Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Not Warriors Anymore

Remember Seymour Hersh's prophetic words, back when he first broke the Abu Ghraib scandal in the pages of the New Yorker, then followed the trail of high-level government officials to the policies that started it all? He said it was only the tip of the iceberg, and that much worse things were coming. And he was right. And it wasn't all just about Abu Ghraib. In a talk he gave at Berkeley last October, he revealed this:
"In the evening's most emotional moment, Hersh talked about a call he had gotten from a first lieutenant in charge of a unit stationed halfway between Baghdad and the Syrian border. His group was bivouacking outside of town in an agricultural area, and had hired 30 or so Iraqis to guard a local granary. A few weeks passed. They got to know the men they hired, and to like them. Then orders came down from Baghdad that the village would be "cleared." Another platoon from the soldier's company came and executed the Iraqi granary guards. All of them.
"He said they just shot them one by one. And his people, and he, and the villagers of course, went nuts," Hersh said quietly. "He was hysterical, totally hysterical. He went to the company captain, who said, 'No, you don't understand, that's a kill. We got 36 insurgents. Don't you read those stories when the Americans say we had a combat maneuver and 15 insurgents were killed?"
Now, since the ACLU has obtained Pentagon documents via the Freedom of Information Act, it's been just a steady report of atrocities coming out of the news, like this:
"U.S. Army soldiers in Iraq filmed themselves kicking a gravely wounded prisoner in the face and making the arm of a corpse appear to wave, then titled the effort "Ramadi Madness" after the city where it was made.
The video, made public on Monday, was shot by Florida National Guard soldiers. They edited and compiled it into a DVD in January 2004, with various sections bearing titles such as "Those Crafty Little Bastards" and "Another Day, Another Mission, Another Scumbag."
The soldiers' unit served in the restive Sunni Muslim city Ramadi, about 70 miles (110 km) west of Baghdad, before returning home a year ago."
The article goes on to enumerate a variety of incidents first hinted at in the NYTimes last Thursday, about which I wrote a couple days ago. The difference here is that this newly-released information goes into even greater detail and reveals more incidents, and what it especially points up is the amount of thought, consideration, and extended effort these soldiers put into tormenting prisoners, and how enteratining they all thought it was.

We're not talking about a few kids who were under pressure and shot the wrong person, made a tragic mistake, or were being ordered by superiors to do wrong things. This is pure sadism, the kind of pull-the-wings-off-flies cruelty that permutates into dangerous, even fatal behavior in adults. We are not safe with these people running loose among us, yet the Pentagon blithely dismisses their acts as "not criminal". And many of us are so paralyzed with the fear of being accused of "not supporting the troops", that neither the media nor much of the internet is speaking out about these things. It's time to rectify that.

Update: Via Juan Cole, a transcript and partial video of the recordings referenced above, here.

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