Sunday, July 09, 2006

Five More Arrested in Iraq Rape Case

Four more U.S. soldiers have been charged in the rape and murder of an Iraqi girl and the murder of three other members of her family.

The four soldiers, members of the Army's 101st Airborne Division, are charged with conspiring with former Pfc. Steven D. Green to commit rape and murder, the U.S. Central Command in Iraq said in a statement. A fifth soldier was charged with dereliction of duty for failing to report the crimes, and wasn't alleged to have participated in the incident, the military said.

All five soldiers are still on active duty in Iraq.

The accusations against the five American soldiers set in motion the military's court martial process. According to military officials, the soldiers will now face an investigation under Article 32 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, a process similar to a grand jury hearing, which will determine whether enough evidence exists to put the men on trial.

The military did not identify the suspects. But a criminal complaint made public by prosecutors last Monday and based in part on interviews with unnamed participants described in detail how Mr. Green and several other soldiers enacted a plan to rape a girl near Mahmudiya, a town about 20 miles south of Baghdad where they were based.

The complaint says that on March 12, Mr. Green and three other soldiers went to the girl's house while a fifth soldier remained at a checkpoint to monitor the radio. At the house, Mr. Green killed the parents and sister with an AK-47, according to the complaint. Mr. Green and another soldier raped the girl, then Mr. Green shot and killed her, the complaint said.

The latest formal accusations of rape and murder against four soldiers, which were made on Saturday but revealed on Sunday, suggested that there may have been a fifth soldier in the farmhouse at the time of the events.

The case is one of at least five recent incidents in which American military personnel have come under investigation in connection with the killings of unarmed Iraqis. Mr. Green's case was filed in a civilian court in the United States because he was no longer enlisted in the military, prosecutors have said.

Doubtless, many supporters of the Iraq war will point to these arrests as proof that the U.S. military and the Bush administration do value innocent Iraqi lives. Obviously, it's a good sign that these soldiers were charged with rape and murder; and it is to be hoped that if enough evidence exists to court-martial them, the military will continue to do the right thing.

That said, Andrew J. Bacevich, a Boston University professor of history and international relations, poses an interesting question, which I have not seen raised anywhere else: Why are some innocent Iraqi lives worth more than others?

In Iraq, lives differ in value -- and so do deaths. In this disparity lies an important reason why the United States has botched this war.

Last November in Haditha , a squad of Marines, outraged at the loss of a comrade, is said to have run amok, avenging his death by killing two dozen innocent bystanders. And in March, U.S. soldiers in Mahmudiyah allegedly raped a young Iraqi woman and killed her along with three of her relatives -- an apparently premeditated crime for which one former U.S. soldier has been charged . These incidents are among at least five recent cases of Iraqi civilian deaths that have triggered investigations of U.S. military personnel. If the allegations prove true, Haditha and Mahmudiyah will deservedly take their place alongside Sand Creek, Samar and My Lai in the unhappy catalogue of atrocities committed by American troops.

But recall a more recent incident, in Samarra . On May 30, U.S. soldiers manning a checkpoint there opened fire on a speeding vehicle that either did not see or failed to heed their command to stop. Two women in the vehicle were shot dead. One of them, Nahiba Husayif Jassim, 35, was pregnant. The baby was also killed. The driver, Jassim's brother, had been rushing her to a hospital to give birth. No one tried to cover up the incident: U.S. military representatives issued expressions of regret.

In all likelihood, we will be learning more about Haditha and Mahmudiyah for months to come, whereas the Samarra story has already been filed away and largely forgotten. And that's the problem.

The killing at the Samarra checkpoint was not an atrocity; most likely it was an accident, a mistake. Yet plenty of evidence suggests that in Iraq such mistakes have occurred routinely, with moral and political consequences that have been too long ignored. Indeed, conscious motivation is beside the point: Any action resulting in Iraqi civilian deaths, however inadvertent, undermines the Bush administration's narrative of liberation, and swells the ranks of those resisting the U.S. presence.

Gen. Tommy Franks, who commanded U.S. forces when they entered Iraq more than three years ago, famously declared: "We don't do body counts." Franks was speaking in code. What he meant was this: The U.S. military has learned the lessons of Vietnam -- where body counts became a principal, and much derided, public measure of success -- and it has no intention of repeating that experience. Franks was not going to be one of those generals re-fighting the last war.

Unfortunately, Franks and other senior commanders had not so much learned from Vietnam as forgotten it. This disdain for counting bodies, especially those of Iraqi civilians killed in the course of U.S. operations, is among the reasons why U.S. forces find themselves in another quagmire. It's not that the United States has an aversion to all body counts. We tally every U.S. service member who falls in Iraq, and rightly so. But only in recent months have military leaders finally begun to count -- for internal use only -- some of the very large number of Iraqi noncombatants whom American bullets and bombs have killed.

Through the war's first three years, any Iraqi venturing too close to an American convoy or checkpoint was likely to come under fire. Thousands of these "escalation of force" episodes occurred. Now, Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq, has begun to recognize the hidden cost of such an approach. "People who were on the fence or supported us" in the past "have in fact decided to strike out against us," he recently acknowledged.

In the early days of the insurgency, some U.S. commanders appeared oblivious to the possibility that excessive force might produce a backlash. They counted on the iron fist to create an atmosphere conducive to good behavior. The idea was not to distinguish between "good" and "bad" Iraqis, but to induce compliance through intimidation.

"You have to understand the Arab mind," one company commander told the New York Times, displaying all the self-assurance of Douglas MacArthur discoursing on Orientals in 1945. "The only thing they understand is force -- force, pride and saving face." Far from representing the views of a few underlings, such notions penetrated into the upper echelons of the American command. In their book "Cobra II," Michael R. Gordon and Gen. Bernard E. Trainor offer this ugly comment from a senior officer: "The only thing these sand niggers understand is force and I'm about to introduce them to it."

Such crass language, redolent with racist, ethnocentric connotations, speaks volumes. These characterizations, like the use of "gooks" during the Vietnam War, dehumanize the Iraqis and in doing so tacitly permit the otherwise impermissible. Thus, Abu Ghraib and Haditha -- and too many regretted deaths, such as that of Nahiba Husayif Jassim.

As the war enters its fourth year, how many innocent Iraqis have died at American hands, not as a result of Haditha-like massacres but because of accidents and errors? The military doesn't know and, until recently, has publicly professed no interest in knowing. Estimates range considerably, but the number almost certainly runs in the tens of thousands. Even granting the common antiwar bias of those who track the Iraqi death toll -- and granting, too, that the insurgents have far more blood on their hands -- there is no question that the number of Iraqi noncombatants killed by U.S. forces exceeds by an order of magnitude the number of U.S. troops killed in hostile action, which is now more than 2,000.


Frank Staheli said...


You bring up some excellent points. The truth is somewhere in between: some allege that American soldiers have killed 10's of thousands while others seem to downplay the ones that really have been killed, a few by malice and several more by accident.

I recently returned from Ramadi, Iraq, and I know of two instances of such "accidental" escalation of force incidents. In one, a family not familiar with the area did not realize it was travelling near our operating base one dark evening and as the father saw a humvee leave the base, he accelerated to get out of its way. We can only assume these were his thoughts because nearly everyone in the family was killed by machine gun fire from the humvee, which feared they were being engaged by a vehicle suicide bomber. The young daughter had been practicing writing "My name is..." in English at the time of their deaths.

In another incident, a convoy halted on a main supply route, requiring the Iraqi vehicles to wait on the side of the road for them to pass for at least a half hour. When the driver of one vehicle became impatient and turned around, the lead vehicle in the convoy fired on what the convoy commander termed a "fleeing vehicle" and killed the woman passenger.

The first incident was accidental, the second bordered on senselessness.

All in all, it's difficult for soldiers to serve in an environment where it's nearly impossible to identify the bad guys. Nearly all soldiers serving are not malicious. They have at heart what is best for the Iraqi people--liberty. Sometimes such accidents make the struggle for liberty more poignant than it should be.

Kathy said...


And suicide bombers in turn are strengthened by such incidents (because of the anger they create among Iraqis).

Thank you for sharing what must be very painful memories, Frank. The understated way you wrote about what you saw only makes it more horrifying.

Are you home for good now? I hope so.

Frank Staheli said...

Kathy, I am home for at least a long time. Thank you for your concern. I have served for 24 years now, and am seriously contemplating retirement so I can at least watch and participate with my kids on a regular basis through their teen years.

You're right that suicide bombers are strengthened by such incidents. Fortunately, such incidents are rare (although admittedly any is too many). But they are not nearly as frequent as wanton destruction by lunatics on both sides of the Iraqi political spectrum. The people that I met are sick and tired of the senseless killing of and by their countrymen, and they just want it to stop.

It's more likely to stop with Coalition Forces there as arbitrator and peacekeeper.

Kathy said...

It's more likely to stop with Coalition Forces there as arbitrator and peacekeeper.

Well, we may have to agree to disagree on this point. The way I see it, the U.S. invasion and all the mistakes made immediately after the fall of Saddam Hussein are what caused the insurgency to begin with. The violence has just escalated and gotten worse and worse since May 2003. At best, the presence of U.S. troops is useless to stop the violence; and at worst, the presence of U.S. troops is an actual irritant and provocation to more violence, because the longer we stay there the more Iraqis resent us (to understate the case).

I respect your point of view, because it's hard-won; but I have to say I don't see any evidence that the U.S. occupation of Iraq has done anything to ease the violence. Can you point to any such evidence? (That's a serious question.)