The next time CNN's Wolf Blitzer boasts about George W. Bush's "successful surge" in Iraq or Newsweek hails "Victory at Last," you should think of the video released by Wikileaks.org this week showing the killing of a group of Iraqi men, including two Reuters newsmen, as they walked nonchalantly through the streets of Baghdad.
Not only did a U.S. military helicopter gunship mow them down amid macho jokes and chuckling after mistaking a couple of cameras for weapons but the American attackers then blew away several Iraqis who arrived in a van and tried to take one of the wounded newsmen to a hospital. Two children in the van were badly wounded.
"Well, it's their fault for bringing their kids into a battle," one American remarked.
The videotaped incident entitled "Collateral Murder" by Wikileaks occurred on July 12, 2007, in the midst of President Bush's much-heralded troop "surge," which the U.S. news media has widely credited for reducing violence in Iraq and bringing something close to victory for the United States.
But the U.S. press corps rarely mentions that the "surge" represented one of the bloodiest periods of the war. Beyond the horrific and untallied death toll of Iraqis, more than 1,000 U.S. soldiers died during Bush's "surge" of an additional 30,000 troops into Iraq.
It's also unclear that the "surge" deserves much if any credit for the gradual decline in Iraqi violence, which had already reached turning points in 2006 with the death of al-Qaeda leader Musab al-Zarqawi and the U.S.-funded Sunni Awakening against al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Furthermore, what Bush had already done both by invading Iraq in 2003 in violation of international law and then permitting loose rules of engagement had inflicted unspeakable horrors on the people of Iraq.
Bush turned some U.S. soldiers into wanton murderers who had wide latitude to kill Iraqi "military-age males" or MAMS. Yet, it remains out of bounds for the U.S. mainstream news media to deal honestly with these painful issues or to suggest that Bush should be held accountable as a war criminal.
There was a reason why the Nuremberg Tribunal after World War II declared that "to initiate a war of aggression " is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole." The Wikileaks video represents one piece of that "accumulated evil" that Bush unpacked.
The mowing down of Reuters newsmen Saeed Chmagh, Namir Noor-Eldeen and about 10 others also was not an unusual event, according to veterans of the Iraq War. Indeed, much of Iraq like Afghanistan has been treated as a near-free-fire zone with open season on suspicious-looking MAMS, though these killings rarely attract much media attention.
And, in the few cases that do reach the public, the U.S. soldiers are usually deemed to have operated within the rules of engagement, as happened in the July 12, 2007, case shown from cockpit video obtained by Wikileaks.
One exception to the rule of near impunity was the 10-year sentence meted out to Army Ranger Sgt. Evan Vela for executing an unarmed Iraqi detainee who along with his son had stumbled into a U.S. sniper position in 2007, also during Bush's "surge."
After letting the 17-year-old son go, Vela's squad leader, Staff Sgt. Michael Hensley ordered Vela to use a 9-millimeter pistol to shoot the father, Genei Nesir Khudair al-Janabi, in the head, an order that Vela carried out.
But Vela's guilty verdict from a military court was a rare case of holding a U.S. soldier accountable in the killing or abusing of an Iraqi.
More typically, in November 2007, another military jury acquitted Hensley in the same murder of Janabi as well as in the killing of two other Iraqi men south of Baghdad. That jury ruled that Hensley was following the approved "rules of engagement," though it did convict him of planting an AK-47 on one victim.
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