Wednesday, July 18, 2007

"If somebody is worth shooting once, they're worth shooting twice."

As with Vietnam, when the memoirs come out and the history is written, we will be shocked, I believe, by the level of wrongdoing by our troops who, to be fair, have been placed by their superiors in what Robert Jay Lifton called an “atrocity-producing situation.”

Perhaps the most compelling evidence of likely everyday brutality by U.S. troops emerged in April, yet as far as I know, was not investigated by major media.

A U.S. Army Surgeon General study of over 1,300 troops in Iraq had revealed increasing mental stress -- and an alarming spillover into poor treatment of noncombatants. It disclosed that at least 10% of U.S. forces reported that they had personally, and without cause, mistreated civilians (not prison detainees) through physical violence or damage to personal property.

The survey also noted that only 47% of the soldiers and 38% of marines agreed that noncombatants should be treated with dignity and respect.

Over 40% said they backed torture in certain circumstances. Even worse, nearly one in five said that all noncombatants "should be treated as insurgents." About 30%
said their officers had not made it clear that they should not mistreat civilians.

More: Only 40% of American marines and 55% of soldiers in Iraq said they would report a fellow service member for killing or injuring an innocent Iraqi. Of course, this only guarantees that it will happen again, and again.

Jeff Englehart, a 26-year-old Army specialist from Grand Junction, Colo., said in The Nation survey: “I guess while I was there, the general attitude was a dead Iraqi is just another dead Iraqi. You know, so what?” You may wish to discount that, believing that The Nation is liberal and antiwar and that its pool of interviewees was drawn largely from veterans' organizations critical of the war.

Then you are still left with yesterday’s L.A. Times piece, which reported on the testimony of a Marine corporal, Saul Lopezromo, at the trial of Cpl. Trent D. Thomas, charged with murdering an Iraqi near Hamandaya (others have pleaded guilty). Lopezromo said Marines in his unit began routinely beating Iraqis after officers ordered them to "crank up the violence level.” Echoing the Army survey, he added that Marines consider all Iraqi men part of the insurgency, and added that a procedure called "dead-checking" was routine: If Marines found a wounded man in a house, instead of checking to see whether he needed medical aid, they shot him to make sure he was dead.

"If somebody is worth shooting once, they're worth shooting twice," he said.

To the extent they can do so, is the media now willing to deeply probe the actions of our beleaguered troops in Iraq? As Bob Herbert concluded a column about The Nation survey last week, “it’s one thing to lose a war. It’s much worse for a nation to lose its soul.”

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