Monday, July 28, 2008

Civilian deaths: Lie first, investigate later

Last month I discussed two episodes in which Iraqi civilians were killed by the U.S. military, and in which Iraqi and U.S. officials gave conflicting accounts of what happened. One of them concerned three Iraqis who were killed in their car by U.S. troops near the Baghdad airport; Iraqi officials said they were innocent bank employees, U.S. military spokesmen called them "criminals" who had fired on the troops.

Well, guess what? According to today's New York Times, an "investigation" of this incident has confirmed the Iraqi version. But to me, the most striking thing is that the "investigation" reveals that nearly everything the military said about the episode was incorrect at the time. Unfortunately, however, no explanation is given for how this could have happened.

Here's the lead paragraph of the story:

BAGHDAD — The American military admitted Sunday night that a platoon of soldiers raked a car of innocent Iraqi civilians with hundreds of rounds of gunfire and that the military then issued a news release larded with misstatements, asserting that the victims were criminals who had fired on the troops.


In a statement issued late Sunday, the American military said that “a thorough investigation determined that the driver and passengers were law-abiding citizens of Iraq.” It added that the soldiers were not at fault for the killings because they had fired warning shots and exercised proper “escalation of force” measures before they opened fire on the people in the car.

The Times article relates that nearly all of the military's original statements were wrong.

For example, a key assertion of the news release issued by the military on the day of the killings was that “a weapon was recovered from the wreckage.” But the military said Sunday that no one claimed to have found a weapon in the car or had seen a weapon taken from it.

Oh, but here's the good news, measures will be taken to insure that this kind of thing doesn't happen again:

“This was an extremely unfortunate and tragic incident,” Col. Allen Batschelet, chief of staff for the Fourth Infantry Division, said in the statement issued Sunday night. He said the military would take “several corrective measures to amend and eliminate the possibility of such situations happening in the future.”

Of course, this is nonsense, because "such situations" will happen again, and very soon. But perhaps there should also be an investigation into why nearly every public statement about the incident was wrong--or should we just assume that the first instinct of military spokesmen is to lie until they are forced to admit the truth?

It would also be nice if the reporters covering these stories asked more questions about such discrepancies, and/or if their editors would print what they find out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And what would the US reaction be were the situation reversed? Would it be an "unfortunate incident"? Or would it be an unprovoked act of terrorism?

I see nothing new in the army and their lies. Have they honestly ever offered the truth until it has been forced out of them. Why should they act differently to the administration that commands them?