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

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