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April 5, 2010

Fighting them here so we can keep on fighting them there
Posted by Avram Grumer at 09:59 PM *

So, apparently if you’re a bunch of goofballs with a fake language who are just talking about killing a cop, waiting for people to show up at his funeral, and then shooting them too, all in the name of freedom from tyranny, that’s a serious crime, and the government will raid you and the media will post all sorts of stories about how scary you are.

If, in the other hand, you’re a US military helicopter crew who actually kill a bunch of Iraqi civilians, including a pair of journalists, and then, when some people (including two children) show up in a van to help the wounded and collect the bodies, shoot them too, all in the name of freedom from tyranny, the government will spend two years blocking Freedom of Information Act requests for the video of the event, and when the story finally breaks on the Internet, the media will spend their time talking about Tiger Woods and the iPad.

Update, a couple of hours later: OK, the news media are starting to pick the story up:

Another Update: Link moved to avoid the appearance of chiding a co-blogger.

Comments on Fighting them here so we can keep on fighting them there:
#1 ::: JoeNotCharles ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2010, 11:07 PM:

My google news feed today was:

11-year old girl raped
16-year old boy arrested for attempted murder
Outrage over pardon for hockey coach molester
Ex-air force base commander charged with multiple rape and murder attempts suicide in cell
Food tampering copycats hit 7 more grocery stores
Amputee's body found in alley ruled a homicide

And now this.

I was actually relieved to see Tiger Woods when I turned on the TV news.

#2 ::: Larry ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2010, 11:15 PM:

Yeah Joe@#1. Mine was about a couple murdered that just got engaged, afghan killings, shootings in time square, priest rape of a young girl, and some flash mob kids shooting people with bb guns.

And these militia guys were scary, pol need to know that these nuts exist. Given the chance they'd have done what they said.

#3 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2010, 11:16 PM:

Tiger Woods has an iPad? COOL!

#4 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2010, 11:26 PM:

But Avram, the Hutaree were going to kill white people. And Americans. The MSM know full well that Americans don't care about a bunch of brown Iraqis! Brown people aren't interesting.

Oh, wait, Tiger Woods. That's not it, apparently.

#5 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2010, 11:31 PM:

Elsewhere, reading comments on posts about this same story, I've seen people saying that they see RPGs or other weapons being held by the Iraqis, therefore it was okay for the helicopter crews to shoot them.
Even though the video apparently doesn't show the Iraqis doing anything that even hints that they're intending anything against the helicopters, even though weapons are apparently pretty commonly carried by civilians in Iraq, even though the choppers were hovering for several minutes without anyone in the group on the ground paying any attention to them.
Also that the chopper crews apparently didn't even try to check things out with scopes or binoculars before they started shooting, and that their conversation sounds a lot like twenty-somethings with a video game.

In any case, shooting people trying to help the wounded is a war crime. So is shooting civilians in general, especially unarmed civilians, even in a war zone.

(Note: I haven't watched the video myself. I'm a bit faint-hearted on that one.)

#6 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2010, 11:57 PM:

That photographer might have had a picture of an RPG in his camera.

#7 ::: sody pop ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 12:26 AM:

The iPad plays video, so maybe after some analyst gets tired of flipping an iPad from landscape to portrait orientation and back, he'll play the wikilinks footage on it.

#8 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 12:39 AM:

Fortunately there's a good, clean, honourable war going on in Afghanistan.


#9 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 01:37 AM:

I'm not a helo pilot, nor do I have any relevant training. I've have seen the video. I forced myself to watch.

If you're expecting to see weapons, I think you see weapons. There was one thing there that looks an awful lot like a largeish gun (ak47), and not like any photo equipment I've ever seen. If you're expecting to see cameras, that RPG looks a lot like a Canon 70-200/2.8, hood, and a 1D body. The dark splotches could be cameras on a redistrap, or they could be sidearms. But from a mile away through a gunsight camera, who knows. None of them were taking pictures or doing anything that looked camera like. But then, I have no idea if they looked like insurgents either.

The tape sounds like the group of people is a few blocks from a ground force, one that would be in danger from sniper or RPG fire. What do you do? If you're young and shellshocked, Iraq is a continual emergency, and there are really people out to get you. Probably safer to shoot first. Is it a crime? If it is, it's a far smaller one than the original sin of starting the damn war.

I still can't believe that we were stupid enough to get involved in a land war in the Middle East.

#10 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 01:41 AM:

Thank goodness for outrage fatigue.

#11 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 02:11 AM:

Eric @9: Is it a crime? If it is, it's a far smaller one than the original sin of starting the damn war.

Well, yes.

Let me be clear here: Those copter pilots were in an awful situation. The Iraqis on the ground were in an even awfuller one. My anger is directed at the people who tried to cover this footage up, in an attempt to hide from Americans just how awful things get in Iraq.

Our government likes to portray war as an ennobling endeavor, and our soldiers as liberators. Hiding the truth of war is one of their techniques.

#12 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 04:34 AM:

This made the front page of The Guardian on Monday.

Point of note: Iraqi families are legally entitled to own one (1) AK-47 for family defense, due to the problem with banditry, sectarianism, and general mayhem. It's also worth noting that a Reuters camera team would be a juicy ransom target, and so would probably travel with an armed escort.

I notice Eric @9 is not commenting on the murder of children.

Methinks his silence speaks volumes.

#13 ::: Chris D ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 05:41 AM:

I watched the first part of the video. I had to switch off just as the pilot was lining up for the shot. You'd think twenty years of violent computer games would have desensitised me by now but apparently not.

The only way you could have seen weapons was if you wanted to see them. The body language was clearly just of people out for a stroll. That might have been the most shocking part, that you could see people relaxed and walking down the street and just open fire without any kind of need to be sure there was a threat.

#14 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 05:59 AM:

It's the front-page story at right this minute.


Newly released video shows a 2007 attack by a U.S. Apache helicopter in Iraq. Several people were killed in the attack, two of them journalists. The helicopter crew members believed they were firing on armed insurgents. FULL STORY

#15 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 06:36 AM:

Avram, I find it hard to believe you really intend to suggest that Teresa is complicit in some large pattern of media hypocrisy, simply because she found it interesting to write about the Hutaree "militia" on a day in March, 2010. But that's how your choice of link in your first paragraph reads, both by itself and in the larger context of where you go with it.

I wouldn't have thought this would come as a surprise to you, but you know, I'm actually not in favor of US helicopter crews killing civilians, of the government trying to cover it up when it happens, or of the news media ignoring it when the story finally comes out. I think these are Really Bad Things. Moreover, without even waking up Teresa at 6:30 AM this Tuesday morning in order to ask her, I'm willing to confidently guess that she feels the same way.

Another thing I'm not in favor of is the kind of holier-than-thou game, primarily (in my experience) practiced by certain left-wingers but occasionally deployed by libertarians as well, wherein the player seizes on something I said deploring some enormity out there in the world, and then cites some greater travesty elsewhere with cries of "Yeah well, what about THAT, huh, huh? Don't see you being very concerned about THAT." Like, buh? I wasn't writing about THAT. I'm not the New York Times, I'm an intermittent blogger. If I post about milk cartons that don't open right, it doesn't mean I approve of summary executions in China.

I don't think this is what you're trying to do, but when you frame it the way you did with that first link, that's kind of how it feels.

#16 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 06:47 AM:

I could understand shooting at a group of people with what might look like guns. But shooting on unarmed civilians trying to aid a crawling wounded? That's always legally and morally wrong, regardless of the war. Horrible.

(This is why even NATO personnel often don't want any US military around: too trigger-happy for their own good.)

#17 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 07:20 AM:

That is an extraordinarily frightening video.

#18 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 07:24 AM:

When you're reading the transcript, be advised that the brevity code "Sweet" (which they do not gloss, although they do gloss other prowords and brevity codes) means "Operating/operated correctly."

#19 ::: Yarrow ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 08:00 AM:

Patrick, I read Avram's link as "here's a pointer to lots of links to media coverage of the Hutaree" rather than a swipe at Teresa. (It would have been much better to have made the link from "the media will post all sorts of stories"; but mistakes happen.)

#20 ::: Yarrow ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 08:08 AM:

I think they may have missed the fact that "sweet" was a brevity code, given the context:

36:49 Firing.
36:53 There it goes! Look at that bitch go!
36:56 Patoosh!
37:03 Ah, sweet.
37:07 Need a little more room.
37:09 Nice missile.
37:11 Does it look good?
37:12 Sweet!
37:16 Uh, you ready?
37:18 Roger.

#21 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 08:12 AM:

The Hutaree are, however malicious, also actively ridiculous and have a known body count of zero.

The Unites States Army is not ridiculous; it's probably not significantly malicious; and it has a body count in the neighborhood of some plenty lots.

This event is unusual only in the degree of media attention, presumably due to the stubborn efforts of the reporter's colleagues; events like this one happen regularly, and could be predicted to be certain to happen regularly by anyone competent looking at the frequency and length of combat deployments being undertaken by the US Army.

And no, I don't know what you do when the guy you elected to get you out of the swamp reverses himself and starts throwing more blood and treasure at it. Starting a lot of public outcry over equating "weak" to "ceasing to do evil" doesn't seem possible, though it might be worth a try.

#22 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 08:37 AM:

When you start a war you do so knowing that incidents like this will happen.

You do so knowing that there will be friendly fire incidents, where your troops fire on your own troops who are in uniform and operating where they are supposed to be.

That is why war should only be started for the very best of reasons and only when there is no alternative.

This video has not changed my opinion of this war.

#23 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 09:14 AM:

The incident hasn't changed my opinion of the war either. That says more about my prior opinion of the war than about the incident.

NPR this morning seemed bemused that in light of the uptick in insurgent violence - on the fuzzy line between sectarian and politically partisan at this point - the proposed draw-down of troops in September hasn't come off the table. They ought to be bemused that anyone thinks the Iraqi power brokers can sort anything out for themselves with US troops still looking over their shoulders. We could say the same about Hamid Karzai; as long as US troops are handling security for the Mayor of Kabul, public pressure to end his corruption can't touch him.

#24 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 09:47 AM:

For what it's worth, Patrick, that's not at all how I perceived Avram's link; I simply saw it as a useful indication of background and as a continuation of our ongoing conversation on this site, not as an implicit accusation of collusion.

On a somewhat related note, the New York Times today is reporting that Obama will "limit when U.S. would use nuclear arms." Obama has introduced policy stating that the US will not use nukes against non-nuclear nations, "even if they attacked the United States with biological or chemical weapons or launched a crippling cyberattack." I find this an excellent policy, one that perhaps justifies his election.

But this phrase "even ... launched a crippling cyberattack" really perturbs me. It tells me that the NYT is casting this in such a way that if I, Joe American, can't get to my ATM, I am perfectly justified in ordering the violent and fiery deaths of a hundred thousand children somewhere.

#25 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 10:47 AM:

The LA Times picked it up but buried it on their web site - it was far from the top of their international news page.

#26 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 11:13 AM:

And we let people like this control nuclear weapons?

You don't? Sorry, General, you've already been proved a liar.

#27 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 11:29 AM:

Michael #24:

One argument for leaving a bit of ambiguity about our nuclear response to some devastating non-nuclear attack is that we would like some extra deterrence. Though in practice, if someone manages to, say, kill a million Americans with some nasty contagious engineered virus, I don't think this kind of prior statement will have much weight. (Though it seems unlikely that we'll have a known return address.)

#28 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 11:36 AM:
Charlie: I notice Eric @9 is not commenting on the murder of children.

Methinks his silence speaks volumes.

Jim@22 says it better than me. As for the children, I think the first anyone realized of them was when they were taken from the van. I certainly didn't see them in the van. I can see them in slomo, zoomed in, and with captions.

If I were in that position, I don't know that I'd make different choices. I hope so. But I don't know. The only way to not make that mistake is to not get into the position of needing to make that choice.

#29 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 01:10 PM:

The critical lesson here is: our sources of information are compromised. We can't know exactly what is happening in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Yemen, in Somalia, in Pakistan, in Iran, or in whatever other godforsaken, ungovernable, remote place we next decide to go to blow more people up. Occasionally, a little information leaks out from these pointless exercises in bloodshed and misery, always with an attached story of great good luck in collecting the evidence, and of some huge struggle to get the information released. (These are always labeled as the exception and not the rule.)

We know there have been several places where we've been explicitly and overtly lied to. (Remember the file clerk who made a brave last stand, then was captured, and was rescued heroically from Iraqis planning to torture, rape, and ransom her? Only it turned out later that she was knocked out at the beginning of the battle, and that the Iraqi soldiers took her to a nearby civilian hospital to get her wounds treated? Remember Pat Tillman's heroic death fighting our enemies. Er, I mean, being shot by other American forces by accident? Remember how the abuses at Abu Girab were isolated mistreatment by a few crazies? Who just happened to be following our formal policy of torturing prisoners?) For every one of these official lies that has been uncovered, there must be hundreds that weren't uncovered. (Remember how we'd only "splashed a little water in the face" of three prisoners? Only then later it came out that more than a hundred prisoners were known to have died under interrogation (aka, they were tortured to death) by our soldiers and spies?)

Our main media sources have been explicitly spun, as with the "network military consultants" who were getting talking points from the pentagon, and who also had financial interests that required keeping the pentagon happy with them. Several journalists with intelligence sources were told they were under surveillance, and presumably this sort of surveillance has also helped spin their reporting. We have examples of this extending even to home, as with the TV news blackout of the whole pentagon military consultant story, the minimization of coverage of antiwar protests, and the creepy void of information surrounding the breakup/harrassment of protesters at the RNC in St Paul.

We don't know what the fuck is happening in our wars. We have only a rough idea what's happening even in our own country. (Remember the ICE secret prisons? A network of secret prisons, into which people can be and have been disappeared, and how many years has it been running before it came to light. And when it did, no consequences for anyone, no significant outcry, no changes. How many other secret detention places are there in the US? How many people are there? How would we even know[1]?)

I don't know how to make things better from here. But the first step is realizing that our sensors are largely owned by the bad guys. Sometimes, the truth leaks through, but a huge amount of what we see isn't reflecting reality at all, or is substantially distorting it. This makes it almost hopeless to have a debate about, say, the right way to deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan, or to converse intelligently about whether our use of drones makes sense as a counterterrorism policy. Our situation is very much like that of Soviet citizens in 1960, trying to make sense of the rights and wrongs of various cold war nastiness and the nuclear balance of terror.

[1] If lots of people obviously start disappearing, we'd notice, so clearly there can't be too many people in some kind of secret detention here. But are there any? Before the ICE secret prison story, I'd probably have guessed none. Now? How would I know?

#30 ::: Raka ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 01:22 PM:

albatross @27: "Though it seems unlikely that we'll have a known return address."

And since America would *never* strike out in blind panic at a completely unrelated target after we are attacked, the world can sleep soundly tonight.

#31 ::: Mattathias ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 01:30 PM:

I fear the events in the video are an expected consequence of war. Protocols of all kinds have opportunities for error, be they social conventions, drug development protocols, manufacturing protocols, publication processes, or any other situation in which people have codified best practices into rulesets in an attempt to produce standard results from fallible people. Wartime rules of engagement are not excepted.

My longstanding objection to our participation in armed conflict initiated by the prior administration was that, leaving aside any consideration of whether that administration was competent to wage war, they were manifestly incapable of waging peace, and thus had no business breaking a peace they were incompetent to reinstate. As such, I feared they were not viewing war as a last resort, to be utilized only when no other options of making and preserving a peace remained. I would have enjoyed being proven wrong.

Events through the latter three-quarters of the prior administration have borne out my fear that such administration viewed an ongoing state of war as an acceptable alternative to an ongoing state of peace. Events such as that depicted are a predictable consequence of waging war. The video is new, but the events are not unique or even unusual. Imperfect protocols imperfectly executed, with deadly force available at reflex, result in deaths, some more innocent than others. I am not going to argue the innocence of any of the dead, on either side.

Even the coverup, the suppression of the video and incident, is a predictable consequence of war. An administration fighting a war regards information as a commodity to be suppressed lest the enemy gain exploitable knowledge about protocols.

The great tragedy, the great offense, is not so much the incident, or the coverup, but the perception that war is an acceptable long-term foreign policy. Waging peace ought to be our highest priority, and war a tool of last resort in our mission to wage peace. The inexcusable offense is the propagation of the state of war, with its predictable consequences at home and abroad, as the permanent state in which we raise our children, to which we dedicate our taxes and labour, in which we sacrifice the blood of our relatives and neighbors, and which we bless with our good name and honour.

#32 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 01:36 PM:

Yarrow #20: 36:56 Patoosh!

At first, I thought, whoa, a Kung Fu Panda movie reference, but then I thought, well, that reference had to come from somewhere else first. I never used it while gaming, maybe it's regional.

#33 ::: Mattathias ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 01:49 PM:

albatross @29: I fear that if you can imagine it, it is happening. You should make that assumption unless proven otherwise, and even then, doubt the proof.

#34 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 02:37 PM:

me @32, on further research, Kung Fu Panda was released in 2008, and the war crime video was from 2007, so "patoosh" came from somewhere else; I never got much into first person shooter gaming; there's a fairly complex pattern of speaking from that segment of the gaming populace.

This situation is precisely why the US didn't go forward with supporting the World Court system; policy makers of the Bush era knew that there would be war crime incidents like this, because (I think) the training and leadership failures which lead directly to this kind of behavior were entirely intentional.

#35 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 02:54 PM:

Patrick @15, I meant it just as a link to an earlier information source. But I probably should have either linked the words "bunch of goofballs", or chosen a different link destination.

For me, the similarity between the Hutaree's alleged plan -- kill a cop, then kill the people at his funeral -- and the copter tactics -- kill some Iraqis, then kill the people who show up to pick up the wounded -- was very striking. That's why they're both in this post.

#36 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 03:00 PM:


Our authorities at the time were planning and/or engaged in active, unquestionable war crimes. (Not just random soldiers shooting first and asking questions later, or trying to cover up the consequences of same to avoid getting into trouble. Orders all the way from the top involving the kidnapping, torture, and murder of our supposed enemies and anyone standing too close to them.)

And the idea that nobody other than a few disposable reservists from West Virginia must ever face any consequences for those war crimes has now become the official position of both parties. To propose bringing America's war criminals to justice makes you a far-left nutbar. Even the well-known socialist liberal Muslim Obama administration agrees that no important American may ever be held responsible for these things.

#37 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 03:17 PM:

My progressive credentials are not quite pristine enough for me to consider myself a far-left nutbar (even to satisfy my inclination toward over-analyzed self-deprecation); for example, I used to consider myself a First Amendment extremist, but the utterly despicable actions of the Westboro krewe changed that for me.

#38 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 03:31 PM:

Mattathias #31 As such, I feared they were not viewing war as a last resort, to be utilized only when no other options of making and preserving a peace remained.

No, the purpose of this war was two-fold: 1) To make Bush a "Wartime President," ensuring his election, and 2) to prove to his mom that his dick is bigger than his daddy's.

#39 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 03:47 PM:

albatross @36, perhaps more importantly, even if someone would bring "important" people to trial, I'm not sure if any jury would unanimously convict them. I mean, statistically, at least one of the jurors, and usually two or three, should almost always be gung-ho supporters of the accused, right?

#40 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 03:59 PM:

Avram @35:

For me, the similarity between the Hutaree's alleged plan -- kill a cop, then kill the people at his funeral -- and the copter tactics -- kill some Iraqis, then kill the people who show up to pick up the wounded -- was very striking.

It struck me as familiar too, but I wasn't consciously thinking of the Hutaree. I suspect someone else has also tried this tactic.

#41 ::: Mattathias ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 04:13 PM:

Mr. Macdonald @38: I fear the causes had more to do with the motivations of the puppetmasters pulling Bush's strings, and less to do with the size of Bush's gonads.

The last eight(ish) years in the US have seen the accumulation of monstrous levels of dollar-denominated US government debt. Devaluation of the dollar (dollar inflation) seems inevitable, as a means of reducing US debt to levels that can be serviced. This benefits families that are rich in influence, real estate, commodities, and physical plant (generally the upper class), and harms those counting their wealth primarily in wages and bank accounts (generally the lower and middle classes). I see domestic class warfare in the US being waged by means of a shooting war on foreign soil. The stories about Bush's gonads, weapons of mass destruction, Hussein's suppression of the Iraqis, etc. are cover for public acceptance of the war that breaks their savings and reduces the effective pay of their wages.

#42 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 04:36 PM:

From Slacktivist.

#43 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 04:49 PM:

Mattathias @41, getting something the size of the Iraq War going took a bunch of people working together. There's room in that bunch for multiple motivations.

#44 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 06:04 PM:

...the utterly despicable actions of the Westboro krewe

Oh, come now. Krewe? The Phelps contingent is constitutionally incapable of putting together a Mardi Gras parade or ball. They might at best form a second line, complete with picket signs declaiming that carnival is of the devil, but "Krewe of Westboro" is, I'm afraid, just never going to happen.

[/tongue in cheek]

(I have nothing more useful to contribute to this than random whistles past the graveyard.)

#45 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 06:08 PM:

It seems that claiming that this wasn't getting mentioned in the MSM was a trifle premature, Avram. Two different programs on NPR (World Have Your Say and Talk of the Nation) both had segments on it today; other people have mentioned other places it's showing up). Looks as if you were ahead of the curve by a day.

#46 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 06:10 PM:

I admit that I have used the term "krewe" in a more generic sense than that which it was originally intended.

#47 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 06:57 PM:

Michael Roberts @ 24: The cyberattack bit would disturb me too, had I not reflected upon the extent to which our water, sewage processing systems and electrical grids are computer controlled these days. A hacker hell-bent on mayhem rather than larceny could screw an American city or several into the late Middle Ages.

#48 ::: Micah ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 07:13 PM:

The response to this reminds me of the response with the death-toll of US soldiers rolled past a thousand. When people around me were shocked, I looked at them funny and said, "You thought we could go to war with several hundred-thousand soldiers and not even a thousand of them would die?"

#49 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 07:42 PM:

Micah @ 48:

The Iraq war was sold as a perfect video game: smart bombs and drones in, Muslim deaths out. Worst case for a white hat in that scenario is a loss of life points and return to the beginning of the level. So most of the civilians who supported the war were expecting a romp followed by a victory parade.

It's just bad luck for our troops that real combat doesn't work that way. Even worse luck that so many of our casualties are the result of IED's: the possibilities for permanent mutilation are higher than if they were more likely to be hit by bullets. Worst of all luck that the bozos who sent them into the war had no intention of taking care of them when they were carried out after doing their duty.

#50 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 08:07 PM:

Your co-blogger wasn't distressed by the potential appearance of chiding.

Shooting people is worse than wanting to shoot them, planning to shoot them, preparing to shoot them, or ordering other people to shoot them. Shooting first responders is worse than planning to shoot people attending a funeral.

Covering up the shooting and lying about it is a serious crime. Fred Clark at Slacktivist says the distinction between killing military personnel and killing civilians is the difference between a soldier and a murderer. I hold that attempting to hide one's kills is also the mark of a murderer rather than a soldier.

#51 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 08:53 PM:

Bruce Cohen @49:

The Iraq war was sold as a perfect video game: smart bombs and drones in, Muslim deaths out. Worst case for a white hat in that scenario is a loss of life points and return to the beginning of the level. So most of the civilians who supported the war were expecting a romp followed by a victory parade.

It's just bad luck for our troops that real combat doesn't work that way. Even worse luck that so many of our casualties are the result of IED's: the possibilities for permanent mutilation are higher than if they were more likely to be hit by bullets. Worst of all luck that the bozos who sent them into the war had no intention of taking care of them when they were carried out after doing their duty.

It's easy to demonstrate that the prevalence of IEDs is the direct fault of Donald Rumsfeld, George Bush, and their cronies.

Rumsfeld repeatedly, explicitly, personally insisted on overruling the professional Pentagon planners' estimates of the number of troops that would be needed for the invasion. He slashed the numbers below anything the planners could justify.

He was wrong. We didn't have nearly enough troops to pull it off. This was why we couldn't take control of the areas in which we were operating, pacify violent, suppress looting, protect civilians, and establish supply lines that didn't have to run through live fire zones. Short-handed though we were, we still have done a great deal better than we did if so many of our troops hadn't been tied up in pointless searches for George's nonexistent WMDs.

One of the things we failed to do was secure a huge munitions depot belonging to the Saddam Hussein-era Iraqi military. We simply didn't have enough people to do it. By the time our guys got back there, the depot had been stripped. Its contents have been powering IEDs ever since.

#52 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 09:05 PM:

TNH @50 --

That was, if memory serves, the distinction in the old Icelandic legal code between murder and killing; murder was done by stealth, or not acknowledged. To make it killing (with much lower legal penalties), you had to stop on your travels within three farms ("the first farm might not take the news calmly", to quote Prof. Clarke) and tell people where the body was, who it was (if you knew), and who you were.

So the idea that concealment makes murder is an old one.

#53 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 09:15 PM:

This seems the logical outcome of two right-wing ideals, extreme individual gun rights, including open-carry, and "tough on crime" police with the authority to shoot first and ask questions later.

That it happened in Iraq, rather than the US, seems a result of misguided right-wing occupation, including the refusal to institute gun control in Iraq.

During the allied occupation of Germany after WWII, everyone was required to turn in any privately owned firearms (my own great-grandfather was shot while carrying a gun into town to turn in - the allied soldiers were taking no risks.) When you occupy a nation, resistance is to be expected, and disarming the general population reduces the resources for resistance and lets you assume that anyone going heavily armed is resistance.

The idea of an occupation that tries to co-exist with individual gun carrying seems a recipe for disaster.

#54 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 09:19 PM:

TNH @51, your remarks about Rumsfeld reinforce what I was saying up at #43 about motivations. Rumsfeld was interested in the so-called revolution in military affairs, which for him meant trying to use technology and air support as a substitute for boots-on-the-ground. If Iraq could've been taken with a small military force, that would have supported his ideas.

#55 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 09:29 PM:

TNH @ 50 - I'm not sure I agree with you. The point of a military, what they're trained to do when on the job, is to shoot people and blow stuff up. That they do that when on the job is not surprising.

The people ordering them into that situation, as far as I'm concerned, bear a great deal more of the guilt.

I'm not trying to deny their agency or give them a free pass, but I am saying that second-guessing them from the safety of my home is not something I'm prepared to do, and I'm also saying that if there are war-crimes trials, I'm not even a smidgen interested in seeing the prosecution of anybody below the rank of about captain - and a damn sight more interested in prosecuting the actual perps, viz. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the rest of that sordid crew of jackasses.

The trial of Lindey Whatsername was a show trial pure and simple, and solved - and resolved - nothing at all. So the guys in this video who actually pulled the trigger are culpable, sure - but the people who put them in that situation and told them the Iraqis are their enemy, without exception, and fair game? Those people are the real evil here.

In my humble opinion, anyway.

#56 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 09:35 PM:

On rereading, I meant I wasn't agreeing with your first point, that shooting is worse than planning or ordering. I can't argue straight when it comes to war; it's just all evil to my Quaker eye, but I know a whole lot of the class of people who make up most of the military, and they're largely sweet but stupid. Or at least naive and uneducated. I get where they're coming from. But rich guys like Rummy that send them in to prove he's smarter than the professionals he bosses, then pretends he wasn't there when he was flat wrong? There's a special circle of hell for those guys, and he's in its geometrical center.

#57 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 09:43 PM:

Avram @54: True. And let's not forget how many of Bush's core advisers were affiliated with the Project for the New American Century, which -- well before Bush got elected and the WTC was attacked -- was calling for a war (any war!) to "restore America's moral clarity," and incidentally keep military spending revved up. They were also calling for "regime change" in Iraq clear back during the Clinton administration.

That's one of the things for which I haven't been able to forgive them: that on 9/11, before they had any idea who'd attacked us, they were already trying to figure out how to pin it on Iraq so they could use it to justify what they'd been planning to do anyway. I can't help thinking they should have taken more interest in finding out who was attacking our country, just in case whoever did it was planning to do it again.

#58 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 09:49 PM:

Michael Roberts @55 --

I don't think it's that simple an absolution.

Y'all have an army now that's mostly made up of people who've been to Iraq or Afghanistan multiple times; they're going to come home.

Some fraction of them are going to really miss being able to shoot freely at human beings. And, yeah, most of them got that way due to evil policies from higher. But they're still going to miss that freedom to slaughter.

Some fraction of them are going to have real dire problems with loud noises and stuff by the side of the road; some other fraction will be almost sorta OK. Yet another fraction (and at times, these are going to overlap, it's not neat categories) will have real bad issues with their memories of real mistakes, because real mistakes happen. A whole huge lot of them have brain damage, because helmets are a lot better and because blast waves cause concussions, and little blast waves that don't kill you can still concuss you pretty good. A whole huge overlapping lot of them are otherwise badly damaged; the survival rate for wounds is different, and the halt are larger in proportion to the total numbers.

But they still have to come home.

Even hanging Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld on the Mall in Washington D.C., with public proclamation of their crimes and wrong-doing, and leaving the gallows there on the Mall as the sole monument of the Bush administration (which will happen shortly after the Archangel Michael comes down to earth with an indictment written in letters of fire; all three of those gentlemen are going to die old, rich, and free) isn't going to alter that; those guys and gals in their tens of thousands have to come home.

And home isn't where they left it.

And neither is their sense of right and wrong.

"Human" may exculpate; "shitty situation", "following orders", and "been there way too long" do not.

Because, one way or another, they have to come home.

#59 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 09:51 PM:

Some other responses:

albatross@27 re deterrence - the problem with that argument is that it gives no-one any incentive not to get nukes as soon as possible, since demonstrably the only defense a small nation has against unilateral American attack is to have nukes. Besides, everybody knows if we lost a million people, we'd nuke somebody, no matter what our policy. So the hard-nosed policy of "always leaving all options on the table", which means we'll nuke whoever we want to until they glow just if they look at us funny, is stupid, unless your actual goal is to have a fully nuclear-capable world.

Mark @47 - yeah, so, we're vulnerable. It would suck if somebody diddled our sewer systems. That does not justify nuclear war. Because pipes are pipes, and everybody would have to work damn hard to fix it, but nuking cities and killing people in scientific notation is not on the same order. I honestly don't know why this sort of thing isn't obvious to people, and don't take that personally.

Normal people are perturbed that American soldiers on this video in this very post shot a couple of children, and yet nuking a whole city of them because some guy in their government broke our electrical grid is just fine? I can't imagine anybody actually thinks that, not if they let themselves anywhere close to the reality of what this actually means.

Not to mention that if our infrastructure is truly that vulnerable, then perhaps some legal action should be contemplated against the management of the companies that allowed it to get that way. That's hardly protecting shareholder value, if some guy in China can nullify all your billions of dollars of investment. So either this isn't true, or everybody just hopes it won't happen and is doing nothing otherwise (yeah, OK, that's plausible), or maybe they're already working on it. I don't know which of these is the case, but I do know that telling people they'll be nuked if they try anything is not a security plan.

#60 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 09:55 PM:

Graydon, I don't see what your argument has to do with my point that ordering them into this situation was a worse evil than any specific act of violence they carried out. If anything, I think you're actually arguing for that point, rather than against it.

#61 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 10:01 PM:

Michael Roberts, the point of having a military, and what they're trained to do, is not to shoot people and blow stuff up. The military is there (1.) to protect us, and (2.) when necessary, to project U.S. policy by the use of force. Trained military personnel have a couple of oaths they take whose wording includes preserving, protecting, and defending the Constitution; but the short form of their job description is, to the best of their abilities, accurately and effectively carry out the lawful orders of their superiors.

I wasn't blaming the guys on the ground. I mean, some of them no doubt screwed up; but the responsibility for the war, their presence in the country, and the orders they were given, rests with their superiors.

I'm not going to characterize the military as "sweet but stupid" in a forum whose regulars include, among others, Graydon Saunders, Terry Karney, and Jim Macdonald.

#62 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 10:04 PM:

Because (sorry, I'm going to stop right after this post; can you tell I'm in work-avoidance mode?) if you're arguing that some of the enlisted men who actually did stuff should be tried and hanged instead of rich old guys who, as you say, won't be tried at all, reality being what it is - if that's your argument, and if you're arguing that that should be done to prevent or even to mitigate all the shit that's going to hit the fan for the next twenty years from having a bunch of trained killers in our midst, then all I can say is you don't understand the redneck mentality very well.

The Iraq war may well break this nation, to be honest. Chinese Curse days indeed.

#63 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 10:15 PM:

Teresa, I didn't intend to characterize the military as sweet but stupid or to make you drop names, one of whom I've even bought waffles for - I intended to characterize rednecks as sweet but stupid. I'm *from* Indiana from a long and proud line of sweet but stupid people, my wife teaches sweet but stupid people at the community college, I live in a big old house in a poor neighborhood populated by sweet but stupid people with alcoholic tendencies and no teeth, and I know what I'm talking about when I talk about rednecks. They're stupid by choice, and they like shooting things and blowing things up, and they desperately need work and the Army gives them money and tells them they're saving the world.

Then they're put into situations like this where they wield the power of life or death over brown people, and they feel big for the first time in their lives, and it doesn't matter that you East Coast folks have all the money and we have nothing but rust. And then that stays that way for eight years and their babies grow up and their grandparents die and somebody else gets rich off the whole thing.

Now some video comes out, and everybody says, "Oh those horrible soldiers." No. I'm not even going there. It is not worse to carry out the war crime than it is to create the situation where war crimes are inevitable.

#64 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 10:18 PM:

Michael, why exactly are you inserting "instead of" when Teresa, Graydon, Avram, and others keep talking about "and" and "also"? Please re-read, and you'll find that they all wish the instigators of this war to come to justice, full and public, and also to hold individual perpetrators of atrocities on the ground to be held accountable.

In practical terms, since the entire weight of the Democratic establishment is against any kind of accountability for the war, it seems very unlikely that there will be actual justice for the commanders and planners anytime soon. But we all here wish for it, and would not trade it away for the chance to instead deal with specific instances in the field. Just the opposite, likely: if we had to pick just fair trials for those below the rank of, oh, major or captain or for those above, I suspect we'd tend to pile heavily on the "those above" option.

#65 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 10:28 PM:

Bruce, because in #50 Teresa said, "Shooting people is worse than wanting to shoot them, planning to shoot them, preparing to shoot them, or ordering other people to shoot them," and I said I disagreed with that point. I even reread my own post, saw that this was unclear, and said what I meant.

I'm fully literate, thanks, but I can tell when I'm starting to get flame-y, so I'm going to flounce now - but rest assured that the lurkers support me in email! For that is ... oh, damn, I've forgotten how that went now. Well, just take it as read that I'm going to go to my beach house and eat a lobster or two, OK?

#66 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 10:31 PM:

(Actually, I'm kind of surprised how vehemently I believe that wanting, planning, preparing, and ordering is worse than doing. How odd. Maybe I should meditate on that one.)

#67 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 10:40 PM:

And Michael again, @60:

Graydon, I don't see what your argument has to do with my point that ordering them into this situation was a worse evil than any specific act of violence they carried out.
Those were two separate actions with interdependent motivations and consequences. I don't think you can tidily separate the moral debts incurred, and I don't see the point of trying.

Graydon @52, it would be embarrassing to admit that when I read Fred Clark's piece in Slacktivist, I was momentarily bothered that he'd failed to mention the obligation to let people know about the killing.

I continue to feel it's inappropriate to be secretive about the people you kill while waging war. If it's a legitimate war, legitimately conducted, civilian deaths are deeply regrettable, but they don't fall outside the set of things that sometimes happen. However, if you're covering up killings, the most obvious explanation is that you don't want to have to admit how they happened. That may not be the reason this time around, but it'll become the reason soon enough.

#68 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 11:27 PM:

I like what Tony Hendra had to say on the subject in The Messiah of Morris Avenue:

Zheqre vf abg n zvffvba be n pnerre pnyyvat be n pnerre. Vs lbh jrag gb Jrfg Cbvag be gur Nve Sbepr Npnqrzl gb trg n qrterr va vg, vg'f fgvyy zheqre. Nyy gur snapl jbeqf lbhe fhcrevbef pbzr hc jvgu-ergnyvngvba, rkgerzr cerwhqvpr, birejuryzvat sbepr, pbyyngreny qnzntr, fzneg guvf, naq cvacbvag gung-pnaabg nygre gur snpg gung nyy gurfr jbeqf zrna zheqre.

Jrnevat n havsbez qbrf abg fgbc xvyyvat sebz orvat zheqre, xvyyvat sbe lbh pbhagel qbrf abg fgbc vg sebz orvat zheqre. Pyvpxvat ba na vpba n gubhfnaq zvyrf njnl qbrf abg fgbc vs sebz orvat zheqre. Fraqvat n pbzznaq gb n ebobg qbrf abg fgbc vg sebz orvat zheqre. Vs lbhe fretrnag gryyf lbh gb qb vg, vg'f zheqre; vs lbh ner gbyq ol lbhe bssvpre gb gryy na rayvfgrq zna gb qb vg, nyy guerr bs lbh pbzzvg zheqre. Vg'f zheqre vs n pbheg nofbyirf lbh bs nyy jebatqbvat. Vg'f zheqre vs n zna bs Tbq oyrffrf gur jrncba lbh zheqre jvgu. Vg'f zheqre vs lbh ibgr sbe fbzrbar jub gryyf bguref gb zheqre va lbhe anzr. Vg'f zheqre vs gur bar lbh zheqre unf zheqrerq.

That's a harsh standard, even for a arj Puevfg svther jub trgf pehpvsvrq ol gur rzcver gb jubfr fbyqvre ur jnf fcrnxvat, qhevat na vzcebzcgh ivfvg gb na vzcrevny onfr.

(I can't believe I spoilerized that.)

#69 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 11:38 PM:

Michael Roberts @63: and it doesn't matter that you East Coast folks have all the money

I've got all the money?! Holy crap. Quick, tell me: Where did I put it? 'Cause I could really use some of it right about now.

Also: Didja bother to take a look at my comment #11 before you spouted off about "those horrible soldiers"?

#70 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2010, 01:08 AM:

John Arkansawyer: It's an untenable standard, unless said messiah undertakes to instantly prosecute all cases of homicide wherever and whenever they happen, because the principle described there doesn't allow self-defense.

If I understand his statement correctly, accidental homicide committed while attempting non-lethal self-defense would also count as murder. However, failure to inquire too closely into the living conditions imposed by the regime you're propping up doesn't count as murder, even if those conditions are guaranteed to kill some percentage of the population, as long as you yourself aren't fully conscious of the linkage and the individuals who died weren't specifically targeted.

If giving up on the use of lethal force were a more workable option, a lot more human cultures would have given it up. Unfortunately, the history of groups and peoples that don't have plausible military backup tends to be much nastier and much, much shorter than those that do. Not all moral questions can be broken down into one-on-one scenarios.

Consider the settled farmers vs. nomadic herdsmen scenario, a reliable source of conflict. What the herders see as temporary grazing, farmers see as having their crops stripped down to the roots. What farmers see as a communal irrigation system, herders see as these guys trying to hog all the water. It's serious. Either side can reduce the other to starving beggars. Lives are on the line. How is it possible, under those circumstances, that the only moral consideration is whether someone right now takes a shot at someone else?

Begging your pardon, because I've been reading Tony Hendra for a long time and I know he can be a very persuasive writer, but his scenario there strikes me as arising from an excessively end-userish mindset.

#71 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2010, 01:36 AM:

Avram @ 69: I think Michael Roberts was describing the point of view of people in that situation, not making a claim about reality.

#72 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2010, 01:44 AM:

This is a tragedy of war.

People still argue about the morality of Dresden.

The planning, the intended targets, look very different. Accidents happen. Intent matters.

Either way, there are dead children.

#73 ::: ginmar ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2010, 04:09 AM:

When I was in Iraq, every convoy began with a briefing. My CO talked about body language and muzzle awareness and taking that last second. He was kind of a combination of Colonel Potter and Hawkeye Pierce: witty, self-depreciating, and kind.

Iraqis carry Ak-47s around like they're briefcases: Iraqi Police have them and so do the ING. (Iraqi National Guard.) For that matter, RPGs aren't that uncommon, either. Fire either one into the ground and you'll hurt yourself. It probably takes about a second or less to bring one up to firing position, but the RPG's got to be prepped. I wouldn't want to walk around with one at the ready. In any case, these guys were ambling around, not making any suspicious movies at all, not even paying much attention to the chopper. People in fear do that.

During the time when they're discussing the van, the pilot first says they're looking for weapons then tells the higher ups that the van is evacuating wounded 'and weapons.' But the gun on an Apache is fairly big: I'd be willing to bet that any weapons they had had been frankly shot to shit. In any case, the wounded man did not have any weapons near him and the two men---not 'four or five' as the pilots claimed---had literally both hands full carrying his limp body. Just imagine, going through that, everyone else is dead, you think help has gotten there and then....The chopper fired at least four volleys at the van and its occupants. That's a war crime right there. When informed by ground personnel that there were children in the van, one of the chopper crew responded callously, "Well, that's waht you get, bringing kids to a battle." Or how about existing in your own country? That one statement there indicated so much to me that I'm not sure I can properly articulate it.

One day while convoying somewhere near Karbala, a driver bumped into our convoy---a sure sign of a suicide bomber. Instead, I pointed my M-16 right at him and we locked eyes. His were wide, brown, terrified. A woman was in the seat next to him. It was some kind of Subaru. And then his mouth dropped open, he waved his hands, and somehow his car fell back. I'd have been justified in shooting him, even though our vehicles didn't have those signs that say 'shoot to kill in a hundred meters.' But I'm glad I didn't. You dream about the civilians. They haunt you.

These guys? They wanted to kill. It's a part of war, but the idea that it's good, or it's fun, or it's no big deal is dangerous. Some wars need to be fought; this was not one of them. To compound it by treating the citizens as invaders in their own land is vile.

#74 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2010, 04:40 AM:

Is WikiLeaks adequately protected from reprisals?

#75 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2010, 05:01 AM:

#65 makes me think that michael rbts misread your #50 and that some good humour could be restored by clarification.

you were comparing the active trigger-pulling in iraq to the mere planning and intending of the hutaree, i think, rather than to the planning and intending by rumsfeld, bush, etc. (which, importantly, caused a lot of actual trigger-pulling).

saying that the hutaree are less bad than the guys in the video does not mean that rumsfeld was less bad. nor does it mean one thinks that the soldiers ought to be tried before rumsfeld is.

is that a fair summary of your stance, tnh? does that clear something up, mr?

#76 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2010, 05:22 AM:

Earl Cooley III @ #74
Is WikiLeaks adequately protected from reprisals?

In what sense? Some of the people (all, for all I know) behind it are outside the US and thus (relatively) immune to US legal reprisal. Furthremore, at least one of the guys behind it is, to the best of my knowledge, more than happy to stand up for the freedom of speech, even when that leads to court cases.

Their hosting is rather widely distributed, so it would be hard to take the hosting down (although not impossible).

I am more concerned with to what extent there's an audit trail leading back to whoever provided the video to WikiLeaks in the first place (hopefully, there isn't one, but in this day and age...)

#77 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2010, 06:23 AM:

Teresa @ 70: In context, what Hendra's character* is saying is exactly right and true, for his audience. It is precisely what they needed told and just the motivation for following events.

The book I read this in is at hand but thick, so if I mangle this it's my fault. What I read in Saving Paradise is that early Christians who killed in legitimate self-defense still sinned and still sought absolution. By the time we get to the Crusades we get priests blessing the weapons and the killing for wars of exploitation.

*José Francisco Lorcan Kennedy, who is of course gur frpbaq pbzvat bs Wrfhf Puevfg

#78 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2010, 08:45 AM:

Michael @ 59, quick note and then I'll let it drop: You still seem to be thinking in terms of inconvenience. If a militarized cyberattack went after, say, the computers monitoring and controlling the sewer system of a major metropolitan city, we're not talking about toilets backing up for a few days. We're talking about cholera epidemics. More on the order of a major biological attack with a vector the CDC has no prayer of containing quickly.

Justification for a nuclear strike? I'd say not, personally. Which is just what the statement said: "not even." But it is not beyond the pale to put cyberattack in the same basket with chemical and biological.

#79 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2010, 09:19 AM:

I note that @77 I begged the question of, "Then why did you place something true in one context here into another context?" Answer: Philip K. Dick was rightish when he said, "The Empire never ended."

(Of course, I also believed The Transmigration of Timothy Archer was straight-up advocacy for strict materialism, so I may not be the best reader of Philip K. Dick.)

#80 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2010, 09:27 AM:

Thank you, ginmar, for clarifying things greatly.

I don't know the details of the Rules of Engagement for Iraq, but I very much doubt that they allow opening fire on anyone who has an AK-47 or even an RPG. I'm virtually CERTAIN they don't allow firing on unarmed people who come to rescue the wounded.

And whoever that was who said "that's what you get..." needs to go to prison.

#81 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2010, 09:43 AM:

albatross @29

More US cover-ups, one of them on Obama's watch.

#82 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2010, 09:48 AM:

I watched that video, and put it on my Facebook page. ISTM to be one of those tragic, avoidable incidents that happens in war, especially when the invading troops start getting trigger happy and see enemies everywhere they look.

Like was earlier said, if you expect to see weapons, someone holding a farm implement or umbrella is armed when seen from half a mile away through a telescopic sight. If you've already decided that the men you just machine gunned were "bad guys", then anyone coming to pick their bodies and wounded up are automatically 'bad guys' too.

Note that the helicopter pilot didn't fire without authorization. Of course, he described the scene to his controllers in a way to virtually insure he would GET authorization, too. There was no hesitation or ambiguity in his statements; the men had "weapons", even an RPG, but he did not shoot the injured man because he could not see a weapon near him.

Basically, the whole incident was already prejudiced towards the Apache opening fire on the men. Once the pilot described them as having 'weapons', they were already dead in his eyes, as was anyone coming to help them prior to the ground troops getting there.

ISTM this tragic event is a window into how our troops are being taught how to view the Iraqis more then anything else.

#83 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2010, 10:28 AM:

I think it's a war crime more than anything else, John. Shooting the responders is unambiguous in that regard.

#84 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2010, 11:39 AM:


I can't see how this incident could be construed as a war crime. The soldiers believed the men had weapons, asked for and gained authorization, and shot them. The firing on the van was believed to be more "enemies" taking the first group away; no children were seen in the video until after the firing had ended.

If you're going to require our soldiers to get 3rd party verification that yes, those men are enemies, before granting permission to shoot on them, we're going to end up with a lot of dead US soldiers.

This was a tragic mistake, created by an army increasingly wedded to long range 'precision' methods of killing the enemy but still lacking the technology to positively and clearly ID same targets at the weapons' kill range. Had the men been a group playing soccer, or having a meal, I'd agree with you, but the circumstances in the video were such that it's not that clear a case.

#85 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2010, 11:43 AM:

John, they shot at unarmed people coming to the aid of the wounded, if I understand correctly. That's the war crime.

They falsified the information they used to get authorization to shoot. Also, their sole basis for considering them "enemies" was that they were armed; they didn't threaten anyone or point their weapons. In a country where people go armed the way you and I wear seatbelts, this is pretty egregious conduct.

But those things are violations of the RoE, IIUC, not war crimes. Shooting at the rescuers is the war crime.

#86 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2010, 12:10 PM:

John L @ 84:

This was a tragic mistake, created by an army increasingly wedded to long range 'precision' methods of killing the enemy...

I don't think you account for the callousness of the chatter. Hearing someone shrug off killing kids in that manner is...well, by comparison, consider NY State of Mind by Nas:

Once they caught us off guard, the Mac-10 was in the grass and I ran like a cheetah with thoughts of an assassin Picked the Mac up, told brothers, "Back up," the Mac spit Lead was hittin niggaz one ran, I made him backflip Heard a few chicks scream, my arm shook, couldn't look Gave another squeeze heard it click yo, my shit is stuck Tried to cock it, it wouldn't shoot now I'm in danger Finally pulled it back and saw three bullets caught up in the chamber So now I'm jetting to the building lobby and it was full of children probably couldn't see as high as I be (So whatchu sayin?) It's like the game ain't the same Got youngin' niggaz pullin the triggers bringing fame to they name and claim some corners, crews without guns are goners

I know that comparing composed words to ad hoc speech under pressure. But still, if you listen to the record, he's got concern for those children in his voice.

#87 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2010, 12:44 PM:

me@86: I meant to say, "I know that comparing composed words to ad hoc speech under pressure is an unfair comparison."

#88 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2010, 01:11 PM:

If the RoI were that armed men were not targets until they actually threatened someone, why did the pilot get authorization to shoot? He made it clear there were no ground forced nearby; the men were "armed" according to him and he got permission to fire solely on that observation.

Clearly his orders were to shoot any armed civilians he may find; otherwise, why wasn't he ordered to stand down?

As for the van shooting, I already addressed that; once the pilot has been approved to shoot the first group of "bad guys", anyone coming to help them were automatically "bad" as well, and no one told him otherwise. Again, he was authorized to shoot even though he never said they had weapons; had he shot them after being ordered not to, you'd have a point.

The issue is not really with the pilot; it's with the whole hierarchy of approval, the RoE, reliance on long range targeting/weaponry, and the war in general.

#89 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2010, 01:30 PM:

Michael, #66: Actually, I'm kind of surprised how vehemently I believe that wanting, planning, preparing, and ordering is worse than doing.

I can see where you're coming from on that. The person who wants an atrocity to happen, plans it out, sets it up, and then hands it off to someone else to actually do... that person is looking to get the results without taking the responsibility. Abu Ghraib is a perfect example of this sort of thing that actually worked.

#90 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2010, 01:42 PM:

John, I think you mean RoE (Rules of Engagement) not RoI (Return on Investment), even if the motivation for the Iraq war had more to do with the latter than the former!

Seriously, though, I think you're twisting things around to justify the behavior of these servicemen. In particular, your idea that the responders were automatically to be considered bad guys doesn't hold water. People who respond to the scene of a shooting have no idea who shot the victims. This wasn't, despite what that one idiot said, a battlefield.

#91 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2010, 01:55 PM:

#22 Jim
Full agreement here.

#38 Jim
You left out #3 "Saddam tried to kill my Daddy. I'm going to get the bastard who tried killing my Daddy."

#47 Mark

In The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Mycroft ran the toilets backwards....

#55 Michael

I think that there is too narrow a view of the military.... the military is an implementation arm of a national or country's or alliance of countries' government--ONE of the tools it has for applying is the use of force up to and including highly destructive application of force. Other tools include thing which literally are constructive--road building, bridge building, cadre training including cooperation to achieve goals, management training, conflict resolutions by negotiation.... There are tools which are neutral for employment as regard outcome -- shows of force such as massed troop movements and bringing big ships full of military personnel for "diplomatic" visits (with the message, "if you get offensive to us, we can/will flatten you; if you're nice to us we will spend lots of money in your ports") and weapons firing displays and airshows for excitement ("and if you get obnoxious these same planes will shoot yours our of the sky and drop bombs on your heads and spy on you")

All officers in the US military have legal responsibilities to uphold the US Constution, as sworn oath, and legal responsibility to follow the rules of warfare and rules of engagement and to NOT follow illegal orders without at least formally protesting. That things tend to get overlooked and rarely invoked--but they ARE legal responsibilities, and failing to comply with them, is not a legally allowed excuse.

#57 Teresa
Once upon a time I was dubious about Evil... over the years I have become less so. 2001-2008 the people in charge of the US Government included some whom I consider evil, or at least who willingly and knowingly committed and facilitated the committing of, evil.

#63 Michael
What about the billionaries down in Texas? Blaming the northeast for the likes of the Hunt family activities and ignoring all the wealthy Texans and Halliburton and such.... ticks me off. Last time I was paying attention, the big defense contractors had big facilities in Texas, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, etc. And overlooked in the fraud of the fellow from New York, was an $8 billion in loses similar fraud scheme run by a Texas financial services fellow whose religion is supposed to be Christianity....

#64 Bruce
You're sliming the likes of Dennis Kucinich and Henry Waxman and other Congressional Democrats who have worked tirelessly and for years it was fruitlessly pursuing or trying to pursue investigation and actual justice....

The solid Stonewall Block reactive armor Republithugs are a different issue, they are in lockstep forward rolling convoy with offensive armor on the attack against any criticism or investigation or cooperation with any proposals made by Democrats which fail to be obesiant to the restrictive religious alliances and fascist business value of the Republithugs....

#70 Teresa
A friend of mine spent some of her childhood in Hawaii. Before the European and US immigrations, there were rules about some parts of the islands that any people who trespassed into certain restricted areas, were put to death. The reasons for the draconian treatment were that those areas were where the water supply was, and it was environmentally extremely fragile--clueless wonders, malicious types, or mere blunders, could easily poison the water supply thereby putting everyone dependent on the water, at risk of death.

Regarding cultural clashes otherwise --farmers versus nomads, city folk versus rural, etc., it's when there is no respect and no willingness for accommodation or willingness to accede to allowing the other side rights and privileges and when there is no compliance to mutually made agreements, that things get -generally- murderous--or, if there are people who -are- committing killings or murders, and the side their own, does nothing to stop them or fails to show sufficient interest and progress in suppressing them, that things get generally murderous....

The failure to suppress the evil misadministration is and is likely to continue costing the US --and others-- dearly....

#92 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2010, 02:16 PM:

#91 Paula Lieberman
#38 Jim

More motives for the Iraq War-- all that lovely money for Halliburton and other contractors.

Also, while I'm not sure about Evil with a capital E, I think Bush et al can be best explained as chaotic evil. One of their major motivations was proving that they could get away with doing whatever came into their heads.

Weirdly, I think we got off easy. If they'd been lawful evil, they'd probably still be in charge and we'd be on our way to a kleptocracy considerably more extreme than anything we've got now.

#93 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2010, 02:19 PM:

BTW, in case no one noticed, the van that stops for the injured individual has a large US flag displayed in its rear window, clearly visible at around 7:41 (and other places) in the full video.

#94 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2010, 08:14 PM:

It's not the first time that reporters have been killed in Iraq; the Palestine Hotel shelling in 2003 was accused of being fairly deliberate targeting of a location known to have reporters staying there, and the Pentagon lied about their troops having been allegedly shot at. They really don't like non-embedded reporting, though in this case the shooters probably didn't now it was reporters.

#95 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2010, 08:15 PM:

"The soldiers believed the men had weapons, asked for and gained authorization, and shot them."

This is the most favorable possible interpretation.

You could also say that they knew what they had to say to get permission to open fire, and said it.

"If you're going to require our soldiers to get 3rd party verification that yes, those men are enemies, before granting permission to shoot on them, we're going to end up with a lot of dead US soldiers."

And if you don't, then we're going to end up with an even bigger lot of dead people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The idea that an Iraqi life is worth less than an American one has a lot to do with this war. Speaking as an American, I explicitly reject it.

#96 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2010, 12:55 PM:

A lot of the problem is that this is not a war. Wars have these "lines", and they have enemy soldiers in uniform; they're not nearly as fluid as the situation in Iraq today. We're still using a lot of old-fashioned concepts of war to decide how to prosecute this one. We learned in Vietnam that we didn't have the faintest clue how to deal with guerrilla tactics; and we still don't. (I think in Korea our enemies learned that frontal confrontation with the US did NOT work.)

#97 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2010, 01:54 PM:

Guerrilla tactics (and counter-insurgency tactics) live and die on the legitimacy granted to each side by the populace. The entire point of a counter-government insurgency is to provoke atrocities by the established power.

If the US had gone into Iraq and started making things better -- help, including by paying for the work, the locals build bridges, get the water purification plants up and running, made sure there was enough transport for food and other critical supplies -- they wouldn't be having this problem.

That could have been predicted by more or less any idiot with the slightest knowledge of counter-insurgency operations. It would have been vastly -- couple of orders of magnitude, tens of billions versus trillions -- less expensive.

It didn't happen because the folks in charge of the US at the time have what approximates a religious prohibition about helping people and a really badly broken model about how societies work. It also didn't happen because the US Army is not competent to wage a hearts-and-minds campaign, having been intended and designed to pursue decisive victory through maneuver warfare. (Which, translated, means "everyone on the other side under arms is dead, out of supply, or so traumatized they are incapable of coherent action". None of those things -- and you could watch all of them being tried in the news reports -- do anything good for your perceived legitimacy.)

#98 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2010, 02:38 PM:

Paula@91: "You're sliming the likes of Dennis Kucinich and Henry Waxman and other Congressional Democrats who have worked tirelessly and for years it was fruitlessly pursuing or trying to pursue investigation and actual justice...."

No, I'm saying that they are pretty much stranded in the face of a party establishment firmly committed to never rocking the Republicans' boat in a critical way. Their hearings get neglected, their bills go un-pushed, their amendments get suppressed. I appreciate their heroic efforts a lot, and am delighted at each bit of good they do, but there's no way they are anything like the face and voice of the Democratic Party as a legislative and executive force.

Graydon@97: "It didn't happen because the folks in charge of the US at the time have what approximates a religious prohibition about helping people" Yeah. This is the part that I tend to find fascinating, in that there are so many missed opportunities for both short- and long-term gain in actually extending help and earning some loyalty that way.

#99 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2010, 03:28 PM:

The nub of this situation is that war is bloody, chaotic, messy, and savage, and the people in positions of power in the US who wanted the Iraq war in the worst way, and got it, were trying to sell it to the civilian population as almost bloodless, controlled, neat, and gentlemanly. I don't care what kind of technology you have, or how you train and organize your troops, mistakes, tragedies, and atrocities are going to occur, if for no other reason than that the primary mission of any soldier is to stay alive, and they will often do that despite orders, rules of engagement, and the tactical and strategic needs of their superiors. The attempt to cover up any action that contradicts the PR about the war is itself a war crime, because it's an attempt to justify war in completely false terms.

The delusions that led to the Iraq war included that need to portray war as a clean and controlled instrument of policy, but there was another delusion: the neocons had this wish-fulfillment fantasy that US troops would ride into Bagdad and be welcomed by cheering crowds of anti-Saddam freedom-fighters. Right after the big block party, Iraqis would immediately form a constitutional congress, build an imitation of the US Federal Government, and take over all aspects of civil government. The US troops could then go home. This despite being told by experts in the rehabilitation of countries with broken civil systems that they would need thousands of police to keep order through the interregnum until civil order was properly restored. Their neo-liberal wet dream cost the Iraqis years of unrest and violence and an unknown but certainly large number of casualties, and was the primary reason that munitions storage area was left unguarded so that thousands of tons of arms and explosives made their way to insurgents and militias all over the country.

#100 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2010, 04:29 PM:

Nancy, #92: I've been thinking much the same thing for quite a while now. If GWB had been either reasonably competent or the pliant puppet they thought they were getting, they might very well have been able to install the Permanent Republican Majority. But he was determined to Show Them All that HE had the Power, except he was no Bruce Almighty. And he didn't like anybody telling him no, and reacted just like a spoiled 3-year-old. After a while, that's really difficult for anyone with a functional mind to ignore.

We got a big boost from McCain too, of course. The number of people who told me that they'd intended to vote for him until he picked Palin... and if I was hearing that from my not-very-large percentage of Republican friends, imagine how many more there must have been in the party at large.

Bruce, #98: But helping your enemies is treason, and winning people over by building consensus is socialism, and in any case makes you look weak and unmanly! Graydon has it right about the strategy our military is intended to pursue -- win by rendering the opponent incapable of fighting back. Building infrastructure in Iraq would go directly against that principle.

#101 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2010, 05:35 PM:

Graydon #97: It didn't happen because the folks in charge of the US at the time have what approximates a religious prohibition about helping people and a really badly broken model about how societies work.

Or something like "give a man a fish, or withhold the boon, and you control him with his hunger; teach a man to fish, and you've lost that means of control".

#102 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2010, 07:04 PM:

Lee @ 100, Graydon @ 97:

Yes, quite true that the US' canonical military strategy is completely bogus in counter-terror, counter-insurgency, and other asymmetrical warfare environments. This was pointed out by critics of the buildup to the war at the time; they were ignored. It was pointed out in a very pointed article written by one of the authors of the Army Field Manual on Counter-Insurgency: A failure in generalship by Lt. Col. Paul Yingling; the article received much praise from field-grade officers and an ominous silence from general-grade officers and politicians¹. Some later articles I've seen have been highly critical of the Bush Administration's mishandling of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, but I haven't seen any proposals to handle it better now. I think it's pretty evident that the US is still preparing to fight the Cold War.

You know that famous photo of the student facing down a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square? I keep seeing that in my head, morphed into a brown-skinned man guy with a turban holding an RPG in front of a flight of Apache gunships.

1. Yingling was a co-author and colleague of Gen. Petraeus and may have been considered shielded from pollitical shitfire by this fact.

#103 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2010, 11:44 PM:

The reaper’s early,
The soldier month is August
When these crops are mown.

Firing the stubble
Enriches the new-reaped soil
For the next harvest.

And this year’s sowing
Will rise up from these leavings
Bearing its own fruit.

#104 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2010, 02:21 AM:

I think I just want to sit in silence for a moment and reread Dave Luckett @103 a few more times.

#105 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2010, 07:33 AM:

I've just reread bits of this thread after having a look at the thread on Crooked Timber, which linked to this one; and which seems to have become something of a galvanic thrash. (h/t Xopher for the phrase.)

I'm struck by two things. The first is the extent to which there's been a constructive conversation here, despite people probably disagreeing much more on some fundamentals than at CT. I'd say that's indicative not just of the general tenor of the community , but also of the quality of the moderating work done here - not only, or mostly on this thread but equally on neighbouring ones.

The second, which is even more indicative of the same things, is the extent to which eevn the galvanic thrashes encompass some hugely worthwhile discussion. (Bruce Baugh's FPd comment being a prominent, but not the only example).

All of which is a prelude to saying: there's a commenter on the CT thread who seems to have got beaten up pretty badly - at least in part becuasde the thread wasn't moderated at all. While I don't want to be the sort of person who goes over to another forum, and says 'ur doing it rong', I'd like to ask whether it would be appropriate to suggest that the individual concerned take a look here for an example of another style of conversation.

(I'd have done this without a second thought, but it struck me that it might give the individuals trolling over there the idea of coming over here, thereby making a lot of work for the moderators here.Hence the question.)

#106 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2010, 05:39 PM:

A veteran of the unit that was recorded in that video, who has since been discharged as a Conscientious Objector, speaks out. He says that such acts are in fact quite common, and should be expected in the context of war in general and this war in particular. I take his position to be similar to what I said in the first paragraph of #99.

#107 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2010, 10:22 PM:

Bruce #106:

This is also the take I've seen and heard from other people who've actually been in wars. (It's notable that the set of journalists, pundits, and talking heads who "inform" us about wars in print and on TV has almost no overlap with the set of people who have firsthand experience with them.)

The media coverage of our ongoing wars has been *very* effectively spun. We just don't see most of the ugly images from some really ugly stuff, unless we go looking. When we do see it, the MSM in the US is eager to "put it all in context" in ways that keep most Americans from thinking too hard about it.

From Pat Tillman to Jessica Lynch to all those Pentagon shills appearing as talking heads on TV, the domestic side of the war on terror, at least where it comes to keeping the public on the side of killing more people and spending more money, has been damned effective.

The result is that our public debate on these wars is a joke. We mostly end up arguing about propoganda images, as informed about the real workings of the "war on terror" as your average Liberty U graduate is about the details of the theory of evolution.

#108 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2010, 03:23 AM:

praisegod barebones @105:

I can't think of any way to go into such a conversation and say such a thing that isn't "ur doin it rong." And communities are sensitive to that kind of criticism; it's the flipside of the pride that creates them. Even without a pointer to where the conversation is better and the water tastes like wine, it's simply not going to get listened to.

I haven't followed the thread in detail -- lina longa, vita brevis and all that -- but I note that the mod did turn up at the end, and the troll was banned. (And yes, he was a troll, though the commentariat fastened too closely on specific phrases rather than the underlying, toxic attitude.)

CT prides itself on a very free approach to discussion. And sometimes that's necessary to talk about really hard things. It's painful to watch someone pay the price of it, but I note that he did it with grace, self-knowledge, and eventual victory.

#109 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2010, 12:15 PM:

abi 108.

Fair enough, and thanks for spelling out your thinking. I'm happy to be guided by it.

I feel it's probably worth saying that a) I do occasionally comment, and lurk fairly regularly over at CT so I've got some sense of what's par for the course there, and this thread seemed unusual even by those standards and b) the thread reads rather differently now the moderator has intervened. When I read it, late (where I am anyway) on Friday night he was conspicuous by his absence, which seemed to be not only doing it rong, but complicit in someone else's doing something not just rong, but wrong.

Anyway, it's all water under someone else's bridge now.

#110 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2010, 01:12 PM:

praisegod, #105: If there's any way for you to contact that person privately, that would be the way to make your suggestion. I agree with abi that it can't be done in-group without making you look to them like the Mefi people have looked to us.

#111 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2010, 03:26 PM:

albatross @ 107:

I really don't understand why the ignorance of war is so prevalent in the US; millions of us have been in wars in the last 7 decades or so and many of the ones who saw combat are still alive. Now I grant that a lot of veterans have found it difficult if not impossible to talk about the subject, especially with non-veterans, but that's not true of everyone. Is the problem just that no one wants to hear the hard truth about what our culture deems so noble an enterprise?

#112 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2010, 04:17 PM:

Bruce Cohen @111, of course this phrase is really cliched, but I think Hollywood might be partly to blame. No matter how much US right-wingers keep complaining about Hollywood being left-wing, a lot of their own political ideas seem to be based on the idea that fighting in real life works the way it does in Hollywood movies. (The heroes, except for redshirts, don't get hit; there are few or no bystanders, and they either don't get hit or only get hit by the bad guys; who wins depends more on who is the good guy, who has to win to advance or wrap up the plot, and sheer fighting skills and efforts, than on anything about the strengths and resources or positions of the people involved at the start of the fight; etc.)

#113 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2010, 04:23 PM:

Raphael @112:
The heroes, except for redshirts, don't get hit

We used to call that VCA, back in St Andrews, for Viral Crappy Aim. We speculated that there was some substantial reservoir of it in the population of minions and henchmen, which accounted for the persistent infection of each generation of villain as it arose...

#114 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2010, 04:24 PM:

Lee 110.

Private email was something that occurred to me, but I don't think that there's any way I can do that without going on the thread and making my email address public there. And since my address
is identity-revealing that's something I don't want to do. I'm pseudonymous there for several different reasons.

As I said in 109, the thread now reads very differently from when I first saw it, so I feel less moved to say anything. But if I had done, it would have simply been to say in a comment addressed to the commenter there - who had made one or two comments about how the moderation policy being practiced on the thread seemed different from what he took to be the norm for the site - that he or she might feel more comfortable somewhere with different moderation practices, and that ML was one such place.

I don't think that would really have been analogous to what the Mefi people were doing here, although that was, obviously a concern I had in mind. (Going and saying - things are done differently over here and since what is being done where you are makes you uncomfortable you might want to take a look here seems different from going and saying: here's how things are done here, and here's why it's better).

BUT - possibly the fact that I had already posted my 105 here means that it was already impossible to do that. In any case,if I'd misjudged it, it wouldn't have been me clearing up the mess, which is why I asked before acting. (and will act in the way that the reply I got suggested was appropriate - ie, not post) And as I said in 110, given the way in which the thread has developed since I read and posted - summarised by abi above - it does now appear to be water under someone else's bridge.

#115 ::: Eddie Gold ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2010, 11:35 PM:

War is hell. Sometimes mistakes get made. There were plenty of civilian casualties in WWII, Vietnam, Korea, etc.

The government isn't perfect, but they do protect their own. Better they took care of this than having it tried in the media.

#116 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2010, 12:51 AM:

"Mistakes were made," of course, is one of the classic non-apologies, because it shuffles any question of responsibility or atonement under the carpet.

#117 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2010, 01:16 AM:

Eddie Gold @115:

War is hell.
Thus should we not wage it lightly or lyingly. (Or, some would say, at all.)

Sometimes mistakes get made.
What Lee @116 said. Also, what happens after the mistakes get made is deeply important. Do we examine them, learn from them, punish the guilty? Or do we shrug and say things like...

There were plenty of civilian casualties in WWII, Vietnam, Korea, etc.
Well, that makes it all better. I hope the families of those children hear that message. I'm certain that they'll be happy to know they're just part of a long line of civillian casualties. Also, see above about learning from mistakes.

The government isn't perfect, but they do protect their own.
That's not necessarily a good thing. The Catholic Church has been protecting its own too. How's that working out?

Better they took care of this than having it tried in the media.
False alternative. The only reason it's in the media is that it's not in the courts martial. Or, you know, not happening at all, which would be a pretty OK outcome.

#118 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2010, 02:24 AM:
War is hell.
Thus should we not wage it lightly or lyingly. (Or, some would say, at all.)
I just finished reading Niven & Pournelle's Escape from Hell, and in it they make a point of placing the people who promoted the Iraq war (to be sure, they name no names) in the Pit of Evil Counsellors.

(I would recommend the book, btw, to anyone who enjoyed their Inferno.)

#119 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2010, 05:09 AM:

This must be tried, not in the media,
Not secretly, but in particular,
In open court, before their peers, the way
It should be done; for these are free men. They
Have rights. Those rights are as they ever are:

A speedy trial, and not in camera,
But facing witnesses across the bar,
And sifting them. The chips fall where they may;
This must be tried.

There let the argument be made: "We are
Barbarians. We know no law." How far
Would that line get, you think? Or if we say,
"All war is hell," or "errors happen", may
That do? Well, that depends on what we are:
This must be tried.

#120 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2010, 06:35 AM:

Raphael @112

It's maybe a general pulp fiction attitude, rather than specifically Hollywood. Time in hospital and rehab stalls the plot. Not easy to get around that, though some of the WW2-era semi-propaganda movies can be pretty unflinching: people do get hurt. Still it's rare for the hero to be there. He's the one who visits his wounded freind, and notices the missing legs.

#121 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2010, 07:26 AM:

praisegod barebones #114: Possibly you could get hold of a a new, essentially-disposable, E-mail account?

#122 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2010, 09:46 AM:

Bruce Cohen (SSTM) @ 111--

Shorter version of this post: Jingoism is hard to kill, for lots of reasons.

One of the problems is not just the reticence of the veterans. At the current time, very few of the people who are in positions of significant power and influence in our country have not just military but also wartime experience. Stop and take a look at these people. Notice how many have little in the way of real military experience? When they do have it, notice how often it's administrative only, with no exposure to combat. Consider Gingrich. Consider Cheney. Consider, for that matter, McNamara and Rumsfeld, who had service records, but were primarily technocrats. Consider a good many members of the press, who often show the same tendencies as Gingrich when it comes to glorifying warfare (Christopher Hitchens, I'm lookin' at you...).

As for veterans speaking out, didn't do John Kerry much good, did it? How about Max Cleland? Colin Powell, who kept his doubts out of the public eye and tried to be a team player but got screwed over anyway?

For some of these people, it's a matter of ignorance and inexperience. For others, it's a feeling of inadequacy, because they feel like they missed some great test (and while combat may be a great tester, few I've known who been through it are eager for a second go-round), not realizing that's possible to pass that test and not live to tell about it.

Americans only really manage to be enthusiastic about wars when they can approach then in a state of frenzy; every time we have a chance to examine one in cold blood, we realize how much it sucks as a way to handle a problem. There are people who (nowadays confident that they will not actually have to fight themselves) are nevertheless prepared to see war as great good tool for their ends, and they are determined to dominate the dialogue on his topic whenever it comes up. Their ancestors, spiritual or otherwise, brought us the Secession Movement--and if the average resident of the southern US had realized what the Civil War was going to like, Louis Wigfall, Robert Toombs, and the other fire-eaters would have been firmly suppressed. The supporters of the war in Vietnam had their fair share of this.

Every time we get ourselves into a big, ugly war, we're innoculated against them for a while. Then it wears off, and the noisemakers get the upper hand in our discourse again, and they are, all too often, better at the game of rhetoric than those on the other side of the issue. They are also all too inclined to make the equation "use of military might = moral strength", which has been a successfully seductive position for centuries, if not millenia.

#123 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2010, 06:57 PM:


True, all true <sigh>. It just wears me down to see how little the lessons we learn are listened to. Erich Maria Remarque, who tried to tell his compatriots about the hell on earth the soldiers of WWI lived and died in was targeted with a smear campaign much like the Swift Boat lies (and his sister executed in his place) for his outspokenness. Batshit craziness seems always in vogue.

Every time we get ourselves into a big, ugly war, we're innoculated against them for a while. Then it wears off

Even worse, after awhile the humiliation of having to admit that war hurts us as much as our enemies creates a backlash in which jingoists try to salve their emotional wounds by insisting that war is really a good thing, and we need to go beat some other country up real soon now to recoup our "honor".

#124 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2010, 08:45 PM:

I am convinced it is a case where clearly understanding the situation was an evolutionary disadvantage: societies that realized the negative sum nature of war were likely to invest less in military technology and muster a smaller force than societies that had convinced themselves war is awesome fun, and therefore realistic societies found themselves displaced by the crazy societies. Now the technological and social calculus of war has changed, but the "war is glorious" meme lingers on.

#125 ::: Eddie Gold ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2010, 09:47 PM:

I'll argue that war is necessary in some cases. And like I said, mistakes are made.

False Alternative according to you, who I guess is in the military? How do you know that those who made the mistakes weren't punished by their superiors?

The casualties I spoke of in past wars weren't cited to make "it all better." Your knee jerk response misses my point.

Why you're bringing the Catholic Church into it is beyond me, although they seem to be a popular target today among the atheists and libtards.

#126 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2010, 09:50 PM:

Ooh, popcorn!

#127 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2010, 10:04 PM:

Eddie, you have no idea what a fool you've just made of yourself.

abi is a Roman Catholic, for starters. You might want to think about that for a second, including its implications for what else she's saying.

And just using the word 'libtard', by itself, makes me tend to discount your opinion.

#128 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2010, 10:20 PM:

Pinata? or pina colada?

#129 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2010, 10:29 PM:

I think he might need to say one more really stupid and offensive thing before we go all blindfolds-and-sticks on him, P J. Just my opinion.

#130 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2010, 10:30 PM:

<passes the cashews>

#131 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2010, 11:45 PM:

Here, guys, I brought the bingo cards!

#132 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2010, 11:47 PM:

Xopher, his second comment is about what I expected after his first one.

But I promise I won't break out the cluebat. Yet. (Mine are harmless, I promise. 2-foot lengths of closed-cell pipe insulation - they weigh nothing, but they make a good thwacking sound when you hit a desktop.)

#133 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2010, 12:18 AM:

*Yawn* Smacking piñatas is only fun if there's candy inside.


I suspect you're right, though clearly if your society overinvests in war, they'll run into other problems. One way to think of this is in terms of evolutionarily stable strategies.

Imagine a world full of Costa Rica like countries, with police but no real military. They're all better off than they'd be with armies--they don't have to spend a bunch of money on guns and tanks and bombs, they don't have to worry about military coups, etc. But a single country that decides to build up a big army can conquer a bunch of its neighbors, and force all its neighbors to build their own armies in self-defense. The little-or-no-army strategy is better if everyone follows it, but it can't survive if very many countries don't follow it. I have to guess the same is true of small hunter-gatherer tribe, and small farming/fishing villages and herding tribes, etc.

Also, I think there's an individual incentive issue here. For most of history, war could be profitable[1]. So even if it was bad for your society most of the time, if you were one of the warriors, it might have been very good for you. (I gather colonialism often worked out this way--it made some individuals very rich, but many colonies cost the country that had them more than they were worth.)

[1] Genetically as well as financially.

#134 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2010, 01:08 AM:

So, total random thought.

Back when we had effectively declared war on Iraq, did that mean it was _legal_ under the laws of war for Iraqis to attack non-civilian targets in the US? (say, for instance, power generation and interstate highways and such?)

#135 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2010, 02:14 AM:

albatross is right. He hasn't actually said anything at all original, interesting, or thoughtful. It's all undigested, regurgitated cliché.

Eddie, if you want to participate in this conversation, try a bit of analysis. Cite specific facts, use examples. I promise, we won't call you names because we don't like your choice of examples.

A few topics you might want to tackle if you're looking to persuade:

Was this war necessary, or are all wars OK because some of them might be?

If mistakes keep being made, should we make a systemic change in our procedures? Learn from those mistakes? A long history of civilian casualties sounds to me like we might not be doing so well at that. Or do you feel that we are? Can you do a bit of comparison-and-contrast between, say Dresden and shock and awe?

Even if you didn't bring the history of civilian casualties in to address the current situation, do you think that we might want to address the current situation, the specific people and the general society that has been harmed by this incident? What, if anything, should we be doing? Or are we just blowing smoke about "hearts and minds"?

Please do show me the evidence that the majority, or even the plurality, of civilian casualties by US soldiers are being investigated and tried where there is a case to answer. I'm willing to accept this as one that slipped through the cracks until it was brought to light if you can, for instance, cite comparable cases where, without publicity, this kind of deliberate killing is being investigated and punished.

As for the Catholic Church, I brought that in as an example of an institution that has been trying to address (and cover up) misdeeds internally rather than having them "tried in the media" (ie, discussed outside its walls and control) or through the mechanisms of external society. The fact that the best that you could do was to assume that I was external to that community says more about your beliefs about organizations than you might have wanted to reveal.

And that, of course, is the fundamental problem. You see criticism of institutions as betrayal of them. I see it as a chance to improve them. I also see it as necessary for the individuals within them and affected by them, who matter more than the institutions themselves.

Bet you think I'm a traitor, too.

#136 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2010, 07:29 AM:

eric #134:

Back when we had effectively declared war on Iraq, did that mean it was _legal_ under the laws of war for Iraqis to attack non-civilian targets in the US?

I think that's part of why we didn't formally declare war... (that plus executive overreach, of course).

#137 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2010, 08:10 AM:

Let's see what Eddie does now. I think the most likely case is that he won't be back at all; second most, that he'll come back and fill in several Bingo squares, like "groupthink" and "you people" and "can't tolerate a contrary viewpoint," then Flounce; third most, come back and scream stuff and be banned.

If he tries to actually engage the conversation with facts and merits, I'll be astonished.

#138 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2010, 09:37 AM:

David @ 136, there's still some constraints on who may lawfully fight, even with the formal declaration of war. By what I recall, a declaration of war would have invoked many formal protections for Iraqi civilians in occupied areas.

#139 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2010, 10:15 AM:

It is my experience that people who say "war is hell" have generally had no experience of being lulled to sleep by gunfire. They certainly are not familiar with what W.T. Sherman actually said*, or what he was talking about. Casual dismissal of civilian casualties is very easy far from the front lines. Not so easy if you might be one of those civilians. Anyone who's seen a high level of violence tends to want to think twice, or three or four times about the necessity of war, and doesn't speak lightly about civilian casualties, who are, after all, people's brothers, sisters, fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, uncles, aunts, lovers, and so on. "Who" as the poet+ asked, "got my bullet, the one meant for me, in his heart?"


+ Roberto Fernández Retamar

#140 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2010, 10:58 AM:


Another question to ask is, how does killing civilians in this way impact our ability to achieve our goals in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan? (A similar question ought to be asked w.r.t. our drone attacks?)

A more fundamental question is, why did it take a whistleblower leaking the video, plus a website that specializes in posting such leaks, to make this public? If this is an everyday occurrence, why does the administration and the Pentagon want to keep it from us? After all, we voters and taxpayers and citizens are the folks who are ultimately responsible for this stuff. So we ought to be able to see what's being done in our name, with our money.

#141 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2010, 11:16 AM:

albatross @140:
Another question to ask is, how does killing civilians in this way impact our ability to achieve our goals in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan?

And a further, related question: how does not investigating and/or trying and/or punishing* people who kill civilians in this way impact our ability to achieve our goals in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan?

* Or, if we are doing so, not doing so visibly and publicly enough to assure the rest of the people among whom we're doing this fighting that justice is being done. They know these killings are going on; we can't hide that. So justice must be not only done but also seen to be done.

#142 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2010, 01:01 PM:

Following up on my earlier post: the relevant international laws are the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, to which both the USA and Iraq are signatories.

Since both are signatories, bound by the treaties, Common Article 2 means there is no need for a formal declaration of war for the terms of the conventions to apply.

#143 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2010, 02:43 PM:

Eddie Gold @125: <Mogwai voice>Uh-oh!</Mogwai voice>

#144 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2010, 04:22 PM:

Fragano #139:

I've noticed that the two people I know well who lived through war as a civilian don't like to talk about it at all, nor do they like to think about it, or watch news coverage of war.

abi #141:

One problem is, it's hard for me to work out what the heck we're supposed to be accomplishing in any of these wars at this point, and all but impossible to work out what goals could ever have been reachable in Iraq.

#145 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2010, 04:51 PM:

Eddie might be too busy in meatspace to participate at the moment, as the 15th is Teabagger Riot Day.

#146 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 03:52 PM:

abi @ 141:

An important question to ask: if there is in fact a concerted effort to prevent incidents of this sort from becoming public knowledge, what is the audience they're being kept from? Certainly the population that suffers from such attacks knows what's happening, which suggests that the audience is the civilian population of the US and its allies.

There is a long history of such coverups by US military forces in a long history of wars and "police actions"¹, so it's not hard to accept that it is happening in Iraq now.

1. The Philippines ca the time of the Huk insurrection, early 20th century; the Vietnam War, Nicaragua several times in the 20th century, just offhand. There are others.

#147 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 04:16 PM:

Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) @146:

I was mostly addressing the implications of our guest's comment at 125, specifically:

How do you know that those who made the mistakes weren't punished by their superiors?

There's a subtext there that these things happen and are dealt with, all beneath the surface. In other words, publicizing the attack is asymmetrical, because the punishment has not been public. My point was that the fact that they happen is not beneath the surface to the people on the ground. So the ways that they're dealt with mustn't be either.

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