Soldier's Shocking Allegation: Troops Ordered to Engage in '360 Rotational Fire' Against Civilians
Editor’s Note: It remains Washington’s conventional wisdom that President George W. Bush’s troop “surge” in Iraq in 2007 was his finest hour, even though another 1,000 U.S. troops died along with many thousands of Iraqis. Few news media honchos accept contrary analyses for the decline in Iraqi violence, including factors that predated Bush’s surge.
So, the myth of the “successful surge” has influenced other war policies, including President Obama’s “surge” in Afghanistan. But the Iraq surge was much uglier than the U.S. media presented, including quick-trigger decisions to “engage” Iraqi targets whether threatening or not, as Ralph Lopez recounts:
If even a small fraction of what former Bravo Company 2-16 soldier Ethan McCord is saying is true, that orders were given at a battalion level in Iraq for "360 rotational fire" against civilians in order to "kill every motherfucker in the street," upon being hit by an IED, then Congress must investigate.
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This claim suggests a war crime which far surpasses errant bombs or overzealous individual soldiers in the heat of battle. This is the mass execution of civilians.
Further funding for the Iraqi and Afghan wars, presently being stalled in the House Appropriations Committee by Chairman David Obey for other reasons, could be contingent on a full investigation, including subpoenaed witnesses, and a report to Congress.
McCord told the World Socialist News Web site the implementation of an order for "360 rotational fire" in 2007 by a battalion commander was a new "SOP" (standard operating procedure). McCord said in an April 2010 interview:
"We had a pretty gung-ho commander, who decided that because we were getting hit by IEDs a lot, there would be a new battalion SOP. He goes, ‘If someone in your line gets hit with an IED, 360 rotational fire. You kill every motherfucker on the street.’
“Myself and Josh and a lot of other soldiers were just sitting there looking at each other like, ‘Are you kidding me? You want us to kill women and children on the street?’ And you couldn’t just disobey orders to shoot, because they could just make your life hell in Iraq.
“So like with myself, I would shoot up into the roof of a building instead of down on the ground toward civilians. But I’ve seen it many times, where people are just walking down the street and an IED goes off and the troops open fire and kill them."
Mass execution of civilians in retaliation for an attack on forces has been already prosecuted in the context of international law. In 1944 German SS Obersturmbannführer Herbert Kappler ordered the mass execution of civilians, prisoners of war, civilian prisoners, and a number of Jews, in the ratio of 10 to 1, ten executions for every German soldier killed in a March 1944 attack by Italian partisans.
After the war Kappler stood trial for war crimes and was sentenced to life in prison. High level orders for the killing of civilians has also been found to be a war crime in the cases of Nanking 1937, Hankow 1938, and German Invasion of Poland 1939.
McCord is one of the soldiers seen in the now-famous Wikileaks video in which two American Apache helicopters fire upon a group of men standing on a street corner in Baghdad. He is seen in the video helping two wounded children after the attack, and has subsequently stepped forward with open opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He and Josh Stieber, both now former Army specialists, have written in their OPEN LETTER OF RECONCILIATION & RESPONSIBILITY TO THE IRAQI PEOPLE:
“We acknowledge our part in the deaths and injuries of your loved ones as we tell Americans what we were trained to do and what we carried out in the name of ‘god and country’. The soldier in the [Wikileaks] video said that your husband shouldn't have brought your children to battle, but we are acknowledging our responsibility for bringing the battle to your neighborhood, and to your family.
“We did unto you what we would not want done to us. More and more Americans are taking responsibility for what was done in our name. Though we have acted with cold hearts far too many times, we have not forgotten our actions towards you. Our heavy hearts still hold hope that we can restore inside our country the acknowledgment of your humanity, that we were taught to deny....
“With such pain, friendship might be too much to ask. Please accept our apology, our sorrow, our care, and our dedication to change from the inside out. We are doing what we can to speak out against the wars and military policies responsible for what happened to you and your loved ones.”
Since publication of the letter McCord and Stieber have learned that the widow of a man killed in the attack, who is mother of the wounded children, has forgiven them. The husband was found with his body attempting to shield that of one of his children.
McCord is one of a growing number of soldiers and support groups who oppose the wars and who have renounced their actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said:
"I was the gung-ho soldier. I thought I was going over there to do the greater good. I thought my job over there was to protect the Iraqi people and that this was a job with honor and courage and duty. I was hit by an IED within two weeks of my being in Iraq.
“And I didn’t understand why people were throwing rocks at us, why I was being shot at and why we’re being blown up, when I have it in my head that I was here to help these people."
McCord said the scenes captured in the Wikileaks video are "an every-day occurrence in Iraq." McCord said that when he found the two children wounded in the van, another soldier began to vomit and ran off. Then he recounts:
"That’s when I saw the boy move with what appeared to be a labored breath. So I stated screaming, ‘The boy’s alive.’ I grabbed him and cradled him in my arms and kept telling him, ‘Don’t die, don’t die.’ He opened his eyes, looked up at me. I told him, ‘It’s OK, I have you.’
“His eyes rolled back into his head, and I kept telling him, ‘It’s OK, I’ve got you.’ I ran up to the Bradley and placed him inside. My platoon leader was standing there at the time, and he yelled at me for doing what I did. He told me to ‘stop worrying about these motherfucking kids and start worrying about pulling security.’ So after that I went up and pulled security on a rooftop.”
McCord said about his mental state afterwards:
"I went to see a staff sergeant who was in my chain of command and told him I needed to see mental health about what was going on in my head. He told me to ‘quit being a pussy’ and to ‘suck it up and be a soldier.’ He told me that if I wanted to go to mental health, there would be repercussions, one of them being labeled a ‘malingerer,’ which is actually a crime in the US Army."
If McCord's allegations of an order for a standard operating procedure of "360 rotational fire" against civilians are true, this far surpasses battlefield negligence, accident, or even over-zealousness in the heat of battle.
As a battalion consists of anywhere from four to six companies, that order would have been handed down to dozens of platoons and up to 1,000 men.
The killings which McCord said he witnessed would have been egregious, systematic, and calculated. The order also would undo all that many well-meaning American soldiers have been trying to accomplish in Iraq.
Ralph Lopez works with WarIsACrime.org. A version of this story also appeared at AfterDowningStreet.org.