Spinning a War Crime


The sheer criminality of the entire project was plain for all to see. Sunday night the CBS television show 60 Minutes re-broadcast an interview with Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, the patrol leader in the massacre of twenty-four civilians in Haditha, Iraq on November 19, 2005. The overall tone of the 60 Minutes segment was relatively objective, refusing to either exonerate the Marine patrol or condemn the men and their leader. At the same time, it was a fair representation of the thinking involved in the murder of civilians in modern warfare–a phenomenon that not only occurs more often than those of us in the homeland are led to believe, but is also part and parcel of modern warfare. Why else would the term “collateral damage” have been coined?

Sgt. Wuterich was apologetic for the deaths yet remains convinced that he followed Marine engagement rules to the letter. Not only do I believe him, I am also convinced that he followed those rules. When the people you are supposed to kill are the people that live in the cities and towns your troops move in to and take over their homes and schools, then any one of those people is a potential enemy. In a Clintonian moment, Scott Pelley asked if the killings in Haditha constituted a massacre. Wuterich told Pelley and the 60 Minutes audience that “A massacre in my mind, by definition, is a large group of people being executed, being killed for absolutely no reason and that’s absolutely not what happened here.” This discussion of nuance may seem peculiar in light of what was being discussed (the murders of 24 men, women and children), but when considered in terms of the spin dispensed daily by the White House and Pentagon press offices regarding Iraq and Afghanistan, it is not surprising.

There was no nuance involved, however, when Wuterich described the process used by Marines to clear a house. After breaking down the front door, the men “prepped” the inside rooms by opening the door a crack and rolling a grenade inside. “But when you roll a grenade in a room through the crack in the door, that’s not positive identification, that’s taking a chance on anything that could be behind that door,” Pelley responded. Wuterich’s answer was clear. “Well that’s what we do. That’s how our training goes.” Just like the pilots of bombers and helicopter gunships, the lives of those on the ground not in friendly uniforms are not important. Their fate is determined by their proximity to those buildings and people the imperial forces are determined to destroy. Furthermore, many of the air wars targets are primarily civilian in nature, but are destroyed in order to prevent a country’s ability to maintain basic services. Perhaps the clearest evidence of this strategy can be found in the US destruction of Iraq’s water purification and electrical systems. As most readers know, Iraqis continue to suffer from this destruction unless they live in the fully serviced Green Zone.

As of this writing, only Wuterich still faces charges. The other accused men on patrol that day have been cleared. Meanwhile, the killing continues. And so does the criminality an dour complicity as long as we do nothing to stop it.


Hakim to the Rescue?

The Los Angeles Times ran an article over the weekend of September 2, 2007 that spoke of the assumption of leadership of the Iraqi Supreme Council by Ammar Hakim. For those of you who might not recognize Hakim, he is a Shia cleric whose father was a sworn enemy of Saddam Hussein and helped form the feared Badr Brigades. It is the Badr Brigades that constitute much of the current Iraqi security forces and are considered responsible for many of the death squad killings in the past couple years. Ammar Hakim lived in Iran from 1979 until the US invasion in 2003. He returned to Iraq around the same time as Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, who was killed shortly thereafter during a pilgrimage to Najaf. Ammar’s father stepped into the vacuum left by Baqir al_Hakim’s death, but is suffering from cancer. Since that time, the Badr Brigades have consolidated their power while Ammar Hakim slowly rose to the top of The Supreme Council (formerly SCIRI)–the party that serves as the political wing of the Brigades.

During the US buildup to the 2003 invasion, the forerunners of the SCIRI organization received US monies and were major players in the Iraqi National Congress–the exile organization formed by the White House and CIA designed to take over Iraq after Saddam was taken down. Unlike Shia leader al-Sadr’s organization, the Supreme Council’s appeal is to the Shia merchant class. This helps explain their friendship with elements of the Iranian government, given the dominance of that government by similar elements in Iran. Indeed, in a general way, it is fair to say that the element in Iran that financially supports Rafsanjani and other such clerics is similar to the element that supports the Supreme Council in Iraq. Likewise, the element that supports Iran’s populist president Ahmenijad is similar to those in the Iraqi Shia population that support al-Sadr. The difference is not in religious beliefs but in class differences.

Besides Hakim, there is Allawi. If one recalls this man, hew was put in place by the US and could very well be the CIA’s man for the job if and when al-Maliki meets his fate. Secular to a fault, this man not only has no support among Iraqis, his only allegiance seems to be to Washington. Given this fact, if he does end up taking over the Green Zone government, it’s a pretty safe bet that his tenure would be brief and his end might well be quite bloody.

Back to that spin machine. George Bush landed in Iraq today for a surprise visit. We all know he saw nothing of Iraq and very little of the men and women he and his Congressional cohorts have sent over there to install some kind of American dream. Nonetheless, you can be certain that the visit was all part of the plan revealing itself as Washington and its media machine prepares to release the Petraeus report in the next ten days. It is a report that will most likely guarantee the continued escalation of the war accompanied by the requisite handwringing from Democrats elected to end this debacle.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: rjacobs3625@charter.net



Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com