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The American way of war crimes

June 9, 2006 | Pages 6 and 7

JOE ALLEN is the son and nephew of Marines--his uncle, a veteran of the Vietnam War, died from cancer as a result of his exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange. Joe's articles on the history of the Vietnam War have appeared in the International Socialist Review. Here, he explains why the massacres of civilians in Iraq are part of a long and bloody record of U.S. war crimes.

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ON MAY 24, Gen. Michael Hagee, Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, made a quickly arranged flight to Iraq to deal with the growing political fallout from a series of criminal investigations into the murder of Iraqi civilians by U.S. Marines.

Hear Joe Allen speak at Socialism 2006, a political conference scheduled for June 22-25 at Columbia Univerisy in New York City. For more information, go to the Socialism 2006 Web site at socialismconference.org.
According to an "amended" copy of his speech that appeared on the Marine Corps Times Web site, Hagee stressed what he called the "core values" of Marines in combat. "We do not employ force just for the sake of employing force," Hagee said, in his speech titled "On Marine Virtue."

"We use lethal force only when justified, proportional and, most importantly, lawful...This is the American way of war. We must regulate force and violence, we only damage property that must be damaged, and we protect the non-combatants we find on the battlefield."

It is, of course, difficult to take Gen. Hagee's statements seriously given the widespread destruction wreaked on Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion and occupation more than three years ago. The "American way of war" has produced, to name a just few highlights: the wholesale destruction of cities like Falluja, the deaths of well over 100,000 Iraqi civilians, the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, and the creation of Shiite deaths squads.

This is much more in line with the definition of Gen. Fred Weyand, one of the architects of the Vietnam War. "The American way of war," Weyand said, "is particularly violent, deadly and dreadful. We believe in using 'things'--artillery, bombs, massive firepower."

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GIVEN THE level of misery and suffering brought to Iraq by the U.S. military, homilies by a commanding Marine general about "respecting human life" and "regulating force and violence" may seems like a macabre stand-up comedy routine.

Yet there is something deeper going on. "The emerging details of the killings [in Haditha] have raised fears," according to the New York Times, "that the incident could be the gravest case involving misconduct by American ground forces in Iraq."

Now, military investigations are clearly revealing the tip of the iceberg of the extent of war crimes committed by the U.S. forces--especially the Marine Corps--in Iraq.

The most important of these investigations so far has focused on the massacre of two dozen unarmed Iraqi civilians in the small city of Haditha, west of Baghdad--an atrocity reported in Time magazine in March. The Marines involved in the massacre at Haditha could face capital murder charges under the Uniform Conduct of Military Justice.

A second investigation has opened up into whether the Marines' superior officers engaged in a cover-up by filing false reports claiming that the civilians died in crossfire or were killed by a makeshift bomb.

The circumstances of the Haditha massacre and the cover-up that followed may remind many of the infamous My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War. How the Army handled the case after it became public tells us much about how the Pentagon officialdom deals with war crimes.

In March 1968, members of Charlie Company of the Americal Division entered the village of My Lai and murdered more than 400 elderly men, women and children, including babies, over a period of four hours.

Among the dozens involved in the killings, only one man, Lt. William Calley, was eventually found guilty and sentenced to life at hard labor.

Calley was found to be personally responsible for the murder of 20 people. However, President Nixon ordered him released from the stockade after his guilty verdict. Calley's sentence was reduced to 10 years by the Secretary of the Army, and he was released from custody (most of the time spent in his apartment on base at Fort Benning) after three years.

The record during the current Iraq war is worse in many ways. Take the case of Army Capt. Rogelio Maynulet, who was found guilty of the "mercy killing" of an Iraqi civilian. "He was sentenced with dismissal from the United States Army...there will be no confinement time," a military spokesperson said.

In May 2004, when U.S. troops were pursuing suspected militiamen supporting Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr near the Iraqi city of Najaf, Maynulet fired on a car, wounding the driver and a passenger. Maynulet said he then shot the driver, a local garbage collector, dead. His reason? "He was in a state I didn't think was dignified," Maynulet said. "I had to put him out of his misery."

On January 21, 2006, Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer, a U.S. Army interrogator, was convicted of causing the death of Iraqi Major Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush during a questioning in November 2003. Welshofer killed him by putting a sleeping bag over his head, sitting on his chest and covering his mouth.

A court-martial jury decided that Welshofer was not guilty of murder but negligent homicide. He faces a maximum penalty of three years' imprisonment.

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DESPITE HAGEE and other commanders' claim that these actions are an aberration from the "training" that Marines and Army troops receive, these atrocities are directly attributable to a war for conquest--and the racism that flows from it.

It has long been a recognized military strategy that the most effective way to get soldiers of a conquering army to kill their opponents is to dehumanize those opponents. Racism is the most effective tool to accomplish that.

One Vietnam War veteran said that during basic training, "The only thing they told us about the Viet Cong was they were gooks. They were to be killed. Nobody sits around and gives you their historical and cultural background. They're the enemy. Kill, kill, kill. That's what we got in practice. Kill, kill, kill."

William Calley's initial psychiatric report revealed that he did not feel he was killing human beings at My Lai, but "rather that they were animals with whom one could not speak or reason," an Army psychiatrist wrote.

Racism against Arabs and Muslims pervades the U.S. military today, despite the hot air about "cultural sensitivity" training for soldier heading to Iraq. "Raghead," "camel jockeys" and "sand niggers" are just a few of the racist hate spewed at the people of Iraq by American soldiers.

The Marines, with their cult-like worship of death and destruction, always add an extra dose of fanaticism to any situation.

A short time ago, Lt. Gen. James Mattis, who commanded Marines in Afghanistan and Iraq, made this clear. "Actually it's quite fun to fight them, you know," Mattis said. "It's a hell of a hoot. It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up there with you. I like brawling."

In the 1930s, retired Marine Gen. Smedley Butler described his activities as a soldier invading one country after another throughout Latin America as being a "high-class muscleman for Wall Street." Despite what Gen. Hagee may claim, such musclemen are not known for their virtues.

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