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On Self-Policing

After the My Lai massacre, only one person, William Calley, was charged, and then only after enormous public outcry. He ultimately served 3.5 years in house arrest for ordering and participating in the murder of at least 347 and possibly as many as 504 Vietnamese civilians, presuming he had no knowledge of the gang rapes and mutilations of bodies, which seems unlikely given eyewitness accounts.

The events of My Lai were initially covered up, itself a crime, but no one was ever charged for participating in the coverup.

During the massacre, Hugh Thompson, Jr. saved countless lives by ordering his helicopter crew to protect innocent civilians from execution. For his trouble, he was initially given a medal for a non-existent event in an attempt to shut him up, then condemned in public once the true events were revealed. The Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Mendel Rivers, went so far as to say that Thompson was the only person in the incident worthy of punishment.

Has the world changed much?

Today, it was announced that Bradley Manning, whose chief de facto offense was providing the US public with evidence of multiple war crimes, will be serving ten times the length of William Calley’s punishment, 35 years, and in a real prison rather than house arrest. The people who committed the war crimes he revealed evidence of will never be charged.

(On the latter, if you have any doubts that he revealed criminal activity, compare, as just one example, the video of the helicopter machine gunning of two Reuters reporters in Baghdad with the official DoD investigation report of the incident, which had full access to said video. Even if one can bring oneself to believe that the incident itself was not a crime (although it almost certainly was), the subsequent investigation was a fabricated tissue of lies. The events in the video and those described in the investigation report are manifestly not the same. Presumably those engaging in this coverup believed they could never be caught because the video was improperly classified to aid in the coverup, itself a crime. The coverup itself was a felony — but no one was charged but the messenger.)

The State protects its own. It cannot be trusted to police itself.

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74 comments to On Self-Policing

  • Actually I must disagree on the example you give. If he revealed war crimes, the helicopter attack which killed the reporters was almost certainly not one of them. I have watched the video and I think there was good reason that the crew thought the reporters were ‘legit targets’ as the resolution on the images do not make it clear they were carrying cameras and not weapons.

    I very strongly suspect it was just the hazards of reporting in a war zone (and I speak as someone who was bought a beer by a Croatian soldier who had taken a (wildly inaccurate) shot at me earlier that day when I unwisely approached them from an unexpected direction close to the FEBA).

    That said, I agree with the generality of the article.

  • If Manning had limited his leaks to stuff such as the videos you refer to (though I agree with Perry they are almost certainly not as clearly wrong as you claim) then maybe you would have a point. He didn’t though. Instead he vacuumed up as much stuff as he could and dumped the lot on wikileaks with no thought for any consequences. As a serving soldier in time of war making such document spublic was equivalent to handing them to his country’s enemies. This is the sort of thing that gets you put up against a wall and shot. Sadly not in this case.

    I have rather more nuanced feelings about Snowden but Manning deserves everything he gets. My only regret is that it seems his chain of command will get off scot free and the lot of them should be shitcanned for incompetence in not removing him from his role when he demonstrated mental instability some months earlier.

  • Mr Ed

    Consider what a German Waffen SS General, Felix Steiner, had to say about the Kommisar Order

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felix_Steiner

    excerpt, which I have read elsewhere as well as in the above article. “…Steiner said of the Commissar Order “No rational unit commander could comply with such an Order”. He felt that it was incompatible with soldierly conduct and would result in a breakdown in military discipline, and that it was incompatible with giving combat its moral worth…”.

    So some in the US government had avowed lower standards of conduct for war over My Lai than a General in the Waffen SS had for the Eastern Front. It is not good to be relying on individual conscience or standards of behaviour, as in the main, they will be no protection at all.

  • Mr Ed

    Francis, there is a reasonable question in asking ‘What sort of idiocy (or idiot) permits a Private to have access to data containing diplomatic cables and so much data?.

    If it was truly necessary to keep this stuff secret, why was it held, along with so much else, on computers from which it could be burnt to CDs?

    By way of contrast, Sir Arthur Harris, as chief of the RAF’s Bomber Command in WW2, did not have clearance to be told about German nuclear weapon planning until Churchill felt that he had to know.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Perry de H writes: “Actually I must disagree on the example you give. If he revealed war crimes, the helicopter attack which killed the reporters was almost certainly not one of them. “

    Note that I carefully did not state that those are, specifically, war crimes. What I noted was that, regardless of the status of the original action, the coverup and improper classification were clearly felonies under US law.

    There was, however, substantial evidence of war crimes in the documents.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Francis writes: “He didn’t though. Instead he vacuumed up as much stuff as he could and dumped the lot on wikileaks with no thought for any consequences”

    Two points.

    First, one wonders as to whether a single death can be blamed on his actions. If one happened, I am unaware of it. Of course, William Calley’s house arrest leads one to believe that the US military’s punishment for killing people is average two to three days of house arrest per death one caused. (Interestingly, and as a pure aside, the initial coverup of My Lai was managed by Colin Powell, then a young officer. Later he made it to CJCS and Secretary of State — in the latter office, he had the honor and privilege of claiming before the UN Security Council that Iraq had mobile chemical and biological weapons labs.)

    Second, Manning did not, in fact, mass release the documents, and neither did Wikileaks. The blame lies entirely with The Guardian, whose technically incompetent reporter did not understand the distinction between a password and an encryption key, and published the latter in a book (purely for color it seems), somehow believing it was no longer relevant. There is no evidence Manning intended indiscriminate release, but rather intended careful and redacted releases of selective parts of the document database.

    Regardless, however, and even if one believes Manning should be in prison, why shouldn’t the people whose crimes he revealed also be charged, tried and imprisoned?

  • Eric

    Francis, there is a reasonable question in asking ‘What sort of idiocy (or idiot) permits a Private to have access to data containing diplomatic cables and so much data?

    That was the result of recommendations from the 9/11 commission. One of the reasons we didn’t pick up the plot before it came to fruition was the relevant bits of data were all in different silos. So they created a network which allowed different agencies to share data, and since they didn’t know which bits of information might be an important part of a larger pattern the default was to share information.

    Not only did Manning do serious damage to our diplomatic and military efforts around the world, but he also single handedly forced US government agencies to go back to the information silo. If we lose another 3500 people because the relevant data was divided out like it was before the WTC plot, it will be Bradley Manning’s fault more than any other single individual.

    I think he should hang.

  • Mr Ed

    Who, might I ask, has decided as a result of Mr Manning’s leaks, to kill anyone and done so who was not minded to do so before? I request names and details, I suspect no one.

    Eric, that still leaves the question as to why he was able to burn CDs of the stuff, if it really mattered, why was it extracted so easily, and not detected at the time? I submit that it was not vital dta. If it is vital data, vital meaning ‘essential to life’, then it is held by clowns who are (i) required to have all their data eggs in one basket lest they miss a detail, and (ii) are so incompetent that they cannot secure their eggs by removing CD drives from computers holding these vital data.

    I doubt such idiocy could prevent a further attack, particularly as the enemy need only a little base cunning to not pre-warn their victim.

    However, Perry, if Manning leaked without knowing what he was doing, he does so at his peril. It’s no good opening the beehive and saying you didn’t think that a Queen Bee would escape, as you were supporting the ‘Workers’ Liberation’, the onus is on him to justify every byte.

    And in most civil cases I have seen over ex-employees leaking data, there is a strong audit trail showing when data is accessed and copied, this seems beyond the capability of the US military.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Eric write: “I think he should hang.”

    And yet, the US Military did not hang William Calley, he got 3.5 years of house arrest for ordering and abetting in the killings of hundreds of civilians.

    More recently, military courts have given out very light sentences to people convicted of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of those convicted in the Maywand District murders in Afghanistan, for example, received far lighter sentences than Bradley Manning even when convicted of multiple counts of premeditated murder. (Even the guard most notoriously depicted in the Abu Ghraib photographs, Lynndie England, received only three years in prison, and she helped destroy the image of the US worldwide — though I will note she did not kill anyone, she just tortured people and helped photograph it recreationally.)

    Presumably, then, execution is warranted for leaking to the news media, but not actual murder.

    Eric also writes: If we lose another 3500 people because the relevant data was divided out like it was before the WTC plot, it will be Bradley Manning’s fault more than any other single individual.

    The number of people who die on average as a result of terrorism is remarkably low in our society — vastly lower than the number who die in auto accidents, vastly lower than the number (judged to be over 80,000 a year in the US) who die because of insufficient handwashing in hospitals.

    If history indicates we have anything to fear, it is the unchecked growth of the state security apparatus, not terrorists. Note that in the 20th century alone, some 260 million people were killed by their own governments — that’s not the figure for war, mind you. The number killed by all forms of terrorism is minuscule by comparison.

    I believe our society can survive a small number of people dying from terrorism (on average fewer than die in bathtub drownings) far better than it can survive an unchecked National Security State.

  • Tarrou

    The helicopter shoot was as righteous as they come. The weapons were clearly in view, the insurgents were clearly setting an ambush, a convoy was clearly approaching it, the reporters were right among the insurgents. This is known as collateral damage. You stand next to a guy with a machine gun, sometimes the people shooting at him hit you. Sometimes they can’t tell the difference. War is like that. It’s unfortunate, but it isn’t clear to me exactly how many of their brothers on the ground the Apache pilots should have let die before opening fire. And from the video, it isn’t clear who is and isn’t an insurgent once the rounds start dropping. As I said, a righteous shoot, as righteous as they come. People are pissed because the pilots were talking and joking the way soldiers do. War is hell, and the men who fight it become hard and morbid. The whole thing is just civilians misconstruing military humor and culture.

  • Regional

    There’s only one rule in war and the handbook of civilisation is thrown out the window, fact of life.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Tarrou writes: “The helicopter shoot was as righteous as they come. The weapons were clearly in view, the insurgents were clearly setting an ambush, a convoy was clearly approaching it, the reporters were right among the insurgents”

    You must have viewed some entirely different video then. I saw no insurgents, no ambush. I saw a pair of Reuters reporters walking in the streets of Baghdad with a group of civilians. BTW, civilians in Baghdad at that time were routinely armed even when conducting legitimate business — you should not presume that the simple presence of a gun in a dangerous environment makes someone an enemy fighter. I had friends working in Baghdad at that time, and they went armed, too. None the less, we see no evidence of this group of people, most of whom are carrying nothing, not even a bag let alone a gun, attacking anyone, even in the long form video, and there is no evidence of an “ambush” or any other activity. At very best, the cameraman’s camera might have been mistaken for a weapon, but it was not actually a weapon.

    Perhaps it is not obvious, but in a crowded city filled with civilians one is not supposed to shoot unidentified people — even unidentified armed people, even if ordinary people are not armed, though in this city, when many ordinary people were armed, that goes double. Indeed, such an attack violated the explicit US rules of engagement, in fact, and such violations are crimes under the UCMJ.

    Later, a van full of civilians stops to help the wounded. I saw no evidence of weapons in the van of civilians (two of whom were children) who stopped to aid the dying reporters, and no evidence of weapons carried by the individuals who left that van. It was impossible to identify such people from the air, and they were clearly unarmed — thus, attacking them was a violation of the laws of war and as well as the rules of engagement. It is a further violation to attack unarmed persons aiding the wounded. It is also a violation to fire blind into a van when you have not been fired on and have no evidence of the number or nature the occupants — both the laws of war and the rules of engagement prohibited this.

    However, lets say your claim was correct somehow. The investigation report, which was a tissue of lies, is still a felony. That report claimed, for example, that the source of the wounds of the children who were machine gunned in the van was mysterious when the helicopter crew clearly fired on the van, that arriving personnel did not run over bodies which the video clearly shows them doing, etc. — I’ve forgotten all the points on which the report was clearly inaccurate on points that cannot be in dispute whatsoever, from the beginning of the incident to the end. Such inaccuracy cannot be accidental given access to the video, and a coverup is, I will repeat, a felony. Further, the video of the events did not reveal anything that can be legally classified under US law — no operational secrets of any sort were involved — and the intentional misclassification of such information in furtherance of a coverup is itself a felony.

    Now, at the very least, even if you somehow dispute that a report claiming things at clear variance with the contents of the video was a coverup, one would imagine that the military would feel obligated to at least investigate the possibility of a coverup. After all, one cannot, a priori, dismiss this claim, which was made repeatedly by many parties. No such investigation occurred.

    This is, of course, only one of dozens of instances where the Manning releases revealed probable crimes and the US government failed to investigate them. No investigations, to my knowledge, occurred in any of these instances. Even if we believed that such instances were ambiguous or not necessarily crimes, isn’t the complete lack of investigation in and of itself telling?

    No, I’m afraid I cannot agree with your viewpoint on this situation.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    “Regional” writes: “There’s only one rule in war and the handbook of civilisation is thrown out the window, fact of life.”

    I am surprised, then, that at the end of the Second World War, the allies tried enemy commanders for war crimes. If only they had been familiar with “Regional”‘s knowledge of the “one rule of war” (whatever it might be), they could have avoided the time and expense.

    I’m also surprised to discover that there are international treaties describing laws of war — perhaps their drafters were unaware they should have consulted “Regional”.

    I’m also surprised to discover that the US military has a legal code defining what is and is not permitted conduct during warfare, and that it claims to enforce this code — again, perhaps if only they had consulted “Regional” they could have avoided this mistake.

    I must also confess that, personally, I do not recognize “war” as a distinct human condition in which no rules from ordinary life apply, but we need not discuss my foolishness, as apparently virtually every country on earth has claimed to subscribe to some form of similar foolishness already.

  • Pardone

    There seem to be alot of people here who sadly believe whatever spin comes out of the mouths of the US military.

    Remember, the US military can’t audit itself even semi-competently (oops! lost a few trillion dollars of tax payer money! Doh! Another ton of money vanishes into contractorsville!) Given their incompetence at handling their bloated budgets, and their enthusiasm for spending other people’s money, its very naive to assume they can handle judicial matters. Like all state entities, its self-serving and money grubbing.

    Compare the wimpy, limp-wristed treatment of HSBC with the harsh treatment of Manning. HSBC were laundering money for AL QAEDA and Mexican Drug Lords, and have been allowed to get away with it. Not one of the those responsible has gone to jail, apparently because they are “too big to jail”.

    That contrast tells you everything you need to know. The law only applies to the little people.

    You can bugger Iraqi girls, fund Al Qaeda (so long as you are a banker) kidnap Egyptian nationals and torture them, but don’t you dare reveal stuff about the Big Knobs.

  • Eric

    The number of people who die on average as a result of terrorism is remarkably low in our society — vastly lower than the number who die in auto accidents, vastly lower than the number (judged to be over 80,000 a year in the US) who die because of insufficient handwashing in hospitals.

    So far. But with a little ingenuity and enough money you could kill millions of people. Should we wait until that happens before we take the threat seriously?

  • Regional

    Perry Metzger,
    It’s reality, personally war is a waste of time and resources but if weren’t for the second transnational disturbance they’d be an extra 100 people living in Europe, the Blitz allowed London to be modernised with decent housing, there’re are more, Hitler was the Allies best general, one doozey was developing the V2 and not Type XX1 in the sea boat which would’ve put America out of the war and isolated Britain until the B36 appeared over Berlin to deliver Atom Bombs, so who knows?

  • John Moore

    I find this whole posting offensive. In spite of the military’s poor reaction to Mai Lai, my fellow Vietnam Vets suffered decades of vicious slander about the war crimes supposedly committed – led by the traitor who is now our Secretary of State.

    As far as Manning goes, he got what he deserved. He wasn’t a “whistle blower” – he released information that led to many deaths in the war on terror. If it were up to me, he’d be executed for treason.

    War isn’t pretty, and it requires clear thinking – something totally lacking from this post.

  • Tarrou

    Perry, maybe I did view an entirely different video. Everyone sees things through the prism of their own experience. In my case, that is a rather intimate acquaintance with the conditions on the ground in Iraq, the ROE available, what ambushes look like, and the operational capabilities and tactics of the enemy. Civilians look at that video and shriek about how the pilots should have known that that particular white blob wasn’t working with the other white blobs……….how exactly? The van that pulls up to “help” was most likely a clean-up van, it’s how the ambush sites are clean of weapons by the time our guys roll over the place, cue CNN talking about US military shooting civilians “with no weapons discovered”, despite hundreds of empty soviet-made cartridges strewn about the place. You may discount all of this, but I’ve seen it. I’ll not deny that the military bureaucracy is byzantine and ineffective, I say that all the time. I haven’t read the report on the shoot, but if officers wrote it, it’s likely full of ass-covering and lies. The pilots? Solidly within ROE, and good on them.

    As for everyone carrying weapons, depends on the area. But one thing I know, the guy carrying the RPG wasn’t kosher, those were never allowed to civilians in Iraq. That’s what marks it unequivocally as an insurgent group. Even without it, it’s a solid shoot, but with it? Undeniable.

    As for Manning, he violated his oath and his security clearance. The military has different and stricter rules than civilian life, and no one forced him to join, to join the Intel part, and to get that clearance. He sought it out. Then he betrayed it. I don’t know how damaging it all was, and I don’t much care. Most of what I saw was that one video and a bunch of low level diplomatic cables. Hardly the stuff to bring down a government. Fact remains he is subject to the UCMJ, and they take espionage, which is what he did, quite seriously. The argument that other soldiers may have gotten off easy does not alter this. OJ got off, shall we cease to enforce all laws? Sometimes justice miscarries, it is no reason to jettison the whole thing. It is reason to try to fix it.

  • Laird

    “I believe our society can survive a small number of people dying from terrorism (on average fewer than die in bathtub drownings) far better than it can survive an unchecked National Security State.”

    I think this is the crux of the matter with regard to Manning, Snowden, etc. It’s a risk-weighting exercise or, if you prefer, a cost-benefit analysis. How you assess and weight the risks and costs determines where you come down on the issue. Personally, I agree with Perry M on this. I would much rather live with a slightly elevated risk of terrorist attack than with a massively expanded NSA and the concomitant reduction in our privacy and constitutional rights. I also believe that the risk of terrorist attack in the US has been vastly overstated by the government, abetted by the lapdog media, for the purpose of expanding the reach and power of government. Others may disagree.

  • John Moore

    Don’t confuse Manning with Snowden. Manning didn’t reveal anything about a massive security state. He simply gave away critical secrets.

    But… regarding security…

    If you think the NSA’s big worry is a little terrorist attack, you’re missing the big picture. The counter-terrorism people are focused on large attacks – nuclear, radiological or biological.

    Ask yourself what the state of the US would be like after Al Qaeda released contagious genetically altered monkey-pox in New York City? Or if they took a Pakistani nuke and set it off in San Francisco.

    These are the kinds of threats that are the real focus of the surveillance programs. These are threats that would trigger massive economic damage, large scale war, and a surveillance state far beyond the small, focused and controlled one that we have today.

    I would worry far more about the IRS being used for political purposes than the NSA data gathering.

  • Mr Ed

    @ John, what would Detroit have looked like had the Christmas Underpants Bomber succeeded in blowing up the aircraft that he was in?

    Pretty much how it does now I suspect.

  • GlenDorran

    Point of detail for Pardone:

    HSBC were fined because their anti-money laundering procedures were lax. That is very different from being found guilty of laundering money for Al Qaeda, of which there is no evidence.

  • hennesli

    John Moore, read Nick Turse’s book, Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam. The whole war was one murderous My Lai incident, with lots of rape, torture, and mutilation thrown in.

    Juts because killers are dressed in the symbolic garb of the state it does not make them automatically worthy of respect.

  • david

    Perry – I’d give this argument up if I were you. Your attempt to link Bradley Manning with My Lai is absurd (it falls into the “look, a squirrel !” category) and then to try to back up your argument by picking an incident which as has been pointed out was not a war crime but a routine military engagement with enemy combatants is making you look weak and very badly informed. What struck me about Manning’s leaks was that they didn’t seem to indicate any American wrongdoing at all. Do you have any other examples that you’d like to share because at present you’ve completely failed to prove your case ?

  • PeterT

    Eric and friends. You are no friends of liberty.

    Terrorism is not a material threat and kills far fewer people than your own government does.

    Bin Laden must be laughing in his grave at the vast amount of blood, treasure and liberty the US has lost all through its own initiative since 9/11.

    Both Manning and (especially in my view) Snowden are heroes. I would also call them patriots if I was American, and if I didn’t find the concept of patriotism noxious.

  • Tarrou

    Hennesli, statements like “The whole war was one murderous My Lai incident” mark you not as a critic of government overreach and military malpractice, but a simple anti-military partisan. Clearly it is not true, and clearly it reflects your own biases more than objective fact. Every war has its atrocities, and we should do what we can to minimize them and punish those responsible. But balancing that and the standards of proof along with the inherent difficulty of collecting evidence and testimony from men who are so tightly knit as a group means that this is often a difficult process, even for a perfect bureaucracy, which no military is. And I find any critique of a democratic state’s military that starts with the military and not the political process to be flawed. You don’t like X war? Cool, the military didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to invade. The people the public elected decided that. If the military screws it up, then it is in line for criticism. In cases like Mai Lai and the nutbag who went shooting over in Afghanistan, the military has a duty to prosecute those to the best of their ability, and sometimes they don’t. Bureaucracy is full of ladder-climbers, ass-coverers and politicians, the military no less than any other branch. Criticize the failures, by all means. But always remember that war is not peace, the military is not civilians, and killing people and burning things is what we do for a living. It’s easy to sit in 21st century West and criticize on the internet decisions made by exhausted and traumatized teenagers forty years ago. It’s easy to be on a high moral horse about situations you couldn’t fathom. Humility and perspicacity is in order.

  • Very well put, Tarrou – thank you.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    John Moore writes: “I find this whole posting offensive.”

    I’m reminded of Stephen Fry’s recent and brilliant comment on the topic of being offended. It is easy enough to find on google that I will let those interested search for it on their own.

  • Laird

    John Moore, the justification consistently given by the government for its massive (and blatantly unconstitutional) data-gathering is protecting us from “little terrorist attacks.” They are constantly harping upon all the “attacks” they have allegedly foiled, but the examples they give (laughable on their face) are all “little” matters (such as that cab driver charged with sending $8500 to al Qaeda). I have yet to hear any mention of CBR warfare in their facile justifications.

    But granting your point, if it were really true, and all that the government were concerned with was protecting us from major terror attacks, they would have no problem with isolating the information collected and prohibiting it from being used in ordinary criminal cases. Yet they go out of their way (there’s even a special branch of the NSA devoted entirely to this) to sneak that information into the hands of local law enforcement (generally disguising its provenance) in matters which have absolutely nothing to do with terrorism. If that weren’t the case I might be tempted to give your argument some credence. But since it is the case, I reject your argument completely. Frankly, I now believe that everything our government says on this issue (and most others) is a lie. They have completely squandered any credibility they once had. Furthermore, I don’t believe that they really care about protecting us from terrorist attacks anyway, but merely seek to expand their reach and power. The burden is on the government to prove otherwise, and so far it has absolutely failed to do so.

  • Both Manning and (especially in my view) Snowden are heroes

    I think it is a mistake to conflate the two.

    I am at best a tepid and highly qualified supporter of Manning whereas I am unreserved in my praise for Snowdon, who is in my view not so much an American hero as a Global hero.

  • Adam Maas

    As a side note on the Helicopter incident, the children with machine gun wounds were correctly described as having wounds of unknown origin, machine guns use rounds in the 5.54mm-.50 calibre range, significantly smaller than the 30mm explosive rounds fired by an Apache’s sole gun. Children wounded or killed by the Apache would have had shrapnel wounds (from nearby shell detonations) or be gibbets from the result of a 30mm shell hitting a human. If the children were wounded or killed by machine guns they clearly weren’t hit by the firing Apaches.

  • Laird

    Ditto what Perry deH said.

  • Johnnydub

    Re: Pardone – “HSBC were laundering money for AL QAEDA and Mexican Drug Lords”

    No they weren’t. They were fined for not keeping sufficient audit records to prove that they weren’t….

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Adam Maas writes: “If the children were wounded or killed by machine guns they clearly weren’t hit by the firing Apaches.”

    I’m afraid that your statement is clearly false in every respect. There is literally no other conclusion reasonable from watching the video. Have you even seen the video?

    Video, starting at 9:15

    The van arrives undamaged and is then is fired on only by the helicopter. Note that is helicopter singular. There are no other helicopters in spite of Mr. Maas’s use of the plural form. The van is under continuous surveillance afterwards but is fired on by no one else. The children are later removed from the van, on camera, gravely wounded. How could any other conclusion be reached? How could you possibly believe what you have just claimed?

    Anyone who wishes to can watch the video. This is not some mysterious set of facts available only to people “in the know”. Just watch the thing. If you believe the long form version of the video is in any way distinct, the long form, unedited version of the video shows exactly the same thing.

    For those unaware of the context, the van, driven by a good samaritan, observed the Reuters reporters who had been machine gunned by the helicopter. The two reporters were dying on the ground, and the good samaritan, a civilian, decided to stop and help them. The good samaritan and his two companion were shot from the air for their efforts.

    Their van, which had two children within, was shot up by only one entity, the helicopter. As the video watches the van constantly after that until the children were removed, and no one else fires on the van, the children were clearly wounded by the fire from the helicopter.

    To reiterate: Mr. Maas claims that the children in the van were somehow shot by something other than the helicopter. The video makes it clear this is an impossible conclusion.

    There is no other way to describe the video above, and I encourage you to ignore Mr. Maas’s wholesale invention of fact and watch for yourself. His claims are completely at variance with the truth.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    I will, of course, also note that Mr. Maas is not the only person who has created a fictional account of the events.

    The official DoD report on the incident was also at variance with the truth, making numerous claims that anyone who had actually watched the video would find insupportable. This should not be surprising as the DoD report was a coverup of the incident — itself a felony, by the way, regardless of whether any underlying crime existed. The illegal classification of the video, which could not be legally classified since it revealed no operational secrets, was itself almost certainly a felony as it was almost certainly performed in an attempt to prevent anyone from learning that the incident report was a fabrication.

  • John Moore

    @hennesli Nick Turse’s book is total nonsense. There were, of course, a few atrocities committed by Americans in Vietnam.

    But Turse’s book is an example of the sort of propaganda that continues to besmirch the good name and honor of my fellow Vietnam Veterans. I was part of the effort in 2004 to clear their names and had to research this extensively, along with researching in depth John Kerry’s treason (yes, treason, as a Medal of Honor winner called it on the floor of the Senate, to Kerry’s face).

    There are plenty of sources that show two things:

    1) There was a sustained propaganda effort to paint American soldiers in Vietnam as butchers. This was encouraged by North Vietnam and their collaborators in the US (especially Vietnam Veterans Against the War, including one of the leaders, John Kerry), and was part of the North’s successful propaganda effort. Apparently they fooled you too.

    2) Real atrocities by Americans were few and far between, while atrocities by the NVA (and VC) were part of their war doctrine, were routine, and killed tens of thousands.

    Anyone who believes that “the whole war was one murderous My Lai incident” is very poorly informed.

  • John Moore

    @PeterT – you make the common error of assuming that historical terrorism defines what will be future terrorism. That was the same error made before 9-11, when few imagined that 3000 people would be killed in one attack.

    Al Qaeda has shown that it has plans for much larger attacks than 9-11. Fortunately, their top bioweapons expert, a US trained PhD, was captured in Afghanistan, or we might already have had a few million killed.

    It is best to understand what the enemy may do than to rely on what they have done so far. Although, based on your comments, I guess just a few more 3000 death, $1 Trillion cost terror events are just no big deal, eh?

  • John Moore

    @Laird

    As far as the government asserting that the data is to prevent minor attacks – that certainly is one benefit of it, and it has worked to stop quite a large number of those attacks. That, however, does not take away from the gravity of the major attacks, and it does not contradict my assertion that the problem that the serious counter-terror people (which apparently does not include the political appointees of the administration) is major attacks – ones which would be massively damaging to our nation.

    That being said, do you assert that we do not need this kind of intelligence to reduce the likelihood of massively damaging attacks? We should just stop monitoring, sing happy songs, watch the unicorns flit by, and stop worrying?

    Further… what will you do if one of these large attacks hits? Your record of being against the whole thing will leave you with zero credibility. If we have one of these large attacks, the cry for even more intrusive and massive surveillance will be loud and heard far and wide. Your position will just have increased the probability of much worse surveillance.

    When you write “Furthermore, I don’t believe that they really care about protecting us from terrorist attacks anyway, but merely seek to expand their reach and power.” you lose all credibility. Certainly there are plenty of creatures in the government who want to increase their power, but the NSA is one of the least likely places to find them. Beyond that, OF COURSE they care about protecting us – they being the political hacks – because of the negative consequences to their careers and ambitions if they fail. That care may not be altruistic in some cases (although most of these folks are not sociopaths and really do care), but it exists.

    I agree with you that the NSA data should not be used for criminal prosecutions.

  • Tarrou

    Perry, your analysis of the video is full of value judgments, as was the “collateral murder” editing, which apparently colored your viewing, as it was meant to.

    A “good samaritan” pulls up in his van. And you know this because you were there, you had access to the guy’s thoughts? No, a guy pulled up in a van. That’s what was on the video. A van pulls up, guys get out, go over to the wounded, get shot. Now, I have my theories and you have yours, but we both have the same evidence. Are they going to help the wounded? Maybe. Are they going to pick up the guns? Maybe, either or both, who knows? Certainly not I, and certainly not the pilots at the time. In either case they are not a marked emergency vehicle (so the ROE does not exclude them categorically). The pilots could hardly have been expected to know there were children in the enclosed van. You then state that the chopper was the only thing to fire on the van……how do you know this? Bullets from small arms don’t exactly light up the sky. You can see the 30mm hit, because they are huge, and explosive. Small chunks of lead at 2500 fps aren’t visible on a grainy camera. Now, I’m stipulating that there’s no evidence whatsoever that anyone else was shooting, but I didn’t see the van up close. If, hypothetically, there were bullet holes in people or the van, they wouldn’t have come from the Apache.

    Remember, your eyes see the same things everyone else’s do, but your brain sees everything different. You make a story in your head to explain what you see, but that story may not be the case. You’ve constructed a narrative “Just a few normal, peaceful Iraqis out with their AKs and RPGs, and some reporters, when in steam the US military, dripping blood, having just raped several puppies to death, shoot everyone, and when the poor Iraqis try to help those obvious innocents, they get shot too!” It’s a great tale of evil militarists and simple, decent folk, who just wanted nothing more than a nice walk on a sunny day with their rocket propelled grenade launcher. But it’s not what happened. I see a different tale. And so does everyone else. And they are all false, because we don’t know what happened, we can’t. We can see the video, but we don’t know. Perhaps your “good samaritan” was a necrophiliac, and saw the chance for a fresh one! Doubtful, low percentage I agree, but not outside the realm of possibilities. And if we can’t agree now, after watching this slow motion many times, how shall we sit in judgment of men who had to make those calls on the fly? Pretty poorly, it turns out.

  • Richard Thomas

    I know when someone pulls up in a van and I don’t know his thoughts, my first instinct is to pop a cap in his ass. And his van for good measure.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    At the end of the day, it just sucks to be in combat when you can’t readily identify the hostiles from the neutrals, and the hostiles get a free shot at you before you can fire back.

    Maybe the moral of the story is that the soldiers shouldn’t even be there in the first place! Just leave and let the Iraqis do whatever they want after Saddam was deposed of…

  • Tarrou

    Richard, war against insurgent populations is a dirty game. It is rife with mistakes, because that is the strength of not having a marked enemy force. This is why punishments under international military conventions are so harsh for insurgents, saboteurs and spies, because they increase the damage to innocent civilians. The whole point of going in civilian dress to commit acts of war is to get the response against the innocent. Sucks, but there it is. People want to blow up a military force while dressed as civilians take the responsibility for the reaction. There’s just no other reasonable way around it. Unless, of course you are the sort of generous minded chap who thinks the military should simply absorb casualties without ever responding until a full civilian court case has taken place.

  • Tarrou

    Richard, war against insurgent populations is a dirty game. It is rife with mistakes, because that is the strength of not having a marked enemy force. This is why punishments under international military conventions are so harsh for insurgents, saboteurs and spies, because they increase the damage to innocent civilians. The whole point of going in civilian dress to commit acts of war is to get the response against the innocent. Sucks, but there it is. People want to blow up a military force while dressed as civilians take the responsibility for the reaction. There’s just no other reasonable way around it. Unless, of course you are the sort of generous minded chap who thinks the military should simply absorb casualties without ever responding until a full civilian court case has taken place.

  • Laird

    John Moore, with regard to your last post addressed to me:

    1) It is not I who lacks credibility, but rather the US government, with its incessant stream of lies which, these days (thanks to Snowden), seem to have a shelf life of about 24 hours before some new revelation shows them to be the lies that they are. We now know that not only has the NSA been routinely lying to the American people, but to Congress as well. This is an agency which is seriously out of control. The reason the administration is constantly on the defensive over this issue is because its actions are simply indefensible. Face it, when even the New York Times turns on a democratic administration you know it has made some serious mistakes.

    2) I disagree with you about all those alleged “successes” which the NSA credits to its enhanced surveillance techniques. The ones which appear real also appear to have been susceptible of discovery through ordinary constitutional methods, and too many of the rest are simply vapor (“we can’t give you details for reasons of national security”). Sorry, but I don’t buy their stories any longer (see #1 above).

    3) I don’t dispute that there are legitimate reasons for the government to engage in wiretapping and other intelligence gathering. I do dispute that there is any legitimate purpose to be served by routinely gathering data on every single cell phone call in the country, and capturing and archiving 75% (that they admit to) of our emails. And furthermore, even if there were a purpose to be served those actions would still be unconstitutional. If there is a person who is a legitimate target of NSA interest, fine, demonstrate probable cause (that’s the constitutional standard, and it’s not a very high bar) to a court and get a court order to tap his phone or a warrant to read his e-mails. (And no, self-issued “National Security Letters” are NOT warrants; they are a mockery of the word “warrant” and should be abolished immediately and entirely.) And when I say court order I mean a real, constitutional, Article III court, not a secret court answerable to no one. There is no place in this country for secret courts, applying secret legal doctrines, in wholly ex parte proceedings where the only party present is the government itself. The FISA court is a travesty of proper judicial procedure, and has clearly demonstrated that it is little more than a rubber stamp for pretty much anything the government wants to do. It needs to be either abolished or completely restructured to meet constitutional standards.

    Pardon me if I don’t accept at face value your generous characterization of the motivations of NSA personnel. Whatever evidence exists is to the contrary.

  • John Moore

    @Laird

    “2. I disagree with you about all those alleged “successes” which the NSA credits to its enhanced surveillance techniques. The ones which appear real also appear to have been susceptible of discovery through ordinary constitutional methods,” – That’s easy for you to say, but it doesn’t make it even slightly true.

    “3. I don’t dispute that there are legitimate reasons for the government to engage in wiretapping and other intelligence gathering. I do dispute that there is any legitimate purpose to be served by routinely gathering data on every single cell phone call in the country, and capturing and archiving 75% (that they admit to) of our emails.”

    You would be wrong about that. You can’t know the value of the data you collect until you need that data, and if you haven’t already got it, then you are screwed. The NSA has long gathered huge amounts of information, because they, unlike you, understand the tedious and complex business of intelligence.

    As an example… when KAL 007 was shot down by the Russians, the US produced audio recordings from the fighter pilots, showing their knowledge of the situation and their intent. How do you think they got that info? Hint: the NSA long before that had listening stations all over the world recording huge swaths of the electromagnetic spectrum to video tape just in case they needed it.

    The data they are capturing on the cell phone calls and email are just the modern equivalent of that. It is also, btw, constitutional.

    More importantly, if you look closely at all the revelations, you see that the NSA has strong and serious measures in place to minimize privacy violations. Just because your cell data is sitting on a hard drive somewhere doesn’t mean your privacy has been violated. It’s what they do with the data that counts, and how they control what they do with it, not the raw collection.

    The NSA has screwed up in one big way: they failed to anticipate the inevitable discovery of their programs, and hence they had not prepared the ideas battlespace adequately for the fuss.

    I suggest you pose to yourself the problem of countering serious terrorist threats while remaining within the Constitution and let us know of whatever brilliant scheme you come up with that beats what they are doing.

  • Valerie

    Hennesli,
    This Vietnam veteran begs to differ with you.

    http://vnafmamn.com/untoldpage/biased_banner.jpg

    The writer breaks down the reportage of U.S. committed atrocities.

  • The Roofer

    For me Manning does not fall into the “whistleblower” category. If he had just picked the things he felt we really should know about then I would have understood his motives. Just releasing information on the indefensible would have helped set the agenda for the debate – the behavior of the military in certain circumstances – and maybe also saved him from such a long sentence. Instead he chose to also dump a lot of data in the public domain including stuff which is little more than political tittle-tattle. He created a smokescreen for others to hide behind.

  • PeterT

    John Moore, forgive me if I do not want to build up the national security apparatus on the basis of what we think future terrorism might look like, which is total speculation and just sounds like an excuse for the MIC to make shit up that favours them.

    3,000 people is a lot compared to what the US has experienced in the past, but compared to other causes of death and the total US population, not to mention the 1m people killed in the Iraq conflict (or whatever it was, many multiples of 3,000), it is, frankly, peanuts. There is absolutely no reason why remedial actions should not be evaluated in a standard cost-benefit type analysis as one might use when considering seat belt laws or whatever.

    When Obama once said the US could ‘absorb’ a nuclear attack I thought that, while probably not phrased very well, at least it suggested that somebody was applying reason to the problem of dealing with terrorism. Predictably some hawk at the AEI jumped on it. At the time I frequented their blog now and again.

    As far as I am concerned national security enthusiasts can take a long walk off a short pier into a sea of lava. The amount of freedom they have cost us boggles the mind.

    Perry, point taken. It turns out Manning was a bit of a nutter so calling him a hero is a bit of a stretch. However, his actions were useful in the cause of liberty.

  • the other rob

    Following up on PeterT’s introduction of cost-benefit analysis, this comment on Charlie Stross’ blog is worth a read.

  • Tarrou

    PeterT, not quite sure why the casualties of Iraq are getting compared to the casualties from 9/11. 9/11 was not a cassus belli for the Iraq war, although I’ll agree that it lead to a public spirit of intolerance for supporters of terrorism which made it easier to pass the resolution for the use of force. And while one of the twelve reasons given for the authorization of force turned out to not be fully substantiated, most of the other eleven are pretty uncontroversial. At least five are full-on standard cassus belli (non-compliance with treaties, assassination attempts, firing on US military, harboring terrorists under its diplomatic immunity [Abu Nidal, others], paying bounties to the families of suicide bombers) any of which alone is a legitimate reason to wage war.

    If your cost-benefit analysis is that we waged war in Iraq to avenge 9/11, then yes, disproportionate in the extreme. But if you balance the actual reasons given for the invasion, and the costs associated there (Iran-Iraq war, the suppression of the southern shia and northern kurds, Kuwait, running international terror rings with diplomatic immunity) suddenly those numbers grow a lot closer together. Saddam shot, gassed and “disappeared” an estimated million Kurds alone, without even getting into what he did to the shia, the Kuwaitis, and the Iranians. Cost benefit analysis, the US could have killed ten times as many as actually died, and probably come out ahead on that comparison. And remember, the US only killed a tiny fraction of the many who died in Iraq. The vast, overwhelming majority were killed by their fellow Iraqis. Now, I think we bear some responsibility there for removing their security forces, which contributed to the mayhem, but that society was rigged to blow. Everyone hated everyone, the minute they had an opening, they started avenging the past fifty years of slights, murders and oppression.

    The devil of debate is in the assumptions.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Tarrou writes: “Perry, your analysis of the video is full of value judgments, as was the “collateral murder” editing, which apparently colored your viewing, as it was meant to”

    There is no value judgement here. Adam Maas claimed that the children were likely wounded by something other than the helicopter. The video shows the van continuously from its appearance to the point where the children are removed. In that time, it is attacked exactly once, by the helicopter.

    As for the “good samaritan” claim, as we know who the driver of the van was, and we know why he was driving by that location and his business that day, we know that he was in no way affiliated with the reporters, who were complete strangers to him. His only motivation to stop and aid wounded people in the street could be a general desire to help others in that situation. They were, after all, complete strangers he saw wounded and dying and he stopped. Is this not what a good samaritan is in common parlance, one who helps a stranger in distress?

    What ulterior motive do you think there could be in attempting to aid the wounded? Do you believe helping wounded strangers — and the individuals in question were strangers to the wounded — can be characterized in some other way?

    Who is prejudiced here? Is it me, someone who simply uses plain language and describes the plain content of a video anyone can watch?

    And yes, I will admit I come to this video with a prejudice of my own — I believe in the rule of law. I do not believe shooting strangers who are not clearly enemies in a civilian city is justifiable behavior. I believe it is honorable and laudable to help wounded people, and repulsive to shoot at those who fire on rescuers. I also believe what I see.

    All of these perfectly ordinary sentiments are to be taken as shameful, however, in this new world where black is white, up is down.

  • Laird

    John Moore, you really have drunk deeply of the Koolaid, haven’t you? Of course I expect the US intelligence services to record Soviet fighters’ radio conversations; that’s what they’re supposed to do. But I do not expect them to archive every conversation and email of every US citizen in the vague hope that somehow, someday, some piece of it will be useful in preventing a terrorist attack or (more likely) merely identifying a terrorist after the fact. Sorry, but the cost is just too high. I’d rather take my chances with the occasional terrorist attack than allow this country to be turned into a police state. Which, sadly, is what it is becoming. A line has to be drawn somewhere, and I draw it here.

    You’ve never actually read the Fourth Amendment, have you? If you had you wouldn’t blithely assert that the capture of all Americans’ cell phone records and emails is constitutional.

  • Richard Thomas

    Tarrou, there are indeed mistakes (which is a good reason why wars or conflicts should be avoided where possible in the first place) and then there is reckless indifference. If you are the good guys, you don’t take pot-shots at passers-by “just in case”.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Richard Thomas: precisely.

    I’m reminded of this exchange from Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil”. (Persons commenting with ad hominems about Welles will be permanently ignored.)

    Quinlan: Our friend Vargas has some very special ideas about police procedure. He seems to think it don’t matter whether killers hang or not, so long as we obey the fine print.

    Vargas: Captain, I don’t think a policeman should work like a dog catcher in putting criminals behind bars. No! In any free country, a policeman is supposed to enforce the law, and the law protects the guilty as well as the innocent.

    Quinlan: Our job is tough enough.

    Vargas: It’s supposed to be. It has to be tough. A policeman’s job is only easy in a police state. That’s the whole point, Captain – who’s the boss, the cop or the law?

    It is always the case that a policeman or soldier would be safer simply killing anyone they have the least suspicion of. If there’s a bank robber in an apartment building, why not just blow it up, along with anyone innocent who happens to live in it? Surely that’s safer for the cops. If you want to maximize safety for the police or soldiers, why not just nuke entire towns, innocents with the guilty?

    I’ll answer my own question: because we’re not animals. We’re not barbarians, either. We’re civilized people. The price of civilization is that you don’t get to shoot people just because you don’t know what their intent is. Murder is not a legitimate policing instrument.

    The rules of the job, which you know when you join on, are that you’re not there to maximize personal safety, but rather to enforce the rule of law. Being a soldier or policeman is inherently more dangerous than being an insurance adjuster. That is because you are, in fact, obliged in many cases to put yourself at risk when you do not know the intent of someone who might or might not wish you ill. This is as it should be. If one doesn’t like it, one should not voluntarily sign up for either profession.

  • John Moore

    @PeterT

    “As far as I am concerned national security enthusiasts can take a long walk off a short pier into a sea of lava”

    This national security advocate already took that hike for you – to Vietnam. I not only believe in defending our country, I put my life where my sympathies lie.

    Regarding freedoms lost, would you care to enumerate them? About all I see of real freedoms lost to national defense is TSA airport inspections, and of course the cost of defense.

    Did you lose freedoms due to the NSA? No.

    And since you so happily are willing to accept 3000 deaths in a single terrorist incident, and consider a nuclear strike to be okay, your credibility on this issue is zip. And btw, the number of people whose records were inappropriately accessed was small compared to that 3000, and even in those cases, they lost no freedoms.

    And, if that nuclear attack happened, what do you think will happen to your cherished liberties? Hint: what we have today will look really, really good to Libertarians.

    Manning was a traitor. He took an oath an violated it. He provided information (such as names of covert informants) that got people killed. He did nothing for freedom.

    You demonstrate once again how Libertarians are forced by their ideology to minimize real threats while over-hyping much less dangerous threats (such as NSA data gathering). It’s one reason the population doesn’t trust libertarians enough to elect one President

  • John Moore

    Laird,

    “But I do not expect them to archive every conversation and email of every US citizen in the vague hope that somehow, someday, some piece of it will be useful in preventing a terrorist attack or (more likely) merely identifying a terrorist after the fact. Sorry, but the cost is just too high”

    And that cost is? And the cost of a major terrorist is? Let’s hear it.

    As for me not reading the fourth Amendment, you would be wrong about that, which is consistent with your failure to reason well on this issue.

    I not only have read it, but I have also read *lots* of legal analysis of this particular issue – much by ideological opponents to it. And… guess what… it’s constitutional. It’s constitutional because you have no expectation of privacy on data that is owned by third parties – in this case, the internet service providers.

  • Midwesterner

    The cost is trusting the most corruptible demographic there is (politicians) with complete knowledge of every facet of your private life. Just imagine your worst enemy getting a hold of that information about you. Sooner or later it will happen. Even the IRS, which has the greatest lawful access to your personal information, has been corrupted to serve the ambitions of the political class.

    In a nation where permission is required to put a window in your house and a license to drive on public roads, I certainly don’t want the people who control those permissions to have access to my private life and therefore my political and other affiliations. This whole comprehensive system created by the DEA, NSA etc who conspired to commit systematized perjury regarding the originating cause of their investigations demonstrates the utter corruptibility of the ‘safeguards’ in which you so blithely place your faith (and and everybody’s safety and freedom).

    Furthermore, my data is no more “owned” by the internet service providers than the USPS “owns” my first class mail.

  • Tarrou

    Perry, you continue to conflate the duties and responsibilities of policemen and soldiers. I’ve said it before, but you seem not to understand or at least to disagree. War is not peace, soldiers are not cops, ROE is not civilian law. Aside from that, I think we have very different priorities in a warzone. We may never agree, but I ask you this, even if you never post anything on it here, consider, in the words of Cromwell, the possibility that you might be mistaken. I do the same, I assure you.

    John Moore, I’m with you to a point in defense of the military, but we part ways on things like the NSA snooping. I think it’s unconscionable, not least because of the very critique I make to Perry above. War is not peace, America is not a warzone, and the NSA is not the FBI. It’s a violation of our very system of warfare, in which domestic matters are strictly separate from foreign ones. We can debate the effectiveness and propriety of snooping on various foreign assets, but to have our intelligence community hoovering up every phone call and e-mail in the country is beyond the pale. It is not to be tolerated in a free society.

    11B20B4

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    John Moore writes: “This national security advocate already took that hike for you – to Vietnam. I not only believe in defending our country, I put my life where my sympathies lie.”

    Argument from authority is no prettier than any other logical fallacy.

    “Did you lose freedoms due to the NSA? No.” — Why, yes, in fact, I did.

    I now fear, reasonably I think, that my conversations are being recorded, sorted, and preserved, and that, should there be a slight change in attitude by our masters in Washington, I stand a real chance of being tracked down based on such things and placed in a prison camp for dissidents, one from which I will never return. I am, after all, a dissident.

    (I fully expect the guards to be people who volunteered to “serve their country”, who claim they are happy to die for their country, and who question the manhood of others who do not place themselves at personal risk to guard said camp. I also expect many of them will say that the rest of us just don’t understand the sacrifices involved in service to one’s nation.)

    And yes, I’m quite serious. Over 260,000,000 people died at the hands of their own governments over the 20th century, a number that makes the 3,000 who died on 9/11 seem quite insignificant I might add.

    We’re mere inches away from such a totalitarian state at this point. All the infrastructure needed for a totalitarian regime beyond the wildest wet dream of the Soviets and East Germans is now in place, and there are vast numbers of people indoctrinated with the idea that love of ones country means blind obedience to authority and service in the security forces — all that is required from here is a slight reduction in the already tenuous morals of those in charge, and the rest will be history.

    Freedom is not an accident, and is not preserved by the genetic superiority of people in free countries. It is the result of institutions that preserve freedom, and cultures that value freedom over obedience.

    “And since you so happily are willing to accept 3000 deaths in a single terrorist incident, and consider a nuclear strike to be okay, your credibility on this issue is zip.” — on the contrary, I consider those who are unwilling to rationally consider risks and make tradeoffs to have no credibility. Those who would trade incredible, unfathomable risks to their lives in exchange for “safety from terrorism”, for example.

    And yes, rational people do make tradeoffs. Here is one you seem to ignore. About 300-400 people die every single day, day after day, from a lack of proper handwashing in hospitals in the United States. I ask if a loss of 3000 people every ten days is not more important than a loss of 3000 people every few decades or even longer.

    Irrational people, of course, happily proclaim that making tradeoffs is insane and unacceptable, and that spending trillions on an effort to prevent a handful of deaths while at the same time creating international resentments that all but assure more deaths is somehow “sanity”. Such people pretend that the hundreds of thousands of deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and other places are not merely morally acceptable as a tradeoff, but have placed us at no additional risk from those who are not pleased to have seen their relatives die. Such people claim that it is unreasonable in a nation of hundreds of millions to accept small risks while concentrating on large risks.

    I ignore the irrational folks, of course.

  • Laird

    John Moore, the “cost” is our nation’s soul. That’s worth more than any terrorist attack. This country was founded on individual freedom, most especially freedom from overweening, oppressive government. If that is lost, so is the nation’s very purpose. Then there is nothing left which is worth defending.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Tarrou writes: “Perry, you continue to conflate the duties and responsibilities of policemen and soldiers.”

    I’m afraid that I’m a libertarian. That means that I don’t see it as being morally acceptable to shoot an unarmed and entirely ordinary person attempting to aid an injured third party they see lying in the street. It makes no difference what sort of clothing, be it a fancy blue uniform or a set of fancy “fatigues”, the person in question might be wearing.

    Perhaps an attention to morality is old fashioned. It is, however, my particular failing.

    I will note, however, that it appears that the people that drafted the US rules of engagement for Iraq seem to have shared this old fashioned failing with me — enough so that the folks who investigated the incident in question thought that it was important to go through the effort of covering it up. One does not risk breaking the law to cover up something that is not itself a crime.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Laird writes: “the `cost’ is our nation’s soul. That’s worth more than any terrorist attack.”

    Although I agree that is indeed a cost, and not one to ignore, I would still strongly argue that there are quite practical, direct, and horrible consequences possible.

    The risk is not merely an abstract loss of freedom, it is a very direct loss of freedom, and even human lives. Historically, surveillance states have been central to some of the most astonishing mass killings in human history.

    Even when not in the service of people like Stalin, the consequences have still been horrific. The Stasi did not maintain a total surveillance state in East Germany purely to provide state officials with entertaining tapes of people eating breakfast — its function was to permit brutal and total control of the populace.

    At the risk of quoting my own recent posting, allow me to point at it: Total Surveillance Means Absolute Power.

    If one does not want to allow a police state to come in to existence, a key precaution is not to put into place all the instruments a police state requires to function. This is nothing more than common sense.

  • John Moore

    “Furthermore, my data is no more “owned” by the internet service providers than the USPS “owns” my first class mail.”

    I guess you don’t read the agreements closely.

  • John Moore

    **deleted by the management: Comments that are simply insults are not tolerated, so makes a coherent argument or piss off**

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    John Moore: a difference of opinion is fine. Repeated name calling is not. I would like to ask you to please apologize for your incivility.

  • I’m afraid that I’m a libertarian. That means that I don’t see it as being morally acceptable to shoot an unarmed and entirely ordinary person attempting to aid an injured third party they see lying in the street. It makes no difference what sort of clothing, be it a fancy blue uniform or a set of fancy “fatigues”, the person in question might be wearing. Perhaps an attention to morality is old fashioned. It is, however, my particular failing.

    Well the nature of war is such that if the ‘injured third party’ appears to be the enemy, then yes, you might well have cause to shoot the people going to help them too, as the whole object of the exercise (i.e. firing weapons at them) is cause the enemy combatants you are attacking to die.

    Sadly when it proves to be the case that they were not enemy combatants and the people killed trying to help them were just civilians, then the ghastliness of war is truly magnified… but such things happen in wars and if one intends to actually successfully prosecute a war, one has to accept that such things *are* going to happen… and if you can’t accept that as an inevitable consequence of going to war, then you have to accept you cannot fight wars (against anyone really unless your enemy is almost always clearly distinguishable from non-combatants, which pretty much just leaves air-to-air and naval combat).

    Such horrors are why it is a great idea to go to war with people are infrequently as possible. Unfortunately with wars, it does not take two to tango, so avoiding wars is not always possible.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Perry de Havilland writes: “Well the nature of war is such that if the ‘injured third party’ appears to be the enemy, then yes, you might well have cause to shoot the people going to help them too — I believe the Geneva Conventions prohibit firing on unarmed medics, even when rendering medical assistance, and certainly on unarmed civilians even if rendering medical aid, regardless of where they may be found. By the way, you yourself are expected to render medical aid to enemy combatants if you come across them incapacitated on the battle field, and the policy of all Western armies is to provide such medical aid whenever feasible.

    Furthermore, this was not a battlefield. Technically it was not even war any longer at all. It was the middle of an inhabited city under occupation. Civilians were all around, traveling in their cars and on foot and living and working in nearby buildings. Indeed, no one had fired upon the helicopter at all. Indeed, the pilots were entirely mistaken as to whether the reporters were armed.

    Indeed, the presence of arms themselves would not have been an indication that these were legitimate targets. Recall that this was a city where numerous civilians legitimately carried weapons, with the permission of the US occupying forces, for self defense throughout the occupation. (Indeed, I have friends who are civilians and who worked in Baghdad at the time and carried arms quite openly for protection. I recognize that to someone from the UK the idea of civilians carrying weapons is alien, but this was indeed the case.)

    Recall again that this was not a battlefield — it was an occupied civilian city. The Geneva Conventions happen to have a lot to say about the obligations of occupying powers, including extremely stringent rules for the protection of civilians even at added risk to the occupiers, much of which the US seems to have ignored. Protection of civilians by the occupying power is paramount under the rules. No one is obligated to occupy a city, remember. Choosing to do so means you accept responsibility for the protection of the inhabitants, even if that protection is dangerous to provide.

    I will go further, however. If we are to claim that war is a state in which it is considered permissible to fire on unknown persons who just happen to be aiding strangers who are lying dying in the streets, then war itself is clearly immoral and impermissible. If war is to be considered permissible, then this clearly cannot be accepted. Again, a soldier is a person just like any other, and wearing a uniform does not miraculously absolve one of moral obligations, including the obligation not to initiate physical violence against the peaceful.

  • Perry M. You write as if war is a legal exercise. It is not. You write as if a battlefield has umpires declaring what is and is not a battlefield. That is not the reality.

    The fact no one had fired on the helicopters is irrelevant. The helicopters were hunting for targets on the ground in accordance with their orders as the city was indeed where fighting was going on. The fact they attacked the wrong people was tragic but also irrelevant to my point: that is what happens in wars. You write “someone from the UK the idea of civilians carrying weapons is alien, but this was indeed the case”, and this too is irrelevant.

    I have lived in a great many places. My first hand up close and personal experience with a war was not the Middle East but rather the Balkans, and not as a member of some well managed First World military. But the messy dynamics will always be the same regardless of where the mortars and rifles are firing. It was like a snuff movie with a soundtrack of canned laughter as errors were so common. That is what wars are like.

    I am all for punishing willful atrocity. I have smelled mass graves in Bosnia, Perry, and not just read about them or seen the unsteady cam pictures of them on CNN. Indeed *that* is both why I am a libertarian and not a pacifist. But I do not think wars really work the way you seem to think. I do not think they ever have or ever could.

    In short, either you take the pacifist position that as war so often makes it impossible to decide with certainty who the recipient of your attacks will be, which is to say that to actually fight at all you just have to take the shot and hope you are right… that surrender is morally preferable to fighting, even if the consequences of that are a Nazi or Soviet or Chetnik or Islamist victory due to your opponent lacking any such qualms. That is the stark choice. To think there is another way is simply wishful thinking.

    Or you accept that in order to fight, you try not to shoot the ‘wrong’ people but you accept that collateral damage is always… and I do mean always… going to happen. And errors are always going to happen. A lot. And if the enemy hides in a school, you take the shot anyway, because if you don’t, you are actually letting him know that hiding in schools is effective and something he should do as often as possible.

    So you either flail about as best you can and hope you do the right thing or you don’t fight at all.

    And that is the price everyone pays for war.

  • I see two crucial points here. One made by Tarrou – which is the distinction between protecting the rule of law in a civilian setting (the function of police), and fighting a war (the function of military). Which leads me to the second point, and that is the distinction between fighting a war and occupying foreign territory. The main problem I see with the latter is that it blurs the first distinction, with all kinds of negative consequences, both abroad and at home. My conclusion from all this is that when war cannot be avoided, the next thing to be avoided (or at least shortened as much as possible) is occupation.

  • Rich Rostrom

    I would be a lot more impressed with the alleged revelations of American war crimes if it had not been proved, with overwhelming evidence, that the American, and European, and even some of the Israeli press will believe such accusations even when the accusers are engaged in blatantly obvious fakery.

    The Vietnam paradigm has such strong grip on American and European thought that barbarians all around the world now have an unanswerable tactic – get enough civiliens killed. and the civilized powers will feel guilty and go away.

    I would be a lot more impressed with the righteous indignation toward American, and American-allied, and Israeli forces for alleged atrocities if the indignators were not utterly indifferent to the ubiquitous atrocities of Communist and Islamist “insurgents”.

    For every incident in which American or American-allied forces in Iraq or Afghanistan may have caused deaths through error or collateral damage. there were dozens of incidents in which “insurgents” deliberately murdered Iraqi and Afghan civilians.

    Yet I never saw anyone saying Mullah Omar or Ayman al-Zawahiri was a war criminal.

    Nor Ho Chi Minh, despite the thousands of Vietnamese civilians killed by marketplace bombs there.

  • Eric

    Eric and friends. You are no friends of liberty..

    PeterT, you are wrong, and I feel the same way about you.