Wednesday May 22, 2024

Patriots, marines and war criminals

By Saad Rahim Khan
October 12, 2020

On 9/11, a group of neoconservatives sat in a White House bunker and changed the course of world history. The worst attack on US soil would be spun incessantly until the American people were largely made to feel somewhere between not opposed to and actively in favour of a war resulting in around half a million deaths across Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Half that number comprises civilians. Indirect deaths are in the millions.

These numbers are considered surface scratching undercounts. American spending on this geopolitical disaster is estimated to be around $6.4 trillion, not including expected interest payments through 2050 of $8 trillion. But abandon not all hope, ye who enter here. For while War is Hell, in the midst of terror and terror to come was born the neoconservative fantasy (and fantasy it was) that the might of the United States military could be let loose and finally establish the US as a global hegemony. And the military found its premier Bringer of Light in General James Norman Mattis AKA Mad Dog Mattis.

Mr Mad Dog’s career began when he enlisted in the Marines at 19. He fought in the Persian Gulf War, in Afghanistan, and in Iraq as a major general. He was commander of the US Central Command from 2010 to 2013 under the Obama Administration. Under Trump’s he served as secretary of defense from January 2017 till two years later whereupon he resigned in response to Trump’s withdrawal of US troops from Syria.

Mr Mad Dog is often described as a marine’s marine and a consummate professional. A military leader revered by Republicans and Democrats alike, Mattis’ blunder-filled career was buoyed by the converging of two forces: ham-fisted right-wing unilateral fascism and the usual strain of milquetoast left-wing interventionism. He carried out an air strike against US special operations troops (December 2001, accident), bombed an Iraqi wedding party and killed 42 civilians including 11 women and 14 children stating: “Bad things happen in wars” (May 2004, mistaken), and presided over the Raid on Yakla disaster where dozens died including an 8-year-old (January 2017, botching).

But the razing of Fallujah, Iraq was where Mattis made his mark. His Marines prevented citizens from escaping via cordon, trophy-posed with dead Iraqis, fired at ambulances, and sniped at aid workers. Rotting bodies festered in the wreckage as anyone stepping outside to bury them would be fired upon. The Fallujah operation eventually gave way to negotiations which stalled under Mattis who was on record screaming, “If you’re going to take Vienna, take *censored* Vienna!” at other generals. The siege concluded when negotiations handed over control of the city to one of Saddam’s generals. A Vienna taken it was not.

Later in his career, Mattis would remove criminal charges against the Marine massacre of Haditha (24 dead Iraqi civilians) and the Marine killing and attempted framing of Hashim Ibrahim Awad (52-year-old disabled Iraqi civilian; cause of death: being shot in the face four times). None of the Marines in question was held accountable in these cases, nor in Fallujah. If there were no mass graves or dead Iraqis, it would be as if none of it had ever happened.

But it did happen. And according to Columbia international law professor, Gabor Rona, what happened was a series of war crimes. The doctrine of command or superior responsibility stipulates that a military superior can be held criminally responsible when his subordinates commit international crimes. So why is it that the political fungi that comprises Washington’s elite fawns so openly over Mattis? And why the eye-battering acclaim from its media? Is it his tempered approach to torture (not to be confused with pardoning war criminals guilty of torture)? Or perhaps his vow of silence on the political judgments of Trump (later broken, but even initially invalidated by his own sharp criticism of Bush and Obama)?

Maybe it’s the high regard Henry Kissinger has for him (war criminals of a feather, etc). But perhaps the reason is as simple as: General Mattis is a soldier who looks the part. And for an Imperialist America he was useful. For an Isolationist America, less so. But it is strange that the costs of American Imperialism are so often borne by other nations. The US, however, is not impervious to these costs. A nation so adept at fact-devoid hate-mongering now reels under the weight of its own contradictions. Fascism and wildfires. Pestilence and Nazis.

War is Hell. And man is uniquely adept at this ultimate trade that has awaited its ultimate practitioner. Ask any soldier and he’ll tell you that civilian casualties are part and parcel of war. But if he tells you that James Mattis is not a war criminal and deserves veneration instead of a trial at the Hague, he may be a US Marine. If he tells you that these things are necessary to win the liberation of a people, then ask him to locate this won liberty in Fallujah where the soccer fields are mass graves and the headstones simply read: “The American bombing”.

The writer is a consultant working in the education sector.

Twitter: @notsaadkhan