Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS
As a longtime member of Military Families Speak Out, I don’t write about war atrocities easily. But I believe that the American people as a whole have an unrealistic view about war and an unwillingness to accept that committing atrocities during war is inevitable. My conclusion is that engaging in war is morally justified only in self-defense or defense of another. Neither the Iraq nor Afghan war qualifies as justified under that standard.
The US military (like virtually all other militaries in the world) train our troops using propaganda and psychological techniques from the ancient to the modern. We use these techniques to manipulate our troops into becoming a part of an operation whose primary purpose is to kill other human beings for purposes fancied by our political leaders. We tell our soldiers that they are serving their country, that they are protecting it, but too often they are merely carrying out some politically inspired or economically desired purpose that has nothing to do with serving and protecting the American people.
This past week, two incidents have been in the news that show the folly of our war efforts in both Iraq and Afghanistan. A news website–Wikileaks.org–obtained video of a US military helicopter in Iraq killing 12 people and wounding two children who posed no threat to anyone. Among the dead were two Reuters reporters who apparently were interviewing some of the civilians.
What was shown on the July 12, 2007, video was described by a journalist: “The voices on the tape appear to believe their targets are carrying weapons, but the footage unmistakably shows some of the victims holding camera equipment. The dead included two employees of the Reuters news agency, photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and driver Saeed Chmagh. The Pentagon has never publicly released the footage and has previously cleared those involved of wrongdoing. WikiLeaks says it managed to de-encrypt the tape after receiving it from a confidential source inside the military who wanted the story to be known.”
The Reuters driver Saeed Chmagh survived the initial attack and tried to crawl away as the helicopter hovered overhead. A voice from the cockpit hopes that he will brandish a weapon to justify more shooting:
US SOLDIER 2: Come on, buddy. All you gotta do is pick up a weapon.
Then a van pulled up to evacuate the wounded and dead. The soldiers requested permission to shoot at the van, which contained two children:
US SOLDIER 1: Where’s that van at?
US SOLDIER 2: Right down there by the bodies.
US SOLDIER 1: OK, yeah.
US SOLDIER 2: Bushmaster, Crazy Horse. We have individuals going to the scene, looks like possibly picking up bodies and weapons.
US SOLDIER 1: Let me engage. Can I shoot?
US SOLDIER 2: Roger. Break. Crazy Horse one-eight, request permission to engage.
US SOLDIER 3: Picking up the wounded?
US SOLDIER 1: Yeah, we’re trying to get permission to engage. Come on, let us shoot!
US SOLDIER 2: Bushmaster, Crazy Horse one-eight.
US SOLDIER 1: They’re taking him.
US SOLDIER 2: Bushmaster, Crazy Horse one-eight.
US SOLDIER 4: This is Bushmaster seven, go ahead.
US SOLDIER 2: Roger. We have a black SUV—or Bongo truck picking up the bodies. Request permission to engage.
US SOLDIER 4: Bushmaster seven, roger. This is Bushmaster seven, roger. Engage.
US SOLDIER 2: One-eight, engage. Clear.
US SOLDIER 1: Come on!
US SOLDIER 2: Clear. Clear.
US SOLDIER 1: We’re engaging.
US SOLDIER 2: Coming around. Clear.
US SOLDIER 1: Roger. Trying to—
US SOLDIER 2: Clear.
US SOLDIER 1: I hear ‘em—I lost ’em in the dust.
US SOLDIER 3: I got ’em.
US SOLDIER 2: Should have a van in the middle of the road with about twelve to fifteen bodies.
US SOLDIER 1: Oh yeah, look at that. Right through the windshield! Ha ha!
Then voices on the video can be heard laughing as a Bradley tank drives over the dead body of one of the Iraqi victims.
US SOLDIER 1: I think they just drove over a body.
US SOLDIER 2: Did he?
US SOLDIER 1: Yeah!
US SOLDIER 3: I’ve got eleven Iraqi KIAs . One small child wounded. Over.
US SOLDIER 1: Roger. Ah, damn. Oh, well.
US SOLDIER 3: Roger, we need—we need a—to evac this child. She’s got a wound to the belly. I can’t do anything here. She needs to get evaced. Over.
US SOLDIER 1: Well, it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle. [However, there was no battle going on in the area, just a group of people talking to two reporters.]
US SOLDIER 2: That’s right.
Commanders decided to turn the wounded children over to Iraqi police instead of evacuating the children to a nearby Army hospital.
According to independent journalist Rick Rowley with Big Noise Films, who did interviews with the survivors of the helicopter attack the day after the attack, one witness described what happened and why the people were gathered on the sidewalk and street corner: “The group of civilians had gathered here because people need cooking oil and gas. They wanted to demonstrate in front of the media and show that they need things like oil, gas, water and electricity. The situation here is dramatically deteriorating. The journalists were walking around, and then the Americans started shooting. They started shooting randomly and targeted peaceful civilians from the neighborhood.”
As to the reports that the soldiers in the helicopter saw weapons, Rowley had this to say: “… you can see two men with Kalashnikovs, but this is 2007 in Baghdad. This is the height of the civil war, when dozens of bodies a day were being picked up from the street, when sectarian militias filled the Iraqi security forces, the police and the army. Every neighborhood in Baghdad organized its own protection force. And it was legal at the time for every household to own a Kalashnikov in Iraq, and every household I ever went to did.”
Glenn Greenwald, a constitutional law expert and blogger for Salon.com explained that this sort of occurrence in Iraq is not unusual: “My concern … is that there seems to be the suggestion … that this is some sort of extreme event, or this is some sort of aberration, and that’s the reason why we’re all talking about it and are horrified about it. In fact, it’s anything but rare. The only thing that’s rare about this is that we happen to know about it and are seeing it take place on video. This is something that takes place on a virtually daily basis in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places where we invade and bomb and occupy. And the reason why there are hundreds of thousands of dead in Iraq and thousands of dead in Afghanistan is because this is what happens constantly when we are engaged in warfare in those countries.”
Greenwald continued: “The military was not at all concerned about what took place. They didn’t even think there were remedial steps needed to prevent a future reoccurrence. They concluded definitively that the members of the military involved did exactly the right thing. This is what war is. This is what the United States does in these countries. And that, I think, is the crucial point to note, along with the fact that the military fought tooth and nail to prevent this video from surfacing, precisely because they knew that it would shed light on what their actual behavior is during war, and instead of the propaganda to which we’re typically subjected.”
Many who have viewed the video and listened to the audio came away with the impression that the entire episode resembled playing video games. It is tragic that our military leaders train our soldiers to become so callous about human life.
We read reports this past week also about an incident that occurred on February 12, 2010, in Afghanistan. Special Forces soldiers admitted that they killed two pregnant Afghan women and a teenage girl during a nighttime raid. Afghan investigators reported that the soldiers removed the bullets from the bodies in order to cover up who had done the killing. A cover story that the women were stabbed to death was used to divert attention from what actually happened. Officials had to admit to the killings after the Times of London and other news outlets published accounts given by survivors who described how the atrocity was carried out. One of the women killed was a pregnant mother with ten children. The other was a pregnant mother of six.
These incidents, as disgusting and horrifying as they are in their own right, are exclamation marks emphasizing the fact that these wars serve no purpose involving the welfare of the American people. And no one should imagine that they serve the welfare of either the Iraq or Afghan people. It is long past the time for our leaders to stop using our military enlistees as pawns on the geopolitical stage to enhance their images for political purposes, to increase benefits for the military brass, and to enrich the “masters of war”–the corporations that grow wealthy from our gargantuan military expenditures.
It is a morally depraved people that allow their resources to be used and abused in such a fashion. The only way to regain that squandered morality is to engage in the political process, say “no more” to our politicians, and mean it. This is the only way that we can stop being the evil that we have become.
© Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. HankinsEmail | Print