Tuesday, November 15, 2005

War Crimes (updated)

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. More torture, this time by our Iraqi clients:
Iraq's government said Tuesday that it had ordered an urgent investigation of allegations that many of the 173 detainees American troops discovered over the weekend in the basement of an Interior Ministry building in a Baghdad suburb had been tortured by their Iraqi captors. A senior Iraqi official who visited the detainees said two appeared paralyzed and others had some of the skin peeled off their bodies by their abusers...

An Interior Ministry statement said flatly that torture had occurred and that "instruments of torture," which it did not describe, were found in the building.
At least they seem to have gotten beyond the euphemism of "abuse," and the pretense that such barbarism might be justified... well, at least for the moment.

However, when it comes to war crimes committed by our own troops the art of implausible denial remains quite current.

Despite a series of earlier denials, more apparently definitive evidence has come out that the US forces used banned white phosphorus weapons, which burn through the skin down to the bone, in the assault on Falluja.
US forces yesterday made their clearest admission yet that white phosphorus was used as a weapon against insurgents in Iraq. A Pentagon spokesman told the BBC last night that it had been used as "an incendiary weapon" during the assault last year on Falluja in 2004.
This would seem to be fairly damning since,
... the use of incendiary weapons such as WP and napalm against civilian targets - though not military targets - is banned by international treaty. Article two, protocol III of the 1980 UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons states: "It is prohibited in all circumstances to make the civilian population as such, individual civilians or civilian objects, the object of attack by incendiary weapons."
But the US government is continuing to deny that the weapons were banned and asserts that they were used against enemy combattants, not civilian targets. Now an Iraqi team has gone to Falluja to investigate.The US press reports on this issue have been uniformly poor and are often complicit in helping the government cover up its crimes, as in this atrocious article by William Arkin in the Washington Post.

Although criticizing the use of white phosphorus weapons as "a losing strategy," Arkin takes the curious tack of criticizing the critics of WP as hypocrites, perhaps in an effort to produce the appearance of balanced journalism.
But to the critics of white phosphorous and the U.S. military, I say: When have you ever been happy when the United States has only employed precision, when it has been scrupulously "legal" in the conduct of its military operations? To suggest that white phosphorus is illegal or illegitimate suggests that you are willing to accept that some use of military force and some weapons are perfectly legal. It is to say that there are laws of war, that fighting and the military enterprise can be honorable and just. I never hear this from certain quarters, and the inability to give credit where credit is due undermines any efforts to encourage the U.S. military -- and the rest of the world -- to systematize and strengthen constraints on weapons and methods of warfare that no longer accord with the public's conscience.
Huh? An amazing sequence of non sequiturs directed at a straw man. Credit for what? The war is illegal and unjust on entirely different grounds. That "fighting and the military enterprise can be honorable and just" does not in any way entail that anything undertaken in the invasion of Iraq is either honorable and just. What a hack.

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In sum, we now have the US troops ferreting out torture by the Iraqi government just as the Iraqi government is investigating the use of chemical weapons by the US army. A nice symmetry.

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