12.18.2004

Rene — Falluja Atrocities Expose True Face of U.S. War

Topic(s): Iraq | Comments Off on Rene — Falluja Atrocities Expose True Face of U.S. War

Falluja Atrocities Expose True Face of U.S. War
by Joseph Nevins
Friday, December 10, 2004 by
CommonDreams.org
Images of a U.S. marine killing an unarmed wounded prisoner during the
recent battle for Falluja resulted in widespread shock, leading the
Pentagon to withdraw the soldier from battle and launch an
investigation. However, the issue–similar to Abu Ghraib–has served
as a smokescreen, diverting attention from much larger atrocities and
the very nature of war.
No doubt many U.S. soldiers took care in Falluja–as elsewhere in
Iraq–to respect international humanitarian law and avoid injuring
civilians. But as throughout the U.S. invasion and the ongoing
conflict, war crimes and civilian casualties were frequent and often
systematic, rather than rare and exceptional.
In breach of the Geneva Conventions, for example, U.S. troops refused
to allow males of “military-age” (16 to 55)–defining them all as
potential enemy combatants–to flee Falluja. Given the heavy American
bombardment of the city, one wonders how many of these men are among
the estimated 1,200 to 1,600 categorized by U.S. authorities as dead
insurgents.
American military commanders first stated there was no evidence of
civilian casualties in Falluja. Now, the Pentagon has accepted
responsibility and offered compensation for the death of a family of
seven, including a three-month-old baby. Yet it still only admits to
having killed a few.
Press accounts, however, described Fallujas streets as littered with
corpses. One high-level International Committee of the Red Cross
official in Iraq estimated in mid-November that there were “at least
800 civilians” among the dead. More recently, the Iraqi Red Crescent
estimated that more than 6,000 people may have died in the battle.
Eyewitness and survivor reports make clear that U.S. forces were
responsible–often deliberately–for most of the victims.
At least five fatalities were patients at a Falluja clinic bombed by
U.S. forces–despite promising that they would spare the facility. A
clinic doctor stated that American snipers killed many civilians, the
youngest a four-year-old boy. An Associated Press photographer
described U.S. helicopters shooting people trying to ford a river to
safety. Among those slain was a family of five.
Similar to the free-fire zones of Vietnam, U.S. forces in Falluja had
instructions that they could shoot anyone under the assumption that
those left in the city were hostile. As a teacher who witnessed two
civilians shot and killed by American troops told the Independent of
London, “The only way to stay alive was to stay inside and hope your
house did not get hit by a shell.”
Given such rules of engagement and what war does to those who wage it,
it would be foolhardy to see the execution of the wounded prisoner as
an isolated occurrence. Indeed, some of the fellow marines of the
soldier who pulled the trigger openly support his actions: “I would
have shot the insurgent too. Two shots to the head,” stated one. “You
can’t trust these people.”
Such callousness combined with deadly firepower have led to an Iraqi
death toll of horrific proportions. An October article in Britain’s
most respected medical journal, The Lancet, estimated 100,000 Iraqis
had died due to war-related violence, mostly from aerial
bombings. Over two-thirds of the fatalities have been women, children
or elderly–non-combatants, in other words.
The Geneva Conventions require occupying militaries to protect
civilians from violence and prohibit the use of disproportionate and
indiscriminate force. As the death toll in Falluja and throughout
Iraq shows, the Pentagon has failed to comply. When such
transgressions are isolated, they are war crimes. When they are
systematic, they constitute crimes against humanity.
>From Vietnam to Nicaragua to Washington’s ongoing efforts to
undermine the International Criminal Court, American political and
military leaders have long insulated themselves from accountability
for their illegal behavior overseas. The resulting culture of
impunity permitted the Bush administration to launch its illegal
invasion of Iraq and has allowed the Pentagon to commit atrocities
with little fear of punishment.
Failure to combat official crimes has exacted high costs–at home and
especially abroad–and will continue to do so barring far-reaching
change. Because Congress is unwilling to hold accountable high-level
officials for war-related crimes, it is the American public’s
political and moral responsibility to reign in Washington. By acting
upon this responsibility, a mobilized citizenry can help end the Iraq
debacle and lessen the likelihood that U.S. soldiers are even in a
position to commit future atrocities.
Joseph Nevins is an assistant professor of geography at Vassar
College. Cornell University Press will release his latest book, A
Not-So-Distant Horror: Mass Violence in East Timor, in early 2005.