Death and Democracy

With the purpose of “liberating” that city so January elections can be held there, the U.S. military began the third invasion of Fallujah on Monday. With the invasion now underway, it would be wise to stop and consider the fruits borne by U.S. “liberation” efforts.

One of the main rationales offered for war in Iraq was that Saddam Hussein was “one of the most cruel and vicious tyrants in the history of the world,” so the U.S. was obligated to overthrow him and free Iraq from his oppressive rule. It was implied that the Iraqis would welcome our armed invasion with open arms and flowers, and though we wouldn’t bother documenting civilian casualties, such would be negligible. The handful of Iraqi civilians who were “accidentally” killed would, of course, die proud in the knowledge that their deaths were a necessary evil in order for their countrymen to taste freedom.

The Marxist notion that “the good of the many outweighs the good of the few” continues to prevail in pro-war commentary, but even more common (though never actually voiced) is a reliance on the old military doctrine, “Kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out.” Such a reliance is nowhere more obvious than in an editorial by founder and CEO of WorldNetDaily, Joseph Farah. In April, angry about the brutal killing of four U.S. mercenaries by Iraqi insurgents, Farah suggested that we “make an example out of Fallujah.” While admitting that “not all of the Iraqi city’s population, or even most of them, bear responsibility for the despicable, cowardly attacks” on the four mercenaries, he said, “We may need to flatten Fallujah. We may need to destroy it. We may need to grind it, pulverize it and salt the soil, as the Romans did with troublesome enemies.” Farah, a professing Christian, neglected to explain how slaughtering the 300,000 citizens of Fallujah harmonized with the warhawks’ ostensible goal of liberating the Iraqis from a “vicious” regime. To the detriment of the Iraqis, the “kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out” doctrine has not been confined to pro-war rhetoric, but is closely mirrored in the gritty reality of U.S. military actions in Iraq.

While most of the disturbingly frequent reports of civilian deaths in Iraq categorize those deaths as “accidental collateral damage,” a handful of stories have surfaced about U.S. soldiers deliberately targeting Iraqi civilians.

Take, for instance, an interview conducted by The Sacramento Bee with Staff Sgt. Jimmy Massey. Sgt. Massey, who was honorably discharged from the U.S. Marines late last year, said,

“I was in charge of a platoon that consists of machine gunners and missile men. Our job was to go into certain areas of the towns and secure the roadways. There was this one particular incident … that really pushed me over the edge. It involved a car with Iraqi civilians. From all the intelligence reports we were getting, the cars were loaded down with suicide bombs or material. That’s the rhetoric we received from intelligence. They came upon our checkpoint. We fired some warning shots. They didn’t slow down. So we lit [fired upon] them up. … This particular vehicle we didn’t destroy completely, and one gentleman looked up at me and said: ‘Why did you kill my brother? We didn’t do anything wrong.’ That hit me like a ton of bricks.”

Further on in the interview, Sgt. Massey said, “We shot an individual with his hands up. He got out of the car. He was badly shot. We lit him up.”

One of the most shocking examples of the U.S. military’s war on the Iraqi citizenry came to light just a few days ago. In August, The International Herald Tribune reported, “U.S. troops fired on a garbage truck … after mistakenly concluding that it was planting roadside bombs,” and in doing so severely wounded a 16-year-old boy. “As U.S. medics rushed to treat [the wounded],” two soldiers approached the Iraqi teenager and, as he “lay moaning on the ground” and “a relative of the boy … pleaded for U.S. troops to help him,” the two soldiers shot the boy to “put him out of his misery.” In a rare show of justice, the two soldiers have been arrested and will face a military tribunal. Six other Iraqi civilians also died in the incident, however, and the soldiers who “accidentally” killed them will not be tried.

Then there are the innumerable reports of “collateral damage.”

In the early days of the war, a “heavy air raid by U.S. and British coalition forces” on an area devoid of “military targets” killed up to “50 civilians in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.” According to another more recent report, the Iraqi health ministry reported that U.S. strikes “against targets allegedly connected to al-Qaeda-linked extremist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi near Fallujah” resulted in the deaths of as many as 44 people, many of whom, said Dr. Ahmed Halhlil, were women and children.

One of the more widely reported incidents of the U.S. military attacking Iraqi civilians occurred in May of this year when U.S. aircraft fired on a wedding celebration in the desert near the city of Ramadi. “Footage of flesh, hair and musical instruments was filmed by a video crew,” and the attack apparently resulted in the death of Hussein Ali, “one of Iraq’s most famous wedding singers.” The bodies “included children, one of whom was decapitated,” and according to a deputy police chief in Ramadi, the attack killed “between 42 and 45 people.” A local doctor confirmed “the death toll was 45.” While the U.S. maintains they fired only because they were fired upon, the Iraqis claim “revelers … had been celebrating by shooting guns in the air before they came under fire,” and were not directing hostile fire at the U.S. military.

During the failed April invasion of Fallujah, “some 600 Iraqis were killed” during the first two weeks of the month, “among them some 450 elderly people, women and children.” The organization Doctors Without Borders reported, “U.S. Marines even occupied the hospitals and prevented hundreds of the wounded from receiving medical treatment. Snipers fired from the rooftops at anyone who tried to approach.” Some months later, the Associated Press reported that “U.S. warplanes repeatedly swooped low over Fallujah,” and “one explosion went off in a marketplace in Fallujah … wounding several people and shattering windows.” According to various Iraqi hospital officials, “at least 20 people were killed, including women and children, and 29 others wounded. An ambulance rushing from the area of the blasts was hit by a shell, killing the driver, a paramedic and five patients inside the vehicle.” Rafayi Hayad al-Esawi, director of the Fallujah General Hospital, concluded, “The conditions here are miserable. … The American army has no morals.”

Saturday, U.S. air strikes “razed” the “small Nazzal Emergency Hospital” in Fallujah. While there have not yet been any reports of civilian casualties, “witnesses said only the facade remained” and “a nearby medical supplies storeroom and dozens of houses were damaged.” As of Tuesday, at least 12 civilians in Fallujah had been killed, and 17 others, “including a 5-year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy,” had been wounded.

Similar reports abound. U.S. troops recently “set up checkpoints along major routes into [Fallujah]. When a civilian vehicle did not stop at one of these checkpoints, Marines opened fire, “killing an Iraqi woman and wounding her husband.” Witnesses said the car “didn’t notice the checkpoint.” A month ago, also in Fallujah, a “family of six” was killed when “rockets fired from U.S. jets leveled their house.” Two months ago, Iraqi journalist Mazen al-Tumeizi screamed, “I am a journalist. I’m dying, I’m dying,” when “shrapnel from a rocket fired by an American helicopter interrupted his live broadcast and slammed into his back.” In the same incident, “12 others were killed and 61 wounded by rockets from two U.S. helicopters on Haifa Street in central Baghdad.”

General Tommy Franks promised at the outset of the war that the U.S. government would not conduct a body count of the Iraqi civilians killed by coalition forces, but several independent organizations have conducted such a count. Heralded as “the first reliable study of the death toll from Iraqi and U.S. public health experts,” a recent count conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health concluded that “about 100,000 Iraqi civilians – half of them women and children – have died in Iraq since the invasion. … The study, which was carried out in 33 randomly chosen neighborhoods of Iraq representative of the entire population, shows that violence is now the leading cause of death in Iraq. Before the invasion, most people died of heart attacks, stroke and chronic illness. The risk of a violent death is now 58 times higher than it was before the invasion.”

The organization Human Rights Watch says, “[H]undreds of civilian deaths in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq could have been prevented.” Many of those deaths were caused by “the use of cluster munitions in populated areas,” while others (perhaps most) were a result “of airstrikes by coalition forces.” These “precision airstrikes” are often anything but precise, writes Marc Herold. “U.S. ‘precision’ projectiles have fallen in neighboring Turkey and Iran. An early report mentioned U.S. missiles hitting structures in Iran’s city of Abadan and injuring two. On March 24th, another U.S. ‘guided’ missile hit the Iranian town of Qasr-e-Shirin. Other ‘guided’ weapons have downed ‘Allied’ aircraft, killed ‘friendly’ troops, etc.”

On the rare occasions when the warhawks are forced to address the civilian deaths in Iraq, they generally argue that a few must die so many might be free. However, Jacob Hornberger writes, “Consider an example: Suppose that terrorist Timothy McVeigh, instead of setting off his bomb in the Oklahoma City federal building, had taken everyone in the building hostage, threatening to set off a bomb that would kill, say, 1,000 people inside. Suppose McVeigh had said, ‘If the president will order the killing of 50 federal agents who took part in the Waco massacre, I will not set off the bomb and will release the 1,000 people in this building’…Would anyone honestly argue that the moral course of action would be for the government to kill 50 innocent people in order to free the other group of 1,000 innocent people?”

Mr. Hornberger’s example of killing 50 innocents to save 1,000 is not quite correct, though. Consider that Saddam Hussein is held responsible for the deaths of an estimated 450,000 to 1,000,000 people over a 24-year rule, and that the U.S. has caused the deaths of up to 100,000 in 20 months. Broken down, that’s 1,562 to 3,472 deaths a month caused by Saddam and 5,000 a month caused by the U.S. military. Clearly, the U.S. occupation has actually been worse for Iraq than Saddam’s dictatorial rule. It’s no wonder that a recent poll found that, though “most are glad Saddam Hussein is gone,” 96 percent of Iraqis “believe their country is not safer than when he was in power.”

The obvious solution to ending the slaughter of the Iraqi people at the hands of the U.S. military is for that same military to withdraw from Iraq. An overwhelming majority of Iraqis support that solution; the aforementioned poll also found that “72 percent of Iraqis want the United States forces to leave.” Even some members of the military are disillusioned. One Marine, quoted by Christian Science Monitor, said, “‘We just came here and [angered people] and killed a lot of innocent people. … I don’t enjoy killing women and children, it’s not my thing.”

If, as the warhawks tell us, the government truly purposes to safeguard the best interests of the Iraqi citizenry, then the only course of action they should be advocating is withdrawal.