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US Brutality In Iraq -
Why We Are Losing

By Joel Skousen - Editor
World Affairs Brief
Putting aside the ulterior motives of government for being in Iraq, the US is steadily losing support among Iraqis who originally welcomed the US invasion. The reasons are sometimes varied and complex, but one thing looms large for ordinary people: when US soldiers go house to house searching for insurgents, they leave behind a wasteland of broken families, houses and whole neighborhoods: families paralyzed by fear, and scores of civilian casualties. If the Iraqis didn't hate American soldiers before they arrived, they do now. This week we'll take a close look at the military's aggressive and offensive security patrols.
The devil is in the details, they say, and America has been shielded from the ugly details. In order to remedy this purposeful omission of the mainstream press, The Nation magazine interviewed 50 Iraq vets and asked them to give detailed accounts of what happens to civilians in the wake of military missions to "secure Bagdad.
Here are excerpts from the interviews by Chris Hedges and Laila al-Arian of The Nation 7/30/07: "Over the past several months The Nation has interviewed fifty combat veterans of the Iraq War from around the United States in an effort to investigate the effects of the four-year-old occupation on average Iraqi civilians. These combat veterans, some of whom bear deep emotional and physical scars, and many of whom have come to oppose the occupation, gave vivid, on-the-record accounts. They described a brutal side of the war rarely seen on television screens or chronicled in newspaper accounts.
"Dozens of those interviewed witnessed Iraqi civilians, including children, dying from American firepower. Some participated in such killings; others treated or investigated civilian casualties after the fact. Many also heard such stories, in detail, from members of their unit. The soldiers, sailors and marines emphasized that not all troops took part in indiscriminate killings. Many said that these acts were perpetrated by a minority. But they nevertheless described such acts as common and said they often go unreported--and almost always go unpunished.
"While some veterans said civilian shootings were routinely investigated by the military, many more said such inquiries were rare.... "Veterans said the culture of this counterinsurgency war, in which most Iraqi civilians were assumed to be hostile, made it difficult for soldiers to sympathize with their victims--at least until they returned home and had a chance to reflect. 'I guess while I was there, the general attitude was, A dead Iraqi is just another dead Iraqi,' said Spc. Jeff Englehart, 26, of Grand Junction, Colorado.
"Much of the resentment toward Iraqis described to The Nation by veterans was confirmed in a report released May 4 by the Pentagon. According to the survey, conducted by the Office of the Surgeon General of the US Army Medical Command, just 47 percent of soldiers and 38 percent of marines agreed that civilians should be treated with dignity and respect. Only 55 percent of soldiers and 40 percent of marines said they would report a unit member who had killed or injured 'an innocent noncombatant.'
"These attitudes reflect the limited contact occupation troops said they had with Iraqis. They rarely saw their enemy. They lived bottled up in heavily fortified compounds that often came under mortar attack. They only ventured outside their compounds ready for combat. The mounting frustration of fighting an elusive enemy and the devastating effect of roadside bombs, with their steady toll of American dead and wounded, led many troops to declare an open war on all Iraqis.
"Veterans described reckless firing once they left their compounds. Some shot holes into cans of gasoline being sold along the roadside and then tossed grenades into the pools of gas to set them ablaze. Others opened fire on children. These shootings often enraged Iraqi witnesses. During the course of the interview process, five veterans turned over photographs from Iraq, some of them graphic, to corroborate their claims.
"'And we were approaching this one house,' he said. 'In this farming area, they're, like, built up into little courtyards. So they have, like, the main house, common area. They have, like, a kitchen and then they have a storage shed-type deal. And we're approaching, and they had a family dog. And it was barking ferociously, 'cause it's doing its job. And my squad leader, just out of nowhere, just shoots it. And he didn't--mother [expletive]--he shot it and it went in the jaw and exited out. So I see this dog--I'm a huge animal lover; I love animals--and this dog has, like, these eyes on it and he's running around spraying blood all over the place. And like, you know, What the hell is going on? The family is sitting right there, with three little children and a mom and a dad, horrified. And I'm at a loss for words. And so, I yell at him. I'm, like, What the [expletive] are you doing? And so the dog's yelping. It's crying out without a jaw. And I'm looking at the family, and they're just, you know, dead scared... At least kill it, because that can't be fixed....
"'And--I actually get tears from just saying this right now, but--and I had tears then, too--and I'm looking at the kids and they are so scared. So I got the interpreter over with me and, you know, I get my wallet out and I gave them twenty bucks, because that's what I had. I... told them that I'm so sorry that [expletive] did that. 'Was a report ever filed about it?' he asked. 'Was anything ever done? Any punishment ever dished out? No, absolutely not.' Specialist Chrystal said such incidents were 'very common.'
"According to interviews with twenty-four veterans who participated in such raids, they are a relentless reality for Iraqis under occupation. The American forces, stymied by poor intelligence, invade neighborhoods where insurgents operate, bursting into homes in the hope of surprising fighters or finding weapons. But such catches, they said, are rare. Far more common were stories in which soldiers assaulted a home, destroyed property in their futile search and left terrorized civilians struggling to repair the damage and begin the long torment of trying to find family members who were hauled away as suspects.
Once they were in front of the home, troops, some wearing Kevlar helmets and flak vests with grenade launchers mounted on their weapons, kicked the door in, according to Sergeant Bruhns, who dispassionately described the procedure: 'You run in. And if there's lights, you turn them on--if the lights are working. If not, you've got flashlights.... You leave one rifle team outside while one rifle team goes inside. Each rifle team leader has a headset on with an earpiece and a microphone where he can communicate with the other rifle team leader that's outside.
"'You go up the stairs. You grab the man of the house. You rip him out of bed in front of his wife. His wife sometimes may be exposed, because of her night garments in the middle of the night, which is humiliating for that woman and for that man and for that family. You put him up against the wall. You have junior-level troops, PFC specialists will run into the other rooms and grab the family, and you'll group them all together. Then you go into a room and you tear the room to shreds and you make sure there's no weapons or anything that they can use to attack us.
"You get the interpreter and you get the man of the home, and you have him at gunpoint, and you'll ask the interpreter to ask him: 'Do you have any weapons? Do you have any anti-US propaganda, anything at all--anything--anything in here that would lead us to believe that you are somehow involved in insurgent activity or anti-coalition forces activity?'
"Normally they'll say no, because that's normally the truth," Sergeant Bruhns said. "So what you'll do is you'll take his sofa cushions and you'll dump them. If he has a couch, you'll turn the couch upside down. You'll go into the fridge, if he has a fridge, and you'll throw everything on the floor, and you'll take his drawers and you'll dump them.... You'll open up his closet and you'll throw all the clothes on the floor and basically leave his house looking like a hurricane just hit it. "And if you find something, then you'll detain him. If not, you'll say, 'Sorry to disturb you. Have a nice evening.' So you've just humiliated this man in front of his entire family and terrorized his entire family and you've destroyed his respect.
SPC. Garrett Reppenhagen added this in his DemocracyNow interview: "The house raids were a very difficult piece of my experience in Iraq. We conducted a lot of house searches. And, you know, we felt we had to. We didn't have the initiative in Iraq.... So a lot of times we're just -- we're searching homes. We're going on whims, hoping that we can catch the Iraqis, the ones who are trying to do the US forces harm. We kick in the doors, and we separate the people.
"And, you know, we had a checklist where we went through -- did they have contraband? If they did, we apprehended them, and we would put a bag over their head and marked it with an 'A.' Did they have an identification card? If they didn't, we'd mark them with a 'B,' we take them. If they didn't belong in that house, if they didn't live in that house, we'd mark them with a 'C,' and we'd take them. So we take a lot of these people out of their homes. And a lot of these people, we push out through the chain of command, and they get interrogated, and they get pushed up further. And a lot of these people never make it home the following day or ever again."
"Sgt. Dustin Flatt, 33, of Denver, estimates he raided 'thousands' of homes in Tikrit, Samarra and Mosul. He served with the Eighteenth Infantry Brigade, First Infantry Division, for one year beginning in February 2004. 'We scared the living J---s out of them every time we went through every house,. he said.
"Sergeant Westphal's flashlight was mounted on his M-4 carbine rifle, so in pointing his light at the clump of sleepers on the floor he was also pointing his weapon at them. Sergeant Westphal first turned his light on a man who appeared to be in his mid-60s. 'The man screamed this gut-wrenching, blood-curdling, just horrified scream,' Sergeant Westphal recalled. 'I've never heard anything like that. I mean, the guy was absolutely terrified. I can imagine what he was thinking, having lived under Saddam' [or having heard about US military methods before].
"The farm's inhabitants were not insurgents but a family sleeping outside for relief from the stifling heat, and the man Sergeant Westphal had frightened awake was the patriarch. 'Sure enough, as we started to peel back the layers of all these people sleeping, I mean, it was him, maybe two guys...either his sons or nephews or whatever, and the rest were all women and children,' Sergeant Westphal said. 'We didn't find anything.' For Sergeant Westphal, that night was a turning point. 'I just remember thinking to myself, I just brought terror to someone else under the American flag, and that's just not what I joined the Army to do,' he said."
"There were also deaths caused by the reckless behavior of military convoys. Sgt Kelly Dougherty of the Colorado National Guard described a hit-and-run in which a military convoy ran over a 10-year-old boy and his three donkeys, killing them all. "Judging by the skid marks, they hardly even slowed down. But, I mean... your order is that you never stop." [UK Independent]
Actually, these are some of the milder examples of US military conduct. The Nation report did not cover the more egregious crimes that did make the press: shooting innocent people, raping young girls and beating those they couldn't understand. These limited excerpts show that violence at a lower level is commonplace and that the military's all too callous behavior has become part of US Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) in the field. Once soldiers get used to disregarding conscience and start acting like gang members, innocent people get hurt, and America's reputation as a defender of life is damaged.
Why do these otherwise normal America descend into this kind of conduct? The UK Independent made this commentary about the reasons and the subsequent cover-ups: "Through a combination of gung-ho recklessness and criminal behavior born of panic, a narrative emerges of an army that frequently commits acts of cold-blooded violence. A number of interviewees revealed that the military will attempt to frame innocent bystanders as insurgents, often after panicked American troops have fired into groups of unarmed Iraqis. The veterans said the troops involved would round up any survivors and accuse them of being in the resistance while planting AK47 rifles beside corpses to make it appear that they had died in combat. 'It would always be an AK because they have so many of these lying around,' said Joe Hatcher, 26, a scout with the 4th Calvary Regiment. He revealed the army also planted 9mm handguns and shovels to make it look like the civilians were shot while digging a hole for a roadside bomb.
Part of it has to do with the group pressures they are under. As in many stressful situations with poorly educated troops, the macho types tend to rule. Leaders don't back up those who are more sensitive and want to be careful. Junior Officers are more worried about being criticized for acting to cautiously and getting one of their troops hurt. But caution against offending innocent life needs to be a very high priority when only a tiny percentage of the homes you search yield insurgents or weapons. Sure, there is danger lurking, but you cannot tear people's houses apart, find nothing, and then walk out with a simple "sorry for the inconvenience." What kind of time savings are gained by rushing through search missions, alienating all the people, and then having to do it time and again because our brand of tactics create mass hatred for America in the local populace?
Yes, there are numerous examples of kindly deeds done by many of our solders and I do not want to depreciate those good men. However, the bad deeds are so prevalent and so systematically accepted within the military hierarchy that the good deeds pale in comparison. Much emphasis is placed on "winning the hearts and minds" of a conquered people, but those efforts are largely futile when mixed with these harsh security searches.
World Affairs Brief, July 13, 2007. Commentary and Insights on a Troubled World.
Copyright Joel Skousen. Partial quotations with attribution permitted. Cite source as Joel Skousen's World Affairs Brief  <http://www.worldaffairsbrief.com> http://www.worldaffairsbrief.com



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