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Occupations are always deadly. The occupied are at constant risk of death, incarceration and humiliation. It is important to keep this in mind when thinking of the killings of Iraqi civilians at Haditha, Iraq. It is a story that needs to be told, but it was not an unusual event. It is just the first to escape the media bubble.

Last November the death of a Marine in the town of Haditha sent his unit into a frenzy of revenge. Twenty-four civilians, men, women and children were killed in cold blood. A killing spree by the occupiers should be roundly condemned but not treated as some sort of anomaly.

The Vietnam War was a watershed event in American public discourse. It was the first time that masses of citizens publicly declared opposition to a government decision to fight overseas. The significance of an organized anti-war movement was not lost on the pro-war crowd.

They made certain that tales of soldiers being spat upon and called “baby killer” made their way into the popular imagination. The result is a public propagandized into mindlessly supporting the troops. Even the anti-war movement is culpable, never passing up an opportunity to shout that they are against the war but not the troops.

The words of Gen. Sherman are still true. War is all hell. It is hell, and it is soldiers who bring it on.

The hell has become too much for even the Iraqi puppet government to bear. Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki stopped pulling his punches after Haditha. After three years of non-existent or muted criticism, he and his colleagues now feel comfortable speaking truth to the powerful.

Maliki told Americans what they haven’t been told by their government or news media. Violence against civilians is “a daily phenomenon” carried out by troops who “don’t respect the Iraqi people.” He added, "They crush them with their vehicles and kill them just on suspicion.” Maliki is clearly fed up with Uncle Sam. He went so far as to declare that that the response to violence committed against civilians would determine how long American troops might stay in Iraq.

In the United States government there is silence about the endless killings of Iraqis. Democratic Congressman Jack Murtha is one of the few members of Congress who has called for a timetable for withdrawal. He has been shunned by the wimpy Democratic leadership and denounced by Republicans.

Murtha played an important role in making the Haditha killings public, yet he too will only go so far in his condemnation.

These guys are under tremendous strain, more strain than I can conceive of. And this strain has caused them to crack in situations like this.

Murtha then contradicted himself. “I don't make excuses for them, I'm just understanding what their problem is.”

Murtha’s problem is that he is essentially a hawk. He voted in favor of the war and now opposes it because of the harm it is doing to the operations of the military. He should be commended for speaking out, but opposition to the occupation should not rest on the Murtha world view of a war that turned out not to be so easy.

The occupation of Iraq is a crime against the people of that nation. They have been killed, incarcerated, and tortured. Their resources have been stolen, their infrastructure has been destroyed. Iraqi children are more malnourished now than in the days of the evil dictator.

Opposition should always come from the perspective that the U.S. committed a terrible act in March of 2003 when the occupation began. We should be glad that the story of Haditha is now being told, yet no one should think it is an isolated incident or that it was caused merely by over stressed Marines who don’t know what there mission is.

The Marines are quite clear on their mission. Their mission is to subjugate Iraqis. Sometimes that means subjecting them to fear and humiliation. Sometimes it means busting a few heads and sometimes it means you can start shooting and ask questions later if ever.

The military response is to teach soldiers to mind their manners. They will now get “values” training. The charm school effort will teach the following dos and don’ts:

  • to treat prisoners of war humanely
  • to "engage only combatants with deadly force"
  • to respect and protect noncombatants
  • to allow the enemy to surrender
  • to collect and care for the wounded
  • to refrain from desecrating bodies
  • to avoid causing unnecessary suffering.

There is no need for these new rules. The rest of the world knows they can be found in the Geneva Conventions. Too bad the Bush administration has decided that they no longer apply. The Attorney General and other administration officials have argued that Guantanamo detainees did not have prisoner of war status and were therefore not entitled to the protections agreed upon by the rest of the world. Only Americans would ignore rules, then repeat them and act as though they invented something new.

The answer to the plight of troops in Iraq is obvious. Americans must stop giving their government permission to kill. When that happens the troops can come home and learn to live without stress. Some never will. They will jump at loud noises for the rest of their lives, just like soldiers from every other war that has ever been waged. We should support the troops. We should help them do something else for a living.

Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BC. Ms. Kimberley is a freelance writer living in New York City. She can be reached via e-Mail at [email protected]. You can read more of Ms. Kimberley's writings at


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June 8, 2006
Issue 187

is published every Thursday.

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