Originally Published: 7/3/2006
By The Issue Wonk
What’s going on with our military? Reports of torture, senseless killing, and brutality are undermining our mission in Iraq and ruining our stature in the world. Yes, such incidents have always occurred in wars. Still, this is no excuse. Have we learned nothing from our experiences? For a country, a government, that often justifies its foreign policy on the grounds of preserving human rights, recent revelations prove that we are not who we purport to be and that human rights applies only to a lucky few.
First there were the horrors of Abu Ghraib.1 As of June, 2006, 11 U.S. soldiers had been convicted, none higher than a sergeant. If anyone believes that these people cooked these things up on their own, with no knowledge by superior officers, they’re dreaming. Anyone who knows how the military works knows this isn’t possible. (It’s also interesting that out of the 11, 3 (27%) were women, totally inconsistent with the number of women serving in Iraq.)
Then there was the incident in Haditha on November 19, 2005, where 24 civilians were massacred. Ellen Nickmeyer has a summary of the occurrences.2 After the death of a Marine lance corporal in a roadside bombing, Marines went on a killing spree in this small farming town on the Euphrates River. In one home they murdered a 76-year-old amputee in a wheelchair, his 66-year-old wife, 3 middle-aged male members of the family, and 3 children, ages 8, 5, and 4. “Marines entered shooting. . . [Shots] were fired at such close range that they went through the bodies . . . and plowed into walls or the floor.” In another home there was a 43-year-old man, his 41-year-old wife, an 8-year-old son, 5 young daughters, and a 1-year-old girl staying with them. “Marines shot them at close range and hurled grenades into the kitchen and bathroom. . . 4 of the girls died screaming.” Only a 13-year old survived. “Moving to a third house, Marines burst in on 4 brothers and killed them.” Finally, 4 male college students leaving the Technical Institute in Saqlawiyah were in a taxi going home for the weekend. Seeing the chaos, the driver threw the car into reverse and tried to back away at full speed. The Marines opened fire, killing everyone in the vehicle. Think it’s the situation that led to this behavior? Nope. Not all Marines behaved in this fashion. In another area, a different group of Marines found at least one other house full of young men. They marched them out of the house, some in their underwear, and took them away to detention.
The revelation of the massacres in Haditha has led to the disclosure of other incidents. On March 15th of this year, in the town of Ishaqi, about 10 miles north of Balad, 11 people were killed in a U.S.-led raid. The dead included 4 women, 2 men, and 5 children, the youngest of whom was 6 months old. A military spokesman said the soldiers came under fire as they approached the house and so they returned fire. However, witnesses said that the soldiers entered the home and kept the entire family in one room before spraying them with bullets randomly. The soldiers then destroyed the building and killed the livestock belonging to the people in the home.3
In another incident in April of this year in Hamandiyya, a man was killed and his death was staged “to make him look like an insurgent by placing an AK-47 rifle near his body.”4 Camilo Mejia, a U.S. infantry veteran “who served briefly in Haditha” in 2003, described an incident in Ramadi where there was a roadblock near a mosque. “When one car refused to stop, U.S. soldiers opened fire on it. The American unit came under fire from elsewhere. In the resulting firefight, however, no insurgents were killed while 7 Iraqi civilians stuck at the roadblock died. No weapons were found in the car that had refused to stop. ‘There was no sense in it. There was no basic humanity. They were all civilians and we didn’t kill any insurgents,’ Mejia said.”5 In May, 2004 there was the massacre at Makr al-Deeb, where marines bombed a wedding party and then shot a number of survivors. By the time the killing was done, 42 innocent people were dead.6 Most recently a pregnant woman and her cousin, who was driving her to a maternity hospital in Samarra, were shot to death. The military says they didn’t stop at the roadblock, despite being signaled to do so. However, witnesses don’t concur. They say the incident occurred on a side road that the U.S. military had closed 2 weeks previously. “News of the closure . . . was slow to reach the rural area just outside Samarra” where the victims were from.7
Now we can add to that Mahmoudiya, a little town about 20 miles south of Baghdad. The military is investigating the allegation that on March 12, 2006, 4 soldiers from the 502nd Infantry Regiment, attached to the Fourth Infantry Division, raped an Iraqi woman in her home and then killed her, her husband, her child, and the husband's brother. 2 soldiers felt "compelled" to talk and turned them in.8 They even burned the home afterward, with the bodies in it.9
It is widely expected that more incidents will be uncovered. But how many have yet to happen? What is the cause? Stress? Surely they are under a great deal of stress. Some of these soldiers were on their 2nd or 3rd deployment. The wife of a marine involved in the Haditha killings said there had been a “total breakdown” in the unit’s discipline. “There were problems in Kilo company with drugs, alcohol, hazing, you name it,” she said.10 Still, there has to be something that is being perpetrated by superiors that breed this kind of disdain for human life. A February 2006 poll of U.S. troops in Iraq by Zogby may provide some insight: 90% think the war is in retaliation for Saddam’s role in 9/11. Now, we all know Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the September 11th attacks. However, the troops obviously haven’t gotten the message and I don’t imagine generals are having education classes to instruct them on just who is responsible. Why perpetrate this misinformation? Revenge makes a nice killing machine out of a human being. The responsibility goes to the top, not just of the Pentagon and the Department of Defense, but of the administration.
1 For a good history see “Torture at Abu Ghraib” by Seymour M. Hersh. The New Yorker, May 10, 2005.
2 Knickmeyer, Ellen. “In Haditha, Memories of a Massacre.” Washington Post, May 27, 2006.
3 U.S. Military Probing Raid Near Balad: Separate Investigation Into Deaths of Civilians.” CNN, June 2, 2006.
4 U.S. Faces Third Charge of Killing Iraqi Civilians. The Daily Star, June 3, 2006.
5 U.S. Confronts Brutal Culture Among its Finest Sons. The Observer. Guardian Unlimited, June 4, 2006.
6 Mackay, Neil. “Iraq: The Wedding Party Massacre.” Sunday Herald, May 23, 2004.
7 Hendawi, Hamza. “Shooting of Pregnant Iraqi Touches Nerves.” Washington Post, May 31, 2006.
8 Wong, Edward. “G.I.’s Investigated in Slayings of 4 and Rape in Iraq.” The New York Times, July 1, 2006.
9 Moore, Solomon & Spiegel, Peter. “4 Soldiers Accused of Iraq Rape, Killings.” Los Angeles Times, July 1, 2006.
10 Borger, Julian. “Marine’s Wife Paints Portrait of U.S. troops Out of Control in Haditha.” Guardian Unlimited, June 5, 2006.
© The Issue Wonk, 2006