Monday, October 17, 2005

When is Killing Civillians OK? When is it a War Crime?


I was going to post a photo of Iraqi children mourning their fallen friend, but decided on this photo taken of children looting the US vehicle in Ramadi, prior to the area being bombed by you and me.

A day after a critical election for the Bush Adminstration, and few days before Sadaam Hussein's first trial begins, a curious thought not that uncommon of a thing happened: The US military reports killing "70 terrorists."

The strike(s) is worth mentioning as it shines the light on the rank hypocrisy the US routinely engages in overseas. Iraqi sources are saying seperate but linked attacks killed at least 39 civillians, including at least 7 children and a few women. The US admits that a F-16 dropped a bomb on a crowd of 20 onlookers who routinely rally around wrecked US military vehicle looking for scrap. In the other incident a village was bombed, where more children and women were killed. The US claims the first 25 were planting another bomb around the wreckage and the second 45 were reaching for the AK-47s to fire at a US helicopter, when the bomb hit.

Does anyone believe the attack was not born out of a desire for revenge for the 5 soldiers who were killed in the area a few days ago? Does anyone not beleive the strikes were ordered to wait until after the ballot-boxes were closed? Does any media organ have enough balls to call out the blatant hypocrisy of trying Sadaam Huseein this week for a crime remarkably similar to the one we engaged in this Sunday?

For what exactly is the difference between's Hussein's group punishmment after an assasination attempt and the US's after a roadside bomb killed 5? Or the difference between leveling Fallouja a town of 100,000 supposedly in the grips of terrorists and leveling a small village of Dujail, also well known as a center for a terrorist (al-dawa) organization. Or what about when Clinton lobbed 23 cruise missles into downtown Baghdad when it was learned that Bush's father was subject to an assassination attempt years prior? Or how about "Operation River Gate" a few weeks ago that (barely mentioned in the press) resulted in the destruction of 3 Iraqi Villages - Haqlaniyah, Parwana and Haditha - and hundreds of casualties. Was each and every one of those killed involved in violence versus us (an occupying force)?

For all were born out of vengence and contempt for "collateral damage." Well one difference is that Hussein had the group rounded up, arrested and tried individually for their supposed crimes. Some were killed on the spot, but it does not appear to be disputed that those were all engaged in gun battles and resistance to the Iraqi forces. All those tried by an (obviously crony) Court, jailed and killed were men of military age - no women, no children.

The US' vision of justice apparently has no patience for even such psuedo-legalities. In such, how are we offering Iraq any model for any kind of post-violent future? And how are able to convince the world that we will not stoop down to the tactics of a homocidal Dictator? And how are we to convince them that this trial is for real?

The Iraqi Health Ministry reports that civillians killed by US strikes are double the number of civillians killed by insurgents.

The planes came and bombed us right after prayers," one man shouted on Monday as others buried bodies near Ramadi. "These are innocent civilians. To hell with this constitution."

4 Comments:

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9:59 AM  
Blogger Mark D. Glesne said...

Okay, here we go.

With all due respect... there you go again. I don't even know where to begin, so I'll just jump right into it.

To begin, cute picture. You seem to relish the thought of an American vehicle being mobbed after it was attacked. No?

With that said, you have no idea the measures we in the military/war zone go through to minimize civilian casualties. No idea. On top of this, collateral damage occurs in war - deal with it. It sucks, it's ugly and it pains those of us involved, but it is a reality of war. The other reality is that we do so much more than any coutnry to minimize these occurances.

You love to Monday morning quarterback. You love to sit down with your nice cup of coffee and judge what happens based on the selected articles you read from the comfort of your American household. It's true. You have no idea what truly happened, how it looked to the pilot and what led up to the incident. Do you honestly believe that some officer in the Navy, Army or Air Force looked through his target screen and said, "Hey look, a group of civilians, I think I'm going to drop that bomb and risk losing the career that I support my family with"? I think you possibly do believe that - and that is where you prove your deepest ignorance.

Matt, you've done your homework on Cuba and have a lot of arguments in favor of the communist police state. I'll give you that. I don't agree with a word of it, but at least you have done homework. But this post, this post is absurd.

It's easy for you to judge what we do in the air and on the ground from your home, but I swear to you this: men and women on both sides die based on the decisions we make and don't make. As much as war sucks, those decisions have to be made. If a wrong occurred, I have faith that the military will handle it. I know you don't, that's because you don't see it first hand.

Do you think that pilot just got up in the morning, got dressed when he wanted, got in his plane when he wanted, flew where ever he wanted, and then dropped a bomb when he wanted? A pilot has to get so much approval before dropping something like that, that there was concern. Whether you can stomach the thought or not, I'm sure the evidence supported the decision. Pilots don't drop bombs out of revenge, they drop bombs when ordered to. And as I said, careers are on the line - we don't take decisions like that lightly.

So no, I do not believe the attack was 'born out of a desire for revenge for the 5 soldiers who were killed in the area a few days ago.' And no, I do not believe 'the strikes were ordered to wait until after the ballot-boxes were closed.' You simply don't know how we operate. How much goes into each mission. How many saftely and minimizing collateral damage briefs that pilot (and all of us go through).

You managed to once again pick one instance and apply it to the country in general. I noticed you didn't mention the huge election operation I was on (Operation Rock the Referendum) in your blog. What's with that? Didn't hear about our massively successful battalion-sized raid in which no one died. Funny you didn't hear about that. I would have thought your choice of media would have listed ALL the operations that kicked off successfully, without incident. I've worked for media ... if it bleeds, it leads. That's all you hear about. And yet you imply that the minority situation happens more frequently than it does. This is irresponsible to say the least.

But sadly not suprising.

You mentioned Fallujah like it wasn't in the grip of terrorists. Are you kidding me Matt? You're kidding. You must be. I want you to drive down to Camp Pendleton and talk to Marines from the 1st MarDiv. Tell them it was only "supposedly" in the grips of terrorists. It was Matt. Deal with it. The Marines took the city, handed it over to the Army, and then had to retake it because the Army's perimeter security strategy failed and insurgents infested the town. And when Marines have to come back for a second time, there will not be a third. Civilians were given time to leave, but at some point it had to be taken. And it was.

Good on you for mentioning Clinton, but I disagree with your premise as to why. If you want to know why he did it, it was because of Iraq weapons of mass destruction. Sound familiar. Well, that and the fact that he was about to be impeached. Nothing like a little bombing to rally a country around their president in a time of need right?

Funny you should mention Haditha. I have friends there right now. Not just people I know - people from my unit who came over here with me. We recieved word day before yesterday that they had to take out a building where insurgents were firing from. They called in air. Waited for all the approvals to go through. And then ended the lives of terrorists firing at them. That's how war works Matt. Someone has to die so that others may live. Luckily it's not you right?

One of the reasons so many people give you the "If Cuba is so great, why don't you just move there?" argument is because at the heart of all freedom-lovers (your term for me) is an utter contempt for hypocrisy.

You're a complainer Matt. I love you as a cousin and a child of God (the God you don't believe in), but you're nothing but a complainer. You complain about the military, but do nothing to change it. You would never join, so instead you just sit at home and opine through mediums like this blog about the split second decisions we make in a combat zone like you understand what it takes to fight a war.

You complain about America and yet continue ... CONTINUE to live here. Reaping financial success from a capitalist society isn't exactly following through on your socialist ideology. Wouldn't you say? Instead, you just complain.

Again, you know how we get about these things and I while you may be taking my words personally ... I take your's the same. You deminish the work of the average military man with your baseless ranting about a people who will die for you. People who take attack after attack (after attack) and then are judged on a split-second decision they thought necessary to save their life and the lives of those around them.

In only two months (exactly two months today) at war, I have survived multiple roadside bombings, vehicle born IEDs, mortar and small arms attacks ... and needless to say my mind has sharpened to the intense situation. All the training in the world and you will judge any decision I make from your sofa. This is personal Matthew.

People I know, people I train with; people whose family I know - are out there (along with my team) making decisions everyday in the most intense environment known to man. And you belittle their decisions in an attempt to exploit civilian casualties for a political agenda.

Disagree with me or not, it is easy for you - but much more difficult for those of us fighting ... not just complaining.

What are your solutions? All you have is complaints - no solutions. Typical.

There is more - so much more - I could write, but I only have so much time. You and I should really get together like we always talked about. We should actually do it - find time in our busy schedules when I return, and do it. I'm a 'doer,' I don't just talk about it.

9:25 AM  
Blogger leftside said...

Thanks for your heartfelt reply Mark. I imagine reading anything negative about your mission can only be personal now, so I respect your strong words.

But I would hope that you would see this was not a post about denigrating our soldiers, or questioning their professionalism or awful decisions that need to be made in the field. I made that clear right off, when I said that "you and I" were responsible for all actions in Iraq (ie. not the soldiers). That is because it is the American public who allowed this war to occur and continue..

This was raising difficult (and unresolved) moral questions that seemed particularly poignant right now, with Saddam facing trial for an act of "collective punishment" that seemed to me to be very close in scope to what we occasionally see happening today in Iraq (and Palestine) (and perhaps MUST be practicing in Iraq once we are there and US lives are in danger).

First off, the picture was to show that children were playing in the area where the bombs fell not too much later. It was to show that this is common - not a celebration of a tragedy. Do you really think that low of me? But unfortunately this is also not the first time bombs have landed on such scenes. Maybe there was an IED being placed there this time, but is a 3-ton bomb in the middle of a crowded street the way to deal with that? What do you think? Couldn't the street just be blocked off and have a controlled explosion? I also mentioned I think the most honest picture would have been of children mourning their bloody friend. We are already inundated with Saddam's crimes on TV right now, but no one will show the results of US actions. Even I find it difficult.

I understand the inevitability of collateral damage, and that the US does in good-faith do a lot to minimize it. It is in our interest to do so - and also part of international law. My question was all about what separates our collateral damage from Hussein's in Dujail? You didn't address that at all. He was fighting fanatical, religious inspired terrorists who had no regard for civilians as well... and of course Saddam didn't either.

It's true, I do not know exactly what happened with these 39 civilians. The military does not let us know such things in detail and then the media loses interest the day after when another story arises. But even if we take the story at point blank, I do not believe our military's rule of engagements, nor international law, would permit dropping a bomb on 25 people because one of them was planting an IED that could only threaten Coalition troops if they didn't know it was there. Am I wrong?

But I do wish that the threat of losing one's livelihood was more real. Up to this point I am not aware of one soldier or pilot who has lost his job for killing an Iraqi civilian. The LA Times ran an article last week that documented how soldiers who were caught drinking or having an affair with another soldier were punished more severely than those caught robbing or even killing innocent Iraqis.

Of course the pilot did not order the strike, it came from above. But just like when we invaded Fallouja the first time after the 4 contractors were strung up from that bridge, I feel revenge plays a part in some of what we do over there. Are you telling me that if one of your folks was killed you would not go bust some heads in retaliation. I have read numerous accounts of just that happening. Maybe I would want to do the same thing. I'm not judging that response. I was just trying to ask readers to think it in comparison to Saddam's first trial.

This blog is supposed to be about Latin America, so this is the first thing I've posted about Iraq on it. I only posted it because of the implications with international law and America's hypocritical foreign policy it applies everywhere in the world. Other countries must extradite terrorists to the US and provide intelligence to us, but we shared nothing with the Germans who were trying their 9/11 linked terrorists and we protect this hemisphere's biggest terrorist against justice... they therefore got off easy. We insist on show trials for other leaders but can't bring ourselves to even think for a second about the notion of our own leader's culpability in needless death and destruction.

Of course Fallouja was a center of terrorists, that is why I compared it to Dujail ("also a center of terrorist activity..."). I said "supposedly in the grips of terrorists" because that justification we heard over and over implies that a town of 350,000 was majority insurgent . At that time the US counted only 10,000 insurgents...

I too have an utter contempt for hypocrisy Mark. Maybe that is the common Glesne bond ;) Don't you see that is a major theme of my blog? Don't you admit I call out some interesting instances of hypocrisy that maybe most don't think about? Do you have any comments on my major point about hypocrisy in this post?

I hate war Mark. Many soldiers will come home feeling the same way. Sometimes it is necessary for a greater good. But it is not cool, it is not to be embarked upon based on half-truths and lies, and it must be waged in a way that clearly shows our superior morality. This is not at all about quick decisions made in the field, I have said that time and time again. It is about creating a greater culture of accountability when someone doesn't do his/her job. I believe we all have a responsibility to tell our leaders NO MORE wars of choice. We have a responsibility to highlight the grim parts of war, the inconsistencies it inevitably reveals between our words and our actions. I have the feeling you would prefer to fill our media with positive stories only, which would do nothing but feed the next war. Fortunately the American people will not be so eager for war the next time they sense an unnecessary war on the horizon.

What are my solutions? To what problem? I said greater military accountability for crimes against civilians, when lives were not in danger. We need to simply follow the rules of military engagement as they currently exist, not veto a Bill making that the Law of the Land (like Bush has threatened to do). We need to internationalize the Saddam trial, stop funding and directing it, and institute a "Truth and Reconciliation" committee getting to the facts of the past, not encourage the sort of Baathist witch hunts that just further destabilize and divide the country. We have no choice but to train Iraqis, then withdrawal section by section of the country sooner rather than later. We must fully investigate allegations of fraud that took place with this week's election. We need to reign in Kurdish and Shiite militias that are gradually taking over the country's security forces. We need to make clear there is no place for Shariah Law in Iraq....

And yes, I am eager to get together when you return.

11:18 AM  

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