E-Mail Correspondence With Captain Byron King of the United States Navy Reserve

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Appended
below is a most interesting email from Captain Byron King, USNR,
and a response to his comments.

From: Byron
King, Pittsburgh, PA (Practicing Attorney & Captain, US Navy
Reserve)
To: Dean
Lawrence R. Velvel, Massachusetts School of Law

No, we have
never met. But I read your
post on LewRockwell.com
, lifted from your blog comments.

By way of professional
courtesy, as one attorney to another, I beg to point out a few things
based upon what I know from first hand knowledge or from other very
reliable sources.

US Army Major
General Caldwell, whom you disparaged, is nobody’s “yes man.” He
is an official US Army spokesman, whose job is to speak to the media.
He is also a trained Army Ranger (it is, in its own way, as hard
a job to be a Ranger as it is to accomplish most of the supremely
difficult things in life, IMHO), with a long list of direct action
experience under his belt. He is fully aware of the vagaries of
“first reports” from combat front lines.

Caldwell’s
current job involves sifting through whatever comes in, and attempting
to present an accurate summary of events to the media, particularly
to the “Green Zone” warriors who seldom, if ever, venture outside
their gated community. Apropos your comments, there was initial
confusion about “the little girl” (whomever she is, and we do not
know if she is al-Zarqawi’s daughter) who was killed in the bombing
of al-Zarqawi’s safe-house. Different reports from different people,
transmitted from the front lines at about the same time, referred
to her as a “female,” “woman,” “young woman,” and “child of indeterminate
age.” Hence the differing initial reports, which were not “lies”
as you so boldly mischaracterized them.

Another way
of stating it is that the world’s news media can have its news “fast”
or it can have it “completely accurate,” but not both. Remember
that the next time you pick up a newspaper.

The last time
I saw General Caldwell, he was riding the Metro in Washington DC
– in uniform, with his name tag visible. I asked him why a
Major General in his position would be riding the Metro, and he
replied that “it is one more way to see what is going on in the
world.” He also noted to me that “four star generals ought to spend
less time in their staff cars, and more time riding the Metro.”
So you might consider giving the man a break, or at least not call
him a “liar” when he is doing his job.

Al-Zarqawi’s
safe house was constructed out of reinforced concrete and steel
I-Beams. (Is your house built that way?) Some of the walls were
10 inches thick of poured concrete. This was no tumbledown shack
by the railroad track; no little “farm house” in the middle of a
date palm orchard. It was no easy “takedown” for any combat team,
let alone the relatively small group of special forces that fingered
Zarqawi to the specific location at a specific time. “Surround and
wait” was not an option under the circumstances. In addition, the
occupants must have had some realization that they were found out,
because somebody on the inside started shooting at the US forces
on the outside. Hence they called for ordnance support, and the
“operational fires” commander sent the F-16s overhead.

The F-16s were
on a detached air support mission, with no anticipation by the pilots
that they were going to be called to bomb al-Zarqawi’s house. (One
F-16 was in the midst of aerial refueling and had to break off from
the airborne tanker to fly to the target area.) Of the two 500-pound
bombs dropped in the engagement, the first was laser-designated
and the second was GPS-guided. They were both fused to explode after
penetrating into the house, as opposed to detonating on first contact
with an outside, concrete wall. That al-Zarqawi’s body was intact,
and that he was alive for some time post-bombing, indicates that
he had taken shelter in the basement part of the structure which
is where he was found by the Iraqi officers who first entered the
place. So the field evidence is that al-Zarqawi apparently knew
that something was coming at him (he probably heard the jet noise,
which is loud as hell), and took cover. It was not as if al-Zarqawi
shielded the little girl with his body, in one last act of supreme
and altruistic heroism.

Among other
things, you wrote:

“One last point
inherent in killing the little girl who may or may not have been
Zarqawi's daughter. It is about the question of courage. I suppose
one has to expect that a country whose moral reasoning is as screwed
up as ours would get the question of courage all wrong too.”

I disagree.
al-Zarqawi’s stock in trade was the indiscriminate bomb, attacking
market places, squares, mosques, etc. His end came at the hands
of pilots who could, and did, deliberately and accurately place
target-appropriate weapons within a few feet of the aim point.

As for “screwed
up” moral reasoning, believe it or not, many of the people within
the US military who were instrumental in developing “precision”
weapons over the past 30 years or so were devoutly religious (the
late Admiral Arthur Cebrowski comes to mind.) There was a school
of thought along the lines of Catholic “Just War” theory inherent
in the focus of the respective weapons programs. That is, if war
will be waged by the politicians, then it should be conducted in
such a manner that will minimize the death and suffering of the
innocent. The result was that US conventional weapons are of such
accuracy as to make it possible for the policy-makers to pull back
from Cold War doctrines involving use of nuclear weapons in war
fighting. (another discussion entirely…)

Al-Zarqawi
chose to lead the self-styled romantic life of a combatant leader,
using brutal methods of terrorism to fight an asymmetric war against
the U.S. and its coalition allies. In the course of his abbreviated
life, al-Zarqawi created for himself a war zone in whatever land
he dwelt (Jordan, Afghanistan and eventually Iraq). He was dogmatic,
a true believer, a fanatic, a "world-improver" who desired
to remake the planet in his own image. al-Zarqawi was, in so many
respects, emblematic of Hannah Arendt’s depiction of the "banality
of evil."

Whoever was
there in the ill-fated house, it was al-Zarqawi who killed them.
He knew that he was the subject of a comprehensive manhunt, with
a $25 million bounty on his head. He knew that his pursuers were
competent, and that any moment could be his last. Yet al-Zarqawi
chose to make a call on a certain locale, in the company of others
including the women and/or child. When surrounded, someone in al-Zarqawi's
entourage chose to fire on his pursuers in true Bonnie & Clyde
fashion, rather than to surrender. al-Zarqawi headed for the basement.
And then the bombs fell.

Thus to the
very end, al-Zarqawi was a killer. Others died? If so, it was the
culmination of a chain of events set in motion entirely by the late
and unlamented al Qaeda leader. The death of any innocent is a sad
thing, but it was al-Zarqawi's doing. I am reminded of the words
of Herman Melville who wrote the tale of Captain Ahab and his ship
the Pequod, which "like Satan, would not sink to Hell till
she had dragged a living part of Heaven along with her."

Dear Captain
King:

Thank you
for your very fine e-mail. I appreciate it. There are points of
great interest in it, including points I agree with. I do have a
few responses, however,

  1. Given your
    admitted reliance on "very reliable sources," I presume
    some of the information in your letters – information that
    is not yet publicly known insofar as I am aware (please correct
    me if I am mistaken about this) – was obtained from high
    Pentagon sources. Why? Did you obtain it to respond to my posting?
    Were you "officially commissioned" to respond to it,
    so to speak, or asked to respond to it? This all would be hard
    to believe, for I do not attribute to myself any such importance.
    (I was not even able to make Nixon's enemies list as far as I
    know.) But why did you feel it necessary to respond, and
    to include information not publicly known (insofar as I am aware):
    information such as I-beam reinforcements, walls ten inches thick,
    where Zarqawi is thought to have been in the house when the bombs
    struck, the fact that he was not sheltering another person with
    his body, the implication that others might not have been in the
    basement since they were dead when we took the house (or the rubble),
    and the fact that Zarqawi was not one of those who fired the shots.
    You or your "very reliable sources" are not merely speculating
    about some or all of these things, or releasing additional incomplete
    information, in order to avoid or put down some type of feared
    criticism of what we did, are you?
  2. For all
    the fine, even noble traits you find in General Caldwell, a finding
    I would never quarrel with, the fact is that, even though you
    say "He is fully aware of the vagaries of u2018first reports'
    from combat front lines," he was reported in the media to
    have at first flatly denied that a young girl was killed. If the
    media report was wrong, he, you or the military should say so.
    If the media report was not wrong, then he flatly denied something
    he may not have had information about. If he did this, there is
    a word for such a denial; but I need not repeat the word. Of course,
    maybe he had been assured by others that there had been no
    little girl there, so that he simply passed on erroneous information
    that he had been given and in good faith believed. If that is
    the case, you, he and/or the military should say so. What is not
    permissible, and deserves the word I shall not use, is to have
    flatly denied something that proved true, and to have done so
    without any subsequent reasonable explanation for the failure
    of truth.

    To say
    that the news media "can have its news u2018fast' or it can
    have it u2018completely accurate'" is wholly beside the point
    here, and is indeed, an attempt at deflection. The military
    should not be putting out false statements. If a military spokesman
    does not know or must refuse to state the facts (as with regard
    to the location of the persons in the car that drove away),
    he should say so. What is impermissible, and deeply contrary
    to the military's own strictures on honesty of officers, is
    to tell untruths. It is, of course, extremely sad, and deeply
    disheartening, that ever since Viet Nam people are prone to
    disbelieve the military and the government because of the astounding
    countertradition of untruths that has been built up in opposition
    to the officer corp's prior longstanding tradition of truth.

  3. It is,
    I think, perhaps somewhat generous to say merely that it is
    illogical, and
    a mere attempt at deflection, to argue that a pilot killing
    people without serious risk to himself, or a weapons control
    officer on the ground hundreds or thousands of miles away doing
    the same, is showing courage because the target was an indiscriminate
    murderer. The question of courage has nothing to do with whether
    the target is a Zarqawi or a baby. It has to do, rather, with
    whether the person firing the weapon is himself or herself at
    serious risk. I'm confident you must in reality know this.

  4. One shakes
    one's head at the concept of the devoutly religious developing
    the
    kinds of massively destructive weapons we have today. Not to
    mention that those who believe in the concept of "just
    war" might be shaking their heads in wonderment at the
    point you make, since many of them, I gather, feel that this
    is not a just war. Not to mention that tens of thousands
    – could it conceivably be 100,000 or more, as some
    say? – have been killed by our weapons. So much for the
    humaneness of precision weapons.

  5. I'm sorry,
    Captain, but the fact is that we killed the little girl.
    Zarqawi's presence
    is the reason we killed her, but we, not he, killed her.
    It is rhetorical sleight of hand, it is a lawyer's trick (and
    also a rhetorical trick of right wingers who have written me)
    to say that he killed her. One could say that he was
    responsible by his presence for the fact that we killed
    her, one could also reasonably say, as many have, that it was
    immoral for him to have put a little girl in danger, but the
    fact remains that it was we who killed her. I say this
    even though I am fully aware, as said a few times in my blog,
    that I would almost surely have made the same decision to bomb
    the house had it been me on the scene making the decision. And
    I would have done it to safeguard the Americans on the scene
    from possible death or wounds. But I am at least cognizant of
    the truth of who killed the girl and have the honesty to concede
    it, unlike some of the right wing nuts who have written me crudely
    ignorant, savage emails cheering on all our destructive efforts
    and more or less hoping that we kill as many Muslims as possible.

By the way,
don't you think it entirely possible that the insurgents in Iraq
are considering how to get back at us by killing Iraqi officials,
American officers, and such like? And don't you think that American
intelligence and Iraqi intelligence know this and perhaps have warned
those who are potential targets? – who probably strongly suspect
it anyway? If these things are true, and if one or more of the possible
targets are killed by insurgent bombs, and if women or children
or fellow officials or fellow officers are with them and are also
killed in the blast, are you going to say it is the target(s) who
killed these other people rather than the insurgents? Are you going
to say it was the Iraqi officials or the American officers who killed
them? I seriously doubt that you or any other American will say
that. Yet that, of course, is exactly what you are saying about
Zarqawi. The unhappy fact, which is rebounding against us worldwide,
is that we apply wholly different standards of logic depending on
whether someone is on our side or the other side. And then we wonder
why others consider us vast hypocrites and hate our guts.

June
21,
2006

Dean Lawrence R. Velvel [send
him mail
] is an honors graduate of the University of Michigan
Law School, has practiced law in the public and private sectors,
and been a law professor. He is the author of the quartet Thine
Alabaster Cities Gleam. The books in the quartet are entitled:
Misfits
In America
, Trail
of Tears
, The
Hopes and Fears of Future Years: Loss and Creation
, and The
Hopes and Fears of Future Years: Defeat and Victory. Visit his
blog
.

Dean
Lawrence R. Velvel Archives

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