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Getting away with murder at Ishaqi: The American’s “rational” defence

Richard Marsden, The Business of Emotions


June 6, 2006

A. Introduction
The U.S. military has exonerated itself of any wrong-doing concerning its role in the deaths of five children, four women and two men in the Abu Sifa area of Ishaqi, eight miles north of Balad, during the early hours of March 15, 2006.

BBC News "Troops cleared of Iraq wrongdoing"

The Victims:
Faiz Harat Khalaf, 28 years Male [The owner of the house.]
Sumaya Abdulrazak, 22 years Male

Turkiya Muhammed Ali, 75 years Female
Faiza Harat Khalaf, 30 years  Female
Um Ahmad, 23 years Female
Aziz Khalil Jarmoot, 22 years Female

Hawra Harat Khalaf, 5 years
Aisha Harat Khalaf, 3 years
Husam Harat Khalaf, 6 months
Asma Yousef Maruf, 5 years
Osama Yousef Maruf, 3 years

This self-exoneration warrants the closest scrutiny.

It is plainly contradicted by:

  • BBC-authenticated video-taped evidence of the immediate aftermath of the attack
  • photographic evidence of the bodies
  • the Iraq police report on the deaths
  • autopsy reports

The U.S. Department of Defence has revealed no evidence in support of its claims. It has simply asserted their evidence and challenged us to dispute it.

That is my aim here.

B. Ishaqi: the view from the Pentagon
The announcement that these [unidentified] U.S. forces have been exonerated of any wrong doing was made last Friday, June 2, 2006, by Major General William Caldwell, the Multi-National Force—Iraq spokesman:

In response to claims as many as 13 civilians were killed in a March 15 air strike in the vicinity of Ishaqi, south of Samarra, an investigation was launched into the incident the very next day. The investigation revealed the ground force commander, while capturing and killing terrorists, operated in accordance with the rules of engagement governing our combat forces in Iraq (my emphasis).

He added:

Allegations that the troops executed a family living in this safe house, and then hid the alleged crimes by directing an air strike, are absolutely false.

The text of the statement is here.
The video of the statement is here.
[The video suggests that Maj. Gen. William Caldwell is reading from a teleprompter, speaking direct to camera, without an audience. His intonation and body language are interesting.]

The statement is brief. The facts scarce. If there is a report to back it up, I have yet to see it.

Here is my reconstruction of the American’s account of that evening, taken principally from Friday’s statement, but also using other military sources as quoted in the news media.

1. Based on intelligence regarding a "high value" target, U.S. forces approached a house in the vicinity of Ishaqi, on March 15.

2. Upon arrival, the troops attracted fire from the house.

As the enemy fire persisted, the ground force commander reacted by incrementally escalating the use of force from small-arms fire to rotary wing aviation, and then to close air support, ultimately eliminating the threat.

3. One man was captured while attempting to escape from the scene: he is said to be Ahmad Abdallah Muhammad Na’is al-Utaybi, aka Hamza, a Kuwaiti-born, al-Qaeda cell leader. Another military source says that he was killed while attempting to escape.

4. The troops then "conducted a thorough tactical search", and documented the discovery of the bodies of three "noncombatants"—two women and a child—plus that of Uday Faris al-Tawafi, aka Abu Ahmed, an Iraqi, the Americans allege, who was "involved in making improvised explosive devices as well as recruiting locals to join the insurgency".

5. "Allegations that the troops executed a family living in this safe house, and then hid the alleged crimes by directing an air strike, are absolutely false". [Surely a minor observation, but as the Major General says the words "absolutely false" he blinks for the only time in his presentation.]

C. A Comment on this Self-exoneration
1. If Ahmad Abdallah Muhammad Na’is al-Utaybi was the intended target, his "value" cannot have been that "high" because the Major General could barely pronounce his name and did so only by staring hard at the teleprompter.

2. Since the Americans claim to have captured him, he can be produced as evidence.

3. The American's account is ambiguous on how these people died, but it leaves the impression that they were killed because the air strike collapsed the house on top of them.

This has the effect of reducing moral responsibility by blurring the connection between cause and effect. It was an unfortunate accident.

4. The critical point in this self-exoneration is that those involved in the attack followed rules of engagement, that is, they behaved "rationally", not emotionally.

This is what the sociologist Max Weber called "formal" rationality; a type of decision-making based on means-ends calculations, i.e., by the application of strictly technical criteria.

Notably, "formal rationality" eliminates "values" or, what we might call, emotions, from decision-making.  It is, famously, decision-making "without regard for persons".

"Formal rationality" is evident here:

"The forces, upon arrival, began taking direct fire from the building. As the enemy fire persisted, the ground force commander appropriately reacted by incrementally escalating the use of force from small arms fire to rotary wing aviation, and then to close air support, ultimately eliminating the threat (my emphasis).

Note that in the U.S. statement, the presence of women and children is hidden behind terms such as "non-combatants". Humans are transformed into technical entities, stripped of moral value.

5. "Formally" rational this raid may have been, but it was certainly substantively irrational. Consider:

The same "reliable intelligence" that told them of this "high-value" target should have told them of the existence of the presence in that house of women and children.

Why then did they call in an AC-130 Gunship, one of the most murderous flying weapons ever created? This is what "Close air support" means.

Ground troops, attack helicopters, an AC-130 Gunship—all for a suspected "high value" target. What was beyond suspicion is that women and children were in that house and would be unlikely to survive being on the receiving end of an AC-130.

6. Having attempted to convince us that those involved in this assault acted "rationally", the report then appeals to our emotions, especially those stimulated by the words "al-Qaeda" and "terrorist", which are now indelibly linked to the emotions attached to 9/11. They are practically spat out by the Major General, as if the teleprompter said "with feeling".

The U.S. Department of Defense has done a fine job in convincing most Americans that those resisting the occupation are not ordinary self-respecting Iraqis, but al-Qaeda terrorists—the very same who were responsible for 9/11.

The influence of "al-Qaeda" in Iraq, as everyone really knows, is miniscule. We have only the American's word that this suspect "belonged" to al-Qaeda.

The American defence, in essence, is this:

"Were these troops guilty of any wrongdoing?
No way!
They followed the rules of engagement, in pursuit of al-Qaeda terrorists.

D. The Evidence
The DoD presented no evidence in support of its claim that U.S. forces committed no wrong that night. It simply proclaimed its own innocence.

All the available evidence contradicts that assertion. This evidence was simply ignored.

1. The BBC video
Last Thursday (June 1, 2006) the BBC broadcast what it described as new video evidence of how they died.

BBC News: New "Iraq massacre" tape emerges. Click under the photograph to start the video.

The video was shot by an AP Television News cameraman immediately following the attack. It was cross-checked by the BBC with other images taken at the time of the events. There is every reason to believe that it depicts the assault in question.

The news report was by John Simpson, one of the BBC's most experienced and respected journalists. According to him, based on this video:

  • The victims had been killed by gunshot to the back of the head.
  • Much of the house was still standing immediately after the attack so they could not have been killed by "collapsed walls".
  • The bodies show no sign of being crushed under debris from a demolished building.

2. Photographic evidence
The bodies were photographed by Agence France-Presse, just prior to their burial. These photographs can be seen here. They clearly show that at least some of the children had been shot. Gunshot wounds to the back of the head obviously would not be visible from the front.

3. The Testimony of Iraqi Police Officers
The local police immediately investigated these deaths. On the basis of their findings, a report was compiled on Thursday, March 16, 2006, and signed by Col. Fadhil Muhammed Khalaf, the assistant chief of the Joint Coordination Center, in Tikrit. The Joint Coordination Center is a regional security center set up with United States military assistance.

We have this police report to thank for identifying the victims.

According to local police and regional police reports:

  • At around 2.30 a.m. March 15, 2006, helicopters dropped troops on to the roof of the house of Faiz Harat Khalaf.

"The American forces gathered the family members in one room and executed 11 persons, including five children, four women and two men. Then they bombed the house, burned three vehicles and killed their animals."

  • According to the Ishaqi police commander, Lt. Col. Farooq Hussain, autopsies at the hospital in Tikrit "revealed that all the victims had bullet shots in the head and all bodies were handcuffed." (Link).
  • One of the adult male victims was found in one corner of the room, the others were found along the opposing wall. A reasonable assumption is that they were shot in front of the man across the room.
  • The local police found "spent American-issue cartridges in the rubble."

E. What Now?
It is utterly unacceptable that the perpetrators of this attack on these civilians be the ones to assess its proprietary.

Even wars are governed by laws—the laws of war.

There is a prima facie case that the U.S. military’s actions that night, which culminated in the deaths of these individuals, constitutes a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.

War crimes are governed by international—not American—criminal law and investigated by international—not American—criminal tribunals.

And it is an international criminal tribunal that should investigate the responsibility for deaths such as these.

The Americans know this.

That is why they released their statement on Friday, to prick the balloon of moral outrage created by the the BBC's worldwide broadcast of the incriminating video the day before.

In the hope that it would be forgotten by Monday.

But it is not forgotten.

And they must not be allowed to get away with it.

BBC News: New "Iraq massacre" tape emerges. Click under the photograph to start the video.

Children of Abraham—Death in the Desert. Flash film by Chris Floyd and Richard Kastelein. Please wait for the movie to load. It's worth it.

This is the accompanying article.

GIs at Ishaqi Cleared; Haditha Probe Open. Associated Press, June 2, 2006

CNN video Iraqi Killing Investigations Multiply

BBC News video U.S. troops cleared of Iraq wrongdoing

Reuters. Troops cleared in Iraqi deaths in Ishaqi June 2, 2006

Chris Floyd The line of atrocity: from the White House to Haditha. Empire Burlesque, May 31, 2006

:: Article nr. 23752 sent on 06-jun-2006 05:56 ECT


Link: businessofemotions.typepad.com/drrm/2006/06/yesterday_thurs.html

:: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website.

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