[News] A Tale of Two Atrocities Blackwater and Haditha
news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Oct 19 13:29:46 EDT 2007
October 19, 2007
Article -- A Tale of Two Atrocities -- Blackwater and Haditha
A longer version of last week's commentary, with
more information about the Haditha prosecution:
of Two Atrocities Blackwater and Haditha
By Rahul Mahajan
October 19, 2007
The recent public outrage over the conduct of
Blackwater Security mercenaries in Iraq, after an
unprovoked massacre of at least 17 Iraqi
civilians in western Baghdad has been heartening;
unfortunately, there has been virtually no
attention a far more important concurrent
development the ongoing collapse of the
military prosecution in the Haditha massacre.
Paul Bremers decision at the eleventh hour
before his departure in June 2004 to set all
private contractors in Iraq above the law (they
are not subject to Iraqi law, U.S. military law,
or U.S. civilian law) stands out as one of the
more cynical decisions of a war that has
redefined cynicism, and attention to that fact is a positive development.
At the same time, however, all the attention is
being focused on an extremely minor issue. The
U.S. military has possibly killed more civilians
in a single incident than all the mercenary
companies operating in Iraq in the last several
years. According to Iraq Body Count, the first
U.S. Marine assault on Fallujah in April 2004,
claimed the lives of at least 600 Iraqi
civilians, out of a total of at least 800 people.
That number is actually cited in a report by the
House Committee on Oversight and Government
Reform regarding Blackwater, but its implications are hardly appreciated.
According to the same report, since January 1,
2005, Blackwater has been involved in 195
shooting incidents other mercenary companies
all together account for a similar number.
This is the equivalent of a couple of days worth
of shooting incidents for the U.S. military in
Iraq. Not only are there more of them than there
are of private mercenaries (roughly three times
the number), mercenaries do not go on offensive
operations or do routine patrolling. Those are
the activities most likely to lead to shooting.
Even if U.S. soldiers are for the most part
genuinely more careful about rules of engagement,
the far greater volume of violent incidents means
that it is actually the conduct of the U.S.
military, not of mercenaries, that is the problem.
In that regard, consider the evolution of the
prosecution for the Haditha massacre, one of the
most iconic incidents of atrocity by the U.S. military.
The facts that are not in dispute are these: On
November 19, 2005, after an IED attack that
killed one of them, Marines from Kilo Company,
3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment killed 24 people. The
first killed were five men in a car who stopped,
got out, and then were mown down. Afterwards,
Marines entered a house and killed 15 civilians,
including three women and seven children, ranging in age from 2 to 13.
In another house, four brothers, all adults, were
killed, three of them with handgun shots to the
head. Lance Corporal Justin Sharratt, the killer,
said that they were armed and preparing to attack.
The Marines lied about what happened, indicating
at first that there had been a firefight with
insurgents and the others had been caught in the crossfire.
A series of higher-ranking officers didnt bother to investigate.
Court-martial hearings did not begin until this
summer, almost two years after the incident.
Initially, 8 men were charged: Staff Sergeant
Frank Wuterich, Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz, Lance Cpl.
Justin Sharratt, and Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum,
for unpremeditated murder, and Lt. Col. Jeffrey
Chessani, Capt. Lucas McConnell, Capt. Randy
Stone, and 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson, for
dereliction of duty and a series of more minor
charges relating to not investigating or to covering up.
The hearings have been a circus. First of all,
they were held in Camp Pendleton, California,
rather than in Iraq, so the Iraqis who witnessed
the events couldnt testify. Second, the families
of the victims refused requests by military
interrogators to exhume the bodies for forensic
evidence. Third, Lt. Col. Paul Ware, who presided
over the hearings, has been both excessively
sympathetic to the defendants and excessively
concerned with the effect that the verdicts will
have on future Marine operations. Fourth, some
rather odd plea bargains have been made.
Most recently, Ware recommended that all charges
of murder (originally 13 counts) against Wuterich
be dropped and replaced with charges of negligent
homicide only for seven of the murdered women and
children (many of them shot in their beds) and
has added that he doesnt think Wuterich would be
convicted on those charges either.
According to the testimony of fellow Marines, a
week before the incident, Wuterich said that if
something like that happened, they should kill
everyone in the vicinity. Wuterich himself
admitted to ordering his men breaking into the
houses to shoot first and ask questions later.
And, contrary to Wuterichs claim that the first
five men were running away after they got out of
the car, Dela Cruz testified that the men "were
just standing, looking around, had hands up."
Dela Cruz was given immunity for his testimony,
but he may have deliberately made a hash of it,
contradicting himself and at one time admitting
that he was lying; events conspired nicely to get him and Wuterich both off.
Earlier, Ware recommended dropping all charges
against Sharratt, accepting his claim that the
execution-style killings of the three men shot in
the head occurred in self-defense in the heat of
combat. He also wanted charges dropped on Tatum,
even though fellow Marine Lance Cpl. Humberto
Mendoza testified that Tatum had ordered him to
shoot the seven women and children, even after
being informed of their identity and that they posed no threat.
Charges were dropped against the two captains,
Grayson is still under investigation, and Ware
recommended that Chessani be charged with
dereliction of duty, although with none of the
actual murderers on trial, apparently, he was
derelict in investigating nothing.
Major General Eldon Bargewells scathing outside
report on the incident, which, though
unclassified, has not been publicly released
because of the ongoing hearings, found that "All
levels of command tended to view civilian
casualties, even in significant numbers, as
routine and as the natural and intended result of
insurgent tactics," adding, "Statements made by
the chain of command during interviews for this
investigation, taken as a whole, suggest that
Iraqi civilian lives are not as important as U.S.
lives, their deaths are just the cost of doing
business, and that the Marines need to get 'the
job done' no matter what it takes. He also found
that found that "virtually no inquiry at any
level of command was conducted, that officers
looked at reports of civilian casualties as
pro-insurgent propaganda to suppress and spin,
and that reports filed by senior officers were forgotten once transmitted.
Even so, no higher officers faced criminal charges; three were reprimanded.
Of course, not every court-martial in the Iraq
war has been such a farce. The men who raped
14-year-old Abeer Hamza in Mahmudiyah, killed her
family, then killed her and set her corpse on
fire got severe sentences. In the Hamdaniyah
case, where a squad of Marines murdered an
innocent man and then planted a shovel on him to
suggest that he was placing an IED, Sgt. Lawrence
Hutchins was actually sentenced to 15 years,
although it remains to be seen if he will serve
his time; most of his accomplices got slaps on
the wrist and are already out of jail.
The Haditha case is different from the others. It
is not essential to U.S. military strategy in
Iraq to leave soldiers free to rape and murder
little girls or even to murder the wrong man when
youre looking for insurgents; in fact, the
military has an interest in discouraging such
behavior. Aggressive house raids in which
soldiers feel free to shoot first and ask
questions later, have been, however, fundamental
to U.S. practice in Iraq; even Lt. Col. Ware,
departing from his ostensible role as prosecutor,
expressed concern about the chilling effect
convictions would have on Marines operating in Iraq.
Overall, the record of accountability for
atrocities committed by U.S. soldiers is
pathetic. Soldiers who kill prisoners in custody
routinely get administrative punishment; missing
a troop movement gets a court-martial, but
murdering a helpless man rarely does. In the
particularly brutal killing of two young men in
Bagram prison, in which soldiers testified that
they used to assault one of them, Dilawar, a
22-year-old taxi driver, just because they liked
to hear him scream Allah! in pain, nobody was
charged with murder, on the incredibly specious
reasoning that, since 27 different people used to
enjoy torturing him, there was no way to
determine which unlawful knee strike caused him
to die. Try using that defense if youre a young
black kid holding up a 7-11 when one of your
accomplices shoots the clerk. Contractors may be
subject to no law, but the law soldiers are
subject to is rarely much better than nothing.
During the course of this trial, we learned that
Marine rules of engagement allowed them to shoot
in the back unarmed people running away from the
scene of a car bomb explosion, even if there was
no reason to connect them with the attack. We
learned that in the second assault on Fallujah
(in November 2004), approved procedure was to
clear rooms by tossing in fragmentation
grenades blind even though initial estimates
were that perhaps as many as 50,000 civilians
remained in the town and that many Marines used
the same technique afterward in other areas. We
learned about the routine practice of
dead-checking if a man is wounded, instead of
offering him medical aid, shoot him again, on the
principle that If somebody is worth shooting
once, they're worth shooting twice. One of the
Marines testified in the hearings that they were
taught this practice in boot camp.
A sleepwalking nation paid little attention to
these revelations. When future histories of the
war are written, it will probably accept
statements that the hearings proved the Haditha massacre was a hoax.
But we will all remain united in righteous
indignation against peripheral targets.
Rahul Mahajan is publisher of the weblog
EmpireNotes.org. He has been to occupied Iraq
twice and reported from the first assault on
Fallujah in April 2004. His most recent book is
Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond
(Seven Stories Press). He can be contacted at
<mailto:rahul at empirenotes.org>rahul at empirenotes.org
October 15, 2007
Weekly Commentary -- Al Gore, Peacemaker
The right wing is already hyperventilating over
the decision to award Al Gore the Nobel Peace
Prize. On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal ran
an unsigned editorial naming all the people who
didnt get the Nobel Peace Prize this year (their
list of potential nominees included Alvaro Uribe
and Tony Blair), suggesting with the subtlety of
a sledgehammer that Gore didnt deserve it.
I, on the contrary, think Gore richly deserves
the prize and his place in history beside Henry
Kissinger and Theodore Roosevelt.
Gores first claim to fame, after all, was being
one of only 10 Democratic senators to vote in
favor of the 1991 Gulf War. The Bush
administration whipped up a massive propaganda
campaign, the centerpiece of which was an Amnesty
International report containing the false claim
that Iraqi troops had ripped hundreds of Kuwaiti
babies out of incubators. AIPAC also went all out
in its lobbying. The final vote was 52-47 in the Senate.
Republicans Alan Simpson and Bob Dole claimed
afterward that Gore, who had remained on the
fence until the final hours, sold his vote to the
Republicans for 20 minutes on prime time in the
televised hearings. This claim has been denied by
many and two biographers of Gore were unable to corroborate it.
Instead, according to others, it was a deeply
principled vote and Gore spent much time in
anguished consultation with his good friend Marty
Peretz, editor of The New Republic, and widely
acknowledged even by mainstream journalists to be an extreme anti-Arab racist.
In 1992, Gore came out with a book on the global
environmental crisis called Earth in the Balance.
Except for the last bit, which devolved into
Christian fundamentalism (before the Second
Coming of George Bush, Clinton and Carter were by
far the most fundamentalist postwar presidents),
it was an excellent book. In fact, it was so good
that I remember wondering who wrote it.
He followed up this ringing environmental call to
arms with eight years in an administration that
never raised the Corporate Average Fuel Economy
(CAFÉ) standards for automobiles. Indeed, more
action was taken on mileage during the
Reagan-Bush years than during the Clinton years.
While in office, Gores Reinventing Government
initiative served to gut government oversight of
numerous spending programs; $1000 hammers and
$2000 toilet seats for the military, which had
disappeared after a wave of taxpayer outrage, returned.
His most impressive achievement came later, as
head of the U.S./South Africa Binational
Commission. In 1998, South Africa passed a law,
legal under WTO rules, enabling compulsory
licensing of AIDS drugs so that they could
produce the drugs themselves, simply paying the
patent-holders a fee. At the time, a years worth
of AIDS drugs cost about $20,000. Gore, defending
the interests of U.S. pharmaceutical companies,
threatened trade sanctions if South Africa didnt
repeal the law. Gore only changed his stance in
1999 when, running for president, he was
constantly protested by ACT-UP and other
activists; if the plight of Africans with AIDS
didnt move him, the prospect of his own embarrassment certainly did.
Gore has certainly done something good; his
mediocre film has brought a tremendous amount of
attention to global warming. And, even though the
IPCC has been criticized by many scientists for
watering down its predictions under political
pressure, its honoring takes the political fight
against global warming to a new level.
I would like also to believe in the possibility
of personal redemption. Starting in 2002, before
it was cool, Gore made impassioned speeches
against the Iraq war; indeed, they may have cost
him the 2004 presidential nomination. He has been
a steadfast critic of the political turn the
country has taken and also of the pathetic
band-aid measures on global warming being considered by Congress.
Bill Clinton, who once presided over Gores South
Africa fight, now runs a foundation dedicated to
bringing cheap AIDS drugs to poor Africans. Jimmy
Carter, who supported the Shah of Iran, and
increased arms sales to Indonesia during its
genocidal occupation of East Timor, certified the
Chavez recall referendum results as legitimate
and wrote a book condemning the occupation of the
West Bank and Gaza. Jeffrey Sachs, the architect
of shock therapy in the former Soviet Union,
has been an advocate for massive aid to Africa
and wrote some blistering editorials against the
U.S. backed coup in Haiti in 2004.
Id like to say all these people learned from,
and repented their sins. But until the bastards
apologize for what they did in the past, instead
of simply preening about what theyre doing now, I cant.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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