New Internationalist

Liberation’s lies

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The recent video released by Wikileaks has dismayed, but not surprised, Felicity Arbuthnot. Military personnel have been wreaking carnage on Afghan and Iraqi citizens for years.

‘All murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.’ Voltaire

‘God Bless America’ does not mean: ‘God Damn Everyone Else.’ Bumper sticker

The litany of war crimes in the name of ‘liberation’, ‘ridding the country of tyrants’ and spreading ‘democracy’, has become the language of blackest satire. Even death has been rebranded. The shredded, dismembered, decapitated, incinerated, old and young are not ‘lost’, ‘mourned’, ‘passed on’, ‘in a better place’, ‘with their God’. They are ‘a mistake’, ‘collateral damage’, a ‘regrettable incident’.

The litany of industrial-scale ‘incidents’ are often compounded by further ‘regrettable’ wholesale annihilation of the funeral gathering. The ‘mistakes’ seldom have names. They are not little Aisha, Ali, Ziad or Naira, or indeed Umm (mother of) Naira or Umm Ali or Abu (father of) Ziad or Abu Aisha. Uncles, aunts, cousins and grandparents too are simply the unaccounted. Those obliterated at baby-naming ceremonies or weddings remain just that. Humanity deferred, by democracy delivered: with guns, grenades, hellfire missiles, and village and town-erasing bunke-busting obscenities.

Sometimes, as with bombed sheep, goats and donkeys, bereaved relatives (if there are any left) are offered compensation. A McDonald’s customer, scalded by black coffee, was awarded a million dollars. An Afghan or Iraqi life ranks alongside the price of goats.

Yet American life is considered a ‘godly, righteous and sober’ one, a precious thing of shining worth, ‘wearing the white flower of a blameless’ existence. Compare this report from the Washington Times (5 April 2010) with General McChrystal’s comments which follow:

‘It is the US Army’s most urgent alert and it is now ringing across the Arghandab Valley (Afghanistan) from the 82nd Airborne’s Battalion Command to the smallest combat outpost: “Soldier missing in action”.’

The alert was after a patrol was allegedly ambushed by the Taliban. Lt Jordan Ritenour tried to ‘persuade’ Afghan army recruits to join him on the search mission.

‘We wanted you to come because an American died today,’ he tells them, his voice choking with frustration and emotion. ‘A death for us is sacred,’ adds Sgt. Mason. ‘No effort will be spared to return that body to its family.’

It has to be wondered what the Afghans thought, after nine years of seeing their countrymen, women and children casually splattered towards infinity by these invading adherents to the sanctity of life and death.

The Afghans troops exhorted to accompany their US colleagues were living with them in the base, in line with instructions given by General Stanley McChrystal, in yet another hearts and minds initiative. They would thus have no doubt seen his television address shortly before, when he stated: ‘We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat.’ Further: ‘…to my knowledge, in the nine-plus months I’ve been here, not a single case where we have engaged in an escalation of force incident and hurt someone, has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it and, in many cases, had families in it.’ But indeed, ‘stuff happens’ and he continued: ‘That doesn’t mean I’m criticizing the people who are executing (sic) …’ it was a matter of taking it all ‘in perspective’. So much for ‘sacred’.

Sometimes, as with bombed sheep, goats and donkeys, bereaved relatives (if there are any left) are offered compensation. A McDonald’s customer, scalded by black coffee, was awarded a million dollars. An Afghan or Iraqi life ranks alongside the price of goats

McCrystal’s chilling admission as to how inconsequential Afghan lives are to the occupying forces was compounded by the Nobel-winning President’s confirmation of: ‘…innocent victims we have killed so tragically in such amazing numbers.’ He added, in mitigation of the US’s litany of mass graves in the name of ‘humanitarian intervention’: ‘America’s sincere and shamed apology…’

An insight into inhumanity

On the day Sgt. Mason was explaining high-minded US military ethics to the Afghan troops, Wikileaks released the video of another mass execution in central Baghdad, in July 2007. The transcript – for the bloodlust expressed, for the video-game grasp of the enormity of sentencing a group of people to death for walking casually down a quiet street, on a shimmering summer’s day – is an insight in to inhumanity. The conversation between Apache helicopters pilots, in little over half an hour of planning and carrying out cold-blooded assassinations, is an insight into a mindset arguably psychologically challenged:

As people wander below them, one pilot says: ‘I just estimate there’s probably about 20 of them.’

A few words, then: ‘That’s a weapon.’

‘F**king prick.’

‘Have individuals with weapons.’

‘Yup, he’s got a weapon too.’

The unaware jaywalkers then become obscured by a building:

‘Just f**kin’ once you get ‘em, just open ‘em up.’

‘Let me know when you’ve got them.’

‘Let’s shoot.’

‘Light ’em all up.’

‘Come on, fire!’

‘Keep shoot, keep shoot…’

‘Keep shoot.’

‘Keep shoot.’

‘Alright, we engaged all eight individuals.’

‘All right, hahaha, I hit (shot) ‘em…’

‘Got a bunch of bodies layin’ there.’

‘All right, we got about, uh, eight individuals.’

‘Yeah, we got one guy crawling around down there, but, uh, you know, we got, definitely got something.’

‘We’re shooting some more.’

‘Right.’

‘You shoot, I’ll talk.’

‘…Currently engaging approximately eight individuals, uh, KIA [killed in action] uh, RPGs, and AK 47s.’

‘Oh, yeah, look at those dead b**tards.’

‘Nice.’

‘Nice.’

‘Good shot.’

‘Thank you.’

‘There’s one guy moving down there but he’s uh, he’s wounded.’

‘…we also have one individual, uh, appears to be wounded trying to crawl away.’

‘He’s getting up.’

‘I see you guys got that guy crawling right now on that curb.’

‘Yeah, I got him. I put two rounds [30 mm cannon shells near him] and you guys were shooting over there too, so uh, we’ll see.’

‘…we have a van that’s approaching and picking up the bodies.’

‘Where …?’

‘Right there by the bodies.’

‘…request permission to engage.’

‘Picking up the wounded?’

‘Come on, let us shoot.’

‘…go ahead.’

‘I think the van’s disabled.’

‘Go ahead and shoot it.’

‘A vehicle appears to be disabled.’

‘There were approximately four to five individuals in the vehicle, moving bodies.’

Bradley fighting vehicles approach the scene. Comment from air:

‘You should have a van in the middle of the road with about 12 to 15 bodies.’

‘Oh yeah, look at that, right through the windshield.’

‘Ha, ha.’

‘There were uh approximately four to five individuals in that truck, so I’m counting 12 to 15.’

‘I think we whacked [killed] them all.’

‘That’s right, good.’

Then:

‘… looks like we’ve got some slight movement from ah, the ah, van that was engaged.’

‘Looks like a kid. Over.’

To more personnel on the ground:

‘Got that big pile of bodies to the right, on the corner?’

‘Got ‘em.’

‘ ….It worked out pretty good.’

‘I didn’t want those f**kers to run away and scatter.’

From the ground:

‘…One small child wounded.’

‘…We need (to evacuate) this child … she’s got a wound to the belly.’

‘…Ah, damn, oh well.’

‘Well it’s their fault for bringing their kids in to battle.’

Of colleagues:

‘I think they just drove over a body.’

‘Hey, hey!’

‘Yeah!’

‘Well, they’re dead, so.’

Before leaving, a building is destroyed with Hellfire missiles. One Apache is short on fuel:

‘We’re not even going to watch this f**king shit.’

Then:

‘Firing.’

‘There it goes! Look at that bitch go!’

‘Patoosh!’

‘Ah, sweet.’

‘Nice missile.’

‘Does it look good?’

‘Sweet.’

‘…building destroyed. Engaged with three hellfire missiles.’ 1

‘The rocket-propelled grenade’, was, of course, the camera belonging to Reuters photographer Namir-Noor Eldeen, who was killed with colleague, Reuters driver, Saeed Chmagh. The camera was taken away by US soldiers. Another pitiless act on a merciless day.

Calculated killings

Further, as Patrick Cockburn pointed out, in the (London) Independent (14 July 2007), Reuters had bitterly complained to the US military about their treatment of its staff. In one letter, from Editor-in-Chief, David Schlesinger, to Senator John Warner, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (26 September 2005) he cited: ‘…a long parade of disturbing incidents whereby professional journalists have been killed, wrongfully detained, and/or illegally abused by US forces in Iraq’.

The scale the casual killing will undoubtedly take years to be fully accounted for – if ever. But that which is already known and which continues to come to light, already reveals crimes equalling history’s darkest, most shameful atrocities

The letter says: ‘On 2-5 January 2004, three Reuters personnel were beaten, taunted and degraded by US forces while being arbitrarily detained at (Forward Operating Base) Volturno and St Mere, near Fallujah.

‘Soldiers laughed, taunted, abused, photographed and degraded them by forcing them to insert their fingers up their anuses and then lick them.’

Calculated Killings, not ‘Isolated Incidents’.

A month before the July killings, ‘Operation Arrowhead Ripper’ took place in Baquba, capitol of Iraq’s Diyala governorate. At the time, I wrote:

‘We are enveloping the enemy into a kill sack,’ said Command Sergeant Major Jeff Huggins from the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade, according to Reuters (23rd June). A ‘kill sack’? Good luck America, when these sickos return home. Shutter the windows, barr the doors – and above all, lock up your daughters. Remember little Abeer al-Janabi, multiply raped in nearby in Mahmoudiya, her family shot and she and all burned to cover the evidence? Remember Abu Ghraib? And where else? Think rape, rape, rape, sodomy, sodomy, sodomy – think the furthest other reaches of the most bestial inhumanity to man, women and yes, children. Think of America’s finest selling the pictures of the dead, dying, defiled on the internet, in exchange for porn.2 Think also of chains of command. Where does the cover up start and how high does it go?

‘We are not carpet bombing these things. People know if we get resistance from a house, we’ll take out that house and the people in it, but not the entire street.’3

‘Things’, by the way, were Iraqis. Another military spokesman: there were deaths: ‘But they were only Iraqis.’

Calculated Killings, not ‘Isolated Incidents’.

The scale the casual killing grounds, towns, cities and villages of Iraq have become will undoubtedly take years to be fully accounted for – if ever. But that which is already known and which continues to come to light, already reveals crimes equalling history’s darkest, most shameful atrocities.

Also, not to be forgotten is Channel Four’s footage of a mirror image of the Baghdad massacre, near Fallujah in April 2004. An overview of tactics comments that: ‘once they decided to bomb cities, they decided to accept the routine killing of civilians as the price for hitting their target.’

The Fallujah attack, on people fleeing the terrifying carnage being wrought on this ‘City of Mosques’, confirms again that far from ‘making every effort’ to avoid civilian casualties, killing is routine, nonchalant, and apparently, fun:

The pilot tells ground control he can see numerous individuals on the road. He asks if he should take them out. Instantly he’s told to take them out. The pilot locks the bomb guidance system onto the crowd running along the street. The pilot’s reaction: ‘Aw, dude.’ Overnight, Channel 4 News received the following e-mail:‘This video is indeed gun film footage from a US Air Force F-16 fighter. The mission was not “recent”, it was in April 2004. This was a close air support mission, flown by an F-16 Fighting Falcon in the Fallujah vicinity, and under the control of a Joint Terminal Attack Controller serving with ground forces in the area. The JTAC designated the target and confirmed the hit.’ 4

Dahr Jamail, reviewing a book of testimonies from Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) 5 describes actions of calculated sadism and depravity on the ground too, or as ever, just the most casual of killings. One involves a woman ‘carrying a huge bag… heading towards us, so we lit her up with the Mark 19 [automatic grenade launcher].’ Then: ‘…we realized that the bag was full of groceries. She had been trying to bring us food and we blew her to pieces.’

‘One time they said to fire on all taxicabs.’ It was queried: ‘Excuse me? Did I hear that right? Fire on all taxi cabs?’ The Lt Colonel responded: ‘You heard me, Trooper, fire on all taxi cabs.’ After that the town lit up, with all the units firing on all cars…’

Corpses were run over with Humvees, with personnel stopping to take ‘trophy’ pictures. ‘Pot shots were taken at cars that drove by… not isolated incidents.’ And ‘…marines (defecated) in to MRE bags or urinated in bottles and threw them at children at the side of the road.’ One veteran related that candy was given to Iraqi children because: ‘If the kids were round our vehicle’ Iraqis would not attack.

The children were unwitting human shields.

If an Iraqi was accidentally shot, weapons or shovels were routinely (tossed) ‘on the body to make him look like an insurgent.’

Speaking the truth

Yet it is through soldiers speaking out that truth of what was set in train by the lies and duplicity of the George W Bush administration and the Blair government is coming to light. The Wikileaks video, seemingly, also came from another courageous military whistleblower. The clock of political wickedness, which was not of their making, cannot be turned back, but their voices and actions are powerful ammunition toward holding to account those up the chain of command – both in the armed forces and politics.

A recent video showed another member of Iraq Veterans Against The War addressing a conference.

In the marines during the November 2004 attack on Fallujah, described as one of the greatest crimes since the worst excesses of the Second World War, he described how they brought down buildings (and those cowering in them), detonated, killed, decimated. He was a leader and ordered his men to breach a building with explosive, then ‘clear’ it. As they surged through it, he went in to a ground-floor room. There he found two children of six and a young teen, struck dumb with terror, their young father, lying on the floor, close to death from his injuries and the mother, injured and beside herself. In that moment, he said the enormity of the wrongs literally felled him.

He leaned against the wall and tears streamed down his face. The young woman approached him, put her hand against his cheek and just said: ‘Insh’allah, Insh’allah.’ (What God wills.) He broke down again as he related the story, then said: ‘Now, my duty is to speak out.’ Since this latest Baghdad outrage has been exposed, the silence – of ‘We’re-gonna-git-him-dead -or-alive’-former President George W Bush; President Barack Hussein ‘Nobel’ Obama; unelected Prime Minister Gordon Brown (who wrote the cheques as Chancellor of the Exchequer for this illegality) and church leaders (even the self-styled ‘Vicar of Baghdad’, former Peace Envoy of the Archbishop of Canterbury and Coventry, Canon Andrew White) – has been deafening.

Orwellian Middle East ‘Peace Envoy’, co-architect of the colonial foray in Mesopotamia, Charles Anthony Lynton Blair QC, is mute – and on Safari in Africa. The British government’s ‘Human Rights Adviser’, Ann Clwyd, another cheerleader for the Iraqis plight, is also missing in (in)action.

Incidentally, the call-name of the most vociferous, seemingly blood hungry pilot was ‘Crazyhorse’.

‘Crazyhorse’ was a legendary 19th century Lakota Indian who fought against the US government to ‘preserve the lands and traditions of the Lakota way of life’.

In December 2007, the Lakota Nation launched independence from the US, declaring: ‘Our young want to live, not just survive, or crawl, or be mascots.’ What towering ironies.

  1. Abbreviated. Full transcript: www.collateralmurder.com
  2. www.ojr.org/ojr/stories/051018glaser/
  3. www.uruknet.info/?p=m33965
  4. www.channel4.com/news/article.jsp?id=257728
  5. http://dahrjamailiraq.com/we-blew-her-to-pieces-2

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