5 January 2004
AMSTERDAM — The arrest of a Dutch soldier on allegations he murdered a suspected Iraqi looter has attracted sharp criticism from the military, MPs, lawyers, unions and legal experts.
Defence lawyer Geert-Jan Knoops said he is amazed at the manner in which his client, a 43-year-old sergeant-major, has been publicly accused by the Public Prosecution Office (OM) of murder.
“I can say that it appears premature what the OM is doing,” he said in newspaper De Volkskrant on Monday.
Knoops — who visited the suspect in the military police barracks in Soesterberg on Sunday — also said he did not know the prosecution’s motivations, but he added that the case was too fresh to be making public announcements.
A prosecution spokeswoman said the OM went public with the case because questions were placed by the media. “We did not do this spontaneously,” she said.
The OM revealed last Friday that a soldier was arrested on 31 December for allegedly shooting an Iraqi civilian. The shooting occurred near the city of As Samawah in southern Iraq on Saturday 27 December while Dutch soldiers were dispersing looters from a freight container that had fallen off a truck.
About 70 Iraqis looted the freight container as a patrol of eight Dutch soldiers tried in vain to maintain order. Reinforcements were called in and Dutch troops fired warning shots and the looters were dispersed, but one man was killed by a Dutch bullet.
The prosecution claims that given the circumstances, shooting should not have occurred and asserts the man was shot in the back from a long distance. The military police, under the leadership of the Arnhem prosecution’s office, is handling the case.
According to the prosecution, the situation did not present a safety threat and no sensitive military supplies or documents were plundered.
Investigations into the matter continue and the suspect — who was flown home to the Netherlands on 1 January — will appear in court on Tuesday when a decision will be made whether to extend the remand order. Knoops said the man has not yet been officially charged with murder. He might also be charged with culpable homicide or manslaughter.
Meanwhile, Democrat D66 MP Bert Bakker has demanded an explanation from Defence Minister Henk Kamp. The MP said the minister must address several “absurdities”.
“Was the fatal shot a signal to the Iraqis that the Dutch will not allow themselves to be defied?” Bakker said.
The government coalition MP also questioned whether a soldier had suffered from excess strain, a condition that could not be ruled out due to the tense security situation in southern Iraq, where about 1,170 Dutch troops are on patrol.
He also said it was possible that the orders issued to the troops were not clear enough. It was also note worthy that the investigation had been conducted over just a few days, Bakker said.
Military sources also said allegations of murder against one of their colleagues has hit hard among the troops stationed in Iraq. The troops are concerned that while they are doing their absolute best to maintain security in their region, one of their colleagues has been labelled a suspect.
The chairman of military union AFMP, Wim van den Brug, said the allegations of murder were too extreme. He said there must be no situation “in which soldiers are doing their work and must continually ask themselves if they will be prosecuted by the OM”.
Van Den Brug warned for uncertainty among soldiers about when violence could be used in the line of duty.
The Dutch patrol region of Al Muthanna, is a relatively peaceful desert province in the south of Iraq, but due to rising security concerns 70 commandos were dispatched late last year to bolster the 1,100 soldiers already in the region.
The commandos have been placed on alert for possible terrorist movements in the province and the Lower House of Parliament, the Tweede Kamer, has approved a six-month extension of the peacekeeping mission.
Meanwhile, Military law professor Gerard Coolen has labelled the investigation as “shocking”. He said “this man will be prosecuted for murder or manslaughter, while it involves a Dutch soldier who was fighting plunderers”.
Coolen’s successor at Amsterdam University, Terry Gill, has backed his stance. Coolen has pleaded for some time that soldiers must only be prosecuted for breaching orders, not murder or manslaughter.
Dutch troops were also involved in an armed confrontation with looters last August. Successive gunbattles over the course of two nights at a cement factory did not result in any injuries.
[Copyright Expatica News 2003]
Subject: Dutch news