- WHY WE ARE LOSING IN IRAQ
- 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.
- IRAQ, THE UNTOLD STORY OF US BRUTALITY
- 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
- "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
- "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
- "'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
- "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
- "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
- 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>