Collateral Murder, Part 2: Admission of U.S. War Crimes in Iraq

Part One

In the first post, “Collateral Murder: U.S. Soldiers Killing Civilians in Cold Blood,” viewers witnessed the indiscriminate slaughter of Iraqi civilians by a U.S. helicopter crew, and heard the cheerful banter of the crew as they rained heavy fire down on civilian bodies. While some chose to dispute whether there was a legitimate threat of an imagined RPG to a helicopter well out of range, one part of the video that no one has dared to dispute is the fact that a civilian vehicle, arriving to pick up the injured, without any weapons showing at all, nor cameras, was also fired upon and destroyed, killing more and badly injuring little children. It then turns out, as confirmed by a Lieutenant Colonel who “served” in Iraq and who wrote in response to that post, with specific reference to another case where a tank fired at a hotel occupied by journalists, “The fact that the Palestine Hotel was ‘civilian’ was moot at that time…It is not incumbant [sic] upon a combatant to await fire before shooting at what appears to be a legitimate target.” Using that principle, anything goes.

Now we have another important follow up to what was shown in that video. The first was from Josh Stieber on Democracy Now (12 April 2010), a former member of Bravo Company 2-16, the military unit on the ground, as seen on the military video released by WikiLeaks. Stieber was not present on the ground that day. Stieber spoke of the “dehumanization” of the Iraqi people that was instilled in the minds of U.S. troops. As for killing civilians, Stieber said:

“Some of my leaders would ask the younger soldiers what they would do if somebody were to pull a weapon in a marketplace full of unarmed civilians. And not only did your response have to be that you would return fire, even if you knew it was going to hurt innocent civilians, because you’re trying aim at the person with the weapon, the answer had to be yes, but it had to be an instantaneous yes. So, again, these things are just hammered into you through military training. So that’s, you know, the background of what the people in the helicopter had in their minds, so that they saw this as a threat. “

Stieber argued that “If we’re shocked by this video, we need to be asking questions of the larger system, because this is how these soldiers were trained to act.” Indeed, the larger system he rightly points to is a militarized war-mongering culture, with a regimented view of the worthlessness of civilian lives in countries occupied by the U.S., following unprovoked aggression by the U.S.:

“not only is it in the military, but it’s even in our general culture. I mean, thinking back to high school, I was taught things like, you know, the atomic bomb wasn’t morally wrong. It might have been strategically questionable, but this idea, even in history class, that, you know, at times it might be necessary to take civilian lives in order to accomplish your overall goals. So I think, as a society, we need to look at these things that put people—or put this mindset or put these ideas in people. And, you know, I think, again, this video is shocking, and we need to ask, how can we take that shock from the video and turn it into something positive? So whether that looks like people shocked by this video talking to their school boards and demanding for peace education classes or something to fix this larger system, rather than just point it on a few individuals.”

Part Two

Now we have an important follow up, from a comrade of Josh Stieber, also on the ground that day, seen in the video running with one of the injured children in his arms. He is Ethan McCord, who gave this interview. I reproduce extracts from that interview below, from:

Wikileaks Soldier Reveals Orders for ‘360 Rotational Fire’ Against Civilians in Iraq

Ethan McCord, one of the soldiers seen in the now-famous Wikileaks video in which two American Apache helicopters fire upon a relaxed, unhurried gaggle of men in Baghdad, has stated in an interview with World Socialist Website that he witnessed numerous times the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians in Iraq after IED attacks. McCord is on of the soldiers seen helping two wounded children after the attack. He has stepped forward with open opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and written a letter of apology for his part in the incident to the mother of the children, who has accepted his apology. The mother’s husband was killed in the attack and found with his body shielding that of one of his children.

McCord said to reporter Bill Van Auken:

“we had a pretty gung-ho commander, who decided that because we were getting hit by IEDs a lot, there would be a new battalion SOP [standard operating procedure]. He goes, “If someone in your line gets hit with an IED, 360 rotational fire. You kill every motherfucker on the street.” Myself and Josh and a lot of other soldiers were just sitting there looking at each other like, “Are you kidding me? You want us to kill women and children on the street?” And you couldn’t just disobey orders to shoot, because they could just make your life hell in Iraq. So like with myself, I would shoot up into the roof of a building instead of down on the ground toward civilians. But I’ve seen it many times, where people are just walking down the street and an IED goes off and the troops open fire and kill them.”

The deliberate killing of civilians is a war crime (Nanking 1937, Hankow 1938, German Invasion of Poland 1939). McCord is one of a growing number of soldiers and support groups who have renounced their actions in Iraq. He said:

“I was the gung-ho soldier. I thought I was going over there to do the greater good. I thought my job over there was to protect the Iraqi people and that this was a job with honor and courage and duty. I was hit by an IED within two weeks of my being in Iraq. And I didn’t understand why people were throwing rocks at us, why I was being shot at and why we’re being blown up, when I have it in my head that I was here to help these people.”

McCord says the scenes captured in the Wikileaks video are “an every-day occurrence in Iraq.” McCord says that when he found the two children wounded in the van, another soldier began to vomit and ran off. Then he recounts:

“That’s when I saw the boy move with what appeared to be a labored breath. So I stated screaming, ‘The boy’s alive.’ I grabbed him and cradled him in my arms and kept telling him, ‘Don’t die, don’t die.’ He opened his eyes, looked up at me. I told him, ‘It’s OK, I have you.’ His eyes rolled back into his head, and I kept telling him, ‘It’s OK, I’ve got you.’ I ran up to the Bradley and placed him inside. My platoon leader was standing there at the time, and he yelled at me for doing what I did. He told me to ‘stop worrying about these motherfucking kids and start worrying about pulling security.’ So after that I went up and pulled security on a rooftop.”

McCord says about his mental state afterwards:

“I went to see a staff sergeant who was in my chain of command and told him I needed to see mental health about what was going on in my head. He told me to ‘quit being a pussy’ and to ‘suck it up and be a soldier.’ He told me that if I wanted to go to mental health, there would be repercussions, one of them being labeled a ‘malingerer,’ which is actually a crime in the US Army.”

McCord says the greater story is being overlooked, and that rather than blame individual soldiers, the Army itself should be examined, and its system of training soldiers.

“Instead of people being upset at a few soldiers in a video who were doing what they were trained to do, I think people need to be more upset at the system that trained these soldiers. They are doing exactly what the Army wants them to do.”

McCord echoes Major General Smedley D. Butler, the double Medal of Honor winner who resigned his commission and in 1935 became a critic of the nations wars, traveling the country with his book and famous speech “War is a Racket.” McCord said in the interview:

“I am not part of any party. Was I hopeful? Yes. Was I surprised that we are still there? No. I’m not surprised at all. There’s something else lying underneath there. It’s not Republican or Democrat; it’s money. There’s something else lying underneath it where Republicans and Democrats together want to keep us in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

McCord talks about the ongoing effects of war:

“I still live with this every day. When I close my eyes I see what happened that day and many other days like a slide show in my head. The smells come back to me. The cries of the children come back to me. The people driving this big war machine, they don’t have to deal with this. They live in their $36 million mansions and sleep well at night.”

Part Three?

Part Three will be the video about to be released by Wikileaks, a secret military video of one of the deadliest U.S. air strikes in Afghanistan in which scores of children are believed to have been killed in the bombing of the Afghan village of Garani in May 2009 (see the news here, here, and here).

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2 thoughts on “Collateral Murder, Part 2: Admission of U.S. War Crimes in Iraq

  1. PJ

    Let’s review Mylai and similar massacres that occurred in Vietnam. According to some scholars the following are involved (my wording may be wrong as I don’t have the materials in front of me). Dehumanization – even self proclaimed killologist, David Grossman, admits that dehumanization is necessary in order for soldiers to kill. 2) Legitimization i.e. a general atmosphere that informally or formally encourages brutalization of the civilian population…. in Vietnam, this involved concepts like “search and destroy missions” and the creation of kill zones where anyone moving (running could be shot). It also involved an emphasis on high body count (civilians were counted as Vietcong) 3) Routinization i.e. calculating or handling the paperwork surrounding the killing of civilians as if it involved everyday, bureaucratic processes and also, most likely, the increasing sense among soldiers that, informally, war crimes were normal. Reviewing a number of current cases in Iraq, it seems to me several other factors may also be involved. These include conflicts in views among those in leadership roles, sometimes the isolation of particular platoons (this is a special case), the assumption that refusal to fire weapons is either cowardice or mental illness. I wouldn’t be surprised if there have been cases in which junior ranking soldiers have tried to report war crimes but their reports were canned while those of the senior officers in charge and responsible were the ones that prevailed.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Thanks to Wikileaks, which should be considered the most important website in the world right now, we might not have to wait decades to discover the full scope of U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, not that any of this was unexpected by those who were vehemently against these wars from the start, because we knew that these atrocities would be repeated, and that the only justice for the victims would come in the form of retaliatory terrorism.

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