Thursday, December 11, 2008

Scapegoats and Scoundrels

In September 2007, a group Blackwater USA mercenaries contractors opened fire on a busy Baghdad street killing 17 innocent Iraqis and wounding numerous others.

"None of the victims of this shooting was armed. None of them was an insurgent," U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor said...

...the slain included young children, women, people fleeing in cars and a man whose arms were raised in surrender as he was shot in the chest.

Twenty others were wounded in crowded Nisoor Square, including one injured by a grenade launched into a nearby girls' school. Another 18 Iraqis were assaulted but not wounded.

After over a year of outrage and protest from the Iraqi victims of this slaughter, five Blackwater mercenaries security guards were indicted earlier this week. A sixth plead guilty and in exchange will testify against his former colleagues.


The 35-count indictment charges each of the former guards with 14 counts of manslaughter, 20 counts of attempted manslaughter and one count of using a firearm in the commission of a violent crime.

If convicted, the defendants would face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for each manslaughter count, seven years in prison for each count of attempted manslaughter and a 30-year mandatory minimum sentence for the firearms charge.

While this may distract and pacify the masses, if we are serious about real justice in Iraq, this cannot be the end of the investigation. What these men did was horrible, but they did not act alone. Huffington Post's Lee Stranahan made an excellent point a few days ago at
We're again haunted by the ghosts of Abu Ghraib - kids gets hauled into court and blamed for being part of a situation that wasn't really entirely of their making. Old men and war profiteers say tsk-tsk and cash their paychecks. It's only partial justice, which is almost worse than no justice.
Fucking right. I'm tired of this shit.

While the men who fired upon and threw grenades into that crowd of innocent people should be investigated, just like the men and women who committed the atrocities at Abu Ghraib were investigated, there is more to the story than the actions of those at the bottom of the command structure. People are capable of horrible things when brainwashed to believe that the "enemy" is less than human. Dehumanization is a huge part of creating any killing/war machine. If you are taught that your "enemy" is shit, you don't hesitate to follow orders that require you to kill or torture. The United States has openly embraced this type of training for years, and there is no reason to believe that US military-trained Blackwater guards were trained any differently.

Veterans from Iraq and Vietnam can help to add some perspective to the wider picture. After watching listening to Iraq veterans testify about some of the things they witnessed in combat, this Vietnam veteran recalls the methods of dehumanization and their effects on the soldiers he served with and the civilians they encountered:
A critical part of this training involves dehumanization. The idea here is to make trainees think of the enemy, not as opposing soldiers but as less than human. Animals if you will. There is far less of a possibility that an American soldier will balk at the order to kill when he believes that what he is killing is not a person at all, but a lower form of life deserving only disgust and hate. The problem with this training is that it does not stipulate a difference between enemy soldiers and local civilians. All are lumped into one category, given derogatory names and on the battlefield are ultimately treated the same.
It gets worse:
Those of us who were trained to go to Vietnam learned that the Vietnamese, whether they were civilians or combatants, were Dinks, Gooks, Slopes or Slopeheads and Slants. They were just little bastards that lived like animals in the jungle and it was ok to treat them accordingly. There was no place for respect for any member of the population and thus, the civilians became victims, not only of the VC, but of the American forces as well. The result was the same as in Iraq today. Greater numbers of civilians were killed than the actual enemy. And no matter what the military public relations folks say, this is condoned and encouraged behavior.
He goes on to give some examples of the blatant disregard for life that he observed in Vietnam. You should read it.

I'm sure you're familiar with stories like his from Vietnam, but this is happening in Iraq and Afghanistan right now? In November, several Iraq and Afghanistan veterans traveled to Washington to testify before Congress about the injustices they witnessed while deployed. Democracy Now! aired several of the testimonies on their November 28th program. One of the most revealing testimonies came from Vincent Emanuele who served in the Marine Corps from September '02 to January '06. He was deployed to Iraq in August 2004.

Another mission our platoon was tasked to take on was that of transporting prisoners from our detention facility on base back to the desert. The reason I say the desert and not their town is because that is exactly where we would drop them off, in the middle of nowhere. Now, most of these men had obviously been deemed innocent, or else they would have been moved to a more permanent detention facility and not released back into the local population. Our unit engaged in punching, kicking, butt stroking or generally harassing and abusing these very prisoners until the point at which our unit would be take them in the middle of the desert, miles from their respective homes, and at times throw them out of the back of our Humvees, all the while continually punching, kicking and at times even throwing softball-sized rocks at their backs as they ran away. This, once again, was not an isolated incident.

Possibly the most disturbing of what took place in Iraq was the mishandling of the dead. On several occasions, our convoy came across bodies that had been decapitated and were lying on the road, sometimes for weeks. When encountering these bodies, standard procedure was to run over the corpses, sometimes even stopping and taking pictures, which was also a standard practice when encountering the dead in Iraq—this, along with neglecting to account for many of those who were killed or wounded. On one specific occasion, after I had personally shot a man attempting to flee while planting a roadside bomb, we drug his body out of the ditch he was laying in, and we subsequently left that body—slide please—we subsequently left that body to rot in the field, where we saw this man up to a week later.

These are just a few of the disturbing and unacceptable stories I could share with you from my time in Iraq. Others would include continually dehumanizing Iraqis by referring to them as “hajis” or “sand niggers.” Even the racist and sexist nature that exists within the military itself, which was obviously—overtly obvious on a daily basis.
Go to the DN! link above and listen to the entire show if you want to get a full picture of some of the widespread abuse going on over there. For testimony from more Iraq veterans at March's Winter Soldier gathering in Maryland, click here and here.

Whether it be Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Bagram, or the streets of Iraq, when trained killing machines go too far, it's a direct result of the policies set by commanding officers. The trainers, along with the executives/cabinet members/vice presidents that approve the training and create the conditions that result in the crimes, should be investigated and prosecuted. These prosecutions should follow the trail all the way up the power structure, and punish those proven guilty. The true criminals of this irresponsible war of on terror must be exposed and brought to justice if we are ever to restore our credibility at home and throughout the rest of the world.

UPDATE: Ironically, just minutes ago, AP ran a story on a newly released bipartisan Senate Armed Services Committee report that DIRECTLY links the BUSH ADMINISTRATION widespread use of torture in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo. More to come soon.

Photo: Reuters