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Veteran journalist Seymour Hersh on US atrocities in Iraq

with 5 comments

From UC Berkeley News

In the evening’s most emotional moment, Hersh talked about a call he had gotten from a first lieutenant in charge of a unit stationed halfway between Baghdad and the Syrian border. His group was bivouacking outside of town in an agricultural area, and had hired 30 or so Iraqis to guard a local granary. A few weeks passed. They got to know the men they hired, and to like them. Then orders came down from Baghdad that the village would be “cleared.” Another platoon from the soldier’s company came and executed the Iraqi granary guards. All of them.

“He said they just shot them one by one. And his people, and he, and the villagers of course, went nuts,” Hersh said quietly. “He was hysterical, totally hysterical. He went to the company captain, who said, ‘No, you don’t understand, that’s a kill. We got 36 insurgents. Don’t you read those stories when the Americans say we had a combat maneuver and 15 insurgents were killed?’

“It’s shades of Vietnam again, folks: body counts,” Hersh continued. “You know what I told him? I said, ‘Fella, you blamed the captain, he knows that you think he committed murder, your troops know that their fellow soldiers committed murder. Shut up. Complete your tour. Just shut up! You’re going to get a bullet in the back.’ And that’s where we are in this war.”

Written by Richard Wilson

October 25, 2008 at 5:00 am

5 Responses

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  1. Hi.

    I’m not sure if you noticed, but this Seymour Hersh piece is four years old. Which doesn’t mean the first lieutenant’s story is false, but if it’s true, well, that’s a pretty big story to just leave hanging like that…

    misterfricative

    November 3, 2008 at 9:37 am

  2. Hi – Yes I was aware that it was quite an old story, and I’m still a bit unsure what to make of it, but whichever way I look at it it seems interesting. It certainly seems possible that the Lieutenant (or perhaps even Hersh – ‘an anonymous source’ is a notorious device for journalists to [ab]use) could have made it up, but I’d still then be interested in the motivation behind it.

    At the same time even big stories can sometimes take a long time to come out, particular when there’s a war on. Presumably if the situation is as Hersh has described it then at some stage that the Lieutenant would eventually leave the army and feel in more of a position to speak openly. In the meantime I think it’s well worth a discussion. What’s your gut feeling about it?

    Richard Wilson

    November 3, 2008 at 11:06 am

  3. PS – the other reason I put this up was that it reminded me a bit of something I’d read elsewhere from a very different context – the abortive intervention in West Papua by Sandline, the forerunner of the mercenary firm Aegis, who have been one of the largest corporate beneficiaries of the Iraq war:

    “The Brigadier was beginning to have serious doubts about the Sandline’s military plans. Moreover Singirok’s Special Forces Unit were sending him disturbing information from the training camp run by the South Africans. The local troops were treated like raw recruits, being taught the basics likehow to apply camouflage. The foreigners were firing the heavy weapons, keeping them to themselves, and it quickly became obvious they would be lead the strike force operation against the rebels.

    For two days they refused to undergo training in the camp at Wewak when Bougainville islanders, loyal to the Papuan government, were hired by the South Africans as guides. Singirok’s men regarded this as a clear breach of security. But their sense of outrage was fuelled, according to one who gave evidence to the Commission of enquiry, when a senior South African mercenary informed him: “Don’t worry, when we have finished we will eliminate them”. The idea that the civilian guides were going to be killed after they had served their purpose appalled him. Singirok was told of their concerns.

    here’s a link: http://www.kathryncramer.com/kathryn_cramer/sandline/

    Richard Wilson

    November 3, 2008 at 11:20 am

  4. I think an incident like this is well within the range of behaviors that I’d expect from occupying troops, but my gut feeling is that this particular event is a ‘composite’, ie that it didn’t happen as described. For one thing, Seymour Hersh apparently holds himself to lower standards of ‘strict factual accuracy’ when talking as opposed to writing ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seymour_Hersh ) and for another, under the circumstances as described, there’s no obvious reason or motivation — fear, revenge, confusion, heat-of-the-moment retaliation — for this kind of ‘clearing’ order to be handed down.

    On the other hand, if the story really is authentic, then Hersh might still be waiting for his source to finish his tour.

    misterfricative

    November 3, 2008 at 12:01 pm

  5. Yep – it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that it was true – though I agree that it’s harder to see what could motivate that kind of behaviour; it certainly seems different from the more normal heat-of-the-moment abuses that armies often seem to engage in.

    The most plausible one I could think of would be that kind of cold bureaucratic hoop-jumping that sometimes takes hold in militaries the world over – orders come down from on high that a certain target needs to be achieved – in this case an ‘insurgent’ body count, but the commanders on the ground are having trouble finding enough real insurgents to kill, so they manufacture some…

    Completely insane and amoral of course but that doesn’t necessarily mean it didn’t happen. It only seems a couple of shades worse than some of the stuff that’s already in the public domain, based on testimony from US military whistleblowers, eg here:

    http://hrw.org/reports/2006/us0706/2.htm#_Toc141074585

    I do agree though, that if it is true we should expect to hear something a bit more substantive about it within the next couple of years – or perhaps even sooner, depending on how the world looks the day after tomorrow!

    PS – thanks for that interesting background on Hersh – he also seems like a fascinating character in his own right!

    Richard Wilson

    November 3, 2008 at 3:56 pm


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