Barbaric Relativism



“Grisly Deaths” ­ The New York Times

“Grisly assault” ­ Associated Press

” Savage behavior” ­ Washington Post

Nobody wants to see the kind of ugly spectacle that occurred earlier this week.

In Fallujah, Iraq, where four U.S. mercenaries were killed and then had their bodies burned, hacked up, dragged through the streets and ultimately hung trophy-like from a bridge over the Euphrates River.

That said, the way this event was covered by the Western press shows a marked tendency to view the war through politically, culturally and journalistically biased eyes.

It may well be appropriate to call the mutilation of corpses barbaric, grisly and savage, or even, as the White House said, “despicable,” but then, one has to recall that American troops have long done the same kind of thing. Remember those photos of severed ears and noses hanging from GIs’ belts during the Vietnam War, and the bodies of suspected Viet Cong partisans being dragged behind personnel carriers?

More to the point, what is one to call the U.S. occupation force’s rules of engagement, which call for American forces to fire off everything they’ve got in all directions when they come under attack, even if they are in the middle of a residential block?

In fact, it was only a few days before the killing of the four employees of the North Carolina-based mercenary contracting firm Blackwater Security Consulting, that U.S. troops in Fallujah had, in the words of a New York Times report, “battled insurgents killing a number of civilians.”

Civilian deaths in Iraq, including innocent women and children, are the dirty secret of this terrible war and occupation. They number in the tens of thousands by most accounts, though the American occupation authority has blocked Iraqi medical officials from tallying the number, for obvious reasons.

Do we call this random deadly use of force in highly populated areas barbaric, grisly or savage?

No. In fact, the military calls it “justified,” on those rare occasions when it actually investigates the killing of innocents.

To date, no American soldier has been prosecuted for a war crime in Iraq, or for an improper use of deadly force-though one soldier was disciplined for abusing a prisoner of war.

Actually, another New York Times article that ran the same day as the report on the mutilation of the American mercenaries’ bodies actually hinted at the barbaric nature of the U.S. occupation. Referring to the killing a few days earlier of two Arab journalists, it reported that the U.S. military had “accepted responsibility” for the deaths. The journalists, the military said, had had the misfortune of being driving directly behind a vehicle that appeared to be running a military checkpoint. As a result they were hit as well when the threatening vehicle was fired on. The Pentagon report added, by way of justification of the deaths, that the journalists were driving in a “beaten zone.”

What’s a “beaten zone”? An area which is being saturated with heavy weapons fire.

Barbaric? Grisly? Savage behavior? Despicable? You bet. But nobody in the U.S. media calls it that. Only when the killing and abuse is done at the hands of Iraqi Insurgents (actually the White House calls them terrorists, not insurgents) do such words apply.

And what about the four unfortunate mercenaries? What exactly were they doing in Fallujah, a hotbed of insurrection?

The Washington Post quoted government sources as saying the men were contracted by the occupation authority to guard “food convoys” coming into Falluja.

In fact, these men are part of a private army of thousands of highly-paid mercenaries-most of them former U.S. soldiers, though also including many veterans of the South African white military, the Chilean army, and other military units known for their barbarism and savage behavior.

While these people are euphemistically called “private security agents,” they are not really anything like the rent-a-cops you find strolling the aisles at your local Kmart. They are a private army, exempt from the rules of war and from government oversight, employed by the U.S. to boost troop strength in Iraq at a time that it is politically impossible for the Bush Administration to do so overtly.

The White House may call the killing of the four men a “senseless loss of life,” but for the insurgents battling the U.S. occupation, while the deaths may have been brutal, they were hardly senseless. It was, for them, an act of war.

We can expect the government to try to beat the patriotic drum, trying to pump upa jingoistic fervor among the public, but the media should not be joining in this cheap propaganda.

The American public deserves better from its news purveyors.

If journalists are going to call some of the dreadful things that are happening in Iraq barbaric, grisly or savage, they had better start being honest about it, and applying those terms to all the acts that merit such adjectives-no matter who commits them.

DAVE LINDORFF, currently a Fulbright senior scholar in Taiwan, is completing a book of Counterpunch columns
titled “This Can’t be Happening!” to be published this fall by Common Courage Press.



This article by Dave Lindorff appeared originally in ThisCantBeHappening! on its new Substack platform at Please check out the new site and consider signing up for a cut-rate subscription that will be available until the end of the month.