The past week has been anything but ordinary with news of nuclear arms reduction, coal mine disaster in West Virginia and a newly released video showing US forces indiscriminately firing on Iraqi civilians.
On Monday, the website WikiLeaks.org posted footage taken from a US military helicopter in July 2007 as it killed twelve unarmed civilians and wounded two children. The voices on the tape appear to believe their targets are carrying weapons, but the footage unmistakably shows some of the victims holding camera equipment. The dead included two employees of the Reuters news agency, photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and driver Saeed Chmagh. It was a blatant case of trigger-happy gunners shooting indiscriminately at unarmed civilians. Even a van that came to rescue the wounded civilians was attacked by the Apache helicopter killing the owner-driver while severely injuring his two children seated in the front seat. A US soldier in the Apache helicopter was heard in the video saying, “We have a black SUV—or Bongo truck picking up the bodies. Request permission to engage.” The permission to kill those civilians was granted!
As noted by Julian Assange of the WikiLeaks.org in his interview with Democracy Now, “These pilots have evidently and gunners have evidently become so corrupted, morally corrupted, by the war that they are looking for excuses to kill. That is why you hear this segment, “Come on, buddy! Just pick up a weapon,” when Saeed, one of the Reuters employees, is crawling on the curb.” To justify their war crimes, those soldiers lied and the Pentagon implied that this was a firefight and the Apaches were called in, into the middle of a firefight, and the journalists walked into this firefight. The released video belies such assertions.
What is also disconcerting in such clear cases of war crimes is that there was a third attack on that very day in Baghdad, just twenty minutes later, by the same crew, involving three Hellfire missiles that were fired onto an apartment complex where the roof was still under construction. Fresh evidence from Baghdad suggests that there were three families living in that apartment complex, many of whom were killed, including women.
As has been so common in the Bush era those involved with the cold-blooded murder of Iraqi civilians were cleared of any wrongdoing. It is highly unlikely that the Obama administration will reopen the case either. When contacted about the WikiLeaks footage, the Pentagon stated that it came to the conclusion back in 2007 that there was no violation of engagement rules, and that all the pilots and gunners had acted properly. They reiterated that original investigation came to the right conclusion and that they would not be reopening the investigation.
It is worth noting that Reuters put in the Freedom of Information request for this video in August 2007 and did not receive any response whatsoever until last week when the Pentagon released on the CENTCOM website six files relating to this event.
While our criminal servicemen and women, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, go unpunished for their war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan (and possibly in the tribal areas of Pakistan now), thus, soiling the image of the USA, there are hard evidences that show that human rights of many Muslims, detained since 9/11, have been grossly violated here inside the USA. According to a recent article by Professor Bill Quigley in the Counterpunch.org, the U.S. has kept Syed Fahad Hashmi, a person with no prior criminal record, in total pre-trial isolation inside in a small cell in New York under 24-hour video and audio surveillance for the last three years. He is forced to use the bathroom and shower in full view of the video. He has not seen the sun in years. It is well known in the medical circle that after 60 days in solitary confinement, a detainee’s mental state begins to break down, which can lead to severe psychiatric trauma and harms like psychosis, distortion of reality, hallucinations, mass anxiety and acute confusion. Essentially, the mind disintegrates. Yet the federal judge in New York hearing Hashmi’s case continues to approve of the forced isolation and the rest of the restrictions on this presumably innocent man. The reason that this is allowed to continue is that Hashmi is accused of being involved with al Qaeda by allowing rain gear (raincoats, ponchos and socks) that were going to Afghanistan to be stored in his Queens apartment in New York. What a mockery of justice when we are taught that until proven guilty everyone is presumed to be innocent!
We have already seen the harmful impact of long term pre-trial isolation on Dr Aafia Siddiqui -- an MIT graduate and a Pakistani-American scientist -- who was accused of trying to kill US servicemen in Afghanistan. If her case appeared too bizarre to most people following it, they were simply dumbfounded by the equally brazen court verdict that found Aafia guilty.
There are new evidences that point to the fact that many innocent civilians were put in the Guantanamo Bay prison by the Bush-Cheney administration. According to a new document obtained by The Times of UK, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld let hundreds of innocent men undeservingly imprisoned in the Guantánamo Bay prison camp, because they feared that releasing them would harm the push for war in Iraq and the broader War on Terror. The accusations were made by Lawrence Wilkerson, a top aide to Colin Powell, the former Republican Secretary of State, in a signed declaration to support a lawsuit filed by a Guantánamo detainee. It is the first time that such allegations have been made by a senior member of the Bush Administration.
Colonel Wilkerson, who served 31 years in the US Army, claimed that the majority of detainees — children as young as 12 and men as old as 93 -- never saw a US soldier when they were captured. He said that many were turned over by Afghans and Pakistanis for up to $5,000. Little or no evidence was produced as to why they had been taken. Referring to Mr. Cheney, he asserted: “He had absolutely no concern that the vast majority of Guantánamo detainees were innocent ... If hundreds of innocent individuals had to suffer in order to detain a handful of hardcore terrorists, so be it.”
There are currently some 180 detainees left in the Guantanamo Bay facility. There, amongst other serious charges of human rights abuses, include falsification of records and deliberate hiding of people from the Red Cross, a breach of the Geneva Conventions, and psychological torture.
From all such reports and releases, an obvious pattern seems to be emerging which shows that the U.S. abuses and war crimes practiced at home and abroad are not isolated cases or aberrations. These war crimes are routine things happening on a daily basis where the lives of the victims in the homes and streets of the Muslim world, esp. the 21st century’s killing fields from the Occupied Palestine to Pakistan, are deemed too cheap and too expendable. Those civilian victims were often times the shooting targets of their killers whose very war crimes were approved and sanitized by the Pentagon.
As noted by Glenn Greenwald, a constitutional lawyer, the only thing that is rare about the WikiLeaks footage is that we happen to know about it and are seeing it take place on video. It is not shrouded any more in obscene propaganda that glories war and violence. He said, “This is something that takes place on a virtually daily basis in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places where we invade and bomb and occupy. And the reason why there are hundreds of thousands of dead in Iraq and thousands of dead in Afghanistan is because this is what happens constantly when we are engaged in warfare in those countries.”
In their crimes, those U.S. soldiers only followed the SOP (standard operating procedure) in the war zone! It is not difficult to understand why the Pentagon did not find anything wrong with their criminal activities of shooting innocent civilians. The very reason that the Pentagon did not like this video to surface is that it knew that with its release it could no longer hide its ugly war and criminal practices that clearly violate rules of engagement as an occupation force.
To understand the grievances of American crimes, reflect upon the remarks of Nabil Noor-Eldeen, the brother of the slain Reuters cameraman Namir Noor-Eldeen, who in an interview with Al Jazeera said: “Is this the democracy and freedom that they claim have brought to Iraq? What Namir was doing was a patriotic work. He was trying to cover the violations of the Americans against the Iraqi people. He was only twenty-one years old. Other innocent colleagues and other innocent people, who were just standing out of curiosity when they see a journalist in a scene, and they were all killed. This is another crime that should be added to the record of American crimes in Iraq and the world. Is the pilot that stupid, he cannot distinguish between an RPG and a camera? They claim he was carrying an RPG. When was the RPG this small, small as a camera? He was carrying a small camera. An RPG is more than one meter long. Yes, it was an RPG because it shows the acts against Iraq and its people that still suffer from their crimes. We demand the international organizations to help us sue those people responsible for the killings of our sons and our people.”
Sadly, there are very few checks and balances left in the post-9/11 era USA to redress such horrendous abuses of human rights. The US Congress, mortgaged to the War Party, and the new Obama administration, appearing more Bush-like every day, are both ineffectual to tackle this huge problem. Anyone suspected of ties to Muslim terrorism can remain in isolated confinement the rest of his/her life while a trigger-happy killer of Muslims remains unpunished. No politician here still wants to appear soft on Bush’s Global War on Terror.
The media have a role to play. However, owned mostly by the forces that welcomed the Bush doctrine and embraced embedded journalism, the mainstream media here in the USA have long abandoned and betrayed the public. Thus, in such an environment of imposed confusion and moral decadence we may never see anything close to a Nuremburg trial for the masterminds of the illegal Iraq War, let alone their foot soldiers. We may have to settle for more of the same where cameras with a journalist in the so-called harm’s ways will continue to be claimed as RPGs, and unarmed civilians as al Qaeda operatives or terrorists, while the basic human rights of suspected Muslims in the USA will remain ignored!