What’s Next? No Bid Contracts To Acme?

This is one of the fundamental reasons why I stand in opposition to the US presence in Iraq; the role and conduct of the military.  Prudence is the word of the day when ordering the military into combat, extreme prudence, and yet the entire Iraqi conflict is completely and totally void of such merit.  The result is therefore not only the misuse of our military, but also subjecting our service members to situations that the military should never be subjected to.

War is Hell, or so goes the old saying, and anyone who understands differently is living in a deluded fantasy.  But that still does not mean that there aren’t, for a lack of a better word, standards when it comes to warfare.  But if Iraq has shown us anything, it has been that we continue to do our armed forces a great disservice by throwing a conventional war service at a highly unconventional scenario.

The result is that not only are our troops put in much greater danger than they should be forced to experience, but also that the line between proper and improper conduct is greatly blurred.  One is forced, for instance, to recall the incident of Abu Ghraib.

At the time, and persisting to this day, the Administration line has been that this was the work of a few bad apples; a couple of soldiers who had simply crossed the line.  Even on this line of thinking, one could make the case that the war in Iraq has served our military poorly, forcing a few soldiers to descend into moral depravity.  However skeptics, of which I count myself, aren’t quick to buy off on the idea that this was an isolated incident.

Having some experience with this kind of thing in the military, I know that even the posture and actions of the government are not in character.  When something of this magnitude occurs, it is typical for the military to “fire” everyone in the chain of command; bottom up, top down, it doesn’t matter.  Within the last year, a rather small event onboard a Naval vessel that of course will never make the papers resulted in the relieving of duty of everyone in the chain of command just short of the commanding officer.  In the greater scheme of things, what happened was not a big deal, nor did it pose a physical threat to anyone whatsoever, but because there was a significant break down in military professionalism and the chain of command, anyone who could possibly be held to account was.

And then we have Abu Ghraib, highly publicized, highly volatile, and damning in the eyes of those whose hearts and minds we profess to win, and all we do is punish the very immediate transgressors with not but the most cursory look at their chain of command?  There is only one single explanation for this; political control of the situation to avert attention from the commanders who in all likelihood facilitated the abuse of the prisoners in Abu Ghraib.

You see, this is what Iraq is doing to our military, as well as the civillian and upper echelon military leadership.  Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, Sailors, they follow orders.  That is their job.  There is a section of the UCMJ that allows for service members to disobey unlawful orders, but unlawful orders are themselves a murky gray area much of the time, and in concert with the confusion that is Iraq, it is therefore unreasonable for a soldier to ascertain which orders are lawful, and which are not.

Which brings us to the story of the day.  Coming straight out of a Looney Toons script, it has been revealed that the Pentagon has a new strategy for the War in Iraq: baiting.  It’s difficult to not see Tom trying to design some intricate mouse trap for Jerry, or Wile E. Coyote dumping a pile of birdseed on some absurd mechanism while reading this:

A Pentagon group has encouraged some U.S. military snipers in Iraq to target suspected insurgents by scattering pieces of “bait,” such as detonation cords, plastic explosives and ammunition, and then killing Iraqis who pick up the items, according to military court documents.

The classified program was described in investigative documents related to recently filed murder charges against three snipers who are accused of planting evidence on Iraqis they killed.

“Baiting is putting an object out there that we know they will use, with the intention of destroying the enemy,” Capt. Matthew P. Didier, the leader of an elite sniper scout platoon attached to the 1st Battalion of the 501st Infantry Regiment, said in a sworn statement. “Basically, we would put an item out there and watch it. If someone found the item, picked it up and attempted to leave with the item, we would engage the individual as I saw this as a sign they would use the item against U.S. Forces.”

And already the plan has come up with problems.

The first being, just because someone picks up the bait and walks away with it, does that make them an enemy?  Perhaps they’re a concerned Iraqi citizen that is attempting to remove the offending item before a real bad guy gets it?  Plus, this is Iraq, we did take their economy which was in the toilet to being with, and flushed, so maybe they saw that and thought, “Hey, if I can sell this stuff, I can feed my family for a week.”  Not the best answer, but also not necessarily an enemy.

Meanwhile, again we are forced to look at the moral and professional quagmire such a strategy puts our soldiers in.  In fact, one need look not too terribly far for one example:

Within months of the program’s introduction, three snipers in Didier’s platoon were charged with murder for allegedly using those items and others to make shootings seem legitimate. Though it does not appear that the three alleged shootings were specifically part of the classified program, defense attorneys argue that the program may have opened the door to the soldiers’ actions because it blurred the legal lines of killing in a complex war zone.

James D. Culp, a civilian attorney for one of the snipers, Sgt. Evan Vela, said the soldiers became “battle-fatigued pawns in a newfangled concept of ‘baiting’ warfare that, like an onion, perhaps looked good on the surface, but started stinking to high hell the minute the layers were pulled back and scrutinized.”

Someone, apparently, forgot to get these soldiers the memo that they were supposed to plant the items BEFORE they started shooting.

But again, we must, as the defense explains, look at the situation that they are in.  They are fighting a force that is indiscernable from their allies and innocents, they are asked to do this in the face of death and yet are still being held to the highest standards of the UCMJ.

Look, I’m not one to say that bad apples don’t exist, however, it is clear that one of the damaging aspects of the Iraq war is that the leadership running this thing seems dead set on making as many bad apples as they possibly can.  At least that way, goes their crazy alien logic, no one will look at their own errors and hold them to account.

3 Responses to “What’s Next? No Bid Contracts To Acme?”

  1. Mick Arran says:

    …the leadership running this thing seems dead set on making as many bad apples as they possibly can. At least that way, goes their crazy alien logic, no one will look at their own errors and hold them to account.

    Yeah. Two years ago, I wrote about the lack of discipline and how it was going to hurt our troops. I said then:

    [T]he war’s commanders, civilian and military, aren’t really fighting the Iraq war. They’re re-fighting the Viet Nam war by the rules they’ve been arguing for decades should have been used, and the pre-emptive nature of the war itself has percolated down to the ground troops, turning each independent action into a pre-emptive assault on potential enemies–’Kill em all and let god sort em out’ as the only rule of engagement.

    I still think that’s basically true. For instance, the “bait” tactic you described was used by sniper squads in Viet Nam. They would leave ammo belts or grenades or even weapons by the side of the road and shoot anybody who picked them up. A friend of mine who’d been in country assigned to such a squad and just been rotated home told me about it one night when he was drunk and no one else was around. He said mostly kids picked up the stuff. At first he shot them. That’s the kind of war it was. But after awhile he couldn’t do it any more and convinced his CO to send him home before he broke.

    He was having nightmares, seeing the faces of the kids he killed – 8, 9 yrs old – in his sleep. When I mentioned it a year or so later, he pretended he didn’t know what I was talking about.

    We are doing incalculable damage to these young men and women that will stay with them the rest of their lives. All wars are ugly, but some are a lot uglier than others, so ugly it can be impossible to live with what you’ve done. Iraq is such a war. Like Nam, it’s going to be with us a long time – generations – after it’s over, and it will be the soldiers who pay the price.

  2. Macswain says:

    If the media reports are to be believed, this “baiting” game sounds like one of the stupidest ideas I’ve ever heard. So many Iraqis are desperate for $$$ thet were stripping every spare wire, nut and bolt out of buildings. Why wouldn’t they pick this stuff up with the intent of simply selling it to get some food for their family?

    It’s just too bizarre. I suspect there must be some other explanation. But my radar for sanity has been seriously damaged by Bush as time and again the unthinkable is proven to be reality.

  3. Macswain says:

    I would also add that the pressure to get “kills” sounds like something that needs to be looked into. Does anyone doubt that these snipers were doing everything they could to shoot bad guys? Then when pressure for more kills comes along, doesn’t this just say to the snipers that they should be less discerning as to who is and isn’t a bad guy?

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