Saturday, July 28, 2007

Meet Our Allies: Why Our Leaders' Middle East Policies are Doomed

The GOP have always had a hard-on for the Saudis, beyond just all the oil. IIRC, the Saudis take really good ($$$) care of the Republican sycophants....

‘US angry over Saudi role in Iraq’

* Report accuses Saudi Arabia of trying to undermine the Baghdad government

WASHINGTON: The US administration is deeply frustrated with Saudi Arabia over its role in Iraq, accusing the Saudis of trying to undermine the Baghdad government and failing to stem the flow of volunteers joining the insurgency there, the New York Times reported on Friday.

The Saudis view Iraq’s Shiite prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, as an agent of Iran and appear to have stepped up efforts to weaken his government, providing funding for Sunni groups, the Times wrote, citing senior US officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

One official told the paper that there was evidence Saudi Arabia was supplying money to Maliki’s opponents but declined to say if that funding was going to Sunni insurgents.

“That would get into disagreements over who is an insurgent and who is not,” the official said.

Officials in President George W Bush’s administration also say that of an estimated 60 to 80 foreign fighters who enter Iraq every month, nearly half come from Saudi Arabia and the Saudi leadership has not done enough to counter the influx.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defence Secretary Robert Gates planned to raise Washington’s concerns in a visit next week to Saudi Arabia, the paper said. The Bush administration has refrained from publicly criticizing its long-time ally over Iraq and has instead blamed Iran and Syria for fomenting violence and sectarian divisions.

But the officials spoke to the Times with the clear intention of sending a signal to the Saudis after previous private appeals failed to produce results, the newspaper said.

US-Saudi relations have been increasingly strained since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. In March, King Abdullah slammed the “illegitimate foreign occupation” of Iraq. afp
U.S.-Saudi Tensions To Increase In 2008
Oxford Analytica 07.27.07, 6:00 AM ET

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates will visit Saudi Arabia's capital Riyadh on July 31. As the United States looks to regional actors for support on Iraq, Iran and Israeli-Palestinian issues, it will find that Riyadh is not going to play its assigned role. While President George W. Bush's administration faces long odds on these issues already, the Saudi position makes the prospect for success even less likely.

On the major regional questions, the United States and Saudi Arabia are in agreement to a greater extent than at almost any time in their relationship. They each:

--worry about increasing Iranian regional influence and the Iranian nuclear program;

--see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a wound that needs to be healed;

--worry about the spill-over effect of Iraqi violence; and

--vigorously oppose al-Qaida and its regional affiliates.

However, they have very different tactical approaches, which will become more salient as Washington puts forward new initiatives to move the Arab-Israeli peace process forward, salvage something from Iraq and isolate Iran.

Bush announced on July 16 a high-profile diplomatic effort to move Israel and the Fatah-led Palestinian National Authority (PNA) toward a political settlement. Saudi Arabia quickly voiced its support, but Washington and Riyadh have very different visions of how to approach the issue. The Bush administration seeks to isolate Hamas diplomatically and choke off the economy in Gaza. Meanwhile, it hopes to encourage economic growth and political progress in the Fatah-controlled West Bank, showing Palestinians that their best choice is to abandon Hamas and support PNA President Mahmoud Abbas. Riyadh is pushing for a renewal of Fatah-Hamas dialogue and a return to the Mecca Agreement on power-sharing, which the Saudis brokered earlier in the year.

In Iraq, the Bush administration needs to show tangible progress to fend off congressional pressures to begin troop withdrawals. To that end, it has opened direct (if low-level) talks with Iran and encouraged greater regional involvement to support the Iraqi government, symbolized by the May Sharm al-Sheikh summit. While Saudi Arabia attended that summit and agreed to forgive the bulk of Iraqi Saddam-era debt, it has made clear that it is not willing to take other steps to support the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, which it sees as an extension of Iranian influence in Iraq.

Indeed, Saudi Arabia is supporting efforts by Maliki's opponents (including former prime minister Iyad Allawi, various Sunni political factions and Maliki's Shia opponents) to form a political front to challenge the government's parliamentary majority. Saudi King Abdallah also very publicly refused to receive Maliki on the latter's regional trip preceding the summit. With Riyadh facing the likelihood of a reduced U.S. role in Iraq, it is less likely to follow the U.S. lead there and more willing to forge its own alliances with Iraqi players and factions.

Both Washington and Riyadh want to limit Iranian regional influence and discourage Iranian nuclear plans. As long as the United States continues using diplomatic pressure, multilateral and United Nations sanctions and indirect military threats to push Iran away from the nuclear path, it will have Saudi support. However, if the Bush administration pursues a military option, this will change. The Saudi leadership is pursuing a subtle policy of both engaging and containing Iran. It does not want to return to the 1980s, when the two states were directly confronting each other and Tehran was actively encouraging domestic opposition to the Saudi regime. Moreover, it knows that it will be on the front line of any Iranian retaliation for a U.S. military strike.

Such tensions are a normal feature of the Saudi-U.S. relationship and do not necessarily herald a crisis in the making. However, while core relations will not be affected, they will add to the tensions likely to emerge between the countries on Middle East issues and make for an uncomfortable few months in bilateral relations in 2008.

Link. See this too. And this too, if you're registered with the Times.

US tracks Saudi bank favoured by extremists

Daily Times Monitor

LAHORE: In the 1940s, two Bedouin farm boys from the desert began changing money for the trickle of traders and religious pilgrims in this then-remote and barren kingdom. It was a business built on faith and trust, Sulaiman Al Rajhi once told an interviewer, and for many years he would hand gold bars to strangers boarding flights in Jidda and ask them to give the gold to his brother on their arrival in Riyadh, according to a report published in The Wall Street Journal on Friday.

Today, Mr Al Rajhi is a reclusive octogenarian whose fortune is estimated at $12 billion. And Al Rajhi Bank grew into the kingdom’s largest Islamic bank, with 500 branches in Saudi Arabia and more spread across the Muslim world.

Following the Sept 11, 2001, attacks, the bank also set off an intense debate within the US government over whether to take strong action against its alleged role in extremist finance. Confidential reports by the Central Intelligence Agency and other US agencies, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, detail for the first time how much the US learned about the use of Al Rajhi Bank by alleged extremists, and how US officials agonized over what to do about it.

After 9/11, the Saudi monarchy pledged its full support in the fight against global terrorism. And following violent attacks inside the kingdom in the next two years, the Saudis did launch major strikes against militants operating on their soil. But the Saudi government has been far been less willing to tackle the financial infrastructure essential to terrorism. US intelligence reports state that Islamic banks, while mostly doing ordinary commerce, also are institutions that extremism relies upon in its global spread.

As a result, the Bush administration repeatedly debated proposals for taking strong action itself against Al Rajhi Bank, in particular, according to former US officials and previously undisclosed government documents. Ultimately, the US always chose instead to lobby Saudi officialdom quietly about its concerns.

The US intelligence reports, heretofore secret, describe how Al Rajhi Bank has maintained accounts and accepted donations for Saudi charities that the US and other nations have formally designated as fronts for Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups.

Al Rajhi Bank and the Al Rajhi family deny any role in financing extremists. They have denounced terrorist acts as un-Islamic. The bank declined to address specific allegations made in American intelligence and law-enforcement records, citing client confidentiality.

Two years earlier, federal agents raided the Virginia offices of a network of charities funded by Sulaiman Al Rajhi that worked closely with the IIRO and that - according to Justice Department court filings - provided funds to Palestinian terrorists. No charges have been filed.

A year after the 9/11 attacks, US authorities began to lament the lack of Saudi action in taking down terrorists’ financial infrastructure. A November 2002 CIA report said the Saudi government “has made little independent effort to uncover terrorist financiers, investigate individual donors, and tighten the regulation of Islamic charities,” largely because of “domestic political considerations.”

The US began to rethink that approach after an Al Qaeda attack in Riyadh in May 2003 that killed 26 people, including nine Americans. Deputies from the National Security Council, CIA, Treasury and State departments debated a proposal for legal and political action against Al Rajhi Bank, including the possibility of covert operations such as interfering with the bank’s internal operations, according to Bush administration documents and former US officials.

One idea kicked around was “listing or threatening to list” Al Rajhi Bank as a supporter of terrorism. Such a listing can be done if recommended by a committee representing the Treasury, State and Defense departments and the CIA and NSC, and signed by the president. The designation bars US companies from doing business with the named entity. A US designation also normally is forwarded to the U.N., and if that body puts the name on its own terrorist-supporter list, all member states are obliged to freeze the entity’s assets.

Other ideas US officials discussed included enlisting friendly countries to step up scrutiny and regulatory action against the Al Rajhis. The CIA report said that “a successful effort against the Al Rajhis would encourage efforts against other donors, or at a minimum, would discourage private funding of Al Qaeda”.

Ultimately, the Bush administration again chose merely to continue privately exerting pressure on the Saudis to stiffen their oversight.


Speaking of the Genius of Our Leaders....

While I agree that we had the wrong plan for three years, we now have the right one, and the right man to lead it. The proper conclusion to be drawn from the N.I.E. findings is that Congress and the American people must remain vigilant and committed to the war on terror and its central front in Iraq.

(Senator) Kit Bond
Washington, July 19, 2007
The writer is vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

So many question from a sentence or two, albeit one written by (or attributed to) a politico-hack....

How and why did we have the wrong plan for three plus years? What exactly was the wrong plan? The invasion itself was a good idea and incorporated a right plan? What harm has been done with three years of a wrong plan? And is the senator correct for that matter that there has only been one plan?

And what were the senator's enabling contributions to this "wrong plan"?

And can the senator offer us just a little humility and contrition for his contribution to the "wrong plan"?

And is "Kit" really his real name?

The Genius of Rudy

Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani called Democrats "the party of losers" for demanding a scheduled pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq.

"Democrats have already declared we've lost," the former New York mayor said during a campaign stop in Texas.


"I'm for victory," Giuliani said. Democrats, he added, are "living in a world where they refuse to admit the existence of Islamic terrorism."

The amazing thing about the Iraq fandango is that it's such a litmus test. It is so wrong what we did in invading and the follow-up has been really breath-takingly inept. The cluelessness shown by our leaders is mind-boggling, both in invading in the first place and then in all the post-invasion aspects. Our leaders have absolutely no clue about the Middle East or Iraq.

Th question of the moment then involves the vox populi: Are all of us sick of the war because it's taking so long to resolve (actually, it'll take generations unless, um, we install a dictator that can control the place -- like our ex-BFF, Saddam) or because it's just so damn wrong?

So when someone running for office brainlessly parrots our leaders' dementia, or in Perfect Rudy's case, gives the hopped up version of the party line, well, it's scary....

Friday, July 27, 2007

Our Leader is Lying about the Threat of Al-Qaida in Iraq: Some Proof

President Bush makes fallacious connections between Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Al Qaeda who attacked the US on 9/11. "Some say that Iraq is not a part of the broader war on terror. They claim that the organization called al Qaeda in Iraq is an Iraqi phenomenon -- that it's independent of Osama bin Laden and it's not interested in attacking America. That would be news to Osama bin Laden. I presented intelligence that clearly establishes this connection. The facts are that al Qaeda terrorists killed Americans on 9/11, they're fighting us in Iraq and across the world, and they're plotting to kill Americans here at home again." [CNN, 7/24/07 ]

The nation's 16 intelligence agencies agree that Al Qaeda has regenerated its ability to strike at the United States through its bases on the Afghan-Pakistan Border. "We assess the group has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability, including: a safe haven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), operational lieutenants, and its top leadership." [National Intelligence Estimate, 7/07 ]

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said that Al-Qaeda "was only 10% of the problem in Iraq and Nouri al-Maliki, its prime minister, lacked the political will to establish an effective government." He went on to say that even even if the military surge has been a partial success in areas such as Anbar province, where Sunni tribes have turned on Al-Qaeda, it has not been accompanied by the vital political and economic "surge" and reconciliation process promised by the Iraqi government. [The London Sunday Times, 7/8/07 ]

Al Qaeda in Iraq is not the same as Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Some of the extremists in Iraq have chosen to call themselves "Al Qaeda in Iraq," and they are in fact inspired by Osama Bin Laden's extremist ideology. While there is some level of cooperation and exchange of information, these groups did not exist in Iraq prior to the invasion in 2003.

President Bush argues that "Al Qaeda is public enemy number one in Iraq. Al Qaeda is public enemy number one for the Iraqi people. Al Qaeda is public -- public enemy number one for the American people." [President Bush, 7/24/07 ]

Al Qaeda in Iraq accounts for 15% of the violence in Iraq. "Anthony Cordesman, a security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International studies says, the U.S. military estimates that al-Qaeda in Iraq, a group thought to number several thousand, accounts for only about 15% of the attacks in Iraq." [Time, 7/30/07 ]

Foreign Jihadist fighters make up less than 10% of the insurgency. Most intelligence estimates still state that the vast majority of Sunni insurgents are Iraqi. They are not driven by a pan-Islamic ideology of destroying the West and creating a caliphate. Instead, they are fighting either against American forces or against other ethnic groups in Iraq. [Center for American Progress, 6/25/07 ]

The Al Qaeda Threat: Myth vs. Reality

The National Intelligence Estimate reaffirmed that the Bush Administration has made Americans less secure by taking its focus off the real danger in Afghanistan and Pakistan and instead invading Iraq. Almost six years since 9/11, Al Qaeda has established a new safe haven on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and has taken advantage of the operational space afforded by a poorly conceived truce between the Pakistani government and tribal leaders. Meanwhile the invasion of Iraq has fed the Al Qaeda narrative and created a new focal point for the recruitment, fundraising, training and indoctrination of Al Qaeda operatives. Unfortunately, the Administration's response to all of these problems is to continue to pour more troops and funds into Iraq, even as military strategists have concluded that sectarian violence and civil war - not Al Qaeda - are the greatest dangers in the war torn country.

Al Qaeda is Growing Stronger in Pakistan and Afghanistan

The nation's 16 intelligence agencies agree that Al Qaeda has regenerated its ability to strike at the United States through its bases on the Afghan-Pakistan Border. "We assess the group has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability, including: a safe haven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), operational lieutenants, and its top leadership." [National Intelligence Estimate, 7/07 ]

Al Qaeda took advantage of an ill-conceived truce with Pakistani tribal leaders to gain strength. The truce has now broken apart. In the fall of 2006, the Pakistani government brokered an agreement with tribal and Taliban leaders on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The agreement allowed Al Qaeda and the Taliban to continue to operate freely as long as they did not spill over into Afghanistan or other parts of Pakistan. The deal was criticized at the time, and has given Al Qaeda and the Taliban a 10 month rest period to gather strength and increase the frequency of their attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The agreement is now officially off. [Washington Post, 7/16/07 ]

John Kringen, who heads the CIA's analysis directorate, agrees that Al Qaeda has been getting stronger. "They seem to be fairly well settled into the safe haven and the ungoverned spaces of Pakistan," Kringen testified in front of the House Armed Services Committee. "We see more training. We see more money. We see more communications. We see that activity rising." [NPR, 7/15/07 ]

In its new safe haven, Al Qaeda has had more flexibility to train terrorists and produce propaganda videos. "While the northern area of Pakistan, much of which is controlled by local tribes, has always been a stronghold of the Taliban, it's now also home to a resurgent al Qaeda. New training camps have sprung up in the mountainous terrain, and the ease with which militants operate in the region even affords them time to produce the relatively high-quality training and propaganda videos frequently released by jihadist groups. Even the generals are fed up with the situation. "Even after five years of operations, what has been achieved? Osama bin Laden is still there, al Qaeda is still there, in fact it is spreading," Lt. General Ali Jan Mohammed Aurakzai (Ret.) said in February. Aurakzai is the governor of the Northwest Frontier Province. [CBS, 7/17/07 ]

Pakistan bombings raise fears of Taliban, al Qaeda resurgence. "A series of bombings in recent days in northwestern Pakistan have killed at least 79 people and are spreading fears that the Taliban and al Qaeda have made a comeback. Militants linked to the Taliban in the area near the Afghan border say a truce reached with the Pakistani government last September is off. That deal has been blamed for an increase in attacks on U.S. troops over the border in Afghanistan, as Taliban fighters were able to prepare, train, and reconstitute weapons supplies without interference from the Pakistani government. Tensions in the region had been simmering for months, and recent events at Islamabad's Red Mosque triggered the fresh wave of violence." [CNN, 7/16/07 ]

The Invasion of Iraq has Strengthened Al Qaeda's Hand

The invasion of Iraq has created a new focal point for recruitment, fundraising, training and indoctrination of terrorists. The Nation's 16 intelligence agencies agree: "We assess that al-Qa'ida will probably seek to leverage the contacts and capabilities of al-Qa'ida in Iraq (AQI), its most visible and capable affiliate and the only one known to have expressed a desire to attack the Homeland. In addition, we assess that its association with AQI helps al-Qa'ida to energize the broader Sunni extremist community, raise resources, and to recruit and indoctrinate operatives, including for Homeland attacks." [National Intelligence Estimate, 7/07 ]

Last year, the nation's 16 intelligence agencies concurred that Iraq is fueling global terrorism. "We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives; perceived jihadist success there would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere. The Iraq conflict has become the 'cause celebre' for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement. Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight." [National Intelligence Estimate, 4/06 ]

Al Qaeda had no significant foothold in Iraq before the invasion. The US presence in Iraq has provided al Qaeda new base camps, new recruits and new prestige. Pentagon resources have been diverted from Afghanistan; where the military had a real chance to hunt down al Qaeda's leadership. It alienated essential allies in the war against terrorism and drained the strength and readiness of American troops. [NY Times, 7/8/07 ]

Iraq is a failing state, which is more likely to become a terrorist safe haven. Foreign Policy magazine ranked Iraq as the second most unstable country in the world in its recently released Failed State Index. Only Sudan is considered more unstable. [Foreign Policy, July/August 2007 ]

Terrorist attacks around the rest of the Middle East have risen significantly since the U.S. invasion of Iraq. As of September 2006 there had been 37 attacks in Arab countries outside of Iraq since the invasion, while there were only 3 in the period between 9/11 and March 2003. The rate of attacks in Arab countries jumped by 445 percent since the Iraq invasion, while the rate of killings rose by 783 percent. [Mother Jones ]

Al Qaeda in Iraq would likely be one of the biggest losers if American forces were drawn down. The majority of Iraqis have already turned against Al Qaeda in Iraq. The Shi'a are the most powerful group in the country and would undoubtedly attempt to wipe out an Al Qaeda presence that has been perpetrating violence against them. Moreover, many of Al Qaeda's Sunni allies have also turned against it and without an American presence in Iraq it will be much harder for Al Qaeda to continue recruiting foreign fighters. [Center for American Progress, 6/25/07 ]

The real problem in Iraq is not Al Qaeda but multiple civil wars. Shi'a are fighting Sunnis all over the country and in Baghdad. Shi'a are fighting each other in the South. Sunnis are fighting Sunnis in Anbar and Diyala. Sunnis are fighting Kurds in the North around Kirkuk and Mosul. [CSIS, 6/20/07 ]

And even his Pentagon says he's lying
Supporters of the war in Iraq -- including President George W. Bush -- claim that a withdrawal of US forces would lead to an al Qaeda takeover of Iraq. Yet according to Pentagon war games, this scenario is highly unlikely.

On Wednesday's Countdown Keith Olbermann interviewed Washington Post correspondent Thomas Ricks who discussed his article on Pentagon war gaming for a post-US Iraq.

Pentagon simulations on US withdrawal find the most likely scenario would be a three-way split of the country between Kurds, Shias, and Sunnis. Ricks warns while the breakup would be "very ugly," with possibly "tens of thousands of people dying," an al Qaeda takeover of Iraq would not be possible by "any stretch of the imagination."

In addition, the war games also found Iran would not benefit from US withdrawal, and in fact would be sucked in to the same kind of destabilizing sectarian conflict the US finds itself embroiled in.

Olbermann asked Ricks whether it is fair to draw the conclusion that the best way to stop Iran from interfering in Iraq is to leave, to which Ricks responded, that while there are no "good answers" left in Iraq, leaving would make it significantly easier to deal with Iran.

Ricks noted that while these lessons appear to be taken to heart by members of the military, it is ultimately up to them to convince the White House come September, when this war will become "General Petraeus' war" just as much as it is Bush's.

Our Beloved Leader's Grandfather: A Fascist who Hated America Enough to Try to Overthrow the Government

Blood and breeding don't really change....

The BBC has a report
. Read about it here.

And an excerpt is here.

Fake Medical Malpractice Crisis in New York

For some reason -- well, a giveback to supporters -- our (New York's) tarnished governor feels there's enough of a crisis to warrant a 14% increase in premiums.

But the facts don't support it

And here's the background for those of us who are reality-based:

A basic primer is here
. A national overview is here. (However, as a N.Y. tort litigator, I only care about my state :)

How much of a crisis is there? None, really. See this. And this. And this. And this:
The oft-repeated political argument for restricting patients’ legal rights is that undeserving patients are overburdening the system with too many “frivolous” medical malpractice lawsuits.1 However, on May 11, 2006, the New England Journal of Medicine published a definitive study that debunks this myth once and for all.2
As summed up in Harvard’s release accompanying the article, “the new study by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital challenges the view that frivolous litigation is rampant and expensive.”

Among the study's findings:

“Portraits of a malpractice system that is stricken with frivolous litigation are overblown.”

Most injuries that result in claims are caused by medical error. Sixty-three percent of the injuries were judged to be the result of error and most of those claims received compensation; on the other hand, most individuals whose claims did not involve errors or injuries received nothing.
Claims typically involve injuries that are severe. Eighty percent of claims involved injuries that caused significant or major disability or death.
Even though the large majority of claims (63 percent) involve error, those that do not involve error are not “frivolous.” As noted by the authors, “The profile of non-error claims we observed does not square with the notion of opportunistic trial lawyers pursuing questionable lawsuits in circumstances in which their chances of winning are reasonable and prospective returns in the event of a win are high. Rather, our findings underscore how difficult it may be for plaintiffs and their attorneys to discern what has happened before the initiation of a claim and the acquisition of knowledge that comes from the investigations, consultation with experts, and sharing of information that litigation triggers.”
The vast majority of resources go toward resolving and paying claims that involve errors. “Disputing and paying for errors account for the lion’s share of malpractice costs.”

Most instances of medical malpractice do not result in a lawsuit. “Previous research has established that the great majority of patients who sustain a medical injury as a result of negligence do not sue. … [F]ailure to pay claims involving error adds to a larger phenomenon of underpayment generated by the vast number of negligent injuries that never surface as claims.”

Few claims result in court trial and with regard to those that do, juries are conservative.

Only fifteen percent of the claims were decided by trial verdict.

Patients “rarely won damages at trial, prevailing in only 21 percent of verdicts as compared with 61 percent of claims resolved out of court.”
And then there's this:
Litigation Against Hospitals Improves Patient Safety

On May 11, 2006, the New England Journal of Medicine published a breakthrough article arguing that litigation against hospitals improves the quality of care for patients.1 The article also confirmed that removing the threat of litigation would do nothing to improve the reporting of errors since fear of litigation is not main reason doctors do not report errors. Highlights of this article include:
“In the absence of a comprehensive social insurance system, the patient’s right to safety can be enforced only by a legal claim against the hospital. … [M]ore liability suits against hospitals may be necessary to motivate hospital boards to take patient safety more seriously.”
“The major safety-related reasons for which hospitals have been successfully sued are inadequate nursing staff and inadequate facilities.” For example, the Illinois Supreme Court found that a hospital was at fault for failing to provide enough qualified nurses “to monitor a patient, whose leg had to be amputated because his cast had been put on too tight.”
In a 1991 Pennsylvania Supreme Court case, the court listed four areas from which hospital safety obligations should flow: “the maintenance of safe and adequate facilities and equipment, the selection and retention of competent physicians, the oversight of medical practice within the hospital, and the adoption and enforcement of adequate rules and policies to ensure the quality of care for patients.”
Anesthesiologists were motivated by litigation to improve patient safety. As a result, this profession implemented 25-years-ago, “a program to make anesthesia safer for patients” and as a result, “the risk of death from anesthesia dropped from 1 in 5000 to about 1 in 250,000.”
Only one quarter of doctors disclosed errors to their patients, but “the result was not that much different in New Zealand, a country that has had no-fault malpractice insurance” [i.e., no litigation against doctors] for decades. In other words, “There are many reasons why physicians do not report errors, including a general reluctance to communicate with patients and a fear of disciplinary action or a loss of position or privileges.”
“[B]y working with patients (and their lawyers) to establish a patient’s right to safety, and by proposing and supporting patient-safety initiatives, physicians can help pressure hospitals to change their operating systems to provide a safer environment for the benefit of all patients.”

And here's the famous Harvard study (well, the short version) -- never really disputed.

Resources for doing what Eliot Spitzer cannot or doesn't care to can be found here.

And if you don't want to click on a link, here:

MEDICAL MALPRACTICE CASES REPRESENT A TINY PERCENTAGE OF TORT CASES FILED EACH YEAR. In 2004, medical malpractice cases accounted for an average of only four percent of tort cases in 13 states reporting.1

Between 44,000 and 98,000 Americans die each year (and 300,000 are injured) due to medical errors in hospitals alone. Yet eight times as many patients are injured as ever file a claim; 16 times as many suffer injuries as receive any compensation.2
At the highest level, the estimated number of medical injuries (in hospitals and otherwise) is more than one million per year; approximately 85,000 malpractice suits are filed annually. “With about ten times as many injuries as malpractice claims, the only conclusion possible is that injured patients rarely file lawsuits.”3
FAR FROM BEING “BROKEN,” THE CURRENT MEDICAL MALPRACTICE SYSTEM WORKS WELL. The Harvard School of Public Health recently found that the current system works: legitimate claims are being paid, non-legitimate claims are generally not being paid, and “portraits of a malpractice system that is stricken with frivolous litigation are overblown.”4 The authors found:
Sixty-three percent of the injuries were judged to be the result of error and most of those claims received compensation; on the other hand, most individuals whose claims did not involve errors or injuries received nothing.
Eighty percent of claims involved injuries that caused significant or major disability or death.
“The profile of non-error claims we observed does not square with the notion of opportunistic trial lawyers pursuing questionable lawsuits in circumstances in which their chances of winning are reasonable and prospective returns in the event of a win are high. Rather, our findings underscore how difficult it may be for plaintiffs and their attorneys to discern what has happened before the initiation of a claim and the acquisition of knowledge that comes from the investigations, consultation with experts, and sharing of information that litigation triggers.”
“Disputing and paying for errors account for the lion’s share of malpractice costs.”
“Previous research has established that the great majority of patients who sustain a medical injury as a result of negligence do not sue. … [F]ailure to pay claims involving error adds to a larger phenomenon of underpayment generated by the vast number of negligent injuries that never surface as claims.”
In the Harvard closed claims study, only fifteen percent of claims were decided by trial verdict.5 Other research shows that 90 percent of cases are settled without jury trial, with some estimates indicating that the figure is as high as 97 percent.6
• According to a Bureau of Justice report that examined medical malpractice insurance claims in seven states, between 2000 and 2004, about 95 percent of medical malpractice insurance claims settled prior to trial. 7
As Duke Law professor Neil Vidmar, who has extensively studied medical malpractice litigation, recently testified in the U.S. Senate, “Research on why insurers actually settle cases indicates that the driving force in most instances is whether the insurance company and their lawyers conclude, on the basis of their own internal review, that the medical provider was negligent.….An earlier study by Rosenblatt and Hurst examined 54 obstetric malpractice claims for negligence. For cases in which settlement payments were made there was general consensus among insurance company staff, medical experts and defense attorneys that some lapse in the standard of care had occurred. No payments were made in the cases in which these various reviewers decided there was no lapse in the standard of care.”8
Vidmar testified, “In interviews with liability insurers that I undertook in North Carolina and other states, the most consistent theme from them was: ‘We do not settle frivolous cases!’ The insurers indicated that there are minor exceptions, but their policy on frivolous cases was based on the belief that if they ever begin to settle cases just to make them go away, their credibility will be destroyed and this will encourage more litigation.”9
Vidmar further testified, “Without question the threat of a jury trial is what forces parties to settle cases. The presence of the jury as an ultimate arbiter provides the incentive to settle but the effects are more subtle than just negotiating around a figure. The threat causes defense lawyers and the liability insurers to focus on the acts that led to the claims of negligence.10
According to Public Citizen’s analysis of National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) data, between 1991 and 2005, the total number of malpractice payments made on behalf of doctors declined 15.4 percent (with judgments and settlements).11
Public Citizen’s analysis also found that between 1991 and 2005, the number of malpractice payments per 100,000 Americans dropped more than ten percent.12
Verdicts and Payouts.
In 2001, the latest year studied by the U.S. Department of Justice, median awards in medical malpractice cases (jury and bench trials) was $422,000.13 In jury trials, the median was $431,000.14
According to Public Citizen’s analysis of National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) data, “the annual average payment for a medical malpractice verdict has not exceeded $1 million in real dollars since the beginning of the NPDB. The average payment for a medical malpractice verdict in 1991 was $284,896. In 2005, the average was $461,524. Adjusting for inflation, however, shows that the average is actually declining. The 2005 average adjusted for inflation is only $260,890 — a decline of 8 percent since 1991.”15
Public Citizen also found that the total number of malpractice payments made on behalf of doctors, including judgments and settlements, declined 15.4 percent from 2001-2005 (from 16,588 in 2001 to 14,033 in 2005) and “the number of payments per 100,000 people in the U.S. also fell since 2001 – from 5.82 to 4.73 – a decline of 18.6 percent. Since 1991, the number of payments per 100,000 people declined more than 10 percent.”16
According to a Bureau of Justice report that examined medical malpractice insurance claims in seven states between 2000 and 2004, most medical malpractice claims were closed without any compensation provided to those claiming a medical injury.17
Vidmar testified “research evidence indicates that outlier verdicts seldom withstand post verdict proceedings.… Post-trial reductions have been documented in a number of studies. I and two colleagues found that some of the largest malpractice awards in New York ultimately resulted in settlements between five and ten percent of the original jury verdict. A study that I conducted on medical malpractice awards in Pennsylvania and a study of Texas verdicts found similar reductions. … My recent research on medical malpractice verdicts in Illinois found that, on average, final payments to plaintiffs were substantially lower than the jury verdicts. This does not mean that the original verdict was too high. Rather, needing money immediately and wanting to avoid a possibly lengthy appeal process the plaintiffs settled for the health providers’ insurance policy limit. Generally speaking, the larger the award, the greater the reduction in the settlement following trial.18
Total Payouts. Total medical malpractice payouts, for injuries and deaths caused by medical negligence in the nation, have recently hovered between $5 billion and $6 billion annually.19 This is less than half of what Americans pay for dog and cat food each year.20
Severity of injuries.
Public Citizen’s analysis of NPDB statistics shows that patients do not win large jury awards for insignificant claims and that payments usually correspond with injury severity. In 2005, more than 64 percent of payments involved death or significant injury, less than one-third were for insignificant injury, and less than three percent were for million-dollar verdicts.21
According to Duke University Law Professor Neil Vidmar, “the magnitude of jury awards in medical malpractice tort cases positively correlated with the severity of the plaintiffs’ injuries, except that injuries resulting in death tended to result in awards substantially lower than injuries resulting in severe permanent injury, such as quadriplegia. I and two colleagues conducted a study of malpractice verdicts in New York, Florida, and California. We also found that jury awards of prevailing plaintiffs in malpractice cases were correlated with the severity of the injury.”22
Punitive damages.
In medical malpractice cases in 2001, the most recent year studied by the U.S. Department of Justice, punitive damages were awarded in only 4.9 percent of cases with plaintiff winners.23
In medical malpractice cases between 1963 and 1993 studied by professors Koenig and Rustad, punitive verdicts were largely proportional to compensatory awards, with the median ratio of punitive damages to compensatory damages awarded at trial 1.21 to 1.24 They also found that punitive damages were only levied in instances of outrageous behavior.25 In addition, judges changed 42 percent of punitive verdicts after trial. Nearly ten percent (26 out of 270) of cases involving punitive damages were reversed by appellate courts.26 Moreover, the “vast majority of punitive dollars were uncollectible due to post-trial reversals, settlements, and defendant insolvency.”27
In 2001, the latest year studied by the U.S. Department of Justice, patients won before judges 50 percent of the time, while only winning 26.3 percent of cases before juries, dropping from 30.5 percent in 1992.28
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, patients “rarely won damages at trial, prevailing in only 21 percent of verdicts as compared with 61 percent of claims resolved out of court.”29
Duke University Law professor Neil Vidmar testified before Congress, “Interviews with North Carolina jurors who decided medical malpractice cases showed that jurors viewed the plaintiffs’ claims with great skepticism. Jurors expressed their attitudes in two main themes: first, too many people want to get something for nothing, and second, most doctors try to do a good job and should not be blamed for a simple human misjudgment. This does not mean that in every case jurors held these views. Sometimes, evidence of the doctor’s behavior caused jurors to be angry about the negligence. However, even in these latter cases the interviews indicated that the jurors had approached the case with open minds. ”30
JURIES ARE COMPETENT AND ABLE TO HANDLE MEDICAL MALPRACTICE CASES. Consistent empirical studies show juries to be competent, effective, and fair decision makers able to handle complex cases.31

LITIGATION IMPROVES PATIENT SAFETY. The New England Journal of Medicine confirmed in a breakthrough article by George J. Annas, J.D., M.P.H., that litigation against hospitals improves the quality of care for patients.32 The author wrote, “In the absence of a comprehensive social insurance system, the patient’s right to safety can be enforced only by a legal claim against the hospital. … [M]ore liability suits against hospitals may be necessary to motivate hospital boards to take patient safety more seriously.… Anesthesiologists were motivated by litigation to improve patient safety. As a result, this profession implemented 25-years-ago a program to make anesthesia safer for patients and as a result, the risk of death from anesthesia dropped from 1 in 5000 to about 1 in 250,000.”

From 1991 to 2005, only 5.9 percent of doctors were responsible for 57.8 percent of malpractice payments. Each of those doctors made at least two payments.33
Since the creation of the National Practitioner Data Bank in 1990, the large majority of doctors – 82 percent – never made a malpractice payment.34
According to a recent study by Dr. Thomas Gallagher, a University of Washington internal-medicine physician and co-author of two studies published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, “Comparisons of how Canadian and U.S. doctors disclose mistakes point to a ‘culture of medicine,’ not lawyers, for their behavior.” 35 In Canada, there are no juries, non-economic awards are severely capped and “if patients lose their lawsuits, they have to pay the doctors' legal bills… yet “doctors are just as reluctant to fess up to mistakes.” Moreover, “doctors' thoughts on how likely they were to be sued didn't affect their decisions to disclose errors.” The authors believe “the main culprit is a ‘culture of medicine,’ which starts in medical school and instills a ‘culture of perfectionism’ that doesn't train doctors to talk about mistakes.”36
Research by George J. Annas, J.D., M.P.H. “found that only one quarter of doctors disclosed errors to their patients, but “the result was not that much different in New Zealand, a country that has had no-fault malpractice insurance” [i.e., no litigation against doctors] for decades. In other words, “There are many reasons why physicians do not report errors, including a general reluctance to communicate with patients and a fear of disciplinary action or a loss of position or privileges.”37
Medical malpractice payouts are less than one percent of total U.S. health care costs. All “losses” (verdicts, settlements, legal fees, etc.) have stayed under one percent for the last 18 years. Moreover, medical malpractice premiums are less than one percent of total U.S. health care costs as well. Dropping for nearly two decades, malpractice premiums have stayed below one percent of health care costs.38
The Congressional Budget Office found that “Malpractice costs account for less than 2 percent of [health care] spending,” and that all the provisions of the federal medical malpractice bill, including a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages, “would lower health care costs by only about 0.4 percent to 0.5 percent, and the likely effect on health insurance premiums would be comparably small.”39
January 2007

1 Examining the Work of State Courts, 2005, A National Perspective from the Court Statistics Project (2006) at 29.
2 National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine, “To Err is Human” (1999); Harvard Medical Practice Study (1990). In 2004, HealthGrades, Inc., which rates hospitals for insurers and health plans, concluded, from a study of Medicare records for all fifty states from 2000-2002, that the Institute of Medicine’s high figure of 98,000 was too low and that a figure of 195,000 annual deaths was more accurate. (Testimony of Neil Vidmar of Duke Law School before The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Hearing on “Medical Liability: New Ideas for Making the System Work Better for Patients,” June 22, 2006 at 5.)
3 David A. Hyman and Charles Silver, “Medical Malpractice Litigation and Tort Reform: It's the Incentives, Stupid,”59 Vand. L. Rev. 1085, 1089 (May 2006) (citing Brian Ostrom, Neal Kauder & Neil LaFontain, Examining the Work of State Courts (2003) at 23).
4 David M. Studdert, Michelle Mello, et al., “Claims, Errors, and Compensation Payments in Medical Malpractice Litigation,” New England Journal of Medicine, May 11, 2006.
5 David M. Studdert, Michelle Mello, et al., “Claims, Errors, and Compensation Payments in Medical Malpractice Litigation,” New England Journal of Medicine, May 11, 2006.
6 Testimony of Neil Vidmar, Russell M. Robinson, II Professor of Law, Duke Law School before The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, “Hearing on Medical Liability: New Ideas for Making the System Work Better for Patients,” June 22, 2006 at 17. (citations omitted).
7 Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, “Medical Malpractice Insurance Claims in Seven States, 2000-2004,” NCJ 216339 (Mar. 2007) at 7.
8 Ibid. at 17-18, 22.
9 Ibid. at 23.
10 Ibid. at 21.
11 Public Citizen, Congress Watch, The Great Medical Malpractice Hoax: NPDB Data Continue to Show Medical Liability System Produces Rational Outcomes, (January 2007) at 2. (This report analyzes data in the National Practitioner Data Bank Public Use File, dated 31 December 2005.)
12 Ibid. at 4.
13 “Tort Trials and Verdicts in Large Counties, 2001,” U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 206240 (November 2004), at 4.
14 “Tort Trials and Verdicts in Large Counties, 2001,” U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 206240 (November 2004), at 7.
15 Public Citizen, Congress Watch, The Great Medical Malpractice Hoax: NPDB Data Continue to Show Medical Liability System Produces Rational Outcomes, (January 2007) at 5, 9. (This report analyzes data in the National Practitioner Data Bank Public Use File, dated 31 December 2005.)
16 Ibid. at 2-5.
17 Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, “Medical Malpractice Insurance Claims in Seven States, 2000-2004,” NCJ 216339 (Mar. 2007) at 1.
18 Testimony of Neil Vidmar, Russell M. Robinson, II Professor of Law, Duke Law School before The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, “Hearing on Medical Liability: New Ideas for Making the System Work Better for Patients,” June 22, 2006 at 13.
19 See, Americans for Insurance Reform, Stable Losses/Unstable Rates, 2004,
20 The Pet Food Institute puts these figures at $13 to $14 billion annually over the past few years. See,
21 Public Citizen, Congress Watch, The Great Medical Malpractice Hoax: NPDB Data Continue to Show Medical Liability System Produces Rational Outcomes, (January 2007) at 2.
22 Testimony of Neil Vidmar, Russell M. Robinson, II Professor of Law, Duke Law School before The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, “Hearing on Medical Liability: New Ideas for Making the System Work Better for Patients,” June 22, 2006 at 10.
23 Bureau of Justice Statistics, U. S. Department of Justice, “Selected Findings, Civil Justice Survey of State Courts, 2001, Punitive Damage Awards in Large Counties, 2001,” NCJ 208445 (March 2005) at 3.
24 Thomas Koenig & Michael Rustad, “Reconceptualizing Punitive Damages in Medical Malpractice: Targeting Amoral Corporations, Not ‘Moral Monsters,’” 47 Rutgers L. Rev. 975, 1009 (1995).
25 Ibid. at 15, 50-51.
26 Ibid. at15, 24, 43.
27 Ibid. at 15, 43.
28 Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, “Tort Trials and Verdicts in Large Counties, 2001,” NCJ 206240 (Nov. 2004) at 4, 7.
29 David M. Studdert, Michelle Mello, et al., “Claims, Errors, and Compensation Payments in Medical Malpractice Litigation,” New England Journal of Medicine, May 11, 2006.
30 Testimony of Neil Vidmar, Russell M. Robinson, II Professor of Law, Duke Law School before The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, “Hearing on Medical Liability: New Ideas for Making the System Work Better for Patients,” June 22, 2006 at 8.
31 For an extensive list of studies demonstrating the competence of juries, see, e.g., Testimony of Neil Vidmar, Russell M. Robinson, II Professor of Law, Duke Law School before The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, “Hearing on Medical Liability: New Ideas for Making the System Work Better for Patients,” June 22, 2006 at 10 (“The overwhelming number of the judges gave the civil jury high marks for competence, diligence, and seriousness, even in complex cases …Systematic studies of jury responses to experts lead to the conclusion that jurors do not automatically defer to experts and that jurors have a basic understanding of the evidence in malpractice and other cases. Jurors understand that the adversary system produces experts espousing opinions consistent with the side that called them to testify. Moreover, jurors carefully scrutinize and compare the testimony of opposing experts. They make their decisions through collective discussions about the evidence.… We also found that jury awards of prevailing plaintiffs in malpractice cases were correlated with the severity of the injury.”)(citations omitted); Peters Jr., Philip G., “Doctors & Juries,” U of Missouri-Columbia School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2006-33 Available at SSRN: (“Four important findings emerge from the data. First, negligence matters. Plaintiffs rarely win weak cases. They have more success in toss-up cases, and fare best in cases with strong evidence of medical negligence. Second, jury verdicts are most likely to square with the opinions of experts hired to evaluate the jury's performance when the evidence of provider negligence is weak. This is the very set of cases that most worries critics of malpractice litigation. Juries agree with expert reviewers in 80 to 90 percent of these cases - a better agreement rate than physicians typically have with each other. Third, jury verdicts are much more likely to deviate from the opinion of an expert reviewer when there is strong evidence of negligence. Doctors consistently win about 50 percent of the cases which experts believe the plaintiffs should win. Fourth, the poor success of malpractice plaintiffs in these cases strongly suggests the presence of factors that systematically favor medical defendants in the courtroom. The most promising explanations for that advantage are the defendant's superior resources, the social standing of physicians, social norms against ‘profiting’ from an injury, and the jury's willingness to give physicians the "benefit of the doubt" when the evidence of negligence is conflicting.”) See also, Marc Galanter, “Real World Torts: An Antidote to Anecdote,” 55 Md. L. Rev.1093, 1109, note 45 (1996), citing Michael J. Saks, Small-Group Decision Making and Complex Information Tasks (1981); Robert MacCoun, “Inside the Black Box: What Empirical Research Tells Us About Decisionmaking by Civil Juries,” in Verdict: Assessing the Civil Jury System 137 (Brookings Institution, Robert E. Litan ed., 1993); Christy A. Visher, “Juror Decision Making: The Importance of Evidence,” 11 Law & Hum. Behav. 1 (1987); Richard O. Lempert, “Civil Juries and Complex Cases: Let’s Not Rush to Judgment,” 80 Mich. L. Rev. 68 (1981).
32 George J. Annas, J.D., M.P.H., “The Patient’s Right to Safety – Improving the Quality of Care through Litigation against Hospitals,” New England Journal of Medicine, May 11, 2006.
33 Public Citizen, The Great Medical Malpractice Hoax, at 12.
34 Ibid.
35 Carol M. Ostrom, “Lawsuit fears aren't reason for docs' silence, studies say,” Seattle Times, August 17, 2006 , citing from Thomas Gallagher, M.D., et al, “Choosing your Words Carefully: How Physicians Would Disclose Harmful Medical Errors to Patients,” Archives of Internal Medicine, Aug. 14, 2006.
36 Ibid.
37 George J. Annas, J.D., M.P.H., “The Patient’s Right to Safety – Improving the Quality of Care through Litigation against Hospitals,” New England Journal of Medicine, May 11, 2006.
38 See, Americans for Insurance Reform, “Think Malpractice is Driving Up Health Care Costs? Think Again,”
39 Congressional Budget Office, Limiting Tort Liability for Medical Malpractice 1, 6 (Jan. 8, 2004).

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Iraq for Dummies

Well, I mean, an accurate precis as opposed to the version offered by the dummy who is Our Beloved Leader.
Misperceptions of the 'War' in Iraq
An NBC News correspondent—with longtime experience in Iraq—describes many other visions of the war now being fought.

By Richard Engel

The war in Iraq is not what it seems. In fact, there is no "war" in Iraq—there are many wars, some centuries old, playing out on this ancient land. But this is not what Americans are often led to believe. The perception portrayed by the White House and Iraqi government in Baghdad—and commonly reflected in the news media—is that the violence in Iraq is a fundamental struggle between two opposing teams: Freedom Lovers and Freedom Haters.

In this Manichaean and simplistic view of the fighting here, the tale of the tape is:
The Freedom Lovers: The 12 million Iraqis who plunged their fingers into purple ink on Election Day in December 2005, choosing freedom, democracy and to shut forever the door on Saddam Hussein's dictatorship. Their team captains are the Iraqi government, the White House, the U.S.-trained Iraq security services, and the roughly 150,000 American troops in Iraq.

The Freedom Haters: Iraqi radicals, foreign jihadists, former Ba'ath Party members, and criminals supported by al-Qaeda, Syria and Iran, who have formed an alliance of convenience to reject the democratization of Iraq, each for its own motivation. The team's captains are al-Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni militant groups, Iranian and Syrian agents and, but not always, radical Shi'ite cleric Moktada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army.
While there are certainly elements of truth to this narrative, the reality in this fractured country is much more complex.

The Other Wars

During a break in a diplomatic meeting in Baghdad in March, I was sitting in a smoke-filled waiting room of the foreign ministry watching Iraqiya, the state-sponsored television station. It was the final day of the Shi'ite festival of Ashura, and several hundred thousand, perhaps as many as two million, Shi'ite pilgrims were gathered in the holy city of Karbala, south of Baghdad. The television images showed the Shi'ite devotees flagellating their backs with zangeel (bundles of chains) and cutting their heads with swords to mourn the seventh century martyr Hussein and punish themselves for not having done more to save his life during a battle in Karbala in one of Islam's early civil wars.

The pictures showed a man dressed as Hussein in ancient Islamic battle dress, with a sword, flowing headdress, and a colorful cape, reenacting the battle by single-handedly fighting off a crowd of attackers until he was overwhelmed and heroically slain. Hussein's martyrdom, many Shi'ites claim at the hands of early Sunnis, is one of the central themes of Shi'ite Islam in Iraq and establishes a basic premise that Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, and his Shi'ite descendants are the true heirs to Islam but were defeated by Sunni "usurpers."

But the footage on Iraqi state TV during Ashura didn't stop there. Interwoven with the images of Hussein's struggle and the mourning rituals was current news footage of the aftermath of car bombings in Baghdad, the

Shi'ite al-Askari mosque in Samara destroyed by al-Qaeda militants in February 2006, and wounded Iraqi women and children. The message was clear: the attacks on markets, Shi'ite mosques, restaurants and university campuses, mostly carried out by Sunni radicals, are a continuation of Hussein's battle centuries ago.

As pilgrims marched by our Baghdad bureau on their way to Karbala, I could hear them chant: "Kul yom Ashura! Kul ard Karbala!" or "Every day is Ashura! All land is Karbala!" Simply put, they were saying, everyday and everywhere in Iraq, Shi'ites are reliving Hussein's battles in Karbala. There was no talk of democracy or the Ba'ath Party, Saddam Hussein or the U.S. troop "surge," or other subjects that dominate the Iraq debate in the United States. Instead, it is apparent that many of Iraq's Shi'ites believe they are fighting a different war from the one many in the United States see their troops engaged in here, and for different reasons.

Many Sunni groups in Iraq are also fighting a war that seems to have little in common with the official U.S. and Iraqi characterization of the conflict. Al-Qaeda in Iraq and its allies recently formed an umbrella group they call Dowlit al-Islam, or the Islamic State in Iraq. After the group claimed responsibility for bombing the Iraqi parliament building in Baghdad's Green Zone in April, the group issued an Internet statement explaining its motivation. The group said the suicide bomber who attacked parliament's cafeteria and killed one lawmaker was motivated to kill "the traitors and collaborators" who had sold out to a "Zionist-Persian" conspiracy to control Iraq. From what they wrote, they seem to believe they are fighting Israel, Iran and their agents, not the U.S. mission to bring democracy to Iraq.

These visions of war are just two of the competing power struggles that U.S. troops in Iraq are trying to quell; the reality is there are many wars within the war. Others include:
Moktada al-Sadr: The radical Shi'ite leader and commander of the Mahdi Army who wants to equal or surpass the influence of his father, one of Iraq's most revered Shi'ite leaders. Based primarily on his family's reputation, Sadr has tapped into the frustrations of Iraq's poor, uneducated and unemployed Shi'ite community, increasingly fed up with the continued presence of U.S. troops.

The Kurds: Iraqi Kurds want independence and control of the oil rich city of Kirkuk. Thankful that U.S. troops rid them of Saddam's oppression, they now want to capitalize on their new freedom by establishing what they have been denied for centuries, an autonomous, prosperous oil-rich state. For Kurds, the fighting in Iraq is not about democracy, but self-determination.

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim: He is the leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq [now the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council] who wants to control southern Iraq and carve out a ministate allied with Iran. His party would rule this emirate, containing both the rich oil fields in Basra and access to the Persian Gulf. Al-Hakim's Iranian-backed militia, the Badr Brigade, renamed the Badr Organization in an attempt to make it seem more mainstream, has gained control of many of the local councils and police stations across southern Iraq.

Ayad Allawi: The former prime minister and ex-Ba'ath Party member and western intelligence "asset," he wants to return to power, overthrow Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, unite Sunnis and Shi'ites under his secular rule, and bring back divisions of the Iraqi army dissolved by then U.S. administrator Paul Bremer.

Nuri al-Maliki: Prime Minister Maliki's goals are unclear. At times he sounds as though he is reading talking points from the White House, but he has been reluctant to stop Shi'ite militia groups and has overseen a Shi'ite-led government often accused of pursuing a sectarian agenda.
U.S. politicians and military commanders often complain that the Iraqi government "won't step up and do its job." The impression they give is that Iraqi officials are sitting around smoking hooka pipes and refusing to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, while U.S. troops are fighting and dying to "get the job done." Perhaps the question should be, "Which job?" American soldiers often ask me when the Iraqis will "step up and fight for their own country." They are already fighting for their country. Iraqi officials, religious leaders, militia groups, Syria, Iran and al-Qaeda are struggling and dying to get a "job done" in Iraq, though it does not appear to be the job the White House would like them to be doing.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned during his April visit to Iraq that America's "patience is running out." If he's waiting for Iraqis and the wider Middle East to start fighting the war of Freedom Lovers against Freedom Haters, Americans might need to have considerably more patience in the years ahead.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Our Leaders Lead Us Another Giant Step Backwards

In a July 23 letter, UCS and OMB Watch urged Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chair Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) to question the nominee on his opinion of Bush administration Executive Order 13422, which goes into effect today. The executive order bans any regulation from moving forward without the approval of an agency's regulatory policy officer, who would be a political appointee. UCS urged the Senate committee to ask Mr. Nussle how he would ensure that political appointees would not interfere with the work of agency scientists.

"We have a corps of highly trained scientists in federal agencies. Why would we want to undermine their expertise and authority?" said Francesca Grifo, director of UCS's Scientific Integrity Program. "This executive order greatly expands the power of the White House to weaken the ability of federal agencies to protect public health and safety. We have the right to know where Mr. Nussle stands."

And then there's the genius of Mitt. (Yes, I know he was successful in business because of connections, not intelligence or anything....) My God, hat a bunch of mental cases -- Election 2008 is becoming really scary....

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

An American Hero

A rare man of principle:
It's a bit of an understatement to say that lawyers are not held in high esteem in our culture. But there are some who are going a long way to redeem the profession, and these lawyers are also doing it under the most difficult of circumstances. A year ago I wrote about Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, who courageously bucked the military system -- and destroyed his career -- by battling to get the Bush administration's original military tribunal system struck down on behalf of his client Salim Ahmed Hamdan. I said:

The military has many men and women of great physical courage. That's the point, after all. But it takes a person of exceptional character to be willing to take on the military hierarchy from within in order to preserve our fundamental principles. I'm skeptical that the threat of Islamic terrorism can be properly categorized as a war but if it is, one of the big battles being fought is for the integrity of the American system, and the battle is internal, not external. In that battle, this guy is a hero.
That battle took a terrible turn for the worse when Congress cravenly bought into the bogus assurances of Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that the Bush administration's "new" commissions would be much better and succeeded in passing the heinous Kangaroo Commissions and Torture Act of 2006.

Once again, the fight is left up to an individual of conscience who is willing to put himself at risk to do the right thing. Today, the New York Times profiles another hero, Lt. Col Stephen E. Abraham, a lawyer with 22 years of experience in counterterrorism and counterespionage. His affidavit is assumed to have turned the tide in the Supreme Court decision to hear the Guantánamo detainee cases claiming that the hearings are unjust and that detainees have a right to contest their detentions in federal court. (It had been speculated that they would let the circuit court decision stand.)

This man is described in the article as a "law and order" type of guy, as you might expect from a terrorism and espionage military expert, who became more and more troubled by what he saw in the Guantánamo commission process. He decided to speak out and has predictably been attacked by the Pentagon. The Times report quotes a DOD spokesman saying snidely, "Colonel Abraham's 'apparently biased insinuations' did not indicate bad faith or improper behavior by military officials. 'In his capacity as database manager during his brief stint on active duty several years ago,' Commander Peppler said, 'Lieutenant Colonel Abraham was not in a position to have a complete view of all the evidence used in the C.S.R.T.'s, as well as the process as a whole.'"

Nonsense. Abraham had been on active duty for a year after 9/11 and volunteered to go back in 2004 to Guantánamo. He was, as a lieutenant colonel and a lawyer, hardly a clerk. But he did work with the database, which meant he saw the evidence that had been compiled against the Guantánamo prisoners. He was appalled at how thin and unconvincing it was and also at how the tribunals were being run:

Colonel Abraham said that in meetings with top officials of the office, it was clear that such findings were discouraged. "Anything that resulted in a 'not enemy combatant' would just send ripples through the entire process," he said. "The interpretation is, 'You got the wrong result. Do it again.'"
He said his concerns about the fairness of the hearings had grown as time passed. "The hearings amounted to a superficial summary of information, the quality of which would not have withstood scrutiny in any serious law-enforcement or intelligence investigation," he said.

Abraham was assigned to one tribunal himself:

Documents they have gathered show that he was assigned to the panel in November 2004. The detainee was a Libyan, captured in Afghanistan, who was said to have visited terrorist training camps and belonged to a Libyan terrorist organization.
By a vote of 3 to zero, the panel found that "the detainee is not properly classified as an enemy combatant and is not associated with Al Qaeda or Taliban."

Two months later, apparently after Pentagon officials rejected the first decision, the detainee's case was heard by a second panel. The conclusion, again by a vote of 3 to zero, was quite different: "The detainee is properly classified as an enemy combatant and is a member of or associated with Al Qaeda."

Colonel Abraham was never assigned to another panel.

The administration has rigged the evidence and outcomes about so many things that we can't, as a country, afford to give it the benefit of the doubt about anything. It has become so bad that the only thing stopping it is courageous people like Col. Abraham who are reluctantly compelled to step completely outside their normal experience and come forward to expose the government's wrongdoing. But oversight by rare whistle-blowers just isn't an acceptable way for free people to govern themselves. We are lucky that men like Abraham are willing to come forward, but they are unusual. You cannot count on the courage and good intentions of individuals -- that's why you have government and laws to begin with.

Yesterday, we saw National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell on "Meet the Press" explaining the president's new order outlining the limits on interrogation techniques the CIA and others may use. And once again, he said that he cannot reveal what those techniques are and that we just have to trust the president when he says they aren't condoning torture. The Washington Post reports:

"When asked if the permissible techniques would be troubling to the American people if the enemy used them against a U.S. citizen, McConnell said: 'I would not want a U.S. citizen to go through the process. But it is not torture, and there would be no permanent damage to that citizen.'"

I'm sorry, but that's just not good enough. It's insulting to our intelligence that we should just trust these people when they "assure" us (if his explanation could actually be defined as assurance) that we don't torture. They assured us before that they didn't torture and clearly they did, or they wouldn't be making a big deal out of issuing another order that they also claim says we don't torture. They assured us that the Guantánamo prisoners were all dangerous terrorists and they lied. And we have every reason to believe they are lying when they say they are not spying on Americans far more broadly, and for less reason, than they admit. Indeed, they have been so secretive and so mendacious that we would be fools not to require absolute transparency and proof of everything they assert from now on. The credibility gap in this administration is the size of the Grand Canyon.

Thanks to a few brave people who have come forward we are beginning to get the details of the administration's actions. It's time for our institutions to follow their lead.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Mendacity of Big Journalism

Read this and weep for us all.

Crap like this shows why modern journalism is in such trouble:


Murdoch is not a villain

However, the writer fails to produce any proof that Murdoch doesn't make each new purchase into crappier than it was.

Ditto Al Neuharth, the American Murdoch whose greatest claim to fame in the world of journalism is creating that paragon of high quality journalism, USA Today.

And outside investors who pressured a sale of a newspaper publishing company ("forced the liquidation of Knight Ridder in 20o6") dump their shares after the sale.

Start Your Week with Some Pure Wingnut Chutzpah

One of Our Leader's former whacko aides spews on that cynosure of whacko-ness, the Wall Street Journal op-ed page:
Republicans aren't exactly racing to defend President Bush's assertion of executive privilege against Congress's investigation of his firing of nine U.S. attorneys. This leaves former political director Sara Taylor and Harriet Miers, former White House counsel, facing possible contempt sanctions. If this sword of Damocles drops, an important constitutional showdown between the branches might well reach the Supreme Court.

Rather than run from this fight, supporters of the constitutional system ought to stand firm with the president. Presidents, Congresses, and the courts have long accepted a president's right to keep internal executive discussions confidential. Even when the Supreme Court ordered Richard Nixon to hand over the Watergate tapes, it recognized "the necessity for protection of the public interest in candid, objective, and even blunt or harsh opinions in Presidential decisionmaking."
Link and more.

In no particular order: John Yoo's disrespect for the Constitution makes him an expert.

And it is very much in the public interest for the public to know as much of this administration's abuses of all things public and political. To the extent Yoo thinks Our Beloved Leader does not have to be accountable, he is dead wrong.

Know Your Future Leaders by whom they Surround Themselves

Of course, it's a response to the nutjobs, whackos and screwups that Our Leader has, um, allowed himself to be surrounded by, that and fear of President Rudy with his differently yet equally choices of cronies....

But here's John McCain, on his long march (I'm less than a week back from China!) from heroic survivor to joke:
Rick Davis, a lobbyist, McCain confidant and now the Arizona Republican's campaign manager, had more to do with budgeting, fund raising and spending than any individual, in his prior role as chief executive officer, current and former McCain advisers say.

• Who He Is: Rick Davis emerged from the sidelines in Sen. McCain's staff shake-up to be campaign manager, the job he had in 2000.
• What's The Issue: While this month's upheaval stemmed from Mr. McCain's anger at overspending, Mr. Davis's own decisions on expenditures had long been a source of internal tension.
• What's At Stake: Mr. McCain must rebuild a campaign that is broke and demoralized from staff departures, and stop his slide in Republican polls.
Moreover, they say, Mr. Davis stood to benefit from campaign expenditures to an Internet-services company he formed with lobbying partner Paul Manafort. And he steered campaign funds to another company owned by a lobbyist-friend's client, an Indian-casino developer. In that case, campaign colleagues objected about what they saw as an unorthodox arrangement potentially embarrassing to Mr. McCain, who had been a Senate investigator of scandals involving Indian casinos.

The campaign ended its relationships with both companies in past months, though it still owes money to each, say people familiar with the arrangements.

Against this backdrop, the controversy within the campaign over Mr. Davis's ascent to manager, a job he held in the senator's 2000 campaign, reinforces questions of whether the one-time Republican front-runner can recover. Mr. Davis had been sidelined in recent months after fighting with now-departed advisers, campaign manager Terry Nelson and chief strategist John Weaver, and with his return and their departures, more than a dozen senior staffers have left in protest.

McCain may not be crazy as the Bushies once rumored but he is scary if not nuts. Between this and all his flip-flopping... my God, how could anyone in their right mind vote for him?

Feature New to M$ Vista: Enables Government to Spy on you Illegally and Unconstitutionally

I abuse this blog to occasionally criticize Microsoft. As a Mac user (whenever possible), I have a revulsion of products that are forced on people and are as crappy as possible (in order to maximize profit, not to benefit the consumer).

So, yeah, the M$-bashing posts are gratuitous.

And then you come across this which so beautifully combines the two, making M$ fair game for this blog (OK, if this story is true and doesn't get blown up in the next few days...).
It has been a month since my upgrade to Vista. I like to keep up with tech trends and though reluctant to throw out XP, I forced myself to just 'swallow the pill'. After all - change is inevitable, and resistance to change shows only our inability to adapt to new scenarios and obstacles. I refuse to be left in the dust of an evolutionary sandstorm. I have thus relinquished my pride and dipped into the improvements Vista has to offer. Improvements such as increased performance with audio hardware and DAW(Digital Audio Workstation) software. We're talking about a Microsoft upgrade that almost rivals the audio development quality seen on Mac DAW's for years - but with none of the proprietary hardware BS that is forged into the Mac world.


You exclaim,

"What does this have to do with the title of this post?"

I'm getting to that.

After installing all of my usual apps on Vista I was impressed to see most everything was 100% backward compatible. I expected much of my software to be rendered incompatible. Out of everything I've tried to run on it - 99% produce excellent results in both loading time and performance as compared with those same apps running under XP. Improved support against malware, spyware, and trojans - complete with a user rights management system that a seasoned Linux user could appreciate. All these positive aspects and more, and then.....


After running Vista for only a few days - with a complete love for the new platform the first sign of trouble erupted. I began noticing latency on my home network connection - so I booted my port sniffing software and networking tools to see what was happening. What I found was foundation shaking. The two images below show graphical depictions of what has and IS trying to connect to my computer even in an idle state;

DoD Network Information Center(Department of Defense)

United Nations Development Program(Seems to correlate to the parent branch of the U.N.

Halliburton Company(We all know these guys)

There have been many other unwarranted connections that I thought too redundant to post images for. To list a couple;
*Ministry of Defense Data Return Agent

*DOHS-Recon(traceroutes for this address provided nothing, suspected blocks on traceroute. Many of us who are monitoring this situation have suspected the acronym stands for the Department of Homeland Security*Reconnaissance?*. This is merely a guess, but an educated one at that.)

I ran traceroutes on the IP's, and sure enough they came back legit and government owned. I thought this might be exclusive to my system, so I ran over to a friend of mine who upgraded to Vista when it first became available(MICROSOFT FAN BOY! ;P ). After installing monitoring software on his system, the hits it caught on his network were immediate and almost identical in source. Attempts on both TCP and UDP by suspicious government owned addresses. Again, even when idle and running only a bare minimum of system processes. I've written a college report on the same phenomenon, which has gained considerable attention by even my instructor. I've posted similar articles on a few tech sites and the like that I frequent more often than this bored, and there are a number of Vista users who have replied with similar claims.

Is there anyone in the abandonia community with a US based connection who is experiencing this watchdog behavior? Are any foreign Vista users experiencing similar attacks from their own countries ministries and governing agencies?
Link to article, link to images.

Comic Strip of the Day

The unnaturally brilliant Tom Tomorrow sums up the vile (but Pinch-loved) Tom Friedman concisely and precisely:


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Today's Love for Rudy

The concept of crooked, do-nothing Rudy as Our Leader's successor is scary.

Once you discount his great success as a self-promoter (or "bullshitter"), you're left with shockingly little achievement to the commonweal. He's done fine for himself and some of his ("cronies") but very, very little otherwise -- surprisingly so given all the self-promotion, hagiography, etc. But see the current Harper's for something a little more dispassionate (sorry; it's a .pdf for subscribers only, but for a taste, see below).

First, a look at his imperial ego:
We've previously posted the tour riders of Dick Cheney and John Kerry, but those two pols look like pikers compared to the high-rolling, diva-like Rudolph Giuliani, wannabe Republican presidential candidate. The former New York mayor has been banking a whopping $100,000 per speech to corporations, trade groups, and university audiences, according to his standard appearance contract. The document, a copy of which you'll find below, notes that Giuliani, 62, requires private air transportation to his gigs. But, the contract states, any old plane won't do: "Please note that the private aircraft MUST BE a Gulfstream IV or bigger." Such a jet sells for about $30 million, in case you're wondering. Giuliani's speech contract also requires him to be lodged in a two-bedroom hotel suite, which is to be flanked by rooms occupied by his security team. Rudy's suite must be registered in the name of a representative of the Washington Speakers Bureau, which arranges Giuliani appearances. And Giuliani is very picky about how he is to be photographed at gigs, apparently concerned that "direct, on-camera flash bulbs" result in none-too-flattering images. He also imposes restrictions on press coverage of his appearances, during which he speaks for 45 minutes and answers audience questions for 15 minutes. A copy of Giuliani's contract was released by Oklahoma State University, where he spoke last March for $100,000 (and cost the school an additional $47,000 in jet expenses). Oh, one other thing: someone needs to let the politician's agents know that their client's name is spelled "Giuliani," not "Giulinni."
Link and more.

And then, bits from the Harper's article:

Kevin Baker's cover story at Harper's this month is former New York Mayer Rudolph Giuliani, and the cover story title is "A Fate Worse Than Bush." I kid you not: Mr Baker's title says it all.

Giuliani drew a different lesson than the Clintons in his early political experiences. He watched the winning side in the 1972 election and internalized a strategy that was honed by the likes of George Wallace, Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan over the course of nearly two decades. That strategy can best be described as a sort of "anti-populism," a worldview in which the well-off are continually beset by the poor, the privileged by the disinherited, the white by the black. The remarkable accomplishment of Giuliani was how he was able to use this narrative of disorder to gain power in New York.

Mr Baker carefully recounts the record, showing again and again that improvements for which Mr Giuliani has taken credit were well under way before he took office, and that any impression that voters might have to the contrary owes to his assiduous branding and to some very irresponsible journalists. Richard Cohen of the Washington Post, for example, wrote in 1993 that, "Aside from the deranged, there's not a single Gothamite who thinks it has gotten better under Dinkins - no matter what the statistics say."

As Mr Baker responds, "No matter what the statistics say!"

New York's plight had become one big moral parable, about a culture of permissiveness, fostered by a black mayor, on behalf of his black constituents. Cohen provided a prescient definition of our post-ideological politics, writing, "When Giuliani emphasizes civic responsibilities and collective obligations - not just welfare, but work as well - he is sounding no different from Clinton in the presidential campaign. ... Sometimes it turns out that the 'new Democrat' is a Republican.

Mr Baker catalogues Mr Giuliani's most egregious failures, from the death of Amadou Diallo to the mistreatment of AIDS demonstrators, noting that, ironically enough, given his celebrity, 9/11 is probably Mr Giuliani's biggest disaster. His totally misconceived bunker was not only useless but, in the event, destructive: its fuel tanks blew up in the collapse of the towers. Coordination among the services was notoriously inadequate. Workers at Ground Zero were inadequately protected. The man did nothing right - except bluster. This is Mr Baker's real topic. The bluster is what went on television, and televised images rule. The former mayor is a master of the peculiar swagger cultivated by generations of Roman Catholic officials who talk tough but do nothing important. He has, in effect, designed impressive packaging for himself. The label's assertions are so unreal as to be imaginary - but, in today's world, who is going to look beyond a label?

The most interesting part of Mr Baker's essay is its penultimate paragraph. Here, he asks what might happen if a candidate such as Mr Giuliani alienated evangelical Christians from the Republican Party. Where would these voters go, he asks.

The obvious answer would be, into some sort of coalition with those whom the Democratic Party has tried to banish from its ranks - that is, the poor and the working poor, people of color, and all those dislocated by the global economy. This would mean a party of the religious and the disinherited - exactly the combination that has given rise to the sort of extremism we so deplore in the Islamic world.

It is very important that the demythologization of Rudy Giuliani begin right now. It won't be easy. For example, it ill becomes liberals to attack Mr Giuliani on the personal grounds of his strange and somewhat heartless marital history. His authoritarian streak will always be more deeply resented by New Yorkers than by other Americans - indeed, his presidential ambitions may be fired in part by the conclusion that he has already won the votes of his worst enemies. Attacking his spin-mastery is unlikely to arouse the commentariat.

In my view, Mr Giuliani's Achilles heel is his promotion of Bernard Kerik. This is not the place to rehearse Mr Kerik's record of corruption and incompetence. His rise from obscurity to the federal cabinet (stymied at the last minute) owes entirely to the influence of his long-time boss. He is proof that the former mayor is a terrible judge of character, and that an administration headed by Mr Giuliani would be staffed at least in part by henchmen. Nor should it be forgotten that Mr Giuliani fired his successful chief of police, William J Bratton, when Mr Bratton was given too much credit for effective policing. The former mayor is, demonstrably, a deaf autocrat. If his packaging can shown to be false in this respect, the viability of his candidacy will diminish.

Mr Baker's conclusion, while rousing, is a gratuitous assessment of the Bush regime.

Our Beloved Leader's Troops Speak

From The Nation, God bless it:

"So we get started on this day, this one in particular," recalled Spc. Philip Chrystal, 23, of Reno, who said he raided between twenty and thirty Iraqi homes during an eleven-month tour in Kirkuk and Hawija that ended in October 2005, serving with the Third Battalion, 116th Cavalry Brigade. "It starts with the psy-ops vehicles out there, you know, with the big speakers playing a message in Arabic or Farsi or Kurdish or whatever they happen to be, saying, basically, saying, Put your weapons, if you have them, next to the front door in your house. Please come outside, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And we had Apaches flying over for security, if they're needed, and it's also a good show of force. And we're running around, and they--we'd done a few houses by this point, and I was with my platoon leader, my squad leader and maybe a couple other people.

"And we were approaching this one house," he said. "In this farming area, they're, like, built up into little courtyards. So they have, like, the main house, common area. They have, like, a kitchen and then they have a storage shed-type deal. And we're approaching, and they had a family dog. And it was barking ferociously, 'cause it's doing its job. And my squad leader, just out of nowhere, just shoots it. And he didn't--motherfucker--he shot it and it went in the jaw and exited out. So I see this dog--I'm a huge animal lover; I love animals--and this dog has, like, these eyes on it and he's running around spraying blood all over the place. And like, you know, What the hell is going on? The family is sitting right there, with three little children and a mom and a dad, horrified. And I'm at a loss for words. And so, I yell at him. I'm, like, What the fuck are you doing? And so the dog's yelping. It's crying out without a jaw. And I'm looking at the family, and they're just, you know, dead scared. And so I told them, I was like, Fucking shoot it, you know? At least kill it, because that can't be fixed....

"And--I actually get tears from just saying this right now, but--and I had tears then, too--and I'm looking at the kids and they are so scared. So I got the interpreter over with me and, you know, I get my wallet out and I gave them twenty bucks, because that's what I had. And, you know, I had him give it to them and told them that I'm so sorry that asshole did that.

"Was a report ever filed about it?" he asked. "Was anything ever done? Any punishment ever dished out? No, absolutely not."

Specialist Chrystal said such incidents were "very common."

According to interviews with twenty-four veterans who participated in such raids, they are a relentless reality for Iraqis under occupation. The American forces, stymied by poor intelligence, invade neighborhoods where insurgents operate, bursting into homes in the hope of surprising fighters or finding weapons. But such catches, they said, are rare. Far more common were stories in which soldiers assaulted a home, destroyed property in their futile search and left terrorized civilians struggling to repair the damage and begin the long torment of trying to find family members who were hauled away as suspects.

Raids normally took place between midnight and 5 am, according to Sgt. John Bruhns, 29, of Philadelphia, who estimates that he took part in raids of nearly 1,000 Iraqi homes. He served in Baghdad and Abu Ghraib, a city infamous for its prison, located twenty miles west of the capital, with the Third Brigade, First Armor Division, First Battalion, for one year beginning in March 2003. His descriptions of raid procedures closely echoed those of eight other veterans who served in locations as diverse as Kirkuk, Samarra, Baghdad, Mosul and Tikrit.

"You want to catch them off guard," Sergeant Bruhns explained. "You want to catch them in their sleep." About ten troops were involved in each raid, he said, with five stationed outside and the rest searching the home.

Once they were in front of the home, troops, some wearing Kevlar helmets and flak vests with grenade launchers mounted on their weapons, kicked the door in, according to Sergeant Bruhns, who dispassionately described the procedure:

"You run in. And if there's lights, you turn them on--if the lights are working. If not, you've got flashlights.... You leave one rifle team outside while one rifle team goes inside. Each rifle team leader has a headset on with an earpiece and a microphone where he can communicate with the other rifle team leader that's outside.

"You go up the stairs. You grab the man of the house. You rip him out of bed in front of his wife. You put him up against the wall. You have junior-level troops, PFCs [privates first class], specialists will run into the other rooms and grab the family, and you'll group them all together. Then you go into a room and you tear the room to shreds and you make sure there's no weapons or anything that they can use to attack us.

"You get the interpreter and you get the man of the home, and you have him at gunpoint, and you'll ask the interpreter to ask him: 'Do you have any weapons? Do you have any anti-US propaganda, anything at all--anything--anything in here that would lead us to believe that you are somehow involved in insurgent activity or anti-coalition forces activity?'

"Normally they'll say no, because that's normally the truth," Sergeant Bruhns said. "So what you'll do is you'll take his sofa cushions and you'll dump them. If he has a couch, you'll turn the couch upside down. You'll go into the fridge, if he has a fridge, and you'll throw everything on the floor, and you'll take his drawers and you'll dump them.... You'll open up his closet and you'll throw all the clothes on the floor and basically leave his house looking like a hurricane just hit it.

"And if you find something, then you'll detain him. If not, you'll say, 'Sorry to disturb you. Have a nice evening.' So you've just humiliated this man in front of his entire family and terrorized his entire family and you've destroyed his home. And then you go right next door and you do the same thing in a hundred homes."

Each raid, or "cordon and search" operation, as they are sometimes called, involved five to twenty homes, he said. Following a spate of attacks on soldiers in a particular area, commanders would normally order infantrymen on raids to look for weapons caches, ammunition or materials for making IEDs. Each Iraqi family was allowed to keep one AK-47 at home, but according to Bruhns, those found with extra weapons were arrested and detained and the operation classified a "success," even if it was clear that no one in the home was an insurgent.

Before a raid, according to descriptions by several veterans, soldiers typically "quarantined" the area by barring anyone from coming in or leaving. In pre-raid briefings, Sergeant Bruhns said, military commanders often told their troops the neighborhood they were ordered to raid was "a hostile area with a high level of insurgency" and that it had been taken over by former Baathists or Al Qaeda terrorists.

"So you have all these troops, and they're all wound up," said Sergeant Bruhns. "And a lot of these troops think once they kick down the door there's going to be people on the inside waiting for them with weapons to start shooting at them."

Sgt. Dustin Flatt, 33, of Denver, estimates he raided "thousands" of homes in Tikrit, Samarra and Mosul. He served with the Eighteenth Infantry Brigade, First Infantry Division, for one year beginning in February 2004. "We scared the living Jesus out of them every time we went through every house," he said.

Spc. Ali Aoun, 23, a National Guardsman from New York City, said he conducted perimeter security in nearly 100 raids while serving in Sadr City with the Eighty-Ninth Military Police Brigade for eleven months starting in April 2004. When soldiers raided a home, he said, they first cordoned it off with Humvees. Soldiers guarded the entrance to make sure no one escaped. If an entire town was being raided, in large-scale operations, it too was cordoned off, said Spc. Garett Reppenhagen, 32, of Manitou Springs, Colorado, a cavalry scout and sniper with the 263rd Armor Battalion, First Infantry Division, who was deployed to Baquba for a year in February 2004.

Staff Sgt. Timothy John Westphal, 31, of Denver, recalled one summer night in 2004, the temperature an oppressive 110 degrees, when he and forty-four other US soldiers raided a sprawling farm on the outskirts of Tikrit. Sergeant Westphal, who served there for a yearlong tour with the Eighteenth Infantry Brigade, First Infantry Division, beginning in February 2004, said he was told some men on the farm were insurgents. As a mechanized infantry squad leader, Sergeant Westphal led the mission to secure the main house, while fifteen men swept the property. Sergeant Westphal and his men hopped the wall surrounding the house, fully expecting to come face to face with armed insurgents.

"We had our flashlights and...I told my guys, 'On the count of three, just hit them with your lights and let's see what we've got here. Wake 'em up!'"

Sergeant Westphal's flashlight was mounted on his M-4 carbine rifle, a smaller version of the M-16, so in pointing his light at the clump of sleepers on the floor he was also pointing his weapon at them. Sergeant Westphal first turned his light on a man who appeared to be in his mid-60s.

"The man screamed this gut-wrenching, blood-curdling, just horrified scream," Sergeant Westphal recalled. "I've never heard anything like that. I mean, the guy was absolutely terrified. I can imagine what he was thinking, having lived under Saddam."

The farm's inhabitants were not insurgents but a family sleeping outside for relief from the stifling heat, and the man Sergeant Westphal had frightened awake was the patriarch.

"Sure enough, as we started to peel back the layers of all these people sleeping, I mean, it was him, maybe two guys...either his sons or nephews or whatever, and the rest were all women and children," Sergeant Westphal said. "We didn't find anything.

"I can tell you hundreds of stories about things like that and they would all pretty much be like the one I just told you. Just a different family, a different time, a different circumstance."

For Sergeant Westphal, that night was a turning point. "I just remember thinking to myself, I just brought terror to someone else under the American flag, and that's just not what I joined the Army to do," he said.


Fifteen soldiers we spoke with told us the information that spurred these raids was typically gathered through human intelligence--and that it was usually incorrect. Eight said it was common for Iraqis to use American troops to settle family disputes, tribal rivalries or personal vendettas. Sgt. Jesus Bocanegra, 25, of Weslaco, Texas, was a scout in Tikrit with the Fourth Infantry Division during a yearlong tour that ended in March 2004. In late 2003, Sergeant Bocanegra raided a middle-aged man's home in Tikrit because his son had told the Army his father was an insurgent. After thoroughly searching the man's house, soldiers found nothing and later discovered that the son simply wanted money his father had buried at the farm.

After persistently acting on such false leads, Sergeant Bocanegra, who raided Iraqi homes in more than fifty operations, said soldiers began to anticipate the innocence of those they raided. "People would make jokes about it, even before we'd go into a raid, like, Oh fucking we're gonna get the wrong house," he said. "'Cause it would always happen. We always got the wrong house." Specialist Chrystal said that he and his platoon leader shared a joke of their own: Every time he raided a house, he would radio in and say, "This is, you know, Thirty-One Lima. Yeah, I found the weapons of mass destruction in here."

Sergeant Bruhns said he questioned the authenticity of the intelligence he received because Iraqi informants were paid by the US military for tips. On one occasion, an Iraqi tipped off Sergeant Bruhns's unit that a small Syrian resistance organization, responsible for killing a number of US troops, was holed up in a house. "They're waiting for us to show up and there will be a lot of shooting," Sergeant Bruhns recalled being told.

As the Alpha Company team leader, Sergeant Bruhns was supposed to be the first person in the door. Skeptical, he refused. "So I said, 'If you're so confident that there are a bunch of Syrian terrorists, there, why in the world are you going to send me and three guys in the front door, because chances are I'm not going to be able to squeeze the trigger before I get shot.'" Sergeant Bruhns facetiously suggested they pull an M-2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle up to the house and shoot a missile through the front window to exterminate the enemy fighters his commanders claimed were inside. They instead diminished the aggressiveness of the raid. As Sergeant Bruhns ran security out front, his fellow soldiers smashed the windows and kicked down the doors to find "a few little kids, a woman and an old man."

In late summer 2005, in a village on the outskirts of Kirkuk, Specialist Chrystal searched a compound with two Iraqi police officers. A friendly man in his mid-30s escorted Specialist Chrystal and others in his unit around the property, where the man lived with his parents, wife and children, making jokes to lighten the mood. As they finished searching--they found nothing--a lieutenant from his company approached Specialist Chrystal: "What the hell were you doing?" he asked. "Well, we just searched the house and it's clear," Specialist Chrystal said. The lieutenant told Specialist Chrystal that his friendly guide was "one of the targets" of the raid. "Apparently he'd been dimed out by somebody as being an insurgent," Specialist Chrystal said. "For that mission, they'd only handed out the target sheets to officers, and officers aren't there with the rest of the troops." Specialist Chrystal said he felt "humiliated" because his assessment that the man posed no threat was deemed irrelevant and the man was arrested. Shortly afterward, he posted himself in a fighting vehicle for the rest of the mission.

Sgt. Larry Cannon, 27, of Salt Lake City, a Bradley gunner with the Eighteenth Infantry Brigade, First Infantry Division, served a yearlong tour in several cities in Iraq, including Tikrit, Samarra and Mosul, beginning in February 2004. He estimates that he searched more than a hundred homes in Tikrit and found the raids fruitless and maddening. "We would go on one raid of a house and that guy would say, 'No, it's not me, but I know where that guy is.' And...he'd take us to the next house where this target was supposedly at, and then that guy's like, 'No, it's not me. I know where he is, though.' And we'd drive around all night and go from raid to raid to raid."

"I can't really fault military intelligence," said Specialist Reppenhagen, who said he raided thirty homes in and around Baquba. "It was always a guessing game. We're in a country where we don't speak the language. We're light on interpreters. It's just impossible to really get anything. All you're going off is a pattern of what's happened before and hoping that the pattern doesn't change."

Sgt. Geoffrey Millard, 26, of Buffalo, New York, served in Tikrit with the Rear Operations Center, Forty-Second Infantry Division, for one year beginning in October 2004. He said combat troops had neither the training nor the resources to investigate tips before acting on them. "We're not police," he said. "We don't go around like detectives and ask questions. We kick down doors, we go in, we grab people."

First Lieut. Brady Van Engelen, 26, of Washington, DC, said the Army depended on less than reliable sources because options were limited. He served as a survey platoon leader with the First Armored Division in Baghdad's volatile Adhamiya district for eight months beginning in September 2003. "That's really about the only thing we had," he said. "A lot of it was just going off a whim, a hope that it worked out," he said. "Maybe one in ten worked out."

Sergeant Bruhns said he uncovered illegal material about 10 percent of the time, an estimate echoed by other veterans. "We did find small materials for IEDs, like maybe a small piece of the wire, the detonating cord," said Sergeant Cannon. "We never found real bombs in the houses." In the thousand or so raids he conducted during his time in Iraq, Sergeant Westphal said, he came into contact with only four "hard-core insurgents."


Even with such slim pretexts for arrest, some soldiers said, any Iraqis arrested during a raid were treated with extreme suspicion. Several reported seeing military-age men detained without evidence or abused during questioning. Eight veterans said the men would typically be bound with plastic handcuffs, their heads covered with sandbags. While the Army officially banned the practice of hooding prisoners after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, five soldiers indicated that it continued.

"You weren't allowed to, but it was still done," said Sergeant Cannon. "I remember in Mosul [in January 2005], we had guys in a raid and they threw them in the back of a Bradley," shackled and hooded. "These guys were really throwing up," he continued. "They were so sick and nervous. And sometimes, they were peeing on themselves. Can you imagine if people could just come into your house and take you in front of your family screaming? And if you actually were innocent but had no way to prove that? It would be a scary, scary thing." Specialist Reppenhagen said he had only a vague idea about what constituted contraband during a raid. "Sometimes we didn't even have a translator, so we find some poster with Muqtada al-Sadr, Sistani or something, we don't know what it says on it. We just apprehend them, document that thing as evidence and send it on down the road and let other people deal with it."

Sergeant Bruhns, Sergeant Bocanegra and others said physical abuse of Iraqis during raids was common. "It was just soldiers being soldiers," Sergeant Bocanegra said. "You give them a lot of, too much, power that they never had before, and before you know it they're the ones kicking these guys while they're handcuffed. And then by you not catching [insurgents], when you do have someone say, 'Oh, this is a guy planting a roadside bomb'--and you don't even know if it's him or not--you just go in there and kick the shit out of him and take him in the back of a five-ton--take him to jail."

Tens of thousands of Iraqis--military officials estimate more than 60,000--have been arrested and detained since the beginning of the occupation, leaving their families to navigate a complex, chaotic prison system in order to find them. Veterans we interviewed said the majority of detainees they encountered were either innocent or guilty of only minor infractions.

Sergeant Bocanegra said during the first two months of the war he was instructed to detain Iraqis based on their attire alone. "They were wearing Arab clothing and military-style boots, they were considered enemy combatants and you would cuff 'em and take 'em in," he said. "When you put something like that so broad, you're bound to have, out of a hundred, you're going to have ten at least that were, you know what I mean, innocent."

Sometime during the summer of 2003, Bocanegra said, the rules of engagement narrowed--somewhat. "I remember on some raids, anybody of military age would be taken," he said. "Say, for example, we went to some house looking for a 25-year-old male. We would look at an age group. Anybody from 15 to 30 might be a suspect." (Since returning from Iraq, Bocanegra has sought counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder and said his "mission" is to encourage others to do the same.)

Spc. Richard Murphy, 28, an Army Reservist from Pocono, Pennsylvania, who served part of his fifteen-month tour with the 800th Military Police Brigade in Abu Ghraib prison, said he was often struck by the lack of due process afforded the prisoners he guarded.

Specialist Murphy initially went to Iraq in May 2003 to train Iraqi police in the southern city of Al Hillah but was transferred to Abu Ghraib in October 2003 when his unit replaced one that was rotating home. (He spoke with The Nation in October 2006, while not on active duty.) Shortly after his arrival there, he realized that the number of prisoners was growing "exponentially" while the amount of personnel remained stagnant. By the end of his six-month stint, Specialist Murphy was in charge of 320 prisoners, the majority of whom he was convinced were unjustly detained.

"I knew that a large percentage of these prisoners were innocent," he said. "Just living with these people for months you get to see their character.... In just listening to the prisoners' stories, I mean, I get the sense that a lot of them were just getting rounded up in big groups."

Specialist Murphy said one prisoner, a mentally impaired, blind albino who could "maybe see a few feet in front of his face" clearly did not belong in Abu Ghraib. "I thought to myself, What could he have possibly done?"

Specialist Murphy counted the prisoners twice a day, and the inmates would often ask him when they would be released or implore him to advocate on their behalf, which he would try to do through the JAG (Judge Advocate General) Corps office. The JAG officer Specialist Murphy dealt with would respond that it was out of his hands. "He would make his recommendations and he'd have to send it up to the next higher command," Specialist Murphy said. "It was just a snail's crawling process.... The system wasn't working."

Prisoners at the notorious facility rioted on November 24, 2003, to protest their living conditions, and Army Reserve Spc. Aidan Delgado, 25, of Sarasota, Florida, was there. He had deployed with the 320th Military Police Company to Talil Air Base, to serve in Nasiriya and Abu Ghraib for one year beginning in April 2003. Unlike the other troops in his unit, he did not respond to the riot. Four months earlier he had decided to stop carrying a loaded weapon.

Nine prisoners were killed and three wounded after soldiers opened fire during the riot, and Specialist Delgado's fellow soldiers returned with photographs of the events. The images, disturbingly similar to the incident described by Sergeant Mejía, shocked him. "It was very graphic," he said. "A head split open. One of them was of two soldiers in the back of the truck. They open the body bags of these prisoners that were shot in the head and [one soldier has] got an MRE spoon. He's reaching in to scoop out some of his brain, looking at the camera and he's smiling. And I said, 'These are some of our soldiers desecrating somebody's body. Something is seriously amiss.' I became convinced that this was excessive force, and this was brutality."

Spc. Patrick Resta, 29, a National Guardsman from Philadelphia, served in Jalula, where there was a small prison camp at his base. He was with the 252nd Armor, First Infantry Division, for nine months beginning in March 2004. He recalled his supervisor telling his platoon point-blank, "The Geneva Conventions don't exist at all in Iraq, and that's in writing if you want to see it."

The pivotal experience for Specialist Delgado came when, in the winter of 2003, he was assigned to battalion headquarters inside Abu Ghraib prison, where he worked with Maj. David DiNenna and Lieut. Col. Jerry Phillabaum, both implicated in the Taguba Report, the official Army investigation into the prison scandal. There, Delgado read reports on prisoners and updated a dry erase board with information on where in the large prison compound detainees were moved and held.

"That was when I totally walked away from the Army," Specialist Delgado said. "I read these rap sheets on all the prisoners in Abu Ghraib and what they were there for. I expected them to be terrorists, murderers, insurgents. I look down this roster and see petty theft, public drunkenness, forged coalition documents. These people are here for petty civilian crimes."

"These aren't terrorists," he recalled thinking. "These aren't our enemies. They're just ordinary people, and we're treating them this harshly." Specialist Delgado ultimately applied for conscientious objector status, which the Army approved in April 2004.

The Enemy

American troops in Iraq lacked the training and support to communicate with or even understand Iraqi civilians, according to nineteen interviewees. Few spoke or read Arabic. They were offered little or no cultural or historical education about the country they controlled. Translators were either in short supply or unqualified. Any stereotypes about Islam and Arabs that soldiers and marines arrived with tended to solidify rapidly in the close confines of the military and the risky streets of Iraqi cities into a crude racism.

As Spc. Josh Middleton, 23, of New York City, who served in Baghdad and Mosul with the Second Battalion, Eighty-Second Airborne Division, from December 2004 to March 2005, pointed out, 20-year-old soldiers went from the humiliation of training--"getting yelled at every day if you have a dirty weapon"--to the streets of Iraq, where "it's like life and death. And 40-year-old Iraqi men look at us with fear and we can--do you know what I mean?--we have this power that you can't have. That's really liberating. Life is just knocked down to this primal level."

In Iraq, Specialist Middleton said, "a lot of guys really supported that whole concept that, you know, if they don't speak English and they have darker skin, they're not as human as us, so we can do what we want."

In the scramble to get ready for Iraq, troops rarely learned more than how to say a handful of words in Arabic, depending mostly on a single manual, A Country Handbook, a Field-Ready Reference Publication, published by the Defense Department in September 2002. The book, as described by eight soldiers who received it, has pictures of Iraqi military vehicles, diagrams of how the Iraqi army is structured, images of Iraqi traffic signals and signs, and about four pages of basic Arabic phrases such as Do you speak English? I am an American. I am lost.

Iraqi culture, identity and customs were, according to at least a dozen soldiers and marines interviewed by The Nation, openly ridiculed in racist terms, with troops deriding "haji food," "haji music" and "haji homes." In the Muslim world, the word "haji" denotes someone who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca. But it is now used by American troops in the same way "gook" was used in Vietnam or "raghead" in Afghanistan.

"You can honestly see how the Iraqis in general or even Arabs in general are being, you know, kind of like dehumanized," said Specialist Englehart. "Like it was very common for United States soldiers to call them derogatory terms, like camel jockeys or Jihad Johnny or, you know, sand nigger."

According to Sergeant Millard and several others interviewed, "It becomes this racialized hatred towards Iraqis." And this racist language, as Specialist Harmon pointed out, likely played a role in the level of violence directed at Iraqi civilians. "By calling them names," he said, "they're not people anymore. They're just objects."

Several interviewees emphasized that the military did set up, for training purposes, mock Iraqi villages peopled with actors who played the parts of civilians and insurgents. But they said that the constant danger in Iraq, and the fear it engendered, swiftly overtook such training.

"They were the law," Specialist Harmon said of the soldiers in his unit in Al-Rashidiya, near Baghdad, which participated in raids and convoys. "They were very mean, very mean-spirited to them. A lot of cursing at them. And I'm like, Dude, these people don't understand what you're saying.... They used to say a lot, 'Oh, they'll understand when the gun is in their face.'"

Those few veterans who said they did try to reach out to Iraqis encountered fierce hostility from those in their units.

"I had the night shift one night at the aid station," said Specialist Resta, recounting one such incident. "We were told from the first second that we arrived there, and this was in writing on the wall in our aid station, that we were not to treat Iraqi civilians unless they were about to die.... So these guys in the guard tower radio in, and they say they've got an Iraqi out there that's asking for a doctor.

"So it's really late at night, and I walk out there to the gate and I don't even see the guy at first, and they point out to him and he's standing there. Well, I mean he's sitting, leaned up against this concrete barrier--like the median of the highway--we had as you approached the gate. And he's sitting there leaned up against it and, uh, he's out there, if you want to go and check on him, he's out there. So I'm sitting there waiting for an interpreter, and the interpreter comes and I just walk out there in the open. And this guy, he has the shit kicked out of him. He was missing two teeth. He has a huge laceration on his head, he looked like he had broken his eye orbit and had some kind of injury to his knee."

The Iraqi, Specialist Resta said, pleaded with him in broken English for help. He told Specialist Resta that there were men near the base who were waiting to kill him.

"I open a bag and I'm trying to get bandages out and the guys in the guard tower are yelling at me, 'Get that fucking haji out of here,'" Specialist Resta said. "And I just look back at them and ignored them, and then they were saying, you know, 'He doesn't look like he's about to die to me,' 'Tell him to go cry back to the fuckin' IP [Iraqi police],' and, you know, a whole bunch of stuff like that. So, you know, I'm kind of ignoring them and trying to get the story from this guy, and our doctor rolls up in an ambulance and from thirty to forty meters away looks out and says, shakes his head and says, 'You know, he looks fine, he's gonna be all right,' and walks back to the passenger side of the ambulance, you know, kind of like, Get your ass over here and drive me back up to the clinic. So I'm standing there, and the whole time both this doctor and the guards are yelling at me, you know, to get rid of this guy, and at one point they're yelling at me, when I'm saying, 'No, let's at least keep this guy here overnight, until it's light out,' because they wanted me to send him back out into the city, where he told me that people were waiting for him to kill him.

"When I asked if he'd be allowed to stay there, at least until it was light out, the response was, 'Are you hearing this shit? I think Doc is part fucking haji,'" Specialist Resta said.

Specialist Resta gave in to the pressure and denied the man aid. The interpreter, he recalled, was furious, telling him that he had effectively condemned the man to death.

"So I walk inside the gate and the interpreter helps him up and the guy turns around to walk away and the guys in the guard tower go, say, 'Tell him that if he comes back tonight he's going to get fucking shot,'" Specialist Resta said. "And the interpreter just stared at them and looked at me and then looked back at them, and they nod their head, like, Yeah, we mean it. So he yells it to the Iraqi and the guy just flinches and turns back over his shoulder, and the interpreter says it again and he starts walking away again, you know, crying like a little kid. And that was that."


Two dozen soldiers interviewed said that this callousness toward Iraqi civilians was particularly evident in the operation of supply convoys--operations in which they participated. These convoys are the arteries that sustain the occupation, ferrying items such as water, mail, maintenance parts, sewage, food and fuel across Iraq. And these strings of tractor-trailers, operated by KBR (formerly Kellogg, Brown & Root) and other private contractors, required daily protection by the US military. Typically, according to these interviewees, supply convoys consisted of twenty to thirty trucks stretching half a mile down the road, with a Humvee military escort in front and back and at least one more in the center. Soldiers and marines also sometimes accompanied the drivers in the cabs of the tractor-trailers.

These convoys, ubiquitous in Iraq, were also, to many Iraqis, sources of wanton destruction.

According to descriptions culled from interviews with thirty-eight veterans who rode in convoys--guarding such runs as Kuwait to Nasiriya, Nasiriya to Baghdad and Balad to Kirkuk--when these columns of vehicles left their heavily fortified compounds they usually roared down the main supply routes, which often cut through densely populated areas, reaching speeds over sixty miles an hour. Governed by the rule that stagnation increases the likelihood of attack, convoys leapt meridians in traffic jams, ignored traffic signals, swerved without warning onto sidewalks, scattering pedestrians, and slammed into civilian vehicles, shoving them off the road. Iraqi civilians, including children, were frequently run over and killed. Veterans said they sometimes shot drivers of civilian cars that moved into convoy formations or attempted to pass convoys as a warning to other drivers to get out of the way.

"A moving target is harder to hit than a stationary one," said Sgt. Ben Flanders, 28, a National Guardsman from Concord, New Hampshire, who served in Balad with the 172nd Mountain Infantry for eleven months beginning in March 2004. Flanders ran convoy routes out of Camp Anaconda, about thirty miles north of Baghdad. "So speed was your friend. And certainly in terms of IED detonation, absolutely, speed and spacing were the two things that could really determine whether or not you were going to get injured or killed or if they just completely missed, which happened."

Following an explosion or ambush, soldiers in the heavily armed escort vehicles often fired indiscriminately in a furious effort to suppress further attacks, according to three veterans. The rapid bursts from belt-fed .50-caliber machine guns and SAWs (Squad Automatic Weapons, which can fire as many as 1,000 rounds per minute) left many civilians wounded or dead.

"One example I can give you, you know, we'd be cruising down the road in a convoy and all of the sudden, an IED blows up," said Spc. Ben Schrader, 27, of Grand Junction, Colorado. He served in Baquba with the 263rd Armor Battalion, First Infantry Division, from February 2004 to February 2005. "And, you know, you've got these scared kids on these guns, and they just start opening fire. And there could be innocent people everywhere. And I've seen this, I mean, on numerous occasions where innocent people died because we're cruising down and a bomb goes off."

Several veterans said that IEDs, the preferred weapon of the Iraqi insurgency, were one of their greatest fears. Since the invasion in March 2003, IEDs have been responsible for killing more US troops--39.2 percent of the more than 3,500 killed--than any other method, according to the Brookings Institution, which monitors deaths in Iraq. This past May, IED attacks claimed ninety lives, the highest number of fatalities from roadside bombs since the beginning of the war.

"The second you left the gate of your base, you were always worried," said Sergeant Flatt. "You were constantly watchful for IEDs. And you could never see them. I mean, it's just by pure luck who's getting killed and who's not. If you've been in firefights earlier that day or that week, you're even more stressed and insecure to a point where you're almost trigger-happy."

Sergeant Flatt was among twenty-four veterans who said they had witnessed or heard stories from those in their unit of unarmed civilians being shot or run over by convoys. These incidents, they said, were so numerous that many were never reported.

Sergeant Flatt recalled an incident in January 2005 when a convoy drove past him on one of the main highways in Mosul. "A car following got too close to their convoy," he said. "Basically, they took shots at the car. Warning shots, I don't know. But they shot the car. Well, one of the bullets happened to just pierce the windshield and went straight into the face of this woman in the car. And she was--well, as far as I know--instantly killed. I didn't pull her out of the car or anything. Her son was driving the car, and she had her--she had three little girls in the back seat. And they came up to us, because we were actually sitting in a defensive position right next to the hospital, the main hospital in Mosul, the civilian hospital. And they drove up and she was obviously dead. And the girls were crying."

On July 30, 2004, Sergeant Flanders was riding in the tail vehicle of a convoy on a pitch-black night, traveling from Camp Anaconda south to Taji, just north of Baghdad, when his unit was attacked with small-arms fire and RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades). He was about to get on the radio to warn the vehicle in front of him about the ambush when he saw his gunner unlock the turret and swivel it around in the direction of the shooting. He fired his MK-19, a 40-millimeter automatic grenade launcher capable of discharging up to 350 rounds per minute.

"He's just holding the trigger down and it wound up jamming, so he didn't get off as many shots maybe as he wanted," Sergeant Flanders recalled. "But I said, 'How many did you get off?' 'Cause I knew they would be asking that. He said, 'Twenty-three.' He launched twenty-three grenades....

"I remember looking out the window and I saw a little hut, a little Iraqi house with a light on.... We were going so fast and obviously your adrenaline's--you're like tunnel vision, so you can't really see what's going on, you know? And it's dark out and all that stuff. I couldn't really see where the grenades were exploding, but it had to be exploding around the house or maybe even hit the house. Who knows? Who knows? And we were the last vehicle. We can't stop."

Convoys did not slow down or attempt to brake when civilians inadvertently got in front of their vehicles, according to the veterans who described them. Sgt. Kelly Dougherty, 29, from Cañon City, Colorado, was based at the Talil Air Base in Nasiriya with the Colorado National Guard's 220th Military Police Company for a year beginning in February 2003. She recounted one incident she investigated in January 2004 on a six-lane highway south of Nasiriya that resembled numerous incidents described by other veterans.

"It's like very barren desert, so most of the people that live there, they're nomadic or they live in just little villages and have, like, camels and goats and stuff," she recalled. "There was then a little boy--I would say he was about 10 because we didn't see the accident; we responded to it with the investigative team--a little Iraqi boy and he was crossing the highway with his, with three donkeys. A military convoy, transportation convoy driving north, hit him and the donkeys and killed all of them. When we got there, there were the dead donkeys and there was a little boy on the side of the road.

"We saw him there and, you know, we were upset because the convoy didn't even stop," she said. "They really, judging by the skid marks, they hardly even slowed down. But, I mean, that's basically--basically, your order is that you never stop."

Among supply convoys, there were enormous disparities based on the nationality of the drivers, according to Sergeant Flanders, who estimated that he ran more than 100 convoys in Balad, Baghdad, Falluja and Baquba. When drivers were not American, the trucks were often old, slow and prone to breakdowns, he said. The convoys operated by Nepalese, Egyptian or Pakistani drivers did not receive the same level of security, although the danger was more severe because of the poor quality of their vehicles. American drivers were usually placed in convoys about half the length of those run by foreign nationals and were given superior vehicles, body armor and better security. Sergeant Flanders said troops disliked being assigned to convoys run by foreign nationals, especially since, when the aging vehicles broke down, they had to remain and protect them until they could be recovered.

"It just seemed insane to run civilians around the country," he added. "I mean, Iraq is such a security concern and it's so dangerous and yet we have KBR just riding around, unarmed.... Remember those terrible judgments that we made about what Iraq would look like postconflict? I think this is another incarnation of that misjudgment, which would be that, Oh, it'll be fine. We'll put a Humvee in front, we'll put a Humvee in back, we'll put a Humvee in the middle, and we'll just run with it.

"It was just shocking to me.... I was Army trained and I had a good gunner and I had radios and I could call on the radios and I could get an airstrike if I wanted to. I could get a Medevac.... And here these guys are just tooling around. And these guys are, like, they're promised the world. They're promised $120,000, tax free, and what kind of people take those jobs? Down-on-their-luck-type people, you know? Grandmothers. There were grandmothers there. I escorted a grandmother there and she did great. We went through an ambush and one of her guys got shot, and she was cool, calm and collected. Wonderful, great, good for her. What the hell is she doing there?

"We're using these vulnerable, vulnerable convoys, which probably piss off more Iraqis than it actually helps in our relationship with them," Flanders said, "just so that we can have comfort and air-conditioning and sodas--great--and PlayStations and camping chairs and greeting cards and stupid T-shirts that say, Who's Your Baghdaddy?"


Soldiers and marines who participated in neighborhood patrols said they often used the same tactics as convoys--speed, aggressive firing--to reduce the risk of being ambushed or falling victim to IEDs. Sgt. Patrick Campbell, 29, of Camarillo, California, who frequently took part in patrols, said his unit fired often and without much warning on Iraqi civilians in a desperate bid to ward off attacks.

"Every time we got on the highway," he said, "we were firing warning shots, causing accidents all the time. Cars screeching to a stop, going into the other intersection.... The problem is, if you slow down at an intersection more than once, that's where the next bomb is going to be because you know they watch. You know? And so if you slow down at the same choke point every time, guaranteed there's going to be a bomb there next couple of days. So getting onto a freeway or highway is a choke point 'cause you have to wait for traffic to stop. So you want to go as fast as you can, and that involves added risk to all the cars around you, all the civilian cars.

"The first Iraqi I saw killed was an Iraqi who got too close to our patrol," he said. "We were coming up an on-ramp. And he was coming down the highway. And they fired warning shots and he just didn't stop. He just merged right into the convoy and they opened up on him."

This took place sometime in the spring of 2005 in Khadamiya, in the northwest corner of Baghdad, Sergeant Campbell said. His unit fired into the man's car with a 240 Bravo, a heavy machine gun. "I heard three gunshots," he said. "We get about halfway down the road and...the guy in the car got out and he's covered in blood. And this is where...the impulse is just to keep going. There's no way that this guy knows who we are. We're just like every other patrol that goes up and down this road. I looked at my lieutenant and it wasn't even a discussion. We turned around and we went back.

"So I'm treating the guy. He has three gunshot wounds to the chest. Blood everywhere. And he keeps going in and out of consciousness. And when he finally stops breathing, I have to give him CPR. I take my right hand, I lift up his chin and I take my left hand and grab the back of his head to position his head, and as I take my left hand, my hand actually goes into his cranium. So I'm actually holding this man's brain in my hand. And what I realized was I had made a mistake. I had checked for exit wounds. But what I didn't know was the Humvee behind me, after the car failed to stop after the first three rounds, had fired twenty, thirty rounds into the car. I never heard it.

"I heard three rounds, I saw three holes, no exit wounds," he said. "I thought I knew what the situation was. So I didn't even treat this guy's injury to the head. Every medic I ever told is always like, Of course, I mean, the guy got shot in the head. There's nothing you could have done. And I'm pretty sure--I mean, you can't stop bleeding in the head like that. But this guy, I'm watching this guy, who I know we shot because he got too close. His car was clean. There was no--didn't hear it, didn't see us, whatever it was. Dies, you know, dying in my arms."

While many veterans said the killing of civilians deeply disturbed them, they also said there was no other way to safely operate a patrol.

"You don't want to shoot kids, I mean, no one does," said Sergeant Campbell, as he began to describe an incident in the summer of 2005 recounted to him by several men in his unit. "But you have this: I remember my unit was coming along this elevated overpass. And this kid is in the trash pile below, pulls out an AK-47 and just decides he's going to start shooting. And you gotta understand...when you have spent nine months in a war zone, where no one--every time you've been shot at, you've never seen the person shooting at you, and you could never shoot back. Here's some guy, some 14-year-old kid with an AK-47, decides he's going to start shooting at this convoy. It was the most obscene thing you've ever seen. Every person got out and opened fire on this kid. Using the biggest weapons we could find, we ripped him to shreds." Sergeant Campbell was not present at the incident, which took place in Khadamiya, but he saw photographs and heard descriptions from several eyewitnesses in his unit.

"Everyone was so happy, like this release that they finally killed an insurgent," he said. "Then when they got there, they realized it was just a little kid. And I know that really fucked up a lot of people in the head.... They'd show all the pictures and some people were really happy, like, Oh, look what we did. And other people were like, I don't want to see that ever again."

The killing of unarmed Iraqis was so common many of the troops said it became an accepted part of the daily landscape. "The ground forces were put in that position," said First Lieut. Wade Zirkle of Shenandoah County, Virginia, who fought in Nasiriya and Falluja with the Second Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion from March to May 2003. "You got a guy trying to kill me but he's firing from houses...with civilians around him, women and children. You know, what do you do? You don't want to risk shooting at him and shooting children at the same time. But at the same time, you don't want to die either."

Sergeant Dougherty recounted an incident north of Nasiriya in December 2003, when her squad leader shot an Iraqi civilian in the back. The shooting was described to her by a woman in her unit who treated the injury. "It was just, like, the mentality of my squad leader was like, Oh, we have to kill them over here so I don't have to kill them back in Colorado," she said. "He just, like, seemed to view every Iraqi as like a potential terrorist."

Several interviewees said that, on occasion, these killings were justified by framing innocents as terrorists, typically following incidents when American troops fired on crowds of unarmed Iraqis. The troops would detain those who survived, accusing them of being insurgents, and plant AK-47s next to the bodies of those they had killed to make it seem as if the civilian dead were combatants. "It would always be an AK because they have so many of these weapons lying around," said Specialist Aoun. Cavalry scout Joe Hatcher, 26, of San Diego, said 9-millimeter handguns and even shovels--to make it look like the noncombatant was digging a hole to plant an IED--were used as well.

"Every good cop carries a throwaway," said Hatcher, who served with the Fourth Cavalry Regiment, First Squadron, in Ad Dawar, halfway between Tikrit and Samarra, from February 2004 to March 2005. "If you kill someone and they're unarmed, you just drop one on 'em." Those who survived such shootings then found themselves imprisoned as accused insurgents.

In the winter of 2004, Sergeant Campbell was driving near a particularly dangerous road in Abu Gharth, a town west of Baghdad, when he heard gunshots. Sergeant Campbell, who served as a medic in Abu Gharth with the 256th Infantry Brigade from November 2004 to October 2005, was told that Army snipers had fired fifty to sixty rounds at two insurgents who'd gotten out of their car to plant IEDs. One alleged insurgent was shot in the knees three or four times, treated and evacuated on a military helicopter, while the other man, who was treated for glass shards, was arrested and detained.

"I come to find out later that, while I was treating him, the snipers had planted--after they had searched and found nothing--they had planted bomb-making materials on the guy because they didn't want to be investigated for the shoot," Sergeant Campbell said. (He showed The Nation a photograph of one sniper with a radio in his pocket that he later planted as evidence.) "And to this day, I mean, I remember taking that guy to Abu Ghraib prison--the guy who didn't get shot--and just saying 'I'm sorry' because there was not a damn thing I could do about it.... I mean, I guess I have a moral obligation to say something, but I would have been kicked out of the unit in a heartbeat. I would've been a traitor."


The US military checkpoints dotted across Iraq, according to twenty-six soldiers and marines who were stationed at them or supplied them--in locales as diverse as Tikrit, Baghdad, Karbala, Samarra, Mosul and Kirkuk--were often deadly for civilians. Unarmed Iraqis were mistaken for insurgents, and the rules of engagement were blurred. Troops, fearing suicide bombs and rocket-propelled grenades, often fired on civilian cars. Nine of those soldiers said they had seen civilians being shot at checkpoints. These incidents were so common that the military could not investigate each one, some veterans said.

"Most of the time, it's a family," said Sergeant Cannon, who served at half a dozen checkpoints in Tikrit. "Every now and then, there is a bomb, you know, that's the scary part."

There were some permanent checkpoints stationed across the country, but for unsuspecting civilians, "flash checkpoints" were far more dangerous, according to eight veterans who were involved in setting them up. These impromptu security perimeters, thrown up at a moment's notice and quickly dismantled, were generally designed to catch insurgents in the act of trafficking weapons or explosives, people violating military-imposed curfews or suspects in bombings or drive-by shootings.

Iraqis had no way of knowing where these so-called "tactical control points" would crop up, interviewees said, so many would turn a corner at a high speed and became the unwitting targets of jumpy soldiers and marines.

"For me, it was really random," said Lieutenant Van Engelen. "I just picked a spot on a map that I thought was a high-volume area that might catch some people. We just set something up for half an hour to an hour and then we'd move on." There were no briefings before setting up checkpoints, he said.

Temporary checkpoints were safer for troops, according to the veterans, because they were less likely to serve as static targets for insurgents. "You do it real quick because you don't always want to announce your presence," said First Sgt. Perry Jefferies, 46, of Waco, Texas, who served with the Fourth Infantry Division from April to October 2003.

The temporary checkpoints themselves varied greatly. Lieutenant Van Engelen set up checkpoints using orange cones and fifty yards of concertina wire. He would assign a soldier to control the flow of traffic and direct drivers through the wire, while others searched vehicles, questioned drivers and asked for identification. He said signs in English and Arabic warned Iraqis to stop; at night, troops used lasers, glow sticks or tracer bullets to signal cars through. When those weren't available, troops improvised by using flashlights sent them by family and friends back home.

"Baghdad is not well lit," said Sergeant Flanders. "There's not street lights everywhere. You can't really tell what's going on."

Other troops, however, said they constructed tactical control points that were hardly visible to drivers. "We didn't have cones, we didn't have nothing," recalled Sergeant Bocanegra, who said he served at more than ten checkpoints in Tikrit. "You literally put rocks on the side of the road and tell them to stop. And of course some cars are not going to see the rocks. I wouldn't even see the rocks myself."

According to Sergeant Flanders, the primary concern when assembling checkpoints was protecting the troops serving there. Humvees were positioned so that they could quickly drive away if necessary, and the heavy weapons mounted on them were placed "in the best possible position" to fire on vehicles that attempted to pass through the checkpoint without stopping. And the rules of engagement were often improvised, soldiers said.

"We were given a long list of that kind of stuff and, to be honest, a lot of the time we would look at it and throw it away," said Staff Sgt. James Zuelow, 39, a National Guardsman from Juneau, Alaska, who served in Baghdad in the Third Battalion, 297th Infantry Regiment, for a year beginning in January 2005. "A lot of it was written at such a high level it didn't apply."

At checkpoints, troops had to make split-second decisions on when to use lethal force, and veterans said fear often clouded their judgment.

Sgt. Matt Mardan, 31, of Minneapolis, served as a Marine scout sniper outside Falluja in 2004 and 2005 with the Third Battalion, First Marines. "People think that's dangerous, and it is," he said. "But I would do that any day of the week rather than be a marine sitting on a fucking checkpoint looking at cars."

No car that passes through a checkpoint is beyond suspicion, said Sergeant Dougherty. "You start looking at everyone as a criminal.... Is this the car that's going to try to run into me? Is this the car that has explosives in it? Or is this just someone who's confused?" The perpetual uncertainty, she said, is mentally exhausting and physically debilitating.

"In the moment, what's passing through your head is, Is this person a threat? Do I shoot to stop or do I shoot to kill?" said Lieutenant Morgenstein, who served in Al Anbar.

Sergeant Mejía recounted an incident in Ramadi in July 2003 when an unarmed man drove with his young son too close to a checkpoint. The father was decapitated in front of the small, terrified boy by a member of Sergeant Mejía's unit firing a heavy .50-caliber machine gun. By then, said Sergeant Mejía, who responded to the scene after the fact, "this sort of killing of civilians had long ceased to arouse much interest or even comment." The next month, Sergeant Mejía returned stateside for a two-week rest and refused to go back, launching a public protest over the treatment of Iraqis. (He was charged with desertion, sentenced to one year in prison and given a bad-conduct discharge.)

During the summer of 2005, Sergeant Millard, who served as an assistant to a general in Tikrit, attended a briefing on a checkpoint shooting, at which his role was to flip PowerPoint slides.

"This unit sets up this traffic control point, and this 18-year-old kid is on top of an armored Humvee with a .50-caliber machine gun," he said. "This car speeds at him pretty quick and he makes a split-second decision that that's a suicide bomber, and he presses the butterfly trigger and puts 200 rounds in less than a minute into this vehicle. It killed the mother, a father and two kids. The boy was aged 4 and the daughter was aged 3. And they briefed this to the general. And they briefed it gruesome. I mean, they had pictures. They briefed it to him. And this colonel turns around to this full division staff and says, 'If these fucking hajis learned to drive, this shit wouldn't happen.'"

Whether or not commanding officers shared this attitude, interviewees said, troops were rarely held accountable for shooting civilians at checkpoints. Eight veterans described the prevailing attitude among them as "Better to be tried by twelve men than carried by six." Since the number of troops tried for killing civilians is so scant, interviewees said, they would risk court-martial over the possibility of injury or death.

Rules of Engagement

Indeed, several troops said the rules of engagement were fluid and designed to insure their safety above all else. Some said they were simply told they were authorized to shoot if they felt threatened, and what constituted a risk to their safety was open to wide interpretation. "Basically it always came down to self-defense and better them than you," said Sgt. Bobby Yen, 28, of Atherton, California, who covered a variety of Army activities in Baghdad and Mosul as part of the 222nd Broadcast Operations Detachment for one year beginning in November 2003.

"Cover your own butt was the first rule of engagement," Lieutenant Van Engelen confirmed. "Someone could look at me the wrong way and I could claim my safety was in threat."

Lack of a uniform policy from service to service, base to base and year to year forced troops to rely on their own judgment, Sergeant Jefferies explained. "We didn't get straight-up rules," he said. "You got things like, 'Don't be aggressive' or 'Try not to shoot if you don't have to.' Well, what does that mean?"

Prior to deployment, Sergeant Flanders said, troops were trained on the five S's of escalation of force: Shout a warning, Shove (physically restrain), Show a weapon, Shoot non-lethal ammunition in a vehicle's engine block or tires, and Shoot to kill. Some troops said they carried the rules in their pockets or helmets on a small laminated card. "The escalation-of-force methodology was meant to be a guide to determine course of actions you should attempt before you shoot," he said. "'Shove' might be a step that gets skipped in a given situation. In vehicles, at night, how does 'Shout' work? Each soldier is not only drilled on the five S's but their inherent right for self-defense."

Some interviewees said their commanders discouraged this system of escalation. "There's no such thing as warning shots," Specialist Resta said he was told during his predeployment training at Fort Bragg. "I even specifically remember being told that it was better to kill them than to have somebody wounded and still alive."

Lieutenant Morgenstein said that when he arrived in Iraq in August 2004, the rules of engagement barred the use of warning shots. "We were trained that if someone is not armed, and they are not a threat, you never fire a warning shot because there is no need to shoot at all," he said. "You signal to them with some other means than bullets. If they are armed and they are a threat, you never fire a warning shot because...that just gives them a chance to kill you. I don't recall at this point if this was an ROE [rule of engagement] explicitly or simply part of our consistent training." But later on, he said, "we were told the ROE was changed" and that warning shots were now explicitly allowed in certain circumstances.

Sergeant Westphal said that by the time he arrived in Iraq earlier in 2004, the rules of engagement for checkpoints were more refined--at least where he served with the Army in Tikrit. "If they didn't stop, you were to fire a warning shot," said Sergeant Westphal. "If they still continued to come, you were instructed to escalate and point your weapon at their car. And if they still didn't stop, then, if you felt you were in danger and they were about to run your checkpoint or blow you up, you could engage."

In his initial training, Lieutenant Morgenstein said, marines were cautioned against the use of warning shots because "others around you could be hurt by the stray bullet," and in fact such incidents were not unusual. One evening in Baghdad, Sergeant Zuelow recalled, a van roared up to a checkpoint where another platoon in his company was stationed and a soldier fired a warning shot that bounced off the ground and killed the van's passenger. "That was a big wake-up call," he said, "and after that we discouraged warning shots of any kind."

Many checkpoint incidents went unreported, a number of veterans indicated, and the civilians killed were not included in the overall casualty count. Yet judging by the number of checkpoint shootings described to The Nation by veterans we interviewed, such shootings appear to be quite common.

Sergeant Flatt recounted one incident in Mosul in January 2005 when an elderly couple zipped past a checkpoint. "The car was approaching what was in my opinion a very poorly marked checkpoint, or not even a checkpoint at all, and probably didn't even see the soldiers," he said. "The guys got spooked and decided it was a possible threat, so they shot up the car. And they literally sat in the car for the next three days while we drove by them day after day."

In another incident, a man was driving his wife and three children in a pickup truck on a major highway north of the Euphrates, near Ramadi, on a rainy day in February or March 2005. When the man failed to stop at a checkpoint, a marine in a light-armored vehicle fired on the car, killing the wife and critically wounding the son. According to Lieutenant Morgenstein, a civil affairs officer, a JAG official gave the family condolences and about $3,000 in compensation. "I mean, it's a terrible thing because there's no way to pay money to replace a family member," said Lieutenant Morgenstein, who was sometimes charged with apologizing to families for accidental deaths and offering them such compensation, called "condolence payments" or "solatia." "But it's an attempt to compensate for some of the costs of the funeral and all the expenses. It's an attempt to make a good-faith offering in a sign of regret and to say, you know, We didn't want this to happen. This is by accident." According to a May report from the Government Accountability Office, the Defense Department issued nearly $31 million in solatia and condolence payments between 2003 and 2006 to civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan who were "killed, injured or incur[red] property damage as a result of U.S. or coalition forces' actions during combat." The study characterizes the payments as "expressions of sympathy or remorse...but not an admission of legal liability or fault." In Iraq, according to the report, civilians are paid up to $2,500 for death, as much as $1,500 for serious injuries and $200 or more for minor injuries.

On one occasion, in Ramadi in late 2004, a man happened to drive down a road with his family minutes after a suicide bomber had hit a barrier during a cordon-and-search operation, Lieutenant Morgenstein said. The car's brakes failed and marines fired. The wife and her two children managed to escape from the car, but the man was fatally hit. The family was mistakenly told that he had survived, so Lieutenant Morgenstein had to set the record straight. "I've never done this before," he said. "I had to go tell this woman that her husband was actually dead. We gave her money, we gave her, like, ten crates of water, we gave the kids, I remember, maybe it was soccer balls and toys. We just didn't really know what else to do."

One such incident, which took place in Falluja in March 2003 and was reported on at the time by the BBC, even involved a group of plainclothes Iraqi policemen. Sergeant Mejía was told about the event by several soldiers who witnessed it.

The police officers were riding in a white pickup truck, chasing a BMW that had raced through a checkpoint. "The guy that the cops were chasing got through and I guess the soldiers got scared or nervous, so when the pickup truck came they opened fire on it," Sergeant Mejía said. "The Iraqi police tried to cease fire, but when the soldiers would not stop they defended themselves and there was a firefight between the soldiers and the cops. Not a single soldier was killed, but eight cops were."


A few veterans said checkpoint shootings resulted from basic miscommunication, incorrectly interpreted signals or cultural ignorance.

"As an American, you just put your hand up with your palm towards somebody and your fingers pointing to the sky," said Sergeant Jefferies, who was responsible for supplying fixed checkpoints in Diyala twice a day. "That means stop to most Americans, and that's a military hand signal that soldiers are taught that means stop. Closed fist, please freeze, but an open hand means stop. That's a sign you make at a checkpoint. To an Iraqi person, that means, Hello, come here. So you can see the problem that develops real quick. So you get on a checkpoint, and the soldiers think they're saying stop, stop, and the Iraqis think they're saying come here, come here. And the soldiers start hollering, so they try to come there faster. So soldiers holler more, and pretty soon you're shooting pregnant women."

"You can't tell the difference between these people at all," said Sergeant Mardan. "They all look Arab. They all have beards, facial hair. Honestly, it'll be like walking into China and trying to tell who's in the Communist Party and who's not. It's impossible."

But other veterans said that the frequent checkpoint shootings resulted from a lack of accountability. Critical decisions, they said, were often left to the individual soldier's or marine's discretion, and the military regularly endorsed these decisions without inquiry.

"Some units were so tight on their command and control that every time they fired one bullet, they had to write an investigative report," said Sergeant Campbell. But "we fired thousands of rounds without ever filing reports," he said. "And so it has to do with how much interaction and, you know, the relationship of the commanders to their units."

Cpt. Megan O'Connor said that in her unit every shooting incident was reported. O'Connor, 30, of Venice, California, served in Tikrit with the Fiftieth Main Support Battalion in the National Guard for a year beginning in December 2004, after which she joined the 2-28 Brigade Combat Team in Ramadi. But Captain O'Connor said that after viewing the reports and consulting with JAG officers, the colonel in her command would usually absolve the soldiers. "The bottom line is he always said, you know, We weren't there," she said. "We'll give them the benefit of the doubt, but make sure that they know that this is not OK and we're watching them."

Probes into roadblock killings were mere formalities, a few veterans said. "Even after a thorough investigation, there's not much that could be done," said Specialist Reppenhagen. "It's just the nature of the situation you're in. That's what's wrong. It's not individual atrocity. It's the fact that the entire war is an atrocity."

The March 2005 shooting death of Italian secret service agent Nicola Calipari at a checkpoint in Baghdad, however, caused the military to finally crack down on such accidents, said Sergeant Campbell, who served there. Yet this did not necessarily lead to greater accountability. "Needless to say, our unit was under a lot of scrutiny not to shoot any more people than we already had to because we were kind of a run-and-gun place," said Sergeant Campbell. "One of the things they did was they started saying, Every time you shoot someone or shoot a car, you have to fill out a 15-[6] or whatever the investigation is. Well, that investigation is really onerous for the soldiers. It's like a 'You're guilty' investigation almost--it feels as though. So commanders just stopped reporting shootings. There was no incentive for them to say, Yeah, we shot so-and-so's car."

(Sergeant Campbell said he believes the number of checkpoint shootings did decrease after the high-profile incident, but that was mostly because soldiers were now required to use pinpoint lasers at night. "I think they reduced, from when we started to when we left, the number of Iraqi civilians dying at checkpoints from one a day to one a week," he said. "Inherent in that number, like all statistics, is those are reported shootings.")

Fearing a backlash against these shootings of civilians, Lieutenant Morgenstein gave a class in late 2004 at his battalion headquarters in Ramadi to all the battalion's officers and most of its senior noncommissioned officers during which he asked them to put themselves in the Iraqis' place.

"I told them the obvious, which is, everyone we wound or kill that isn't an insurgent, hurts us," he said. "Because I guarantee you, down the road, that means a wounded or killed marine or soldier.... One, it's the right thing to do to not wound or shoot someone who isn't an insurgent. But two, out of self-preservation and self-interest, we don't want that to happen because they're going to come back with a vengeance."


The Nation contacted the Pentagon with a detailed list of questions and a request for comment on descriptions of specific patterns of abuse. These questions included requests to explain the rules of engagement, the operation of convoys, patrols and checkpoints, the investigation of civilian shootings, the detention of innocent Iraqis based on false intelligence and the alleged practice of "throwaway guns." The Pentagon referred us to the Multi-National Force Iraq Combined Press Information Center in Baghdad, where a spokesperson sent us a response by e-mail.

"As a matter of operational security, we don't discuss specific tactics, techniques, or procedures (TTPs) used to identify and engage hostile forces," the spokesperson wrote, in part. "Our service members are trained to protect themselves at all times. We are facing a thinking enemy who learns and adjusts to our operations. Consequently, we adapt our TTPs to ensure maximum combat effectiveness and safety of our troops. Hostile forces hide among the civilian populace and attack civilians and coalition forces. Coalition forces take great care to protect and minimize risks to civilians in this complex combat environment, and we investigate cases where our actions may have resulted in the injury of innocents.... We hold our Soldiers and Marines to a high standard and we investigate reported improper use of force in Iraq."

This response is consistent with the military's refusal to comment on rules of engagement, arguing that revealing these rules threatens operations and puts troops at risk. But on February 9, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, then coalition spokesman, writing on the coalition force website, insisted that the rules of engagement for troops in Iraq were clear. "The law of armed conflict requires that, to use force, 'combatants' must distinguish individuals presenting a threat from innocent civilians," he wrote. "This basic principle is accepted by all disciplined militaries. In the counterinsurgency we are now fighting, disciplined application of force is even more critical because our enemies camouflage themselves in the civilian population. Our success in Iraq depends on our ability to treat the civilian population with humanity and dignity, even as we remain ready to immediately defend ourselves or Iraqi civilians when a threat is detected."

When asked about veterans' testimony that civilian deaths at the hands of coalition forces often went unreported and typically went unpunished, the Press Information Center spokesperson replied only, "Any allegations of misconduct are treated seriously.... Soldiers have an obligation to immediately report any misconduct to their chain of command immediately."

Last September, Senator Patrick Leahy, then ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, called a Pentagon report on its procedures for recording civilian casualties in Iraq "an embarrassment." "It totals just two pages," Leahy said, "and it makes clear that the Pentagon does very little to determine the cause of civilian casualties or to keep a record of civilian victims."

In the four long years of the war, the mounting civilian casualties have already taken a heavy toll--both on the Iraqi people and on the US servicemembers who have witnessed, or caused, their suffering. Iraqi physicians, overseen by epidemiologists at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health, published a study late last year in the British medical journal The Lancet that estimated that 601,000 civilians have died since the March 2003 invasion as the result of violence. The researchers found that coalition forces were responsible for 31 percent of these violent deaths, an estimate they said could be "conservative," since "deaths were not classified as being due to coalition forces if households had any uncertainty about the responsible party."

"Just the carnage, all the blown-up civilians, blown-up bodies that I saw," Specialist Englehart said. "I just--I started thinking, like, Why? What was this for?"

"It just gets frustrating," Specialist Reppenhagen said. "Instead of blaming your own command for putting you there in that situation, you start blaming the Iraqi people.... So it's a constant psychological battle to try to, you know, keep--to stay humane."

"I felt like there was this enormous reduction in my compassion for people," said Sergeant Flanders. "The only thing that wound up mattering is myself and the guys that I was with. And everybody else be damned."
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