Quotulatiousness

August 16, 2013

“What is true for Walmart is true for al Qaeda”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Middle East — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:05

In Foreign Affairs, Jacob Shapiro looks at the management side of the terror “business”:

But the deeper part of the answer is that the managers of terrorist organizations face the same basic challenges as the managers of any large organization. What is true for Walmart is true for al Qaeda: Managers need to keep tabs on what their people are doing and devote resources to motivate their underlings to pursue the organization’s aims. In fact, terrorist managers face a much tougher challenge. Whereas most businesses have the blunt goal of maximizing profits, terrorists’ aims are more precisely calibrated: An attack that is too violent can be just as damaging to the cause as an attack that is not violent enough. Al Qaeda in Iraq learned this lesson in Anbar Province in 2006, when the local population turned against them, partly in response to the group’s violence against civilians who disagreed with it.

Terrorist leaders also face a stubborn human resources problem: Their talent pool is inherently unstable. Terrorists are obliged to seek out recruits who are predisposed to violence — that is to say, young men with a chip on their shoulder. Unsurprisingly, these recruits are not usually disposed to following orders or recognizing authority figures. Terrorist managers can craft meticulous long-term strategies, but those are of little use if the people tasked with carrying them out want to make a name for themselves right now.

Terrorist managers are also obliged to place a premium on bureaucratic control, because they lack other channels to discipline the ranks. When Walmart managers want to deal with an unruly employee or a supplier who is defaulting on a contract, they can turn to formal legal procedures. Terrorists have no such option. David Ervine, a deceased Irish Unionist politician and onetime bomb maker for the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), neatly described this dilemma to me in 2006. “We had some very heinous and counterproductive activities being carried out that the leadership didn’t punish because they had to maintain the hearts and minds within the organization,” he said, referring to a period in the late 1980s when he and the other leaders had made a strategic calculation that the Unionist cause was best served by focusing on nonviolent political competition. In Ervine’s (admittedly self-interested) telling, the UVF’s senior leaders would have ceased violence much earlier than the eventual 1994 cease-fire, but they could not do so because the rank and file would have turned on them. For terrorist managers, the only way to combat those “counterproductive activities” is to keep a tight rein on the organization. Recruiting only the most zealous will not do the trick, because, as the alleged chief of the Palestinian group Black September wrote in his memoir, “diehard extremists are either imbeciles or traitors.”

June 21, 2013

Duffelblog will probably get a lot of the “Onion article mistaken for real news” action today

Filed under: Gaming, Humour, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:15

It’s guaranteed to get on a lot of thin-skinned people’s radar:

Duffelblog - Call of JihadAmidst cries of outrage and controversy, Activision unveiled the latest addition to the Call of Duty franchise at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) last week, entitled Call of Jihad: Scourge of the Infidels. The first-person shooter, developed in conjunction with some of al-Qaeda’s top field experts, will be launched for both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 for release on September 11, 2013.

Like previous titles in the series, Call of Jihad will feature campaign, online multiplayer and a “Suicide” mode — reminiscent of “Survival” in Modern Warfare 3 — with the objective being to slaughter as many innocents as possible before a quick-reaction force arrives.

The campaign takes place in an alternate reality where infamous al-Qaeda operatives like Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi are still alive and Khalid Sheik Mohammed is a free man. The opening mission of the campaign, displayed as part of a teaser trailer at E3, takes place in the Pakistani compound raided by SEAL Team Six. The player must single-handedly dispatch the American commandos as Bin Laden escapes on a camel before time elapses.

Game developers also confirmed the martyrdom perk would always be turned on.

“It’s fucking sick!” squealed die-hard gamer Bryan Campbell, 17, of Manhattan, New York. “I give it two severed heads up!”

March 20, 2013

Barack’s secret spying club

Filed under: Government, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:23

In Reason, Jacob Sullum explains why the ruling against the promiscuous use of National Security Letters was needed:

After 9/11, Congress loosened restrictions on national security letters (NSLs), a kind of administrative subpoena, first authorized in 1986, that the FBI uses to demand information from phone companies, Internet service providers, and financial institutions. According to the Justice Department’s inspector general, NSL “requests” skyrocketed from a total of 8,500 between 1986 and 2000 to more than 56,000 in 2004 alone.

The Obama administration has made liberal use of NSLs, which in 2010 allowed the FBI to peruse information about 14,212 American citizens and permanent residents — a new record — without bothering to get clearance from a judge. If you were one of those people, the odds are that you will never know, because NSLs are almost always accompanied by instructions that prohibit recipients from discussing them.

[. . .]

Secrecy frustrates challenges to counterterrorism tactics even in the case of Obama’s most startling claim to executive power: the authority to kill people he identifies as members or allies of Al Qaeda. In January a federal judge ruled that the Freedom of Information Act does not require Obama to disclose the Justice Department memos that explain the legal rationale for this license to kill.

U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon expressed frustration with this result, saying, “I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the Executive Branch of our Government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret.” In his State of the Union address the following month, Obama promised to make his “targeting” of suspected terrorists “even more transparent.” I’ll disbelieve it when I don’t see it.

February 5, 2013

The President’s “license to kill”

Filed under: Government, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:56

At Reason, Jacob Sullum has a few concerns about the information that came to light in a Department of Justice memo leaked to the media:

The Justice Department white paper on “The Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen Who Is a Senior Operational Leader of Al-Qa’ida or an Associated Force,” noted earlier tonight by Mike Riggs, fills in the fine print of the license to kill claimed by President Obama in several ways, none of them reassuring. The main conclusion of the paper, which was obtained by NBC News, is that “it would be lawful for the United States to conduct a lethal operation outside the United States against a U.S. citizen who is a senior, operational leader of al-Qa’ida or an associated force of al-Qa’ida without violating the Constitution or…federal statutes…under the following conditions: (1) an informed, high-level official of the U.S. government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States; (2) capture is infeasible, and the United States continues to monitor whether capture becomes feasible; and (3) the operation is conducted in a manner consistent with the four fundamental principles of the laws of war governing the use of force” — i.e., “necessity, distinction, proportionality, and humanity.”

[. . .]

More generally, the white paper fleshes out the Obama administration’s argument that U.S. citizens killed by drones are getting all the process that is appropriate in the circumstances; hence the Fifth Amendment, though implicated, is not violated. And since these targeted killings are lawful acts of self-defense, the Justice Department says, they do not violate the law against killing U.S. nationals in foreign countries or the executive order banning assassination. After all, “A lawful killing in self-defense is not an assassination.” Duh.

The problem is that to accept this position, you have to put complete trust in the competence, wisdom, and ethics of the president, his underlings, and their successors. You have to believe they are properly defining and inerrantly identifying people who pose an imminent (or quasi-imminent) threat to national security and eliminating that threat through the only feasible means, which involves blowing people up from a distance. If mere mortals deserved that kind of faith, we would not need a Fifth Amendment, or the rest of the Constitution.

February 3, 2013

US poised to increase involvement in Mali

Filed under: Africa, Military, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:27

Sheldon Richman explains why it could be a problem if the American presence in northwestern Africa is further expanded:

Ominously but unsurprisingly, the U.S. military’s Africa Command wants to increase its footprint in northwest Africa. What began as low-profile assistance to France’s campaign to wrest control of northern Mali (a former colony) from unwelcome jihadists could end up becoming something more.

The Washington Post reports that Africom “is preparing to establish a drone base in northwest Africa [probably Niger] so that it can increase surveillance missions on the local affiliate of Al Qaeda and other Islamist extremist groups that American and other Western officials say pose a growing menace to the region.” But before that word “surveillance” can bring a sigh of relief, the Post adds, “For now, officials say they envision flying only unarmed surveillance drones from the base, though they have not ruled out conducting missile strikes at some point if the threat worsens.”

Meanwhile Bloomberg, citing American military officials, says Niger and the U.S. government have “reached an agreement allowing American military personnel to be stationed in the West African country and enabling them to take on Islamist militants in neighboring Mali, according to U.S. officials.… No decision has been made to station the drones.”

The irony is that surveillance drones could become the reason the “threat worsens,” and could provide the pretext to use drones armed with Hellfire missiles — the same kind used over 400 times in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, killing hundreds of noncombatants. Moving from surveillance to lethal strikes would be a boost for jihadist recruiters.

January 13, 2013

The “successes” of the drone war can only be measured in body counts

Filed under: Africa, Asia, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:48

In the Guardian, Simon Jenkins discusses the negative aspects of the drone war:

The greatest threat to world peace is not from nuclear weapons and their possible proliferation. It is from drones and their certain proliferation. Nuclear bombs are useless weapons, playthings for the powerful or those aspiring to power. Drones are now sweeping the global arms market. There are some 10,000 said to be in service, of which a thousand are armed and mostly American. Some reports say they have killed more non-combatant civilians than died in 9/11.

I have not read one independent study of the current drone wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the horn of Africa that suggests these weapons serve any strategic purpose. Their “success” is expressed solely in body count, the number of so-called “al-Qaida-linked commanders” killed. If body count were victory, the Germans would have won Stalingrad and the Americans Vietnam.

Neither the legality nor the ethics of drone attacks bear examination. Last year’s exhaustive report by lawyers from Stanford and New York universities concluded that they were in many cases illegal, killed civilians, and were militarily counter-productive. Among the deaths were an estimated 176 children. Such slaughter would have an infantry unit court-martialled. Air forces enjoy such prestige that civilian deaths are excused as a price worth paying for not jeopardising pilots’ lives.

[. . .]

Since the drone war began in earnest in 2008, there has been no decline in Taliban or al-Qaida performance attributable to it. Any let-up in recruitment is merely awaiting Nato’s departure. The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has called the attacks “in no way justifiable”. The Pakistan government, at whose territory they are increasingly directed, has withdrawn all permission.

The young Yemeni writer Ibrahim Mothana protested in the New York Times of the carnage drones are wreaking on the politics of his country, erasing “years of progress and trust-building with tribes”. Yemenis now face al-Qaida recruiters waving pictures of drone-butchered women and children in their faces. Notional membership of al-Qaida in Yemen is reported to have grown by three times since 2009.

December 27, 2012

Remember this next time you hear about a drone strike on “suspected militants”

Filed under: Media, Middle East, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:39

Matt Welch rounds up the actual events which were originally euphemistically described as a successful strike against “suspected” al Qaeda militants:

What enables such state-sanctioned murder? One crucial ingredient is highlighted in the next paragraph:

    Quoting unnamed Yemeni officials, local and international media initially described the victims of the Sept. 2 airstrike in al-Bayda governorate as al Qaeda militants.

Follow that link to the Sept. 2 Reuters article, and you’ll see this loaded lead paragraph:

    Five suspected militants linked to al Qaeda were killed by a U.S. drone attack on Sunday in central Yemen, in what appears to be stepped up strikes by unmanned aircraft on Islamists.

Note that “suspected” only modifies “militants”; Reuters treated as fact that the charred bodies were “linked to al Qaeda,” and part of a broader campaign against “Islamists” who don’t qualify as being “suspected.”

This isn’t just linguistic nitpicking of journalismese; this is how you midwife propaganda — straight from anonymous government sources who have a huge incentive to legitimize targeted death-dealing against undesirables, and unadorned with the kind of protective skepticism that such ultimate power (let alone fog of war) so richly deserves.

November 21, 2012

Upgrading the Coyote

Filed under: Cancon, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:23

Strategy Page has a bit of Canadian content now and again:

Canada has ordered upgrades for another of its 66 LAV III wheeled armored vehicles. These 66 will be equipped for reconnaissance as was its predecessor the LAV II Coyote. This vehicle went to Afghanistan a decade ago and proved enormously useful by doing long range surveillance of Taliban and al Qaeda suspects. The Coyote reconnaissance system mounted on a wheeled armored vehicle. The recon gear consists of a nine meter (30 foot) telescoping mast that contains a Doppler radar, laser rangefinder, thermal imaging sensor and video camera. The mast mounted sensors can see clearly out to 15 kilometers and identify targets (day or night) for artillery or air attack. The radar can spot targets out to 24 kilometers, but can only distinguish vehicle types (wheeled, tracked) beginning at about 12 kilometers.

[. . .]

The Coyote was originally conceived as an inexpensive replacement for air reconnaissance. But the ability of a Coyote vehicle to stay in one place and carefully track movements over a wide area for days, or weeks proved very useful for intelligence work. Five years ago Canada began a $5 billion to upgrade and expand its fleet of LAV III wheeled armored vehicles. Over the last decade, Canada has replaced its 1980s era MOWAG and older LAV II vehicles with the locally built LAV IIIs. Canada donated many of the older wheeled armored vehicles (mostly 11 ton Grizzly personnel carriers) to nations performing peacekeeping duties.

November 19, 2012

Victims of state-sponsored violence in Pakistan and Gaza

Filed under: Media, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:52

Brendan O’Neill wonders why fans of Obama’s re-election (and therefore also of his bloody record of drone strikes in Pakistan) are almost uniformly against Israel’s counter-attacks in Gaza:

All the people who two weeks ago were ecstatically cheering the re-election of Barack Obama are now having paroxysms of fury over Israel. Where the blogs, Twitterfeeds and daily conversations of these caring, Left-leaning folk were packed to bursting point with glowing praise for Obama on 7 November, now they are full of scorn for Israel and its inhuman, bloodthirsty bombing of Gaza. The intensity of these individuals’ delirium over Obama’s second term now finds its match in the intensity of their disgust with Israel’s military antics.

Which is weird, when you consider that Obama, their hero, has already done to the tribal regions of Pakistan what Israel, their nemesis, is now doing to Gaza.

Obama, like Israel, launches bombing raids on foreign militants, and Obama, like Israel, ends up killing innocent people in the process. Indeed, of the 283 drone strikes launched by Obama in rural regions of Pakistan over the past four years, which have killed an estimated 2,600 people, only 13 per cent have successfully killed an al-Qaeda or Taliban militant. Shockingly, this means that around 2,200 non-militant Pakistanis — or what we might call innocents — have been killed by Obama: bombed in their beds, or while herding sheep, or while driving their cars. This death toll dwarfs what has been unleashed by Israel over the past week or during the first Gaza war in 2008, when around 1,400 Palestinians died.

[. . .]

What is behind these mammoth double standards? Is it that Pakistanis are considered less important than Palestinians, and therefore there’s no need to protest when they get killed? Is it that Obama is viewed as so supercool and liberal that he can bomb whom he likes and still his cheerleaders won’t kick up a fuss? Is it because Israel is a Jewish State, and we are more offended by the sight of Jews bombing brown people than we are by the sight of America’s Democratic Party bombing brown people? What is it? There must be some explanation. Perhaps if you are one of those people who cheered Obama’s re-election and is now jeering at Israel’s militarism you might take a few minutes to tell us why some forms of militarism make you see red, and others do not.

July 23, 2012

Disproportional British and Canadian combat casualties in Afghanistan

Filed under: Asia, Britain, Cancon, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:35

Although the total losses hide it, British and Canadian soldiers took higher casualty rates than Americans during combat in Afghanistan:

In the last year, British troops in Afghanistan have been getting killed at twice the rate (1,300 per 100,000 troops per year) as Americans during the height of the fighting in Iraq. Canadian troops, until they withdrew from combat, had an even higher rate of loss. But the U.S. has a lot more troops in Afghanistan. Thus total combat deaths since late 2001 are; U.S.-2,050, Britain-422 and Canada-158.

The British military describes “major combat” as an operation where losses (killed) were greater than 600 per 100,000. Thus only recently did British losses go north of 600. There are several reasons for these different death rates. For one thing, a higher proportion of British and Canadian troops in Afghanistan are in combat. The Americans handle a lot more of the support functions and thus a smaller proportion of the U.S. force is combat troops. Finally, the U.S. had more helicopters for moving troops and a much larger number of MRAP (bomb resistant vehicles) for troops moving on the ground.

[. . .]

Despite the higher casualty rates for the British and Canadians, the overall death rate for foreign troops in Afghanistan is still lower than it was in Iraq. In the last four years, foreign troops in Afghanistan lost about 300-400 dead per 100,000 troops per year. In Iraq, from 2004-7, the deaths among foreign troops ran at 500-600 per 100,000 per year. Since al Qaeda admitted defeat in Iraq four years ago, the U.S. death rate in Iraq has dropped to less than 200 dead per 100,000 troops per year within two years, and to nothing by the end of 2011 (as the last Americans troops left). Meanwhile, the rate in Afghanistan peaked at 400 dead per 100,000 troops in 2010 and has been declining ever since.

May 15, 2012

Conducting espionage operations in the age of the internet

Filed under: Britain, Middle East, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:04

Shashank Joshi in the Telegraph on the good and bad news coming out of the recently foiled “underwear bomber” incident:

This week began with news of a remarkable intelligence coup. It has ended in ignominy, and a reminder that the pathological leakiness of the American bureaucracy has consequences for counterterrorism.

According to the Associated Press (AP), the CIA foiled an audacious plot by Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to attack an aircraft using an upgraded version of the underwear bomb that failed three years ago. The AP had, apparently, shown great responsibility in delaying publication for days at the request of the White House.

Then, the story grew both muddier and more remarkable still. The would-be bomber was in fact a mole. He was a British national of Saudi Arabian origin, recruited by MI5 in Europe and later run, with Saudi Arabia, by MI6. This is a testament to the unimaginable courage of the agent in question, and the ingenuity of British intelligence.

But the emergence of this story, with a blow-by-blow account of operational detail, is the result of reckless, impetuous leaking that could cost lives and compromise operations in the future.

March 23, 2012

Facebook seen as harmful … to deployed troops

Filed under: Asia, Middle East, Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:17

Strategy Page explains how increasing sophistication on the part of the al Qaeda/Taliban forces has been allowing them to select targets of opportunity through things like Facebook posts and cell phone traffic:

The U.S. Army is warning its troops to be careful what they post to on social networking sites (like Facebook). When they post photos of themselves they often reveal militarily useful information. This was discovered in Iraq, where a lot of tech savvy people working with terrorists were able to compile information from what troops posted. This sometimes led to attacks, and this was discovered from interrogating captured terrorists and captured documents and computer data. The background of pictures often indicated targets for the terrorists, or details of base defenses and American tactics. Islamic terrorists have been quick to use the Internet and other modern technology to plan and carry out their attacks.

Some of this technology can be very dangerous, like the geo-locating capability of many smart phones (which include GPS receivers and location data that hackers can obtain.) Troops in combat zones are ordered to turn geo-locating off while in areas where the enemy could use it. Even without geo-locating turned on, cell phone use can provide militarily useful information. This goes back to a century old practice called traffic analysis. This has been used with great success against terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, but it can be used against the troops.

[. . .]

Al Qaeda was long suspected of knowing how to manipulate message traffic in order to deceive our traffic analysis methods. This was rarely the case, but this form of deception has been used in the past with success. For example, when the June 6, 1944 D-Day invasion of France was being planned, a fake army group headquarters was set up in England. Actually, this “army group” consisted largely of a lot of radio and telegraph operators sending a large number of messages that would be normal if the “army group” were preparing for an invasion of France, in an area other than where the actual invasion was going to take place. The deception worked. German traffic analysis experts were fooled and the Germans believed the actual invasion at Normandy was just a feint, a move to get the Germans to send their reinforcements to Normandy rather than were the fake “army group” was going to invade.

Intelligence agencies have to be constantly on the guard for al Qaeda, or any other terrorist group, using this kind of deception. It has happened in a few instances, so a larger-scale attempt is not out of the question.

March 1, 2012

American involvement in Afghanistan: the pessimistic view

Filed under: Asia, Military, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:07

Steve Chapman recounts the arguments against staying the course in Afghanistan:

When Afghans erupted in rage over the careless burning of Korans at Bagram Airbase, the upheaval was not just about Muslim holy books. It was also about the grossly dysfunctional relationship between us and them — a product of the huge cultural gulf, our outsized ambitions and the irritant of our presence.

Afghanistan is a medieval country that we can barely begin to understand. Yet we presume that with all our money, technology, weaponry and wisdom, we can mold it like soft clay.

Things don’t work so well in practice. Only one out of every 10 Afghans who sign up to join the army or national police can read and write. The military’s desertion rate, an American general acknowledged last year, approaches a staggering 30 percent.

Many if not most Afghans have never heard of the 9/11 attacks. Even the deputy chairman of the government’s High Peace Council told The Wall Street Journal he doesn’t believe al-Qaida destroyed the World Trade Center.

So what can we expect ordinary people to think when they see the country overrun with armed foreigners who sometimes kill and injure innocent civilians? Or when they hear that those infidels are burning Korans?

The war in Afghanistan is now the longest in American history, and if hawks have their way, we’ll be there for years to come. Alas, we have demonstrated the force of two things we already knew: Some mistakes can’t be undone no matter how you try, and every guest eventually wears out his welcome.

In Afghanistan, we originally failed to make the needed commitment to destroy the enemy, because President George W. Bush was distracted by his eagerness to invade Iraq. As a result, the Taliban survived and eventually mounted a major comeback. Barack Obama decided to pour in troops and funds, but by that time, Afghan patience was nearing exhaustion.

January 3, 2012

Security Theatre: “So much inconvenience for so little benefit at such a staggering cost”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Liberty — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:51

Charles C. Mann visits the airport with security guru Bruce Schneier:

Since 9/11, the U.S. has spent more than $1.1 trillion on homeland security.

To a large number of security analysts, this expenditure makes no sense. The vast cost is not worth the infinitesimal benefit. Not only has the actual threat from terror been exaggerated, they say, but the great bulk of the post-9/11 measures to contain it are little more than what Schneier mocks as “security theater”: actions that accomplish nothing but are designed to make the government look like it is on the job. In fact, the continuing expenditure on security may actually have made the United States less safe.

[. . .]

From an airplane-hijacking point of view, Schneier said, al-Qaeda had used up its luck. Passengers on the first three 9/11 flights didn’t resist their captors, because in the past the typical consequence of a plane seizure had been “a week in Havana.” When the people on the fourth hijacked plane learned by cell phone that the previous flights had been turned into airborne bombs, they attacked their attackers. The hijackers were forced to crash Flight 93 into a field. “No big plane will ever be taken that way again, because the passengers will fight back,” Schneier said. Events have borne him out. The instigators of the two most serious post-9/11 incidents involving airplanes — the “shoe bomber” in 2001 and the “underwear bomber” in 2009, both of whom managed to get onto an airplane with explosives — were subdued by angry passengers.

[. . .]

Terrorists will try to hit the United States again, Schneier says. One has to assume this. Terrorists can so easily switch from target to target and weapon to weapon that focusing on preventing any one type of attack is foolish. Even if the T.S.A. were somehow to make airports impregnable, this would simply divert terrorists to other, less heavily defended targets — shopping malls, movie theaters, churches, stadiums, museums. The terrorist’s goal isn’t to attack an airplane specifically; it’s to sow terror generally. “You spend billions of dollars on the airports and force the terrorists to spend an extra $30 on gas to drive to a hotel or casino and attack it,” Schneier says. “Congratulations!”

September 3, 2011

US troops allegedly handcuffed and executed children in 2006

Filed under: Middle East, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:05

Wikileaks may have been sitting on a particularly disturbing report:

A U.S. diplomatic cable made public by WikiLeaks suggests that U.S. troops executed at least 10 Iraqi civilians, including a woman in her 70s and a 5-month-old infant, then called in an airstrike to destroy the evidence, during a controversial 2006 incident in the central Iraqi town of Ishaqi.

The unclassified cable, which was posted on WikiLeaks’ website last week, contained questions from a United Nations investigator about the incident, which had angered local Iraqi officials, who demanded some kind of action from their government. U.S. officials denied at the time that anything inappropriate had occurred.

But Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said in a communication to American officials dated 12 days after the March 15, 2006, incident that autopsies performed in the Iraqi city of Tikrit showed that all the dead had been handcuffed and shot in the head. Among the dead were four women and five children. The children were all 5 years old or younger.

Claims of American troops committing atrocities were very common, but few of them appear to have been anything other than Al Qaeda propaganda exercises. This may well be another case of this, but the initial investigation implied otherwise:

The original incident report was signed by an Iraqi police colonel and made even more noteworthy because U.S.-trained Iraqi police, including Brig. Gen. Issa al Juboori, who led the coordination centre, were willing to speak about the investigation on the record even though it was critical of American forces.

Throughout the early investigation, U.S. military spokesmen said that an Al Qaeda in Iraq suspect had been seized from a first-floor room after a fierce fight that had left the house he was hiding in a pile of rubble.

But the diplomatic cable provides a different sequence of events and lends credence to townspeople’s claims that American forces destroyed the house after its residents had been shot.

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