News & Politics  
comments_image Comments

5 Million Iraqis Killed, Maimed, Tortured, Displaced -- Think That Bothers War Boosters Like Christopher Hitchens?

The immensity of Iraqi civilian suffering is incomprehensible. How can war's cheerleaders claim to fight on behalf of the people whose lives they helped destroy?

Continued from previous page


We have entered a new Orwellian age in which continuous "fighting ... takes place on the vague frontiers whose whereabouts the average man can only guess at," and its innocent victims are simply airbrushed out of history. Nothing symbolizes this nonhumanity more than U.S. leaders’ use of the term “collateral damage” to refer to millions of innocent human beings who have as much right to their lives as those who so mercilessly snuff them out. Generals Tommy Franks and Colin Powell say "we don't do civilians" when asked how many civilians they kill, and their countrymen are so indifferent to civilian murder that no one even asks why not. Who is in a better position to discover how many innocent men, women and children U.S. leaders kill, and help them avoid further civilian murder? The only act more nonhuman than not caring is killing civilians in the first place.

U.S. indifference to civilian suffering is particularly noticeable in the case of "liberal war hawks" who justified the Iraq invasion on humanitarian grounds but then largely ignored its human costs as much as conservatives who do not even claim concern for the civilians they destroy. Slate, for example, asked an online panel of 10 such folks in March 2008 -- when civilian victims were in the millions -- to explain how they had gotten the Iraqi war wrong.

While all but one (Christopher Hitchens: "How Did I Get Iraq Wrong? I Didn't") acknowledged error, and a number expressed pain over civilian suffering, the reasons listed for their mistakes included misjudging "Bush's sense of morality," "I wanted to strike back," "I believed the groupthink," “I didn't realize how incompetent the Bush administration could be,” and the "the self-centeredness and sectarianism of the ruling elite."

All failed to acknowledge their own moral blindness in failing to imagine what millions of their fellow Americans clearly saw: the havoc that the U.S. war-machine would inevitably wreak on innocent Iraqi civilians whatever its stated intentions or claimed benefits.

U.S. Responsibility For Civilian Suffering in Iraq

One of the panelists – the diplomat Phillip Carter -- did, however, make a key point. After explaining how a former Iraqi law professor he worked with was presumably killed by Al-Qaeda, Carter wrote, "I felt guilty for not doing more to protect him. I felt guilty for not doing more … to make Iraq safe.” His words point to the considerable U.S. responsibility for post-invasion civilian suffering, whether caused by its own troops or others. An occupier assumes not only moral but legal responsibility for ensuring the safety of civilians in the zones it occupies. By both disbanding the Iraqi army and not using its own forces to maintain law and order U.S. leaders failed that responsibility, which was thus not merely a “mistake” but a war crime.

And America bears an even greater responsibility for the direct suffering it has caused. Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian explored U.S.-inflicted civilian suffering by interviewing 50 American veterans who had fought in Iraq.

Their book Collateral Damage reports how U.S. soldiers, unprepared for urban warfare and understandably terrified, have regularly killed, wounded, arrested and humiliated countless Iraqi civilians -- at checkpoints, by driving recklessly in convoys, in early morning searches, and by firing indiscriminately in response to IEDs and enemy fire. "The war in Iraq is now primarily about murder," Hedges writes. "Human beings are machine-gunned and bombed from the air, automatic grenade launchers pepper hovels and neighbors with high-powered explosive devices, and convoys race through Iraq like freight trains of death."   U.S. soldiers also revealed how, though this behavior violated official rules of engagement, the rules were ignored and required reports either not filed or falsified.

See more stories tagged with: