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Rules of Engagement? A Social Anatomy of an American War Crime. Operation Iron Triangle, Iraq
Algora Publishing | 2008 | ISBN: 0875866727 | Pages: 194 | PDF | 1.10 MB
Blackwater, Abu Ghraib and other scandals in Iraq were presaged by the murderous Operation Iron Triangle in May 2006 when US soldiers were ordered to kill all Iraqis of military age. The soldiers were imprisoned; the officer was merely reprimanded. Mestrovic details the American leadership s fake commitment to the Geneva Conventions and the rule of law, fake due process for defendants, fake goals of promoting democracy, and compulsion to repeat our errors in Vietnam.
This book stands alone in analyzing a war crime from Iraq that involved the murder of noncombatants, questionable rules of engagement, and the doctrine of command responsibility.
Although it amounts to a murder mystery, the focus is on the Rules of Engagement, which is a topic that until now has been completely ignored in books about the war in Iraq. What were the soldiers orders, were they related to other, similar ROE in Iraq and similar killings; and why was there so much ambivalence on the part of the prosecutors and investigators in deciding exactly what was lawful versus unlawful in this case?
How is a war crime defined, and who decides who was at fault -- on the basis of what evidence? What if the evidence gathered tends to raise inconvenient questions?
At first, the US Army pronounced Operation Iron Triangle mission accomplished. About fifteen days later, questions were raised about the rules of engagement, which were to kill every military aged male on sight.
The following month, three soldiers were charged with murder. Three sets of sworn statements were given by the defendants in the case, during three different time periods, and intended as the basis for testimony at their trial. But the statements present three distinct versions of what happened.
The Prosecution avoided going to trial by accepting the defendants' plea bargains. The officers who issued the unlawful ROE were never prosecuted and neither was anyone further up the chain of command.
At The Hague, the former President of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic, as well as many other high-ranking commanders, were put on trial for war crimes under the doctrine of command responsibility. In the United States, the contrast in perceptions of responsibility for war crimes could not be more pronounced. Low-ranking soldiers were court-martialed under the principle enshrined in the UCMJ that obedience to unlawful orders is not a defense.
Both attitudes are inspired by the Nuremberg trials, albeit in starkly divergent ways. The ICTY seems to reject the excuse for World War II atrocities, namely, We didn t know, and insists that the commander should have known what his or her subordinates did unlawfully. The US military system seems to reject the excuse for World War II atrocities, namely, We were just following orders, and insists that low-ranking soldiers are responsible for obeying unlawful orders. Which approach is more just?
Far from being a cut and dry legal case, this story can be read as a mystery that will never fully resolved. Everything depends on which parts of the story are made central versus peripheral.