Sunday, July 30, 2006

Well, Is It A War, Or Not ?

from here:

US military rules of engagement on trial in Iraqi killing case

by Jim Mannion Sat Jul 29, 12:43 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US military's rules of engagement in Iraq go on trial next week with the start of an inquiry into the killing of three Iraqi men who were shot after being captured by US soldiers.

A series of recent killings of civilians allegedly by US soldiers have rocked US relations in Iraq, but this case stands out because the soldiers involved claim they were operating under orders to "kill all military age males."

Military spokesmen have declined to respond to the charge. An army spokesman said, "It's all under investigation and we'll let the judicial process deal with it."

Four soldiers have been charged with premeditated murder of the three Iraqis. They were taken prisoner in a raid on an island in the province of Sallaheddin that defense lawyers said was an Al-Qaeda training camp.

An Article 32 investigation, a military version of a grand jury, is scheduled to open Tuesday at US military base near Tikrit to examine the evidence and determine whether it warrants a court martial.

The military has provided few details except to say that the four conspired to murder the Iraqis, shot them to death and then two of them threatened to kill a fifth soldier if he talked about it.

Defense lawyers for two of the soldiers have said the Iraqis broke their plastic zip tie cuffs, attacked their clients and then fled.

"The three guys were running for this berm and that's where they were shot," said Michael Waddington, a civilian lawyer for Specialist William Hunsaker, one of the soldiers who opened fire.

The other defendants in the case are Staff Sergeant Raymond Girouard, Private Corey Clagett and Specialist Juston Graber. Hunsaker and Clagett were believed to be the only two who fired on the Iraqis.

The New York Times reported Friday that a fifth soldier, Sergeant Lemuel Lemus signed a sworn statement that he witnessed the four plotting to kill the Iraqis after they had been captured and then cover it up.

The Times said Lemus told investigators that another sergeant told Girouard over the radio, "The detainees should have been killed."

First Sergeant Eric Geressy denied having made the statement, and said he did not intend to plant the idea that they should be executed, the newspaper said.

But Lemus said Girouard then gathered Lemus and three other soldiers in a house and, in a low voice and talking with his hands, made it clear he was going to kill the three Iraqis, the Times said.

The other defendants have all signed sworn statements that the orders handed down before the raid were to kill all military age males, Waddington said.

"You're going to see every single witness say the same thing," he said. "That's not been in dispute at this point."

For security reasons, the US military rarely discloses the rules under which its soldiers are authorized to use deadly force.

But the rash of civilian killings has drawn greater scrutiny of military rules and procedures that critics say can vary widely and often appear haphazard, inconsistent and confusing, if not improper.

"There are theater rules of engagement, there are mission rules of engagement. They can overlap. They can change," said John Sifton, a researcher with Human Rights Watch.

"They can have rules of engagement for patrols, rules for a raid, you can switch in the middle of an operation because something happens. A commander can give orders which will supersede rules of engagement," he said.

"Confusion is bad, because people make wrong decisions, and then later on when they've done something wrong, it allows them to get off the hook, saying they were confused, and thought there was authorization," he told AFP.

Worried about the impact of civilian deaths on public support, military commanders say they are paying close attention to what are called "escalation of force" incidents.

Troops have been given refresher training on military "values" and standards while courses in counter-insurgency warfare for commanders stress the importance of protecting civilians in a complex battlefield.

"We have people who were on the fence or supported us who in the last two years or three years have in fact decided to strike out against us," Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli told reporters in Baghdad recently.

"And you have to ask: Why is that? And I would argue in many instances we are our own worst enemy," he said.