Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Deliberate? Naw. Just Habit 

Courtesy of our esteemed colleague Eli at Left I on the News: a quote from Scott McClellan at the White House press gaggle, 3/7/05:
Responding to [Italian journalist Giuliana] Sgrena's statement that the car may have been deliberately targeted, McClellan said. "It's absurd to make any such suggestion, that our men and women in uniform would deliberately target innocent civilians.

"That's just absurd," McClellan repeated.
AP wire, 3/8/05:
They're told every day across Iraq: tragic stories of people dying in hails of gunfire, shattered windshields and car seats covered in blood . . . .

Weary of suicide car bombers, U.S. military vehicles in Iraq carry signs in Arabic warning civilians to keep a distance or risk "deadly force." Similar warnings are affixed to fortified, tank-manned U.S. checkpoints around the capital.

But despite such warnings, Yarmouk hospital, just one of several large medical facilities in Baghdad, receives several casualties a day from these types of shootings, said Dr. Mohamed Salaheddin . . . .

"Soldiers carry signs asking people to stay away, but people are sometimes careless," Sabban said. "The Americans are sometimes jittery and open fire at civilians just like that."

While shooting deaths of Iraqi civilians are so common they're rarely reported in the media, deaths of foreigners can grab headlines and increase pressure on America's allies to pull out.
Iraqi blogger Riverbend of Baghdad Burning, 3/8/05:
The irony of the situation lay in the fact that Sgrena was probably safer with her abductors than she was with American troops. It didn’t come as a surprise to hear her car was fired at. Was it done on purpose? It’s hard to tell. I can’t think why they would want to execute Giuliana Sgrena and her entourage, but then on the other hand, I can’t think how it could have possibly happened that they managed to fire that many rounds at a car carrying Italian intelligence officers and a journalist (usually they save those rounds for Iraqi families in cars).

There really is no good excuse for what happened. I’ve been racking my brain trying to figure out what the Pentagon will say short of an admission that it was either on purpose or that the soldiers who fired at the car were drunk or high on something…

I have a feeling it will be the usual excuse, “The soldiers who almost killed the journalist were really, really frightened. They’ve been under lots of pressure.” But see, Iraqis are frightened and under pressure too- we don’t go around accidentally killing people. We’re expected to be very level-headed and sane in the face of chaos.
(Click through and read the rest of Riverbend's post, in which she describes what happened when 30 Iraqi National Guardsmen were taken to Yarmouk hospital after last Wednesday's massive explosion in Baghdad.)

UPDATE: How'd we miss this? In the AP story above, Marine Sgt. Salju Thomas claims that "every incident involving U.S. troops and civilians that has a loss of life or injury will be investigated." But according to a story in yesterday's Washington Post, U.S. troops at checkpoints can pop Iraqi civilians with what amounts to complete impunity:
U.S. soldiers have fired on the occupants of many cars approaching their positions over the past year and a half, only to discover that the people they killed were not suicide bombers or attackers but Iraqi civilians. They did so while operating under rules of engagement that the military has classified and under a legal doctrine that grants U.S. troops immunity from civil liability for misjudgment.

Human rights groups have complained that the military's rules of engagement for handling local citizens at checkpoints are too permissive. The groups have accused U.S. forces of making inadequate efforts to safeguard civilians and to comply with laws of war that prohibit the use of excessive or indiscriminate force and permit deadly action only when soldiers' lives are clearly threatened.

The military has responded that in a time of widespread suicide bombings, precautions that troops take to protect themselves are fully justified.
In other words, only the U.S. military can penalize American troops for breaking the "rules of engagement." In fact, only the U.S. military knows what its made-up rules are -- and they ain't tellin'.

Under those circumstances, is it any wonder soldiers shoot first and ask questions later?

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