I had a tough time coming up with a title for this, so I lumped all the appropriate ones together. Since the release of the Wikileaks video “Collateral Murder” there has been an amazing amount of discussion on the net concerning the actions viewed in the video.
One of the more interesting discussions was on OpEd News from two articles by Josh Stieber, a soldier who was with the same company/unit but did not go on the mission having recently adopted conscientious objector status. The arguments ranged from outright condemnation through acceptance of Josh’s position without accepting the overall military effort, to those supporting the soldiers with their own apologetics. Overall it was an interesting discussion that appears to have generally taken the middle course, and hopefully the author’s realizations about the inhumanity of war will provide effective discussion points that can help other soldiers wake up to the reality that war is not the answer (to what question, if any?), that war has an international criminality beyond the propaganda of empire couched in the terms of patriotism, democracy, freedom, and peace.
Rules of engagement
An article in today’s al-Jazeera took the stronger position of the apologetics side, to the point of essentially saying, really, look, its not our fault, it’s the rules of engagement’s fault, and, hey, we’re just doing our job. Robert Grenier, former CIA chief of station in Islamabad, Pakistan does his best “to try to explain US behaviour as honestly as possible” while hoping it “will make sense to those who typically look at the world and individual events from a different perspective to that of most Americans.” He is trying to explain “why the US government, and the people who represent it, behave as they do.” Grenier tries to speak calmly through his self-righteous indignation over people finding fault with his beloved country’s mission, one he should know well as a CIA employee.
Not an easy task and he does not succeed, except perhaps for the members of the choir who are already converted to this perspective.
His main rationale is that what you see is not really what is happening – that it needs more information about how the mission was organized and operated. I won’t go into his details here, mostly about the technicalities of “risk management,” because basically this mission, the Iraqi mission, and the whole U.S. Middle East mission is based on lies and international crimes. Towards the end of the discussion Grenier tries to make it even more acceptable by relating incidents in which the U.S. military accidentally targeted their own people, from two main factors:
The propensity of people to see what they expect, or want, to see and the inability of people who lack understanding of the environment in which they are operating to understand what they are seeing at all.
Some of the clearest examples I have witnessed of both these tendencies have come in instances where Americans were the actual, or near, victims.
Well gosh, if we can kill our own people accidentally, or mistakenly target them, then its understandable that we can kill other people as well without feeling guilty about it – it’s all about those darned rules of engagement, not too mention we did not really understand the situation.
Except it isn’t about rules of engagement.
Murder, straight and simple
It is about murder, as witnessed by the video and regardless of the mission imperatives, it is still murder. Not even collateral murder, murder straight and simple. And it is murder brought on by an invading and occupying force that is there illegally under international law and thus becomes a crime under international law.
Iraq was invaded on several pretexts, all false. The first pretext was that there were nuclear weapons, in spite of information from Mohammed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency that they did not exist. Secondly, that Iraq was working with al-Qaeda and thus responsible for 9/11, for which there is absolutely no evidence, partly because Hussein had a distinct dislike for al-Qaeda and Muslim fundamentalists. The third pretext was that of bringing peace, democracy and freedom to a country ruled by a despot. Hussein may have been a despot, but he was one initially supported by the U.S., and there are many other U.S. supported non-democratic regimes (“moderates” is the term used by the apologists) in the Middle East that have yet to be invaded.
The invasion was not sanctioned, it was an offensive attack, illegal under international law treaties and charters that the U.S. is signatory to. The occupation has not protected the civilians and the civil infrastructure of the occupied territory, and is establishing permanent garrisons – settlements if you will – in the occupied territory – again against the Geneva conventions. Torture has occurred and arguably still occurs, along with renditions to territories where the authorities are not quite as exposed and touchy on the issue, areas like Diego Garcia in the middle of the Indian Ocean and command central for the Middle East.
In the broader mission view, in the global context, international criminality given, the real reason has everything to do with empire and oil.
Rules of Empire…and oil
More correctly the acronym ROE should stand for Rules of Empire, rules that are significantly different than what the empire expects of its “subjects.” The reasons for being in Iraq arrive from geo-strategies thought up in Washington over the last several decades (with a nudge and a wink from the Israelis). Oil, and more oil, with some gas, is the main reason, as the world nears peak supply about now, and the U.S. homeland supplies reached their peak decades ago. Containment, and more containment, is another significant reason as the U.S. fears not the terrorists so much as the rising power of China economically and militarily and the resurgence of Russia, the latter not so much as a power globally, but certainly as a regional spoiler. Iran is a diversion, a thorn in the side of the overall containment plan; the terrorists an ephemeral ghost, the fear created for public consumption.
Caught up in all this are the citizens of Iraq.
What about the victims?
When I quoted Grenier above, I did so partly because the first statement is so true, so true of the overall U.S. military-political strategy in the Middle East, “the inability of people who lack understanding of the environment in which they are operating to understand what they are seeing at all.” The mission is based on lies and ignorance, at least as presented to the willingly cooperative media and the apparently pacified and gullible citizens of the U.S. Following that, it is interesting that the “clearest examples I have witnessed” occurred where “where Americans were the actual, or near, victims.”
My, how noble and patriotic to say that yes we suffer too, in our illegal invasion and occupation of this country, and if we kill a few of “those bastards” it’s okay because we have or almost have done the same to ourselves.
One thing missing from all these discussions was a statement from the Iraqis, unfortunately all who appeared to have died in the “heat” of the “battle”, the only heat coming from the gunship and the sun, and the only battle being gunship versus a group of Iraqis “armed” with two cameras. The whole story of imperial ambition, of military strategy, is to deny the humanness of the other, to deny that they have any rational thinking, or any human emotions, or families to go home to, loved ones to grieve their murder, families now even more destitute than before…
…and a population more hostile than before against the occupiers.
A different perspective
Yes, Mr. Grenier, the world does view itself from a different perspective than the U.S., one that sees the U.S. as an arrogant, ignorant empire.
Does your explanation make sense? No.
Were you as honest as possible? Perhaps, but that only would underline the extent of your own ignorance on your country’s geopolitical strategies, something I find hard to believe from a former CIA employee.
Can you really explain why the U.S. government and its people behave as they do? Not in the simplistic manner that you attempted under the narrow confines and artificial suppositions of rules of engagement, ignoring completely the international criminality of the whole operation in Iraq.
Yes, we need different perspectives, and hopefully with people such as Josh Stieber speaking out against the inhumanity of war, that different perspective will gain ground.
 Josh Stieber. “Lessons from Collateral Murder,” OpEd News. Sunday, April 11, 2010. http://www.opednews.com/articles/Lessons-from-Collateral-Mu-by-Josh-Stieber-100411-889.html
Josh Stieber. “Collateral Murder? Wikileaks soldier speaks,” OpEd News. Friday, April 09 2010.
 Robert Grenier “Follow the chain of command,” al-Jazeera. Monday, April 12, 2010. http://english.aljazeera.net/focus/2010/04/201041173452920826.html