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Firefights and the Fourth of July

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Message Jayne Stahl
While waiting for the fireworks, consider this: last weekend, in Iraq, U.S. troops stormed the slums of Sadr City, a largely Shiite stronghold in Baghdad, "blindly" killing 26 innocent Iraqi civilians. A local resident describes a pre-dawn raid intended to target "Iranian-linked militants," in chilling terms: "At about 4 a.m., a big American convoy with tanks came and began to open fire on houses—bombing them." Another Iraqi woman says her family was hit while "peacefully sleeping."

Even an Iraqi police officer alleges he was also injured when soldiers started to randomly bomb houses, and fire at civilians. Three members of one family were killed during the attacks which Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, the officer in charge, called "an intense firefight." Garver claims that all the victims were "terrorists" who were shooting at the troops at the time, thus his men acted in self-defense. (AP)

Regardless of who is telling the truth here, Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has expressed justifiable outrage at the raids, and refusal of the U.S. military to comply with his orders that prohibit any operation without "pre-approval from the Iraqi military command…Anyone who breaches the military command orders will face investigation." Presumably, the "anyone" to whom the prime minister refers includes American military personnel. Think about the irony implicit in defiance by American military command of Iraqi military command. Is it any wonder that the Iraqis want us out given that we show no more respect for them, or their "democratically" established hierarchy than Saddam Hussein did. While the officer in charge asserts that any structure, in Sadr, that came under assault was "being used for hostile intent," the question is why were his troops there in the first place, against the wishes of Iraqi leadership? This is only one, of many, questions that bear repeating if, and when, Lt. Col Garver goes before court martial.

Even if he has his day in court, keep in mind that Garver, too, takes orders from someone and as we have seen far too often over the past four years, those who most deserve to be brought up on charges manage to slip between the cracks. We witnessed the dignified "retirement" of former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, with no questions asked about what, if any, role he played whether in ordering or implementing, the systemic torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

When an American military operation views sleeping women and children are "terrorists," we have to wonder not just about who's carrying out these heinous acts, but who's giving them the orders to do so.

Ominously, too, the intentional blurring of the line between civilian and insurgent, as well as between insurgent and member of al-Qaeda, in an effort to spin an unpopular war, has been consistently employed to justify everything from "alternative interrogation techniques" such as we've seen in Abu Ghraib, an Iraqi prison which housed mainly Iraqi criminals, not "enemy combatants."

If you happen to be a citizen of an occupied country where there is an active resistance to occupation, does that make you fair game? Increasingly, the media feeds us the party line that we are no longer fighting insurgency, in Iraq, but al Qaeda. One can no longer be a citizen of Iraq, but they are, by default, either terrorists, or terrorists in training. What does it say about our attempt to bring law and order to Baghdad when our own military acts with brazen disregard for Iraqi law?

When just a day or two ago, we heard the president speak about commuting Scooter Libby's jail sentence, but leaving his conviction and $250,000 fine in place because he thinks there's a need for "accountability," (AP) one can only look to him as commander-in-chief, and expect that he hold himself fully accountable, too, for the horrific wholesale slaughter of two dozen innocent sleeping Iraqi civilians.

While the world witnessed the kangaroo trials of service members for their crimes against humanity at Abu Ghraib, so far, senior members of the Defense Department, going up the chain of command as far as possible, have not been brought to justice. Donald Rumsfeld got to return to private life with impunity. Clearly, Rumsfeld took commands, too. Yet, those who gave the original orders continue to function in secret, without oversight, and without accountability despite their alacrity for encouraging others to take responsibility for their own misdeeds. A Pentagon consultant remarked, when the horrific photographs of the systemic abuse of Abu Ghraib detainees first surfaced, that "the basic strategy was 'prosecute the kids in the photographs but protect the big picture." (The New Yorker)

But, whose "big picture" are we really protecting? In the final analysis, accountability for firing blindly on civilians, for massaging the language of war such that those who actively resist occupation, in Iraq, become "al Qaeda," and the enemy morphs into a ubiquitous mass that includes sleeping men, women, and children; in the final analysis, accountability is a four letter word: B U S H. When the Army revises its induction manual, and military legislation labels what were formerly widely recognized as human rights abuses as "alternative interrogation techniques," one needn't do a Google search to find out who's responsible. The buck often stops where the buck begins.

"I make a judgment, a considered judgment. I stand by it," the president acknowledged when he spoke, earlier this week, about his decision to commute the sentence of Libby, a convicted felon. Clearly, this commutation wasn't the first "considered judgment" this president has made. He made the judgment to invade Iraq, to oust its leadership, to bomb and plunder Baghdad, to destroy more American lives in the name of a "war on terror" than have been lost as a result of 9/11, as well as to revise the War Powers Act such that he, and his cronies, are immune from prosecution for war crimes.

On this day we celebrate our independence, and self-determination, this president continues to make the "considered judgment" that it's acceptable to deny Iraq its own sovereignty.

We have exported many things to many different parts of the world, but independence isn't one of them. Independence Day, for the Iraqis, will come when America goes home.
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Widely published, poet, playwright, essayist, and screenwriter; member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA. Jayne Lyn Stahl is a Huffington Post blogger.
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