Yesterday the Washington Post reported that American snipers are using weapons to bait Iraqis. They spread various weapons parts around and then killed anyone curious enough about the stuff to pick it up:
A Pentagon group has encouraged some U.S. military snipers in Iraq to target suspected insurgents by scattering pieces of “bait,” such as detonation cords, plastic explosives and ammunition, and then killing Iraqis who pick up the items, according to military court documents.
The classified program was described in investigative documents related to recently filed murder charges against three snipers who are accused of planting evidence on Iraqis they killed.
“Baiting is putting an object out there that we know they will use, with the intention of destroying the enemy,” Capt. Matthew P. Didier, the leader of an elite sniper scout platoon attached to the 1st Battalion of the 501st Infantry Regiment, said in a sworn statement. “Basically, we would put an item out there and watch it. If someone found the item, picked it up and attempted to leave with the item, we would engage the individual as I saw this as a sign they would use the item against U.S. Forces.”
In documents obtained by The Washington Post from family members of the accused soldiers, Didier said members of the U.S. military’s Asymmetric Warfare Group visited his unit in January and later passed along ammunition boxes filled with the “drop items” to be used “to disrupt the AIF [Anti-Iraq Forces] attempts at harming Coalition Forces and give us the upper hand in a fight.”
In relatively polite terms, the Post raises the issue of whether this is a reasonable way to identify and kill “insurgents”:
Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, said such a baiting program should be examined “quite meticulously” because it raises troubling possibilities, such as what happens when civilians pick up the items.
“In a country that is awash in armaments and magazines and implements of war, if every time somebody picked up something that was potentially useful as a weapon, you might as well ask every Iraqi to walk around with a target on his back,” Fidell said.
Juan Cole is not quite as polite. He asks: “Is Weapons Baiting a War Crime?”
After all, in a devastated Iraq, selling scrap metal is one way to obtain a little cash.
It turns out, however, that Iraqis are not being bated and killed only with weapons parts. Steven Shalom sends a June 16, 2007 Oregonian article that contains this account by a deserter:
His recruiter told him a tour in Iraq would give him the opportunity to build schools and support war-weary Iraqis, so against the advice of his parents, he signed up.
But once in Iraq, he was assigned to a “small kill” team that set traps for insurgents. They’d place a fake camera on a pole with a sign labeling it as U.S. property, giving the team the right to shoot anyone who messed with it. Burmeister, who provided perimeter security for the team, said he could never get over his distaste for the tactic.
No wonder information on the bait-and-kill operations is classified. After all, war crimes are usually hidden and denied. The US denied that it used white phosphorous to burn the flesh off Iraqis in Fallujah until the lie became impossible to maintain. Will the media and/or Congress follow up this new evidence of war crimes by US occupation forces? Don’t hold your breath.