Conspiracy to Kill Iraqis?

Checking out the news this morning, I came across a news article from AFP describing charges recently filed against four US servicemen who were stationed in Iraq in 2007. The charges included conspiracy to commit premeditated murder, among others. According to the military press release, these four soldiers conspired to kill Iraqi detainees while they were serving in the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry (Regiment). Besides the fact that this sounds like another attempt by military brass to blame low ranking GIs for their screwup, there is the greater fact that if these men are charged with conspiring to murder Iraqis, then shouldn’t there be some other folks facing the same charge? It’s not like these four GIs went over to Iraq by themselves, set up a prison and decided to kill some of the Iraqis detained there.

No, they were there because the Pentagon sent them there after starting a war and occupation ordered by the White House and certified by Congress. These men and women in Washington knew that their war and occupation would kill Iraqis. In fact, they counted on this fact in the hope that they would achieve their goals of destroying the government of Saddam Hussein and replacing it with one willing to do Washington’s bidding. The fact that they have yet to achieved the latter goal is a big reason why the GIs charged with the aforementioned conspiracy charges were in Iraq in the first place. It is not my place to determine the guilt or innocence of these four men, but I’m pretty certain that if those in Washington and Virginia who planned and funded the war in Iraq were charged with conspiracy to murder Iraqis, there would be no question of their guilt.

When I used to argue against the US war in Vietnam with my father and some of his officer pals, the argument would often turn to the morality of that war. Napalm, Agent Orange, carpet bombing–these constituted premeditated murder in my mind. The officers arrayed against me, being religious men for the most part, would argue that my perception was wrong. The deaths of civilians, they explained, was unintentional and the deaths of combatants was justifiable. Nowadays, we call those unintentional civilian deaths “collateral damage”–refusing even to acknowledge their humanity. Like so many Jesuits arguing for the rightness of killing heathen savages in the New World, the officers would insist that there was a difference between killing in war and killing in other circumstances. My response was one shared by many people opposed to the war and argued quite convincingly by Howard Zinn in his book Vietnam The Logic of Withdrawal. That argument goes like this (I paraphrase Zinn here): Since killing civilians is inevitable in modern warfare it cannot be called an accident. Bombers and helicopter pilots don’t necessarily intend to kill civilians, but when they attack villages and crowded city streets they know that civilians will be killed. When soldiers and Marines on the ground cannot tell the difference between a civilian and an insurgent and are told to clear an area, they will kill civilians. This killing may not be deliberate, but it is not an accident. Zinn sums it up with this sentence: “It (this killing) is not part of the war. It is the war.” I don’t know if this line of thinking ever convinced my dad or any of his friends, but it certainly applies to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you doubt this, check out some of the testimony from Iraq and Afghanistan vets on the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) website.

Once one accepts the argument made by Zinn and a multitude of others, then there is no question that if the soldiers on the ground and in the air are involved in manslaughter and murder (whether they believe they are or not), the those who sent them there to commit these crimes are involved as well. So, whether the four servicemen charged with conspiracy to murder Iraqis are convicted or let off like the men involved in the massacre at Haditha, there can be no real justice until the men and women responsible for them being there are also charged not only for conspiring to kill Iraqis, but also to kill Afghanis and Americans.

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way The Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground and Tripping Through the American Night, and the novels Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator's Tale. His third novel All the Sinners, Saints is a companion to the previous two and was published early in 2013. Read other articles by Ron.

8 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozhidar balkas said on July 28th, 2008 at 11:17am #

    uncle sam protects his chosen children. not a single child of his will ever be judged/sentenced by any alien.
    so, punishing soldiers or nonchosen seems ok to the uncle; these uneducated/unmotivated/stupid people r sacrificed so the the chosen children can be not only free but also lauded as guardians of law/security.
    yes, bush will be exalted. history may be written. and we know who will write it if uncle desires. thank u

  2. Tango Hotel said on July 29th, 2008 at 9:10am #

    It always amazes me when someone chooses a public forum to so willingly demonstrate their ignorance of how things work. I believe your argument about “collateral damage” is valid to some extent, however, these charges are alleging a deliberate effort by select individuals to kill innocent people… kind of like the folks that blew up the World Trade Center, but I guess you think that we should have let that slide too?

  3. bozhidar balkas said on July 29th, 2008 at 4:10pm #

    ‘enlightened’ russians, hungarians, germans, ottomans, italians, brits have always hated peasantry.
    or one cld say, these glitterati/nobles/patricians have always looked dwn on us workers/farmers/fishers.
    in canada and US, the two lands i know best, the respective ‘elites’ (crooks/liars) treat their own untermenschen just like patricians in other lands treat their own lesser-valued people.
    some observers say, Well if they want to be serfs, let them.
    i disagree. i do not blame serfs at all. the serfs, or as nader says “political prisoners” (or s’mthing like that) r miseducated from chidlhood on. that’s why basic schooling is mandatory.
    higher education is not. it is reserved for bushes, obamas, clintons, et al; i.e., the light onto the world. thank u

  4. Deadbeat said on July 29th, 2008 at 10:05pm #

    Under Nuremberg, soldiers are held accountable.

  5. Richard Posner said on July 29th, 2008 at 10:12pm #

    Please Tango Hotel, in your great and omnipotent wisdom, tell us how things work. Tell us also who, in fact, were the “folks” that “blew up” the Word Trade Center. Interesting choice of words.

    “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”

  6. Richard Posner said on July 29th, 2008 at 10:16pm #

    For those who are sick of illegal invasion, occupation and murder disguised as pre-emptive “war”.

    “All that is necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.”
    — Edmund Burke

  7. JN said on July 30th, 2008 at 10:09pm #

    ‘Collateral damage’ is a perfect example of Newspeak: a meaningless phrase to avoid thinking about the reality of deliberately or carelessly massacring innocent PEOPLE.

    Surely you do not deny that a person is responsible for the predictable consequences of their own actions? Therefore the US government & its allies are directly responsible for every death that has occurred as a result of their invasions, bombings, sanctions & interference in other countries. IE: they are guilty of war crimes & effective genocide.

    Similarly, the soldiers who drop bombs on civilian targets, who contaminate the land with explosives & carcinogenic chemicals, who destroy water treatment facilities, etc are guilty of the deaths that are the predictable result of those actions: they are murderers. Then there are soldiers who deliberately or carelessly bomb or shoot civilians, & soldiers who rape & torture. “Following orders” is no excuse. Being “under a lot of pressure” is no excuse.

    The chain of command is always invoked by apologists as a catch -22 to ensure that no one is held acountable. The politicians & generals who give the orders are guilty. The soldiers who carry them out are also guilty.

    Also, 9/11 has absolutely nothing to do with the invasion of either Afghanistan or Iraq. The US government have exploited the murder of thousands of US citizens as a convenient pretext to launch murderous imperial wars, just as the Nazis exploited the Reichstag fire as a convenient pretext to rule by decree & destroy their political opponents.

  8. Tango Hotel said on July 31st, 2008 at 9:57am #

    9/11 has everything to do with Afganistan and perhaps some impact on the decision to invade Iraq, I personnally was opposed to the Iraq war.
    We do not live in a vacuume. As asociety we must at times assume responsibility for the actions of our governments and humanity at large. I am so tired of people whose only purpose in life is to point at the actions of others and condem them. What have you all done to improve the quality of life in the world. I served in the military for over 20 years during the cold war and controlled nuclear weapons. I didn’t kill anyone. I now work for the Army helping clean up and preserve the environment we live and work in. I’m proud of my service and sad that others can’t recognize military service for what it is, an opportunity to help preserve the things that makes America great. Do bad things happen during war? Absolutely. But our motto during my service which went from the end of Vietnam through Desert Storm was “Peace is our Profession” and during those years very few American died in the defense of our country. Oh yeah, and very few American civilians died also.