I just viewed images of American soldiers torturing and abusing Iraqi prisoners. My first thought was, “Is this the My Lai of Iraq?” On March 16, 1968, in the village of My Lai, Vietnam, a group of American soldiers, under the command of platoon leader Lt. William Calley, killed several hundred Vietnamese civilians, including women and children. A witness to this turned them in. A year later, charges were brought against Calley and his troops. He was sentenced to prison, and was released after only a few years.
Why was he released so soon? Because of the uproar that occurred across the United States, a big part of which came from other Vietnam veterans. They had seen this kind of massacre all too often. It was more common in Vietnam than anybody in authority was willing to admit. The protests focused on this, arguing that Calley should not have even been court-martialed for doing something that was encouraged by military leaders.
The Winter Soldier hearings of 1971 came about in a big way to show the world and America that murdering Vietnamese civilians and burning their villages was a common occurrence, and sometimes even expected.
Jump forward to 2004. Photographs of American soldiers torturing and abusing Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib surface. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, Deputy Director of coalition operations in Iraq, is interviewed by Dan Rather on 60 Minutes: Soldiers in the photos are now facing court-martial. My question–how common is this? I’d previously read other stories of abuse by American soldiers in Iraq, and at Guantanamo Bay.
Even Kimmitt admitted, “I’d like to sit here and say these are the only prisoner abuse cases we’re aware of, but we know there have been other ones since we have been here in Iraq.” I just don’t believe soldiers do any of this on their own. But let me go beyond this and discuss what I have heard and read about part of the training our government provides our young people. The word is: DEHUMANIZATION. It happened in Vietnam. It’s still happening. For a soldier to call an Iraqi a human–unacceptable. Can you even train a person to kill other humans rather haphazardly? I don’t think so. But if you turn those people into gooks or ragheads, or whatever non-human assignment you can think of, the soldier is no longer murdering human beings. No, they are killing things, bugs, irrelevant living creatures. Isn’t this the attitude reflected in these photos?
I saw similar pictures as these in the Winter Soldier hearings. Soldiers had not just killed the enemy and murdered people. They had gone on the hunt, and successfully bagged their prey. Imagine hunters throwing their ducks on the back of their pickup truck. Imagine a fisherman having his picture taken while standing next to his big fish hanging on a hook. Imagine soldiers throwing their enemy in piles and having their pictures taken giving a big “thumbs up” to the people at home. Oops–you don’t have to imagine that, we saw it on 60 Minutes. This is war. War is not pretty or noble. This is what we are training our young people to do in order to win. (by the way, can anybody tell me what we are “winning” in Iraq?) I do not excuse them. But even more, I do not excuse my government for providing them the kind of training and leadership that would lead to them do this and make them even consider they are doing the right thing.
The blame needs to roll uphill, but unfortunately, it won’t. Sgt. Chip Frederick is one of those being court-martialed. “The way the Army was running the prison led to the abuse of prisoners. We had military intelligence (MI), all kinds of other government agencies involved – the FBI, CIA, and other agencies we didn’t recognize. We were helping the interrogators. MI had encouraged us and told us ‘great job.'”
Rather: “How could a person such as Frederick, described almost universally as a good guy get himself into this kind of jam.”
Attorney Gary Myers, and a Judge Advocate in Iraq: “The elixir of power. The elixir of believing you are helping the CIA for god’s sake, when you’re from a small town in Virginia, that’s intoxicating. And so good guys sometimes do things believing that they are being of assistance and helping a just cause and helping people they view as important.”
In David Grossman’s book, “On Killing,” he describes a study indicating that in WWII and Korea, soldiers had only fired their weapon 20 percent of the time. How inefficient! Military leaders realized they needed to do something to insure the troops fired their weapons more. If they could figure out how to do this, they could send fewer troops into battle, reducing costs all around–salaries, benefits, uniforms, and weapons. Well, they apparently succeeded.
I think back to what happened to Rev, John Dear S.J. a Jesuit Priest in New Mexico. He was awakened last November by soldiers standing in front of his CHURCH chanting their war slogans, like “Kill! Kill! Kill!” and “Swing your guns from left to right; we can kill those guys all night.” “Their chants went on for over an hour. They were disturbing, but this is war. They have to psyche themselves up for the kill. They have to believe that flying off to some tiny, remote desert town in Iraq where they will march in front of someone’s house and kill poor young Iraqis has some greater meaning besides cold-blooded murder,” said Dear.
This same kind of brainwashing led many soldiers in Vietnam to randomly murder women, children, the elderly and the sick. That has happened in Iraq. Who do you think killed the 11,000 plus women, children, elderly and sick civilians in Iraq?
But this isn’t even what I intended to write about when I started this.
I want to talk about the hypocrisy of General Kimmitt’s comments on 60 Minutes II tonight. “This is wrong. This is reprehensible. But this is not representative of the 150,000 soldiers that are over here. I’d say the same thing to the American people. Don’t judge your Army based on the actions of a few.” Hmmm… On September 11, 2001, nineteen men hijacked four airplanes and crashed them into buildings in the United States. It just so happened that these nineteen men were all MUSLIMS. And what has happened in our country ever since? Muslims have become the enemy. Muslims are the object of hate crimes. Muslims have become the object of Bush’s “war for freedom.” The United States used the nineteen men as a representative sample of the over one billion Muslims in the world.
More recently, when four mercenaries were murdered in Fallujah by a small group of angry Iraqi men, our military, under the leadership of General Kimmitt, laid siege to an entire city, murdering hundreds of women, children, elderly and sick. In other words, the few people who killed these well-armed, highly trained mercenaries were taken as representative of the entire city.
In other words, General Kimmitt is asking the American public, the world, and the Muslims to do something the United States has either not been able to do, or has refused to do. The hypocrisy is nauseating.
Former Marine Lieutenant Colonel Bill Cowen said, “These people at some point will be let out. Their families are going to know. Their friends are going to know. We will be paid back for this.”
How can we expect them to distinguish between “good Americans” and “bad Americans”, when we are not willing to distinguish between “good Muslims” and bad ones?
Diane Rejman is amember of Veterans for Peace, Chapter 101 in San Jose. I served in the US Army from 1977-80. I am listed in Who’s Who in America, and have been in Who’s Who in the Media and Communication. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.