YNATKC, part 3,798

You're not allowed to kill civilians.

That's not just a rule or a guideline or a rule of thumb, for God's sake, it's the law. It's U.S. law and it's international law and also, just for good measure, it's international law that has been signed and ratified and appended again onto U.S. law. You're not allowed to kill civilians.

But this is also more than a law. It gets at the matter of definition. The distinction between a soldier and a murderer comes down to just exactly this and only this. Rank and uniform and the giving and receiving of orders ultimately are of no consequence apart from this. You're not allowed to kill civilians.

This is how we distinguish, say, Sen. Daniel Inouye from Ted Bundy. This is why the former is rightly revered and the latter rightly reviled. Inouye was awarded the medal of honor and that word, "honor," is yet another term whose meaning hinges on this one thing. You're not allowed to kill civilians.

I gradually tired of restating this due to the hair-splitting pedants and apologists for the vicarious titillation of indiscriminate death who insisted that stating the principle this bluntly was recklessly irresponsible. "Harrumph, harrumph," they harrumphed, "double effect harrumph."*

And of course it's true that the real world complicates every simple principle and that any meaningful or lasting principle has to account for those complications. But when someone's first impulse is to cavil and dilute and disqualify by qualification, I'm not convinced that their objections are raised in good faith.

For those who are, in fact, harrumphing in good faith, I'm perfectly willing to calibrate the principle more precisely, something like: You're not allowed to target noncombatants primarily and intentionally.

What that means, of course, is neither more nor less than this: You're not allowed to kill civilians.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

* Double effect or double intention is … well, think of a SWAT team in a hostage standoff. (That's probably a better operating model for America's current wars than other notions that may spring to mind when hearing the word "war.") They can try to shoot the hostage-takers, but doing so raises the risk of accidentally hitting the hostages. Generally speaking, SWAT teams won't take that risk, but if the situation is judged to be one in which not shooting puts the hostages in even greater danger, then they'll risk the shot. In such a circumstance, the blame for any hostages unintentionally injured or even killed by the SWAT team is not attributed to the officers, but to the hostage-takers. The SWAT team isn't regarded as having killed civilians because that is not why they chose to shoot. Their actions are covered under the principle of "double effect." Killing the hostages was not the motive or intent for the SWAT team's actions.

The principle covers more than just such accidental, wholly unintentional casualties. Imagine a scenario in which a hostage-taker is about to kill several of his hostages and is also shielding himself by holding a hostage in front of him. The SWAT sharpshooter's only option for stopping him is to shoot him through that hostage. The sharpshooter takes that option, thus stopping the hostage-taker and saving several lives, but also killing one of the innocent hostages it was his mission to save. The killing of that hostage is not accidental or even unintentional — it was foreseeable and deliberate. But the principle of double effect still applies, because the consequence of killing that hostage was not the primary purpose or intent of the sharpshooter's actions.

But this important, nuanced ethical rule — one that exists just for such extreme, restricted-option, awful situations — is not infinitely elastic. It could never be used to justify, for example, a SWAT team opening a spray of indiscriminate automatic weapons fire or calling in an air strike to destroy the hostage-takers, the hostages and the surrounding neighborhood.

You're not allowed to kill civilians. Double effect exists only to help clarify what that means in particular hard-case dilemmas. Whenever you encounter someone using it otherwise — to replace or trump the prior principle — then you are dealing with someone arguing in bad faith, someone who, in Orwell's phrase, is using the language of ethics "to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."

  • George

    This argument should be aimed at policymakers rather than soldiers, as the indiscriminate killing of civilians is sanctioned by those at the highest levels of government (see: Obama’s use of drones to combat the evil scourge of Pakistani weddings).
    Side note: the civilian death count directly attributable to U.S forces in Iraq is now believed to be over 1.3 million, the U.S has beat Saddam’s high score! U S A! U S A! On the bright side, all the survivors are now free to vote for who their next leader will be (assuming that their vote is for the guy who the mighty U.S overlords have chosen for the role).

  • Fred Davis

    His “the uninformed have no reasonable ability to fairly judge” comment reads to me not as “…so shut up”, but as “…so I figure this is how you came to your mistaken conclusion”.
    Yes, that’s not rude, merely patronising and if we follow his logic to its actual conclusion we find that it works both ways – not only can we, poor, misguided civilians who have never heard the holy and divinely revealed Logos of The US Military’s Codes & Regulation Manual that would gift us with the ability to assess the actions of the mad fuck in a helicopter, he’s also saying that he himself cannot judge the soldier because he wasn’t there and so also lacks the Divine revelation of the Military Moment that guided the hand of His blesséd Prophet, Crazyhorse-numpty-num, on that day, who spake unto the potential enemies of the Lord with the gospel of bullets and missiles and converted then unto death.
    So yes, he’s not saying “shut up”, he’s saying “soldiers move in mysterious ways” and putting the actions of the mad fucker in a helicopter roughly on a level with The Will of God Itself wrt discussion of why does God cause natural disasters, in an attempt to render any discussion about their actions meaningless and make the actions of these soldiers things that cannot be discussed because they’re “natural” or “normal” for a war zone and therefore any attempts to judge the events on a moral scale becomes equivalent to judging the moral fibre of a hurricane or earthquake.
    If he’d just said “shut the fuck up” it would have been BETTER than that garbage, because it wouldn’t have rendered the soldiers as non-human forces of nature that cannot be understood by the minds of mere mortals, it wouldn’t have rendered the victims of this event as roughly akin to sacrificial goats who’s blood must be spilled to cleanse someone or other of sin.
    The soldiers are people, they can be judged as people are judged, the victims were both human and innocent who were killed because someone was carrying something which could, when viewed from a mile away, be mistaken (if you have already decided to shoot them and are now just looking for excuses) for an RPG despite it being too small and being held wrong.
    I dislike the notion that war is a natural disaster, and during which actions taken by human beings are the subject of God’s whim rather than the decisions of the people who are actually performing those actions.
    Do Not Dehumanise The Troops.
    Do Not Shoot Civilians.
    Do Not Punish The Good Samaritan.
    Do Not Be Eager To Kill.
    And if those concepts seem too fucking abtuse and high minded, and you need a more utilitarian reason to find the shooting of civilians to be a Bad Thing, go play september 12th for a while.

  • LL

    RE Ing: “Context is that the area was a zone that was being heavily hit by insurgency. There was a lot of fire fights int he days up to this which is why the air patrol was called in. Their side was being hit hard and the helicopter was called in to bring down the hammer on the situation.”
    There are areas of cities in America that are hard hit by crime. The police aren’t allowed to circle above in a helicopter and shoot people who “appear” to be carrying weapons. If by “bring down the hammer” you mean “taught people a valuable lesson about walking down the street,” then mission accomplished, I guess. People will think twice now before walking down the street holding stuff or driving their kids anywhere, or… hell, I don’t know. Leaving their houses. Ever. And we wonder why they don’t love us being over there. If we’re there much longer, they might start to see the time when Saddam was in charge as “the good old days.”
    RE Lori: “A couple of things: First, as was pointed out earlier, it doesn’t have to be doctored to be slanted. This video, as presented, is not The Truth from on high. It’s media and we have to evaluate it that way. It might be expressing the essential truth about the situation, but it also might not be…. Second, being in a helicopter isn’t magical protection from death, especially if there’s an RPG in play, so I think we have to be careful how we judge the crew’s threat perception.”
    I agree that video showing someone doing something reprehensible will tend to “slant” other people’s opinion to that of “Wow, that sure was bad, that person is doing something really wrong.” So I guess in that sense, you’re correct. Kind of like that video of the cop in Chicago beating the crap out of a woman half his size for declining to serve him more alcohol (she was the bartender). That video certainly did slant my opinion towards believing that the cop should have been fired and prosecuted for assault – he got probation and community service, not prison time, as he could have and probably would have if he wasn’t a cop.
    Yeah, I know helicopters are not magically protected by virtue of being in the air. Still not much of an excuse to shoot up a van with kids in it. The guy in the van clearly wasn’t holding anything at all, much less something that could seen as a weapon. He was helping a wounded guy. The video, plus the audio, is pretty clear to me. I don’t need anybody to “evaluate” it for me. I’m pretty capable of doing that myself. That’s kind of the good thing about seeing video. You don’t need anyone to tell you what it means. The meaning is pretty clear. Again, assuming it’s genuine.

  • Spearmint

    The idea of the military deciding for itself whether it did a bad things reeks of potential cover ups for some people.
    Refusing to release the evidence of what happened also reeks of a cover up, on account of how it’s, you know, covering up the evidence.
    Re: the soldiers, I appreciate that they’re nervous, but I don’t care. I’m paying them to be nervous. I’m also paying them not to handle that nervousness like damn civilians and start firing on everything that moves because they’re scared. They’re supposed to be professionals, aren’t they? They allegedly have training to assess situations like this and respond appropriately.
    If we’re defending the chatter on the basis of the training that teaches them to treat humans like video game characters- and that’s fine, I think we should be- why aren’t we condemning their actions on the basis of the training that teaches them NOT TO DO THIS SHIT?

  • LL

    RE WikiLeaks (this is from Glenn Greenwald’s site): As the Pentagon report put it: “the governments of China, Israel, North Korea, Russia, Vietnam and Zimbabwe” have all sought to block access to or otherwise impede the operations of WikiLeaks…
    Awesome. We’re on the side of China and North Korea in regards to government secrecy.

  • LL

    Er, should probably restate:
    We’re on the same side as China and North Korea in regards to government secrecy, ie, our governments don’t want us to know what they’re doing, especially if it’s bad and results in the death of innocent civilians.
    Our government isn’t as bad as China’s or North Korea’s, or I wouldn’t be typing any of this. But still. When our govt. is trying to shut down the same sites as China and North Korea, that’s not a good thing.

  • Lori

    I agree that video showing someone doing something reprehensible will tend to “slant” other people’s opinion to that of “Wow, that sure was bad, that person is doing something really wrong.”

    For the love of FSM, is this actually your argument? Do you actually not perceive the editorializing in the video? WTF?

    Awesome. We’re on the side of China and North Korea in regards to government secrecy.

    Um, what’s the name of the logical fallacy that says “If a bad person doesn’t like something that thing must be good?”
    Between this and Fred Davis’ vigorous projecting re: Hawk’s argument I’d say that in terms of intellectual quality this discussion is not exactly this blog’s finest hour.

  • Raka

    Fred Davis: [flails with great vigor at army of assailing strawmen]
    Dude. Seriously.

  • Spearmint

    The editorializing- which was blatant- has no bearing on the actual issue, though.

  • Fred Davis

    Dude. Seriously.
    sorry about that. *commits seppuku with sheep*

  • Lori

    The editorializing- which was blatant- has no bearing on the actual issue, though.

    I strongly disagree.
    The video is a product, not an event. The people at Wikileaks clearly watched it many times, from a safe position, and highlighted what they consider the key moments. The result of those efforts is being used to judge the behavior of people who saw everything once from a position that may or may not have been safe and it does not have arrows pointing to the things they considered most important about the scene.
    There is no way to see that video without being effected in some way by the editorializing, so it definitely does matter. The Wikileaks people certainly think that it matters or they wouldn’t have done the edits.

  • http://www.yahoo.com Tricksterson

    This btw was more in the way of a thought experiment and maybe a half-assed prediction. It most certainly isn’t a reccomendation. As to refugees/dissidents I expect that youu would have a flow both both ways as when Pakistan split from the newly independent India. I also suspect that at first at least the CSA wouldn’t call itself such but continue to call itself the United States of America and continue to think of itself as “the real America” because that’s how the people who inhabit it mentally now think of themselves.
    mumphrey: Until WWII this is exactly how we did it. the Cold War necessitated the keeping of a standard army and well by the time it was over we’d pretty much forgotten that we’d ever done ot any other way.

  • Luc

    When I saw the video, my mind flashed back to this level of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, “No Russian.”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxdZyGGE3T8
    Warning: Graphic depictions of civilians being slaughtered.

  • http://sylocat.deviantart.com/art/Life-Imitates-Art-158200045 Sylocat

    @Pius Thicknesse: Somehow I suspect you’d be one of the first to gleefully demand 20 years in the electric chair* for that person.
    * Spot the movie reference, anyone.

    Sneakers. Awesome movie.

  • Lori

    I think in some ways it just isn’t worth it. We have millions of Americans we teach how to kill other people, and it’s almost like we sit around as a country, waiting for an excuse to use them. It gets to where we almost need to have a war every 20 years or so, since NOT using our brave troops would be wasteful.

    I honestly don’t think it’s the people in a standing army that are the issue. I think it’s the stuff. A lot of people make a lot of money producing weapons. If no one ever uses them sales go down. Also, it’s tough to have the cool toys and never get to play with them. Add in the fact that we keep producing weapons that give the illusion of ‘clean’ battle and you’ve got a major problem.

    I think that’s not quite it. I think it’s more that our country became much more militarized during the Second World War, and to a certain extent that never went away. There’s an axiom that any organization’s goal ultimately becomes self-preservation, and if this is true, there’s no reason to think that a large military would be exempt from this. I question whether it’s healthy for democracy to have a large and influential military. Militaries are authoritarian and hierarchical institutions, and while those values are appropriate for the needs of combat, they’re not appropriate for democratic institutions.

    For anyone interested in this idea I highly recommend Andrew Bacevich’s book The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War. It’s well-researched and makes a strong argument, but it’s written in a way that’s easy for the non-specialist to follow. It also benefits from the fact that the author has well-informed and balanced POV. He’s a West Point grad who was career Army, so he’s not anti-military. On the other hand he’s also not reflexively rah team! about it. He was against the Iraq war from the start and I assume is more so since his son was killed there a couple years ago. He has a PhD in Diplomatic History from Princeton and now runs the International Relations program at Boston U., so he’s qualified to discuss the policy side of the situation as well. I don’t agree with all the positions he takes in the book, but I agreed far more than I disagreed.

  • Spearmint

    The result of those efforts is being used to judge the behavior of people who saw everything once from a position that may or may not have been safe and it does not have arrows pointing to the things they considered most important about the scene.
    Yeah, but you don’t need the edits to see that the van guys were obviously doing nothing but moving the bodies, or that there were no ground troops in the vicinity to be threatened by a guy with a machine gun if indeed such a person had been present.
    In fact, IIRC the van scene plays out before the arrow pointing to the kids shows up- I don’t think I even watched far enough to see that.
    The anti-edit argument (not necessarily yours, but that of the people who initially framed it) seems to be that the edits, by their very presence, create so much bias that the whole thing becomes impossible to interpret. I disagree.

  • Lori

    The anti-edit argument (not necessarily yours, but that of the people who initially framed it) seems to be that the edits, by their very presence, create so much bias that the whole thing becomes impossible to interpret. I disagree.

    I don’t think the edits make interpretation impossible, but I’d feel a lot more confident in my own judgment if Wikileaks had set it up so that we saw the unedited video first and had then presented the edited video highlighting what they felt where the key points. By presenting only the edited video I feel like Wikileaks is basically saying that they don’t think that people would “get it” without the edits and that in turn makes me wonder if maybe what they want me to get isn’t quite what I ought to be getting. IOW their presentation is making me feel like I have less clarity rather than more, and this is so important that that feeling makes me upset.

  • Roadstergal

    I didn’t watch the edited video, I clicked right to the unedited one. I’m pretty horrified. As was said early in the comments, not surprised, as I knew this kind of shit was going down – likely daily – but it’s still a punch in the gut to see it.

  • Spearmint

    Lori:
    Yeah, I totally agree with everything you just said. It’s a really questionable presentation choice on Wikileaks’ part. I don’t know enough about them to be surprised they did it, but it does seem odd that an organization allegedly devoted to fighting censorship wouldn’t show us the raw clip first and let us draw our own conclusions.

  • Lori

    but it does seem odd that an organization allegedly devoted to fighting censorship wouldn’t show us the raw clip first and let us draw our own conclusions.

    Exactly.

  • Fred Davis

    Isn’t the edited video just a rebuttal to the cover up of the journalists’ deaths? They’re not saying “this is a terrible event full stop” they’re saying “this is what really happened, note camera, note children, note coincidental van, and all this contradicts the story put out by the US after the incident.”

  • Lori

    Isn’t the edited video just a rebuttal to the cover up of the journalists’ deaths? They’re not saying “this is a terrible event full stop” they’re saying “this is what really happened, note camera, note children, note coincidental van, and all this contradicts the story put out by the US after the incident.”

    That’s Wikileak’s take on it, but that may not be the case. If I understand correctly the Army’s position was that the incident did not violate the crew’s ROEs*, which is why no charges were filed. Wikileak’s position is that it did violate ROEs and was in fact a war crime, hence “Collateral Murder”. If either of those positions was clearly true we wouldn’t be having this discussion. (For example, one of the major problems I’m having, and which I suspect others are having also, is separating what the crew did from what they said.)
    *Remember that the ROE issue doesn’t hinge on whether their judgment was correct. The issue is strictly whether or not it was reasonable in context.

  • JJ

    New England would NEVER join Canada, thank you. We’d be happy to be our own independent nation. We’ve already got everything, anyway: solar power, wind farms, coastline, forests, ski slopes, several shipping harbors, plentiful maple syrup; MIT, Brown, Yale and Harvard; the Patriots, the Celtics, the Red Sox; religous, ethnic, and sexual diversity; and thanks to Western Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire, lots and lots of guns. And Ben and Jerry’s, and other resources from Vermont. (Phffffffft….dude…good stuff…)
    I mean, seriously, why the hell would we want to join Canada? Boston, you’re my home. : )

  • lonespark

    I’m adding JJ to the list of slacktivites to invite over for drunken gaming.

  • Hawk

    Link to a Wired article that includes a link to the official investigation of the incident in 2007, which cleared the units involved:
    http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/04/military-releases-report-on-2007-apache-attack-and-questions-linger/
    I’m sure some would say “consider the source” and discount the investigation; you are of course entitled to your own opinion.

  • Will Wildman

    JJ: We have bison. Hail your mighty, delicious overlords.
    Plus you can help us convince North Dakota to join, and then we’ll be a nuclear power too.

  • http://www.yahoo.com Tricksterson

    SneakersP This was one of those movies where I was running an alternate movie in my head while watching. I would have made them genuine criminals and have them all offed by the NSA at the end.

  • sarah

    I’m crawling out of my usual lurker-mode to give another cheer for New England–Eastern Mass, though I’m in Philly now.
    Um, hello, everyone. Please don’t kill me with sheep.

  • K.Chen

    For what its worth, what military friendly/current military/former military blogger and commentators, who probably understand this issue more than any of us do, seem to be coming to a rough consensus that the first part was an understandable failure (having to do with poor training) and the van shooting no one can understand.
    My theory on that is that the crew of Crazyhorse 18 was deep inside an “us” versus “them” mentality, where all moral culpability was placed on the shoulders of the enemy, and where simultaneously, the enemy has abandoned any claim to moral consideration. Which is a bad place to be, not just in war.
    Myself, I’ll admit to not having watched the video, and I probably won’t. Its the sort of thing I don’t want to test my sensitivity to.

  • Emcee

    Um, hello, everyone. Please don’t kill me with sheep.
    This is a common mistake. As the newbie, you have the sheep, and we have to worry about you killing us with them. Most of us have already used up our alloted sheep, though I may have a ewe or two floating around at the bottom of a drawer somewhere…or was it in the attic? Oh well, makes no nevermind…I could no more be considered a threat than Ellenjay could be considered writers…
    And more to the point, welcome!

  • Kish

    Please don’t kill me with sheep.
    As the delurker, your line is, “I promise not to kill you all with sheep,” or possibly less friendly, more menacing indications of your intentions with regard to ovine homicide, as you see fit.

  • Tacroy

    @Lori:

    Second, being in a helicopter isn’t magical protection from death, especially if there’s an RPG in play, so I think we have to be careful how we judge the crew’s threat perception.

    Yes, being in a helicopter by itself is no magical protection from an RPG. However, being about a kilometer away from that RPG is indeed excellent protection; if you look at the Wikipedia article on RPGs, it mentions that the most common RPG in Iraq is the RPG 7. The US Army has tested its effectiveness at various ranges, and you can find that table of hit probabilities here. At 500 m (half the distance the helicopter was from the people), it hits a slow moving target four times out of a hundred shots. At 1 kilometer, the grenade self-destructs. Judging from the telemetry in the gun camera, the helicopter was about 1.2 kilometers away. Even if they had some other kind of RPG, they all crap out well before 1 km; they’re unguided dumb rockets, which puts a serious damper on their effective range.
    Basically, the helicopter was in no danger from RPGs.

  • sarah

    Ah, sorry! I have no homicidal intents, with sheep or otherwise.

  • K.Chen

    However, being about a kilometer away from that RPG is indeed excellent protection…

    The issue isn’t whether the RPG was a (legitimate) threat the helicopter, the issue is whether it was a (legitimate) threat to troops or vehicles that the helicopters were protecting.

  • Spearmint

    I may have a ewe or two floating around at the bottom of a drawer somewhere…or was it in the attic?
    Make sure you store your sheep in cedar, or the moths will get them.

  • Caravelle

    Lori :

    Awesome. We’re on the side of China and North Korea in regards to government secrecy.
    Um, what’s the name of the logical fallacy that says “If a bad person doesn’t like something that thing must be good?”

    LL wasn’t engaging in that fallacy, especially with the later clarification. Government secrecy isn’t some irrelevant side policy that China and North Korea happen to have, it’s one of the central issues that make people disapprove of them in the first place.
    In other words, LL wasn’t doing the equivalent of “Hitler was a vegetarian therefore vegetarianism is bad”, it was closer to “the documents put out by our government on the subject torture bear a striking resemblance to some by the Gestapo on the same subject”.

  • Tacroy

    The issue isn’t whether the RPG was a (legitimate) threat the helicopter, the issue is whether it was a (legitimate) threat to troops or vehicles that the helicopters were protecting.

    Clearly it wasn’t, because there were no troops in the area – at 2:08 in the uncut video, the helicopter (Crazy Horse) asks the ground element (Hotel 2-6) for permission to engage. Hotel responds with “Roger that, we have no personnel east of our position”.*
    So even if I grant you that those men were obviously walking around with AK-47s and RPGs – who were they a legitimate threat to? The personnel that were not there? The helicopter that was well out of range? Why did those men need to die immediately?
    *Note that this is before the gunner sees a guy crouching down by the corner.

  • http://www.yahoo.com Tricksterson

    LL: Off topic, are you the same LL as hangs at the CSSA forums?
    And as long as we’re talking about dangerous sheep: htp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otv86QB9Chk

  • LMM

    If I understand correctly the Army’s position was that the incident did not violate the crew’s ROEs*, which is why no charges were filed. Wikileak’s position is that it did violate ROEs and was in fact a war crime, hence “Collateral Murder”. If either of those positions was clearly true we wouldn’t be having this discussion.
    Wrong. The Army has a clear interest in not wanting to admit that their forces have committed war crimes. Hence, their denial does not prove anything about whether or not this is a war crime.
    I haven’t seen the video. I don’t want to. But the worst thing about all of this is all of the excuses people try to come up with to explain away the murders. There are a surprisingly large number of people who are happy to excuse war crimes — but if the situation were reversed, they’d be calling for blood.

  • http://j.com/ Tonio

    I haven’t seen the video. I don’t want to. But the worst thing about all of this is all of the excuses people try to come up with to explain away the murders.

    I don’t want to see the video, either. I haven’t made a judgment about the video, other than reiterating my longstanding opinion that we never should have invaded Iraq. My point earlier was that many of the visitors who responded to Fred seemed concerned with defending the reputation or motives of the military. That wouldn’t necessarily be intrinsically bad, but in this case it’s woefully misguided. For one thing, Fred’s post was NOT an attack on the military. For another, that defense implies that an organization’s reputation is more important than any wrongs done by some of its members.

  • Lori

    LL wasn’t engaging in that fallacy, especially with the later clarification. Government secrecy isn’t some irrelevant side policy that China and North Korea happen to have, it’s one of the central issues that make people disapprove of them in the first place.
    In other words, LL wasn’t doing the equivalent of “Hitler was a vegetarian therefore vegetarianism is bad”, it was closer to “the documents put out by our government on the subject torture bear a striking resemblance to some by the Gestapo on the same subject”.

    @Caravelle: You & I read LL’s comment quite differently. So, yet another example of perception problems. I honestly don’t have the energy to think about that aspect of this any further so I’ll just say that you may be correct.

    Wrong. The Army has a clear interest in not wanting to admit that their forces have committed war crimes. Hence, their denial does not prove anything about whether or not this is a war crime.

    So no organization with an investment in the outcome can make an accurate assessment of a problem or just the military? Or just when the issue is about a war crime?
    Wikileaks has an interest in breaking a big story. How does that color their assessment? Are they assumed to be unbiased because they’re the good guys? How is making that assumption better than assuming that it can’t have been a war crime because the military are the good guys?

    I haven’t seen the video. I don’t want to. But the worst thing about all of this is all of the excuses people try to come up with to explain away the murders. There are a surprisingly large number of people who are happy to excuse war crimes — but if the situation were reversed, they’d be calling for blood.

    So, having not watched the video you are nevertheless A) sure that it was murder and B) comfortable accusing people who have seen the video and don’t share your certainty of making excuses for war crimes?
    Yeah, there’s no bias at work there.

  • Ing

    “There are areas of cities in America that are hard hit by crime. The police aren’t allowed to circle above in a helicopter and shoot people who “appear” to be carrying weapons. If by “bring down the hammer” you mean “taught people a valuable lesson about walking down the street,” then mission accomplished, I guess. People will think twice now before walking down the street holding stuff or driving their kids anywhere, or… hell, I don’t know. Leaving their houses. Ever. And we wonder why they don’t love us being over there. If we’re there much longer, they might start to see the time when Saddam was in charge as “the good old days.”"
    You really think there’s no difference between random crime or gang crime and a near civil war level insurgency?
    “My point earlier was that many of the visitors who responded to Fred seemed concerned with defending the reputation or motives of the military. That wouldn’t necessarily be intrinsically bad, but in this case it’s woefully misguided. For one thing, Fred’s post was NOT an attack on the military. For another, that defense implies that an organization’s reputation is more important than any wrongs done by some of its members.”
    This. I’ll also argue that since the voters are the ones who indirectly choose to send troops to war and control the support or disapproval of a war, it is important for them to be fully informed. They need to be kept in the loop in what the military’s doing, what problems we’re facing, what screw ups are going on. If not you have a public opinion that’s generally random and not truely accurate of the will of the people. The military has it’s rights and has the right to keep important secrets secret, but it’s also our money that funds them and I dunno…it sometimes feels like they don’t respect the civilians enough to be transparent.
    “So no organization with an investment in the outcome can make an accurate assessment of a problem or just the military? Or just when the issue is about a war crime? ”
    No, no. The point is that the ACCUSED can not also be the investigator. Enron is not allowed to audit their own books, a politician accused of corruption can’t be on the hearing panel, the military may not be the best source for investigating military mistakes. It’s one of the founding principles of American legal theory that power is tempting to use. When it’s your ass in the fryier you might use it even if you were noble the rest of the time. That’s why we don’t give the power to one place. I don’t know what would be a good way to go about it, but the level of unilateral power the military has is troublesome for some people.

  • Arania Webb

    I am another long-time reader in Boston who is delurking to sing the praises of New England.
    I hereby promise to not kill anyone with sheep, even if it looks like you’re holding a rocket propelled grenade launcher. On the other hand, if you’re holding a role playing game, heck, count me in!

  • http://animated-discussions.blogspot.com/ Froborr

    Just got back from Anime Boston, and I am compelled to join in singing the praises of New England. Boston’s a nice place.
    I’ve been thinking about it, and with the caveat that I haven’t seen the video, here’s my biggest issue with all this: From what I’ve heard, the guys in the helicopter were having a lot of fun.
    They were having FUN. Blowing people up was FUN to them.
    You do not hand weapons to people who enjoy killing! It is a bad idea. A soldier should be willing to kill, if necessary, to protect civilians or allies, or to achieve a mission objective. A soldier MUST NOT enjoy killing, because then you’ve crossed the line into being a serial killer with a uniform.

  • Donald Johnson

    Of course Wikileaks is biased. But if we had a press corps that did its job and presented this material (or tried to seek it out), wikileaks wouldn’t have any sort of niche.
    Which brings me to my favorite topic on the Iraq War–how many civilians or for that matter, how many people (insurgents or civilians) have our forces killed in Iraq? Nobody freaking knows. The estimates for the total death toll vary by a factor of ten (Iraq Body Count’s 100,000 vs. the over one million figure suggested by the ORB poll and implied by the second Lancet paper if extrapolated to the present). And as for the number of civilians killed by US forces, the estimates there vary by nearly two orders of magnitude. Iraq Body Count is again at the low end–they counted about 6000 in the opening invasion months (March and April 2003) and around 2000 or so in 2004 (largely due to Fallujah) and in most other years about several hundred per year. The second Lancet paper, OTOH, suggests a figure of roughly 200,000 (civilian and insurgent) with the number rising through 2006. Their figure is vastly higher than what one would think from the press accounts that IBC relies on.
    Which is not to say that the highest figures are right, but my point is this–this stupid country as a whole does not give a damn how many civilians our military may have killed and shows absolutely no interest in finding out. So yeah, maybe these particular helicopter pilots operated within the rules of engagement. Well, God bless America–I feel better already. Obviously that’s the really important point to determine–what we really need to know is whether a couple of guys obeyed the law when they inadvertently killed a bunch of civilians. Because what matters, first and foremost, are Americans–their feelings, their guilt or innocence as judged by a set of rules the invading country has set for itself.
    As for hawk’s final comment–”Be glad you don’t have to live the rest of your lives with those memories. And be doubly glad there are those who are willing to bear those scars, so you don’t have to experience the horrors first hand visited on other people in far away lands whom we try to defend.”
    Why should I be glad there are those “willing to bear those scars”? This makes no sense at all–we’re talking about people,presumably without intending it, who shot up a van with children in it. I’d much rather that people in the military NOT be willing to bear those scars. Maybe it’d be a lot tougher to send troops to fight unnecessary wars if there were fewer people willing to fight in them.

  • Donald Johnson

    “And as for the number of civilians killed by US forces, the estimates there vary by nearly two orders of magnitude.”
    To be more precise, in some years the difference between what Iraq Body Count reports and what the second Lancet paper says is about a factor of 100–IBC says several hundred killed by the US in 2005 and again in 2006 (I don’t have the exact figures handy) and Lancet II says somewhere in the neighborhood of 60,000 per year (though including insurgents). There are also various polls and surveys that show that many Iraqis knew of unjustified violence against Iraqi civilians by US forces in their neighborhood, though one can’t get a numerical estimate out of that.
    If we had a government or a press or a population that cared, what we don’t know about what is being done in our name would be intolerable. The military would be under extreme pressure to come clean about what it knows. In practice, there’s obviously nothing remotely resembling that kind of concern–Americans find our ignorance quite tolerable, perhaps even pleasant.
    Which is why I find the criticism of wikileaks almost contemptible. Yeah, maybe they were unfair to the US forces involved. But at least somebody is trying to do something to bring attention to the incredible violence our country has inflicted, which is far more than I can say about 99 percent of the “responsible” members of the press.

  • Emcee

    this stupid country as a whole does not give a damn how many civilians our military may have killed and shows absolutely no interest in finding out.
    There are some things in your post I disagree with. This, however, isn’t one of them. I can remember when the death toll of US soldiers reached 1000, and the news was all about how horrible it was that so many American troops had died. My thought was that Iraqis casualties tens times higher, and no one seemed to care about that. It seemed to be only Americans lives that counted.

  • Emcee

    Hey all…don’t mean to threadjack, but I just found out that the son of a friend of someone very close to me, has gone missing. I know few details, but his name is Ryan, and he has been missing from a river trip in Hawaii since 6p on Tues. All thoughts, energies and prayers to any/all gods/goddesses are appreciated.

  • Sergeant O’Leary

    So no organization with an investment in the outcome can make an accurate assessment of a problem or just the military? Or just when the issue is about a war crime?

    Straw men are fun, aren’t they?
    The post to which you were responding was itself responding to another post that claimed that, since Side A says X and Side B says Y, the truth must be some fuzzy combination between X and Y and it is impossible for anyone to ever discover the real truth, and that it must be impossible to discover the real truth or else a discrepancy could not possibly exist. This claim, naturally, is blatantly false – consider “Fox says the bill has death panels! Obama says it doesn’t! The truth is somewhere unknowable between the two!” or “Bob says he didn’t break into the house! Fingerprints show he did! The world will never know the real answer!” – which is why the post to which you were responded pointed out that such a claim was blatantly false, pointing out that, hello, maybe a source with an obvious vested interest in one side might not be an entirely objective observer.
    From “The Army isn’t necessarily being entirely honest and unbiased in its evaluations”, you somehow got “Nobody with any vested interest in anything can possibly be physically capable of anything but blatant bias”. I must confess that I don’t quite see why you would equate “Source X has an agenda and thus might not be a reliable source of information” with “Everything remotely resembling Source X is built on lies, lies, lies!” – besides, of course, the fact that the latter is much easier to refute.

  • Caravelle

    Emcee :

    There are some things in your post I disagree with. This, however, isn’t one of them. I can remember when the death toll of US soldiers reached 1000, and the news was all about how horrible it was that so many American troops had died. My thought was that Iraqis casualties tens times higher, and no one seemed to care about that. It seemed to be only Americans lives that counted.

    When I first heard about the Vietnam memorial I thought this was really awesome. It’s not many countries (or possibly any) who’ll build a memorial to the other side of a war, even in cases where they should because they really messed up. Then I heard that the memorial only commemorated the Americans killed in Vietnam…
    It was an interesting experience going to Germany and seeing a memorial to all the U-boot crews lost in WWII with a map showing where each was lost. So many of them were around Brittany but I had to come here to find out about them. And of course they probably didn’t have any monuments to the Bretons who died in Germany although you can read their names in every town in Brittany.
    The reason why this is is obvious and makes perfect sense, but still wouldn’t it be nice if we were a little more universalist ? 50 years on and all…


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