, the former
Iraqi dictator, sits in solitary
confinement under the care of
U.S. military police awaiting trial by the
newly minted Iraqi Special Tribunal (IST)
for a laundry list of crimes committed
during his 33 years in power. He was
toppled by an American-led invasion in
March 2003, and remained in hiding
until discovered by U.S. forces in a
six-foot underground spider hole,
armed only with a pistol that he did not
use. He gardens while he waits for his
trial. The charges against Hussein include
war crimes, crimes against humanity,
aggression and genocide. While each of
these international crimes requires varying
levels of proof and assertion unique to
the specific crime or its sub-component,
genocide is perhaps the trickiest of the
lot, requiring not mere intent, but specific
intent to destroy an identifiable group of
people. Although it has been called the
crime of crimes since the experience of
the Holocaust, genocide has traditionally
been the most difficult crime for
prosecutors to prove.
Formally outlawed in 1948, genocide has
existed in practice from time immemorial.
Indeed, it was known in the ancient
world as a legitimate practice, used
most famously by the Romans against
Carthage. Throughout the Middle Ages
and into the modern era, genocide was
regularly practiced until the slaughter of
the Armenians by the Ottoman Turks
during World War I. International
outrage at the atrocity moved world
opinion toward condemning genocide,
culminating in the adoption of the
Genocide Convention in 1948 after
World War II and the Holocaust.