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Firas Al-Atraqchi

Firas Al-Atraqchi

Posted: May 25, 2010 04:12 PM

Soldier Taunting Iraqi Children is Hardly the Worst Act

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Recent news of a video of a US soldier taunting two Iraqi male children is disturbing but hardly the worst account of improper actions to have emerged from the war-ravaged country since the US invasion of Iraq.

Since 2003, several US service men and women have been put on trial or court-martialed for murder, rape, sodomy, purgery, tampering with the scene of the crime, conspiracy, planting weapons on Iraqi victims, torture, theft and other improper acts committed against Iraqis.

Most recently, the Wikileaks video of the incident in which two Reuters personnel and several Iraqi civilians were killed in 2007, brought to the fore not the fog of war, but the unfortunate ease with which innocent Iraqi blood is spilled and the disregard for how overwhelming fire power can and will kill civilians.

In the Wikileaks video, of which the Huffington Post provided commendable coverage, we hear one Apache pilot say: "Well it's their fault for bringing their kids into a battle."

Except for Charles Graner, and Lynndie England, sentenced to ten years and three years in prison, respectively, for the Abu Ghraib scandal (nine others received dereliction of duty sentences, demotions, etc), and the life sentences handed down in the rape and incineration of 14-year-old Abeer Janabi in Mahmoudiyah, most trials end in suspended sentences or are dismissed for insufficient evidence or other technicalities.

In late December 2009, Ricardo Urbina, a district judge, dismissed charges against five Blackwater security contractors accused of gunning down 17 Iraqis, including women and children, in Baghdad's Nisour Square in September 2007. He cited the mishandling of evidence by the Department of Justice.

An Iraqi investigation into the incident two years ago contradicted Blackwater claims that its contractors had fired in self-defense after coming under attack in central Baghdad. A US congressional investigation into Blackwater operations appeared to corroborate Baghdad's accusations that the firm routinely used "excessive" and "pre-emptive" force.

In November 2007, FBI investigators found that 14 of the 17 killings had been "unjustified" and violated "deadly force rules" for security contractors operating in Iraq.

Also in 2007, charges were dropped against seven US Marines accused of killing 24 Iraqi civilians, including women and children, in Haditha in 2005. Prosecutors had alleged that the killings were in revenge for an attack on a convoy that killed Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas.

Every time incidents like these happen, the impulse is to blame Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and/or the fact that US military personnel have been deployed in theater for far too long.

Indeed, one cannot pursue a course which generalizes and demonizes the entire US military establishment; such an attempt would be a miscarriage of justice.

And yet one has to question why such acts continue to happen. Why are so many cases dismissed? Does such rapid dismissal of these war crimes not dehumanize the Iraqis themselves?

The US holds itself up to a higher standard; it cares about human rights issues in ways other nations do not. Many around the world believe the US safeguards the rights of peoples around the world; that is one reason the green card is so coveted.

One of the peripheral reasons cited for invading Iraq was to prevent human rights violations committed against the Iraqi people by their own government.

But at the same time, there is some racism implied in the soldier's video taunt; he calls the two children future terrorists. Why terrorists? Because they are Iraqis, who may likely grow to resent the US presence in their country; because they are assumed to be Muslim, and because many in the US, including many soldiers, continue to believe Iraq was responsible for 9/11.

Seven years after the invasion on contrived evidence of weapons of mass destruction and links to 9/11, many lessons about the effort to win over hearts and minds have been missed.

In 2004, British commanders in Iraq condemned what they called Americans heavy-handed and disproportionate military tactics. The Telegraph's Sean Rayment, interviewed a British officer who said he believed the US approach to Iraqis was to treat them as "untermenschen", the Nazi term abhorrently used to describe Jews as "subhuman".

"They are not concerned about the Iraqi loss of life in the way the British are. Their attitude towards the Iraqis is tragic, it's awful."

The British officer accused the US military of targeting "terrorists" even if they are located in densely-populated civilian areas: "They may well kill the terrorists in the barrage but they will also kill and maim innocent civilians. That has been their response on a number of occasions. It is trite, but American troops do shoot first and ask questions later. They are very concerned about taking casualties and have even trained their guns on British troops, which has led to some confrontations between soldiers," The Telegraph reported.

In the meantime, Mohammed Kinani, whose nine-year-old son Ali was killed by Blackwater personnel in Nisour Square, says he has to maintain faith in the US legal system.

When I interviewed Kinani in December 2009, he said his family is still distraught about the killing of his son but that he derives strength from knowing that the Nisour Square incident not only brought Iraq's Shias and Sunnis together but also revealed what ordinary civilians were facing under occupation.

"The killings in Nisour Square woke the Iraqi and US authorities to the horrors of what such security firms were doing in Iraq," he said, "and motivated them to take legal action."

It is time for the American people to do the right and brave thing and truly look at the conduct of US soldiers - and their mission - in Iraq in the past seven years. Using the PTSD line is no longer satisfactory; it is costing Iraqi lives and tarnishing America's image abroad. If PTSD is truly the sole cuplrit, then the entire system of foreign deployments must be reassessed.

If over-extended deployments abroad is leading to violations and other impropriety, then perhaps US involvement has extended far beyond its welcome.

By not aggressively pursuing - and punishing - misconduct in Iraq and elsewhere, the US risks awarding the moral high ground to terrorist propaganda, such as the type released by Yemeni cleric, Anwar Al-Awlaki.

The US must show and lead by example that human rights - and those of civilians - are as important to it as the lives of its soldiers. Only then, will people like Al-Awlaki, bin Laden and Al-Zawahri fade into the garbage bin of history.