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Day 17

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Who Would You Believe?

Revenging Bloodshed

by BRIAN CLOUGHLEY

Do Bush and his people ever wonder why more and more recruits are joining the movements to fight against US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan? The overall policy of Shock and Awe has a great deal to do with it. Washington’s deeply-held belief that bullying is the solution to making America the world’s greatest country is a prime cause of widespread resentment and loathing. But of even more effectiveness in revving the engines of hatred for the US are the stories and pictures that go round the world concerning the slaughter of women, children and innocent men in attacks by US soldiers and aircraft.

Looking back to my military past I remember what the infantry did. Their duty — their ethos as soldiers, when engaged by the enemy — was described something like this: "To close with and kill the enemy in any weather and in any terrain by day or by night." That’s the way soldiers were trained in the long-ago.

But now it appears the slogan is "If you think you’re being shot at, blaze away at anything that moves or, better still, call in airstrikes that will kill lots of people, many of whom will be women and children."

After machine-gunning a dozen or so civilians you call in a Public Relations’ media strike that says you only fired two or three rounds that couldn’t have hit anyone. Or if you gave the jet jockeys employment by calling for a few thousand-pound bombs that smashed houses to rubble and killed a dozen or so women and children, it doesn’t matter a bit, because the PR robomouths will declare that you didn’t do it. But sometimes the inconvenient truth comes out:

" ‘I saw everything,’ said Reuters correspondent Noor Mohammad Sherzai. ‘I saw the suicide bomb attack . . . then the Americans started firing.’ A spokesman for U.S.-led coalition forces said only one soldier had opened fire. "A US servicemen fired two shots and those shots were away from the crowd and not directed toward the crowd," said Major Joe Klopple. Sherzai and other reporters at the scene said many shots were fired and Afghan police were among those fleeing the scene. ‘I was running away as fast as I could, but some of the police overtook me,’ Sherzai said. ‘A bullet hit the ground between my legs while I was running,’ said Takiullah Taki, a cameraman for private Afghan channel Tolo TV. ‘Some Afghan national police wanted to shoot back, but others said that would make the situation deteriorate further so they did not’."

OK; so who do we believe? Do we trust Mr Sherzai and Mr Taki and the others who were shot at by US troops, or Major Joe Klopple who wasn’t there but proclaimed to the world that only two shots were fired?

Are we to conclude that an American Army officer told a deliberate lie?

Then there are the scores of claims that "insurgents" are killed by airstrikes in which hundreds of ordinary people have been slaughtered in Afghanistan and Iraq. Just how do US forces know that a precise number of "insurgents" died in their air strikes? Do ground troops go in and check their identities? Do "insurgents" carry identity cards? How are they identifiable? What distinguishes them from ordinary people? Can the US military explain how ANY of the people they kill in air strikes can be said to be "insurgents"?

Here’s an item from the Washington Post, which has some extremely brave Iraqis reporting for it:

"BAGHDAD, Oct. 12. The U.S. military’s account of the violence said troops were shot at during the raid and called in an airstrike in self-defense. In addition to the civilians killed, the U.S. military estimated that 19 suspected insurgents died. A U.S. military spokesman, Maj. Winfield S. Danielson III, said the initial death tolls of combatants and civilians were estimates. Of the 15 civilians initially reported killed, all were women and children, and it was unclear whether the U.S. military considered all the males killed to be insurgents."

"Suspected insurgents" were blown to pieces because some soldiers said they were shot at. Now of course they may well have been shot at — although none of them were wounded or killed, and we would have certainly been told about that, if it had happened. But the dead Iraqis were not convicted insurgents. They weren’t even definite insurgents. They were "suspected" insurgents. Or even "unclear" insurgents. No matter what they were called, they died, along with the women and kids. Who cares?

The Bush administration has no time for lily-livered baloney like internationally-agreed agreements that declare the killing of civilians to be illegal. Here is part of what is laid out by "Protocol 1 Additional to the Geneva Conventions, 1977 . . . General Protection Against Effects of Hostilities":

"Among others, the following types of attacks are to be considered as indiscriminate:

- An attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated."

Then think about this description of a US attack, given by the New York Times last month:

"As the [football] teams lined up Thursday for the game [in the dire suburb of Abu Dshir in Baghdad], neighborhood residents said, a crowd of men gathered to watch. They lighted a large oil lamp which illuminated the street, a small shopping area where grocers and fruit vendors stay open late this time of year. Two American helicopters hovered overhead. Moments after the game began, the helicopters opened fire on the crowd, the witnesses said."

Then:

"Seven men were killed, Sayyid Malik Abadi, the head of the district security committee, who arrived at the scene shortly after the episode, said Friday. He said perhaps an eighth man had died as well, but too many body parts were scattered about to be certain exactly how many were killed.

"The helicopters watched, and they thought it was a gathering and fired on it," Mr. Abadi said. "They fired rockets. When people started to run, the helicopters’ machine guns began shooting at the people who were running."

The American military had a different version of events. A spokesman said that earlier in the evening American forces had twice observed episodes when two or three men fired mortars into the neighborhood to the north. After the second episode, the military called for an airstrike.

"We assess possibly two or three were killed or wounded," said Maj. Brad Leighton, a spokesman for the multinational forces in Baghdad. "We were not able to get an accurate assessment," he added. "Collateral damage was not observed, but it is a possibility," Major Leighton said. "If some innocents were killed, we regret that"."

Who do we believe? Major Brad Leighton, who was "not able to get an accurate assessment", or Ahmad Abdullah, 37, a taxi driver, who next day "stood watching the coffins being loaded back onto the trucks to be driven for burial to Najaf, a city holy to Shiites. "It was a real massacre of innocent people, without clear reason," he said. "I lost my brother-in-law — he was the father of three kids and he was just watching the game. May God revenge the bloodshed of those martyrs."

There is no doubt that the deaths will be revenged. But by whom, and where, and how? Certainly not through international processes in response to the Geneva Convention’s strictures concerning killing that is "excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated," which are treated with contempt by Bush.

The relatives and friends of the dead will encourage the youth of the local population to join the resistance movement and kill as many Americans as they can. But the atrocities have a much wider effect. Pictures of shattered bodies of Iraqi and Afghan children rarely if ever appear on TV screens in the US, but they are seen in most countries in the Middle East and Asia. DVDs are made of them and distributed cheaply in bazaars from Morocco to Manila. They have an amazing impact.

Young Muslims around the world are being encouraged to take revenge for the killing of women and children by US forces. The fires of their hatred are being fuelled by attacks on civilians. Insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan will wreak vengeance within their own countries, but nobody knows where else there will be revenge for bloodshed.

BRIAN CLOUGHLEY is a former army officer who writes on political and military affairs. His website is www.briancloughley.com