October 29, 2006

Etrajudicial Executions in Iraq

The US military is engaged in a variety of routine forms of extrajudicial execution in Iraq. Consider the tesimony of Marine Pfc. John J. Jodka III at his court-martial on charges of being involved in the killing of an Iraqi civilian in the village of Hamdania. Jodka said the squad agreed to a plan by squad leader Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins to kidnap and kill a known insurgent.[1] Assuming the intelligence on the "known" insurgent was correct, this plan constituted extra-judicial execution: Hutchins' squad was acting as Police, Judge, Jury and Executioner.

Imagine if the "known insurgent" would have simply handed himself over to Hutchins' squad. Based on Jodka's testimony, they would likely have taken him out and shot him. It's no different than shooting someone who surrenders, which is very un-American.

But, the "liberal" corporate media doesn't even comment on that. The only "news" is that the "known insurgent" wasn't home, so Hutchins' squad instead dragged 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad from his home and shot him. Then, they planted a shovel and gun on Awad making it appear that they had come upon somone planting a roadside bomb. One has to wonder, how commonly are extra-judicial exectuion plans like that of Hutchins'?

"Maybe this is an aberration," some might say. Unfortuntately, there is a lot of evidence that extra-judicial executions by US forces in Iraq are common. I provide some readily-available examples below.

Homicides of Detainees in U.S. Custody

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has obtained autopsy reports for people who died in US Custody. The reports indicate "homicide" as the cause of death for at least 21 people. It's certain that these do not represent all cases of detainee deaths, in part because we know that the US had "ghost detainees," people who were never acknowledged to be in US custody. In addition, it's probable that some of the "natural" deaths, in which the autopsy report cites "no significant trauma," were been biased (cover-ups).

Some might say, "Maybe these people died by accident. You know, maybe the interrogators were a little too rough. That's not really intentional "extra-judicial execution."" This is a fine line; however, the autopsy reports also include "accident" as a manner of death while in US custody.

Maybe death-by-torture, or "accidental death" by excessive force isn't exactly the same as extra-judicial execution. So, lets move on to other well-defined categories of killing Iraqis outside the heat of combat.

"Dead Checks"

Evan Wright of the Village Voice, embeded with US Marines, describes routine extra-judicial executions. He describes one example of his convoy coming up to a bullet-riddled pickup truck off the side of the road with people in it. "As our Humvee stopped behind the truck, a Marine in the vehicle ahead of us leapt out, pointed his rifle into the window of the pickup and sprayed it with gunfire. It was a cold-blooded execution." Maybe the people in the truck were already dead.... maybe not. Maybe the "the few, the proud, the brave" are just putting poor guys out of their misery.

Wright describes passing more bodies, some still smouldering, some dismembered. "The execution of one or two more men wasn't worth commenting on." Suggesting that this sort or thing is routine?

After returning home Wright was watching TV. Like many, he saw the video report by "NBC correspondent Kevin Sites, embedded with U.S. forces in Fallujah. A Marine standing over a wounded, unarmed Arab sprawled on the floor of a mosque executed him with a gunshot to the head." But unlike many watching the TV, Wright knew this was not an isolated case, but rather the norm.

According to Wright, "The behavior of the Marine in the video closely conforms to training that is fairly standard in some units. Marines call executing wounded combatants "dead-checking."

"They teach us to do dead-checking when we're clearing rooms," an enlisted Marine recently returned from Iraq told Wright. "You put two bullets into the guy's chest and one in the brain. But when you enter a room where guys are wounded you might not know if they're alive or dead. So they teach us to dead-check them by pressing them in the eye with your boot, because generally a person, even if he's faking being dead, will flinch if you poke him there. If he moves, you put a bullet in the brain. You do this to keep the momentum going when you're flowing through a building. You don't want a guy popping up behind you and shooting you."

So, is the execution of injured iraqis standard operating procedure for US forces in Iraq? This film of a US Apache helicopter crew executing an injured iraqi is one more example that suggests it is.

Is it practical to execute injured Iraqis? Yes. Is it in keeping with American's sense of morality? That question is up for debate.

Another perspective is provided by journalist Kevin Sites in a letter to the Marine unit in which he was embedded and witnessed the now-famous case of the execution in the mosque.

"Recon by Fire"

Filmmaker Brian Palmer has been embedded with US Marines three times. Maybe his accounts, described below, are an aberration. However, if a practice is common enough to receive a slang name, like "dead checks," then they are probably... common practices.

Brian Palmer was present when the Marines engaged some people in a fire fight. The Marines killed three of the men but several others ran, possibly into a canal choked with reeds. Palmer reports, "So the Marines did something I found startling: it's a tactic called "recon by fire." According to Palmer, quoted in a PBS NOW report, "They aim their weapons into the canal and start shooting. The logic behind recon by fire: it's better to fire a bullet blindly than send a Marine into harm's way."[2]

Palmer continues, "But sometimes, Marine bullets hit innocent Iraqis. Last year, I filed requests for Marine Corps reports on incidents like these that occurred during the 2004-2005 deployment to Iraq." In one, Marines attached to the battalion's parent unit shot and killed a six-year-old boy who they mistook for an enemy. Marines from BLT one-two described other such incidents to me, but the corps did not release reports on them."

"In that "recon by fire," Marines killed one more suspected insurgent in the canal. They detained two other men and a 16-year-old boy," says Palmer.

Some might say, "but the people ran and hid. This shows they're guilty." Even if they were insurgents, and they ran, they should be given the opportunity to surrender. However, running doesn't prove guilt. They have good reason to run. Aside from the humiliation of being pushed around by US forces when detained, Iraqis have grown to fear them. According to the International Red Cross, "Coalition Force Intelligence Officers... estimate between 70% and 90% of persons deprived of their liberty in Iraq had been arrested by mistake." [3] The same report documents that many who are arrested are subjected to harsh treatment during the arrest and in subsequent interrogations (Remember the Reuters reporters detained and sexually abused by US forces?). "Two of the three Reuters staff said they had been forced to insert a finger into their anus and then lick it, and were forced to put shoes in their mouths, particularly humiliating in Arab culture." As noted above, some die in US custody by accident. Iraqis know this. So, innocent Iraqis often run when confronted by US troops.

"Light'em Up"

Another common phrase in the US forces' dictum is to "light up" vehicles, which are often carrying unarmed civilians. I sympathize with anxious soldiers, shocked by the terror of war, when they shoot at an oncoming vehicle that isn't stopping. I also sympathize with frightened civilians, running away in fear when stumbling upon US forces, who get obliterated by high caliber US machine guns. Is this extra-judicial execution? It is when the cars have already passed or are turning to get away.

When Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena's car was shot up, from behind by the way, it made the news. The vast majority of these incidents occur without any journalists around. Sgt. Ricky Clousing describes another instance. "I was in Mosul on a convoy en route, and we stopped to assist another convoy that had been struck by an IED. I was ordered to pull rear security on the convoy, where I proceeded to go behind the rear Humvee and guard the road.

As I was doing that, I had seen a vehicle turn down our road going approximately 15 miles an hour. I saw directly in the window. It was a young boy, or a young man, I should say, and as soon as he saw U.S. troops, he was terrified, took his hands off the wheel. It was evident that he was scared that U.S. troops were there, weapons drawn. He didn't know what was going on. He was making an effort to brake the vehicle and to turn around immediately, when a soldier in the turret of the Humvee behind me proceeded to open up fire and fired four to five rounds inside of the vehicle."

"I spoke with the leaders afterwards and told them that basically they needed to instruct their soldiers to assess and analyze a situation properly... And when I did, I was really shot down by the superiors, basically that I didn't know how convoy operations worked, and I had never been deployed before [he was military intelligence, not infantry] and I didn’t understand that this happens and that that’s just something that’s a reality of war, and that I apparently didn't know what I was talking about." [4]

Another outspoken source on this is Marine Staff Sgt. Jimmy Massey "Shortly after Massey arrived in Iraq, his unit was ordered to man roadblocks. To stop cars, the Marines would raise their hands. If the drivers kept going, Massey says, “we would just light ’em up. I didn’t find out until later on, after talking to an Iraqi, that when you put your hand up in the air, it means ‘Hello.’” He estimates that his men killed 30-plus civilians in one 48-hour period." Do you think this is the only road block like this in of Iraq?

I acknowledge the rationales associated with "realities of war" and frightened soldiers who over-react or act out in rage. Unltimately, the responsibility for these "accidents" and extra-judicial executions rest on George Bush and his war-of-aggression conspitators. "To initiate a war of aggression.. is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole." -- chief American prosecutor, Robert H. Jackson, Nuremberg.

Strikes on "Suspected" Terrorists: Targeted Assassinations

How often have we heard or read the following? "A U.S. Air Force gunship has conducted a strike against suspected terrorrists..." or "U.S. forces launched a pinpoint missile strike in Yemen, killing a top al-Qaeda operative in his car."

In regard to the later example, in which an unmanned CIA drone aircraft was used, a U.S official said, "the evidence collected so far linking al-Harthi to the attack on the USS Cole was circumstantial and probably would not be decisive in court. "Fortunately, that's no longer an issue."

So much for the American value of "Innocent until proven guilty."

UN Findings of Other Extrajudicial Executions in Iraq

"On September 8, 2005 the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq issued a human rights report, stating that the governing institutions created by the United States in Iraq are engaged in an organized campaign of detention, torture, and extrajudicial execution, directed primarily at Iraqis who practice the Sunni form of Islam." [5]


[1] Associated Press, Oct. 27, 2006, Web LINK
Follow-up AP Coverage. November 16, 2006, "The judge wanted to hand down a five-year punishment, but was bound by the terms of the plea deal."

[2] PBS, NOW "HIT OR MISS IN IRAQ" March 31, 2006.

[3] ICRC Leaked Report PDF File of leaked ICRC Report. See: p. 8, paragraph 7.

[4] DemocracyNow interview with Sargent Ricky Clausing, August 11th, 2006 Full Transcript.

[5] Nicolas J. S. Davies, "The Dirty War in Iraq."

Read More June 1, 2004, "They Should Never Have Been in Prison", by Aaron Glantz (IPS)

Other US Extra-judicial Executions Outside of Iraq

On the FBI killing of Filiberto Ojeda Rios in Puerto Rico:
"So, on September 23, 2005, in the town of Hormigueros, Puerto Rico, the FBI murdered a legend, but in the process, stupidly, they created a bigger one."
Web LINK: Rafael Rodriguez Cruz, "Assassination in Puerto Rico: The FBI Murders a Legend" Rafael Rodriguez Cruz is an attorney in Hartford, Connecticut.

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