US Iraq Rules of Engagement Leaked

Raises Question about Rumsfeld Authorizing War Crimes

Wikileaks has obtained the long kept secret Rules of Engagement (ROE) for U.S. troops in Iraq. This document sets out the rules guiding authorized U.S. troop actions in that occupation. While the Wikileaks document dates from 2005, as these ROEs generally change slowly the rules for today are likely similar, though we can’t be sure, of course, to what extent more recent ROE’s differ.

Among several interesting nuggets in the ROE, it provides indications that U.S. attacks likely to result in civilian deaths required authorization at the top of the Pentagon, by the SECDEF (Secretary of Defense). Thus, the ROE states repeatedly; “If the target is in a HIGH CD [collateral damage] area, SECDEF approval is required.” And what is the definition of a High Collateral Damage area? The ROE contains a set of explicit definitions of its terms. There we find High Collateral Damage Targets defined as:

“Those targets that, if struck, have a ten percent probability of causing collateral damage through blast debris and fragmentation and are estimated to result in significant collateral effects on noncombatant persons and structures, including: (A) Non-combatant casualties estimated at 30 or greater; (B) Significant effects on Category I No Strike protected sites in accordance with Ref D; (C) In the case of dual-use facilities, effects that significantly impact the non-combatant population, including significant effects on the environment/facilities/infrastructure not related to an adversary’s war making ability; or (D) Targets in close proximity to known human shields.”

Thus, all attacks, except those in self-defense or active pursuit, with a reasonable possibility of harming 30 or more civilians needed approval from Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. Presumably such approval would need to be in writing. The ROE thus suggest that there may exist an extensive documentary record of requests, and possibly Rumsfeld’s approval or rejection, for attacks with the potential for resulting in significant civilian casualties. Congress should demand access to these documents to determine the extent to which attacks resulting in civilian casualties were authorized, potentially providing insight into who was responsible for possible war crimes committed in the course of the occupation.

While much of the rest of the ROE appears rather unsurprising, there are a couple of other interesting aspects to the document. One is that the main “hostile forces,” from the U.S. perspective are the Baath remnants, such as the Special Republican Guard and the Baath Party Militia. There is no mention of Iraqi al-Qaida or its predecessors. These predecessors, led by al-Zarqawi, had identified with and pledged allegiance to al-Qaida as early as October 2004, yet they receive no mention in the ROE. The ROE rather refers to Baath forces that “have transitioned from overt conventional resistance to insurgent methods of resistance.”

While the Sunni al-Qaida predecessors do not make the list of hostile forces, the Shia-based Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr does make the list of “Declared Hostile Forces,” However, as of the ROE’s writing, this status was “suspended and such individuals will not be engaged except in self-defense.”

Another interesting feature of the ROE is a complete ignoring of the language barriers separating U.S. troops from the Iraqi populace. Thus, in a section on graduated force, the first stage is “shout verbal warnings to halt.” There is not even a mention of the fact that most Iraqis cannot understand warnings shouted in English. In general, the ROE is notable for lacking any recognition that, in an “insurgency,” there are at best blurry boundaries between combatants and noncombatants. Thus, there is no emphasis of the need to take extraordinary measures to protect the civilian population. Rather, it provides a rationale for virtually any attacks:

“US Forces may always use force, up to and including deadly force, to neutralize and/or detain individuals who commit hostile acts or exhibit hostile intent against US Forces or Coalition Forces.”

As we have seen repeatedly, from the numerous roadblock killings of civilians to the Haditha massacre, this ROE authorization to use force can be used to provide cover for virtually any civilian killings. The ROE suggests that preventing such deaths was low on the priority list of those officials writing the rules of engagement for the occupation. Even so, a military study found that less than half of US occupation soldiers would report a unit member for violating an ROE. Thus, even the limited protections provided civilians in the ROE were often not present on the ground.

Stephen Soldz is a psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health researcher, and faculty member at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He maintains the Psychoanalysts for Peace and Justice web page and the Psyche, Science, and Society blog. He is a founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, one of the organizations leading the struggle to change American Psychological Association policy on participation in abusive interrogations. He is President of Psychologists for Social Responsibility and a consultant to Physicians for Human Rights.

Read other articles by Stephen.

6 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. JB said on February 6th, 2008 at 2:42pm #

    How about a comparison to Hitler’s tactics in the Blitzkrieg?

  2. maha said on February 6th, 2008 at 4:53pm #

    “While the Sunni al-Qaida predecessors do not make the list of hostile forces, the Shia-based Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr does make the list of “Declared Hostile Forces,” However, as of the ROE’s writing, this status was “suspended and such individuals will not be engaged except in self-defense.”

    This is completely consistent with the function assigned to these groups by the US/UK/Israeli directors of terror. Al-Qaida which is a CIA/MI6/Mossad/Saudi creation which is neither Sunni nor Shia is in Iraq to destroy and and take over the country and do the bidding of the occupiers, and, the Mehdi group’s Moqtada Al-Sadr is a psychopath who has been working for the CIA for several years. So the ROE as applying to these groups completely make sense

  3. COMarc said on February 6th, 2008 at 9:59pm #

    I guess I take the lack of Al-Qaida in Iraq on the list of hostile forces differently. To me, they were always a small faction that was massively over-hyped by the US propaganda machine. They were never more than a small percentage of the Sunni guerrilla forces. They rarely engaged in purely military actions, but instead attacked civilian soft targets. This displays a lack of real power being used in a way for maximum publicity. They were a mix of radical Iraqis and foreign fighters. The numbers that Pentagon releases gave for the number of foreign fighters captured was always just a couple of percent of the total number of captives.

    So, one interesting thing about this is that in the important documents to guide the actions of the troops, but which are kept secret from the public, the over-hyped propaganda against “al-Qaida” disappears and the much broader Iraqi resistance is listed as the true enemy.

    The other interesting point is that its with these very same elements that the US has recently been forming alliances. Now they are called Awakening Councils, and the US is providing weapons and paying the salaries of some 70,000 of these soldiers. We are now paying and arming the very same group that this 2005 documents lists as the main enemy in Iraq.

    The public justification for this is that these Awakening Councils are supposed to be our allies against Al-Qaida. But this now revealed secret document shows that the military never regarded Al-Qaida as a serious military enemy in Iraq.

  4. maha said on February 7th, 2008 at 5:31pm #

    You need to stop calling Al-Qaida Sunni or Muslim, they are nothing of the sort. Their ideology is that of the House of Saud, Wahhabism, a creation of evil some 250 years old. Their publicly declared enemy are all Muslims who reject the cult of Wahhab and the punishment is slaughter. AlQaida was indeed part and parcel of US occupation. You will find that Iraq has been totally infiltrated by these dirty murderous scum who have taken over the running of insititutions in Iraq. The House of Saud (the disgusting murderous perverts) are all over Iraq (read Dahr Jamal to get a glimpse of this).

  5. Shabnam said on February 12th, 2008 at 6:41am #

    There is no Al-Qaeda in Iraq or anywhere else. Al-Qaeda is the creation of the US government to justify its crimes of humanity mainly in the Muslim countries. Ben Laden and his associates were brought into Afghanistan by the United States and with the financial aid of the Saudi Arabia armed with Wahhabism that the United States found useful to criminalize Islam and Muslims but be in bed with the criminals, the Saudi elites, to conduct their terrorist activities all over the Muslim world.
    As Musharraf and Binazir Bhutto have already said on global TV, Ben Laden is DEATH. How many times people should say the fact so you can get it. Yet, the war criminals such as Bush and McCain still fooling ignorant Americans and they promise them to bring “Ben Laden to justice.” There is no Al-Qaeda anywhere, Al-Qaeda is the UNITED STATES who commits more than 95% of the killings in Iraq and accuses others including the imagined “Al-Qaeda” for her crimes in Iraq and elsewhere. People in the Middle East know this fact and have experienced it and no one can fool them. These foolish statements that are coming from the mouth of criminals in Washington, Tel aviv, London, France and elsewhere are directed at their own population to fool them and to buy their cooperations and complicity which were successful, since without the cooperation of their population these criminals could not kill millions and destroy cities after cities for such a long time. The liars in Washington recently “have found tape that shows Al-Qaeda trains children to carry out suicide bombing” which is a LIE. These criminals have already killed most of the adult males in Iraq, by bombing, firing squad, assassination and other means so now they are after the children and that’s why they made this video at CIA, like other tapes of Ben Laden, to prepare the ignorant and cooperative population for the expansion of their terrors into the kindergarten of Iraq.

  6. alowins said on July 27th, 2008 at 2:19pm #

    Our ROE should be, “You may kill anything you suspect to be hostile”.
    Ivory tower types, not combat-experienced, should not attempt to impress their cowardice, love of evil and ignorance on “them that has been there and done that.”

    If fired on from a building how can an officer know whether taking out that building will kill more than 30 ragheads?

    Why are the mahdis and others exempted and allowed to form militias and have weapons?

    Did Rumsfeld actually do this? Or was he but the tool of dipshit bush?