July 19, 2007
|Iraq Vets Speak||Iraq|
Chris Hedges and Laila al-Arian have a piece in The Nation that pulls together a number of accounts told them by Iraq veterans. It's a long piece (21 pages printed out), but an important read. As Gwynne Dyer wrote, "In anti-colonial guerrilla wars, the locals always win." Here we see why. I've excerpted some snippets below:
"I guess while I was there, the general attitude was, A dead Iraqi is just another dead Iraqi," said Spc. Jeff Englehart, 26, of Grand Junction, Colorado..."You know, so what?... The soldiers honestly thought we were trying to help the people and they were mad because it was almost like a betrayal. Like here we are trying to help you, here I am, you know, thousands of miles away from home and my family, and I have to be here for a year and work every day on these missions. Well, we're trying to help you and you just turn around and try to kill us." [...]
Fighting in densely populated urban areas has led to the indiscriminate use of force and the deaths at the hands of occupation troops of thousands of innocents.
Many of these veterans returned home deeply disturbed by the disparity between the reality of the war and the way it is portrayed by the US government and American media. The war the vets described is a dark and even depraved enterprise, one that bears a powerful resemblance to other misguided and brutal colonial wars and occupations, from the French occupation of Algeria to the American war in Vietnam and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. [...]
Much of the resentment toward Iraqis described to The Nation by veterans was confirmed in a report released May 4 by the Pentagon. According to the survey, conducted by the Office of the Surgeon General of the US Army Medical Command, just 47 percent of soldiers and 38 percent of marines agreed that civilians should be treated with dignity and respect. Only 55 percent of soldiers and 40 percent of marines said they would report a unit member who had killed or injured "an innocent noncombatant." [...]
The mounting frustration of fighting an elusive enemy and the devastating effect of roadside bombs, with their steady toll of American dead and wounded, led many troops to declare an open war on all Iraqis.
Veterans described reckless firing once they left their compounds. 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. [...]
The American forces, stymied by poor intelligence, invade neighborhoods where insurgents operate, bursting into homes in the hope of surprising fighters or finding weapons. But such catches, they said, are rare. Far more common were stories in which soldiers assaulted a home, destroyed property in their futile search and left terrorized civilians struggling to repair the damage and begin the long torment of trying to find family members who were hauled away as suspects. [...]
"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." [...]
"We scared the living Jesus out of them every time we went through every house," he said. [...]
In the thousand or so raids he conducted during his time in Iraq, Sergeant Westphal said, he came into contact with only four "hard-core insurgents." [...]
"They were so sick and nervous. And sometimes, they were peeing on themselves. Can you imagine if people could just come into your house and take you in front of your family screaming? And if you actually were innocent but had no way to prove that? It would be a scary, scary thing." [...]
Spc. Patrick Resta...recalled his supervisor telling his platoon point-blank, "The Geneva Conventions don't exist at all in Iraq, and that's in writing if you want to see it." [...]
American troops in Iraq lacked the training and support to communicate with or even understand Iraqi civilians...Few spoke or read Arabic. They were offered little or no cultural or historical education about the country they controlled. Translators were either in short supply or unqualified. Any stereotypes about Islam and Arabs that soldiers and marines arrived with tended to solidify rapidly in the close confines of the military and the risky streets of Iraqi cities into a crude racism. [...]
In Iraq, Specialist Middleton said, "a lot of guys really supported that whole concept that, you know, if they don't speak English and they have darker skin, they're not as human as us, so we can do what we want." [...]
Iraqi culture, identity and customs were, according to at least a dozen soldiers and marines interviewed by The Nation, openly ridiculed in racist terms, with troops deriding "haji food," "haji music" and "haji homes." In the Muslim world, the word "haji" denotes someone who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca. But it is now used by American troops in the same way "gook" was used in Vietnam or "raghead" in Afghanistan. [...]
"We were told from the first second that we arrived there, and this was in writing on the wall in our aid station, that we were not to treat Iraqi civilians unless they were about to die..." [...]
[W]hen [convoys] of vehicles left their heavily fortified compounds they usually roared down the main supply routes, which often cut through densely populated areas, reaching speeds over sixty miles an hour. Governed by the rule that stagnation increases the likelihood of attack, convoys leapt meridians in traffic jams, ignored traffic signals, swerved without warning onto sidewalks, scattering pedestrians, and slammed into civilian vehicles, shoving them off the road. Iraqi civilians, including children, were frequently run over and killed. Veterans said they sometimes shot drivers of civilian cars that moved into convoy formations or attempted to pass convoys as a warning to other drivers to get out of the way. [...]
Following an explosion or ambush, soldiers in the heavily armed escort vehicles often fired indiscriminately in a furious effort to suppress further attacks, according to three veterans. The rapid bursts from belt-fed .50-caliber machine guns and SAWs (Squad Automatic Weapons, which can fire as many as 1,000 rounds per minute) left many civilians wounded or dead. [...]
Convoys did not slow down or attempt to brake when civilians inadvertently got in front of their vehicles. [...]
"...basically, your order is that you never stop." [...]
Soldiers and marines who participated in neighborhood patrols said they often used the same tactics as convoys — speed, aggressive firing — to reduce the risk of being ambushed or falling victim to IEDs. Sgt. Patrick Campbell, 29, of Camarillo, California, who frequently took part in patrols, said his unit fired often and without much warning on Iraqi civilians in a desperate bid to ward off attacks.
"Every time we got on the highway," he said, "we were firing warning shots, causing accidents all the time. Cars screeching to a stop, going into the other intersection.... The problem is, if you slow down at an intersection more than once, that's where the next bomb is going to be because you know they watch. You know? And so if you slow down at the same choke point every time, guaranteed there's going to be a bomb there next couple of days. So getting onto a freeway or highway is a choke point 'cause you have to wait for traffic to stop. So you want to go as fast as you can, and that involves added risk to all the cars around you, all the civilian cars.
"The first Iraqi I saw killed was an Iraqi who got too close to our patrol," he said. "We were coming up an on-ramp. And he was coming down the highway. And they fired warning shots and he just didn't stop. He just merged right into the convoy and they opened up on him." [...]
The killing of unarmed Iraqis was so common many of the troops said it became an accepted part of the daily landscape. [...]
The US military checkpoints dotted across Iraq...were often deadly for civilians. [...]
Sergeant Mejía recounted an incident in Ramadi in July 2003 when an unarmed man drove with his young son too close to a checkpoint. The father was decapitated in front of the small, terrified boy by a member of Sergeant Mejía's unit firing a heavy .50-caliber machine gun. By then, said Sergeant Mejía, who responded to the scene after the fact, "this sort of killing of civilians had long ceased to arouse much interest or even comment." [...]
"This unit sets up this traffic control point, and this 18-year-old kid is on top of an armored Humvee with a .50-caliber machine gun," he said. "This car speeds at him pretty quick and he makes a split-second decision that that's a suicide bomber, and he presses the butterfly trigger and puts 200 rounds in less than a minute into this vehicle. It killed the mother, a father and two kids. The boy was aged 4 and the daughter was aged 3. And they briefed this to the general. And they briefed it gruesome. I mean, they had pictures. They briefed it to him. And this colonel turns around to this full division staff and says, 'If these fucking hajis learned to drive, this shit wouldn't happen.'" [...]
Rules of Engagement
Some said they were simply told they were authorized to shoot if they felt threatened..."Basically it always came down to self-defense and better them than you..." [...]
"Cover your own butt was the first rule of engagement," Lieutenant Van Engelen confirmed. "Someone could look at me the wrong way and I could claim my safety was in threat." [...]
Sergeant Flatt recounted one incident in Mosul in January 2005 when an elderly couple zipped past a checkpoint. "The car was approaching what was in my opinion a very poorly marked checkpoint, or not even a checkpoint at all, and probably didn't even see the soldiers," he said. "The guys got spooked and decided it was a possible threat, so they shot up the car. And they literally sat in the car for the next three days while we drove by them day after day." [Emphasis added]
Let's say, for the sake of argument, that when the US military went into Vietnam, they didn't know any better, at least not at first — for the sake of argument. What conceivable excuse is there this time? And yet here they are, taking the same evil, stupid path of least resistance. They will kill uncounted numbers of Iraqis, lay waste to a country, and it will all end in failure — and they don't care. Doing things correctly, carefully, judiciously, humanely is just too hard. Instead they careen around, running over civilians, ransacking homes, shooting up the countryside. And they wonder why people want them gone.
This time there can be no excuse. Knowing what we know and doing these things anyway — it's unspeakable. It's evil. And incredibly, incredibly dumb.