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With the Democrats having nominated an admitted war criminal for president, and with our president and commander-in-chief having perpetrated, encouraged and overseen war crimes of historic scale, perhaps it’s no surprise that down on the ground, the little crimes of American servicemen and women are getting airbrushed away.
Still, in this law-and-order era of George Bush and John Ashcroft, when a majority of Americans still say it’s right and proper to have the state execute people for the crime of murder, even if there may be a few mistakes made and innocent people killed, it’s worth asking: when is murder not murder?
The answer: when it’s committed by a guy in uniform against somebody from another country.
Look at the record.
Last January, a group of four U.S. soldiers deliberately pushed two Iraqi civilians who were completely under their control into the river and then allegedly watched as one of them, 19-year-old Fadel Hassoun, drowned. The men lied about what they had done, and subsequently, when that didn’t work, claimed that they’d acted under orders from unspecified higher-ups.
The military charged three of the men not with murder, but with "involuntary manslaughter"-the same charge you might get if you negligently hit and killed someone with your car in an accident. A fourth soldier in the group was charged with assault for pushing the dead man’s cousin, 23-year-old Marwan Fadel Hassoun into the river (he managed to swim to safety and to report the crime, which is the only reason there’s any prosecution at all). The explanation for the "involuntary manslaughter" charge is that these liars said they didn’t know the men were drowning, and in the words of one, "wouldn’t have left the scene" if they’d known that was happening. (Several of the commanders of the three men’s platoon have been handed "non-judicial" punishments, which do not involve any jail time.)
Imagine if this same situation had occurred among civilians here in the U.S. In fact, don’t imagine it. We have cases-for example one in Pennsylvania recently where a kid dropped a chunk of ice of a bridge onto an interstate, which shattered the windshield of a car, killing the driver. The local DA immediately went with a murder charge, not manslaughter.
If anything, the absolute control that American occupying troops have in Iraq over the people they capture should demand a higher standard for behavior, not a lower one. Instead, this kind of cover-up-all too typical–is just what encourages some young American soldiers to become modern incarnations of the jack-booted SS of the German Wehrmacht in World War II.
It’s a fair guess that the punishment faced by the only American soldier facing murder charges for the killing of an Iraqi, Capt. Rogelio Maynulet, 29, whose case is currently being investigated in a hearing in Germany, will ultimately be similarly brushed under the rug. Maynulet allegedly killed a wounded Iraqi after a car chase last May. His former commander, at the hearing yesterday, reportedly praised him as "special, trustworthy and honest."
The problem is that such virtues, even if true, are completely irrelevant in a war situation. People who might be absolute saints in their treatment of fellow soldiers and their countrymen, can still act monstrously towards those they perceive as the enemy. I’m sure many of the worst SS troops in the Nazi army were upstanding citizens in their home communities, and model soldiers in dealing with their compatriots, even as they butchered Jews, Gypsies, and enemy soldiers. Such testimony from Maynulet’s commander should be heavily discounted by tribunal members hearing his case-but probably won’t be.
An army of occupation is automatically viewed negatively by those who are being occupied. Even after American troops liberated Western Europe from the Nazis in 1945, American troops were often resented by those they had rescued. But with American war crimes and criminals in uniform being given such license now, even as captured alleged combatants are being hooded, raped, humiliated, tortured and even killed, it’s little wonder that our 140,000 troops in Iraq and 15,000 troops in Afghanistan are hated, feared and viewed so widely not just as unpleasant overlords, but as the enemy.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled "This Can’t be Happening!" to be published this fall by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org