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Death Squads, American Style


By Michael Schwartz, Stony Brook State University

Even those of us who are implacably against the war are accustomed to thinking that Iraqis are the ones who staff the death squads that are now killing up to 100 people per day in Baghdad.

While it has been amply documented that U.S. personnel who developed the death squad strategy in Central America were brought in to establish these deaths squads, and that U.S. personnel are still involved in at least some (and maybe most) of the death squad attacks, so far I have not heard even the most paranoid among us saying that American soldiers are actually staffing them and committing the assassinations.

Until I read the New York Times on Friday, January 26.

The article (below) was about the sentencing of a soldier for participating in the ad hoc execution of three Iraqi prisoners, and the bulk of the article was devoted to the intricacies of the plea bargaining among the four perpetrators of the crime. But, as is surprisingly common in the mainstream press, the reporter, Paul von Zielbauer, sneaked in the really big news towards the end of the article. The key paragraphs (introduced as the perpetrator’s rationale for the execution) are these, which discuss the orders given the soldiers by their brigade commander, Colonel Michael D. Steele:

“Several soldiers in Private Clagett’s platoon have said in sworn statements that Colonel Steele told his men that they would be attacking a stronghold of Al Qaeda and ordered them to kill all men of military age they encountered during the raid.

“Colonel Steele, in sworn testimony to Army investigators that has not been made public, said he had not given orders using those exact words, but had warned his soldiers to expect a fierce battle. He was reprimanded by an Army general last summer for issuing confusing rules of engagement that investigators said had contributed to the deaths of the three Iraqi men and a fourth man killed during the raid”.

If we can look past Colonel Steele’s denial, which contains the concessionary point that he did not use these “exact words,” we get some real insight into the goals of American units when they are sent into “insurgent strongholds”: their job is to kill as many “men of military age” as they can.

We should all be given pause by the heinous brutality of this strategy…; and by the fact that it is a violation of virtually every international law and custom meant to deter war crimes…; and by the fact that this strategy is the sin qua non of state terrorism….; and by the fact that Saddam Hussein sometimes engaged in this very strategy.

But when we get past the upset and sadness and outrage from this, it is worth observing that this is exactly what the death squads in Baghdad have been doing for the last year. Like the Americans, they enter a “stronghold of Al Qaeda” searching for “terrorists,” usually under the color of law as Iraqi police or internal security personnel (many are, in fact, police or internal security special forces commanded by Iraqi or even American officials in the Ministry of the Interior). And, like the Americans, they are confident that “all men of military age” in this community are in fact active members or supporters of the insurgency; so they arrest, torture and assassinate as many as they can corral in a single foray. So what’s the difference between the Americans and the Iraqis? Only the torture part, and we can’t even be sure of that.

The worst of this is that we cannot even hide behind the meager hope that Colonel Steele is an anomaly and other brigade commanders do not issue orders to “kill all men of military age.” Sadly, the best evidence strongly indicates that this is indeed a policy, and that its lethal consequences have resulted in the murder of over a hundred thousand Iraqis since the U.S. arrived. One succinct way to document its prevalence is to look at the evidence from the Lancet study of violent death in Iraq, which concluded that at least 30% of the 600,000 victims of violence since the war began were killed by bullets fire or bombs dropped by American troops. Even if we remove the deaths due to bombing (8% of the total), we are left with 150,000 or so deaths from American bullets, or about 100 day, every day for the 1500 or so days since the American invasion.

Or, put another way, on their most brutal day, the Iraqi death squads kill about as many Iraqis “men of military age” as the U.S. death squads kill on an average day. And, while the Iraqi squads have been operating for only a year, and for only a few months at high levels, the Americans have been hard at work for 45 months. And, the number of American soldiers available to staff these death squads is going to increase by almost 15% in the next few months.

What a nightmare.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

January 26, 2007

G.I. Gets 18-Year Prison Term for Killing 2 Captive Iraqis

By PAUL von ZIELBAUER

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky., Jan. 25 — An Army infantryman received an 18-year prison sentence on Thursday after pleading guilty to killing two unarmed Iraqis during an assault northwest of Baghdad last May.

The infantryman, Pfc. Corey R. Clagett, 22, of the Third Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, also pleaded guilty to trying to kill a third unarmed man detained in the raid, and to conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

Under the terms of a plea deal made with military prosecutors and approved by the division’s commanding general, Private Clagett will be eligible for parole after roughly five years, his lawyers said.

Private Clagett is the third of four soldiers charged with premeditated murder in the case to plead guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence. His plea further strengthens prosecutors’ case against the remaining soldier, Staff Sgt. Raymond L. Girouard, and increases the chances that Sergeant Girouard may also seek a plea arrangement to avoid conviction at trial, which would require a life sentence.

Sergeant Girouard, 24, the squad leader, is charged with creating a plan to free the three Iraqi men from their plastic handcuffs, have Private Clagett and another soldier shoot them as they fled and then cover up the crime by telling investigators the men had attacked the soldiers and tried to escape.

Military officials raised questions about the deaths after the bodies were removed and found to still have blindfolds and parts of plastic handcuffs on them.

In his plea, Private Clagett told the military judge, Col. Theodore Dixon, that he had conspired with Sergeant Girouard and Specialist William B. Hunsaker to kill the three men after blindfolding and handcuffing them with plastic “zip-tie” handcuffs.

“I cut the zip-ties loose, pulled the blindfold up on one of them, down on the other,” he said, referring to two of the three Iraqi men. “Hunsaker told them to run. I told them to ‘yallah,’ meaning to run faster.” He said he and Specialist Hunsaker had sprayed the men with rifle fire, killing two and gravely wounding the third.

Specialist Hunsaker pleaded guilty to murder charges on Jan. 11 and received an 18-year prison sentence. That same week, Specialist Juston R. Graber, the fourth soldier charged in the case, pleaded guilty to aggravated assault for shooting the wounded man after an Army medic had declared him to be beyond help.

Sergeant Girouard’s trial is scheduled to begin March 5. If he does not end up pleading guilty, his lawyers said they would ask the judge to force the soldiers’ brigade commander, Col. Michael D. Steele, to testify at his trial.

Several soldiers in Private Clagett’s platoon have said in sworn statements that Colonel Steele told his men that they would be attacking a stronghold of Al Qaeda and ordered them to kill all men of military age they encountered during the raid.

Colonel Steele, in sworn testimony to Army investigators that has not been made public, said he had not given orders using those exact words, but had warned his soldiers to expect a fierce battle. He was reprimanded by an Army general last summer for issuing confusing rules of engagement that investigators said had contributed to the deaths of the three Iraqi men and a fourth man killed during the raid.

Private Clagett’s civilian lawyer, Paul W. Bergrin, said his client was sorry for killing unarmed men but was steadfast in his belief that the men, had they lived, would have gone on to kill American soldiers.

“My client was 100 percent convinced at all times that the individuals that were killed were terrorists,” Mr. Bergrin said outside the courtroom.

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One word: Nazis.

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