January 12, 2006

It's called genocide

A little joke I overheard on the bus the other day:

A guy walks into a bar and sees George Bush and Dick Cheney sitting there. He goes up to chat with them and Bush tells him, "hey, we're going to go into Iraq and kill 200,000 people and a hairdresser."

"Why a hairdresser?" asks the guy.

Cheney turns to Bush and says, "see, told ya nobody would care about the 200,000 Iraqis."

As fate would have it, Alternet had an article today about what is causing the staggering carnage in Iraq -- one conservative estimate being 100,000 people as reported last year in the medical journal, The Lancet. While policemen in the United States are required to "hold their fire" if innocent civilians are at risk, military rules of engagement focus on getting the "insurgent" regardless of the number of civilian casualties.

In fact, the rules of engagement for the police, even in such a situation of extreme provocation, call for them to "hold their fire" -- if necessary allowing the perpetrators to escape -- if there is a risk of injuring civilians. And this is a reasonable rule because we value the lives of innocent American citizens over our determination to capture a criminal, even a cop killer.

But in Iraqi cities, our values and priorities are quite differently arranged. The contrast derives from three important principles under which the Iraq war is being fought: that the war should be conducted to absolutely minimize the risk to American troops; that guerrilla fighters should not be allowed to escape if there is any way to capture or kill them; and that Iraqi civilians should not be allowed to harbor or encourage the resistance fighters.

Thus, on any given day there are around 100 engagements in which such precision tools as 2 ton bombs are dropped on densely populated regions resulting in 97 deaths here, 40 there and nearly a hundred other clusters of deaths. It means that your average Iraqi is 58 times more likely to die a violent death than he or she would have under Saddam Hussein.

Freedom of speech is nice and all, but it isn't much use if you're dead.

Those in the military argue that Iraqis wouldn't get killed if they would quit harboring "insurgents." So, in other words, we are "attacking a civilian population to get it to withdraw support from the enemy" which, the article points out, is the textbook definition of terrorism.

But before Democrats get all self-righteous, I would point out Bill Clinton was not only bombing Iraq throughout his presidency, but his own Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, when asked if the deaths of a half million Iraqi children had been worth it, stated, "we think the price is worth it." Denis Halliday, one of several U.N. humanitarian coordinators who resigned because of the sanctions, was quite blunt about the twelve-year Anglo-American policy: it amounted to genocide.

This isn't a matter of "are you on Saddam's side or ours?" We are both to blame. We knew Saddam was an evil man, so why did we expect him to care about his people and follow U.N. resolutions? It's as if we put the gun to the head of the Iraqi people, told Saddam Hussein to do what we say or the people get it. His response, of course, was to shrug and say, "shoot them. I don't care if they live."

And we're still shooting them. And bombing them. And killing them. And I wouldn't doubt a few hairdressers are also among the casualties.

Mea culpa. Lord have mercy.