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Washington's Wars and Occupations: Month in Review #35

Max Elbaum
Date Published: 
March 30, 2008


At the Winter Soldier Hearings sponsored by Iraq Veterans Against the War, former Marine machine gunner Jon Michael Turner testified:

"On April 18, 2006, I had my first confirmed kill. This man was innocent. He was walking back to his house, and I shot him in front of his friend and his father. The first round didn't kill him, after I had hit him up here in his neck area. And afterwards he started screaming and looked right into my eyes. So I looked at my friend and I said, 'Well, I cant let that happen.' So I took another shot and took him out. He was then carried away by the rest of his family.

"We were all congratulated after we had our first kills, and that happened to have been mine. My company commander personally congratulated me, as he did everyone else in our company. This is the same individual who had stated that whoever gets their first kill by stabbing them to death will get a four-day pass when we return from Iraq..."

Marine Corporal Jason Washburn recounted that his platoon once killed a woman that they genuinely believed was going to hurt them... only to realize the woman was bringing them food. According to Washburn, during his second Iraq tour the Rules of Engagement declared that "anyone on the streets can be considered an enemy combatant."

Former Marine Corporal Matt Childers told a story about occupying a pistol factory in Hilla. The Marines were keeping detainees; they beat them, mocked them, kept water and food from them, blindfolded them, bound them, and forced them to watch pornography. Childers testified that detainee abuse was commonplace in his Marine unit, as was derogatory language to describe the Iraqis. (For videos of Winter Soldier testimony and full information on the hearings, go to Winter Soldier)


These are stories from veterans who have turned against the Iraq war and had the courage to go public. The facts aren't exceptional. They are windows into what happens every day in Iraq. The murder and brutalization of innocents - War Crimes - flow directly from the logic of an unwanted foreign occupation. The population must be repressed, intimidated, terrorized - or the occupation collapses.

To make sure young (and frightened) GI's carry out their brutal assignments, they have to be trained to regard the "natives" as less than human. Hence the racism and casual cruelty that has always gone hand-in-hand with U.S. occupations and conquests. Four hundred years ago it started by bringing "civilization" to the New World, which required massacres like Wounded Knee. One hundred years ago it was the Philippines, where the "water cure" torture was perfected. Forty years ago it was Vietnam, with U.S. Commander William Westmoreland declaring that "Orientals don't place the same value on human life that we do." And today it's not just Iraq:

*Afghanistan: Just about every week there's a report of civilian deaths caused by U.S. and NATO fire. On March 12 The British government admitted its troops were responsible for an airstrike that killed two women and two children. The next day four civilians were killed in Pakistan by cross border shelling by U.S.forces. The U.S. pundit class and media bury these reports in the back pages. Then they express front-page wonderment that the Afghan insurgency is larger than ever.

*Palestine: Here's the latest on the U.S.-backed occupation reported by Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery: "A de facto suspension of hostilities was taking shape. The Egyptians had made great efforts to turn it into an official cease-fire... then undercover soldiers of the Israeli army killed four Palestinians militants in Bethlehem... The four, it was said, drew their weapons and endangered the life of the soldiers, who only wanted to arrest them, so they were compelled to open fire. Anyone with half a brain knows that this is a lie...

"It was not an attempt to make an arrest. It was an execution, pure and simpleā€¦ No effort was even made to pretend that the four were about to carry out a murderous attack. No such pretense could be put forward, because the most important of the four had recently given interviews to the Israeli media and announced that he was availing himself of the Israeli program under which "wanted" militants give up their arms... The Defense Minister endangered today's cease-fire in order to avenge something that happened seven years ago...

"According to [Defense Minister] Barak himself, he was ready to risk Jewish lives today in order to take revenge on persons who may perhaps have shed blood years ago and have since given up their armed activity. The emphasis is on the word 'Jewish'. In his statement, Barak took care not to speak about persons 'with blood on their hands,' but about those "with Jewish blood on their hands". Jewish blood, of course, is quite different from any other blood. And indeed, there is no person in the Israeli leadership with so much blood on his hands as him. Not abstract blood, not metaphorical blood, but very real red blood. In the course of his military service, Barak has personally killed quite a number of Arabs. Whoever shakes his hand - from Condoleezza Rice to Angela Merkel - is shaking a hand with blood on it."


Occupations based on overwhelming military firepower "work" for a time. But they do not and cannot last forever. Sooner or later the indigenous population finds a way (often with the support of people of conscience across the globe) to kick out the occupier. So it will be in the Middle East. The question is: how long will it take, what will be the human cost, will the occupiers' attempts to stave off defeat lead to expanded wars engulfing entire regions?

The U.S. has already lost the battle for hearts and minds in Iraq. Even the leaders of the U.S.-backed Iraqi government want the U.S. to leave (after they've finished making use of U.S. troops for their own sectarian ends). In early March Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - now Washington's Enemy No. 1 in the Middle East - visited Baghdad. Denied "security protection" by U.S. troops he went out and about in Baghdad anyway, visiting places that no U.S. politician dare go. He held a press conference and - while the leaders of the U.S.-backed Iraqi government stood by his side and nodded their heads - he bluntly declared:

"The people of this area get nothing from the occupation here except damage, sabotage, destruction, insults and degradation. All of the people here want those forces to go back home."

Just a month later, a similar message was sent to Washington from Pakistan, where the U.S. has invested heavily in Gen. Pervez Musharraf's policy of total reliance on military force. Musharraf was soundly defeated in last month's parliamentary elections. On March 21 the leaders of Pakistan's new coalition government said they will negotiate with the militants that the U.S. calls terrorists and will use force only as a last resort. The heads of Pakistan's new government told the press: "We are dealing with our own people. When you have a problem in your own family, you don't kill your own family. You sit and talk. After all, Britain also got the solution of the problem of Ireland. So what's the harm in conducting negotiations? Obviously what they have been doing for the last eight years has not been working. Even a fool knows that."

Apparently the Bush administration fits the description of "fool." Panicked by this new course, it is exerting every ounce of pressure it can muster to prevent negotiations from breaking out. Likewise, scared by the fragility of its Iraq occupation (the Green Zone is now being shelled daily), the Bush administration just announced there will be no more troop cuts after this summer. So much for their bluster that "the surge is working." (For an update on the current fighting - "Surge Exposed as Failure But New Dangers Arise" - go to ). The surge may be confusing segments of the U.S. public, but all it is doing in Iraq is prolonging the bloodshed. Including blood shed by U.S. troops, whose deaths in Iraq have now passed the 4,000 mark.

It is not easy to force this full picture onto the nationwide political agenda. The deaths of U.S. troops AND the day-to-day criminal murder of Iraqi civilians. The fact that the U.S. is not "winning" AND the racism built in to the idea that it is the U.S. that can and should decide the fate of Iraq.

But a persistent presentation of this message - along with an action focus on the administration's most vulnerable point with the demand to get out of Iraq NOW can find a large audience. The Washington Post/ABC News reports that "five years after the start of the Iraq war, U.S. public opinion has solidified around the notion that the war was not worth fighting and that the U.S. is not making significant progress toward restoring civil order there." According to their latest poll, two-thirds of the population thinks the Iraq war was not worth fighting, including 51% who believe that "strongly."

On top of this, one can feel the energy as millions of people have thrown themselves into electoral activity, based on their belief that the 2008 balloting offers a chance to repudiate the Iraq war and all that Bush has wrought. With John "Stay-in-Iraq-100-Years" McCain anchoring his campaign in war-on-terror fear-mongering, and the two Democratic contenders both making promises to end the war (of course with many devils in the details), large-scale public debate on the war in the rest of 2008 is certain. All this is fertile territory for making sure the Out Now message and the connected points above are put in front of millions.


There are also big opportunities to make the connection between Iraq and the economy (which polls show is now the #1 concern of the majority). Already over 50% of the populace thinks that the single biggest step the government could take to fight economic troubles would be to get out of Iraq.

And why wouldn't they? To date, the war has "officially" cost more than $522 billion, with another $70 billion already allocated for 2008. And the real cost (which is also the title of a new book by Noble Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz) is estimated at three trillion dollars. There's a number that can wake a lot of people up and start them on the road to thinking more deeply about every other aspect of this war. Somewhere along that journey they may be prodded to explore additional connections: Maybe all sectors of U.S. society are not equally bearing the burden of the war - either in casualties or in dollars? Maybe there is a connection between the most ardent advocates of staying in Iraq and corporations who make profits off of war? Or between the rush to grab oil for corporate profit in Iraq, the privatization-for-profit of so much of the U.S. economy, the gutting of the public sector and the decay of the country's infrastructure? Or what about an economy built around addiction to oil, and its link to U.S. military intervention in other countries, and to global warming?

All these issues are in play, or potentially in play, right in the mainstream, beyond the circles of progressives and the left.

War Times/Tiempo de Guerras is a fiscally sponsored project of the Center for Third World Organizing. Donations to War Times are tax-deductible; you can donate on-line at War Times or send a check to War Times/Tiempo de Guerras, c/o P.O. Box 99096, Emeryville, CA 94662