Monday, September 24, 2007

Hidden Pentagon Conservatives Corrupt US Snipers

So today we get more sordid details the the case of US snipers on trial for killing an Iraqi man out mowing his lawn. The facts of the case are that Spec. Jorge Sandoval and Staff Sgt. Michael Hensley stand accused by the military of shooting an innocent Iraqi out cutting grass with a rusty sickle, and then planting a spool of wire on his dead body to make the shooting look legitimate. Meanwhile, other snipers in the same unit, who face discipline for falling asleep while on a mission, have come forward to reveal the secret program they were recruited for by members of the Pentagon's Asymmetric Warfare Group. In January, these conservatives visited the snipers and passed out boxes of bait: ammunition, wire and explosives. The snipers were to litter the ground in a hostile area with these items, and shoot anyone who picked them up. Like someone annoyed that there was litter in the middle of the street.

"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."

..."We don't discuss specific methods targeting enemy combatants," said Paul Boyce, an Army spokesman. "The accused are charged with murder and wrongfully placing weapons on the remains of Iraqi nationals. There are no classified programs that authorize the murder of local nationals and the use of 'drop weapons' to make killings appear legally justified."

It is unclear whether the program reached elsewhere in Iraq and how many people were killed through the baiting tactics.

Members of the sniper platoon have said they felt pressure from commanders to kill more insurgents because U.S. units in the area had taken heavy losses. The sniper unit -- dubbed "the painted demons" because of the use of tiger-stripe face paint -- often went on missions into hostile areas to intercept insurgents going to and from hidden weapons caches.

"It's our job out here to lay people down who are doing bad things," Spec. Joshua L. Michaud testified in Iraq in July, discussing the unit's numerous casualties. "I don't want to call it revenge, but we needed to find a way so that we could get the bad guys the right way and still maintain the right military things to do."

While neither Sandoval or Hensley themselves had been debriefed and included, of course they found out about the program in short order. They saw the white ammunition boxes go out with other snipers, and saw those snipers come in with "kills" of Iraqis who had possession of those items, to the great satisfaction of their commanders. Now of course, we find out where this bright idea devolves to, when you are all alone on a dark street of an Iraqi province, with commanders waiting back at camp for that kill count. Some rise above temptation and some become seduced... Increasingly, the best of our soldiers, such as these, are finding a way out of our military.

In short, we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear. (In the course of writing this article, this fact became all too clear: one of us, Staff Sergeant Murphy, an Army Ranger and reconnaissance team leader, was shot in the head during a "time-sensitive target acquisition mission" on Aug. 12; he is expected to survive and is being flown to a military hospital in the United States.) While we have the will and the resources to fight in this context, we are effectively hamstrung because realities on the ground require measures we will always refuse - namely, the widespread use of lethal and brutal force.

Given the situation, it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.

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