How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake? (#4)

February 1st, 2009

How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Iraq?

On Friday, January 30, ten days after President Barack Obama promised American soldiers would begin to responsibly leave Iraq, a gun battle broke out in the district of Baiji. One American soldier and one Iraqi militant were each shot to death. A second American soldier was wounded in the gunfire.

SALAH AL-DIN / Aswat al-Iraq: A gunman who shot down a U.S. soldier and wounded another in the district of Baiji was killed by U.S. army fire on Friday, a police source said.

A gunman from Baiji opened fire on Friday afternoon at U.S. soldiers who were standing in front of al-Rifaie school, which is used as a voting center, in the central part of the district, (35 km) north of Tikrit city, killing one of them and injuring another, the source told Aswat al-Iraq news agency.

The U.S. soldiers fired back at the gunman, killing him instantly, the source said, adding the U.S. soldiers arrested the gunman’s brother inside his house in central Baiji.

Aswat al-Iraq news agency managed to contact a source within the U.S. forces’ Joint Coordination Office who said that a gunman opened fire at the U.S. servicemen in Baiji district and the U.S. soldiers fired back and shot him down.

Aswat al-Iraq (2009-01-30): Gunman killed after shooting down U.S. soldier in Baiji

How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake? (#3)

January 29th, 2009

How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Iraq?

Private Grant A. Cotting, a 19 year old boy from Corona, California, was killed in Iraq on Saturday, January 24, four days after President Barack Obama promised American soldiers would begin to responsibly leave Iraq.

A 19-year-old Army private from Corona died in what military authorities described today as a non-combat-related incident in Iraq.

Pvt. Grant A. Cotting died Saturday in the Iraqi city of Kut, about 100 miles south of Baghdad, according to the Department of Defense.

Cotting suffered injuries while with his unit — the 515th Sapper Company, 5th Engineer Battalion, 4th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, officials said.

The brigade is headquartered at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

The circumstances surrounding the incident are under investigation, a Pentagon statement said.

The Desert Sun (2009-01-27): Soldier from Corona killed in Iraq

How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake? (#2)

January 27th, 2009

How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Iraq? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

Army National Guard Specialist Matthew Pollini was killed in Iraq on Thursday, January 22, two days after President Barack Obama promised American soldiers would begin to responsibly leave Iraq.

Sergeant Kyle J. Harrington was killed in Iraq on Saturday, January 24, four days after President Barack Obama promised American soldiers would begin to responsibly leave Iraq.

Just after his graduation from Swansea’s Joseph Case High School in 2003, Kyle J. Harrington joined the Army. He was deployed to Iraq in 2005 and was more than halfway through his second tour of duty when he died Saturday, his wife, Faith, said yesterday.

Harrington, 24, a sergeant, had married his high school sweetheart, Faith (Ryan), before leaving for Iraq. They lived on the Fort Lewis Army base in Washington state.

Faith Harrington said her husband’s death was not combat related but occurred as a result of a fork-lift accident.

Though the Army did not give her specific details, she was told that an investigation is underway.

They won’t tell me anything, said Harrington, who said she could not say where in Iraq her husband had been stationed.

A spokeswoman for the Defense Department said she could not confirm or deny Harrington’s death, citing a congressionally mandated timeline that prohibits releasing information on military deaths until 24 hours after all family members are notified.

Harrington died two days after Army National Guard Specialist Matthew Pollini, 21, of Rockland, was killed in Iraq when the Humvee he was riding in on a military base rolled over. Since the war began in 2003, 4,232 servicemen and women have been killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom, not counting Harrington.

He had two children, Joshua, 5, and Kaylee, 2.

Matt Collette, The Boston Globe (2009-01-26): Soldier dies in accident in Iraq, wife says

Pollini, 21, was less than a month into his first tour of duty with the 772nd Military Police Company, a National Guard unit based in Taunton.

He was married on Dec. 22 and shipped out four days later.

We had lots of plans, Sarah Pollini, 20, said.

In a statement issued by his office, the adjutant general of the Massachusetts National Guard, Maj. Gen. Joseph C. Carter, said, The loss of a Soldier is a tragedy and we hope the Pollini family finds some consolation in the knowledge that Specialist Pollini gave his life while defending our nation, said General Carter […].

Allison Manning, EnterpriseNews.com (2009-01-25): Another Massachusetts soldier killed in Iraq, second in three days

Four U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq on Monday, January 26, six days after President Barack Obama promised American soldiers would begin to responsibly leave Iraq.

KIRKUK, Iraq (AFP) — Four US soldiers were killed on Monday when two helicopters crashed in northern Iraq, American and Iraqi military officials said, but an insurgent group later claimed responsibility.

Four coalition forces members were killed when two aircraft went down in northern Iraq at approximately 2:15 am (2315 GMT Sunday), a US army spokesman said in an initial statement.

The cause of the incident is unknown but does not appear to be the result of enemy action, a separate US military statement said later.

An Iraqi military official told AFP two helicopters were involved in the incident, while police said the crash occurred near the northern oil city of Kirkuk.

However, the Nakshabandiya insurgent group — close to executed president Saddam Hussein’s still fugitive deputy Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri — later said that it had shot down the coalition aircraft.

Asked about the claim, the US military issued a further statement, which said: There is no indication that the helicopter crash is a result of enemy action.

The Nakshabandiya handed out leaflets on the streets of Kirkuk, saying that they had shot down two helicopters and would soon show a video, an AFP correspondent witnessed.

A statement on their website said: We announce with pleasure the shooting down of two helicopters of the American enemy. It was a night ambush from the Anti-Aircraft Resistance Brigade. It was two Blackhawks shot down Sunday evening at 10.30pm in Hawijah, 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of Kirkuk.

The group said that the attack had killed more than 20 soldiers and that the video would show the entire operation.

Hawijah is a largely Sunni Arab town within the disputed oil province of Kirkuk and was the scene of a massive US operation to try to capture Ibrahim in late 2003.

The US military is currently taking a back seat to an increasingly large Iraqi force made up of 560,000 policemen and 260,000 military personnel, with the US providing logistic and air support on request.

According to the Pentagon, 143,000 American troops are deployed in Iraq.

Under an agreement signed between Washington and Baghdad in November, the US military is due to withdraw its combat troops from Iraq by the end of 2011 and to pull them back from built-up areas by the end of June this year.

At least 4,236 US military personnel have died in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, according to an AFP tally based on the independent website www.icasualties.org, including the deaths on Monday. Fifteen troops have died so far this year.

Agence France-Presse (2009-01-26): Four US soldiers killed in Iraq helicopter crash

How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Iraq? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

Howard Zinn, introduction to “Bomb after Bomb”

December 19th, 2007

This is an introductory essay that social critic and historian Howard Zinn wrote for Bomb after Bomb, by elin o’Hara slavick, a collection of cartographic drawings–based on military surveillance imagery, aerial photographs, battle plans, maps, and mass media sources–of American aerial bombing campaigns. Zinn’s essay was reprinted in the December 15–16, 2007 issue of CounterPunch. It was brought to our attention by Mark Brady at Liberty & Power.

Perhaps it is fitting that elin o’Hara slavick’s extraordinary evocation of bombings by the United States government be preceded by some words from a bombardier who flew bombing missions for the U.S. Air Corps in the second World War. At least one of her drawings is based on a bombing I participated in near the very end of the war–the destruction of the French seaside resort of Royan, on the Atlantic coast.

As I look at her drawings, I become painfully aware of how ignorant I was, when I dropped those bombs on France and on cities in Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, of the effects of those bombings on human beings. Not because she shows us bloody corpses, amputated limbs, skin shredded by napalm. She does not do that. But her drawings, in ways that I cannot comprehend, compel me to envision such scenes.

I am stunned by the thought that we, the civilized nations, have bombed cities and countrysides and islands for a hundred years. Yet, here in the United States, which is responsible for most of that, the public, as was true of me, does not understand–I mean really understand–what bombs do to people. That failure of imagination, I believe, is critical to explaining why we still have wars, why we accept bombing as a common accompaniment to our foreign policies, without horror or disgust.

We in this country, unlike people in Europe or Japan or Africa or the Middle East, or the Caribbean, have not had the experience of being bombed. That is why, when the Twin Towers in New York exploded on September 11, there was such shock and disbelief. This turned quickly, under the impact of government propaganda, into a callous approval of bombing Afghanistan, and a failure to see that the corpses of Afghans were the counterparts of those in Manhattan.

We might think that at least those individuals in the U.S. Air Force who dropped bombs on civilian populations were aware of what terror they were inflicting, but as one of those I can testify that this is not so. Bombing from five miles high, I and my fellow crew members could not see what was happening on the ground. We could not hear screams or see blood, could not see torn bodies, crushed limbs. Is it any wonder we see fliers going out on mission after mission, apparently unmoved by thoughts of what they have wrought.

It was not until after the war, when I read John Hersey’s interviews with Japanese survivors of Hiroshima, who described what they had endured, that I became aware, in excruciating detail, of what my bombs had done. I then looked further. I learned of the firebombing of Tokyo in March of 1945, in which perhaps a hundred thousand people died. I learned about the bombing of Dresden, and the creation of a firestorm which cost the lives of 80,000 to 100,000 residents of that city. I learned of the bombing of Hamburg and Frankfurt and other cities in Europe.

We know now that perhaps 600,000 civilians–men, women, and children-died in the bombings of Europe. And an equal number died in the bombings of Japan. What could possibly justify such carnage? Winning the war against Fascism? Yes, we won. But what did we win? Was it a new world? Had we done away with Fascism in the world, with racism, with militarism, with hunger and disease? Despite the noble words of the United Nations charter about ending the scourge of war — had we done away with war?

As horrifying as the loss of life was, the acceptance of justifications for the killing of innocent people continued after World War II. The United States bombed Korea, with at least a million civilian deaths, and then Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, with another million or two million lives taken. Communism was the justification. But what did those millions of victims know of communism or capitalism or any of the abstractions which cover up mass murder?

We have had enough experience, with the Nuremberg trials of the Nazi leaders, with the bombings carried out by the Allies, with the torture stories coming out of Iraq, to know that ordinary people with ordinary consciences will allow their instincts for decency to be overcome by the compulsion to obey authority. It is time therefore, to educate the coming generation in disobedience to authority, to help them understand that institutions like governments and corporations are cold to anything but self-interest, that the interests of powerful entities run counter to the interests of most people.

This clash of interest between governments and citizens is camouflaged by phrases that pretend that everyone in the nation has a common interest, and so wars are waged and bombs dropped for national security, national defense, and national interest.

Patriotism is defined as obedience to government, obscuring the difference between the government and the people. Thus, soldiers are led to believe that we are fighting for our country when in fact they are fighting for the government — an artificial entity different from the people of the country — and indeed are following policies dangerous to its own people.

My own reflections on my experiences as a bombardier, and my research on the wars of the United States have led me to certain conclusions about war and the dropping of bombs that accompany modern warfare.

One: The means of waging war (demolition bombs, cluster bombs, white phosphorus, nuclear weapons, napalm) have become so horrendous in their effects on human beings that no political end– however laudable, the existence of no enemy — however vicious, can justify war.

Two: The horrors of the means are certain, the achievement of the ends always uncertain.

Three: When you bomb a country ruled by a tyrant, you kill the victims of the tyrant.

Four: War poisons the soul of everyone who engages in it, so that the most ordinary of people become capable of terrible acts.

Five: Since the ratio of civilian deaths to military deaths in war has risen sharply with each subsequent war of the past century (10% civilian deaths in World War I, 50% in World War II, 70% in Vietnam, 80-90% in Afghanistan and Iraq) and since a significant percentage of these civilians are children, then war is inevitably a war against children.

Six: We cannot claim that there is a moral distinction between a government which bombs and kills innocent people and a terrorist organization which does the same. The argument is made that deaths in the first case are accidental, while in the second case they are deliberate. However, it does not matter that the pilot dropping the bombs does not intend to kill innocent people — that he does so is inevitable, for it is the nature of bombing to be indiscriminate. Even if the bombing equipment is so sophisticated that the pilot can target a house, a vehicle, there is never certainty about who is in the house or who is in the vehicle.

Seven: War, and the bombing that accompanies war, are the ultimate terrorism, for governments can command means of destruction on a far greater scale than any terrorist group.

These considerations lead me to conclude that if we care about human life, about justice, about the equal right of all children to exist, we must, in defiance of whatever we are told by those in authority, pledge ourselves to oppose all wars.

If the drawings of elin o’Hara slavick and the words that accompany them cause us to think about war, perhaps in ways we never did before, they will have made a powerful contribution towards a peaceful world.

Howard Zinn

John Bruhns: We were told we were there to liberate these people. They were shooting at us.

May 12th, 2007

Here is a video of John Bruhns’ statement against the war in Iraq, an advertisement recorded for MoveOn.org Political Action.

John Bruhns, US Army Infantry Sergeant. Baghdad 2003 – ’04:

One day there was a riot in the Abu Ghraib market area.

We had 2,000 people from the community protest our presence in their country. These were not terrorists.

We were told we were there to liberate these people. They were shooting at us.

To keep American soldiers in Iraq for an indefinite period of time, being attacked by an unidentifiable enemy, is wrong, immoral, and irresponsible.

Announcer:

Support our troops. Bring them home.

MoveOn.org Political Action, which produced this video, writes: George Bush keeps saying that he’s the one who supports the troops and those of us who want to end the war don’t. Someone has to take him on for that. In order to do that, they are asking for small donations to help buy airtime so that John Bruhns’s statement, and other ads based on statements by veterans of the Iraq War, can be aired on television. You can make a personal contribution online.

An Appeal to Conscience to Those Who Would Bomb Iran, by Ann Wright

May 2nd, 2007

This was printed in Truthout in February 2007, and also reported in Feminist Daily News (2007-02-26). Emphasis has been added.

Bombing Iranian facilities by the US military will cause the cycle of violence to begin again. If the US attacks Iran, by international law Iran has the legal right to defend itself from aggressive action by another country. The world will be watching carefully to see if the US provokes an incident whereby the Iranian military is forced into action against US forces. The Gulf is filled with US military ships which may, by the actions of the Bush administration, become legitimate targets.

While we are on the topic of history and aggression, after World War II, the United States executed German and Japanese military officers who were convicted of crimes against peace (wars of aggression) and for violations of the Geneva Conventions and the Nuremberg Principles.

The Nuremberg Principles provide for accountability for war crimes committed by military and civilian officials.

Principle IV of the Nuremberg Principles states: The fact that a person acted pursuant to an order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.

Principle VI of the Nuremberg Principles: The following crimes are punishable as crimes under international law:

a. Crimes against peace: i. Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances; ii. Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i).

b. War Crimes: Violations of the laws or customs of war which include, but are not limited to murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave-labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war, of persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity.

c. Crimes against humanity: Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhuman acts done against any civilian population, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds, when such acts are done, or such persecutions are carried on in execution of, or in connection with any crime against peace, or any war crime.

Attacking Iran will be a crime against peace, a war crime. Those conducting military operations will be violating the Nuremberg Principles, the Geneva Conventions and the Laws of Land Warfare. Prosecution for commission of war crimes is possible.

I appeal to the conscience of US Air Force and US Navy pilots and military personnel who command cruise missiles and pilot bombers and those who plan the missions for the pilots and missile commanders. I ask that they refuse what I believe will be unlawful orders to attack Iran.

Accountability for one’s actions is finally becoming possible under the new Congress. While refusal to drop bombs may initially draw punishment and the loss of one’s military career, those who refuse will save their soul, their conscience and will prevent another criminal action in the name of our country by the Bush administration.

US Army Reserves Colonel (retired) Ann Wright, (2007-02-13): An Appeal to Conscience to Those Who Would Bomb Iran

Further reading:

In The Warhead, by OTEP

April 2nd, 2007

Thanks to Victoria Marinelli (2005-07-09) for the link.

Here is a music video of In The Warhead by OTEP.

In The Warhead

Why?
The king of lies
Is alive
Look around
Look inside
Infidel [x3]

It begins here, it ends now
The prince must pay
His head or the crown
Rob the poor, slaughter the weak
Distort the law, perfect deceit

Do I need a gas mask?
Should I get inoculated?
Will this war last?
Will we be incincerated?

False gods
Death squads
Blind

This is a catastrophe
Weapon systems activated
Puritans have invaded
This is a catastrohpe
To protect against the threat
Order must be kept [x3]

Do I need a gas mask?
Should I get inoculated?
Will this war last?
Will we be incincerated?
False gods
Death squads
Blind

The elephants march to war
Concede
Conform
Concede
Conform
Deny the big lie
My tribe
Join me
An alliance of defiance, in the warhead [x3]
An alliance of defiance
All are welcome here
Give me your tired, give me your sick, give me your indulgence and decadence [x3]
He lied, they died, keep the peasants terrified [x2]
This is a catastrophe
You must lead if they get me
On my command
Break free
Break free
Break free
Break free.

Ribbons and responsibility: questions for hawks and doves by Utah Phillips

February 20th, 2007

I spend a lot of time these days going to demonstrations and vigils, talking to people who support the war. They can be pretty threatening. But I always find there are people there–and I don’t mean policemen, but there are people there who will protect you. I don’t go there to shout or to lecture, but to ask questions. Real questions. Questions I really need answers to.

When I joined the Army, it was kind of like somebody that I had been brought up to respect, wearing a suit and a tie, and maybe a little older, in my neighborhood. Think about yourself in your neighborhood, and this happened to you. He walked up to me, put his arm around my shoulder, and said, See that fellow on the corner there? He’s really evil, and has got to be killed. Now, you trust me; you’ll go do it for me, won’t you? Now, the reasons are a little complicated; I won’t bother to explain, but you go and do it for me, will you?

Well, if somebody did that to you in your neighborhood, you’d think it was foolish. You wouldn’t do it. Well, what makes it more reasonable to do it on the other side of the world? That’s one question.

Well, now hook it into this. If I was to go down into the middle of your town, and bomb a house, and then shoot the people coming out in flames, the newspapers would say, Homicidal Maniac! The cops would come and they’d drag me away; they’d say You’re responsible for that! The judge’d say, You’re responsible for that; the jury’d say You’re responsible for that! and they would give me the hot squat or put me away for years and years and years, you see? But now exactly the same behavior, sanctioned by the State, could get me a medal and elected to Congress. Exactly the same behavior. I want the people I’m talking to to reconcile that contradiction for themselves, and for me.

The third question–well I take that one a lot to peace people. There’s a lot of moral ambiguity going on around here, with the peace people who say, Well, we’ve got to support the troops, and then wear the yellow ribbon, and wrap themselves in the flag. They say, Well, we don’t want what happened to the Vietnam vets to happen to these vets when they come home–people getting spit on. Well, I think it’s terrible to spit on anybody. I think that’s a consummate act of violence. And it’s a terrible mistake, and I’m really sorry that happened. But what did happen? Song My happened; My Lai happened; the defoliation of a country happened; tons of pesticides happened; 30,000 MIAs in Vietnam happened. And it unhinged some people–made them real mad. And what really, really made them mad, was the denial of personal responsibility–saying, I was made to do it; I was told to do it; I was doing my duty; I was serving my country. Well, we’ve already talked about that.

Now, it is morally ambiguous to wrap yourself in the flag and to wear those ribbons. And it borders on moral cowardice. I don’t mean to sound stern; well, yes I do, but what does the Nuremberg declaration say? There’s no superior order that can cancel your conscience. Nations will be judged by the standard of the individual. Look, the President makes choices. The Congress makes choices. The Chief of Staff makes choices. The officers make choices. All those choices percolate down to the individual trooper with his finger on the trigger. The individual private with his thumb on the button that drops the bomb. If that trigger doesn’t get pulled, if that button doesn’t get pushed, all those other choices vanish as if they never were. They’re meaningless. So what is the critical choice? What is the one we’ve got to think about and get to? And, friends, if that trigger gets pulled–if that button gets pushed, and that dropped bomb falls–and you say I support the troops, you’re an accomplice. I don’t want to be an accomplice; do you?

And I don’t want to dehumanize anyone. I don’t want to take away anybody’s humanity. Humans are able to make moral decisions–moral, ethical decisions. What do we tell the trooper who pulls the trigger, or the soldier who turns the wheel that releases oil into the Persian Gulf, that they’re not responsible–just following orders, just doing their duty, have no choice–bypassing them, making them a part of the machine, we deny them their humanity, their responsibility for their actions and the consequences of those actions. Look, I’ve been a soldier. I don’t want any moral loophole. I need to take personal responsibility for my actions. And if we don’t learn how to do this, we’re going to keep on going to war again, and again, and again.

Utah Phillips (1992): from The Violence Within, I’ve Got To Know

Rules of Engagement: The Fallujah Legacy

November 2nd, 2006

On March 31, 2004, precisely two years before Captain McConnell and his Kilo Company came home from their momentous tour in Haditha, four American employees of a security firm called Blackwater were ambushed and killed in Fallujah. Their corpses were hacked apart and burned, and two of them were hung from a bridge amid celebrations on the street. Images were beamed around the world. Judging correctly that it could not leave the insult unanswered, the Bush administration, after brief consideration of the options, decided on an all-out assault against the city. That decision continues to stand as one of the worst of the war, ranking only below the decision to disband the Iraqi Army and the initial decision to invade. At the time, for those of us living independently in Iraq outside of the American security zones, and with some sense therefore of the mood on the streets, it demonstrated once again the inability of officials to imagine the trouble that the United States was in, and the astonishing insularity of Washington, D.C.

The Marines knew better. They wanted to respond to the Blackwater ambush by going after the individual killers, and then following through with a well-crafted counter-insurgency campaign to stabilize and mollify the city. But when they were overruled and ordered to do the opposite—to mount an immediate full-frontal offensive—they set aside their theories, and as professional soldiers they dutifully complied. It was a disaster. Backed up by tanks and combat aircraft, the Marines went into Fallujah dealing destruction, and quickly bogged down in house-to-house fighting against a competent and determined foe. To make matters worse, the showcase battalion of the new Iraqi Army mutinied and refused to join the fight. The battle cost several dozen American dead and many more wounded, and did immeasurable damage to the prospects for American success. It turned into a humiliation for the United States when, after four days of struggle, the Marines were ordered by a nervous Washington to withdraw. Again they dutifully complied. Afterward, the jubilant insurgents took full public control of the city, and with the help of the foreign fighters turned it into a fortified haven which U.S. forces did not dare to enter.

To get a feeling for Kilo Company and the killings in Haditha, it is necessary to remember this. After the spring battle was lost, Fallujah became an open challenge to the American presence in Iraq. There were plenty of other challenges, and to speak only of Fallujah is grossly to simplify the war. Still, Fallujah was the most obvious one, and the United States, unless it was to quit and go home, had no choice but to take the city back. Everyone knew it, on all sides, and for months the antagonists prepared. Because of the fortifications and the expectation of active resistance, there was no question this time of a patient counter-insurgency campaign: the Marines were going to have to go in and simply smash the city down. In November of 2004, they did just that, with a force about 10,000 strong. Before attacking they gave the city warning, and allowed an exodus to occur. Nearly the entire population fled, including most of the insurgents, who spread into Baghdad or up the Euphrates to carry on the rebellion, leaving behind, however, a rear guard of perhaps 1,000 gunmen who, exceptionally, wanted to make a stand. This was their mistake. The Marines attacked with high explosives and heavy weapons. Over the 10 days it took to move through Fallujah, and the following weeks of methodical house-to-house clearing, they wrecked the city’s infrastructure, damaged or destroyed 20,000 houses or more, and did the same to dozens of schools and mosques. They were not crusaders. They did not Christianize the place. They turned Fallujah into Stalingrad.

Many insurgents survived the initial assaults and emerged to contest the Marines at close quarters, room to room and in the rubble. It is said to have been the most intense battle by American forces since Vietnam. The insurgents were trapped inside cordon upon cordon of American troops, and they fought until death. For the Marines the rules of engagement were necessarily loose. Rules of engagement are standing orders that limit the targets of soldiers, defining the difference between appropriate and inappropriate killing according to strategic and tactical goals, and between legal and illegal killing according to interpretations of international law. In Fallujah the rules allowed Marines to kill anyone they believed to be dangerous, and others who got in the way. In addition to those seen carrying weapons, in practice this meant everyone in every structure from which hostile fire came, and any military-age male seen moving toward the Marines or running away. Obviously, the Marines were not allowed to kill wounded prisoners, but in a televised case one of them did, and Marine Corps justice averted its gaze.

The men of Kilo Company fought through the thick of Fallujah. Lance Corporals Terrazas and Crossan, and most of the other men of future Haditha note, ran the course from start to finish. Kilo Company lost four Marines killed and at least 20 seriously wounded, and was involved in the best-known close-quarters combat of the battle—a desperate attempt to clear insurgents from the rooms of a house, which came to be known as the Hell House fight. Toward the end of it, a New York–based photographer named Lucian Read snapped an iconic picture of a blood-drenched sergeant who had been shot seven times and blasted with an enemy grenade, but who nonetheless was emerging on foot from the house, holding a pistol in one hand, supported by a Marine on each side. The photograph showed the Marines as they like to be seen, and as some like to see themselves. There’s a lot to be said for going to war with a photographer in tow, until something happens that you would rather forget.

Fallujah was a victory for the Marine Corps, but a victory narrowly defined. The reality is that a quarter-million people were forced from their homes and, when they returned, were faced with a city in ruins, surrounded by concertina wire and watched over by armed men in towers. Marine general John Sattler, who had led the assault, claimed that the insurgency had been broken. But as the seasons slid by in 2005, guerrillas slipped back into Fallujah, or sprang up from its ruins, and they surged forward through all the other towns of Anbar, including Haditha. Sattler was wrong, and embarrassingly so. Within more contemplative circles of Marines, the battle of Fallujah became less of a triumph than a warning. The consequences were not difficult to discern. A hard-pressed combat officer once put it this way to me: Yeah, we won Fallujah. But before that we made Fallujah. And we definitely can’t afford to make another.

Rules of Engagement, in Vanity Fair (November 2006)

Testimony of a Kurdish survivor

October 19th, 2006

Two detainees who escaped after last-minute struggles with the Iraqi death squads told of stumbling into the night while a full moon shone down on a ghostly landscape dotted with mass graves and bullet-riddled corpses. Their testimony was the first eyewitness account of mass killings during Saddam’s 1988 Anfal campaign against Iraq’s Kurdish minority, during which prosecutors allege that 182,000 people were slaughtered.

Speaking anonymously from behind a screen, two Kurdish men described how they and their fellow camp inmates were driven to the desert in stinking trucks, stained with urine and faeces.

It was an unpaved road. Our vehicle got stuck in the sand … and we heard gunfire. It wasn’t that close, it was far from us, but we heard screaming and gunfire, one said.

Then it was dark, and they brought a group of people in front of a vehicle. The drivers got out of our vehicles and turned on the headlights, put three lines or four lines of people in front of our vehicle and opened fire.

The News – International (2006-10-19): Kurds tell of mass murder by Saddam death squads

It was dark when they brought a group of people (prisoners) in front of the vehicle. The drivers got out of our vehicles and turned on the headlights, the man said. It was really unbelievable, the number of people being killed like this.

He said some prisoners tried to snatch an automatic rifle from one of their guards, but the prisoners failed to grab the gun because we were so weak.

He said soldiers opened fire, spraying the prisoners with bullets.

I ran and fell into a ditch. It was full of bodies. I fell on a body. It was still alive. It was his last breath, he said.

He was lightly wounded. He took off his clothes in the ditch, thinking he was more likely to blend into the color of the sand if he were naked. He then began running again.

As I was running, I saw many pits, I saw many mounds, and I saw lots of people who had been shot, he said. The desert was full of mounds that had people buried underneath.

The Boston Herald (2006-10-18): Witness in Saddam Hussein trial recalls massacre of Kurdish detainees