17 Apr. 2007

Murder: It's A Professional Career

I was rather surprised last week when Eric Martin, normally an intelligent US contributor to Ozblogistan, came out with this nonsense post in defence of US soldier Mario Lozano, the man who opened fire on the airport-bound car of former Iraq hostage and Italian newspaper journalist Giuliana Sgrena.

Martin implied that domestic politics in Rome are the main reason why an Italian court is today putting Lozano on trial in absentia for murder. He suggests that the Italian court will not be impartial, and throws his support behind a US Army enquiry which has already found Lozano innocent of any wrongdoing.

Martin completely fails to mention that the US and Italian governments have wildly divergent versions of exactly what happened that day:
The United States says Sgrena's vehicle was moving at least 50 mph, while Italy says that it was closer to 30 - and that it stopped before being fired upon.

The United States says there were warnings, but Sgrena has denied this, saying the flashing lights and bullets - 58, she said, quoting Italian investigators - came simultaneously.
The quote above comes from a New York Post story (highly sympathetic to Lozano) from which Martin otherwise quotes copiously. Strange how Eric missed that. Maybe it had something to do with his big night at "the Armory" farewelling a close friend from the Fightin' 69th?

It is worth noting here that the Italian case against Lozano is not a witch-hunt aimed at stringing him up, but an attempt to get a full explanation about the circumstances surrounding this tragedy, which have been hushed up by the US Military. And that in turn is likely to lead to a fuller disclosure of the unhealthy links between the Bush and Berlusconi governments, and the lies that got us into this war in the first place. For example, that “16 words” Yellowgate intelligence hoax was originally sourced by Italian intelligence, with whom US neocons like Michael Ledeen have strong ties.

Putting himself in Lozano's shoes, Eric Martin says he would have done exactly the same thing:
Let me tell you, if my finger is on the trigger (or thumbs in the instance of a .50 cal IIRC), I would opt for the occupants of the car just about every time.

I wouldn’t do so without remorse, but that’s war. And that’s human nature. To expect our soldiers - aware of the numerous attacks from Vehicle Borne Explosive Devices (VBEDS) at such checkpoints - to behave any other way is as unrealistic as it is dangerous for them. Our soldiers deserve the benefit of the doubt in such matters.
Note the cool reference to V-beds. I bet he got that one from the Armory.

Martin says soldiers "don’t have a choice, and a system that would give soldiers a choice would be a system that eats itself".

They do have a choice, and they must have a choice. They are of course human beings. The idea that they do not have a choice is just an illusion drilled into them with training. It is also a comfortable illusion for those who plot and plan wars on paper (or even blogs). And, as modern history shows quite clearly, the military system actually DOES "eat itself", leading to ever more wars, death and suffering, albeit supposedly in defence of those disinterested civilians who always become the most widespread victims.

Eric Martin seems to think that such carnage is inevitable due to the limitations of our "human nature", and therefore must be endured. But surely human nature can and must rise above such barbarity?

We, the people of this world, should urgently be working to terminate military spending and stop the industrial production of weaponry all over the globe. We need to genuinely commit ourselves and our govermnets to the moral principles which we so loudly proclaim.

We, who still enjoy something close to democracy, need to hold our War Criminal governments responsible for the Iraq War outrage. And we need to start by re-committing ourselves to upholding the visionary post-WWII International Laws which basically provide a hard-earned blueprint for lasting peace on Earth.

The governments who led this illegal invasion have done their best to delegitimize the UN, the International Criminal Court and any other international laws and treaties that might embarrass or restrict them. A fully-supported ICC in particular would go a long way - in the long run - to ensuring that future despots like Saddam and Kim Jong-Il (even Bush, Blair and Howard) are contained before they can do too much damage. It would even - I venture to say - help ensure that atrocities like Rwanda and Darfur are nipped in the bud.

The time is now. We, the people, need to start looking upon our bloated military forces as murdering, anachronistic, counter-productive and wasteful.

Does that sound harsh? Well, ask yourself this: how did Lozano get himself into that dreadful situation in the first place?

When you sign up with the armed forces, you are agreeing to kill people, on order, without question. That’s the deal.

Soldiers are trained to not think independently. The orders in Iraq are to shoot first and ask questions later. Lozano did exactly as he was trained and ordered to do. But that does not make it right. The only soldiers who have acquitted themselves admirably in Iraq are those who have refused to go there, or those who have deserted. The rest are no better than the paid Blackwater mercenaries with whom they nightly down brews in the Green Zone.

Pro-military windbags in the mainstream media have decried Australia's David Hicks as a stupid, gun-loving idiot who foolishly got himself into a situation where he was (knowingly or not) supporting terrorist violence. Every one of our soldiers in Iraq is just as bad, if not worse, and open to exactly the same criticism. I have no sympathy for any of them. Support the troops? Not me, mate.

It is the soldiers like Ehren Watada who are showing real courage in this war. Not self-pitying fools like Lozano.

Lozano’s checkpoint was just one of many. Nicola Calipari’s death was just one more civilian death in a bloody war that intentionally and repeatedly targets civilians.

That's right.

The US military has already paid out $US32 million to civilians in Iraq for wrongful deaths and injuries. Another million has gone to citizens of Afghanistan. The figure rose from $5 million in 2004 to almost $20 million in 2006. That’s a heck of a lot of collateral damage!

E&P's Greg Mitchell provides some examples from the US Army’s own records, including this one:
“Claimant’s son and a friend were fishing, in a small boat, 15 kilometers north of Tikrit on the Tigres river at 2200 hours on 31 March 2005. The claimant and his son had fished the Tigres many nights recently, but the father did not join his son this night. U.S. Forces helicopters were flying overhead, like they usually did and there were no problems.

“A U.S. Forces HMMWV patrol pulled up to the beach near where they were fishing. The patrol had spotted and destroyed a boat earlier in the evening that had an RPG in it. They set off an illumination round and then opened fre. The claimant’s only son was shot and killed. His friend was injured, but managed to get the boat to the other side of the river. At the small village across the river they received medical help and were taken to the hospital. But, it was too late for the claimant’s son.

“The claimant and his son were huge supporters of democracy and up to this day held meetings and taught there friends about democracy. The claimant provided two witness statements, medical records, a death certificate, photographs and a scene sketch, all of which supported his claim.

“Opinion: There is sufficient evidence to indicate that U.S. Forces intentionally killed the claimant’s son. Unfortunately, those forces were involved in security operations at the time. Therefore, this case falls within the combat exception.”
The policy in Iraq is intentionally deadly to civilians, and the US military policy at these checkpoints is a big part of that.
It is widely acknowledged that the US “rules of engagement” for these checkpoints contravene the Geneva convention. Even British military commanders have said so. Of course, it makes no sense if the real goal is to win over the “hearts and minds” of Iraqis and spread true democracy. But clearly that is not now and never was the true goal of the invasion.

The whole point of the Iraq invasion is not to militarily defeat an enemy force, but to subjugate the civilian population. Why? Because this is the only way that Cheney’s Big Oil friends will be able to exploit Iraq’s oil resources. The US military’s relentless over-the-top violence is no more an accident than the torture used at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.

Again, what’s the point of killing innocent people, making blood enemies and destroying any moral prestige you may have had, if your real goal is to bring democratic peace to the region? US grunts on the ground in Iraq treat the locals as “untermenschen” and are quite happy to kill as many of them as necessary, innocent or not, just to ensure that they get their own sorry asses back to their flatscreen TVs in Iowa.

If Lozano was justified in killing an innocent non-combatant then all other soldiers in Iraq are also justified in their killings, even of innocents. And by the same logic, I suppose, the Iraqi resistance fighters are also justified in their killing, even of innocents. And certainly they are justified in their killing of the soldiers who have killed their families and destroyed their houses. No? So where does it all end? Where do YOU draw the line?

Eric’s argument boils down to the Jack Nicholson Defense. T whit: Lucky pacifists like me, whose taxpayer dollars fund the globalized corporate war machine, and for whom our galant heroes in uniform systematically slaughter innocent people, are “afforded the luxury of staying above the fray”. Any discomfort that may cause is just “aloofness”.

Martin's attitude is of course highly prevelant in society, particularly among soldiers themselves:
“On several occasions,” Giammatteo said, “I, and others I have spoken to, felt that we were being judged as if we chose our nation’s foreign policy and, as a result, received little if any assistance.”
Of course, soldiers do not get to choose their nation’s foreign policy any more than you or I do. But they do get to implement it, personally, when a war is declared. That, after all, is the whole purposes of the Armed Forces. And if they are not prepared to implement their government’s policies, whatever government may be in power, and whatever policies they may adopt, then they should not enlist.

The US Army has now acknowledged that the U.S. military had a policy of shooting approaching civilians in South Korea. Back then, the US military would have been bloody ashamed to admit it had a policy of shooting civilians, now it boasts that such a policy is not only necessary but in fact moral.

The targetting of civilians is also widespread today in Afghanistan.:
American marines reacted to a bomb ambush with excessive force in eastern Afghanistan last month, hitting groups of bystanders and vehicles with machine-gun fire in a series of attacks that covered 10 miles of highway and left 12 civilians dead, including an infant and three elderly men, according to a report published by an Afghan human rights commission on Saturday…

One victim, a 16-year-old newly married girl, was cut down while she was carrying a bundle of grass to her family’s farmhouse, according to her family and the report. A 75-year-old man walking to his shop was hit by so many bullets that his son said he did not recognize the body when he came to the scene...

The deputy director of the human rights commission, Nader Nadery, warned that attacks like the highway shooting had greatly contributed to outrage in Afghanistan, contradicting efforts by coalition forces to win people’s support away from the Taliban. “This is not an isolated case” he said. “People are realizing more that they are a victim of the conflict from both sides, from the Taliban and from the international operations.”
Mind you, such policies are hardly surprising given that the architects of this war are pople like Juan “Honduran Death Squads” Negroponte and Iyad “CIA destablisation of Saddam through bombing of civilicans” Allawi. Incidentally, Lozano’s checkpoint was only there to protect the passage of a Negroponte convey.

The military sucks. Soldiers suck. War sucks. It is an immoral, disgraceful, money-sucking farce.

We will never stop wars like Iraq from happening again and again around the globe if even anti-war activists continue to insist that soldiers are brave and honourable, and killings like Lozano's are not only justifiable, but in fact acts of bravery and honour.

Lozano outraged Calipari's family by speaking to the US press but refusing to attend the trial in Italy. Now his lawyer has further outraged them:
Mr Lozano's lawyer, Alberto Biffani, said his client had no formal knowledge of the trial proceedings.

Lawyer Franco Coppi called that statement "an insult" and accused Mr Lozano of "a form of arrogance".
It sure doesn't look like Lozano is trying to be very co-operative, does it? Not much sign of repentance either.

The US military is also refusing to coperate with a British investigation into a March 2003 crash which killed 12 soldiers. And so it goes...

When it comes to lies, stalling and even threats, the US Military has lots and lots of form:
The US military at first reported that the Iraqis, among them seven women and three children, had died in the bomb blast and subsequent firefight, but later said that was incorrect.

There was no full US investigation into what happened until three months after the event when video footage taken by a local human rights activist of the aftermath reached Time Magazine.

Once their report showed flaws in the initial marine statement, an investigation began.
24 Iraqis, including 11 women and children, died that day in Haditha. A year and a half later, a military judge is still trying to decide if there is enough evidence to convene a court martial.

And of course those well-paid ex-soldiers are also enjoying the killing spree in Iraq:
Isireli Naucukidi who was part of the group with 3 former US soldiers said their leader, Jacob Washbourne shot a 70 year old Iraqi taxi driver at point blank range as target practice and then laughed with the other two American soldiers after being told that it was a "NICE SHOT".

The BBC's John Simpson unfortunately echoes Eric Martin's "don't blame the soldiers" meme, but has some illuminating observations nonetheless:
The killing of Nicola Calipari was only a better publicised example of what usually happens when American soldiers kill someone by accident - there is a brief internal enquiry, which tends to find that the action was justified. End of story.

Some of the worst "friendly fire" cases of the 2003 invasion were never properly investigated. The killing of the British ITV television team, headed by the distinguished reporter Terry Lloyd, for instance.

When 18 people, including my Kurdish translator, were killed in a bombing incident during the invasion, we were assured that a proper investigation would be held.

Nothing more has ever been heard about it

If American soldiers, understandably nervous and rarely trained for the job of patrolling foreign streets, know that even if they kill a man as prominent as Nicola Calipari, nothing will happen to them, it is scarcely much of an incentive to be careful.

The British army learned a difficult and sometimes painful lesson in Northern Ireland about operating successfully in a hostile environment.

Holding ordinary soldiers, the unfortunate grunts on the front line, to account for what they do is a part of it.

But there has to be a change of attitude at the top as well.
More specifically:
There was a time when the British army behaved like that in Northern Ireland: jittery, resentful, too quick to fire, an easy target.

Thirty-five years ago, in Belfast and Derry, I saw British soldiers behaving just as aggressively towards local people as the Americans do in Iraq.
Aftermath of suicide car bomb attack
Checkpoints have been targeted by suicide bombers

That was before it dawned on the British army that if they treated every passer-by as an enemy, it wouldn't be long before every passer-by was an enemy.

The army's eventual success against the IRA in Northern Ireland owed a great deal to this basic change of attitude.