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The Footprint of an Out-of-Control Behemoth Leaving
a Trail of Bodies in its Wake

by Kim Petersen
November 22, 2004

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 “If we’d lost the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminals.”


-- former US Secretary of State Robert McNamara in agreement with air commander Curtis LeMay on what would have happened had the US lost WWII, The Fog of War


If Amnesty [International] were taking the view that any killing is as bad as any other killing, it would be taking a view that is denied by all of history.  If it is saying that you can settle any question of killing by making a declaration of a right to life -- that is nonsense. It has the upshot, to mention but one, that it would have been wrong to kill a single German guard in order to save a thousand Jews from death in gas chambers in a concentration camp.


-- Ted Honderich


The logic of philosopher Ted Honderich as applied to Amnesty International can easily apply to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) vis-à-vis evenhandedness on “hostilities” in Iraq. Coming on the heels of a video-recorded slaying by a US marine of an incapacitated and unarmed Iraq resistance fighter in Fallujah, ICRC director of operations Pierre Kraehenbuhl lamented, “As hostilities continue in Fallujah and elsewhere, every day seems to bring news of yet another act of utter contempt for the most basic tenet of humanity.”


Note how Kraehenbuhl applied the notion, “utter contempt” for humanity on all belligerents in Iraq. This ignored UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s labeling of the US-led invasion of Iraq as illegal. Hence, it follows that Iraq’s occupation is illegitimate too. The ICRC dispersed blame equally among all sides in the fighting, thus politically pandering to the powerful side in the ongoing violence -- the aggressor side that initiated the “hostilities” and perpetuates them.


From its angle, the US imperialist media honed this pandering to violence with a barrage of propaganda. As initial US media reporting of the video were greeted with staged incredulity, the Chicago Sun-Times had the audacity to run a headline reading: “NBC tape apparently shows prisoner shot.” (1) What is apparently supposed to mean?


Apparently, yes. The Sun-Times described the shooting as being “shown so quickly that it is impossible to tell whether the body was moving before the shot. The only movement which can be seen is the body flinching at the moment the bullet hits.”


What the unexpurgated video revealed, according to Associated Press Television News and other members of the network pool, is the “bullet striking the man in the upper body or head. His blood splatters on the wall behind him and his body goes limp.” (2)


Sites related that the marines had also shot again the other wounded men, who he said were prisoners: two were “were bleeding to death” and a “third wounded man appeared already dead, while a fourth was severely wounded but breathing.” (3)


The commercial US media did not express indignation on what, contrary to any notion of apparentness, looked like an obvious war crime. Article 41 of the Geneva Convention states:


Safeguard of an enemy hors de combat


1. A person who is recognized or who, in the circumstances, should be recognized to be hors de combat shall not be made the object of attack. [italics added]

2. A person is hors de combat if:

(a) He is in the power of an adverse Party;

(b) He clearly expresses an intention to surrender; or

(c) He has been rendered unconscious or is otherwise incapacitated by wounds or sickness, and therefore is incapable of defending himself; provided that in any of these cases he abstains from any hostile act and does not attempt to escape.


The media spinning of the murder commenced immediately. Reminiscent of the atrocities committed and excused by British colonialism, senior British defense analyst, Charles Heyman, defended the slaying because it was possible the wounded man was concealing a firearm or grenade.


In Heyman’s opinion, if a wounded man even flinches, a soldier “would be justified in shooting him.” Presumably, then, this identical low threshold should also apply to wounded US soldiers, making them equally vulnerable.


The media spinning of the murder commenced immediately. Senior British defense analyst Charles Heyman defended the slaying because it was possible the wounded man was concealing a firearm or grenade.


In Heyman’s opinion, if a wounded man makes even flinches, a soldier “would be justified in shooting him.” Presumably the identical low threshold would apply to wounded US soldiers, making them equally vulnerable.


The videographer Kevin Sites had told of a marine in the same unit being killed one day earlier when he tended to the booby-trapped dead body of an insurgent. It was further incredulously reported by NBC that the unidentified Marine who killed the unarmed Iraqi had returned to duty despite being shot in the face the day before.


The rationale suggests that since war is dangerous the Geneva Conventions don’t apply. In other words, war itself renders the Geneva Conventions invalid.


Even supposing the account of the booby-trapped dead body is true, this situation would likeliest never have occurred if the illegal invasion of Iraq had never happened. Morally, this tragic event must not be judged in isolation. The fact remains that the invasion was illegal, immoral, and deliberate; therefore, if logic applies, the continuing occupation is the central problem in the Iraqi mayhem.

Sites, after an interval, finally saw fit to post his version of the shooting on his website.


I hear [a marine] say this about one of the [Iraqi] men:


“He’s fucking faking he’s dead -- he’s faking he’s fucking dead.”

Through my viewfinder I can see him raise the muzzle of his rifle in the direction of the wounded Iraqi. There are no sudden movements, no reaching or lunging.

However, the Marine could legitimately believe the man poses some kind of danger. Maybe he’s going to cover him while another Marine searches for weapons.

Instead, he pulls the trigger. There is a small splatter against the back wall and the man’s leg slumps down.

”Well he’s dead now,” says another Marine in the background.

I am still rolling. I feel the deep pit of my stomach. (4)


Sites reports what he saw, but by providing an excuse for the killer he reveals a bias. He wonders about the rest of the wounded men and one can only wonder what would have happened to them if Sites were not there since the marine’s demeanor changed when he became aware of Sites’ presence.


Sites raises another point unmentioned in most of the corporate US media: “In the aftermath, the first question that came to mind was why had these wounded men been left in the mosque?” (5)


Article 10 of the Geneva Convention states:


Protection and care


1. All the wounded, sick and shipwrecked, to whichever Party they belong, shall be respected and protected.

2. In all circumstances they shall be treated humanely and shall receive, to the fullest extent practicable and with the least possible delay, the medical care and attention required by their condition. There shall be no distinction among them founded on any grounds other than medical ones.


Occupation Investigation


An investigation has been begun by forensic experts in Delaware where “sophisticated mortuary equipment” is available. (6) High tech equipment and top-notch scientists will probably not, however, be enough to overcome political constraints.


Lt. Col. Bob Miller, the judge advocate general heading the investigation, serves as a barometer of which direction the investigation is heading. Miller considered it possible to reasonably conclude self-defense by the Marine.


“The policy of the rules of engagement authorize the Marines to use force when presented with a hostile act or hostile intent,” Miller said. “So they would have to be using force in self-defense, yes.”


Miller did add, “Any wounded -- in this case insurgents -- who don’t pose a threat would not be considered hostile.”


“We follow the law of armed conflict and hold ourselves to a high standard of accountability,” stated the commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler. “The facts of this case will be thoroughly pursued to make an informed decision and to protect the rights of all persons involved.”


The New York Times and Obscurantist Option

The filmmaker Errol Morris, who won an Academy Award for his film The Fog of War, penned a well-crafted and deceptive piece stemming from the video-recorded slaying. (7)


Morris wrote, “Photography, because of its causal relationship to the world, seems to give us the truth or something close to the truth. I am skeptical about this for many reasons. But even if photography doesn’t give us truth on a silver platter, it does make it harder for us to deny reality.” This seems reasonable but the obscurantism is already apparent. Morris wrote first of photography when videography is the case. This is not just a depiction of a snapshot in time but rather a happening in time.


Of the videotape, Morris wrote, “It does not tell us everything we need to know about what happened. It does not tell us what the marine was thinking or what his prisoner was thinking -- that is, what he was thinking before he was shot dead. But it does tell us that something happened. And, as a result, it makes the shooting, the killing, much harder to deny.” [italics added]


There are a couple of points to be noted here. First, Morris impressed upon the reader the necessity to understand the mindset of the killer. The mindset of the person murdered is apparently inconsequential. Why the mindset of the killer is so important for “us” to understand he does not say -- merely that it is so.  Second, he pointed to a pressing need to deny the crime rather than to correct it or prevent it. It is plausible that if readers could get into the mind of the killer, they might sympathize with his aberrant thoughts. The focus seems to be on the exculpation of the wrongdoer rather than the prevention of similar occurrences in the future. It seems more fruitful to concentrate on the events that triggered the mindset and subsequent behavior.


Despite what the videotape shows (US viewers, unlike other viewers worldwide, were only shown a sanitized video version by the patriarchal corporate US media. One wonders how the monopoly media and the US public manage to evade the obvious question: if these atrocities are beyond the sensibilities of American viewers, how is it that these atrocities are permitted to happen and to continue without condemnation!) Morris asked a “central question” that persists for him: “What are we looking at? And that question will not go away. No more so than the pictures of Abu Ghraib went away. Pictures are physical evidence, and as such, they are part of an effort to understand what really happened.”


The central answer would clearly seem to be: the killing of a wounded and unarmed Iraqi resistance fighter by an armed US marine. This answer cannot be made to go away either. The photos that emerged from Abu Ghuraib disappeared, for the most part, from corporate media presentation. The other more graphic depictions of US barbarity at Abu Ghuraib never surfaced. The public was thereby prevented from understanding what really happened. In similar fashion, the Sites video has been censored. One can surmise that media executives do not wish the public to grasp what is happening.


Morris persisted on the psychology of the murderous event. “We look at pictures of other people and we want to know: what were they thinking? … We are not merely spectators; we are investigators. We are involved.” [italics added] It is rather telling when a writer chooses to arrogate everyone to his cause by incorporating the all-inclusive “we” into his writing. The sophistry of Morris’ thinking is revealed by his faulty suppositions and self-contradictions. Already it is clear that “we” are only spectators in a partial sense since “we” are not shown the entire video. Without all the evidence, how then are “we” supposed to be investigators in any meaningful way?


Morris attempted to further obscure the marine’s responsibility for his actions. “There is a fact of the matter to be determined; whether this was done in cold blood and therefore constitutes a war crime and who, if anyone, should be held responsible.” Despite the video evidence, a seed is planted that the killer might not be responsible for his actions.


Morris asserted, “[A]n unerring fact of human nature is that we habitually reject the evidence of our own senses.”


Because of this, Morris held, “People will interpret this videotape according to their ideological dispositions.” In other words, asked Morris, “Are we looking at the face of freedom on the march, or at the footprint of an out-of-control behemoth leaving a trail of bodies in its wake?”


The video-recorded slaying seems so ambiguous at this point in Morris’ essay that confusion would seem the intent.


To amplify the obscurantism, Morris seized upon the discredited pretext of bringing freedom to Iraqis. Discredited, of course, because it is preposterous to claim to be bringing the gift of freedom to a people by killing 100,000 of them (8) and simultaneously subjecting them to a brutal and criminal occupation. “War is bloody, brutal; the enemy is vicious. But the objective of extending freedom redeems what has to be done to achieve it. In this view,” concluded Morris, “the war is unfortunate but necessary.”


Why does Morris limit himself to writing about just this point of view? What about an opposing view? Readers are left with one view because the writer either didn’t have the courage or capacity to divulge other views or perhaps this view expresses a bias. Yet Morris admitted to being “deeply skeptical about this war” that is “at best, misguided and at worst, deeply wrong.”


“And yet, there is a common element -- our capacity for self-deception, for denial and for evasion.”


There is also the susceptibility to deception by others based partially on prejudices held and gullibility.


Kim Petersen is a writer living in Nova Scotia, Canada. He can be reached at:



(1) Stephen R. Hurst, “NBC tape apparently shows prisoner shot,” Chicago Sun-Tribune, 16 November 2004


(2) Stephen R. Hurst, “U.S. marine killed prisoner, video shows,” Globe and Mail, 16 November 2004

(3) Ibid


(4) Kevin Sites, “Open Letter to Devil Dogs of the 3.1,” Kevin Sites Blog, 21 November 2004


(5) Ibid


(6) Tom Bowman, “U.S. to examine 4 insurgents’ bodies: Tests follow taped Fallujah slaying,” Chicago Tribune, 19 November 2004

(7) Errol Morris, “Not Every Picture Tells a Story,” New York Times, 20 November 2004


(8) Les Roberts, Riyadh Lafta, Richard Garfield, Jamal Khudhairi, Gilbert Burnham, “Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey, The Lancet, 29 October 2004

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* Putin's Sheath
* Staring into the Journalistic Abyss: Disinformation and Propaganda at the NY Times
* Progressivism and the Corporate Olympics
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* The Deadly Contradiction of Being John Kerry
* The Path of Evil
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* The Freedom Crusade (Part Three): Home of the Not-So-Free
* The Freedom Crusade (Part Two): The Four Freedoms
* The Freedom Crusade (Part One): Bush’s Mission

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