“The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is calling on the United States to investigate three new cases of journalists killed in Iraq over the past week -- all of them at the hands of United States soldiers…[T]his brings to 17 the number of journalists and media staff killed by US soldiers.”
-- International Federation of Journalists, July 1, 2005
Last week, Yasser Salihee, a reporter for Knight Ridder news agency, was assassinated in a perfectly executed gangland-style hit a few miles outside of Baghdad. He was struck by a single bullet to the head by an American sniper. Salihee’s murder resulted from his extensive coverage of the torture and murder of “suspected insurgents” by US-backed death squads.
Many readers will remember Donald Rumsfeld rushing off to Baghdad a few months ago to ensure that the “newly elected” Iraqi government didn’t fiddle with the new regime he’d installed in the Interior Ministry. With the help of former CIA-operative Iyad Allawi, Rumsfeld put together a cadre of thugs who operate under the rubric of “The Wolf Brigade” (also referred to as “Rumsfeld’s Boys”). Salihee had uncovered the gruesome details of how this counterinsurgency unit really works: roaming the countryside in white Toyota Land Cruisers, dressed as police, rounding up anti-occupation suspects and either killing and torturing them as they see fit. These special units are similar to the death squads that were used by Ronald Reagan in El Salvador during the 1980s. Now they are thriving in Iraq under the auspices of the Defense Department, operating freely behind the façade of a democratically elected Iraqi government.
The Wolf Brigade has enlisted members of the Republican Guard as well as former members of Saddam’s feared secret police, the Mukhabarat. Both groups are intimately familiar with torture and the other instruments of state terror. Since the elections, the Brigade has played a major role in the crackdown throughout the Sunni Triangle that has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of innocent Iraqis. Salihee was following these developments when he was gunned down.
He discovered that corpses, which were being dumped off at the Baghdad morgue, showed the signs of being killed in a “methodical fashion. Their hands had been tied or handcuffed behind their backs, their eyes were blindfolded and they appeared to have been tortured. In most cases the dead men looked as if they had been whipped with a cord, subjected to electric shocks, beaten with a blunt object and shot to death, often with single bullets to their heads.” (Free Arab Voice) Eyewitness accounts said that many of the victims had been apprehended by people dressed as police who bore all the hallmarks of the Wolf Brigade.
There’s been a steep increase in the number of murders since the elections. “Before March 2003…the morgue handled 200 to 250 suspicious deaths a month, about 16 of which included firearm injuries.” Now there are “700 to 800 suspicious deaths a month, with some 500 having firearm wounds.” Many of these have been killed execution-style with a single bullet-wound to the head.
Rumsfeld’s Post-Election Change in Strategy
The complexion of the conflict has changed dramatically since the election. The Pentagon no longer expects to win the war, so the strategy has changed to inciting widespread violence with the ultimate goal of destroying Iraqi society and dividing up the nation. Every random act of violence should be analyzed with this in mind. Rumsfeld’s three pronged attack now includes a stepped up counterinsurgency campaign (killing and detaining hundreds, if not thousands of innocent Sunnis), a savage Dresden-type, slash and burn strategy of the main Sunni cities (so far, Haditha, al-Qaim and Karabila have received the “Falluja treatment”) and a “no-holds-barred” assault on the press; ensuring that only sanitized reports emerge from America’s embedded journalists.
Salihee, of course, veered from the Pentagon strategy and paid with his life. He leaves behind a wife and a daughter of two years.
Regrettably, Knight-Ridder has tried to paper over the death of Salihee saying that, “[Civilians] die anonymously, every day, at checkpoints and in raids and in suicide attacks. They are crushed when bombs fall on their homes; they are caught in crossfire between insurgents and American troops. Like Yasser, they die on lovely summer days, while looking forward to splashing in the pool, enjoying some rare time off. Little is known about the innocent Iraqis who pay the ultimate price for a war conducted in the name of their liberation.”
Very prosaic, but total rubbish. Salihee was murdered, Godfather style. The only noteworthy aspect of the incident is that it was performed with much greater proficiency than the attack on Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena. It looks like there’s been a decided upgrade in the talent level of the Pentagon’s assassination teams.
Salihee’s Death in Perspective
The Bush administration has developed a coherent strategy for quashing the free press. It’s clear that they regard the free flow of information as every bit as dangerous as a bomb-wielding Ba’athist. Those who aren’t already co-opted into the fold have been subjected to withering attacks from government-friendly stations and news agencies. Hence, CBS anchor Dan Rather is sent packing while Time magazine executives are left groveling before a national audience. Similarly, private citizens like Ward Churchill have withstood the scathing assault of an astonishingly competent right-wing media machine that can descend on its prey at a moment’s notice and leave little behind save a few bleached bones. At the same time, the BBC, NPR and PBS have all been penetrated by hostile forces bound to poison the few remaining bastions of independent reportage and purge those errant journalists whose coverage eschews the Pentagon filter.
This is “Information Warfare” on a grand scale; a conflict that the Bush administration intends to win no matter how many people are sacrificed in the process. Don’t think that Dahr Jamail, Patrick Cockburn or Robert Fisk don’t understand the meaning of Salihee’s death. It’s painfully clear. The Defense Secretary is determined to see that only one storyline will surface in Iraq. Anyone who dares to deviate from the accepted narrative can expect to find himself slumped over in the front seat of his car with blood issuing from his forehead. As Rumsfeld warned earlier this year, “People need to be very careful about what they say, just as they need to be careful about what they do.”
We’ve been forewarned.
Mike Whitney lives in Washington state, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
* From El Salvador to Iraq: Death Squads Come in Waves by Charles Demers
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