20 October 2009

A Government Licensed Fortune Teller?

Yesterday I caught a glimpse of a show on Croatian public TV, a segment of which complained about "there still being no [state] regulation as to who can foretell the future". It was in relation to TV fortune tellers in the context of having to protect "more and more people" who are "in these troubled economic times" turning for advice to seers. I could not believe my ears.

Public television is actually implying that one set of fortune tellers can be more proficient at foretelling the future(!) than the other. We live in some very surreal times.

19 October 2009

The Liberators

Months ago an important story broke about how the members of a 3500 strong Colorado-based US Amy unit perpetrated a high number of crimes between their combat tours in the ongoing wars of the Empire. Wrongdoings that include murder, beating and rape. The crime rate among these soldiers has been twenty times higher than the average for males in their age bracket in America.

The original article, and most of the subsequent coverage, focused on the difficulties many veterans have functioning in a civilian environment, and on the toll the violent ways of some of them are taking on civilian America. What caught my attention was an admission from a few of the veterans that they had been perpetrating similar and worse horrors while occupying Iraq.

Occupation troops committing crimes in Iraq is nothing new in itself. Altogether there have been hundreds of reports about checkpoint slayings, firing on unarmed protestors, convoys opening fire on everything that moves after being hit by remotely triggered bombs, snipers killing Iraqis for using a cell phone, carrying a shovel or being out after the curfew and so on:
"'Toward the end, we were so mad and tired and frustrated,' Freeman said. 'You came too close, we lit you up. You didn’t stop, we ran your car over with the Bradley.'"

"If soldiers were hit by an IED, they would aim machine guns and grenade launchers in every direction, Marquez said, and 'just light the whole area up. If anyone was around, that was their fault. We smoked ’em.'"

"Other soldiers said they shot random cars, killing civilians."

"'It was just a free-for-all,' said Marcus Mifflin, 21, a friend of Eastridge who was medically discharged with PTSD after the tour. 'You didn’t get blamed unless someone could be absolutely sure you did something wrong. And that was hard. So things happened. Taxi drivers got shot for no reason. Guys got kidnapped and taken to the bridge and interrogated and dropped off.'"
What a picture of the supposed liberators of Iraq this makes. Running over people with armoured vehicles, shooting up cars at random, kidnapping people and dropping them off bridges. Just the sort of people you would love to set up base in your neighbourhood.

This picture should not come as a surprise. The military authorities themselves directly initiate war crimes of their own. The torture at Abu Graib comes to mind, as the "free-fire zone" in Fallujah with all the consequences that entailed and finally aerial bombing, which entails using potent weapons in urban areas and has probably been the single biggest cause of violent death for Iraqi civilians in the war.

It is entirely predictable then that a command which in this way demonstrates depraved indifference for the lives of ordinary Iraqis, should hand its soldiers instructions on how to conduct themselves that are themselves criminal and place the lives of occupational troops who have contracted to be put in harms way, far above the the lives of occupied civilians who have done no such thing. It should not come as a surprise that a command which hands its troops guidelines which are already, taken just by their word, criminal, should then fail to take meaningful action to make sure their trigger men follow even these watered down restrictions on slaying non-combatants.

The command took action in a few of the more gruesome cases like the Haditha and Mahmudiya massacres. In both of these cases the brass attempted to portray the atrocities as isolated events and the perpetrators as lone bad apples. But in reality the incidents while more graphic and extreme than the norm come on the backdrop of countless other crimes passively sanctioned by the command, with which they are closely linked.

Such incidents, as well as the killings on US soil by violently dysfunctional veterans, are only blips in a much wider and denser pattern of violence and depravity. Military authorities refuse to recognise this reality, however. When graphic killings like the one at Mahmudiya manage to find their way into the press they are quick to feint shock and horror, and to reassure the viewing public that these are incidents wholly unrepresentative of the US military conduct in Iraq. The blame is placed solely at the feet of the soldiers who have perpetrated them and who are then convicted in sacrificial trials.

This is done to cloak the fact that the highest military authorities are directly responsible for bringing into life the underlying culture of depravity that results in such massacres in the first place. Instructing troops to, for example, kill Iraqis for the crime of carrying a bag or a shovel has consequences.

The consequences of dehumanising Iraqis, blurring the distinction between Iraqi combatants and non-combatants and desanitising the occupying troops to harming non-combatants. This results in a far higher proportion of troops who are prone to acts of senseless violence than would otherwise be the case. Ergo the far higher instances of criminality among combat veterans. Not every single veteran who has killed a man for the crime of talking on a cell phone, as is the modus operandi of American troops in Iraq, is going to go on to commit further deplorable acts on his own, but it is easy to imagine how it could make it many times more likely, whether in America or in Iraq.

At the same time, however, the veterans of the occupation transport only a fraction of the pattern of violence to the streets of America and give civilian Americans only a tiny taste of what the Iraqis have had to contend with for over half a decade now. Rather than an illustration of what goes on in Iraq, the overspill of violence into America via dysfunctional veterans, can better serve as the proof of the farcicality of the explanation that massacres in Iraq happen on the account of a few bad apples.

The crimes in America did not happen due to a few bad apples. The 3500 strong Colorado unit did not by some act of fate end up with twenty times the number of bad apples than could be statistically expected. Instead the immoral things the troops did and were expected to do while maintaining the occupation of Iraq left many of them scarred, violently unpredictable and out of control. It is not down to bad apples. It is down to the criminal enterprise of a bloody occupation and how it transforms people taking part in it into blood fiends.

Think just for a moment, if the criminality of combat troops in the US is twenty times the expected rate, what was the rate while they were stationed in Iraq? If members of a 3500 strong unit have slain 10 people at home in the United States then just how many slayings are weighing on their conscience from Iraq? Maybe a hint can be found in the previously highlighted quote:
"Toward the end, we were so mad and tired and frustrated,' Freeman said. 'You came too close, we lit you up. You didn’t stop, we ran your car over with the Bradley.'"

"If soldiers were hit by an IED, they would aim machine guns and grenade launchers in every direction, Marquez said, and 'just light the whole area up. If anyone was around, that was their fault. We smoked ’em.'"
Gruesome massacres like the one at Mahmdiya may not be frequent, but that does not mean that they are isolated incidents. After having "smoked" people for being around when an IED hit and thought nothing of it, how much of a step up is it to massacre an Iraqi family in their home? Or commit a senseless murder at home in between tours?

So just how much responsibility should the people who signal to the rank and file that it is not wrong to "smoke" Iraqi civilians at the tiniest indication that they represent a danger bear for the consequent crimes of the troops who did so, but then did not quite stop at that, but instead went just a little bit further?