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Killing the News in Iraq: Justifying the Unjustifiable

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By Dave Lindorff

Reuters may be “satisfied” with the Pentagon’s investigation
concluding that US troops were “justified” in their slaying of the news
organization’s working journalist Waleed Khaled back in 2005, but the
rest of us shouldn’t be.

Khaled and his driver were killed by US troops when they came on a
firefight involving US troops and Iraqi police who were allegedly under
attack. The Pentagon report into the incident concluded that the two
men came onto the scene, and American forces, seeing Khaled’s videocam
and tripod, thought it was a rocket launcher. They reportedly fired
warning shots. When Khaled’s driver did the logical thing, backing
slowly from the scene, US troops “assumed it was an insurgent tactic”
and fired to “disable” the vehicle, killing the two men.

First of all, let’s note that Khaled is not the only journalist to
have been killed by US forces in Iraq. There has been a pattern that
makes it clear that journalists who step outside the controlled bubble
of the embedded propagandist traveling with the troops are fair game,
which explains why we in America know so little about the reality of
the US assault on the people of Iraq.

But beyond this journalistic issue, what this story tells us,
besides the fact that an innocent reporter and his innocent driver,
just doing their jobs, were murdered by overly aggressive US soldiers
(whose initial response, and that of Pentagon “investigators,” appears
to have been to cover up their actions) is that any innocent parties
who stumble into a battle zone are liable to be slaughtered by US
forces in Iraq.

The only thing that distinguishes this tragic incident from
hundreds of others like it that occur routinely in Iraq is that Khaled
was a journalist employed by a major Western news organization with the
clout and prominence to demand a real, and public, investigation into
the case.

For Iraqis killed under similar circumstances, not only is there no
investigation; there is simply no report of their deaths. As US
commanders have famously and disgustingly said, “We don’t do

There is a reason why ordinary Iraqis are almost unanimously
opposed to the neo-colonial “deal” the Bush is trying to force their
puppet regime to approve, granting US forces legal immunity and a free
rein in Iraq to attack and arrest anyone they choose, and to be
protected from arrest by Iraqi authorities for any of their actions in
that country. Iraqis daily see the US behaving like Nazi stormtroopers,
killing their countrymen with impunity, and they want it to stop.

Anyone who thinks that running this kind of brutal occupation is
going to end any way but disastrously is delusional. Imagine if we had
Iraqi troops running around the US blowing up innocent drivers without
fear of any consequence. We’d have an army of vigilantes taking
action—which is just what is happening in Iraq.

The situation in Iraq for ordinary Iraqis has actually been getting
worse, as the Pentagon turns increasingly to aerial bombardment and
even the use of remote-controlled Predator drones, run by video jockeys
back in the US, to conduct its attacks on “suspected insurgents,”
instead of sending ground troops. This approach may reduce US
casualties, but it inevitably increases the number and the percentage
of so-called “collateral damage” deaths of innocent non-combatants.

Khaled’s murder by American troops is a personal tragedy for his
colleagues and his family, but at least it serves to demonstrate, if
anyone is paying attention, the wretched reality of the
Bush/Cheney/Democratic Congress war and occupation of Iraq.

Returning veterans of the war who have joined Iraq Veterans Against
the War IVAW), have been bravely speaking out against this ongoing
horror. They tell of soldiers and marines so brutalized and frustrated
by their repeated deployments to Iraq that all they want to do is
survive and get home. They tell of troops who hate all Iraqis, calling
them “hajjis” and “ragheads,” who are doped up and sent out on patrol
with diminished judgment—a sure recipe for the kind of thing that
happened to Khaled and his driver. One IVAW member, Camilo Mejia, who
refused redeployment and was sentenced to a year in the brig for
desertion, in an excellent book titled “Road from ar Ramadi: The
Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Camilio Mejia, an Iraq War Memoir”
(Haymarket Books), also writes of how US commanders push their troops
into pointless confrontations at which civilians are often the victims,
because they want to go home with combat badges on their chests.

Just ask yourself for a moment, what should Khaled and his driver
have done, when they came on the scene of the firefight? If they had
simply stopped their car, having already been fired on (and no doubt
not knowing who was doing the firing)? Sitting still was clearly a bad
option. Going forward was suicide. So they did the only logical thing:
they backed up slowly—surely the least threatening option available.
But the US troops saw that action as “a typical insurgent tactic,” and
opened fire on them.

If retreat is seen as an enemy “tactic,” then there is really no
hope for some innocent person caught up in a firefight.

No wonder over a million Iraqis have died in this criminal war, most of them victims of American weaponry!

No wonder Iraqis overwhelmingly want the US out of their country!

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Dave Lindorff, winner of a 2019 "Izzy" Award for Outstanding Independent Journalism from the Park Center for Independent Media in Ithaca, is a founding member of the collectively-owned, journalist-run online newspaper (more...)

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