Iraq raised the ominous prospect Friday that it will put captured allied pilots on trial as war criminals, charging that they deliberately bombed residential areas and strafed pedestrians in the streets.
"The behavior of these pilots is very far away from the honor and moralities of the military code," Iraqi Radio said in a commentary, likening the pilots to "ordinary criminals" viewed in western films."They should be dealt with on the basis of their being killers of defenseless children, women and old people, not as soldiers waging a war against other soldiers," the radio said.
It charged that the pilots not only bombed residential sectors, but trained their airplanes' machine guns on pedestrians in streets and alleys and gunned them down "in extreme cold blood."
Their crimes "should be viewed as war crimes which violate the laws and foundations of war, particularly the laws and conventions which call for safeguarding civilians at times of war," the radio said.
Execution is the punishment for security offenses against the state, and likely would be the sentence for someone determined by Iraqi authorities to be a war criminal.
The Iraqi radio announcement came as U.S. Tomahawk missiles were seen streaking into Baghdad. Iraqi officials said six of the ground-hugging cruise missiles were fired at Baghdad, and that two crashed in residential neighborhoods.
Show trials of the pilots, who already have been paraded down Baghdad streets and brought before television cameras, would help explain why Iraqi authorities early offered rewards to anyone turning in downed pilots.
Most of the men seen in Iraqi television looked injured and dazed, and they seemed to be repeating prepared statements rather than answering questions naturally.
The radio commentary called the U.S., British, French and Italian pilots conducting air strikes "the spiritual inheritors of colonialism." It said they are descendants of people who committed "the most despicable crimes against the nations of the world not so long ago."
Targeting civilians and residential areas should not be surprising, the radio said, since killing defenseless people "is what their forefathers did."
The broadcast singled out President Bush, British Prime Minister John Major, French President Francois Mitterrand and Saudi King Fahd as directly responsible for the "crimes" of the pilots.