|Belgian lawyer says Franks is |
responsible for his troops' actions
The plaintiffs, mostly Iraqis, were filing the case in the Brussels court under a Belgian law allowing charges to be brought regardless of where the alleged crimes took place.
Fermon says Franks, as commander of the US-led war which ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, was responsible for the action of his troops.
The plaintiffs include Dima Ayub, Aljazeera correspondent Tareq Ayub’s widow. Ayub was killed on 8 April when US missiles hit Aljazeera’s Baghdad bureau.
The case includes about 20 suspected crimes during the US-led war. Three of the cases charge US troops of firing on ambulances, said Fermon.
US Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers has warned that the case could make Brussels, the home of Nato’s headquarters, out of bounds for meetings.
“I think that’s an issue for the diplomats to settle out. Obviously it’s looked upon by the US government as a very, very serious situation,” said Myers.
Diplomats said he was indicating that senior officials facing what Washington describes as politically motivated legal cases would avoid travelling to Belgium for fear of being arrested.
Washington called on Belgium to prevent what it alleged was abuse for “political ends” of the universal jurisdiction law to try people for serious human rights crimes.
Other plaintiffs include cluster bomb victims and civilians accusing US troops of shooting at them during the invasion.
The case will raise the looting of an Iraqi cultural centre “under the eyes of American soldiers”.
The case is unlikely to help ties between Washington and Belgium, one of three countries that blocked a plan to bolster US ally Turkey’s defences ahead of the war in Iraq.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell had warned unless the law was restricted it could affect Belgium’s status as an international centre for Nato and the European Union.
Belgian parliament limited the scope of the law in April by increasing the power of federal prosecutors to rule on whether to proceed with legal cases.
Fermon’s suit will be a test for the law, which was tightened to stave off other controversial cases, including a legal case against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for his involvement in the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres in Beirut.
Cases have also been filed against US President George W Bush and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.
The amendments also allowed Belgium to refer certain cases back to the accused party’s own country.