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Shooting and Crying: The Unlearned Lessons of American Atrocity

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Horrors of Fallujah
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1.
The Marlboro Men are back. 

A few years ago, we saw them blazoned across our screens and newspapers: rugged, tough, battle-grimed warriors, slogging through hell to conquer evil and bring light to a land lost in darkness.

Last week, the New York Times brought them out again. But this time around, our clean-limbed, God-blessed fighters for a noble cause weren't conquering -- they were suffering. They felt sad, let down, even betrayed. Why? Because what had been the high point, the shining pinnacle, "the most iconic moment" of their righteous campaign was now tainted. Their conquest hadn't held; the old enemy had reared its head again in the city they had pacified with so much rugged, battle-grimed toughness long ago.

Now their feelings were hurt, their souls were troubled. All the goodness of their righteous campaign, all the noble intentions of their light-bringing crusade -- all had been for naught, it seemed. Theirs was indeed a lamentable tragedy. Here was real suffering, raw and anguished.

But what were they talking about exactly? What was this pinnacle, this extraordinary achievement whose great moral worth has now been besmirched?

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The battle of Fallujah.

I kid you not.

2.
Just over nine years ago, in November 2004, the United States military carried out an atrocious war crime at the behest of its civilian leaders. Having already committed what America's chief jurist at the Nuremberg trials called "the supreme international crime" -- aggresive war -- the American military now declared a whole city full of innocent civilians to be a "free fire zone" and proceeded to pulverize the town with bombs, missiles, chemical weapons and finally a ground attack by thousands of troops. This came after the American military had cut vital supplies of food and water to the city -- another brazen war crime.

Here is an eyewitness report of the attack from a BBC reporter in the city at the time:

"There are more and more dead bodies on the streets and the stench is unbearable. Smoke is everywhere. It's hard to know how much people outside Fallujah are aware of what is going on here. There are dead women and children lying on the streets. People are getting weaker from hunger. Many are dying are from their injuries because there is no medical help left in the city whatsoever. Some families have started burying their dead in their gardens."

As I noted in the Moscow Times during the attack:

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"One of the first moves in this magnificent feat of arms was the destruction and capture of medical centers. Twenty doctors -- and their patients, including women and children -- were killed in an airstrike on one major clinic, the UN Information Service reports, while the city's main hospital was seized in the early hours of the ground assault. Why? Because these places of healing could be used as 'propaganda centers,' the Pentagon's 'information warfare' specialists told the NY Times. Unlike the first attack on Fallujah last spring, there was to be no unseemly footage of gutted children bleeding to death on hospital beds. This time -- except for NBC's brief, heavily-edited, quickly-buried clip of the usual lone 'bad apple' shooting a wounded Iraqi prisoner -- the visuals were rigorously scrubbed.

"So while Americans saw stories of rugged 'Marlboro Men' winning the day against Satan, they were spared shots of engineers cutting off water and electricity to the city -- a flagrant war crime under the Geneva Conventions, as CounterPunch notes, but standard practice throughout the occupation. Nor did pictures of attack helicopters gunning down civilians trying to escape across the Euphrates River -- including a family of five -- make the TV news, despite the eyewitness account of an AP journalist. Nor were tender American sensibilities subjected to the sight of phosphorous shells bathing enemy fighters -- and nearby civilians -- with unquenchable chemical fire, literally melting their skin, as the Washington Post reports. Nor did they see the fetus being blown out of the body of Artica Salim when her home was bombed during the 'softening-up attacks' that raged relentlessly -- and unnoticed -- in the closing days of George W. Bush's presidential campaign, the Scotland Sunday Herald reports."

This was the battle of Fallujah. This is the noble cause that our Marlboro Men (and our "paper of record," which gave their laments such prominent play) now feel has been besmirched by the fact that some militant Sunni factions (many from the same groups the United States is now supporting, directly or indirectly, through its assistance to the Syrian rebels) seized control of the city for a time. It is this incident that has made the Marlboros and the Timesters suddenly feel that the "great sacrifices" of America's war of aggression in Iraq were made in vain. This -- not the multitude of Iraqis who have died this year alone in the violent sectarian strife that was created by the American invasion, and exacerbated by deliberate American policy.

Al Qaeda and its allies had no presence in Iraq before the American invasion. No, wait, that's wrong: al Qaeda associates were in fact living safely in Iraq before the invasion -- in Kurdish territory, which was controlled not by Saddam but by American-backed militias. Indeed, the seeds of the Fallujah atrocity sprang from this strange situation, where al Qaeda operatives lived under American protection -- or at the very least, their "benign neglect" -- even after the 9/11 attacks. As I noted during the 2004 storming of Fallujah:

"What [we] saw instead were two loudly devout Christians, Bush and Tony Blair, clasping hands and proclaiming that Artica Salim had been torn to shreds in order to fight terrorism -- specifically, the terrorism of Jordanian thug Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The city's alleged refusal to turn over Zarqawi was the ostensible reason for the attack; yet halfway through the assault, with dead civilian bodies already stinking in the streets, Coalition commanders finally admitted the truth: Zarqawi wasn't in Fallujah -- and hadn't been there for weeks, perhaps months.

"But then, Zarqawi leads a peculiarly charmed life. Three times before the war, U.S. forces were set to kill him and destroy his organization. It wasn't that difficult; after all, he was operating in Kurdish-held Iraqi territory, where the U.S. military had free rein. Yet each time, Bush called off the strike, the Wall Street Journal reports. He needed Zarqawi for his pre-war propaganda, so he could point to an 'al Qaeda ally in Iraq' -- even though Zarqawi was on Bush's Iraqi turf, not Saddam's."

The vicious, murderous, criminal attack on Fallujah was a microcosm of the vast atrocity of the invasion of Iraq -- an atrocity that continues today. A fake reason for an act of aggression was sold to a gleefully gullible media, and through them to a docile public raised on the potent poison of "American exceptionalism," to provide a "justification" for an action whose real purpose had to be concealed. And what was that purpose? To demonstrate and advance the bipartisan American elite's unslakeable desire for domination -- and to demonstrate that anyone who resists that desire will be punished, tormented or killed. 

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Chris Floyd is an American journalist. His work has appeared in print and online in venues all over the world, including The Nation, Counterpunch, Columbia Journalism Review, the Christian Science Monitor, Il Manifesto, the Moscow Times and many (more...)
 

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