Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A Few Bad Apples

It is being widely reported that US officials are preparing public opinion for the fact that American marines did deliberately murder a number of unarmed civilians in Haditha last November in retaliation for an IED killing of Miguel Terrazas, one of their colleagues. It seems clear that US government investigations have uncovered substantial evidence that these murders did take place.

The Whitehouse are going to release full details of the inquiries into the killings in an attempt to fend off allegations of a cover-up. But a cursory consideration of the reason why an investigation even occurred makes a mockery of any attempt to deny that this was initially covered up by the US military.

It is clear that it was the reporting of this event by Time magazine which belatedly provoked a grudging US military into considering the circumstances surrounding the deaths of these Iraqi civilians.

The day after the incident, Time notes:
[A] Marine communiqué from Camp Blue Diamond in Ramadi reported that Terrazas and 15 Iraqi civilians were killed by the blast and that "gunmen attacked the convoy with small-arms fire," prompting the Marines to return fire, killing eight insurgents and wounding one other.
This is very much the stock military line and reports like these are issued on an almost daily basis as the violence continues unabated in Iraq. There was no hint in the initial statement that US marines had deliberately killed innocent civilians in a cold blooded revenge attack. That was the end of the matter as far as the military were concerned.

It was only in January, after Time had investigated and reported on the incident, that the US military grudgingly opened an inquiry themselves and withdrew their spurious claim that civilian casualties were caused by the roadside bomb.
In January, after TIME presented military officials in Baghdad with the Iraqis' accounts of the Marines' actions, the U.S. opened its own investigation, interviewing 28 people, including the Marines, the families of the victims and local doctors. According to military officials, the inquiry acknowledged that, contrary to the military's initial report, the 15 civilians killed on Nov. 19 died at the hands of the Marines, not the insurgents.
They maintained, however, that the civilians had died as a result of collateral damage during a gunfight. It now appears clear that this wasn't true either and that no such gunfight took place.

The fact that Time magazine have forced the issue says much about the importance of a free press in a democratic society.

The fact that the US military had to be forced to investigate says much about the priorities of the democratic government of the United States of America.

There'll be lots of talk about the differences between the ways the US government handles these crimes as compared to the way Saddam operated as this gruesome story unfolds. It'll be as accurate as a communiqué from Camp Blue Diamond,

In truth, the real difference between US democracy (and British for that matter) and dictatorship in these cases is that democratic government's can on occasion be forced, kicking and screaming all the while, to investigate human rights abuses perpetrated by their representatives when confronted with damning evidence collated by the free press. Show trials and scapegoats to distance the leadership from the failings of their own policies are par for the course in both cases however.

The idea that the US government can be trusted to effectively investigate abuses by their own military personal voluntarily is, it should be clear by now if it wasn't already, utterly fallacious. How many more reported IED casualties were killed by US troops un-noticed by Time magazine or anyone else in the West? More many more dead "insurgents" were innocent civilians gunned down in cold blood out of sight of the world's press? It's impossible to tell and you can be sure that the US government is not making any effort to find out. Given what we know about US military training, morale, strategies and political leadership, it is highly improbable that this slaughter was an "isolated incident".

Here's one other example, also from the area round Haditha. In June 2005, five months before the attack above, US troops conducted a raid on the village of al-Shaikh Hadid. During that raid, US marines shot dead an Iraqi by the name of Mohammed al-Sumaidaie. He'd have been passed off as "just another dead insurgent" but for the fact that he was related to Samir Sumaidaie, Iraq's ambassador to the UN.

Ambassador Sumaidaie said:
All indications point to a killing of an unarmed innocent civilian - a cold-blooded murder.
A US military statement was issued in response:
We take these allegations seriously and will thoroughly investigate this incident to determine what happened.
The seriousness and thoroughness of the investigation into this apparent murder can be seen by the fact that as of May 2006, almost a year later, no details of the findings of this investigation have been made public.

A few bad apples? How many bad apples do there need to be before for it to becomes clear that the managers of the orchard are the root of problem?

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KeirHardiesCap said...

Killin terrist old men and women, terrist women in person-sized tents so's they can hardly walk, terrist children, babies, foetuses, donkeys, dogs. You go you brave merkin sojahs!

cuff said...

Great analysis. Haditha, like Abu Ghraib, is not about "a few bad apples" but about the gardener.

Neil Craig said...

You wouldn't catch the British government doing this - you wouldn't catch them.

We undertook to disarm the KLA & maintain order in Kosovo. Instead we provided them with protection & police uniforms. In the UK zone near Pristina a massacre of at least 210 people took place under our authority, granted apparently by our KLA chums rather than directly by our troops.

Media coverage of this - zero, arrests - zero.

Makes Bush look good doesn't it?