Thursday, July 12, 2007
In a very wide-ranging and in-depth piece of reporting, Chris Hedges & Laila Al-Arian of The Nation have interviewed fifty combat veterans of the Iraq war. The results are devastating. These are, as the writers point out, on the record, named eyewitnesses. They are people who could testify in court, in other words. Many of these guys have come back from the war, shocked at the disparity between the savage perversity they were part of, and what is reported in a politically timid media. A lot of them describe a sickening resentment of Iraqis, which the authors relate to a report from the Pentagon some time ago, showing that less than half of soldiers and slightly less than two fifths of marines thought that Iraqi civilians should be treated with dignity and respect. They'll be a civic bunch when they return home.
It is not merely that there is depraved acting out of murderous fantasies under conditions of a frustrating war. It is that they rarely encountered Iraqis, contrary to the notion conveyed in those wierd 'encounters' that are filmed by embedded camera crews, in which marine commanders go out and meet 'haji' for the day. When they did go out of their compounds, the report says: "Some shot holes into cans of gasoline being sold along the roadside and then tossed grenades into the pools of gas to set them ablaze. Others opened fire on children. These shootings often enraged Iraqi witnesses." It goes on:
We heard a few reports, in one case corroborated by photographs, that some soldiers had so lost their moral compass that they'd mocked or desecrated Iraqi corpses. One photo, among dozens turned over to The Nation during the investigation, shows an American soldier acting as if he is about to eat the spilled brains of a dead Iraqi man with his brown plastic Army-issue spoon.
"Take a picture of me and this motherfucker," a soldier who had been in Sergeant Mejía's squad said as he put his arm around the corpse. Sergeant Mejía recalls that the shroud covering the body fell away, revealing that the young man was wearing only his pants. There was a bullet hole in his chest.
"Damn, they really fucked you up, didn't they?" the soldier laughed.
The scene, Sergeant Mejía said, was witnessed by the dead man's brothers and cousins.
The daily sweeps and raids tend to include incidents of attacks on civilians, rarely yielding weapons caches or anything of the kind, but often ending in the destruction of homes, terrorised Iraqis, and a family having to try and find relatives who have been towed away to be 'fucked' in one of the American military's interrogation camps. This is how the typical raid goes:
"You run in. And if there's lights, you turn them on--if the lights are working. If not, you've got flashlights.... You leave one rifle team outside while one rifle team goes inside. Each rifle team leader has a headset on with an earpiece and a microphone where he can communicate with the other rifle team leader that's outside.
"You go up the stairs. You grab the man of the house. You rip him out of bed in front of his wife. You put him up against the wall. You have junior-level troops, PFCs [privates first class], specialists will run into the other rooms and grab the family, and you'll group them all together. Then you go into a room and you tear the room to shreds and you make sure there's no weapons or anything that they can use to attack us.
"You get the interpreter and you get the man of the home, and you have him at gunpoint, and you'll ask the interpreter to ask him: 'Do you have any weapons? Do you have any anti-US propaganda, anything at all--anything--anything in here that would lead us to believe that you are somehow involved in insurgent activity or anti-coalition forces activity?'
"Normally they'll say no, because that's normally the truth," Sergeant Bruhns said. "So what you'll do is you'll take his sofa cushions and you'll dump them. If he has a couch, you'll turn the couch upside down. You'll go into the fridge, if he has a fridge, and you'll throw everything on the floor, and you'll take his drawers and you'll dump them.... You'll open up his closet and you'll throw all the clothes on the floor and basically leave his house looking like a hurricane just hit it.
"And if you find something, then you'll detain him. If not, you'll say, 'Sorry to disturb you. Have a nice evening.' So you've just humiliated this man in front of his entire family and terrorized his entire family and you've destroyed his home. And then you go right next door and you do the same thing in a hundred homes."
As you would expect, practises allegedly outlawed since Abu Ghraib continue, including the hooding. The arrests are usually abitrary, or based on bullshit evidence or rumour or worse. Most of those who ended up at harsh camps like Abu Ghraib were there for petty crimes like theft, but were treated like animals anyway. (When there was a riot against conditions in the prison, the soldiers shot it up, killing nine people, and one of them posed next to the cracked skull of one corpse, pretending to eat the brains again). The racist language that goes with these practises are as you would expect: "haji", "camel jockeys or Jihad Johnny or, you know, sand nigger." Naturally, the second there's trouble, they open fire on every "haji" in sight:
"One example I can give you, you know, we'd be cruising down the road in a convoy and all of the sudden, an IED blows up," said Spc. Ben Schrader, 27, of Grand Junction, Colorado. He served in Baquba with the 263rd Armor Battalion, First Infantry Division, from February 2004 to February 2005. "And, you know, you've got these scared kids on these guns, and they just start opening fire. And there could be innocent people everywhere. And I've seen this, I mean, on numerous occasions where innocent people died because we're cruising down and a bomb goes off."
And, of course, since they don't stop for any purpose, they regularly speed into Iraqi civilians with impunity - not only the army, but the private contractors as well. And if they feel like shooting up a bunch of civilians - well, we heard before how they manage that, and it's confirmed here:
Several interviewees said that, on occasion, these killings were justified by framing innocents as terrorists, typically following incidents when American troops fired on crowds of unarmed Iraqis. The troops would detain those who survived, accusing them of being insurgents, and plant AK-47s next to the bodies of those they had killed to make it seem as if the civilian dead were combatants. "It would always be an AK because they have so many of these weapons lying around," said Specialist Aoun. Cavalry scout Joe Hatcher, 26, of San Diego, said 9-millimeter handguns and even shovels--to make it look like the noncombatant was digging a hole to plant an IED--were used as well.
"Every good cop carries a throwaway," said Hatcher, who served with the Fourth Cavalry Regiment, First Squadron, in Ad Dawar, halfway between Tikrit and Samarra, from February 2004 to March 2005. "If you kill someone and they're unarmed, you just drop one on 'em." Those who survived such shootings then found themselves imprisoned as accused insurgents.
A lot of the killings at the temporary checkpoints happen in the dark. "Baghdad is not well lit ... There's not street lights everywhere. You can't really tell what's going on." Yeah, well, there's this electricity problem... Not that there is much risk of getting into trouble for shooting up a family at a checkpoint. As one colonel said when briefed on the killing of a family of four by an 18 year old equipped with deadly technology: "If these fucking hajis learned to drive, this shit wouldn't happen." Further: "several troops said the rules of engagement were fluid and designed to insure their safety above all else. Some said they were simply told they were authorized to shoot if they felt threatened, and what constituted a risk to their safety was open to wide interpretation."
The Google ad next to the story says: 'Support Our Troops: Silicone Wrist Bands, Patches, Custom Dog Tags, Hats and more'.
Incidentally, I have been trying to avoid the frenzy about Alistair Campbell and his diaries, but this BBC interview is worth quoting:
ANDREW MARR: Did you have doubts?
ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: No, I'll tell you, look I thought it was the right thing. I thought it was the right thing.
ANDREW MARR: But do you think that now?
ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: And I do think that now.
ANDREW MARR: Despite all 600,000 people dead?
ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: Well, you know, there are cameras there now Andrew, there weren't cameras there when there were a lot of people dying before.
Aside from Marr's laudable acknowledgment of the facts about this, Campbell's response has to be the most miserable, risible excuse he could have thought of. These deaths, of course, have by and large not been caught on camera. They have been registered by an epidemiological survey team, which was there before, and which found that 655,000 more people died than would have died under the continued reign of Saddam and sanctions combined.