Rene -- 'A DEAD IRAQI IS JUST ANOTHER DEAD IRAQI... YOU KNOW, SO WHAT?'
'A DEAD IRAQI IS JUST ANOTHER DEAD IRAQI... YOU KNOW, SO WHAT?'
By Leonard Doyle in Washington
Published: 12 July 2007
Interviews with US veterans show for the first time the pattern of
brutality in Iraq
It is an axiom of American political life that the actions of the
US military are beyond criticism. Democrats and Republicans praise
the men and women in uniform at every turn. Apart from the odd bad
apple at Abu Ghraib, the US military in Iraq is deemed to be doing
a heroic job under trying circumstances.
That perception will take a severe knock today with the publication
in The Nation magazine of a series of in-depth interviews with 50
combat veterans of the Iraq war from across the US. In the interviews,
veterans have described acts of violence in which US forces have
abused or killed Iraqi men, women and children with impunity.
The report steers clear of widely reported atrocities, such as the
massacre in Haditha in 2005, but instead unearths a pattern of human
rights abuses. "It's not individual atrocity," Specialist Garett
Reppenhagen, a sniper from the 263rd Armour Battalion, said. "It's
the fact that the entire war is an atrocity."
A number of the troops have returned home bearing mental and physical
scars from fighting a war in an environment in which the insurgents
are supported by the population. Many of those interviewed have come
to oppose the US military presence in Iraq, joining the groundswell
of public opinion across the US that views the war as futile.
This view is echoed in Washington, where increasing numbers of
Democrats and Republicans are openly calling for an early withdrawal
from Iraq. And the Iraq quagmire has pushed President George Bush's
poll ratings to an all-time low.
Journalists and human rights groups have published numerous reports
drawing attention to the killing of Iraqi civilians by US forces. The
Nation's investigation presents for the first time named military
witnesses who back those assertions. Some participated themselves.
Through a combination of gung-ho recklessness and criminal behaviour
born of panic, a narrative emerges of an army that frequently commits
acts of cold-blooded violence. A number of interviewees revealed that
the military will attempt to frame innocent bystanders as insurgents,
often after panicked American troops have fired into groups of
unarmed Iraqis. The veterans said the troops involved would round
up any survivors and accuse them of being in the resistance while
planting Kalashnikov AK47 rifles beside corpses to make it appear
that they had died in combat.
"It would always be an AK because they have so many of these
lying around," said Joe Hatcher, 26, a scout with the 4th Calvary
Regiment. He revealed the army also planted 9mm handguns and shovels
to make it look like the civilians were shot while digging a hole
for a roadside bomb.
"Every good cop carries a throwaway," Hatcher said of weapons planted
on innocent victims in incidents that occurred while he was stationed
between Tikrit and Samarra, from February 2004 to March 2005. Any
survivors were sent to jail for interrogation.
There were also deaths caused by the reckless behaviour of military
Sgt Kelly Dougherty of the Colorado National Guard described a
hit-and-run in which a military convoy ran over a 10-year-old boy
and his three donkeys, killing them all. "Judging by the skid marks,
they hardly even slowed down.
But, I mean... your order is that you never stop."
The worst abuses seem to have been during raids on private homes when
soldiers were hunting insurgents. Thousands of such raids have taken
place, usually at dead of night. The veterans point out that most
are futile and serve only to terrify the civilians, while generating
sympathy for the resistance.
Sgt John Bruhns, 29, of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Armoured Division,
described a typical raid. "You want to catch them off guard," he
explained. "You want to catch them in their sleep ... You grab the
man of the house. You rip him out of bed in front of his wife. You
put him up against the wall... Then you go into a room and you tear
the room to shreds. You'll ask 'Do you have any weapons? Do you have
any anti-US propaganda?'
"Normally they'll say no, because that's normally the truth," Sgt
"So you'll take his sofa cushions and dump them. You'll open up his
closet and you'll throw all the clothes on the floor and basically
leave his house looking like a hurricane just hit it." And at the
end, if the soldiers don't find anything, they depart with a "Sorry
to disturb you. Have a nice evening".
Sgt Dougherty described her squad leader shooting an Iraqi civilian
in the back in 2003. "The mentality of my squad leader was like,
'Oh, we have to kill them over here so I don't have to kill them back
in Colorado'," she said. "He just seemed to view every Iraqi as a
'It would always happen. We always got the wrong house...'
"People would make jokes about it, even before we'd go into a raid,
like, 'Oh fuck, we're gonna get the wrong house'. Cause it would
always happen. We always got the wrong house."