Can You Spot the War Crime?


I have long held the opinion that patriotism is one of the most abominable vices affecting the human understanding… In its active manifestation –it is fond of shooting — patriotism would be well enough if it were simply defensive; but it is also aggressive, and the same feeling that prompts us to strike for our altars and our fires impels us likewise to go over the border to quench the fires and overturn the altars of our neighbors… Patriotism is fierce as a fever, pitiless as the grave, blind as a stone and irrational as a headless hen.

Ambrose Bierce, Civilization (Collected Works, 1909-12) 

As the invasion of Iraq drew to a close, the Bush Administration set about planning to prosecute former Iraqi officials for war crimes. It was announced that hundreds of Iraqis would be put on trial, and thousands more could be granted amnesty in return for their confessions.  As U.S. Ambassador for War Crimes Pierre-Richard Prosper explained it, “There must be credible accountability.  For crimes committed against U.S. personnel, we, the United States, will prosecute.”  Offences committed against Iraqi citizens are to be judged by Iraqis, acting under American guidance and control.  “Atrocities and abuses by the regime of its own people should be tried by Iraqis,” a high-ranking U.S. official declared.  “We’re prepared to provide support which could range from financial aid to legal experts to judges, to make it credible.”  The obvious premise was that only American control would result in a “credible” process. [1] 

There is considerable confusion as to what constitutes a war crime. Few people have a clear notion of the concept.  Many more are befuddled.  In order to bring clarity to this vexed subject, I offer the quiz below.  A total of five exercises will test the reader’s comprehension of the topic of crimes against humanity.  In each exercise, a number of incidents are described, only one of which qualifies as a war crime.  The object is to identify correctly the war crime. Ten points are awarded for each correct answer and at the end, the reader can compare the final score against a chart to gauge his or her knowledge of the subject.

Exercise 1

According to Article 2 of the United Nations Charter, “All members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.” Furthermore, the Charter adds, “All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” [2]

In 1950, the International Law Commission of the United Nations adopted the Principles of the Nuremberg Tribunal as constituting basic principles of international law. Foremost among the crimes defined as punishable under international law are those against peace, including “planning, preparation, initiation or waging a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances.”  The second category of crimes against peace includes “participation in a common plan or conspiracy” to accomplish the aforementioned crimes. [3]

In his opening address for the United States at the Nuremberg Tribunal, Chief Prosecutor Robert Jackson stated, “that to plan, prepare, initiate or wage a war of aggression…is a crime.” Jackson defined several actions as aggression, and therefore crimes against peace, including invasion of the territory of another state and attack by armed forces on the territory of another state.  It is noteworthy that Jackson added, “It is the plot and the act of aggression which we charge to be crimes.  Our position is that whatever grievances a nation may have, however objectionable it finds the status quo, aggressive warfare is an illegal means for settling those grievances or for altering those conditions.” [4]

On March 20, 2003, the United States and Great Britain invaded Iraq. Within weeks, American and British troops had conquered Iraq and placed it under occupation.  No attempt was made to obtain United Nations authorization for the invasion because a veto in the UN Security Council appeared certain.  Iraq had not threatened or attacked the U.S. or Great Britain, nor was there any indication that it intended to do so.

One oil well in Kirkuk burned for six weeks, the result of an apparent accident. At the Al-Rumeila field, four oil wells were deliberately set afire, with the probable intention of creating a smoke screen to cover defending forces.  A total of eleven wells were said to have gone up in flames, all belonging to Iraq. [5]

Only one war crime appears in the first exercise. Can you find it?

Answer (10 points)

This first exercise is admittedly very easy. Yes, that is right.  Iraq committed a war crime by burning a small number of its own oil wells, as that noted expert on international law, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, so aptly pointed out on the first day of the war.  “I have seen indications and reports that the Iraqi regime may have set afire to as many as three or four oil wells in the south.  Needless to say, it is a crime for that regime to be destroying the riches of the Iraqi people.” [6]  The wells may have been the riches of the Iraqis, but they rightfully belonged to American and British oil companies, which is what makes this a war crime.  Only the misguided could imagine that the many thousands of U.S. and British bombs and missiles could have destroyed the riches of the Iraqi people.  Those were smart bombs, after all.  For those readers who are still confused about this example, there is a fundamental moral principle involved.  U.S. and British oil companies have the right to expect their future possessions to be free of damage, so as not to cut into profits.  Operation Iraqi Freedom could not possibly be construed as a war crime because good guys were defeating evildoers.  And it was also really cool to see all those airplanes and missiles in action.

Exercise 2

In 1980, Iraqi troops invaded Iran in an attempt to seize territory by force of arms. The resulting war dragged on for eight years, causing immense destruction and costing the lives of 1.7 million people in one of the twentieth century’s worst wars.

In December 1983, President Reagan sent envoy Donald Rumsfeld to Baghdad to meet Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and offer American assistance. Rumsfeld told Hussein that the U.S. wanted a full resumption of relations and “would regard any major reversal of Iraq’s fortunes as a strategic defeat for the West.”  Only the month before, State Department official Jonathan Howe informed Secretary of State George Schultz that Iraq was using chemical weapons against Iranian forces on an “almost daily basis.”  It was also well known by then that the Hussein government had engaged in widespread repression, crushing the Iraqi left by execution, imprisonment, torture, and exile.

Howard Teicher was an official of the National Security Agency accompanying Rumsfeld on that mission. Teicher recalls, “President Reagan decided that the United States would do whatever was necessary and legal to prevent Iraq from losing the war with Iran,” and formalized the policy of assisting Iraq in a National Security Decision Directive [NSDD] which Teicher helped draft.  CIA Director William Casey “personally spearheaded the effort to ensure that Iraq had sufficient military weapons, ammunition and vehicles to avoid losing the Iran-Iraq war.  Pursuant to the secret NSDD, the United States actively supported the Iraqi war effort by supplying the Iraqis with billions of dollars of credits, by providing U.S. military intelligence and advice to the Iraqis, and by closely monitoring third country arms sales to Iraq to make sure that Iraq had the military weaponry required.”

CIA personnel visited Iraq on a regular basis to provide surveillance intelligence gathered by U.S.-supplied Saudi AWACS planes in order to support the Iraqi war effort. Both the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency directly assisted an Iraqi offensive in February 1988 by electronically “blinding” Iranian radars for three days.

“The United States also provided strategic operational advice to the Iraqis to better use their assets in combat,” Teicher said. “For example, in 1986, President Reagan sent a secret message” through Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek, acting as an intermediary, “to Saddam Hussein telling him that Iraq should step up its air war and bombing of Iran,” and “similar strategic operational military advice was passed” to Hussein through meetings with various heads of state.

Teicher “personally attended meetings in which CIA Director Casey and Deputy Director Robert Gates “noted the need for Iraq to have certain weapons such as cluster bombs and anti-armor penetrators in order to stave off Iranian attacks.” The CIA supplied cluster bombs to Iraq through Cardoen, a Chilean company.

More than sixty officials of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency were involved in the program, which not only provided intelligence to Iraq on Iranian positions but directly helped Iraq develop tactical battle plans as well as plans for air strikes. Although it was well known by the later stages of the war that Iraqi forces were routinely using chemical weapons against the Iranians, American support for Iraqi offensives continued.  “The use of gas on the battlefield by the Iraqis was not a matter of deep strategic concern,” recalled a former high-ranking Defense Intelligence Agency official.  U.S. leaders were more interested in ensuring the defeat of Iran.  The Pentagon “wasn’t so horrified by Iraq’s use of gas,” remembered a former official involved in the program.  “It was just another way of killing people – whether with a bullet or phosgene, it didn’t make any difference.” [7]

In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. Once again Iraq coveted a neighboring state’s territory, but unlike the previous war, the scale of death and destruction was comparatively quite minor.  Only one of these invasions was a war crime.  Which one was it?

Answer (10 points)

The two invasions can be clearly differentiated. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was a war crime, whereas that of Iran was not.  Without question, a moral distinction can be made.  The invasion of Iran was welcomed and supported by the United States and therefore does not constitute a war crime.  The invasion of Kuwait, on the other hand, was opposed by the United States, which responded by bombing Iraq and imposing sanctions.

Exercise 3

Article 44 of the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions directs combatants “to distinguish themselves from the civilian population while they are engaged in an attack or in a military operation preparatory to an attack. Recognizing, however, that there are situations in armed conflicts where, owing to the nature of the hostilities an armed combatant cannot so distinguish himself, he shall retain his status as a combatant, provided that, in such situations, he carries his arms openly: (a) during each military engagement, and (b) during such time as he is visible to the adversary while he is engaged in a military deployment preceding the launching of an attack in which he is to participate.” [8]

During the invasion of Iraq, Iraqi civilians and guerrillas who openly carried arms fought back against invading American and British troops.

More than 10,000 American forces belonging to the Special Operations Group (SOG) operated inside Iraq during the war, as did more than two dozen CIA paramilitaries. Many of them performed their duties out of uniform, disguised as Iraqi civilians and carrying concealed weapons.  Special operations units sought out and assassinated Iraqi Ba’ath Party members and government officials, both in Baghdad and elsewhere.  U.S. Army Delta Force and other SOG units were given a list of more than one hundred Iraqi officials they were instructed to either kill or capture.  This was the largest such operation since the Phoneix program in the Vietnam War, when American assassins murdered tens of thousands of influential Vietnamese civilians who held political views not to the liking of the U.S. military.  According to Administration sources, special forces were successful in assassinating a number of prominent Iraqi civilians.  Special operation forces also electronically marked targets in order to guide bombs dropped by U.S. and British warplanes.  Even before the war, SOG operatives blew up buildings, and they stepped up operations once the war began.  The Special Operations Group was seen as Rumsfeld’s baby, and so pleased was he with the results that he authorized it to plan and carry out missions “against terrorists” and other opponents anywhere in the world.  In support of a wider role for the SOG, Rumsfeld proposed increasing its budget by more than $1 billion. [9]

In a program that cost over $200 million, CIA operatives conducted a year-long campaign before the war aimed at bringing down the government of Iraq through a coup, for which Iraqi officials were recruited and clandestine radio stations established. [10]

Answer (10 points)

This was another easy exercise for most of you. Instead of supporting and welcoming our troops as they were supposed to do, Iraqi civilians and guerrillas committed a war crime by shooting at our boys.  As Major General Stanley McChrystal, vice director of operations for the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and a trustworthy authority on the subject, so eloquently phrased it, “If a force is going to engage in combat, it’s going to fight, it must wear a uniform or some kind of uniform – law of land warfare says armbands or some distinctive marking that allows combatants to be identified from civilians.”  So there. [11]

U.S. Special Operations Group forces assassinating civilians and creating mayhem while dressed in civilian clothing and armed with concealed weaponry cannot possibly be interpreted as having committed war crimes. Quite the contrary.  They’re Americans; that’s why.  Less enlightened foreign peoples tend to jump to the erroneous conclusion that the killing of Iraqi officials was somehow tantamount to murder.  This misapprehension is because foreigners are not blessed with a free press, such as we have in the U.S.  If they were fortunate enough to enjoy a free press, they would realize that the good guys were rooting out evildoers and bad guys.  Marine General Peter Pace was right to brag, “During this war, the Special Operations Forces have done amazing feats of bravery, and I believe that they’ll be properly reported at the proper time.” [12]  At which time, praise will be heaped upon our boys in the SOG who so richly deserve our support.

Exercise 4

Article 13 of the Geneva Convention relating to the treatment of prisoners of war requires that prisoners of war “at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.” [13]

On multiple occasions, Iraqi prisoners of war were filmed and shown on American television.

On March 23, 2003, Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television and Iraqi State television broadcast a film clip showing five captured American soldiers.

After the war, Iraqi prisoners were beaten, abused, humiliated and tortured by U.S. personnel in several prisons, most famously at Abu Ghraib.

Article 79 of the Protocol Additional of the Geneva Convention declares that journalists “in areas of armed conflict shall be considered as civilians,” and they “shall be protected as such under the Conventions and this Protocol.” [14]

On April 2, 2003, the Sheraton Hotel in Basra was struck four times by artillery fire. The hotel’s only guests were journalists from Al-Jazeera.  According to the television channel’s spokesman, “Al-Jazeera had officially advised the Pentagon of all relevant details pertaining to its reporters covering the war on Iraq,” including supplying the location of “official HQs of all its reporters in Basra, Mosul, and Baghdad.” [15]

Six days after that attack, two missiles slammed into the Baghdad-based office of Al-Jazeera. Correspondent Tariq Ayoub was standing on the roof at the time, with cameraman Zuheir Iraqi, preparing for a live broadcast.  Ayoub was killed instantly, and Iraqi suffered a wound to his neck from flying shrapnel.  “Al-Jazeera’s office is located in a residential area, and there is no way that the attack was a mistake,” pointed out Al-Jazeera correspondent Majed Abdel Hadi.  “We were watching and filming the bombardment, and it’s quite clearly a direct strike on the Al-Jazeera office,” said Rageh Omaar, a reporter for the BBC.  “This was not just a stray round.  It just seemed too specific.” [16]

That same day, a U.S. tank fired a round into the upper floors of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, which housed more than two hundred journalists who had chosen to report on the war independently rather than accompany U.S. units. French reporter Herve de Ploeg said American tanks “headed there, moved their turrets and waited at least two minutes before opening fire.  I did not hear any shots in the direction of the tank…It had been very quiet for a moment.  There was no shooting at all.  Then I saw the turret turning in our direction and the carriage lifting.  It faced the target.  It was not a case of instinctive firing.”  The exploding round killed two cameramen and injured three journalists. [17]

Answer (10 points + 10 bonus points)

The correct answer is that Al Jazeera’s broadcast of five American prisoners of war was a war crime. This violation, which was rightly pronounced as “shocking” by the more astute commentators, ranks as the most heinous of the entire war.  It cannot be compared to American broadcasts showing Iraqi prisoners of war.  As W. Hays Parks, Special Assistant to the Judge Advocate General for the U.S. Army explains, U.S. forces had not violated any laws by permitting journalists to film Iraqis POWs because such filming was a “statement of fact.” [18]   That should clear up any confusion concerning the distinction between the two cases.

As for Abu Ghraib, it is difficult to understand what the fuss was about. The prisoners were Arabs. It is not as if any Americans were being harmed.

Regarding the journalists who were killed, please award yourself an extra ten points if you thought they had it coming to them because they weren’t supporting our troops. As surprising as it may seem, it is not considered a war crime to broadcast propaganda attempting to show the good guys in a bad light.  The free press behaved as it was supposed to, and “embedded” its journalists with U.S. units and attended U.S. military press briefings.  But these bad guy journalists willfully aided evildoers by reporting on collateral damage, as if anyone would care about some foreigners being killed in the first place.  What about our boys who were killed?  Why did they try to generate sympathy over the death of evildoers?  They should have embedded with American forces and reported on the nobility of our cause.

Exercise 5

Article 51 of the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions requires that in war time, “The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack.” Furthermore, “Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited.”  Indiscriminate attacks are defined as “those which are not directed at a specific military objective; those which employ a method or means of combat which cannot be directed at a specific military objective; or those which employ a method or means of combat the effects of which cannot be limited.”  Article 52 of the Protocol stipulates, “Civilian objects shall not be the object of attack or of reprisals.” [19]

Two American cruise missiles slammed into the Al-Shaab residential neighborhood in Baghdad at mid-day on March 26, 2003, blasting a hole in the street and demolishing a large building. Wrecked automobiles were strewn about the street.  The attack killed 15 civilians and wounded 30.  “I saw a dozen bodies or more,” said Wasim Al-Shinmari. “They were inside the cars, outside the cars, even in the buildings.  Children, ladies, men – nobody had any warning.”  A mother and her three children were burned to death as the explosion tossed their car upside down, engulfing it in flames.  A building manager, Hishem Danoon, ran to his door when he heard the explosion.  “I found Ta’ar in pieces over there,” he said, speaking of one of the young men who worked for him.  A second employee, named Sermed, was also killed, his brains thrown onto the pavement behind a burned car.  “I had five sons, and now I have only two – and how do I know that even they will survive?” a middle-aged man said sorrowfully.  “One of my boys was hit in the kidneys and heart.  His chest was full of shrapnel.  It came right through the windows.  Now all I can say is that I am sad that I am alive.” Rageh Omaar reported for the BBC, “I saw human remains, bits of severed hands, bits of skull,” His colleague, Andrew Gilligan observed, “The nearest military building, civil defense headquarters, is I have to say at least a quarter of a mile away.” [20]

Two days later, a cruise missile set off a powerful explosion when it struck a market place at 6:00 PM in the Baghdad suburb of Shu’ale. At that moment, the market was crowded with people doing their shopping at the end of a workday. “I was standing in my doorway, looking around, when the rocket fell right in the middle of the market,” remembered Fadel Jabbar Hussein, who was struck by shrapnel in his arm and stomach.  “Before that, I heard a sound in the sky, and everybody looked up and saw a plane with a white line coming from it; and the next minute or two went blank.  When I opened my eyes, I was on the ground, and it was like after a storm – all the stalls were turned over, people were screaming, there was smoke and a lot of blood.”  Ikhlas Fiaq recalled the attack while she was receiving treatment for wounds at the Al-Noor Hospital. “When the rocket came, the whole area became dark.  For a few minutes, I couldn’t see a thing.  When I opened my eyes, I saw bodies and parts of bodies everywhere I looked.  It was a massacre.  Simply that, a massacre.”

At the hospital, coffin after coffin was loaded onto trucks, surrounded by relatives of the fallen, wailing with grief. Tarif Jamil, a doctor at Al-Noor Hospital, remarked, “There were limbs torn off, and burns, multiple shrapnel injuries, head and chest injuries.  I saw about six children – all dead – and at least three women.” Dr. Haqqi Razouki observed, “I don’t remember so many injured people, so much blood everywhere, in this hospital before.  Even the doctors and nurses were shocked.  People were so badly injured that they were dying in our hands.”  As the days passed, people continued to die from their wounds, eventually bringing the death toll to 62.

Ahmed Mohammed Jabbar, owner of a stall in the neighborhood, lost his youngest son, aged eleven. His other son, aged fourteen, barely survived shrapnel wounds to his head and trunk.  When Jabbar was told by doctors that his older son would live, he sobbed with relief.  Gafel Hamdani, 74-years-old, saw his three youngest sons, ages 12, 18 and 20, killed before his eyes.  “What can I tell you?” he said. “Isn’t the sight of them enough?”  Salman Zakker was wounded by shrapnel in the attack.  “I could not get up and I could not feel my legs,” he said.  “Women were screaming.  Two boys were lying next to me.  I tried to help them get up, but they were dead.”  Dr. Abbas Ali Abbas concluded, “I don’t believe America is doing it by accident.  Every day, they kill civilian people.  Every day, injured civilians are brought to our hospital.  It is not a war.  It is slaughter.” [21]

U.S. warplanes showered two small towns located near Babylon, Hilla and Maarak, with cluster bombs in late March and early April. The cluster bomblets exploded in the air, in multiple bursts like firecrackers, sending thousands of razor-sharp pellets zinging in all directions, penetrating everything they hit.  The bomblets fell like “small grapefruit,” said Mohammed Moussa.  “If it hadn’t exploded and you touched it, it went off immediately.  They exploded in the air and on the ground, and we still have some in our home, unexploded.”  At the Babylon General Hospital, there were babies sliced in half, children with amputated limbs, and in the hospital’s mortuary, mounds of dismembered and mutilated remains of what were once human beings.  In grief-stricken agony, a father held out the pieces of his baby in his arms and shouted, “Cowards! Cowards!”  Two trucks were piled high with the bodies of victims.  Alia Mukhtaff was filmed in a hospital bed, recovering from her wounds.  Her husband and six of her children had been killed in the attack.  One man reported that an American vehicle fired a shell into his home.  “I could see an American flag,” he said.

At least 61 people were reported by Babylon General Hospital to have died. More than 300 were wounded.  Many more victims were simply buried without being taken to the hospital, and the exact number of dead may never be known.

Razek Al-Kazem Al-Khafaji and his family were fleeing in his pickup truck from the fighting in Nasiriya. A U.S. Apache helicopter spotted them and launched a rocket at the truck, killing all 15 members of his family. Razek was the lone survivor.  He lost his wife, six children, his father and mother, and his three brothers and their wives.

Ali Abed survived an attack on Hilla on the morning of April 1. “The earth shook, and we were hit by shrapnel.  My wife was killed right there.  My nephew was injured.  My son was injured.  It was terrible.”  In nearby Kifl, Azira Khadem said the attack came at 4:00 AM, when everyone was asleep.  “I heard the bombardment.  People opened doors and tried to get out.  But then the bombardment came from all directions – artillery, tanks, soldiers.  It hit the houses and five, six, twenty people were killed.  Then the planes went away.  Where were the people to go?  Wherever they could, they fled.”

Khalid Hallil was inside his home when shrapnel ripped through the walls and tore his left thigh apart. His father recalled, “Metal just came from everywhere.  Believe me, there were no soldiers in the area.  Only civilians.  There was no justification for attacking us in our homes.  No justification for this murderous act.”

Dr. Hydar Abbas reported that all of the injuries in his ward were caused by cluster bombs. “The majority of the victims were children who died because they were outside.  We have an ambulance driver, Abdul Zahra, whose leg had to be amputated after he came under attack while he was driving to the area.  What kind of war is it that [Great Britain] and America are fighting?” [22]

The small village of Manaria, home to about fifty families, was also a target. Twelve-year old Ahmed Hussein was home with his family on March 29.  “We heard a plane and went outside,” he said.  “It was very loud.  One of my aunts grabbed me and pulled me around the corner.  There was a big sound, and smoke.  Then I heard screaming inside.”  Ahmed’s aunt, Alia Mijbas, was hit in both legs by shrapnel, and her son, five-year-old Mahmood, was struck in the chest and shoulders while drinking a glass of milk.  Ahmed’s mother, Hamida, was just telling her 13-year-old daughter Samar not to go outside when the missile exploded, and shrapnel shot through the house, hitting Samar in the stomach.  Samar “just fell,” Hamida said.  “I could see blood coming from her stomach.  She was gasping, and as I ran to her she was crying, ‘Mama, Mama.’ It was so terrible.”  Hamida paused while she wiped away her tears.  “There were others also hurt, and everyone was crying and screaming.  We had to wait for a car because ours was so badly damaged.  But I knew my Samar would not last until we got to the hospital.  And that is what happened.  She died in my arms.”

Air attacks killed 19 people in two neighboring villages, Zambrania and Talkana. In the first village, Haidari Al-Yussuf had just sent his 17-year-old son Jalal and his nephew Ibrahim on their way to enjoy lunch at the home of a friend at the next farm.  “Then we heard something going very fast through the air, and then the loud noise.  I started running straight away.  I knew something bad had happened.  When I got there, I found Ibrahim was dead and Jalal was hurt.  He had a big open wound in his neck, and there was blood pouring out.  He was taken to the hospital.  He died there.” [23]

Journalists who ventured outside of Baghdad reported seeing destroyed cars, trucks, buses, and bodies strewn along the roads. It was apparent that U.S. and British pilots had bombed anything that moved along the roads.  This trigger-happy attitude was reflected in the behavior of their counterparts on the ground.  Paul Eedle, a journalist for the Financial Times, witnessed American soldiers shooting unarmed civilians in Baghdad.  “Three times in three hours I saw troops…open fire, killing five people and wounding five – among them a six-year-old girl,” he reported.  “The Marines shot anything that they considered remotely a threat.  An old blue Volkswagen came up an alley opposite the palace gate.  A Marine on top of the stone-clad arch of the gate opened fire, and the car crashed into a wall.  We heard screaming from the alley.”  Eedle noted that “a man who had run on to his balcony upon hearing the gunfire had been shot dead.”  A short while later, after Eedle heard heavy gunfire, a “white Mitsubishi van roared along the main road…the driver slumped over the wheel, unconscious or already dead.  The van veered off the road into a wall.”

Reporter Laurent Van der Stockt, on assignment for New York Times Magazine, also witnessed civilians being shot.  “On April 6, we were at the outskirts of Baghdad, facing a strategic bridge…  American snipers got the order to kill anything coming in their direction.  That night a teenager who was crossing the bridge was killed.”  The next day, Van der Stockt accompanied advancing Marines.  “A small blue van was moving towards the convoy.  Three not-very-accurate warning shots were fired.  The shots were supposed to make the van stop.  The van kept on driving, making a U-turn, took shelter and then returned slowly.  The Marines opened fire.  All hell broke loose.  They were firing all over the place.  You could hear ‘Stop firing’ being shouted.  The silence that set in was overwhelming.  Two men and a woman had just been riddled with bullets.”  Not long after, a second vehicle approached.  “Its passengers were killed on the spot.  A grandfather was walking slowly with a cane on the sidewalk.  They killed him too.  As with the old man, the Marines fired on an SUV driving along the riverbank that was getting too close to them.  Riddled with bullets, the vehicle rolled over.  Two women and a child got out, miraculously still alive. They sought refuge in the wreckage.  A few seconds later, it flew into bits as a tank lobbed a terse shot into it.”

On March 31, U.S. Marines killed ten women and children travelling in a van as they approached a checkpoint in southern Iraq. Five of the children appeared to be under five years of age.  “It was the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen, and I hope never to see it again,” said an Army medic.  He described how a woman held the mutilated bodies of her two children in her arms.  “She didn’t want to get out of the car.”   Attacks on civilian vehicles were so frequent that in the aftermath of the fall of Baghdad, Haidar Tari, director of tracing missing persons for the Iraqi Rd Crescent, observed, “On one stretch of highway alone, there were more than fifty civilian cars, each with four or five people incinerated inside.” [24]

Not long after the fall of Baghdad, U.S. occupation troops stationed in the city of Fallujah were confronted by more than two hundred angry Iraqi demonstrators on April 29. When U.S. soldiers first arrived in the town two days earlier, they established a post at the local school, leaving the children in the neighborhood with nowhere to study.  American soldiers further inflamed local resentment when they piled the school desks in the street to form a roadblock.

As the demonstrators approached the school, the American soldiers panicked and opened fire. “They just shot at the protesters,” said Musana Saleh Abdel Latif, whose house was across the street from the school.  “Some of the wounded tried to take cover in my front yard.  My wife and I started to pull them in.  I was hit in the foot.  My wife was hit in both legs.  My brother, Walid, came to take me to the hospital, and he was shot and killed.  Another brother was shot and injured.”  Fourteen Iraqis were killed and 70 wounded, as they were mowed down by American firepower.  Fifteen-year-old Ahmed Al-Essawi confirmed that the demonstrators were unarmed.  “All of us were trying to run away.  They shot at us directly.  The soldiers were very scared.  There were no warning shots, and I heard no announcements on the loudspeakers.  Ahmed Karim said, “We arrived at the school building and were hoping to talk to the soldiers when they began shooting at us randomly.”  Hussein Ali Awari lived across the road from the school.  “There were injured people crying out for help outside the house.  When I tried to go out to help them, they told me to get back inside or they’d shoot.”  Despite American claims that they were fired upon by the demonstrators, Western reporters were unable to find a single bullet hole in the school building, whereas the walls of the buildings facing the school were pockmarked with bullet holes from U.S. arms.

The next day, demonstrations erupted in Fallujah in protest against the massacre. As a U.S. convoy passed the demonstrators, a young boy tossed his sandal at a jeep.  A soldier manning the heavy machine-gun mounted on the back of the jeep ducked, and then swirled the gun around and fired at the crowd.  Chris Hughes of The Mirror reported, “We dived for cover under the compound wall as troops within the crowd opened fire.  The convoy accelerated away from the scene.  Iraqis in the line of fire dived for cover, hugging the dust to escape being hit.  We could hear the bullets screaming over our heads.  Explosions of sand erupted from the ground – if the rounds failed to hit a demonstrator first.  Seconds later the shooting stopped and the screaming and wailing began.  One of the dead, a young man, lay face up, half his head missing, first black blood, then red spilling into the dirt.  His friends screamed at us in anger, then looked at the grim sight in disbelief.”  U.S. soldiers had killed two people and wounded 14.  U.S. Lt. Colonel Tobin Green declared afterward, “The evildoers are deliberately placing at risk the good civilians.  These are deliberate actions by the enemy to use the population as cover.” [25]

Answer (10 points)

All right! That’s the way to kick Iraqi butt!  That will teach the bad guys not to mess with Uncle Sam. As you have may have figured out by now, this was a trick question.  There is no war crime in this example.  As shocking as it may seem, the child who tossed a sandal at our boys did not commit a war crime, nor did the bad guys in Fallujah commit a war crime by demonstrating when they should have been supporting our troops.  This points to some of the weaknesses in international law.  However, our boys in Fallujah gave the evildoers a lesson in democracy they’ll not soon forget.  We are there to help them because we are do-gooders.  We’re bringing democracy to them, and to ensure that happens, we’ll be telling them how to run the country until they learn to do what is right.  Best of all, we will bring the American entrepreneurial spirit to their backward land, and one day soon American companies will be taking over and running their oil wells and factories for them.

Please award yourself ten points if you correctly guessed that there was no war crime. If, on the other hand, you felt that the boy committed a war crime by tossing a sandal at our boys, or that the demonstration against our troops was a war crime, go ahead and award yourself ten points regardless.  Although technically neither incident was a war crime, you’ve correctly understood the magnitude of these acts of inhumanity.

It was our bombs that helped the benighted Iraqi people, so we shouldn’t have to countenance complaints about collateral damage. We killed bad guys and evildoers, so the people in Iraq should thank us.

We as Americans can be proud. Former Lt. General Jay Garner, the first U.S. Administrator in Iraq, said it best.  “We ought to be beating our chests every morning.  We ought to look in the mirror and get proud and suck in our bellies and stick out our chests and say, ‘Damn, we’re Americans,’ and smile.” [26]

How Did You Do?

If You Scored: 

50-60     You are a patriot and support our troops.  You can be proud and stick out your chest.

30-40     You support our troops, but you should watch more television in order to become better informed.

10-20      Close that book and start watching more television.  You are out of touch with your culture.  Consequently, you are confused and easily influenced by bad guys.

0              You are an evildoer.


[1] Robin Wright, “U.S. Begins Laying Groundwork for War Crimes Trials in Iraq,” Los Angeles Times, April 26, 2003.

[2] United Nations Charter, Chapter I, Article 2.

[3] Principles of the Nuremberg Tribunal, 1950, Principle VI.

[4] Robert Jackson, “Opening Address for the United States,” Nuremberg Trials, November 20, 1945.

[5] “No Major Damage Visible to Kirkuk Oilfields – Witness,” Reuters, April 10, 2003.

“Kuwaiti Team Extinguishes Last Burning Oil Well in Southern Iraq,” Associated Press, April 13, 2003.

[6] Joel Brinkley, “As Some Wells Burn, Iraq is Warned Not to Ruin Oil Riches,” International Herald Tribune, March 21, 2003.

[7] “US and Iraq Go Way Back,” CBS News, December 31, 2002.

Patrick E. Tyler, “Officers Say U.S. Aided Iraq in War Despite Use of Gas,” New York Times, August 18, 2002.

Robert Windrem, “Rumsfeld Key Player in Iraq Policy Shift,” MSNBC, August 18, 2000.

Christopher Marquis, “Rumsfeld Made Iraq Overture in ’84 Despite Chemical Raids,” New York Times, December 23, 2003.

Michael Dobbs, “US-Iraq Ties in 1980s Illustrate Downside of American Foreign Policy,” Dawn (Karachi), December 31, 2002.

Jeremy Scahill, “The Saddam in Rummy’s Closet,” Counterpunch, August 2, 2002.

[8] “Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I),” Article 44, June 8, 1977.

[9] Faye Bowers, “CIA, Special Forces Waging Quiet War Throughout Iraq,” Christian Science Monitor, April 3, 2003.

Valery Litvinenko, “Sources Say US, UK Agents Tracing Hussein Inside Baghdad,” ITAR-TASS (Moscow), March 27, 2003.

Pauline Jelinek, “Pentagon Defends Use of Civilian Clothes,” Associated Press, April 4, 2003.

Ruediger Falksohn, Hans Hoyng, Siegesmund von Ilsdemann, Gerhard Spoerl, “America’s Shadow Warriors,” Der Spiegel (Hamburg), March 3, 2003.

Jack Kelley, “Troops at Work Behind the Lines,” Gannett News Service, April 7, 2003.

Rowan Scarborough, “Special Ops Steal Show as Successes Mount in Iraq,” Washington Times, April 6, 2003.

Henry Michaels, “CIA Death Squads Operating in Iraq,” World Socialist Web Site, April 10, 2003.

Ian Johnston, “US Assassins ‘Kill Iraqi Chiefs’ in Baghdad,” The Scotsman (Glasgow), March 30, 2003.

[10] Dana Priest, Walter Pincus, “Status of Leaders in Iraq Uncertain, U.S. Officials Say,” Washington Post, April 4, 2003.

[11] Pauline Jelinek, “Pentagon Defends Use of Civilian Clothes,” Associated Press, April 4, 2003.

[12] Rowan Scarborough, “Special Ops Steal Show as Successes Mount in Iraq,” Washington Times, April 6, 2003.

[13] “Convention (III) Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War,” Article 13, Geneva, August 12, 1949.

[14] “Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I),” Article 79, June 8, 1977.

[15] Jason Deans, “Al-Jazeera’s Basra Hotel Bombed,” The Guardian (London), April 2, 2003.

[16] “Al Jazeera Correspondent Killed in US Attack,” Al-Jazeera, April 8, 2003.

Henry Michaels, “US Bombs Al-Jazeera Center in Baghdad,” World Socialist Web Site, April 9, 2003.

[17] Henry Michaels, “US Bombs Al-Jazeera Center in Baghdad,” World Socialist Web Site, April 9, 2003.

[18] Department of Defense News Briefing, with Bryan Whitman, W. Hays Park and Pierre Richard-Prosper, April 7, 2003.

[19] “Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I),” Articles 51 and 52, June 8, 1977.

[20] “Eyewitness: Baghdad’s Shock and Anger,” BBC News, March 26, 2003.

Robert Fisk, “’It was an Outrage, an Obscenity’,” The Independent (London), March 27, 2003.

John Daniszewski, “’Every Day Gets Worse and Worse’,” Los Angeles Times, March 27, 2003.

Suzanne Goldenberg, “Wayward Bombs Bring Marketplace Carnage,” The Guardian (London), March 27, 2003.

[21] Robert Fisk, “In Baghdad, Blood and Bandages for the Innocent,” The Independent (London), March 30, 2003.

Suzanne Goldenberg, “52 Die in Baghdad Market Blast,” The Guardian (London), March 29, 2003.

Robert Fisk, “Bombs Return After More than 50 Die in Market Blast,” The Independent (London), March 29, 2003.

John Daniszewski, Sergei L. Loiko, “’So Much Blood Everywhere’,” Los Angeles Times, March 29, 2003.

[22 Robert Fisk, “Wailing Children, the Wounded, the Dead,” The Independent (London), April 3, 2003.

Robert Fisk, Justin Huggler, “Children Killed and Maimed in Bomb Attack on Town,” The Independent (London), April 2, 2003.

Paul Eedle, “Civilians Tell of Devastating Attack,” Financial Times (London), April 2, 2003.

Anton Antonowicz, Mike Moore, “Bombs Fall on Babylon,” The Mirror (London), April 3, 2003.

Tyler Hicks, John F. Burns, “Amid War’s Chaos, a Boy’s Arm is Amputated,” International Herald Tribune, April 4, 2003.

Karim Saheb, “Dozens of Iraq Civilians Reported Dead in US, British Air Raids,” Agence France-Presse, April 1, 2003.

[23] Kim Sengupta, “Samar’s Story,” The Independent (London), April 4, 2003.

[24] Paul Eedle, “Eyewitness: ‘The Marines Shot Anything They Considered a Threat’,” Financial Times (London), April 10, 2003.

Brian Whitaker, “’You Didn’t Fire a Warning Shot Soon Enough!’,” The Guardian (London), April 1, 2003.

Michel Guerrin, “I Saw Marines Kill Civilians,” Counterpunch, April 16, 2003.

Rory McCarthy, “Seven Women and Children Shot Dead at Checkpoint,” The Guardian (London), April 1, 2003.

“Marines Kill Another Unarmed Civilian,” Sydney Morning Herald, April 1, 2003.

Laura King, “Baghdad’s Death Toll Assessed,” Los Angeles Times, May 18, 2003.

[25] Sarah Left, “US Troops ‘Kill 15 Iraqi Protesters’,” The Guardian (London), April 29, 2003.

Jonathan Steele, “Self-Defence or Murder,” The Guardian (London), April 30, 2003.

Phil Reeves, “At Least 10 Dead as US Soldiers Fire on School Protest,” The Independent (London), April 30, 2003.

Michael Slackman, “Tense Standoff Between Troops and Iraqis Erupts in Bloodshed,” Los Angeles Times, April 30, 2003.

Charles J. Hanley, “U.S. Troops Fire on Iraqi Protesters Again,” Associated Press, April 30, 2003.

Chris Hughes, “Two Killed in New Iraq Demo Shooting,” The Mirror (London), May 1, 2003.

[26] Vernon Loeb, “Rumsfeld Pays Visit to Postwar Iraq,” Washington Post, May 1, 2003.