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Lessons from Haditha

December 18, 2011

When I read this chilling story here, I couldn’t imagine what would possess one person to set another person on fire because of the psychopathic way in which this homicide took place. Then I recalled a headline from Democracy Now! about a New York Times article discussing the Haditha massacre of 2005.

For those unaware, Haditha is a river town in Iraq. On November 19, 2005, a group of United States marines killed 24 Iraqi men, women and children. Let me underscore this next point carefully because it’s very important: the men, women and children were civilians who were not combatants in the war; thus, any harm brought upon them by any U.S. soldier is a clear violation of international humanitarian laws and the Geneva Conventions, both of which are punishable for acts committed as war crimes.

The NYT story, which contains graphic information from marines as they described how they would shoot at children in cars or took pictures with the bodies of their victims, can be read in full detail here. One of the telling points of the article is how U.S. authorities, such as the commanding officers, brushed aside these appalling violations of human rights by not conducting a proper investigation or issuing any punishment for all involved. Instead, excuses were made for the soldiers, giving them full impunity for their heinous crimes.

One must wonder what would happen if Iraqi soldiers invaded the U.S. and proceeded to massacre civilians under the pretense of “a cost of doing business.” There would be absolute outrage including demands from the U.S. for an immediate investigation and for those soldiers involved in the massacre of any American civilians to be brought to justice.

Doubtless there’s a double standard at play here. When acts of violence are committed against powerful countries such as the U.S., there is a sense of shock and disbelief. But when those very same acts are committed against Iraqi civilians, it is perfectly fine. Holding powerful governments to the very same standards they would expect from other governments is improper and irrational, at least from the perspective of the more powerful.

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