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Jun 05, 2006

Haditha: Return Of The "Bad Apples?"


The overwhelming majority of American troops in Iraq are
dedicated military professionals, doing their best to behave
correctly under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Their
good name requires a serious inquiry, not another deflection
of blame to the lowest-ranking troops on the scene.

-- from NYT editorial (6/4/06)

As the Haditha killings work their way into the public consciousness and impact the political calculus of the war, The BAG is curious how the corresponding visual narrative is going to play.

These three shots -- taken on a night raid in Haditha and dated simply "2005" -- showed up on yesterday's newswire.  By grouping them together and adding a little "noise," don't they look like frames from a dramatic recreation on a true crime docu-drama?

Having gone through the Abu Ghraib cycle where visual evidence was used to exclusively put away a whole group of low level soldiers, I couldn't be more cynical of file photos like this.  If the higher ups who were responsible for training, supervising and reining in the renegade soldiers are not held to circumspection, and the officers who tried to cover-up the event are also shielded, then affecting images like these -- which draw lurid attention to the triggermen, and are only too readily served up by the MSM --  can only function as the government's latest weapon of mass distraction.

(images:  Jaime Razuri/AFP.  2005.  Haditha.  Via YahooNews.  Caption from 1 & 2: US Marines raid a house during a night raid in the Iraqi town of Haditha )


They do look like they're from a "true crime docu-drama". I think they're meant to make us feel how frightening and confusing these situations can be, and how hard it is to tell insurgents from civlians. Except that this wasn't a confused, combat, nighttime situation.

The reports I've seen from the U.S. media describe these Marines in glowing terms, by journalists who have been embedded with them. In the British media, they're described as being "feral" and out-of-control, as in this one (sorry for the length):


'Marines are good at killing. Nothing else. They like it'

In January, shortly before the first published reports emerged about US marines methodically gunning down men, women and children in the Iraqi town of Haditha, The Daily Telegraph spent time at the main camp of the battalion under investigation...

it was a place where institutional discipline had frayed and was even approaching breakdown... a feral place where the marines hardly washed; a number had abandoned the official living quarters to set up separate encampments with signs ordering outsiders to keep out...

The lifts were smashed, the lighting provided only a half gloom. Inside, the grinding of the dam machinery made talking difficult. The place routinely stank of rotten eggs, a by-product apparently of the grease to keep the turbines running.

The day before my arrival one soldier had shot himself in the head with his M16. No one would discuss why.

The washing facilities were at the top and the main lavatories at the base. With about 800 steps between them, many did not bother to use the official facilities.

Instead, a number had moved into small encampments around the dam's entrances that resembled something from Lord of the Flies. Entering one, a marine was pulling apart planks of wood with his dirt-encrusted hands to feed a fire.

A skull and crossbones symbol had been etched on the entrance to the shack...

At the dam there was one American civilian, an engineer sent out by the US government with instructions to keep the facility operational... The troops he was quartered with terrified him... He was keeping a secret dossier of breaches he said he had witnessed, or learned of. He planned to present it to the authorities when he returned to the US.

"Marines are good at killing," he said. "Nothing else. They like it."


I'd like to see the engineer's dossier and the Marines' own pictures of that environment.

The marines are shown in action--the implication being that that US forces are too busy fighting insurgents to be "distracted" by reports of a massacre. On the bottom photo, one of the marines is stretched out on the ground; is he wounded, dead or is this his position to fire? We see the soldiers but we don't see the enemy. These photos illustrate the problem the military faces in Iraq. They're highly visible, but they're fighting invisible, shape-shifting opponents.

"Got no sand in my pocket
You know I ain't tied down."

The first two images look like screen caps from a Quake session. Minimalism and mayhem.

Occupation: Dreamland has a lot of eerie low light scenes that could be minimalist art. The title refers to Dreamland, a Baathist resort in Fallujah occupied by elements of the 82nd Airborne in late 2003 and early 2004. They left Fallujah right before the infamous incident with the four contractors and the Decider's order that heads roll. Takeaway for me was a commander's resigned observation that the real mission was to get everyone home.

What strikes me in these pictures is that there is no blood at all. As if the US troops were waging a war of fairy tale. We have dim mystery lights, and possible courageous men/fighters.. but wars are dirty and there is no blood. We don't see the damages done, the war crimes, the victimes, only the "heroes"..
These pictures act like propaganda. They presents the US troops like brave fighters. Yet, from what we know, they acted like war criminals, killing innocent women and children.

Thanks for the Telegraph link to reality, Ummabdulla. Rumor has it that Afghanistan is the same way.

The photos are like our current news take on the murderous incident itself: out of focus, confusing, not showing a coherent subject.

Also I think it shows the state of mind of those who committed this terrible act as being out of focus, confused and incoherent.

Bush administration/Rummy out of fous, confused and incoherent.

Almost iconic photo of entire war in Iraq: the last photo. Is that soldier dead, or shooting at "bad guys?" Which bad guys. Unclear...

It seems to me they are meant to be iconic. Just enough information imparted to make a mental/visual connection to the TV program "Cops" which I understand is quite popular among certain groups of viewers. And of course, the viewer is always on the side of the cops against the bad guys.

ummabdulla's reference to the UK article is not to be overlooked. Is that what happens to young people when sent by cynical leaders determined to prove a point at all cost to anyone but themselves? I haven't noticed BushRummy being re-deployed or stop-lossed repeatedly. Rummy sneaks in secretly (I wonder why?) and is out before anyone knows he's there; no consequences, no damage, just the ghost of authority. We know who the REAL war criminals are (and they are not encamped by a dam). They don't even break a sweat while playing their war games.

For those following Robert Fisk's on site reports, from day one of the invasion, to his most recent visit to a morgue, one needs neither, to be surprised or *even shocked*, at this latest report. Just the tip of the ice berg is the appropriate analogy. Unlike Saddam's brutal multiple killing sprees, few of ours will never see the light of day as they usually entail small daily numbers for which a total accumulative figure will remain elusive, and difficult to assess, but unquestionably we are responsible for multiple numbers of horrendous crimes, which our children or grandchildren may learn about, long after this slaughtering business stops.

Hmmm...I am having difficulty ascertaining as to why we are trying to excuse the soldier's bad behaviour.

Is it because, from past events, we know that the real war criminals will never be brought to light? Or because we continue to naively assume that all the other soldiers are playing nice with the townsfolk in Iraq?

Whatever the case, and from the least ethically responsible stance, I don't see how the individual soldiers who committed these acts should not be punished. Yes, being a soldier can sometimes mean being an automaton, but these soldiers were humans before they becamse soldiers and surely we must hold them to that account. If they were following orders - and, from the news reports I suspect they weren't - they were *still following them*, meaning it was they who pulled the trigger.

Of course, I have almost no faith left in the idea that there will be some justice for those who have lost innocent lives. After a healthy bout of idealism, I seem to be resigning myself to the fact that, as the old saying goes, Power is Power is Power.

There is just too much horror in this world to maintain a sense of justice for long.

"The enemy cannot defeat us on the battlefield, but what they can do is put horrible images on our TV screens."

--George Bush

I dont know about the rest of you, but my REAL enemy has more control over my TV screen then any terrorist.

I agree the first two look like out-takes from "COPS" with bad lighting. The first one you can hardly make out what's happening. Second one they are obviously breaking down the door. But the last photo looks like a deserted desert outpost at night. If the prone person is fighting, then is he looking the wrong way? If not, he is probably dead, and the shadow-man in the right foreground is walking away (after killing the other?). The building in the background must belong to the military since they obviously have electricity.

Taken together, and why not, they seem to obfuscate rather than illustrate. Or maybe they ARE illustrating the fact that no one knows what happened here, even with photographic evidence.


Worse than that. In many reports of casualties you see Iraqi blood painting the walls, bodies stacked up like firewood and pools of blood filling the streets, but you rarely, if ever see an American injured, except perhaps a bloody sleeve. I find the discrepancy disturbing if not racially tinged. It seems that if your an Iraqi your dignity is not protected by the U.S. media.

"Fragile" nature of the readers?
Let them figure it out, just show them shadows of the military soldiers and write patriotic words on top of politically correct phrases.
Overwhelmingly the public is against the war, yet they are suppossed to swallow the shallow words like..."dedicated military professionals doing their best..." Who feeds these talking points to NYT rag?
Is it just bad apples or is there something rotten in the state of DC?

Dirty Harry

I need a gun to keep myself from harm
The poor people are burning in the sun
But they ain't got a chance
They ain't got a chance
I need a gun
Cos all I do is dance
Cos all I do is dance

I need a gun to keep myself from harm
The poor people are burning in the sun
No, they ain't got a chance
They ain't got a chance
I need a gun
Cos all I do is dance
Cos all I do is dance

In my backpack
I got my act right
In case you act quite difficult
And your result weakin'
With anger and discontent
Some are seeking and searching of like nimoy

I'm a peace-loving decoy
Ready for retaliation
I change your whole location to pine box/six-under
Impulsive don't ask why I wonder
Orders given to me is
strike and I'm thunder with lightning fast reflexes on constant alert
from the constant hurt that seems limitless with no drop in pressure

It Seeming like everybody is out to test ya
'til they see your brake
You can't conceal the hate
That consumes you
I'm the reason why you fill up your Isuzu
Chill with your old lady at the tilt
I got a 90 day visit
And I'm filled with guilt
From things that I've seen
Your water's from a bottle
mine's from a canteen

At night I hear the shots
Ring so I'm a light sleeper
The cost of life seem to get cheaper
out in the desert
with my street sweeper
The war is over
So said the speaker,
with a flight suit on
Maybe to him I'm just a pawn
So he can advance
Remember when we use to dance
All I want to do is dance


I need a gun to keep myself from harm

Why are they showing tightly focussed night shots in what appears to be unoccupied buildings to illustrate a daytime (clear morning) killing spree in a residential neighborhood?

The images shown here are of men following discipline and orders (teamwork, covering for each other, established procedure), with no clear targets. The murders took place in house after house... a rampage where old men in wheelchairs and young girls and people kneeling in prayer were shot at close range. Repeatedly. The images show soldiers in isolation, but those houses were full of people!


They knew what they were doing and who they were killing. IIRC, the youngest was 3. Are the new Rules of Engagement going to address the killing of toddlers? Since they are removing the prohibitions against torture from the Field Manual, killing unarmed civilians is perhaps next. After all, the Geneva Conventions are "quaint", and the guys with the guns make the rules.

A dozen soldiers completely lost all honor and discipline and control to bloodlust. A radio control operator and officers up the chain of command knew that something wrong was happening but didn't prevent it. An official military statement claiming that all these people died in a bombing stands unaltered 6 months later. Unreal.

Just like Unreal Tournament.

Unlike a game, however, fragging these victims doesn't earn them points.

The desire for revenge isn't isolated to this one unit, either. Too many wedding parties, too many children, too many families have been blown up during the occupation and the military keeps covering it up. Our military is wearing apart, and it won't be possible to keep the rips in the fabric from showing for much longer.

"For I expect if these troops were given the orders to launch a military campaign, many civilians will fall," Rawi said. "The Marines in Ramadi now are considering the whole situation as a matter of a challenge, or revenge, because of the daily strikes they get. It makes them put civilians and the al-Qaeda men all in one category."

So, why DOES the media show game-like images? Is it because reality is too brutal? Or less believable? We are accustomed to screen shots from games: bodies with maggots, bodies with exit wounds, bodies with tire marks. Our congresscritters get all upset at games showing sex, but say nothing about the pornography of violence... or using games to teach young soldiers that killing everything in sight is the way to be a warrior.

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