Massacres Become The Norm
By Dahr Jamail
05 April 2006
r u t h o u t
soldiers killing innocent civilians in Iraq is not news. Just as it
was not news that US soldiers slaughtered countless innocent civilians
in Vietnam. However, when some rare reportage of this non news from
Iraq does seep through the cracks of the corporate media, albeit briefly,
the American public seems shocked. Private and public statements of
denial and dismissal immediately start to fill the air. We hear, "American
soldiers would never do such a thing," or "Who would make
such a ridiculous claim?"
It amazes me that so many
people in the US today somehow seriously believe that American soldiers
would never kill civilians. Despite the fact that they are in a no-win
guerrilla war in Iraq which, like any other guerrilla war, always generates
more civilian casualties than combatant casualties on either side.
Robert J. Lifton is a prominent
American psychiatrist who lobbied for the inclusion of post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental
Disorders after his work with US veterans from Vietnam. His studies
on the behavior of those who have committed war crimes led him to believe
it does not require an unusual level of mental illness or of personal
evil to carry out such crimes. Rather, these crimes are nearly guaranteed
to occur in what Lifton refers to as "atrocity-producing situations."
Several of his books, like
The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide, examine
how abnormal conditions work on normal minds, enabling them to commit
the most horrendous crimes imaginable.
Iraq today is most certainly
an "atrocity-producing situation," as it has been from the
very beginning of the occupation.
The latest reported war
crime, a US military raid on the al-Mustafa Shia mosque in Baghdad on
March 26th, which killed at least 16 people, is only one instance of
the phenomena that Lifton has spoken of.
An AP video of the scene
shows male bodies tangled together in a bloody mass on the floor of
the Imams' living quarters - all of them with shotgun wounds and other
bullet holes. The tape also shows shell casings of the caliber used
by the US military scattered about on the floor. An official from the
al-Sadr political bloc reported that American forces had surrounded
the hospital where the wounded were taken for treatment after the massacre.
The slaughter was followed
by an instant and predictable disinformation blitz by the US military.
The second ranking US commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, told
reporters "someone went in and made the scene look different from
what it was."
On March 15th, 11 Iraqis,
mostly women and children, were massacred by US troops in Balad. Witnesses
told reporters that US helicopters landed near a home, which was then
stormed by US troops. Everyone visible was rounded up and taken inside
the house where they were killed. The victims' ages ranged from six
months to 75 years.
The US military acknowledged
the raid, but claimed to have captured a resistance fighter and insisted
that only four people had been killed. Their claim would have held good
but for the discrepancies that the available evidence presents. For
one, the photographs that the AP reporter took of the scene reveal a
collapsed roof, three destroyed cars and two dead cows. The other indictment
comes from the detailed report of the incident prepared by Iraq Police.
It matches witness accounts and accuses the American troops of murdering
"The American forces
gathered the family members in one room and executed 11 persons, including
five children, four women and two men. Then they bombed the house, burned
three vehicles and killed the animals." The report includes the
observation of local medics that all of the bodies had bullet wounds
in the head.
Ahmed Khalaf, the nephew
of one of the victims said, "The killed family was not part of
the resistance, they were women and children. The Americans have promised
us a better life, but we get only death." AP photos of the aftermath
showed the bodies of five children, two men and four others covered
in blankets being driven to a nearby hospital.
Reminiscent of Vietnam?
Another appalling example
of the effect of an "atrocity-producing situation" was experienced
last November 19th in Haditha. American troops, in retaliation against
a roadside bomb attack, stormed nearby homes and shot dead 15 members
of two families, including a three-year-old girl.
US military response? All
15 civilians were killed by the blast of the roadside bomb.
In this case, reality refuted
their claim when a student of journalism from Haditha showed up with
a video tape of the dead, still in their nightclothes.
Killing Iraqis in
their homes and while they are in
bed is not news either, for during the aftermath of the
November 2004 assault on Fallujah, scores of Iraqis were killed by US
Neither is it news that
the US military regularly
targets ambulances and medical infrastructure. Khaled Ahmed
Rsayef, whose brother and six other relatives were killed by the troops,
vividly described the blind frustration of the American soldiers and
their impulsive revenge at losing one of their own. "American troops
immediately cordoned off the area and raided two nearby houses, shooting
at everyone inside. It was a massacre in every sense of the word,"
said Rasayef. While he was not present at the scene, his 15-year-old
niece was and her story was corroborated by other residents of the area
who witnessed the carnage.
A quick scan of some Arab
media reportage for last month exposes further atrocities carried out
by US forces in Iraq which find no mention in the corporate media.
March 20, the Daily Dar
Al-Salam reported: "US forces destroyed houses in Hasibah and displaced
the inhabitants. Also, a source at Abu Ghurayb Secondary School said
that US forces raided the school for the third time and arrested the
In December 2003, I personally
witnessed US soldiers raid a secondary school in the al-Amiriyah district
of Baghdad and detain 16 children.
March 19, Al-Arabia reported:
"In another development, seven people, including a woman, were
killed in a raid carried out by joint American-Iraqi forces in Al-Dulu'iyah
at dawn today. The US Army has so far not confirmed this information."
March 9, Al Sharqiyah Television
reported: "US troops opened fire at a civilian vehicle as it passed
by Al-Hadba district in the western part of Mosul, northern Iraq. The
three occupants of the vehicle were martyred in the incident."
Throughout the three-year
history of the US-led catastrophe that is the occupation of Iraq, we
have had one instance after another of brutality meted out to innocent
Iraqis, by way of direct executions or bombings from the air, or both.
During an attack on a wedding
party in May 2004, US troops killed over 40 people, mostly women and
children, in a desert village on the Syrian border of Iraq.
APTN footage showed fragments
of musical instruments, blood stains, the headless body of a child,
other dead children and clumps of women's hair in a destroyed house
that was bombed by US warplanes. Other photographs showed dead women
and children, and an AP reporter identified at least 10 of the bodies
as those of children. Relatives who gathered at a cemetery outside of
Ramadi, where all the bodies were buried, told reporters that each of
the 28 fresh graves contained between one and three bodies.
The few survivors of the
massacre later recounted how in the middle of the night long after the
wedding feast had ended, US jets began raining bombs on their tents
Mrs. Shihab, a 30-year-old
woman who survived the massacre, told the Guardian, "We went out
of the house and the American soldiers started to shoot us. They were
shooting low on the ground and targeting us one by one." She added
that she ran with her two little boys before they were all shot, including
herself in the leg. "I left them because they were dead,"
she said of her two little boys, one of whom was decapitated by a shell.
"I fell into the mud and an American soldier came and kicked me.
I pretended to be dead so he wouldn't kill me."
Thereafter, armored military
vehicles entered the village, shooting at all the other houses and the
people who were starting to assemble in the open. Following these, two
Chinook helicopters offloaded several dozen troops, some of who set
explosives in one of the homes and a building next to it. Both exploded
into rubble as the helicopters lifted off.
Mr. Nawaf, one of the survivors,
said, "I saw something that nobody ever saw in this world. There
were children's bodies cut into pieces, women cut into pieces, men cut
into pieces. The Americans call these people foreign fighters. It is
a lie. I just want one piece of evidence of what they are saying."
Hamdi Noor al-Alusi, the
manager of al-Qa'im general hospital, the nearest medical facility to
the scene of the slaughter, said that of the 42 killed, 14 were children
and 11 women. "I want to know why the Americans targeted this small
village," he said, "These people are my patients. I know each
one of them. What has caused this disaster?"
As usual, the US military
ran a disinformation campaign saying the target was a "suspected
safe-house" for foreign fighters and denied that any children were
killed. The ever pliant US Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt told reporters that
the troops who reported back from the operation "told us they did
not shoot women and children."
Topping his ridiculous claim
was the statement of Maj. Gen. James Mattis, commander of the 1st Marine
Division. "How many people go to the middle of the desert ... to
hold a wedding 80 miles (130km) from the nearest civilization?"
Perhaps someone should have
informed him that these farmers and nomads often "go to the middle
of the desert" because they happen to live there.
"These were more than
two dozen military-age males. Let's not be naïve," Mattis
stated before being asked by a reporter to comment on the footage on
Arabic television which showed a child's body being lowered into a grave.
His brilliant response was: "I have not seen the pictures but bad
things happen in wars. I don't have to apologize for the conduct of
If the US were a member
of the International Criminal Court, Maj. Gen. Mattis may well have
been in The Hague right now being tried for aiding and abetting war
crimes. How can someone holding an official position like Mattis publicly
It is about unnatural responses
such as these that Dr. Lifton has written extensively. In a piece he
wrote for the New England Journal of Medicine in July 2004, Lifton
addressed the issue of US doctors being complicit in torturing
Iraqis in Abu Ghraib. This article sheds much light on the situation
in Iraq. If we substitute "doctors" with "soldiers"
it is easy to understand why American soldiers are regularly committing
the excesses that we hear of.
Lifton writes, "American
doctors at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere have undoubtedly been aware of their
medical responsibility to document injuries and raise questions about
their possible source in abuse. But those doctors and other medical
personnel were part of a command structure that permitted, encouraged,
and sometimes orchestrated torture to a degree that it became the norm
- with which they were expected to comply - in the immediate prison
He continues, "The
doctors thus brought a medical component to what I call an "atrocity-producing
situation" - one so structured, psychologically and militarily,
that ordinary people can readily engage in atrocities. Even without
directly participating in the abuse, doctors may have become socialized
to an environment of torture and by virtue of their medical authority
helped sustain it. In studying various forms of medical abuse, I have
found that the participation of doctors can confer an aura of legitimacy
and can even create an illusion of therapy and healing."
I have personally experienced
this. Standing with US soldiers at checkpoints and perimeters of operations
in Iraq, I have seen them curse and kick Iraqis, heard them threatening
to kill even women and children and then look at me as if they had merely
said hello to them. My status of journalist did not deter them because
they saw no need for checks.
Having stood with soldiers
anticipating that each moving car would turn into a bomb and each passerby
into a suicide bomber, I have tasted the stress and fear these soldiers
live with on a daily basis. When one of their fellow soldiers is killed
by a roadside bomb, the need for revenge may be directed at anything.
And repeated often enough, the process gets socialized.
It's about this attitude
brought on by the normalization of the abnormal under "atrocity-producing
situations" that Dr. Lifton speaks. Unless of course we consider
Mattis and others like him to be rare sociopaths who are able to participate
in atrocities without suffering lasting emotional harm.
And it is this attitude
that is responsible for the incessant replication of wanton slaughter
and madness in Iraq today.
Back in November of 2004,
I wrote about 12-year-old Fatima Harouz. She lay dazed in a crowded
room in Yarmouk Hospital in Bahgdad, feebly waving her bruised arm at
flies. Her shins
had been shattered by bullets from US soldiers when they
fired through the front door of her home in Latifiya, a small city just
south of Baghdad. Small plastic drainage bags filled with red fluid
sat upon her abdomen, where she took shrapnel from another bullet.
Her mother, who was standing
with us, said, "They attacked our home and there weren't even any
resistance fighters in our area." Her brother had been shot and
killed, and his wife was wounded as their home was ransacked by soldiers.
"Before they left, they killed all of our chickens," she added,
her eyes a mixture of fear, shock and rage.
On hearing the story, a
doctor looked at me sternly and asked, "This is the freedom ...
in their Disney Land are there kids just like this?"
Another wounded young woman
in a nearby hospital bed, Rana Obeidy, had been walking home with her
brother. She assumed the soldiers shot her and her brother because he
was carrying a bottle of soda. This happened in Baghdad. She had a chest
wound where a bullet had grazed her, unlike her little
brother, whom the bullets had killed.
There exist many more such
cases. Amnesty International has documented scores of human rights violations
committed by US troops in Iraq during the first six months of the occupation.
To mention but a few:
US troops shot dead and
injured scores of Iraqi demonstrators in several incidents. For example,
seven people were reportedly shot dead and dozens injured in Mosul on
At least 15 people, including
children, were shot dead and more than 70 injured in Fallujah on 29
Two demonstrators were shot
dead outside the Republican Palace in Baghdad on 18 June.
On 14 May, two US armed
vehicles broke through the perimeter wall of the home of Sa'adi Suleiman
Ibrahim al-'Ubaydi in Ramadi. Soldiers beat him with rifle butts and
then shot him dead as he tried to flee.
US forces shot 12-year-old
Mohammad al-Kubaisi as they carried out search operations around his
house in the Hay al-Jihad area in Baghdad on 26 June. He was carrying
the family bedding to the roof of his house when he was shot. Neighbors
tried to rush him to the nearby hospital by car, but US soldiers stopped
them and ordered them to go back. By the time they returned to his home,
Mohammad al-Kubaisi was dead.
On 17 September, a 14-year-old
boy was killed and six people were injured when US troops opened fire
at a wedding party in Fallujah.
On 23 September, three farmers,
'Ali Khalaf, Sa'adi Faqri and Salem Khalil, were killed and three others
injured when US troops opened a barrage of gunfire reportedly lasting
for at least an hour in the village of al-Jisr near Fallujah. A US military
official stated that this happened when the troops came under attack
but this was vehemently denied by relatives of the dead. Later that
day, US military officials reportedly went to the farmhouse, took photographs
and apologized to the family.
This last incident ended
in a way similar to the one I covered in Ramadi in November, 2003. On
the 23rd of that month during Ramadan, US soldiers raided a home where
a family was just sitting down together to break their fast.
Three men of the family
had their hands tied behind them with plastic ties and were laid on
the ground face down while the women and children were made to stand
inside a nearby storage closet.
Khalil Ahmed, 30 years old,
the brother of two of the victims and cousin with a third, wept when
he described to me how after executing the three men the soldiers completely
the home, using Humvees with machine guns, small tanks,
and gunfire from the many troops on foot and helicopters.
"We don't know the
reason why the soldiers came here. They didn't tell us the reason. We
don't know why they killed our family members." Khalil seemed to
demand an answer from me. "There are no weapons in this house,
there are no resistance fighters. So why did these people have to die?
Khalil told me that the
day after the executions took place, soldiers returned to apologize.
They handed him a cake saying they were sorry that they had been given
wrong information by someone that told them there were resistance fighters
in their house.
This is only a very small
sampling. The only way to prevent any of this from being repeated ad
infinitum is to remove US soldiers from their "atrocity-producing
situation" in Iraq. For it is clearer than ever that the longer
the failed, illegal occupation persists, the larger will be the numbers
of Iraqis slaughtered by the occupation forces.
Dahr Jamail is an independent journalist who spent over 8 months reporting
from occupied Iraq. He presented evidence of US war crimes in Iraq at
the International Commission of Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity Committed
by the Bush Administration in New York City in January 2006. He writes
regularly for TruthOut, Inter Press Service, Asia Times and TomDispatch,
and maintains his own web site, dahrjamailiraq.com.