“Swarmingâ€¦the specter in broad daylight accosts the passerby.
– T.S. Eliot, “The Wasteland”
“We have now awakened to the barbarians…Retribution has been visited on the barbarians,
and more will follow.”
– Naval War College Review
“Waste the motherfuckers!” screamed across the screen in the outrageous and hateful film “Rules of Engagement” (2000), and into the streets and neighborhoods of Fallujah in November 2004. The film is a Samuel L. Jackson military vehicle that celebrates US war crimes from Vietnam to the Middle East, the US slaughter of Muslim civilians, young children included, and Arab bloodletting in general. It is, of course, one film, among many, that prepares US audiences for real manifestations of US aggression and war crimes: torture, slaughter of civilians, children included, and Iraqi bloodletting, as was the case in the “wasting” of Fallujah.
The ease with which the US has, for more than 2 ½ years “wasted” Iraqis, the ease with which culturally we participate in acts of wanton cruelty, demonizing of Iraqis, savage acts of inhumanity and barbarism, brutish violations of international conventions and laws, and our willingness to look the other way in the face of monstrous US induced misery, suffering and death, is symbolized graphically in the haunting specter of the US “wasting” of Fallujah one year ago: “Operation Phantom Fury.”
The LA Times reported that “the US military” assaulted the city of Fallujah with the full “understanding” that “civiliansâ€¦would be killed.” As a result, the Christian Science Monitor reported, “The sickening odor of rotting flesh” permeated the air circulating through the smoke filled and blood drenched streets of Fallujah. Alexander Cockburn noted, “If there is anything that should fuel the outrage of the antiwar movement [in the US] it is surely the destruction of Fallujah and the war crimesâ€¦inflicted by US commanders on its civilian population.” We learned this week, November, 2005 the US used naplalm and white phosphorus in Fallujah, leaving children, women and men burnt to the bone. The US Army journal “Field Artillery” reported how, during the US attack on Fallujah in November 2004, “White Phosphorousâ€¦proved to be an effective and versatile munition [andâ€¦] a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents” when high explosives were ineffective in routing people from “spider holes.” White phosphorus was used “to flush them out and [high explosives] to take them out.” “High explosives” included “AC-130 Specter gunship support.” “Tactics, techniques and procedures” we are told “were effective and lethal.”
This week marks the one year anniversary of the barbarous and criminal US assault on Fallujah in which, according to “Iraqi NGO’s and medical workersâ€¦between 4,000 and 6,000″ mostly civilians were killed. In addition, “36,000 of the city’s 50,000 homes were destroyed, along with 60 schools and 65 mosques and shrines,” and up to “200,000 residents were forced to flee, creating a refugee population the size of Tacoma.” Creating a wasteland is a form of “collective punishment” and is a war crime. The leadership responsible for the wasting of Fallujah has yet to be held accountable.
Grim scenes of carnage, death and destruction were daily fare in Fallujah, as in much of Iraq. The brutality was the result of ongoing and barbaric US criminal violence carried out by “The Greatest Military Power the World has Ever Seen,” against resistance fighters and a civilian population who were significantly lacking in capacities to defend themselves against Abram tanks, howitzers, mortars, Blackhawk, Apache, Cobra, Lynx and Puma helicopters, Hellfire-Missile-armed Predator drones, neighborhood erasing AC-130 Specter gun ships, artillery fire, cluster bombs, laser-guided missiles, F16 and F18 jet fighters, fuel air bombs (napalm), white phosphorous, and bunker busters. Any day picked at random will bring to our awareness shocking and awful, liberation myth-destroying, horror stories suffered by the people of Iraq. If killing people is the equivalent of “having a great day,” or torturing people is carried out as “sport,” one wonders how many sporting “great days” it will take until we take action to stop the continuing slaughter, and hold accountable the leadership responsible for war crimes?
The attack on Fallujah by 10,000 US soldiers was prepared by 8 weeks of crushing air strikes and included “deliberate targeting of civilians, indiscriminate and disproportionate attack, [and] the killing of injured persons.” In addition, according to UN human rights investigators, the US, in breach of international law (i.e. “war crimes”), used “hunger and deprivation of water as a weapon of war against the civilian population.”
Looking back at Fallujah and the buildup we see, selecting days virtually at random, that September 13 was no exception to the rule of force. In Baghdad, US helicopter gun ships fired into a crowd of unarmed Iraqi civilians. 13 were “wasted” and dozens more injured. Blood ran in the streets. The London Guardian published a harrowing photograph of a wounded young boy, stunned, gasping and bloodied, kneeling over three brutalized, and dead, bodies – presumably his friends. They appear to be no older than 12. UNICEF’s Executive Director Carol Bellamy called the death of 34 children in an earlier US bomb attack “an unconscionable slaughter of innocents.” On October 16th, we read in the Washington Post, “Electricity and water were cut off to the city [of Fallujah] just as a fresh wave of [air] strikes began Thursday night, an action that U.S. forces also took at the start of assaults on Najaf and Samarra.”
Again, denying people water, the most essential and basic life source, and slaughtering the innocent, is criminal and unconscionable. We should note the ease with which the national press reports US war crimes without condemnation and without calls for some application of moral and legal standards to which we would surely hold other leaders carrying out crimes of similar destructiveness.
The “forthright” USA Today reassured us, “The battle must be fought” and intimated that because “the U.Sâ€¦learned the hard way, guerrilla wars are about more than taking territory [i.e. they are also about 'wasting' people]” the assault on “Fallujahâ€¦could determine whether the insurgents will be protected by the populace, or rejected in favor of peace.” Translated: “The US must be willing to ‘waste’ as many people as necessary to establish a miserable US created desert of subjugationâ€¦and we will call it “peace.” Ralph Peters, a retired US military officer, wrote in the New York Post, “Even if Fallujah has to go the way of Carthage [complete annihilation], reduced to shards, the price will be worth itâ€¦the world needs to see [Iraqi] corpses.” The “world” does see Iraqi corpses. US citizens must see Iraqi corpses, and stop the killing.
In Fallujah, under conditions of limited food, contaminated water, and massive injuries, for those seeking food, water or medicine there was another problem, “there were so many [US] snipers, anyone leaving their house was killed.” On November 12th we learned “among the first major targets [in the assault on Fallujah] were the hospitals.” A civilian hospital and a trauma clinic were destroyed in a massive air raid, the main hospital was captured by US troops, ambulances were prohibited from traveling into the besieged city and delivering patients in need of emergency care (the US also announced that any and all moving civilian vehicles were designated free-fire targets). Much of the city’s water and electricity supplies were cut off making “emergency care all but impossible, in the words of Dr. Hashem Issawi, and contrary to international law, soldiers were “empowered to destroy whatever needs to be destroyed.” In the razed clinic, US bombs took the lives of 15 medics, four nurses and 35 patients, according to clinic worker Dr. Sami al-Jumaili. The Los Angeles Times reported that the manager of Fallujah general hospital “had told a US general the location of the downtown makeshift medical center” before it was hit by US bombs. In a smoke-filled, corpse-strewn landscape of collapsed houses and soot-singed factories, a US captain, fresh from 13 days of “shooting holes in every building,” starkly noted that the only way to proceed is to “destroy everything in your path.” Indiscriminate destruction is a war crime in violation of international law as encoded in the Nuremberg Principles. One year later the “wasting” continuesâ€¦
Predictably, entire neighborhoods were turned to rubble in Fallujah. “The street, once flat, has been hit with so many 500-pound bombs that it looks like the zone of collision between oceanic ice sheets, with huge dips and shelves of pavement and soilâ€¦some bodies were so mutilated it was impossible to tell if they were civilians or militants, male or femaleâ€¦rotting corpses piled up.” “[T]he outrageâ€¦generatedâ€¦at the sight of obliterated mosques, cratered houses and ground-up streets [not to mention 'rotting corpses'] will spread” reported Dexter Filkins. The outrage has continued to spread over the past year, and predictably, US violence too has spread in a continuing cycle of hellish destruction that may only cease when the resistance, or the people, are eliminated, following the standard “kill the frogs by emptying the pond” US model witnessed in Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Latin America.
Left unreported by Filkins in the New York Times was that “wanton destruction of cities, towns or villagesâ€¦” is a major war crime as defined in the Nuremberg Charter. These crimes violate not only international law but US law. The straight-faced NYT wondered how residents of Fallujah, victims of the vicious US “Operation Phantom Fury,” would react when they returned to what was, following weeks of US ground and air bombing attacks, a “post apocalyptic wasteland.” “Driving down highway 10, the main streetâ€¦through the heart of Fallujah, is like entering a film that is set sometime on the other side of Armageddonâ€¦Perhaps strangest of all is the silenceâ€¦there are no sounds ofâ€¦life.” Here we see an expression of the depraved US formula: Death=Silence=Victoryâ€¦(for the transmogrified). We might recall how the NYT vengefully reacted to “the post-apocalyptic wasteland” in New York after 9/11. A year after the wasting of Fallujah there have been no calls in the NYT for prosecuting the war criminals who planned, initiated and waged these outrageous attacks that turned the city of Fallujah into an “apocalyptic wasteland.”
On November 21st, we were told in the newspaper of record “whole buildings, minarets and human beings were vaporized in barrages of exploding shellsâ€¦” and read of the “summary justice of the casual head shot [where] marines decided to be judge, jury and executioner” of an unarmed Iraqi prisoner of war. “Waste the motherfuckers,” echoed in the streets of Fallujah. And a day earlier we imbibe, “the levels of destruction in Falluja were not a by-product of the campaign, but the product itself. The rubblizing of whole neighborhoods was meantâ€¦.the loosing of air power against urban Iraq has now gone on for almost a year with increasing ferocityâ€¦these are surely the gates of hellâ€¦” where you “besiege the city and kill a lot of people and leave the place ‘in ruins’â€¦” with countless civilians ‘wasted’ on top of the “900 civilians reportedly [killed]â€¦last April” during the earlier US onslaught. On November 10th, we heard, “the Marines are operating with liberal rules of engagementâ€¦[i.e.] the Marines can shoot whatever they see,” and later “more artilleryâ€¦more tanks, more machine gun fire, ominous death dealing fighter planes [are] terminating whole city blocks at a timeâ€¦this wasn’t a war, it was a massacre!”
As a result much of Fallujah had become a “free-fire zone” and a “large number of people including children [as young as four] were killed by American snipers,” while others were simply crushed by tanks. Free fire zones are areas in which any human being with whom one comes into contact is considered hostile, and is thus a “legitimate” target. This relieves, from the US perspective, US soldiers’ obligation to distinguish between combatants and civilians, thus putting civilians at high risk of death and maiming. Laws against violations of the obligation to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants may be considered “quaint” and “obsolete” by US planners, but the violations are still war crimes, and the punishment, including the penalty of death, in accord with US law, is anything but “quaint.”
“[J]etsâ€¦scream[ed] menacingly low over the city [of Fallujah],” repeatedly dropping bombs of various sorts, sizes and destructive capacity. The explosions, a US soldier reported (from a safe distance), are like “lightning hitting a dynamite warehouse, and then [one] hears the massive explosion that [turns] your stomach, rattles your eyeballs and compresses itself deep within your lungs.” The often intellectualized complexities of war are here reduced to the grim physicalized grotesque simplicity of mass violence: churning trauma, wrenching brutality and rampant destruction.
Given such destructive policies it was not surprising to read on October 28th, 2004 news of 100,000 civilians killed in Iraq as a result of the US invasion and occupation. The survey, reported in the British Medical Journal Lancet, as a precursor to the assault on Fallujah, “indicated violence accounted for most of the extra deaths [and] air strikes from [US] forces caused most of the violent deathsâ€¦most individuals reportedly killed by [US] forces were women and children.” The report indicated that the death toll “may be much higher,” and added, “this isn’t about individual soldiers doing bad things.” The real problem is “the approach to the occupation,” because Americans are shooting randomly at anything that moves.” In other words, the problem is policy, systematic policy. A US soldier captured the policy quite bluntly: “We had a great day today. We killed a lot of peopleâ€¦the Iraqis are sick people and we are the chemotherapy.” A former US soldier seeking asylum in Canada candidly said “the atrocious acts that are taking place in Iraq are not anomalies or isolated incidents but part of a plan of attack.” He added, “I didn’t want to be implicit in a criminal enterprise and hence a war criminalâ€¦[it is] soldiers who pay the price for the policies that come from on highâ€¦”
Here we should note that “leaders, organizers, instigators and accomplices participating in the formation of execution of a common plan or conspiracy to commit [atrocities as noted]â€¦are responsible for all acts performed by any person in execution of such plan.” In other words, the Doctrine of Command Responsibility is applicable so that military commanders, up to and including the Commander-in-Chief, and civilian leadership personnel, who planned, prepared, initiated or waged aggressive war in violation of international commitments and treaties, or who knew or should have known that subordinates were engaging in impermissible criminal acts, are responsible for the criminal acts of their subordinates, as well as their own acts of criminality. “The legal and moral responsibilities of commanders exceed those of any other leader of similar position and authority.” “Fallujah doctors have identified either swollen and yellowish corpses without any injuries (victims of chemical warfare], or ‘melted bodies,’ [victims of napalm - banned by the UN in 1980, with the US the only remaining country using napalm - another US war crime].” And one year later the “wasting” or Iraq continuesâ€¦
One year after Fallujah, with the death toll climbing continually, one is inclined to ask what a stark headline asked in the Australian newspaper The Age: “How Many Dead Innocent Iraqis is Too Many?” Given that 500,000 children ‘wasted’ by US sanctions was a price worth paying, according to Madeline Albright, one suspects that there may be no limit to “how many dead innocent Iraqis is too many,” for US policy makers working to gain control of Iraqi resources, establish a strong military presence in the region, install an obedient and obeisant puppet government, repress dissent and resistance, and then move on to the next stage of conquest in what Richard Falk calls the US Global Domination Project.
Should we assume that the killing will continue so long as the assumed benefits, as noted, are not outweighed by the costs, and costs include multiple forms of dissent at home? So long as resistance and opposition remain relatively quiescent, so long as actions are not carried out that raise the costs for elites and planners, will the killing continue? Should we assume that the killing will continue to be a price worth paying for the leadership and elites who have most to gain from the policies, even as those same policies ensure a further escalation in the dialectics of violence between state militarism and non-state terrorism?
There are many ways to kill aside from brutal barrages of body burning bombs, screeching and screaming helicopter gun ships, body lacerating machine gun fire, bone crushing tanks, artillery fire launching child-mutilating cluster bombs, people melting chemical weapons, etc. The Christian Science Monitor called this US destructive capacity to waste Fallujah “a textbook example of urban warfare,” an example not so much of US “prowess,” which is all too obvious, but of US “tenacity,” i.e. the resolute US commitment to carry out atrocious war crimes. In addition to the direct death and suffering that accrue when technological “prowess” lays waste to entire neighborhoods, “children in urban war zones die in vast numbers from diarrhea, respiratory infections and other causes, owing to unsafe drinking water, lack of refrigerated foods, and acute shortages of blood and basic medicines in clinics and hospitals (that is if civilians even dare to leave their houses for medical care).” There has been a doubling of severe malnutrition in Iraqi children since the U.S. invasion, the UN reported in November 2004, yet the US onslaught continues. Approximately 400,000 Iraqi children are suffering from chronic diarrhea and deleterious deficiencies of protein, victims of what is known as “wasting.” “Iraq’s child malnutrition rate now roughly equals that of Burundi, a central African nation torn by more than a decade of war.”
So, while some children are wasting away from the effects of malnutrition and disease, other children are “wasted” by U.S. bullets and bombs. In response to all of this, Muqtada al-Sadr, the Iraqi cleric, offered the following observation: “They say [we are] experiencing the worst humanitarian situations, without water and electricity, but no-one speaks about this. If the wronged party were America, wouldn’t the whole world come to its rescue and wouldn’t it denounce this?” The question, an application of the principle of universality, answers itself, when, and if, we are willing to ask.
Indiscriminate “wasting” of civilians, destroying hospitals, crushing children, vaporizing people, and “liberal rules of engagement,” i.e. “free-fire zones,” constitute willful killing and willful destruction, and are thus grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions. Grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions are war crimes, and by virtue of the US War Crimes Act may, “if death results to the victim,” result in a penalty of death for any victimizer convicted.
As noted, the “Doctrine of Command Responsibility” and the “Nuremberg Principles” hold responsible those who participate, or are complicit,” in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment [of war crimes].” Furthermore, status as Head of State or government official provides no relief from responsibility under international law, nor does the absence of an internal law to punish such crimes.”
While daily reports of explosive and deadly violence continued apace, an unusual exchange occurred at a White House press conference between Russell Mokhiber and Scott McLellan:
Mokhiber: Kofi Annan in September said that the Iraq war is an illegal war. If it is an illegal war, then the 100,000 who have died thereâ€¦are victims of war crimes. Now, the President is going to Canada later this year. And the largest circulation newspaper in Canada (the Tornoto Star) printed a column yesterday titled “Should Canada Indict Bush?” – raising the question of a war crimes prosecution. They have a war crimes law in Canadaâ€¦Has the White House counsel looked at the President’s legal exposure to a war crimes prosecution?”
McLellan: It is a ridiculous question that you bring upâ€¦
“Ridiculous” or not, criminal liability for crimes of war extends beyond the level of the perpetrator, and as noted, Head of State status provides no protection from responsibility. Again, in accord with the “Doctrine of Command Responsibility, commanders, including the commander-in-chief, must ensure that prisoners are not victims of abuse, torture or summary execution, civilians are not indiscriminately harmed, excessive force is not employed, and wars of aggression are not planned, prepared, initiated or waged. Bush, Rumsfeld and Cambone “created the conditions that allowed transgressions to take place,” Seymour Hersch was told by a senior Pentagon consultant. The position to transgress the law is not kept secret. In summing up Deputy Solicitor General Paul Clement’s defense of the Bush Administration in Gherebi v. Bush, 9th Circuit Court, the judge noted that “under the government’s theory, it is free to imprisonâ€¦indefinitelyâ€¦as it will, when it pleases, without compliance with any rule of law of any kind, without permitting him to consult counsel, and without acknowledging any judicial forum in which its actions may be challenged. Indeed, the government advised us that its position would be the same even if the claims were that it was engaging in acts of torture or that it was summarily executing the detainees.” And, we can add, “free to” carry out destruction of cities, mass murder and other war crimes.
The Bush Administration has made it clear that the United States stands outside the law, and reserves the “right” to imprison people indefinitely without charges and without access to counsel, to torture, to summarily execute people, to waste entire cities, and to carry out illegal wars of aggression “without compliance with any rule of law of any kind.” Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Powell, Feith, Wolfowitz, and others (e.g. “others” if we accept “complicity” to include propaganda support in which case the “circle of responsibility” quickly extends quite far into the electronic, airwave and print media, the education system, etc.) are clearly part of a group that participated in a common plan or conspiracy to accomplish the “planning, preparation, initiation [and]waging of a war of aggression” against Iraq “in violation of international treaties, agreements and assurances,” and have made it clear publicly that they are willing to abrogate fundamental tenets of domestic and international law.
Recently George W. Bush called The United Nations investigative report on Syria,
”deeply disturbing,” because the report made a link to high-ranking Syrian officials in the car bombing that killed Rafik Hariri (and 20 others) in February. Condi Rice added that “accountability is going to be very important,” and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, traveling with Rice, said the UN Security Council must “stand up for justice.” One might ask, if Mr. Bush, Ms. Rice, and Mr. Straw also find “deeply disturbing” their responsibility for the destruction of Fallujah, the crushing of children with tanks, the melting of people with chemical weapons, the bombing deaths of perhaps 100,000 Iraqis, mostly women and children, 2,000 dead US troops, and “Crimes Against Peace,” called “The Supreme International [War] Crime” at Nuremberg.
One year after the ‘wasting” of Fallujah the “sickening odor of rotting corpses” continues to permeate the horrid air in Iraq, and the “sickening,” swarming specter of US war crimes continues to wreak destruction across Iraq. Several questions come to the fore. What must be accomplished politically and culturally to: (1) overcome the ease with which we remain distanced from acts of wanton cruelty and savage acts of inhumanity; (2) apply to US leaders the same standards of law and morality we would demand of others in the face of barbaric violations of international conventions and laws; (3) transform the institutions that give rise to so much US induced misery, suffering and death. At what point will we demand that US leaders responsible for these crimes of war be held accountable? “How Many Dead Innocent Iraqis is Too Many?” “How Many Dead US Soldiers are Too Many?” What “right” does the US have to “waste” Iraqis? What will the “blowback” be for these crimes against humanity? Will we pay reparations to the Iraqis for the damage? What will it take to stop the US killing machine? What will it take to stop the next Fallujah? “Who are the real barbarians?”
These are questions of grave import to all US citizens concerned with justice, freedom, peace, survival and accountability.
Please allow a closing sonnet from G. Last:
AH, FREEDOM COMES TO IRAQ
Ah, the freedom to be fucked in the ass,
Ah, the freedom to be tied to a leash,
Ah, the freedom to be hooded and chained,
To shit in your pants, and rip out your hair,
To shiver and sweat, squirm naked in piss,
To know the agony will never pass;
The freedom to scream, the freedom to screechâ€¦
To know the torturers will not be rained
In by law, reason, or moral despair
Provides one the hateful freedom to kiss
Goodbye the life vomited on the floor
Amidst broken teeth and bloodied bile
Leaking from your holes. Freedom is the whore
And death the pimp with the “‘merican” smile.
g.last - ’05
Scott Morris teaches in the Curriculum and Instruction Department at Eastern New Mexico University. He can be reached by email at: [email protected]