by Dean Lawrence R. Velvel by Dean Lawrence R. Velvel
There is an aspect of the killing of Zarqawi about which I have read no comment whatever, although the bare facts have been reported, if sometimes conflictingly. The absence of any comment, it seems to me, speaks volumes about what the country has become.
Zarqawi, as all know, was not the only one killed when two 500-pound bombs were dropped on the safe house. Two other men were killed there, two women were also, and though the military spokesman at first denied it (read lied about it), so was a small child who is now said to have been five or six years old. There have been some Iraqi reports that one of the women and the child, a girl, were Zarqawi's wife and daughter. There have been other reports that they may have been former tenants or something. Who knows who they were at this point? All we can know with relative certainty now is that there were two women and a small girl, as well as Zarqawi, and two other men, one of whom was his spiritual adviser, whom we tracked to the house.
Whether the third man was an Al Qaeda operative, and whether the two women were operatives or bystanders (regardless of whether one was Zarqawi's wife), are unknown to the American public. One thing we can be certain of, though, is that the five or six year old child was not an Al Qaeda operative. She, at least, was beyond dispute an innocent.
Now, at the somewhat superficial level, this raises the obvious question. Why did we bomb the house, thereby insuring the death of all inside? (We used bombs so powerful that they created huge craters, which the military promptly had filled in by bulldozers, no doubt to hide the power of the explosives that were used. Anyone who has ever seen bomb craters, though, as I did in North Viet Nam, can just imagine what the whole deal must have looked like (not to mention the pictures that have been shown).) Why didn't we surround it, attack it, rush it, etc., instead of blowing it to smithereens with two 500-pound bombs, with the certainty of killing all inside.
Now, speaking frankly, given the limited information currently in my possession, I want to concede up front that, had it been me making the decision, instead of it being made by the officers who actually were on the ground and by other officers who were back at various headquarters monitoring the situation by video and either radio or telephone, I probably would have made the same decision. So one claims no superior morality here, even if one decision rather than another would have been superior morality, which can be questioned in light of the desirability of insuring Zarqawi's death. But the fact that one might have made the same, apparently time-pressured decision, does not mean that the questions will go away.
So why did we bomb the house instead of forcing entry? Well, a couple of reasons apparently have been given by Caldwell, who is apparently something of a liar — or, at minimum, is willing to make ex cathedra statements to the press even when he has no idea what the truth is — and by that ignorant murderous jerk, Rumsfeld. The reasons include a claimed fear that Zarqawi might again get away — he is claimed to have had a 360 degree possibility of retreat from the house — and an unwillingness to risk American lives against what could turn out to be a heavily defended target. And I'll add yet another reason. Maybe those inside would all, or mostly, have been killed in a heavy firefight anyway (although this certainly is not as likely as that they would all be killed in the explosions of two 500-pound bombs).
These claimed or imaginable reasons raise other questions, however. Were there American and/or Iraqi troops surrounding the house, thus making an escape by Zarqawi unlikely at least during daylight? Bystanders speak of what would seem to be lots of commandos rappelling down from helicopters early-on, while sometimes other reports seem to indicate that only a few Americans were on the scene initially though many more arrived one or two hours later. How many Iraqi troops were there and when did they get there? This is unclear. And what did we know about who was in the house, and did we care who was in it?
The military hasn't said whether we knew who was in it, and no doubt it will refuse to say so, claiming this would compromise its intelligence sources and methods — such claims, and secrecy, are, after all, the policy about everything in this Administration. But it seems to me that we very likely knew who was in it, or could have known if we had wanted to know. The military knew where Zarqawi was not just because it tracked his spiritual adviser, but also because it, or the Jordanian intelligence service with which it was working, had "turned" someone who was close to Zarqawi. (Given the 25 million dollar reward, this guy was not exactly Claus von Stauffenberg.) In fact, the informant conceivably was in the one out of three GMC trucks which villagers saw drive up to the safe house prior to the attack, with the one then driving away. But whether the informant was in the truck which drove away or was elsewhere, if he was personally close enough to Zarqawi to know exactly where he was in all of Iraq, it seems pretty reasonable to think it likely that he also knew who else was in the safe house with Zarqawi. Did he tell our military who was there? Did he lie about it to make a bombing more likely and possibly increase the chance of obtaining 25 million bucks? Did our military ask him who else was there? Did our military care who else was there?
If you ask for my guess, it's dollars to doughnuts that our military didn't care who else was in the house. Special Forces had been trying to track down Zarqawi for months, he had narrowly escaped them a few times, they were frustrated about all this, he was responsible for killing hundreds, maybe thousands, of people, they didn't want him to have any chance of escape, they didn't want Americans to die in the process of trying to capture or kill him. Put it all together and it seems likely that they didn't give a damn who else was in the house and would have bombed it, and rationalized the bombing of it, even if someone had told them there were five kids in there. Would they have drawn the line at ten kids? At twenty? At fifty? Who knows? Is it mere fortuity rather than mindset that caused five villagers, including some small kids, to be killed by an American grenade in a raid on a nearby village shortly afterwards? That has caused the killings of thousands of civilians, including kids, in bombing raids and by American shelling? That created Haditha — just as we had My Lai and Tiger Force in Nam, mass murder in Korea, and wholesale slaughter in the Philippines?
Now, as said, the question of why we bombed the house is, in terms of the immediate event, pretty superficial, not hard to answer. And, as I conceded, I would probably have given the same order had it been me giving orders instead of the guys who actually did so. But the deeper question raised by all this is: what kind of country have we now become? — or perhaps, in light of our history, going back to slaughters of Indians, what kind of country have we long been? We did slaughter Indian women and children on many occasions, for which I know of no excuse. We did slaughter Filipinos — ditto. We engaged in mass terror bombings of Germany and Japan, but at least one can say, and I personally believe, that in WWII we faced an evil so terrible, one which the civilian populations had put into power and/or in which they were complicit, that the bombing was desirable as an object lesion to those countries never again to attempt war and conquest — a lesson we administered but did not learn. There was no excuse for our slaughter of civilians in Korea nor for our wholesale killings of them in Nam. And one is truly hard pressed to understand any good reason for the massive killing of civilians — old people, women, children — that we have perpetrated in Iraq. To us, wholly immorally, and even more so to the moral degenerates at the top of our government, all these people are simply collateral damage, like the little girl in the safe house, who may or may not have been Zarqawi's daughter.
The fact that the death of that little girl has evoked no comment whatever in the American mass media (at least not so far as I know) speaks to what this country has become. It also brings home another point. In this era of modern war, where more civilians are killed than military personnel (as occurred in World War II), it is morally crucial to have unassailable reasons to go to war, as in World War II. Otherwise, we are inevitably condemning thousands of innocents to death. Such inevitable condemnation is the morally degenerate decision that was made by Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz and their ilk. Any argument that they thought it would be a short war is no excuse. Such argument is merely stupid because it is both common and commonly wrong.
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. Bill Maher lost his TV show for saying that the suicides who flew planes into the Twin Towers on 9/11 had courage. They had, after all, gone to their certain deaths. By any reasonable standard, Maher was right (notwithstanding 100 virgins and all that stuff). But it didn't fit what Americans wanted to think, so Americans insisted that they be called cowards. But our troops in Iraq are called courageous. I generally agree with calling our troops courageous, since they run horrid risks. But is it in fact courage when we avoid risk by calling down bombs — from planes piloted by men who themselves run no risk — to destroy a house and its occupants, rather than run the risk to men on the ground of attacking the house on foot? It is smart to call down bombs, from the standpoint of protecting our troops. I would have done it myself. But is it courage? Especially is it courage if we know there are, or suspect there could be, innocent adults or even children inside? Maybe this is thought to be courage by cowardly moral degenerates like Bush and Cheney, who ran from war during Nam yet now blithely send other people's families off to war, though not their own. But it is hard to believe it would be considered courage on any objective basis, or by men who in other wars have won medals by such heroism as charging machine gun nests or jumping on hand grenades to protect their buddies.
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.