Denmark ‘violated the rules of war’ in Iraq

UPDATED: Military officials announced on Friday that they will investigate the handling of prisoners of war following "unpleasant" revelations that showed Denmark may have been in breach of the Geneva Convention.

Denmark 'violated the rules of war' in Iraq
Photo: Niels Ole Qvist/Scanpix

The Military Prosecution Service (Forsvarets Auditørkorps) announced on Friday that it will investigate Danish troops' handling of Iraqi war prisoners after Politiken newspaper revealed that Denmark's actions in the Iraq War ikely violated aspects of the Geneva Convention. 

Politiken obtained a document through a freedom of information request that comes from the so-called Taskforce Iraq, a predecessor to the Iraq Commission which was recently shut down by the new government in a move that was widely criticized by the opposition and has also led to a number of documents about the war being leaked.

See also: Denmark's role in Iraq war faces new scrutiny

Taskforce Iraq was an internal investigation carried out by the Danish military to shed light on its conduct during the war.

According to the document, Danish military handed over at least 12 Iraqi prisoners of war to local authorities even after receiving orders not to do so in 2004 due to fears that POWs would be sentenced to death in accordance with the new Iraqi government’s move to introduce the death penalty.

Handing over prisoners of war to the Iraqi government would therefore have been a violation of their human rights, as international conventions forbid the execution of wartime prisoners.

The Military Prosecution Service said that in light of the revelations, it is obligated to carry out an investigation.

“The investigation shall establish a basis for an evaluation of to what extent the new information gives rise to initiate a criminal investigation,” the organization told news agency Ritzau.

The obtained document also revealed that of the approximately 500 prisoners detained by Danish military forces during the war, a total of 260 were handed over to Iraqi authorities and an additional 55 were transferred to British forces.

However, the Danish military personnel did not register the prisoners they handed over to Iraqi police, nor did they get a handover receipt. The Geneva Convention stipulates that doing both are required by occupational forces. Only the names of 43 of the 500 prisoners were recorded.

Key documents and an electronic database which contained information on prisoner treatment and handovers have simply disappeared, according to the document from Taskforce Iraq.

Therefore, the Danish military can only account for the fates of some 76 of the 315 prisoners handed over to the Iraqis and British during the war.

See also: Former Danish PM lied about Iraq war plans

Denmark's former foreign minister and Socialist People’s Party MP Holger K. Nielsen said he was “speechless” about the new revelations.

“One begins to imagine the worst – as we know what problems there have been in terms of the prisoners of war issue – that someone in the military has attempted to cover up things that they did not want revealed. It’s a very unpleasant thought, and therefore it is also catastrophic that the [Iraq] Commission has been shut down,” Nielsen told Politiken.

It was common knowledge among soldiers at the time that it was unsafe to hand over prisoners to local authorities. Many of the prisoners faced torture or execution even before their cases were brought to court.

“We just have to face facts that we presumably violated the rules of war relating to detention and handing over of prisoners,” legal expert Anders Henriksen from Copenhagen University told Politiken.

“It looks like we have been in breach of our obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention. We did not do enough to ascertain if local authorities treated the detainees [handed over by Danish military] properly, and we did not implement monitoring processes that made it possible to assess if that was the case,” he added.

Venstre MP Jakob Ellemann-Jensen still backs the decision to shut down the Iraq War Commission and sees no reason to re-open it.

“I really believe that this is an area that has been fully investigated and that people have learned from the experience,” Ellemann-Jensen told Politiken.

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