Retired marine General James Mattis, who retired from being the head of CENTCOM in 2013, has become known recently for his stance against what he calls “political Islam.”
“Is political Islam in the best interest of the United States?” Mattis said at the far right-wing Heritage Foundation in 2015. “I suggest the answer is no, but we need to have the discussion. If we won’t even ask the question, how do we even recognize which is our side in a fight?”
Another controversial aspect of his selection that much of the media is focusing on is the fact that in order to get the job, Mattis would need Congress to pass new legislation to bypass a federal law stating that it has to have been seven years since defense secretaries have been on active duty. Congress has only bypassed that law once in US history, and that occurred over 50 years ago.
More importantly, Mattis, known to some by the nickname of “Mad Dog,” has shown a callous disregard for human life, particularly civilians, as evidenced by his behavior leading marines in Iraq, comments he made about enjoying fighting in Afghanistan because “it’s fun to shoot some people. You know, it’s a hell of a hoot,” and myriad other problems.
Mattis’ Role in the Haditha Massacre
While Mattis has ample military experience — serving as NATO’s supreme allied commander and with more than 40 years in the Marine Corps, his nickname seems apt.
He also said, when speaking to a group of soldiers about how to behave in Iraq during a 2003 speech, “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”
But more importantly, he is clearly responsible for carrying out and/or aiding and abetting in several war crimes.
In November 2005 US marines in Iraq committed a massacre of 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians. The slaughtering of unarmed men, women, children and elderly people, shot multiple times at close range, was retribution for a roadside bomb attack on a convoy of marines. The war crimes were extremely well documented and the atrocity garnered international attention.
When it came time to bring the marines responsible for the massacre to justice, Mattis was the convening authority over the eight charged with crimes at Haditha.
Mattis went on to dismiss all of the charges leveled against the marines who had been accused of killing the civilians and of the eight originally charged, only one still faces possible prosecution, but one can guess how that will end up.
Mattis’ Role in Fallujah
Mattis was the head of Camp Pendleton’s 1st Marine Division in Iraq and played a lead role during both of the US sieges of Fallujah in 2004.
During the April 2004 siege, more than 700 civilians were killed by the US military, according to Iraqi doctors in the city whom I interviewed in the aftermath of that attack.
While reporting from inside Fallujah during that siege, I personally witnessed women, children, elderly people and ambulances being targeted by US snipers under Mattis’ command. Needless to say, all of these are war crimes.
During the November siege of Fallujah later that same year, which I also covered first-hand, more than 5,000 Iraqi civilians were killed. Most were buried in mass graves in the aftermath of the siege.
Mosques were deliberately targeted by the US military, hospitals bombed, medical workers detained, ambulances shot at, cease-fires violated, media repressed, and the use of depleted uranium was widespread. All of these are, again, war crimes.
At that time I broke the story of the US military’s use of white phosphorous, an incendiary weapon similar to napalm in its ability to burn all the way down to the bone. The use of white phosphorus was a violation of international law, given that it was unleashed in the city during a time when the Pentagon itself admitted to at least 50,000 civilians still being present.
More than 200,000 civilians were displaced from their homes during the November siege, and over 75 percent of the city was destroyed.
The horrific legacy of depleted uranium contamination continues, with stillbirths and birth defects still occurring at astronomical rates, creating a situation so extreme that some Iraqi doctors are calling it a genocide.
Life Under Attack by Mattis-Led Forces
In this moment, as we countenance Mattis’ planned ascension as secretary of defense, I’d like to share an excerpt from my book Beyond the Green Zone. Taken from a chapter about the April 2004 US siege of Fallujah, this report offers a clear view of the war crimes over which Mattis presided, including the deliberate targeting of innocent civilians, widespread collective punishment and more:
We rolled toward the one small clinic where we were to deliver our medical supplies. The small clinic was managed by Maki al-Nazzal, who was hired just four days ago. He was not a doctor. The other makeshift clinic in Fallujah was in a mechanic’s garage. He had barely slept in the past week, nor had any of the doctors at the small clinic.
Originally, the clinic had just three doctors, but since the US military bombed one of the hospitals and were currently sniping at people as they attempted to enter or exit the main hospital, effectively, there were only these two small clinics treating the entire city.
The boxes of medical supplies we brought into the clinic were torn open immediately by the desperate doctors. A woman entered, slapping her chest and face, and wailing as her husband carried in the dying body of her little boy. Blood was trickling off one of his arms, which dangled out of his father’s arms. Thus began my witnessing of an endless stream of women and children who had been shot by the US soldiers and were now being raced into the dirty clinic, the cars speeding over the curb out front, and weeping family members carrying in their wounded. One 18-year-old girl had been shot through the neck. She was making breathy gurgling noises as the doctors frantically worked on her amid her muffled moaning. Flies dodged the working hands of doctors to return to the patches of her vomit that stained her black abaya.
Her younger brother, a small child of 10 with a gunshot wound in his head from a marine sniper, his eyes glazed and staring into space, continually vomited as the doctors raced to save his life while family members cried behind me. “The Americans cut our electricity days ago, so we cannot vacuum the vomit from his throat,” a furious doctor tells me. They were both loaded into an ambulance and rushed toward Baghdad, only to die en route.
Another small child lay on a blood-spattered bed, also shot by a sniper. The boy’s grandmother lay nearby, shot as she was attempting to carry children from their home and flee the city. She lay on a bed dying, still clutching a bloodied white surrender flag. Hundreds of families were trapped in their homes, terrorized by US snipers shooting from rooftops and the minarets of mosques whenever they saw someone move past a window.
Blood bags were being kept in a food refrigerator, warmed under running water before being given to patients. There were no anesthetics. The lights went out as the generator ran dry of fuel, so the doctors, who had been working for days on end, worked by light provided by men holding up cigarette lighters or flashlights as the sun set. Needless to say, there was no air-conditioning inside the steamy “clinic.”
One victim of the US military aggression after another was brought into the clinic, nearly all of them women and children, carried by weeping family members. Those who had not been hit by bombs from warplanes had been shot by US snipers. The one functioning ambulance left at this clinic sat outside with bullet holes in the sides and a small group of shots right on the driver’s side of the windshield. The driver, his head bandaged from being grazed by the bullet of a sniper, refused to go collect any more of the dead and wounded.
Standing near the ambulance in frustration, Maki told us, “They [US soldiers] shot the ambulance and they shot the driver after they checked his car, inspected his car, and knew that he was carrying nothing. Then they shot him. And then they shot the ambulance. And now I have no ambulance to evacuate more than 20 wounded people. I don’t know who is doing this and why he is doing this. This is terrible. This has never happened before. And I don’t know who to call because it seems that nobody is listening.”
The stream of patients slowed to a sporadic influx as night fell. Maki sat with me as we shared cigarettes in a small office in the rear of the clinic. “For all my life, I believed in American democracy,” he told me with an exhausted voice. “For 47 years, I had accepted the illusion of Europe and the United States being good for the world, the carriers of democracy and freedom. Now I see that it took me 47 years to wake up to the horrible truth. They are not here to bring anything like democracy or freedom.
“Now I see it has all been lies. The Americans don’t give a damn about democracy or human rights. They are worse than even Saddam.” I asked him if he minded if I quoted him with his name. “What are they going to do to me that they haven’t already done here,” he said.
Another car skipped over the curb outside and a man who was burned from head to toe was carried in on a stretcher. He surely died shortly, as there was no way this clinic could treat massive burns. Maki, frustrated and in shock, said, “They say there is a cease-fire. They said 12 o’clock, so people went out to do some shopping. Everybody who went out was shot and this place was full, and half of them were dead.”
More than 20 dead bodies had been brought to this clinic during the last 24 hours of the “cease-fire.” Shortly after this, another car skidded to a stop, and a man hit with cluster bombs was unloaded. “The Americans have been using cluster bombs often here,” Maki tells me somberly. “And of course they love their DU [depleted uranium].”
It is clear that Trump’s secretary of defense selection of Mattis, an unprosecuted war criminal, is yet another egregious act against justice and the rule of international law.
Mattis was a high-level marine commander overseeing both sieges of Fallujah who then played an active role in making sure eight marines involved in a massacre walked away from any appropriate punishment.
These are just a few of his highlights from Iraq.
Imagine what he could do to the rest of the world.
Dahr Jamail, a Truthout staff reporter, is the author of The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan (Haymarket Books, 2009), and Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq (Haymarket Books, 2007). Jamail reported from Iraq for more than a year, as well as from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey over the last 10 years, and has won the Martha Gellhorn Award for Investigative Journalism, among other awards.