Friday, June 30, 2006

Leaving the whole world blind

The embedded AP reporter goes to great lengths to bury the lead in his account of Army soldiers from the 502nd Infantry Regiment being investigated for the rape of an Iraqi woman and the murder of her family in Mahmoudiyah, but here it is:

a soldier felt compelled to report the killings after his fellow soldiers' bodies were found.

That would be the bodies of the two soldiers from the same regiment platoon, Kristian Menchaca and Thomas Tucker, who were kidnapped at a checkpoint and killed earlier this month. 8000 U.S. and Iraqi troops participated in the search for them, and their grisly death was widely reported (and speculated about, since it is not yet clear how they were killed). But this story shows that the capture and killing of Menchaca and Tucker was quite possibly an act of revenge for the crimes committed by other members of their regiment platoon. The rape and killings in Mahmoudiyah

appeared to have been a "crime of opportunity," the official said. The soldiers had not been attacked by insurgents but had noticed the woman on previous patrols.

Nothing justifies kidnaping and barbarity. But it's not something that comes out of the blue.

U.S. troops must leave Iraq. All of them. Starting now.

Update: 6:00 pm, 30 June - The linked AP story has changed substantially since I posted. (I'm glad I saved the version that was online at 10:30 this morning.) The current story (also saved) is much more detailed, and makes more explicit connections between the Mahmoudiyah crimes and the abduction and killing of Menchaca and Tucker.

Update 2: 12:30 pm, 1 July - As more media cover the story, conflicting details appear. At least two different military sources are speaking to the press anonymously. Two different Iraqi police have spoken on the record. The Washington Post story is on the front page (on Saturday of a holiday weekend). The CBS story online relies heavily on the AP report linked in the post, but contains some additional information. By the end of tomorrow, I'll post a timeline of 'facts as asserted', with sources.



At 12:39 AM, July 02, 2006, Blogger Gary Farber said...

"Nothing justifies kidnaping and barbarity. But it's not something that comes out of the blue."

I'm not clear what you mean by that. Did Daniel Pearl rape someone? Gilad Shalit? Jill Carroll? Leon Klinghoffer? Margaret Hassan? About a jillion other people I could name who were, indeed, kidnapped (and generally killed)?

What did Margaret Hassan do?

At 12:50 AM, July 02, 2006, Blogger Gary Farber said...

"U.S. troops must leave Iraq. All of them. Starting now."

I keep wanting to avoid an argument with you about this. Mostly all I can say is that I'm very interested in Iraqi opinions about this, but not very interested in American opinions about it -- whatever the direction. For me, this is primarily about Iraqis, not Americans. We shouldn't have gone in, but simply immediately leaving won't change that now. Now the question is how to most minimize making things worse. I don't see that as a simple question with a simple answer that comes in a single sentence.

If I'm convinced that that's -- American forces leaving immediately, right now, ASAP, tomorrow -- what a majority of Iraqis want, I'm definitely for it.

I'm not at this time convinced that's the case, though.

What level of legitimacy or illegitimacy do you feel the current Iraqi government has, though, let me ask?

At 3:15 AM, July 02, 2006, Anonymous Tazmanian said...

No legitimacy whatsoever! and especially not outside the green zone. Is there any rational thinking person left in the world that your good old boys are still welcome in Iraq? Ofcourse not. Home now with your standing in world opinion trashed beyond repair.

At 10:00 AM, July 02, 2006, Blogger Nell said...

Gary: Gilat Shalit is a soldier. He is a prisoner of war. He's also alive.

And your response is purposely obtuse, as if I'd said "they had it coming." I neither said nor implied any such thing.

I was not justifying what happened to Menchaca and Tucker, much less to the others in your list.
(To this day, we have no evidence whatsoever of who killed Margaret Hassan. Her body has not been found.) Any particular reason why Tom Fox isn't on your list? Too opposed to the occupation?

It was soldiers from their platoon, not me, who made the connection between the crime of Menchaca's and Tucker's murder in captivity and the crimes in Mahmoudiyah.

The government of Iraq is semi-legitimate, but not sovereign. Bush flew in to Iraq three days before the latest UN figleaf expired, with not even so much as an hour's notice to the prime minister, and pressured him to extend it. Would any actual, sovereign head of state be so treated by our government?

We've followed up an illegal invasion with an occupation that should have ended in 2003. It's past time to end that occupation. My position is the same as that of the Friends Committee on National Legislation: Troops out. Pay for reconstruction by Iraqis and whatever international actors they choose to work with.

The Iraqi people want us out, as many polls and constant, escalating attacks on our troops demonstrate. The American people want us out, too, and I am not as quick as you to put that to one side.

At 11:22 AM, July 02, 2006, Blogger Nell said...

I'm not up to making a full argument right now, but there are so many reasons.

We were dragged into this occupation by a small group of men whose own rise to power was barely legitimate. They came into office with the goal of overthrowing the government of Iraq and establishing permanent U.S. military bases there. The first NSC meeting of the new administration made that clear to those who participated.

They ignored warnings that this country would be attacked by al Qaeda, tossed aside the recommendations of everyone who'd been working against that terror network. Then, when the attacks came, they used them to justify the war they'd planned for and to expand executive power beyond anything the Constitution allows.

In the drive to war, they lied, twisted intelligence, and threatened those who weren't going along. They used national security as a political club. They tossed aside all the advice, warnings, and plans of people with any experience that might have brought something worthwhile out of an illegal, unprovoked invasion. They used the resulting chaos to justify the continuing occupation. They built the bases.

By their every action, they demonstrated that the invasion and occupation had nothing whatsoever to do with democracy or the needs of the Iraqi people. "Reconstruction" was a sick joke that embodied everything about their approach: completely unplanned, staffed by incompetent cronies, rife with corruption, unaccountable, not involving or benefiting Iraqis, squandering the funds provided and then, FUBAR, grinding to a halt.

The men in this regime set, from the top, policies for detention, interrogation, and detainee treatment that virtually guaranteed there would be torture and abuse. And there has been, all through the occupation and all over Iraq, not just at Abu Ghraib.
They made decrees that gave impunity to U.S. soldiers and contractors in Iraq. They invited Iraqis to attack them ("Bring 'em on!") They denied and lied about who "the enemy" was, so that even now in Iraq a majority of troops believe that the Iraqi people are connected to the attacks against us in September 2001.

They refused to face military realities in Iraq, and the troops are paying the price. "Staying the course" means two a day dead, twelve a day wounded. Third and fourth deployments, recruiting shortfalls, declining standards, and a steady exodus of NCOs mean that unit cohesion, discipline, and command responsibility are breaking down in a big way. (So are the humvees and helicopters and Strykers. But, hey, it's only money.)

All these policies, driven by domestic political urgencies and the drive for unfettered executive power, are breaking the military. Now the brass have decided to make an effort to prosecute crimes committed by the troops. But it's too late now for that to have any effect but further inflaming Iraqi opinion and disgusting the American public.

This occupation was begun on the basis of lies, maintained on the basis of lies, and is destroying our military. The goal was never to benefit the people of Iraq, and, unsurprisingly, it has not. And it cannot.

The goal was bases. We should not have bases in Iraq; the American people don't want to be in Iraq forever, and the Iraqi people certainly don't want U.S. bases. Unless you believe that we should force them to accept those bases, then we are going to leave completely at some point. So we should begin now, and begin by renouncing bases.

At 12:42 PM, July 02, 2006, Blogger Gary Farber said...

"And your response is purposely obtuse"

Thanks for the (erroneous) mindreading.

At 3:53 PM, July 02, 2006, Blogger Nell said...

You are correct to call me on the mindreading. Attributing motives is an almost guaranteed communication-blocker and button-pusher. I apologize.

Your response is uncharacteristically obtuse.

At 8:47 PM, July 02, 2006, Blogger elendil said...

By the end of tomorrow, I'll post a timeline of 'facts as asserted', with sources.

Please do. So far I'm only seeing a tenuous connection between the two being reported. Enough for me to say "perhaps" but not "quite possibly an act of revenge". I would be interested to see if there's more to it. Certainly nothing in the kidnapper's statement suggested that it was any more than an opportunistic hit.

At 10:31 PM, July 02, 2006, Blogger Nell said...

Elendil, I don't expect to convince anyone else. Until the investigation's over, and/or until more people are speaking on the record, there won't be much more of substance to support or undercut my interpretation.

And I'm sure the correct way to approach all this is with an open mind. Unfortunately, I no longer have one.

My timeline will be an effort to make sense of the sequence of reported events, and the conflicts between different versions (to be expected with multiple anonymous sources). It's not going to resolve, or probably even influence, the question of how much of a connection there is between the Mahmoudiyah crimes and the soldiers' kidnaping/murder.

Interesting link, thanks for providing it. By itself, it doesn't persuade me that the people behind the press release did the kidnaping. They take credit for all kinds of attacks. That's actually what I read into their use of the word "adopts". (Though if, as I assume, the linked document is a translation from the original, there's no reason to lean very heavily on my reading, either.)

At 2:11 AM, July 03, 2006, Blogger Gary Farber said...

"Your response is uncharacteristically obtuse."

Much better!

Incidentally, since I've long held that the invasion was a mistake, arguing further about it to me seems entirely beside the point. I agreed on that long ago.

The question of how to best minimize further Iraqi suffering is an entirely different question.

If my gang throws a firebomb through someone's window, I'm unclear that, somewhat later, running away as quickly as possible is the most moral response.

Meanwhile, few of the Iraqi political parties seem to be calling for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces, rather than a guarantee that U.S. forces will withdraw in the future when asked, and that perhaps a tentative timetable now be drawn up.

Most of the Iraqi bloggers, including the lefty and unsympathetic-to- America ones, seem to feel that Maliki's reconciliation plans are generally credible and to be pursued, more than not, and that his government is now more credible than not.

My opinions about this are, to be sure, very tentative, which is why I'm not blogging about this, and am very hesitant to discuss them at all; generally I prefer to not opine without being fairly sure of my opinions, and the facts (not preferences) I try to base them on.

But, as I said, I'm interested in the Iraqi opinions. Not very interested in American opinions. Americans are the cause of the problem, and my primary concern isn't how policy affects Americans, but how it affects Iraqis.

The main thing that drives me crazy about how many Americans talk about foreign policy -- and this is an issue going back many decades for me -- is the selfish self-centeredness of how Americans always make themselves the center of the dicussion, and make it all about how whatever the thing is affects Americans, or how only the effect of Americans is worthy of discussion.

I'm more interested in what the effects of our foreign policy is on the other people we effect, as well as on the effect others have on the relevant peoples. We're a big rich country, vastly richer than everyone else. It's not primarily about us, in my view, and shouldn't be.

And this is, I'm afraid, an issue where the left is precisely as bad as the right, historically.

You may disagree, and likely do, of course, and that's okay. But that's where I'm coming from.

At 2:13 AM, July 03, 2006, Blogger Gary Farber said...

"...I'm more interested in what the effects of our foreign policy is on the other people we effect"

"...other people we affect," dammit. Just a typo.

At 2:37 AM, July 03, 2006, Blogger elendil said...

They take credit for all kinds of attacks. That's actually what I read into their use of the word "adopts".

That's a good point.

At 5:54 AM, July 03, 2006, Blogger Nell said...

GF: If my gang throws a firebomb through someone's window, I'm unclear that, somewhat later, running away as quickly as possible is the most moral response.

Staying within your metaphor: it's somewhat later, in fact it's a lot later, and my gang is still throwing firebombs through the window.

I ran through the whole history of the invasion and occupation not to argue about that -- it's beyond argument for any reasonable person now -- but because insisting on only looking at _right now_ allows too many evasions and illusions about the goals of the U.S. government in creating and maintaining the occupation. It needs to be hammered home with many people that the project has nothing to do with democratizing, or improving life for the Iraqis, or creating the conditions for a sovereign Iraq, or anything of the kind. It might be that for you, but it isn't now and never will be for U.S. politicians.

Once that's understood, the policy options are clear: 1) leave on our own terms, coordinated with the Iraqi government as much as possible or 2) leave in a chaotic, bloody rush when a couple of supply lines are cut. There's also a 3), a nightmare scenario where we put those AC-130s to use to maintain our airbases. But I'm pretty sure you wouldn't choose it, since the vast bulk of Iraqi opinion will be with 1) or 2).

few of the Iraqi political parties seem to be calling for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces, rather than a guarantee that U.S. forces will withdraw in the future when asked, and that perhaps a tentative timetable now be drawn up.

That's not very different than my approach, other than in degree of tentativeness:

U.S. troops must leave Iraq. All of them. Starting now.

The first two sentences are about the commitment to leave and the renouncing of bases. The starting now is because if we don't start now, and keep going on some kind of specified schedule, the moment when we're going to make a decision and change course recedes endlessly into the future. So like my "plans" to exercise daily...

The peace proposal started off with too few of the Sunni resistance groups and too much involvement by the U.S. ambassador. There are also serious divisions in the Shia coalition, which will complicate even the best-grounded project for national dialogue. And that Kirkuk-and-its-oil thing isn't being dealt with in this round, either.

Despite all that, the al-Maliki proposal isn't just window dressing. It does make me a tiny bit optimistic. But only a tiny bit.

At 6:38 AM, July 03, 2006, Blogger Nell said...

As a solidarity activist for a long, long time, I'll defend my personal corner of the left against the charge of basing foreign policy primarily on how it affects the U.S. Back in those days, those who came at it that way were "anti-interventionists", and they were handy allies, but with known limitations. Since then, though, I've developed a lot more respect for anti-interventionism as a sound approach on its own.

This is a huge, rich country that's in decline, hollowing out economically and spending as much on death-dealing machinery as the rest of the world combined.

Until the internal power relationships and priorities change dramatically right here at home, U.S. intervention of any kind anywhere will benefit the people where we intervene only by accident. That's just how it is.

As I said elsewhere on this blog: noble intentions have so often served as cover for the ugliest, most brutal actions taken in our names that they should be a signal for intense scrutiny, not a free pass.

At 8:43 PM, July 05, 2006, Blogger elendil said...

This news article might interest you: "The U.S. military is investigating whether the kidnapping, killing and mutilation of two soldiers was carried out in retaliation for an alleged rape and killing of an Iraqi woman by another member of the same unit three months earlier, a military official said yesterday" (read more).

At 2:18 PM, July 06, 2006, Blogger Nell said...

Thanks, elendil. I just ran into the story while checking links for my update post today, and hadn't checked the blog or email for new comments before seeing your post. I'll credit you, since I should have noticed your comment earlier.


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