June 30, 2006

Countless My Lais, Hadithas Beyond Number, and Atrocities Without End

From the final part of my series, "The Culture of the Lie: Creating Hell On Earth," quoting M. Scott Peck, who had been appointed the chairman of a committee of three psychiatrists by the Army Surgeon General, to examine the causes of the atrocities at My Lai, writing about the cultural dynamics that made such acts of barbarity possible, and that enabled the Vietnam catastrophe itself:
Once again we are confronted with our all-too-human laziness and narcissism. Basically, it was just too much trouble. We all had our lives to lead--doing our day-to-day jobs, buying new cars, painting our houses, sending our kids to college. As the majority of members of any group are content to let the leadership be exercised by the few, so as a citizenry we were content to let the government "do its thing." It was Johnson's job to lead, ours to follow. The citizenry was simply too lethargic to become aroused. Besides, we shared with Johnson his enormous large-as-Texas narcissism. Surely our national attitudes and policies couldn't be wrong. Surely our government had to know what it was doing; after all, we'd elected them, hadn't we? And surely they had to be good and honest men, for they were products of our wonderful democratic system, which certainly couldn't go seriously awry. And surely whatever type of regime our rulers and experts and government specialists thought was right for Vietnam must be right, for weren't we the greatest of nations and the leader of the free world?

By allowing ourselves to be easily and blatantly defrauded, we as a whole people participated in the evil of the Johnson administration. The evil--the years of lying and manipulation--of the Johnson administration was directly conducive to the whole atmosphere of lying and manipulation and evil that pervaded our presence in Vietnam during those years. It was in this atmosphere that MyLai occurred in March 1968. Task Force Barker was hardly even aware that it had run amok that day, but, then, America was not significantly aware either in early 1968 that it too had almost unredeemably lost its bearings.
Peck also writes:
The research we proposed was rejected by the General Staff of the Army, reportedly on the grounds that it could not be kept secret and might prove embarrassing to the administration and that "further embarrassment was not desirable at that time."
From Editor & Publisher, the article, Haditha, My Lai and the Media:
As the war in Iraq passes its third year, no phrase has been as controversial and persistently used lately -- besides "cut and run" -- as "My Lai." The reference to the 1968 massacre of hundreds of South Vietnamese civilians by U.S. troops has most often been used in the context of the November 2005 incident at Haditha, which left 24 Iraqi civilians dead.

But while debate continues as to whether the comparison is valid, few in the press have actually reexamined My Lai. This is unfortunate. E&P has found, after a close study of the two incidents and how they emerged in the media, that the cyclical nature of history – and war -- holds particularly true in the case of My Lai and Haditha. Several chilling links to the current case of Haditha are clear.


The main impetus behind the new investigation closely resemble those of My Lai.

Just as Ronald Haeberle's photographs of the My Lai massacre at the outset provoked outrage upon appearing in The Cleveland Plain Dealer (and were eventually admitted as evidence), a videotape by an Iraqi journalism student that showed the corpses of the Haditha victims--including a 3-year-old --caused the Marines to open a formal investigation into what occurred that November morning.

Just as Seymour Hersh's articles proved to be the catalyst for action, so too were the shocking eyewitness accounts provided by Tim McGirk in a March 27, 2006 article for Time magazine.

Titled "One Morning in Haditha," McGirk's article took the reader through the tragedy of Haditha, one that "has become numbingly routine amid the daily reports of violence in Iraq." A nine-year-old girl named Eman Waleed told McGirk that she "watched [the soldiers] shoot [her] grandfather, first in the chest and then in the head. And then they killed [her] granny." Another witness, Yousif Ayed, told the reporter of how his four brothers were killed by U.S. troops: "We could tell from the blood tracks across the floor what happened ... The Americans gathered my four brothers and took them inside my father's bedroom, to a closet. They killed them inside the closet."


Currently, the press coverage has focused on the lawyers involved with the case -- much like the coverage of My Lai. Attorney Neal Puckett has taken the most forceful role; a former military judge himself, Puckett is representing Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, who was the leader of one of the platoons on Nov. 19, 2005.

Puckett dismissed the ongoing investigations against his client in a June 12 article in the Los Angeles Times, saying that, "There will be no proof that these Marines intentionally killed civilians. To call this a massacre is completely groundless." He continued in a defense that almost directly matched George W. Latimer's defense of Lt. Calley: "That innocent people were killed is regrettable, but now to have people, in hindsight, say, 'Well, I would have done things differently,' is wrong. Unless you were on the ground that day, you can't judge."

He also has said: "My client did nothing contrary to his training on that day."

Much as Bailey and others did before him, Puckett brought accusations against the press, claiming that "an erroneous explanation given to the media" had caused much of the Haditha controversy, the whole story had not come out, and the media's wide coverage of Rep. Murtha's remarks had tainted the case.

As this article is written, the investigation into the alleged cover-up of the Haditha killings, is the most recent news. The Los Angeles Times on June 21, 2006 quoted an unnamed Defense Department official who said that this report concluded, "Virtually no inquiry at any level of command was conducted into the circumstances surrounding the deaths," even though "there were ... a number of red flags and opportunities to do so."

If history is any guide, it will serve the press well not to be cowed by claims of bias or lack of objectivity when dealing with such serious cases as Haditha -- especially since in today's overtly partisan atmosphere most readers will likely flock to positions without close attention to the evidence.
From Dahr Jamail, in an article entitled, Countless My Lais in Iraq:
The media feeding frenzy around what has been referred to as "Iraq's My Lai" has become frenetic. Focus on U.S. Marines slaughtering at least 20 civilians in Haditha last November is reminiscent of the media spasm around the "scandal" of Abu Ghraib during April and May 2004.

Yet just like Abu Ghraib, while the media spotlight shines squarely on the Haditha massacre, countless atrocities continue daily, conveniently out of the awareness of the general public. Torture did not stop simply because the media finally decided, albeit in horribly belated fashion, to cover the story, and the daily slaughter of Iraqi civilians by U.S. forces and U.S.-backed Iraqi "security" forces had not stopped either.


Arun Gupta, an investigative journalist and editor with the New York Indypendent newspaper of the New York Independent Media Center, has written extensively about U.S.-backed militias and death squads in Iraq. He is also the former editor at the Guardian weekly in New York and writes frequently for Z Magazine and Left Turn.

"The fact is, while I think the militias have, to a degree, spiraled out of U.S. control, it's the U.S. who trains, arms, funds, and supplies all the police and military forces, and gives them critical logistical support," he told me this week. "For instance, there were reports at the beginning of the year that a U.S. Army unit caught a 'death squad' operating inside the Iraqi Highway Patrol. There were the usual claims that the U.S. has nothing to do with them. It's all a big lie. The American reporters are lazy. If they did just a little digging, there is loads of material out there showing how the U.S. set up the highway patrol, established a special training academy just for them, equipped them, armed them, built all their bases, etc. It's all in government documents, so it's irrefutable. But then they tell the media we have nothing to do with them and they don't even fact check it. In any case, I think the story is significant only insofar as it shows how the U.S. tries to cover up its involvement."

Once again, like Abu Ghraib, a few U.S. soldiers are being investigated about what occurred in Haditha. The "few bad apples" scenario is being repeated in order to obscure the fact that Iraqis are being slaughtered every single day. The "shoot first, ask questions later" policy, which has been in effect from nearly the beginning in Iraq, creates trigger-happy American soldiers and U.S.-backed Iraqi death squads who have no respect for the lives of the Iraqi people. Yet, rather than high-ranking members of the Bush administration who give the orders, including Bush himself, being tried for the war crimes they are most certainly guilty of, we have the ceremonial "public hanging" of a few lowly soldiers for their crimes committed on the ground.
Read the entire article -- and see Jamail's followup piece as well: Propaganda and Haditha.

Our government ferociously denies it, and Americans refuse to believe it -- but the massacre at Haditha is not an exception. It is the norm.

We will not give up our vision of ourselves as "morally superior." We refuse to surrender our delusion that we represent the last, best hope on earth, and that we have the "right" to force everyone else to live as we do. And if they refuse, we believe we have the right to slaughter them.

Rather than question ourselves or our "ideals," we render ourselves deaf, dumb and blind -- and the atrocities and the slaughter go on, day after day after day. And we lie about all of it.

And still we wonder "why they hate us."