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"Dial K for Kill Count"

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Message Jayne Stahl
Walking the beat in Baghdad does, we are told, involve meeting a quota to eliminate as many adult Iraqi males as possible as reported in a startling front page article in yesterday's Los Angeles Times.

In a hearing, in Tikrit, Iraq, on Wednesday, military prosecutors argued that four U.S. soldiers killed 3 unarmed Iraqi detainees last May in a small island off Samarra, Iraq, and are alleged to have been acting under orders to meet "kill counts" in what has come to be known as "Operation Iron Triangle." (LA Times) At Wednesday's hearing regarding the actions of the 101st Airborne's 3rd brigade, one witness, Pfc. Bradley Mason, testified that members of his unit were ordered, by their commanders, to "kill all military aged males" Private Mason, who appeared under grant of immunity, also added that his unit was encouraged to bolster "enemy kills," and compete for the largest quota of adult Iraqi male deaths. (LA Times)

When asked why he killed one of the 3 unarmed Iraqi civilians, that brutal day in May, Pfc. Mason told defense lawyers "We were told to kill all the males on the island. We don't fire warning shots." Yes, indeed, the private is right; his government doesn't fire warning shots either, and by failing to do so is sending a message to Israel that the policy of preemption is one that allows for no mistakes. What's more, ostensibly, from Mason's account, it appears that all lines of demarcation were deliberately blurred, and obscured, such that any Iraqi male, either in detention or simply eating a meal in his kitchen, was viewed as fair game, and one less insurmountable insurgent.

It is nothing less than astonishing that this military investigation into the murder of 3 Iraqis, in May, finds that soldiers in our armed forces are being coerced to fill quotas in much the same way as members of local law enforcement are urged to meet quotas for traffic tickets. Has the upper echelons of our military so degraded and debased the concept of human life that the rank and file infantrymen are rewarded for not distinguishing between an "enemy" and a civilian casualty? Is it, after all, a numbers game in the theatre of war, too? And, when under cross-examination for issuing these commands, this one commanding officer, in particular, Col. Michael Steele chose to exercise his Fifth Amendment rights. What, may I ask, Fifth Amendment, or other rights, did these innocent Iraqi men have when they were taken out, and shot to death, execution-style, by infantrymen wearing our uniforms, and under orders from commissioned officers? What rights did the 24 innocent men and women of Haditha have when they were taken out and summarily slaughtered by our troops, and under whose watch was this slaughter covered up? Moreover, who has the moral high ground here, and is it bullet-proof?

You may ask, and rightly, about Colonel Steele's commanding officer, and/or those who were in charge of other infantrymen who engaged in equally heinous and execrable actions. As testimony emerges from Wednesday's hearing in Tikrit, it becomes evident that commanding officers looked the other way, chose not to investigate, and/or covered up what evidence surfaced of civilian killings in Samarra, Haditha, and elsewhere.

Mason's harrowing account suggests that military murder, in Iraq, is as arbitrary, on the ground, as in the air, and at least as arbitrary as the rationale for engaging in this war. Distinctions between civilians, "enemy combatants," insurgents, detainees, are routinely ignored in an effort to meet some perverse battlefield quota; some way to "liberate" a country by killing off all its adult males!

While under investigation for giving the command to kill all adult Iraqi males, Colonel Michael Steele, refuses to testify before the 101st Airborne headquarters hearing, applying his constitutional right against self-incrimination, it must be remembered that he is only one officer, and not the only one to issue kill commands, or attempt to cover the rears of his infantrymen, and fellow officers, who commit heinous crimes against civilians at Samarra, Haditha, and elsewhere throughout Iraq.

While incidents like the ones at Samarra and Haditha are not rare, they're not abundant, either, nor would it be fair, or accurate, to suggest that Steele's policy is military protocol in Iraq, but we cannot afford complacency, or rogue ethics of this magnitude on the part of this colonel, or any of his commanding officers, wherever the food chain leads us, whether it be to the Secretary of Defense, or the Commander-in-Chief. The Great Crusade, in the name of "democracy," a campaign of "failed leadership," to borrow Hillary Clinton's phrase, shows only that those, in power, who abnegate responsibility for their actions pose the greatest threat to world peace, and compromise the international security of the planet.
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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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