The Way Americans Like Their War

Could Haditha be just the tip of the mass grave?

The corpses we have glimpsed, the grainy footage of the cadavers and the dead children; could these be just a few of many? Does the handiwork of the United States’ army of the slums go further?

I remember clearly the first suspicions I had that murder most foul might be taking place in our name in Iraq. I was in the Baghdad mortuary, counting corpses, when one of the city’s senior medical officials, an old friend, told me of his fears. “Everyone brings bodies here,” he said. “But when the Americans bring bodies in, we are instructed that under no circumstances are we ever to do post-mortems. We were given to understand that this had already been done. Sometimes we’d get a piece of paper like this one with a body.” And here the man handed me a U.S. military document showing with the hand-drawn outline of a man’s body and the words “trauma wounds.”

What kind of trauma is now being experienced in Iraq? Just who is doing the mass killing? Who is dumping so many bodies on garbage heaps? After Haditha, we are going to reshape our suspicions.

It’s no good saying “a few bad apples.” All occupation armies are corrupted. But do they all commit war crimes? The Algerians are still uncovering the mass graves left by the French paras who liquidated whole villages. We know of the rapist-killers of the Russian army in Chechnya.

We have all heard of Bloody Sunday. The Israelis sat and watched while their proxy Lebanese militia butchered and eviscerated its way through 1,700 Palestinians. And of course the words My Lai are now uttered again. Yes, the Nazis were much worse. And the Japanese. And the Croatian Ustashi. But this is us. This is our army. These young soldiers are our representatives in Iraq. And they have innocent blood on their hands.

I suspect part of the problem is that we never really cared about Iraqis, which is why we refused to count their dead. Once the Iraqis turned upon the army of occupation with their roadside bombs and suicide cars, they became Arab “gooks,” the evil sub-humans whom the Americans once identified in Vietnam. Get a president to tell us that we are fighting evil and one day we will wake to find that a child has horns, a baby has cloven feet.

Remind yourself these people are Muslims and they can all become little Mohamed Attas. Killing a roomful of civilians is only a step further from all those promiscuous air strikes that we are told kill ‘terrorists” but which all too often turn out to be a wedding party or — as in Afghanistan — a mixture of “terrorists” and children or, as we are soon to hear, no doubt, “terrorist children.”

In a way, we reporters are also to blame. Unable to venture outside Baghdad — or around Baghdad itself — Iraq’s vastness has fallen under a thick, all-consuming shadow. We might occasionally notice sparks in the night — a Haditha or two in the desert — but we remain meekly cataloguing the numbers of “terrorists” supposedly scored in remote corners of Mesopotamia. For fear of the insurgent’s knife, we can no longer investigate. And the Americans like it that way.

I think it becomes a habit, this sort of thing. Already the horrors of Abu Ghraib are shrugged away. It was abuse, not torture. And then up pops a junior officer in the United States charged for killing an Iraqi army general by stuffing him upside down in a sleeping bag and sitting on his chest. And again, it gets few headlines. Who cares if another Iraqi bites the dust? Aren’t they trying to kill our boys who are out there fighting terror.

For who can be held to account when we regard ourselves as the brightest, the most honorable of creatures, doing endless battle with the killers of Sept. 11 or July 7 because we love our country and our people — but not other people — so much. And so we dress ourselves up as Galahads, yes as Crusaders, and we tell those whose countries we invade that we are going to bring them democracy. I can’t help wondering today how many of the innocents slaughtered in Haditha took the opportunity to vote in the Iraqi elections — before their “liberators” murdered them.

ROBERT FISK is a reporter for The Independent and author of Pity the Nation. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s collection, The Politics of Anti-Semitism. Fisk’s newest book is The Conquest of the Middle East.




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Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared. 

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