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Saturday, May 27, 2006


Haditha: the "M" word hits the media

I was actually shocked to read the headline in the Washington Post: "In Haditha, Memories of a Massacre." 24 Iraqi civilians were killed in cold blood by U.S. Marines in Haditha last November, and for once this slaughter is being called by its right name: "massacre." Just last week, 16 Afghan civilians and a larger number of alleged Taliban fighters were killed by U.S. bombing in Kandahar, and not one corporate media source joined me in calling that a massacre, just as they wouldn't call the aerial murder of 45 people at an Iraqi wedding party a massacre either. Does it have to be a face-to-face confrontation, murder "in cold blood" before it qualifies as a "massacre"? Does that antiseptic, you can't see the whites of their eyes aerial bombing never qualify?

"Massacre" is, of course, a loaded word. In searching for stories with "Kandahar massacre" to see if anyone other than myself had called last week's events in Kandahar a massacre, I came across one of those "news roundup" articles in the Seattle Times. Consider this sequence of two stories:

Dili, East Timor
Soldiers fired on unarmed police in East Timor's capital Thursday, killing nine and wounding 27.
Khartoum, Sudan
Sudanese cross-border raiders have massacred more than 100 villagers in Chad, Human Rights Watch alleged Thursday, expressing concern the violence in Darfur was spreading. Survivors told the New York-based group that the massacre was carried out last month by the Janjaweed.
So when the Janjaweed, who are on the list of the "bad guys of the world," kill 100 unarmed people, it qualifies as a "massacre," but when East Timorese soldiers kill nine unarmed police, it doesn't.

Back in Haditha, we'll no doubt be revisiting the "few bad apples" theory to explain the murders. And certainly it's true that neither George Bush nor Donald Rumsfeld, nor even any medium-level commander in Iraq ordered this particular massacre. But that doesn't excuse this sentence in the Washington Post article: "Two U.S. military boards are investigating the incident as potentially the gravest violation of the law of war by U.S. forces in the three-year-old conflict in Iraq." No. The "gravest violation of the law of war" was the invasion of Iraq, the unproked assault on another country, the ultimate violation. Everything else follows from that.

"To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."

- Robert H. Jackson, chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials.

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