Wednesday, May 31, 2006  

About time

Finally, some reaction from local papers.
Early reports from Haditha are horrific enough

From the San Diego Union Tribune

May 31, 2006

Terrible atrocities and other crimes against humanity have been the byproducts of many wars. Especially when you inject an army into a civilian environment, some very bad things can happen.

Yet that doesn't mean Americans should become so immune to these horrible occurrences that we fail to register outrage whenever and wherever they surface. Were that to happen, we would be no different than the tyrants, bullies and evildoers we hunt down around the world.

Just based on what we already know, Americans should be outraged over reports that a handful of Marines based at Camp Pendleton and now serving in Iraq killed at least 24 civilians last November in the insurgent stronghold of Haditha. Americans should be outraged that, according to the results of a preliminary inquiry, the Marines may have been motivated by nothing more noble than vengeance over the killing of a fellow Marine. And, not least of all, Americans should be outraged that they are just learning about all this because Time magazine obtained photos showing dead women and children and obtained quotes from Iraqis who said the victims were innocent.

Read the rest here

And in a op-ed piece today from the same paper:

Predictable atrocities?

History shows that combat has sad consequences

By Wade R. Sanders
May 31, 2006

Recently the press reported that last fall, United States Marines entered Iraqi homes in the city of Haditha and shot 24 unarmed individuals, including 15 members of two families, and a 3-year-old girl, after a roadside bomb killed one of their own.

It must be remembered that this matter is still under investigation, and conclusions as to this incident would be premature pending the outcome of that process. However, any report of our troops killing unarmed civilians in guerilla or counterinsurgency wars, where there are no clearly defined battle lines and easily identifiable enemies, should come as no surprise. Unless one has routinely patrolled in this unpredictable and deadly environment, where it is the enemy that chooses the time and place to strike, it is impossible to appreciate the unique pressures and the intense and constant fear soldiers live and die with. One is little more than a target and there are no “fair fights.” Every moment and every man, woman or child one encounters carries the potential for death.

The overwhelming reality: You never know who is coming to kill you. It could be that child standing by the side of road, or that woman carrying what might be a baby or a bomb. No amount of training and discipline is completely effective in dealing with these pressures.

You can read the rest here

I have a real problem with Every moment and every man, woman or child one encounters carries the potential for death. which sets up the idea of us good, every single damn one of them is out to get us. In other words, blame the victim, no matter who it is.

What Sanders appears to forget, disregard or outright ignore, is that many of these people were unarmed, killed in their our houses, and pleading for their lives . In fact, according to a surviving child of one family, some of the men of the family were forced into an armoire and that armoire sprayed with gunfire. In addition, Time has reported that there were no bullet holes indicating an exchange of gunfire, and that a number of the bullet holes were the result of bullets ripping through their victims and then embedding themselves in the walls.

Sanders appears to feel that incidents like this are predictable and expected and do not represent military policy.

I strongly disagree with him on the first, and would like to think that the second is true, but too many things like this have happened in Iraq and I don't feel that the "bad apple" explanation holds water. Here are two elements to the story that suggest higher ups have some idea (if not outright know) what is going on: a) two marines were turned into combat photographers to photograph the scene, b) military drones were flying overhead taking pictures.

From the North County Times:

An article leads with comments by Rep. Duncan Hunter. You can read it here

Buried down near the bottom is an indication of why something like this is possible:

Lance Cpl. James Crossan of North Bend, Wash., who was injured in the attack in Haditha, told a TV station that some of the Marines might have snapped after seeing one of their own killed in action.

"So, I think they were just blinded by hate ... and they just lost control," Crossan told NBC affiliate KING-TV, which aired the interview Tuesday.

Crossan said he felt bad for those who may have been involved in killing civilians but tried to rationalize what happened.

"Probably half of them were bad guys and we just never knew, so it really doesn't cross my mind," he said.

You hear this time and time again, to justify crimes against Iraqi civilians. When you have a mindset that already condemns a population (see Sanders' column above) as "bad guys" or as potential walking bombs, then an incident like Haditha is not only predictable, but expected. And the question is where does this attitude come from and who fosters it? It is impossible to imagine that higher ups do not make these kinds of statements nor that they do not regard the Iraqi people in general as ungrateful, recalcitrant bastards who can be divided into really bad guys and people who will be bad guys if the get a chance.

Yes, the Marines and the Army have codes of conduct. But codes of conduct on the books and what is taught and encouraged can be two different things.

Remember Abu Graib? Every single one of those accused (and those who wiggled out of it) were aware of the Geneva Conventions- in fact, their ids carry the words Geneva Conventions. So, what the hell were they thinking? That the Geneva Conventions are some pretty words on some piece of paper which Attorney General Gonzales thinks is a quaint anachronism? And common sense doesn't tell you that sexualy humilitaing prisoners, sodomizing them, etc. is torture?

Just like common sense doesn't seem to tell them that shooting little children and elderly wheelchair bound men in the head is murder.

Obviously the "Code" isn't being emphasized strongly enough, or someone, somewhere, higher up is saying screw the Code. In war, anything goes, including war crimes against an occupied population.

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