[News] A Tale of Two Atrocities – Blackwater and Haditha

Anti-Imperialist News 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:

<http://empirenotes.org/twoatrocities.html>A Tale 
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 Bremer’s 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 didn’t 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 couldn’t 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 doesn’t 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 Wuterich’s 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 Bargewell’s 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 
you’re 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 you’re 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 
didn’t 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 didn’t deserve it.

I, on the contrary, think Gore richly deserves 
the prize and his place in history beside Henry 
Kissinger and Theodore Roosevelt.

Gore’s 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, Gore’s “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 didn’t 
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 
didn’t 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 Gore’s 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.

I’d 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 they’re doing now, I can’t.

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
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