Once again, a US soldier goes ahead and massacres a bunch of civilians. Once again, the US government led by apologiser-in-chief Barack Obama calls it tragic, says the soldier’s actions are not representative of the US military and promises a complete probe. Can’t really disagree with Obama on the ‘tragic’ label; a massacre of sleeping children, some as young as two years is, at the very least, tragic. Personally, I’d label it a war crime, but it’s not like anyone would dare drag the US to the Hague, so what’s the point? As far as the incident being out of character for the US army, I’m going to have to beg to differ. This sort of thrill/revenge/just-for-the-heck-of-it killing is very much typical of the US military, as is the impending round of obfuscation, cover-up and eventual judicial slap on the wrist.
The fact is that in the US army, the torture and killing of ‘enemy’ civilians just isn’t considered a big deal. Case in point: in the My Lai massacre in the Vietnam War, the brave men of Charlie Company killed hundreds (504 if the official memorial is to be believed) of Vietnamese villagers. Fleeing children were shot dead and 13-year-old girls gang-raped before being killed. Flushed with ‘victory’, some of the soldiers even carved their company’s name into the bodies of the slain. Now, in a world where the US actually followed its sales pitch, the soldiers involved would have been given multiple life sentences for what were essentially multiple murders. Instead, only one man was given a life sentence, and he also actually served three-and-a-half years in what I imagine was a fairly comfortable house arrest. The US military tried every trick in the book to sweep this under the table. They would have succeeded but the US media hadn’t completely sold its soul at that stage.
But that was a different and much less enlightened time. Surely, that sort of thing couldn’t happen with the new and caring United States of America? Well, on November 19, 2005 a group of US marines killed 24 Iraqi civilians, none of whom posed any kind of threat to the soldiers. That is, unless you believe that a sleeping one-year-old child and a 76-year-old man in a wheelchair can threaten heavily armed and highly trained marines. It took a year just to charge the marines involved. Two years later, only Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich was still in trouble, the others having been let-off. For a while it seemed that some diluted form of justice may well be served, until all charges against him were dropped, except for a single charge of dereliction of duty. So what was his final punishment for committing mass murder? Demotion and a paycut. During investigations, classified military transcripts obtained by the New York Times revealed that officers wouldn’t even bother to investigate civilian killings because, and I quote “It happened all the time”. The same goes for the infamous ‘Kill squad’, which staged the murders of Afghan civilians and collected trophies like fingers and skull fragments. Again, investigations revealed that ‘pretty much the whole platoon’ knew what was going on. It’s not like there weren’t any soldiers of conscience. In My Lai, it was a US soldier who reported the massacre, just as several soldiers also complained about the Kill Squad, but to no avail. It’s not that there were no whistle-blowers, but just that the brass simply didn’t want to hear it. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell at its best.
Then there’s Bradley Manning, who’s currently serving a life term in solitary confinement with no possibility of parole. He is forcibly stripped naked every night, subjected to sleep deprivation, and searched every five minutes, just in case he tries to injure himself of course. What was his crime? He’s the courageous young soldier who leaked US documents, including footage of US copters strafing civilians, to WikiLeaks. Poor Bradley. If he had just killed some Afghan and Iraqi children instead of airing the US’ dirty linen, he’d probably be free right now. If someone bothered to report him in the first place, that is.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 14th, 2012.