Thursday, June 16, 2005

First Fragging 

Because it wouldn't be Vietnam without one:
A 37-year-old staff sergeant was charged in the deaths of two of his superior officers in the first alleged case of its kind in Iraq.

The stunning announcement Thursday of the court-martial came amid continued violence in Iraq against U.S. and Iraqi security forces. Eight Iraqi police were killed in a car bombing on the airport road in Baghdad, and the U.S. military reported the death of five Marines and a sailor in violence in western Iraq.

Staff Sgt. Alberto B. Martinez of the 42nd Infantry Division was charged Wednesday with two counts of premeditated murder for the June 7 attack that killed Capt. Phillip T. Esposito, 30, and Lt. Louis E. Allen, 34 . . . .

It was initially believed the men died from injuries in a mortar attack, but forensic evidence soon ruled that out. Within days, the Army announced the officers' deaths were being investigated as crimes.
But what about napalm? No napalm, you say? Thanks to our esteemed colleague Craig at After-Party, we got yer napalm right here:
American officials lied to British ministers over the use of "internationally reviled" napalm-type firebombs in Iraq . . . .

Despite persistent rumours of injuries among Iraqis consistent with the use of incendiary weapons such as napalm, Adam Ingram, the Defence minister, assured Labour MPs in January that US forces had not used a new generation of incendiary weapons, codenamed MK77, in Iraq.

But Mr Ingram admitted to the Labour MP Harry Cohen in a private letter obtained by The Independent that he had inadvertently misled Parliament because he had been misinformed by the US. "The US confirmed to my officials that they had not used MK77s in Iraq at any time and this was the basis of my response to you," he told Mr Cohen. "I regret to say that I have since discovered that this is not the case and must now correct the position."

Mr Ingram said 30 MK77 firebombs were used by the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in the invasion of Iraq between 31 March and 2 April 2003. They were used against military targets "away from civilian targets", he said. This avoids breaching the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), which permits their use only against military targets.

The confirmation that US officials misled British ministers led to new questions last night about the value of the latest assurances by the US. Mr Cohen said there were rumours that the firebombs were used in the US assault on the insurgent stronghold in Fallujah last year, claims denied by the US. He is tabling more questions seeking assurances that the weapons were not used against civilians.
Our accomplished colleague Tom Engelhardt of TomDispatch works the Vietnam analogy just about as hard as it can be worked:
Does no one remember when this was the story of Vietnam? The desperately rosy statements from top officials, military and civilian, in Washington; the grim, earthy statements from U.S. officers and troops in the field in Vietnam; the eroding public support at home; the growth of the famed "credibility gap" between what the government claimed and what was increasingly obvious to all; the first hints of changing minds and mounting opposition to the war in Congress and the first calls for timetables for withdrawal? . . . .

Maybe we should really be examining the later history of the Vietnam War for hints of what to expect next? Certainly, as in Vietnam, we can look forward to withdrawal strategies that don't actually involve leaving Iraq. In Vietnam, "withdrawal" involved endless departure-like maneuvers that only intensified the war -- bombing "pauses" that led to fiercer bombing campaigns, negotiation offers never meant to be taken up. Or how about ever more intense and fear-inducing discussions of the bloodbaths to come in Iraq, should we ever leave? For years in Vietnam, the bloodbath that was Vietnam was partly supplanted by a "bloodbath" the enemy was certain to commence upon as soon as the United States withdrew. This future bloodbath of the imagination appeared in innumerable official speeches and accounts as an explanation for why the United States couldn't consider leaving. In public discourse, this not-yet-atrocity often superseded the only real bloodbath and was an obsessive focus of attention even for some of the war's opponents. In the meantime, the bloodbath that was Vietnam continued week after week, month after month, year after year in all its gore. Or how about the development of right-wing theories that the war in Iraq was won on the battlefield but lost on the home front; that, as in Vietnam, we were militarily victorious but betrayed by a weak American public and stabbed in the back by the liberal media? Watch for all of these, they're soon to come to your TV set.
At TomDispatch, as you know, the introductions tend to be every bit as good as the articles themselves -- no small praise when the article in question is Jonathan Schell's latest Letter from Ground Zero, "The Exception Is the Rule":
The American press often discusses the political makeup of the insurgency, but no one until now has suggested that some of the very forces being trained by the United States might be longing for the return of Saddam. To the extent that this is the case -- or that these forces are otherwise opposed to the occupation -- the United States, far from improving "security," is now training the future resistance to itself. Indeed, the soldiers of Charlie Company told [reporters] Shadid and Fainaru that seventeen of them had quit in recent days. They added that every one of them planned to do the same as soon as possible. Their reasons were simple. They were bitter at the United States. "Look at the homes of the Iraqis," one soldier remarked. "The people have been destroyed." When asked by whom, he answered, "Them" -- and pointed to the Americans leading the patrol. The Iraqis had enlisted in the new army only for the salary -- $340 per month, an enviable sum in today's ruined Iraq. But the money had come at the price of self-respect. The new recruits had been bought off and hated themselves for it. One said that after they had all quit, "We'll live by God, but we'll have our respect."

The American officers' response to their sullen recruits is of a piece with the entire American effort in Iraq. The officers treat their charges as if, owing to certain mysterious personal defects, they somehow are not quite up to the job they have been given. After a typical episode in which the unit was attacked and ran away (four hailed taxis to make their escape), Sgt. Rick McGovern, who leads the unit, dressed them down. "You are all cowards," he informed them. He went on, "My soldiers are over here, away from our families for a year. We are willing to die for you to have freedom. You should be willing to die for your own freedom." The tongue-lashing assumed that the Iraqis and the American shared a cause that, as the story shows, was actually 100 percent missing. Iraqi men who hate the American occupation are not cowards if they decline to shoot other men who are fighting the occupation. On the contrary, the more courage they had, the less they would engage in such a fight. The men of Charlie Company do indeed lack courage -- courage to turn down the money they accept for pretending to fight for a cause they despise. Their most cowardly moment, given their beliefs, was when they sat still while Sergeant McGovern called them cowards. One soldier, Amar Mana, explained the situation in the clearest terms: "We don't want to take responsibility," he said. "The way the situation is, we wouldn't be ready to take responsibility for a thousand years" . . . .

The American occupation of Iraq is something new, but the fundamental error of the United States has a long pedigree. It is the imprisonment of the human mind in ideology backed by violence. The classic example is Stalin's Russia, under which decades of misrule were rationalized as a "stage" on the way to the radiant future of true communism. As for the miserable present, it was amusingly called "actually existing communism." The future, when it came, of course was not communism at all but the disintegration of the whole enterprise. All the "stages" turned out to lead nowhere.

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