Shoot First, Ask Questions Later
The news of a plea deal for US Marine squad leader Frank Wuterich charged in connection with the killing of 24 Iraqi civilians in 2005 neither caused a sensation nor even grabbed the headlines for a considerable period of time in the US media and the Internet. Initially, Wuterich faced three months of confinement, but when he apologized cordially to the families of the dead saying there were no words to ease their pain, the military judge had difficulty withholding tears and announced that the plea deal prevented any jail term for the Marine. In stark contrast, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, for example, was locked up behind bars for 21 months in 2007 for arranging deadly dog fights at his house in South Virgina, but obviously the US justice finds it appropriate to value the lives of America’s dogs above those of Iraqi civilians. It should also be taken into account that the US Army would in no time run short of personnel and the US penitentiary system would likely be overwhelmed if occasional offenses like the above, which occur in the process of liberating nations across the world from dictatorial rule, suddenly become punishable by imprisonment.
The incident over which Wuterich was held was in no way exceptional for the US campaign in Iraq. It took place in Haditha, a city of 80,000 located on the Euphrates River, 140 miles north-est of Baghdad. Wuterich was the senior Marine on a supply convoy moving through the place when an improvised explosive device exploded under a vehicle, killing one Marine. Wuterich ordered his squad to storm nearby houses where, as he presumed for an unknown reason, terrorists were to be hiding, part of his command being “shoot first, ask questions later”. The search on the premises escalated into a bloody rampage in which the heavily armed Marines killed with grenades and by chaotic gunfire 24 civilians, including a man of 76 on a wheel chair, 3 women, and 7 children. The US Army tends to write off fatalities inflicted under this type of circumstances as inevitable, and from this perspective there is no point in blaming Wuterich for the fact that the people happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Moreover, it appears that the Marine overreacted after seeing his friend – who of course stayed in Iraq with the mission of bringing freedom to these very women and infants – torn into pieces by the blast.
It is indicative of a serious change in the public atmosphere in the US that the media chose to cover Wuterich’s case with obvious restraint. In 1969, in the epoch when the US was just learning to unsolicitedly liberate other nations, the US papers were much more vocal about the slaughter of around 500 people, mostly women, children, infants and the elderly, in Vietnam’s My Li (Son My) village, which was erased by US soldiers under the command of Lt. William Calley. Many of the victims had been tortured before being murdered and some of the women – gang-raped. Calley’s name and the photos of the villagers mowed down by US soldiers ever since epitomized the dirty war as the anti-war atmosphere started to prevail in the US society. Calley was found guilty of personally killing 22 and sentenced to life in maximum security prison plus hard labor, though ultimately served only three and a half years of house arrest.
The US will not make the same mistake these days – for example, when, 5 years ago, a French blogger posted a video featuring a carnage movie filmed by a US Marine in Iraq, no response whatsoever followed. What the movie showed was a copter night hunt for a bunch of locals who apparently stole food supplies from a vehicle parked in the neighborhood. The thieves were mutilated by 12 mm bullets while the voice in the video repeated “Roger” at every hit. Needles to say, no probe was opened based on the video.
The clumsy attempts made by the US justice to pretend that it opposes lawlessness and savagery cannot be taken seriously. The Haditha massacre is not going to sink into oblivion in Iraq. US Marines acted more or less as the SS forces did in World War II, and the policy of imposing democracy on “underdeveloped” nations actually has a lot in common with the fascist treatment of “inferior” races.
A significant aspect of the Wuterich trial and the accompanying media coverage may yet take some time to appreciate. The drama took place more than 6 years ago – on November 19, 2005 – but somehow the story surfaced just recently. The de facto acquittal of Wuterich prompted an outcry in Iraq, with the rage directed not only against the US, but also at the Shia government in Baghdad which failed to take a stance over the matter. Haditha, it must be noted, is a Sunni city, and the people killed by Wuterich’s squad were all Sunnies. The temperature of the conflict between the Iraqi Shia and Sunni Muslims will imminently rise in the aftermath of the US withdrawal, and it is clear in this context that the information release will further fuel Iraq’s intensifying sectarian strife. Chances are that the US military machine would as a result be presented with a new opportunity to get involved in Iraq.