I believe the US Army’s attack on the Iraqi city of Fallujah, as planned and as executed, was a major war crime – both in terms of its strategic intention, to attack and destroy a city whose only crime was that it was resisting the authority of the American-installed interim Iraqi government led by Iyad Allawi “ and in terms of its military methods, which grossly violated the Geneva Convention’s rules of warfare negotiated over centuries. In both respects, it was a barbaric and shameful attack on a defenceless civilian city.
The three governments of the allied coalition in Iraq “ US, Britain and Australia “ are in public denial over the nature and extent of the destruction of Fallujah at the hands of the US Army. Western mainstream media, who were embedded with the invading army, tried initially to sanitise the story, to present it as an honourable military battle. But the pictures on television tell their own story “ of a destroyed city, destroyed as totally as was Grozny in Chechnya a few years ago: of up to 300,000 people left homeless, and of who knows how many civilian dead.
US writer Jonathan Schell , in a forthcoming article in Nation magazine “ already on-line on www.tomdispatch.com ‘The battle for minds, forget the hearts’, argues that the attack on Fallujah was planned and executed for one big reason – to inculcate fear. He cites two US political commentators close to Washington who admit that, unlike in Vietnam, the US military is not even bothering now in Iraq to try ‘to reach hearts and minds’.
Their only concern in Fallujah was to send a brutally simple deterrent message to Iraqis “ resist US power, and we will destroy you utterly. We destroyed this city, to show you what we can do everywhere in Iraq if you resist us.
Thus, Jim Hoagland’s article in the Washington Post, ‘Fighting for Minds in Fallujah’, says ‘the immediate objective is to dissuade Sunni townspeople from joining, supporting or tolerating the insurrection’ and ‘the price they will pay for doing so is being illustrated graphically in the streets of Fallujah.’
Mark Bowden in the Los Angeles Times took up the same theme. He says ‘ordinary people’ can be won over by fear: by the spectacle of the subjugated city, which ‘works as a demonstration of will and power’ …
The military leaders who planned and executed this attack must have had utter contempt for the lives of the civilians they would so casually kill in Fallujah. It was as if the people of Fallujah simply were not there “ the battlefield was effectively defined as empty of humanity except the declared ‘enemy’ “ who turned out to be nothing more than a few hundred brave, but pathetically outgunned, militiamen. For this, a city of 300,000 people was destroyed. And anyone found dead was simply retrospectively counted as an enemy combatant.
We are seeing a lot now of a particular incident as captured in TV footage, of a US soldier shooting a wounded Iraqi combatant on the ground in cold blood. I don’t think we should focus too much on this, to the point that we lose sight of the bigger picture of the war crime that is the whole attack
The full story of the Fallujah military operation is being shunned by mainstream media here because it is too disturbing. Reported events such as the deliberate US effort over many weeks beforehand to clear the city of women and children by frightening them into leaving, and the refusal to allow men of military age to leave the city under white flag with their families. Any men later found killed in the city could then be claimed as enemy combatants. The policy of shooting to kill unarmed people who were trying to flee the city, for example, as they tried to swim rivers. The deliberate occupation and closure of hospitals so that the wounded would have nowhere to go, and so that there would be no medical records of casualties. The use of massive indiscriminate weapons like 2000 kg bombs in city streets, and particularly cruel weapons like cluster bombs that spray deadly shrapnel in all directions, and phosphorus bullets that melt human flesh. The razing of entire city blocks in pursuit of a single sniper. The blocking of Red Cross food and medical supplies aid convoys after the battle. The refusal to provide water to civilians. The reported use of captured Iraqi civilians as human shields, forced to sit on top of US armoured vehicles.
All of this is now being documented on multiple-source internet sites around the world, from eyewitness reports coming out of Fallujah. We will hear a lot more of this in coming days.
This is why the International Red Cross, the Iraqi Red Cross, and the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, seeing that their discreet diplomacy is having no effect on the US military command, are now finally protesting vigorously in public.
The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, on 19 November, expressed deep concern about the plight of civilians in Fallujah. She called on the US-led forces to probe and prosecute deliberate killings of wounded people and civilians, and to take every possible precaution to protect residents. She demanded that all violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law be investigated. She said:
‘Those responsible for breaches including deliberate targeting of civilians, indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks, the killing of injured persons and the use of human shields must be brought to justice, be they members of the Multinational Force or insurgents.’
She was ‘particularly worried’ about poor access for delivery of humanitarian aid and the lack of information about casualties.
For me, as an Australian, the most shaming thing about last week was Defence Minister Robert Hill’s casual admission in the Senate on Thursday 17 November, that Australian troops may have been involved in the planning and execution of the attack on Fallujah.
In reply to a question from Senator Kerry Nettle, Hill said he was not aware of exact numbers but believed a small number of troops may have been assigned to Australia’s allies in the battle. He said ‘Australians certainly had some personnel within the multinational force headquarters, and it’s reasonable to assume therefore some role in relation to planning or incidental support of the operations.’ He said ‘There may well have been a small number of Australian forces who were assigned to forces of our allies.’
In making those statements, Hill is admitting that Australian soldiers serving in Iraq may be implicated in the war crime that is Fallujah. I don’t know how Hill, or Defence Secretary Ric Smith, or Chief of the Defence Forces General Peter Cosgrove, or Army Commander General Peter Leahy, can honourably stay in their jobs after Fallujah. The honourable thing would be to set up an enquiry into the Australian role in Fallujah, and take leave from their posts until it is over.
Failing that, these may all be guilty commanders, because they may have authorised Australian military participation in the planning and execution of a major war crime.
Most of our Australian media are still keen to shelter our public from the full horror of Fallujah. They want us to go on believing that we and our US and British allies are trying humanely to make Iraq safe for democracy, and that the ‘unrest’ in Iraq is only being caused by a few fanatical insurgents helped by Al Qaeda terrorists. They don’t want us to know that this is a broad-based national liberation struggle that is growing as the number of martyred insurgent fighters keeps growing – just as it was in Vietnam.
Yet that truth is everywhere, and is now so readily accessible on so many alternative news websites
The information is everywhere “ yet our media barely notices it. We see footage of a blasted flattened field of rubble that a short time ago was once a city, while the reporter solemnly tells us, ‘This was a classroom where people were being taught to make bombs.’ It is as if they do not see what their own cameras are showing us.
And there is so much to read in the liberal international print media too: in The Guardian, in The Independent, even in the London Times which recently ran a strong piece by editor Simon Jenkins, whose very title tells the story: ‘A wrecked nation, a desert, a ghost town. And this will be called victory.’
So what do we do about it ? Those of us who care about honour and decency in Australian governance?
We must demand that our government disconnect utterly from Iraq while this cruel and criminal military occupation, under the fig leaf of the brutal Allawi interim government, continues. This means: No Australian diplomatic presence. No Australian official aid presence. No Australian commercial presence. And, most important of all, no Australian military presence.
And this means now not by Christmas, but now. There is absolutely no reason of honour or national interest for Australia to be in Iraq now. The honourable thing is to withdraw now and be ready to return to help the Iraqi people, as soon as Iraq has a genuinely independent government.
And we should have a proper independent judicial inquiry to establish the exact facts of our military role in Iraq since the invasion began on 18 March 2003. Our people the families and friends of our servicemen and women who served in Iraq need to know exactly what they were called on to do during this war and occupation. They need to know we need to know whether the laws of honourable military conduct, as Australia has always understood these laws, were violated in Iraq.
We have to get out, and then we will need an honest accounting for what we did in Iraq. This is what I will continue to strive for.
This is part of a speech delivered by Tony Kevin at the Sydney Rally against the Fallujah slaughter, 20 November 2004. Read the full speech here.
Sources for non-US-embedded reporting can be found here.
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