Created on Monday, 26 November 2007 20:09
Written by Dahr Jamail
Iraq Has Only Militants, No Civilians:
"Tactical Perception Management" in Iraq
by Dahr Jamail
rom the beginning of the American occupation in Iraq, air strikes and attacks by the U.S. military have only killed "militants," "criminals," "suspected insurgents," "IED [Improvised Explosive Device] emplacers," "anti-American fighters," "terrorists," "military age males," "armed men," "extremists," or "al-Qaeda."
The pattern for reporting on such attacks has remained the same from the early years of the occupation to today.
Take a helicopter attack on October 23rd of this year near the village of Djila, north of Samarra. The U.S. military claimed it had killed 11 among "a group of men planting a roadside bomb." Only later did a military spokesperson acknowledge that at least six of the dead were civilians. Local residents claimed that those killed were farmers, that there were children among them, and that the number of dead was greater than 11.
Tomdispatch: Dahr Jamail, How to Control the Story, Pentagon-style
matter. Here's how Dahr Jamail, a young mountain guide and volunteer
rescue ranger in Alaska (who did freelance writing in the "off-season")
describes his rash decision, back in 2003, to cover George W. Bush's
Iraq War in person: "I decided that the one thing I could do was go to
Baghdad to report on the occupation myself. I saved some money, bought
a laptop, a camera, and a plane ticket, and, armed with information
gleaned via some connections made over the Internet, headed for the
Middle East." That was it. The next thing he knew he was driving
through the Iraqi desert from Amman, Jordan, toward Baghdad and
directly into the unknown. He had few contacts; no media organization
to back him; no hotel/office with private guards to return to at night;
no embedded place among American forces for protection; not even, on
arrival in Baghdad, any place to write for.
Call that a shot
in the dark. The result? A singularly remarkable running account of
what Iraq actually felt like, of what life for Iraqi civilians actually
was like after the shock-and-awe onslaught of March 2003 devolved into
the endless occupation/catastrophe we all know so well. Jamail, who has
written regularly for Tomdispatch these last years, has now published a
book on his time on (and always very close to) the ground in Iraq,
Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in
Occupied Iraq. Unnerving as it is to come, once again, upon the real
face of the American occupation, largely seen through Iraqi eyes,
Jamail's new book is also a gripping adventure to read, the odyssey of
a neophyte becoming a journalist under the pressure of events.
In reviewing the book for Mother Jones magazine, Nick Turse recently wrote:
suspect Jamail's account will prove an enduring document of what really
happened during the chaotic years of occupation, and how it transformed
ordinary Iraqis. To paraphrase one of the Vietnam War's finest
correspondents, Gloria Emerson, writing about Jonathan Schell's
exceptional accounts of that conflict: If, years from now, Americans
are willing to read any books about the war, this one should be among
them. It tells everything."
Don't miss it -- or Jamail's latest below. Tom
Iraq Has Only Militants, No Civilians: "Tactical Perception Management" in Iraq
I think it should be a rule of war that you have to see somebody up
close and get to know him before you can shoot him."
-- Colonel Potter,
Name them. Maim them. Kill them.
beginning of the American occupation in Iraq, air strikes and attacks
by the U.S. military have only killed "militants," "criminals,"
"suspected insurgents," "IED [Improvised Explosive Device] emplacers,"
"anti-American fighters," "terrorists," "military age males," "armed
men," "extremists," or "al-Qaeda."
The pattern for reporting
on such attacks has remained the same from the early years of the
occupation to today. Take a helicopter attack on October 23rd of this
year near the village of Djila, north of Samarra. The U.S. military
claimed it had killed 11 among "a group of men planting a roadside
bomb." Only later did a military spokesperson acknowledge that at least
six of the dead were civilians. Local residents claimed that those
killed were farmers, that there were children among them, and that the
number of dead was greater than 11.
Here is part of the statement released by U.S. military spokeswoman in northern Iraq, Major Peggy Kageleiry:
suspected insurgent and improvised explosive device cell member was
identified among the killed in an engagement between Coalition Forces
and suspected IED emplacers just north of Samarra.... During the
engagement, insurgents used a nearby house as a safe haven to re-engage
coalition aircraft. A known member of an IED cell was among the 11
killed during the multiple engagements. We send condolences to the
families of those victims and we regret any loss of life."
usual, the version offered by locals was vastly different. Abdul
al-Rahman Iyadeh, a relative of some of the victims, revealed that the
"group of men" attacked were actually three farmers who had left their
homes at 4:30 A.M. to irrigate their fields. Two were killed in the
initial helicopter attack and the survivor ran back to his home where
other residents gathered. The second air strike, he claimed, destroyed
the house killing 14 people. Another witness told reporters that four
separate houses were hit by the helicopter. A local Iraqi policeman,
Captain Abdullah al-Isawi, put the death toll at 16 -- seven men, six
women, and three children, with another 14 wounded.
As often happens, the U.S. military, once challenged, declared that an "investigation" of the incident was under way.
And So It Goes
October 21st, two days before that helicopter strike near Djila,
American soldiers, again aided by helicopters, but this time in a
heavily populated urban neighborhood, claimed to have killed 49 "armed
men" in a "gun battle" in Sadr City, a sprawling Shi'ite neighborhood
in eastern Baghdad. Then, too, the military initially insisted "no
civilians were killed or injured." A Shi'ite citizens' council and
other Shi'ite groups responded that many innocent bystanders had died.
Among the 13 dead mentioned in initial reports by local Iraqi police
were three children and a woman. Other Iraqi authorities announced that
69 people had been injured.
The U.S. military had no explanation for the widely varying American and Iraqi tallies of casualties.
The official American account went like this:
operation's objective was an individual reported to be a long time
Special Groups member specializing in kidnapping operations.
Intelligence indicates he is a well-known cell leader and has
previously sought funding from Iran to carry out high profile
kidnappings. Upon arrival, the ground force began to clear a series of
buildings in the target area and received sustained heavy fire from
adjacent structures, from automatic weapons and rocket propelled
grenades, or RPGs. Responding in self-defense, Coalition forces
engaged, killing an estimated 33 criminals.
Supporting aircraft was
also called in to engage enemy personnel maneuvering with RPGs toward
the ground force, killing an estimated six criminals. Upon departing
the target area, Coalition forces continued to receive heavy fire from
automatic weapons and RPGs and were also attacked by an improvised
explosive device. Responding in self-defense, the ground force engaged
the hostile threat, killing an additional estimated 10 combatants. All
total, Coalition forces estimate that 49 criminals were killed in three
separate engagements during this operation. Ground forces reported they
were unaware of any innocent civilians being killed as a result of this
To be fair, the military admitted that the target of this manhunt was not, in fact, among those captured or killed.
the "operation," television news outlets broadcast images of grieving
families in the streets of Sadr City. One man reported that his
neighbor's 6-year-old child had been killed, and a 2-year-old wounded.
Arab television outlets caught scenes of ambulances with wailing sirens
carrying the injured to the Imam Ali hospital, the largest in Sadr
City, where doctors were shown treating the casualties, including
Typically with such incidents, those 49 dead
"criminals" turned back into civilians when local police began
checking, including two (not three) children in their final count.
Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki vowed an investigation for which U.S.
military officials offered to form a joint committee; but, as is so
often the case in such "investigations," there have been no follow-up
reports. In this "incident," the U.S. military, as far as we know,
still stands by its assertion that no civilians were killed or wounded.
Two months earlier, in a similar incident, the U.S. military
claimed 32 "suspected insurgents" killed during an air strike, also in
Sadr City, a claim disputed by Iraqis in the neighborhood, followed by
the usual promise of an investigation -- of which, once again, nothing
more was heard.
"Tactical Perception Management"
perspective, let me take you back to Iraq in November 2003. I had been
there less than a week on my first visit to that occupied country when
the U.S. military reported a raging firefight between American forces
and 150 of Saddam Hussein's former Fedayeen paramilitary fighters.
According to General Peter Pace, then vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff, American soldiers, on being attacked by the group, had
responded fiercely and killed 54 of them. "They attacked and they were
killed, so I think it will be instructive to them," General Pace had
Most of the Western media simply chalked up
the number of "insurgent" dead at 54 and left it at that. Local media
in Baghdad, as well as outlets like Al-Jazeera, were, however, citing
very different figures taken directly from the hospital in Samarra
where the wounded were being treated. Doctors there announced a count
of eight killed in the incident, including an Iranian pilgrim, and 50
I traveled to Samarra that week, visited the
morgue at Samarra General Hospital, spoke with wounded Iraqis at the
hospital, and interviewed one of the leading sheikhs of the city as
well as several eyewitnesses to the event. What I found was general
agreement that a U.S. patrol had, in fact, come under attack -- but by
only two gunmen while delivering money to a downtown bank. Jumpy
American soldiers had responded with a spray of fire that had killed
neither of the attackers, but eight civilians, while wounding 50
others. The streets in the city center, where the firing took place,
were riddled with bullets.
The military, nonetheless, stood by
their figure -- 54 dead -- and insisted that the enormous force of
"insurgents" had attacked with mortars, grenades, and automatic
A man I interviewed, who had been in his tea stall in
the vicinity and witnessed most of the incident, summed up the local
reaction this way:
"The Americans say the people who
fought them are al-Qaeda or fedayeen. We are all living in this small
city here. Why have we not seen these foreign fighters and strangers in
our city before or after this battle? Everyone here knows everyone, and
none have seen these strangers. Why do they tell these lies?"
man, at the scene had drawn my attention to a parked car scarred with
112 bullets. As I was photographing it, a man with two children at his
side approached. They were, he said, the children of his brother who
had been killed by the gunfire.
"This little boy and girl,
their father was shot by the Americans. Who will take care of this
family? Who will watch over these children? Who will feed them now?
Who? Why did they kill my brother? What is the reason? Nobody told me.
He was a truck driver. What is his crime? Why did they shoot him? They
shot him with 150 bullets! Did they kill him just because they wanted
to shoot a man? That's it? This is the reason? Why didn't anyone talk
to me and tell me why they have killed my brother? Is killing people a
normal thing now, happening every day? This is our future? This is the
future that the United States promised Iraq?"
My life as an
independent reporter in his country was just beginning and his
questions felt like so many blows to the gut. Of course, I was the only
American reporter there to hear him and I was then writing for an email
audience of under 200. This is what it means, in Pentagon terms, to
dominate not only the battlefield, but the media landscape in which
that battlefield is reported. And that sort of domination was, it
turned out, very much on Pentagon minds in that period.
days of the incident, for instance, the New York Times published an
article about how the Pentagon had awarded a contract to SAIC, a
private company, which was to investigate ways the Department of
Defense could use propaganda for more "effective strategic influence"
in the "war on terror." The Pentagon referred to this potential
propaganda blitz (which would eventually come back to haunt Secretary
of Defense Donald Rumsfeld) as a "tactical perception management
campaign." The title of the document SAIC produced was "Winning the War
On December 2, 2005, the U.S. military would admit
that the Lincoln Group, which described itself as "a strategic
communications & pubic relations firm providing insight &
influence in challenging & hostile environments," had been hired by
the Pentagon to plant pro-American good-news articles in the new Iraqi
"free" press that the Bush administration was just then touting. This
was exposed during a briefing with Senator John Warner of Virginia,
head of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
would not, as one might have expected, prove a step towards deterrence.
Not only did the Lincoln Group get further contracts, but a wide range
of similar tactics continue to be employed by the military in Iraq
today with even greater impunity. In Iraq, the propaganda and
misinformation have, in fact, been continual and on a massive scale.
And, of course, the regular announcements of Iraqi "insurgent" or
"criminal" deaths in American operations have never stopped, nor have
the announcements of "investigations," when those claims are seriously
challenged on the ground -- investigations which, except in a few
cases, are never heard of again. All this is a reminder of something
George W. Bush once said: "See, in my line of work you got to keep
repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in,
to kind of catapult the propaganda."
The Military Wrist is Slapped
when one of those investigations did lead somewhere, that somewhere was
almost invariably a dead end. Take Haditha. Witnesses told reporters
that, on November 19, 2005, in the western town of Haditha, 24 Iraqi
civilians had been slaughtered by U.S. Marines. It was no secret that
the Marines had shot men, women, and children at close range in
retaliation for a roadside bombing that killed one of their own.
Washington Post quoted Aws Fahmi, a Haditha resident who was watching
from his home as Marines went from house to house killing members of
three families. He had heard Younis Salim Khafif, his neighbor across
the street, plead in English for his life and the lives of his family
members. "I heard Younis speaking to the Americans, saying: â€˜I am a
friend. I am good,'" Fahmi said. "But they killed him, and his wife and
A Post special correspondent and U.S.
investigators in Washington reported that some of the dead were women
attempting to shield their children. According to death certificates,
the girls killed in Khafif's house were aged 14, 10, 5, 3, and 1.
the news broke in the U.S., the military ordered a probe of the
incident. An Iraqi had actually managed to film the interiors of the
blood-soaked houses as well as scenes of the wounded at the Haditha
hospital, and had recorded statements of eyewitnesses to the massacre.
now, two years after the massacre, investigations continue. Anonymous
Pentagon officials having admitted to reporters that there is an
abundance of evidence to support charges against the accused Marines of
deliberately shooting civilians, including unarmed women and children.
Currently, Marine Corps and Navy prosecutors are reviewing the
evidence, and will likely ask for further probes.
As for the
charges levied against the soldiers involved in the massacre, on April
2nd of this year, all of the charges against Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz,
who was accused of killing five civilians, were dropped as part of a
decision that granted him immunity to testify in potential
courts-martial for seven other Marines charged in the attack and in its
alleged cover-up. On August 9th, all murder charges against Lance Cpl.
Justin Sharratt and charges of failing to investigate the incident
against Capt. Randy Stone were dropped by Lt. Gen. James Mattis,
well-known for claiming of fighting in Afghanistan, "It's fun to shoot
On August 23th, the investigating officer suggested that
charges against Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum be dropped as well. On October
19th, Tatum's commanding officers decided the charges should be lowered
to involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment, and aggravated
assault. More recently, on September 18th, all charges against Capt.
Lucas McConnell were dropped, and the investigating officer recommended
that charges be similarly dropped against Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum.
October 3rd, an investigating officer of an Article 32 hearing (a
proceeding similar to a civilian grand jury) recommended that Staff
Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich be tried for negligent homicide in the deaths of
two women and five children, and that the murder charges for his
involvement in the killing of 17 innocent civilians, be dropped. In
other words, so far, no one has gone to jail for the massacre in
It is now commonplace for such investigations,
regarding heinous crimes against Iraqi civilians, to drag on for months
or even years. Equally commonplace: On completion of these
investigations, the low-level soldiers, who are charged with the
crimes, are often either cleared entirely or given laughably light
sentences by military courts.
On November 8th, for instance,
Staff Sgt. Michael Hensley, a sniper, was found not guilty by military
judges on three charges of premeditated murder for killing three Iraqi
civilians. He was instead convicted only of placing an AK-47 rifle with
the remains of a dead Iraqi during one of his missions -- as evidence
that the man was an "insurgent."
In January 2004, 19 year-old
Zaidoun Hassoun, and his cousin Marwan Fadil were forced off a ledge
into the Tigris River in Samarra at gunpoint by U.S. soldiers. Fadil
survived. He testified that the soldiers, after forcing the two into
the water, had stood by laughing as Hassoun drowned.
Class Tracy Perkins was the only soldier tried in the case. Defense
attorney Captain Joshua Norris suggested that Perkins could not be
convicted of manslaughter because there was "no body, no evidence, no
death." He was, in fact, cleared of the involuntary manslaughter charge
in a military court on January 9, 2005 and instead was reduced in rank
by one grade and sentenced to six months in a military prison for
Similarly, on June 6, 2006, three British soldiers
were cleared of charges of killing 15-year-old Ahmed Jabber Kareem in
May 2003 by forcing him into a Basra canal.
of this -- from the unending "incidents" themselves to the way the
Pentagon has dominated the reporting of them -- would have been
possible without a widespread dehumanization of Iraqis among American
soldiers (and a deep-set, if largely unexpressed and little considered,
conviction on the American "home front" that Iraqi lives are worth
little). If, four decades ago, the Vietnamese were "gooks," "dinks,"
and "slopes," the Iraqis of the American occupation are "hajis,"
"sand-niggers," and "towel heads." Latent racism abets the
dehumanization process, ably assisted by a mainstream media that tends,
with honorable exceptions, to accept Pentagon announcements as at least
an initial approximation of reality in Iraq.
Whether it was
"incidents" involving helicopter strikes in which those on the ground
who died were assumed to be enemy and evil, or the wholesale
destruction of the city of Fallujah in 2004, or the massacre at
Haditha, or a slaughtered wedding party in the western desert of Iraq
that was also caught on video tape (Marine Major General James Mattis:
"How many people go to the middle of the desert.... to hold a wedding
80 miles from the nearest civilization? These were more than two dozen
military-age males. Let's not be naive."), or killings at U.S.
checkpoints; or even the initial invasion of Iraq itself, we find the
same propaganda techniques deployed: Demonize an "enemy"; report only
"fighters" being killed; stick to the story despite evidence to the
contrary; if under pressure, launch an investigation; if still under
pressure, bring only low-level troops up on charges; convict a few of
them; sentence them lightly; repeat drill.
At the time of this
writing, the group Just Foreign Policy has offered an estimate of
Iraqis killed since the U.S.-led invasion and occupation. Their number:
1,118,846. Consider that possibility in the context of the latest round
of news from Iraq about lessening violence.
The estimate is
based on figures from a study conducted by researchers from Johns
Hopkins University in the U.S. and al-Mustansiriya University in
Baghdad, and published in October 2006 in the British Medical Journal,
The Lancet, which found 655,000 Iraqis had died as a direct result of
the Anglo-American invasion and occupation. The report methodology has
been called "robust" and "close to best practice" by Sir Roy Anderson,
the chief scientific advisor to Britain's Ministry of Defense. Since
that time, in addition to Just Foreign Policy, the British research
polling agency Opinion Research Business has extrapolated a figure of
1.2 million deaths in Iraq. Based on this, veteran Australian born
journalist John Pilger wrote recently, "The scale of death caused by
the British and U.S. governments may well have surpassed that of the
Rwanda genocide, making it the biggest single act of mass murder of the
late 20th century and the 21st century."
It is an indication
of the success of an effective Pentagon "tactical perception management
campaign," of the way the Bush administration has continued to
"catapult propaganda," and of the dehumanization of Iraqis that has
gone with it, that the possibility of the number of dead Iraqis being
in this range has largely been dismissed (or remained generally undealt
with) in the mainstream media in the United States. Add to that the
refusal of the U.S. military to bring justice to those charged with
some of these heinous crimes, the lack of accountability, and an
establishment media which has regularly camouflaged the true nature of
the occupation, and we have the perfect setting for a continuance of
industrial-scale slaughter in Iraq, even while the news highlights the
likes of Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan and their adventures in
various rehab clinics.
In what could reasonably serve as a
summary of the American occupation of Iraq, the eighteenth century
philosopher Voltaire wrote, "It is forbidden to kill; therefore all
murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the
sound of trumpets."
Dahr Jamail, an independent journalist, is
the author of the just-published Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from
an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq (Haymarket Books, 2007).
Jamail reported from occupied Iraq for eight months as well as from
Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Turkey over the last four years. He writes
regularly for Tomdispatch.com, Inter Press Service, Asia Times, and
Foreign Policy in Focus. He has contributed to The Sunday Herald, The
Independent, The Guardian, and The Nation, among other publications. He
maintains a website, Dahr Jamail's Mideast Dispatches, with all his
Copyright 2007 Dahr Jamail