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U.S. objects to critical U.N. report on deaths

Jun. 3, 2009 - 10:20AM   |   Last Updated: Jun. 3, 2009 - 10:20AM  |  
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GENEVA — The Obama administration charged Wednesday that a U.N. investigator violated his mandate by accusing the U.S. of failing to properly investigate allegations of unlawful killings by American forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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GENEVA — The Obama administration charged Wednesday that a U.N. investigator violated his mandate by accusing the U.S. of failing to properly investigate allegations of unlawful killings by American forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Philip Alston, the U.N. Human Rights Council's investigator on extrajudicial executions, claimed that while some killings are investigated and lead to prosecutions, others aren't or result in lenient sentences.

Alston, a New York University law professor, is the U.N. Human Rights Council's so-called special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions. The post, which is unpaid except for expenses, gives him broad scope to investigate alleged abuses. Alston has probed the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Other U.N. investigators have examined the extraordinary rendition of terror suspects around the world.

"We do not believe that military and intelligence operations during armed conflict fall within the special rapporteur's mandate," said Larry Richter, acting deputy at the U.S. mission in Geneva.

In his report made public last week, Alston cited the case of Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer, convicted of negligent homicide in the death of Abed Hamed Mowhoush, an Iraqi general who had turned himself in to military authorities. Mowhoush suffocated after his head was covered with a sleeping bag and an electrical cord wrapped around his neck. Welshofer was fined and ordered reprimanded, without jail time.

Richter said the U.S. was striving for transparency regarding civilian deaths, including collecting accurate information on civilian casualties. Alston had remarked in his report that such figures aren't made public.

Richter said that in many cases, witnesses in Iraq and Afghanistan were reluctant to work with American investigators or to travel to the United States to provide testimony in an American court, and crime scenes were tampered with by the time investigators arrived, he said.

Like other U.N. human rights investigators, Alston's reports have no legal impact but serve to highlight what he sees as abuses. He also delivered reports on Brazil, Afghanistan, Kenya and the Central African Republic to the 47-member rights council Wednesday.

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