Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Haditha is the Tip of the Iceberg

Via Cursor.org, Dahr Jamail points out that the framing of Haditha as "Iraq's My Lai" has obscured the truth: There have been "countless My Lai massacres in Iraq."

The media feeding frenzy around what has been referred to as "Iraq's My Lai" has become frenetic. Focus on US Marines slaughtering at least 20 civilians in Haditha last November is reminiscent of the media spasm around the "scandal" of Abu Ghraib during April and May 2004.

Yet just like Abu Ghraib, while the media spotlight shines squarely on the Haditha massacre, countless atrocities continue daily, conveniently out of the awareness of the general public. Torture did not stop simply because the media finally decided, albeit in horribly belated fashion, to cover the story, and the daily slaughter of Iraqi civilians by US forces and US-backed Iraqi "security" forces had not stopped either.

Earlier this month, I received a news release from Iraq, which read, "On Saturday, May 13th, 2006, at 10:00 p.m., US Forces accompanied by the Iraqi National Guard attacked the houses of Iraqi people in the Al-Latifya district south of Baghdad by an intensive helicopter shelling. This led the families to flee to the Al-Mazar and water canals to protect themselves from the fierce shelling. Then seven helicopters landed to pursue the families who fled … and killed them. The number of victims amounted to more than 25 martyrs. US forces detained another six persons including two women named Israa Ahmed Hasan and Widad Ahmed Hasan, and a child named Huda Hitham Mohammed Hasan, whose father was killed during the shelling."

The report from the Iraqi NGO called The Monitoring Net of Human Rights in Iraq (MHRI) continued, "The forces didn't stop at this limit. They held an attack on May 15th, 2006, supported also by the Iraqi National Guards. They also attacked the families' houses, and arrested a number of them while others fled. US snipers then used the homes to target more Iraqis. The reason for this crime was due to the downing of a helicopter in an area close to where the forces held their attack."

The US military preferred to report the incident as an offensive where they killed 41 "insurgents," a line effectively parroted by much of the media.

In the uproar over Haditha, other, equally horrifying, atrocities committed by U.S. troops in Iraq have been overlooked or forgotten.

Atrocities such as the 11 civilians -- nine of them women and children -- who were murdered at Abu Sifa, according to this account in the March 26 edition of the Times Online:

The villagers of Abu Sifa near the Iraqi town of Balad had become used to the sound of explosions at night as American forces searched the area for suspected insurgents. But one night two weeks ago Issa Harat Khalaf heard a different sound that chilled him to the bone.

Khalaf, a 33-year-old security officer guarding oil pipelines, saw a US helicopter land near his home. American soldiers stormed out of the Chinook and advanced on a house owned by Khalaf's brother Fayez, firing as they went.

Khalaf ran from his own house and hid in a nearby grove of trees. He saw the soldiers enter his brother's home and then heard the sound of women and children screaming.

"Then there was a lot of machinegun fire," he said last week. After that there was the most frightening sound of all -- silence, followed by explosions as the soldiers left the house.

Once the troops were gone, Khalaf and his fellow villagers began a frantic search through the ruins of his brother's home. Abu Sifa was about to join a lengthening list of Iraqi communities claiming to have suffered from American atrocities.

According to Iraqi police, 11 bodies were pulled from the wreckage of the house, among them four women and five children aged between six months and five years. An official police report obtained by a US reporter for Knight Ridder newspapers said: "The American forces gathered the family members in one room and executed 11 people."

The Abu Sifa deaths on March 15 were first reported last weekend on the day that Time magazine published the results of a 10-week investigation into an incident last November when US marines killed 15 civilians in their homes in the western Iraqi town of Haditha.

But denial ain't just a river in Egypt, as Mark Twain said. Carolyn Marshall writes in the New York Times that in places where pro-military feelings run high, most people are convinced that if the civilian killings happened at all, they were justified.

Denial and utter disbelief are the overwhelming reaction to reports of the killings involving marines based here. If there is any truth to the accusations, some say, then the troops must have been acting on direct orders, responding as they were trained to do.

Lawrence Harper, 36, now retired, served in the Marine Corps for more than 15 years, and was in the Persian Gulf war.

"Many times you see a situation the next day and wonder, how did my brain think this was dangerous?" Mr. Harper said, while shopping for gear at G.I. Joe's, a military supply shop in Oceanside.

Mr. Harper expressed doubt that the marines knowingly committed crimes in Haditha, saying that they undoubtedly acted on instinct, as trained, in the heat of battle.

"When a bullet comes at you and you turn around and half your buddy's head is blown off, it changes the way you think forever," he said.

Jerry Alexander, the owner of G.I. Joe's and a Navy man who served with the Marines for a dozen years, had much the same perspective, saying, "If I saw my buddy laying there dead, there is no such thing as too much retaliation."

While Mr. Alexander said "unacceptable kills" should not be covered up, he worried about the unfairness of judging those who were in Haditha.

"In the heat of combat, you cannot hesitate; he who hesitates is lost," he said. "I would not prosecute these young men because they were just doing their jobs."

Joy Tomme at Ratbang Diary thinks we should not be surprised at such attitudes: that's how soldiers are trained to think and behave in war. That's precisely why wars should not be started in the first place unless they are absolutely necessary and then only after all other options have been tried and failed, and there is no other option. And that's not the case with Iraq.

Of course our troops are being trained to do whatever they have to do when enemy guns are pointed at them. Of course our troops are being trained to inflict torture on the enemy. Of course, as the owner of a G.I. Joe's store, Jerry Alexander, said, "If I saw my buddy laying there dead, there is no such thing as too much retaliation."

Our troops were trained in the Second World War to demonize the Germans and Japanese. Our troops were trained to think of the North Vietnamese as less than human savages and to call them Gooks.

There is no way a man or woman can be trained to kill and maim while at the same time stopping to think about ethical and philosophical niceties.

And it is naive to think that the military is training our fighting troops now in any way different from the way it has always trained troops for war.

But here's the problem. The war in Iraq is an unnecessary war that the Bush administration lied the United States into for reasons having nothing to do with an enemy at our door.

That is why the massacre at My Lai during the Vietnam War and the atrocities being reported in Haditha Iraq are so horrifying. They didn't have to happen because we have no business being there. We heard about terrible things our troops inflicted on the Japanese during WWII and Americans not only accepted it, many reveled in it. Served them right, they attacked us.

But since Iraq was not a clear and present danger, Iraq did not pose an immediate threat and our government trumped up reasons for the attack, the stories of atrocities are horrifying because we have no business being in Iraq.

Jerry Alexander said, "In the heat of combat, you cannot hesitate; he who hesitates is lost," he said. "I would not prosecute these young men because they were just doing their jobs."

One cannot argue that. It was certainly true in WWI and WWII. But with every conflict since the end of WWII, the kill-or-be-killed rationale has become a harder sell. Because with every conflict we’ve engaged in since WWII, we have had less of a moral reason for getting involved.

Our troops are in life-and-death situations in Iraq. And they have been trained to demonize an enemy that is only an enemy because the Bush administration coolly decided to make Iraq an enemy.

Haditha is the best proof that we need to get out of Iraq now. This war is not worth fighting and never has been. This war is not worth putting our American troops into no-win situations like Haditha.

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