I’ve taken down my flags and put them away until after the war is over. I love my flag and my country as much as ever, but I’m mourning actions that have been committed by our troops, under our banner.
Jim Henley has been writing about this in Unqualified Offerings, eloquently and at some length. Start here. Jim’s actually been keeping an eye on the prisoner abuse issue for some time. So has Talk Left. Rivka’s last three posts need to be read.
The military bloggers have been taking it hard. Sgt. Stryker comprehensively denounced the responsible parties in full NCO style. Arkhangel and Citizen Smash are furious. (Those links courtesy of Jim Henley; there’ll be more.)
News over the weekend was that apparently British forces have been abusing prisoners in Iraq as well. The story got kicked around a little, with some questions being raised about the authenticity of the photos, but the Daily Mirror hasn’t budged on the story.As of this morning, the unnamed soldiers from the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment who originally released the photos have also announced that they’re standing pat. As the BBC reported it:
“We stand by every single word of our story. This happened. It is not a hoax and the Army knows a lot more has happened.”
One said: “Maybe the officers don’t know what is going on - but everybody else does. I have seen literally hundreds of pictures.”
Doubts were cast over the weekend about photos published in Saturday’s Mirror appearing to show a hooded man being struck with a rifle butt, urinated on and having a gun held to his head. But the two soldiers who gave these images to the paper say they represent only the tip of the iceberg.
In Monday’s Mirror the soldiers, who wish to remain anonymous, claim many pictures were destroyed in September when the troops’ luggage was searched as they left Iraq. They also detail other alleged incidents of brutality towards local people, including a baton attack which left a prisoner with a compound fracture to his arm.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said the authorities were not aware of other photos of prisoners being mistreated or of a culture of trading pictures. “If people have got evidence of such activity, then they should bring it to the attention of the Army authorities. We won’t stand for activity like that,” he said. …The Mirror’s editor Piers Morgan earlier said the alleged abuse had been “common knowledge among disgusted British servicemen in Basra for months”.
This morning’s other news is that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the highest-ranking U.S. commander in Iraq, has recommended issuing a severe administrative rebuke to six officers responsible for supervising the Abu Ghraib prison. A seventh will receive an admonitory letter.
I know those aren’t trivial actions—those officers’ careers are now dead in the water—but reprimands and admonitions aren’t the language we should be hearing just now. Not when the Army’s other actions have been to replace the officer in charge of Abu Ghraib with the guy who’s been running the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and to report that a high-level investigation of prisoner interrogation techniques in Iraq has found no evidence that abuse by U.S. military police or intelligence officers is widespread. That report was fast work. It also accords strangely with stories like this one, weeks old at this point, which said that senior British commanders had condemned the U.S. military’s tactics and its attitude toward the Iraqi people.Stuff like this is not going to reassure anyone that the U.S. military is addressing the problem. As Sen. Joseph Biden said yesterday on Fox News Sunday,
I don’t get the sense that they understand what an incredible sense of urgency there is here to get this straight, to let the whole world know who—names, places, times—who.No kidding. We’re being denounced all over the world. We could hardly have done ourselves a worse injury in Iraq.
No one’s going to believe in the Arab world, no one’s going to believe in Europe, no one’s going to—many people are not going to believe in the United States of America, that in fact we are earnest about this, until they see somebody, somebody—even the names. Look, if there was a criminal defendant arrested, we’d give their name.We should demonstrate to the Arab world that this is urgent. This is the single most significant undermining act that’s occurred in a decade in that region of the world, in terms of our standing.
It is now impossible for us to win this war. I’ve thought so ever since the Iraqis’ spontaneous mass resupply of Fallujah in the first week of April. When the other side is getting the miracles, it’s time to think seriously about bailing. And they did; no doubt about it. Here’s a good summary of that story, if you missed it.The short version is that Shiites are in the majority in Iraq, but under Saddam Hussein the Sunnis had the power, and some of them weren’t gentle about using it. And Fallujah isn’t just a Sunni-dominated area:
The level of sympathy for Fallujah in Shia areas is remarkable because the city once formed a backbone of support for Saddam Hussein’s regime, and was home to many officers in his intelligence services and Republican Guard. Some of those Baath Party loyalists were responsible for the brutal suppression of a 1991 Shia rebellion in southern Iraq, in which tens of thousands of people were buried in mass graves.But when the rest of Iraq saw what we were doing in Fallujah, their ethnic and religious differences evaporated. All of a sudden you were getting amazing quotes like “No Sunnis, no Shiites, yes for Islamic unity,” the marchers chanted. “We are Sunni and Shiite brothers and will never sell our country.” Here’s a report from the Lebanon Daily Star about the response in one Baghdad neighborhood:
Baghdad’s Muslims have been rushing food and medical supplies to their local mosque for delivery to the beleaguered residents of Fallujah. Since the mosque imam in Baghdad’s Adhamiya district set up his appeal last week, the response has been phenomenal. The mosque courtyard has been transformed into a giant warehouse filled with white UN bags containing rice or beans, boxes of vegetables and bottles of oil and water. …In a lot of cases, people were simply gathering up whatever supplies and transportation they could muster, and heading for Fallujah to deliver it in person. They broke through U.S. roadblocks to get there. This is from Helen Williams, a Welsh humanitarian aid worker:
“It took only an appeal from the imam and the faithful from the neighborhood flocked with supplies and medicines for the besieged residents of Fallujah,” said Monder Moslah, a mosque security guard. On Saturday, a supply convoy sent by ethnic Turkmen from the northern city of Kirkuk arrived, he added, highlighting what he said was a national example of solidarity by all Iraqi communities. …Iraq’s Christian Chaldean minority, which fears an emergence of an Islamic republic, expressed support for the Fallujah residents. Father Butros Haddad, who heads the Virgin Mary church in Baghdad’s Karrada district, said the patriarchate Saturday donated some $1 million to buy food and medicine for Fallujah residents.
People were shouting good luck to us and blessing/thanking us for going to Fallujah. At one junction some boys threw bread and cake into the bus for us.I’m sorry I can’t find more photos. It was one of those improbable events—not quite on the scale of the evacuation of Dunkirk, but definitely beating out Joffre’s reserves getting to the Battle of the Marne courtesy of the Paris taxi fleet. And the focus of this sudden, miraculous sense of unity and resolve was their determination to have us get the hell out of their country.
As we approached Fallujah on these back roads they deteriorated, becoming no more than a bumpy dirt track, barely two cars wide. Coming the other way were cars full of families and their possessions and vehicles with signs on them reading “Aid to Fallujah - from the people of Hilla/Nagaf/Ramadi” for example.It seemed that all the people of Iraq, whether Shia, Sunni or Christian wanted to help Fallujah with whatever they could - water (there is no clean drinking water in Fallujah), blankets, food or medical aid - it was wonderful to see.
Mind, all that was before they saw the souvenir snapshots of our troops grinning while they tortured and humiliated Iraqi prisoners.
If both cases that we know of so far are primarily documented via snapshot, there are lots of other cases where they didn’t take pictures.
How many guys are we going to be bringing home who’ve added behavior like that to their personal strategic arsenal? That’s one of the problems you get when you let your troops misbehave overseas: they come home knowing how to do things no one should know how to do.
Why are we torturing guys in Abu Ghraib, and putting them through intensive interrogation, when we’re supposedly pulling out on June 30? (For that matter, why are we bothering to attack Fallujah? Is “getting out of Iraq” going to be one of those George-things, like declaring the war is over when it isn’t?)
As I said, it’s now impossible for us to win this war. We can still win specific military actions, albeit not as easily or as certainly as we might have done a year or two ago; but that’s not the same thing. The immediate goal of battle is to persuade the other guys to give up and stop fighting that day. The longer-range goal is to persuade the other guys to stop fighting the war, because that way you don’t have to fight more battles.
So much depends on how they feel about it. They may stop fighting, or never fight in the first place, if that seems reasonable or advantageous to them. At the other end of the spectrum, they may only stop fighting when it becomes physically impossible for them to continue. It’s the difference between the Anschluss and the Siege of Stalingrad.
Our standard military doctrine—that body of plans and analyses and preparations that Rumsfeld personally, repeatedly, explicitly insisted on throwing out the window during the run-up to this war—makes it easy for the other guy to find it reasonable to quit fighting. You go in with overwhelming force. You don’t just operate in the enemy’s territory; you take control of the area in which you’re operating. You choose what you’re going to attack, and how and when you’re going to attack it, which helps maximize the effectiveness of things you do, and minimize the collateral damage while you’re doing it.
Ideally, this makes the other guys think, “[Bleep], there’s no percentage in keeping up the fight.” And since you’ve been careful to minimize collateral damage, maintain order in the area you control, and behave yourself in an honorable and professional manner, the other guys don’t feel like they have to do the doomed self-sacrifice thing to keep you away from their wives, children, homes, and miscellaneous valuables.
It’s easier to behave yourself well when you have some degree of control of the area around you, and you’re not grossly understaffed. Help maintain civil order, and civil order will help maintain you. Besides, going in at full strength means you’re taking fewer people in with you who don’t answer to the UCMJ. That’s good. If someone misbehaves, the locals can’t be relied on to make fine distinctions about the terms on which that person is employed.
But we didn’t do that. Rumsfeld is on record as repeatedly insisting that we go with only a fraction as many troops as the professional military planners said we absolutely had to have. It’s been a complete mess. Only the quality of our troops has kept it from being more of a shambles than it is. So what do we have instead? Looting and general destruction, because we didn’t have the resources to maintain even minimal public order. Soldiers going down every day, killed by ambushes and booby traps and RPGs. No manpower to secure nuclear sites, which is why yellowcake from one of Iraq’s nuclear plants recently turned up on a barge in the Netherlands—and isn’t that an interesting thought! Reservists serving overseas far longer than they’d ever expected, and no relief in sight. Overstretched, overstrained, badly-provided-for troops having to do impossible jobs on little or no training.
I don’t excuse anyone’s misbehavior, but this is Bush and Rumsfeld’s war, and they’ve made a complete mess of it, and put our guys in an impossible situation where bad things are bound to happen. Bush has said he’s appalled by those photos. Hell, a dog would be appalled by those photos. But where’s the apology? Where’s the acknowledgement that it happened on his watch? Where’s Rumsfeld’s acknowledgement of fault? They wanted to be in command positions. In a democracy, taking the heat is part of the job.
And there’s one other thing that’s bothering me. I went to high school in my native land. I know from American stupid and American mean. But what I’m seeing in these photos and reports doesn’t look like the kind of mean shit a bunch of young Americans would come up with on their own. It’s not improvisational enough. Nobody’s dragged their personal kinks or their alma mater’s mascot into it, and none of it is funny. Instead, there’s something slick, something creepily knowledgeable about it. And those grins on the soldiers’ faces aren’t the grins of people who’re making it all up as they go along. If they were doing that, they’d look more serious, more intent on what they were doing. They’d be thinking about the task, trying to figure it out and get it right. I could be completely wrong about this, but I swear, those facial expressions look to me like the grins of people who’re doing what they’ve been taught.
Anybody want to bet me a bottle of decent hootch that somewhere in this story, there’s at least one person and possibly more who attended the School of the Americas?