Blood On Our Hands

Book by Nicolas J.S. Davies; 2010, Nimble Books LLC, Ann Arbor, 440 pp.

Blood on our Hands is a powerful and important book that unravels the Bush administration’s lies and deceptions, revealing its brutal policies and conduct during the invasion and occupation of Iraq. It explains the almost unbelievable violence—its rationales, applications, extent, impact, illegalities, and cover-ups—and what that violence means in human terms, to Americans as well as Iraqis.

The book explains the broad foreign policy of which the destruction of Iraq was a part. Briefly, the U.S. policy is to try to maintain a monopoly on military power in the world, so it can destroy its “enemies” with as few American casualties as possible by using a combination of proxies, covert action, propaganda, and overwhelming force. Once a nation is targeted, the corporate and bureaucratic interests that drive the military machine determine how to fracture it for generations to come, so that it will be manageable and exploitable. They hire the “best and brightest” American minds to cover their tracks. Davies unravels the machinations of the Bush regime while exposing its pattern of illegal criminal actions and the people complicit in them, including the media.

The history of the Iraq War is chilling. In the beginning the CIA hired Saddam Hussein and helped him rise to power. The U.S. supplied him with anthrax, other biological warfare agents, and satellite intelligence to support his chemical warfare. It encouraged him to attack Iran, looked away when he gassed the Kurds, and may have given him the green light to invade Kuwait—after which the U.S. bombed Iraq’s army into oblivion and instituted sanctions and no-fly zones that crippled its economy.

When Iraq was sufficiently softened up and Saddam sufficiently vilified, the Bush administration used 9/11 as a pretext to effect an invasion that had been planned for years. It lied about Iraqi uranium purchases in Africa, interfered in the UN inspection process, undermined the UN Security Council, and used the image of a nuclear holocaust to terrorize the American people into supporting the invasion.

The son of a British Naval officer, Davies tells how Tony Blair rejected legal advice that warned the planned invasion would be an illegal crime of aggression. Nevertheless, the events leading up to the “shock and awe” campaign—whose architects compared it to a Nazi Blitzkrieg—were carefully scripted and preordained, with the complicity of the pro-war media.

Davies does a wonderful job articulating, and supporting with facts the mechanics of American control over every facet of occupied Iraq, from its hand-picked collaborators, to the military and security forces it organized and operated, and, of course, every penny appropriated for reconstruction and building military bases.

The media has propagated the myth that violence in Iraq is sectarian, with the Americans standing in the way of a far greater number of atrocities that would occur should they withdraw. As Davies explains, the truth is exactly the opposite. We learn about the “Salvador Option,” a plan that involved special units hunting down and assassinating civilians suspected of being key figures in the insurgency, based on the CIA’s Phoenix Program in Vietnam.

When Americans were not in charge of the death squads themselves, they were training Iraqis to do it. Davies names the protagonists and unravels the organizational shell game that enabled their deadly charade.

He explains how a former senior DEA officer and a retired U.S. army officer, most likely under contract to the CIA, created teams of commandoes within Iraq’s Interior Ministry. Linked to a wave of extra-judicial killings in which the victims were invariably handcuffed, blindfolded, tortured, and shot once in the head, the plausible denial of the occupation’s command and control of these terror teams protected the U.S. from worldwide condemnation over its crimes.

Always focused on law and language, Davies shows how the American recruitment and training of security forces in Iraq was not designed to stabilize Iraq, but to complete the conquest of the country. The horrors of wrongful and indefinite detention are described in detail. There is a particularly edifying chapter on how the occupation government’s terror teams, aided by the American propaganda machine, exploited the conflict between Sunnis and Shiites. He presents the evidence necessary to trace the operational realities in the field back to those who were responsible for the policies, exposing the cover operations.

Davies tells how, as policy, the U.S. dismantled Iraq’s industries and public institutions and thus created the soaring unemployment that made it possible to recruit young men to the puppet government’s armed forces and militias, under U.S. command. He talks about the use of language to manipulate the American public: how smart bombs become a euphemism for carpet bombing, and how military planners knew full well that most casualties would be civilians, despite assuring people that their technology would minimize civilian deaths.

The military also propagandized its own troops, leaving them in the dark about their obligations under the Geneva Conventions and leading them to believe they were fighting a war of divine retribution. Davies pulls no punches in showing how American civilians and soldiers were conditioned by their politicians and the media into falsely believing that Iraq was involved in the attacks of 9/11 and connected to Al Qaeda. Deliberately deceived by the officer corps, many soldiers believed that all Iraqi civilians should be treated as insurgents.

The deception of the soldiers and the criminality of their leaders, enhanced by the most powerful weapons in military history, resulted in a brutal occupation in which torture, the killing of wounded enemy combatants, the abuse of civilians—from the theft and destruction of their money and private property, to the sexual abuse of detainees arrested on false charges—became commonplace.

All this happened because terrorizing the Iraqis into submission was the policy. Soldiers were rarely charged with any crimes, let alone murder. When cases did get to court, evidence was fudged or lost. When convictions were unavoidable, crimes were blamed on a few bad apples—invariably those who obeyed orders, not those who issued them.

During sieges of Iraqi cities, U.S. forces illegally used access to food, water, medicine, doctors, and electricity as a means of blackmail that people hand over resistance fighters. Then, when they refused, this became the pretext for savage bombardment. Before the final assault on Fallujah, young men and boys were detained at checkpoints or turned back to remain trapped in the killing zone, where snipers and aerial and artillery bombardment wasted everyone and everything. Americans destroyed the city, racking up a barbaric death toll of at least 4,000 civilians.

Davies, unlike the mainstream media, actually uses the word resistance, not insurgency, and tells how the resistance was initially characterized by nonviolent street demonstrations. The Americans, however, used violence to incite violence. As in Fallujah, they provoked conflict by killing civilians in cold blood before any armed resistance was present in the area. As the resistance grew, so did the assassination campaign designed to drive a wedge between the Iraqis and to forestall a united resistance. Those who spoke out publicly against the occupation were assassinated, often in ways that deliberately obscured responsibility. Having granted themselves immunity, the Americans began to revel openly in their violence. But, as Davies states, there is no political or military solution that can reconcile the people of Iraq to their invasion, subjugation, and subservience to American interests.

Blood on Our Hands explains why achieving peace is difficult, but not impossible and must be our goal. It is a sober reminder of the dangers of a foreign policy based on belligerent nationalism and how such policies can affect the very nature of the people who support them.


Douglas Valentine is a journalist and historian. His latest book is The Strength of the Pack: The Personalities, Politics and Espionage Intrigues that Shaped The DEA.