Friday, June 30, 2006

Casualties of war

No, Iraq is not Viet Nam. It's drier and hotter.

AP reporter Ryan Lenz, embedded with the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq, has filed a report which shows yet another ugly side of the US-initiated Iraq conflict.

Five U.S. Army soldiers are being investigated for allegedly raping a young woman, then killing her and three members of her family in Iraq, a U.S. military official said Friday.

The soldiers also allegedly burned the body of the woman they are accused of assaulting in the March incident, the official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

The U.S. command issued a sparse statement, saying Maj. Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of coalition troops in Baghdad, had ordered a criminal investigation into the alleged killing of a family of four in Mahmoudiyah, south of Baghdad. The statement had no other details.

The case represents the latest allegations against U.S. soldiers stemming from the deaths of Iraqis. At least 14 U.S. troops have been convicted.


"The entire investigation will encompass everything that could have happened that evening. We're not releasing any specifics of an ongoing investigation," military spokesman Maj. Todd Breasseale said of the Mahmoudiyah allegations.

"There is no indication what led soldiers to this home. The investigation just cracked open. We're just beginning to dig into the details."

However, a U.S. official close to the investigation said at least one of the soldiers, all assigned to the 502nd Infantry Regiment, has admitted his role and been arrested. Two soldiers from the same regiment were slain this month when they were kidnapped at a checkpoint near Youssifiyah.


Senior officers were aware of the family's death but believed it was due to sectarian violence, common in the religiously mixed town, he said.

The killings appeared to have been a "crime of opportunity," the official said. The soldiers had not been attacked by insurgents but had noticed the woman on previous patrols.
I would normally, at this point, be suggesting that nothing more needs to be added until due process runs its course.

That, however, would be to turn away from a fact which accompanies war, particularly a long, protracted and indefinite situation like Iraq and, formerly, Viet Nam: The rape of civilian women by occupying soldiers is nearly inevitable.

The above is not intended to excuse the alleged acts of those now under investigation. In fact, it is quite the opposite. The offenders, if the investigation turns over evidence which bears out the allegations, should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Rape is a heinous war crime.

What is disturbing is that this one case came to light the way it did: One of the assailants has admitted his involvement. And, given the level of frustration that fighting an insurgency can cause in soldiers and the length of their deployments, the number of actual cases which go unreported might shock someone unfamiliar with such an environment.

During Viet Nam, rape was common. It also received a blind-eye from command authorities. This piece by Karen Stuhldreher of the University of Washington studies the rape of civilian women by soldiers in Viet Nam and demonstrates that conditions of service often lead otherwise moral individuals to engage in degenerative behaviour.

During the Vietnam war, rape was in fact an all too common occurrence, often described by GIs as SOP--standard operating procedure.2 "That's an everyday affair... you can nail just about everybody on that--at least once," offered a squad leader in the 34d Platoon of Charlie Company when questioned by a reporter about the rape that occurred at My Lai.3 Another GI, Joe Galbally, when testifying for the Winter Soldier Investigation, concluded his report about a specific incident of gang rape by American soldiers by saying, "This wasn't just one incident; this was the first one I can remember. I know of 10 or 15 such incidents at least." Galbally was in Vietnam for one year, from 1967-1968.
What it also suggests is that soldiers' recounting of those incidents indicate they were not motivated by violence but by the need for sexual gratification. Stuhldreher dispatches this "justification", if you will.

... the rampancy of rape during the Vietnam war is indicative of the reluctance on the part of the media as well as the military to report and prosecute these war crimes. This notion that rape is sexually motivated and therefore the logical outcome of male sexual desire, plays directly into myths that rape is spontaneous and victim-precipitated.
The truth is, when soldiers start raping the female civilian population of a militarily occupied but politically unstable country it demonstrates a callous disregard for the indiginous population. Far from being there to help them and win them over, the occupied population has been reduced, in the minds of the occupiers, to sub-human, powerless and subject to intimidation.

In a situation where the "enemy" is no longer a clearly defined, uniformed combatant and has the ability to hide amongst the general population, the entire population becomes the enemy. Soldiers, reacting to the frustration of spontaneous and unpredictable attacks on themselves and their comrades, create fear among a civilian population they do not trust. They respond to violence by demonstrating their power, and rape is one of those demonstrations. While the soldiers may not be deranged sexual predators, the act has more to do with violence than it does sexual gratification.

This latest case in Beiji, Iraq, if the allegations are true, is a symptom of a greater condition. It is a sign that Iraq is lost. The question is whether the war in Iraq will produce a Winter Soldier Investigation or whether 30 years after its conclusion horrific revelations will once again authenticate the folly of sending troops into an inconclusive war where the population is viewed as little more than waste to be disposed of by the leadership of the occupying force.

Gook? Hadji? What's the difference? The level of indifference to their survival is the same.

No, Iraq is not Viet Nam. It's just drier and hotter.

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