Labor Advocate Online

Two Murders—One Gang Is Responsible For Both
by Bill Onasch

Among the hundreds who perished in the Iraq war over the past few days two killings have captured the attention and horror of public opinion.

An NBC cameraman recorded an American Marine shooting an unarmed, wounded Iraqi prisoner in the head as he lay upon the floor of a mosque in Falluja.

Aljazeera received a videotape of masked men shooting a woman in the head, apparently an aid worker kidnapped several weeks ago. While ashamed to show their faces the killers nevertheless took pride in recording this snuffing a woman old enough to be their grandmother.

Part of our tenuous, dubious claim to civilization is that we are supposed to fight wars according to certain rules. Killing defenseless prisoners is considered murder, not combat.

I have seen no mention of even the name of the victim in Falluja. We don’t know how he got there. Was he part of a religious militia or more secular resistance to occupation? Perhaps he was just unlucky, in the wrong place at a bad time. The media has shown no interest in this side of the story and we may never know.

We do know a lot more about Margaret Hassan. She originally hailed from Ireland. Like many Irish–some voluntarily–she was also a British subject. After making Iraq her home thirty years ago she became an Iraqi citizen, married to an Iraqi man. Throughout this time of war and sanctions she devoted her life to bringing some aid and comfort to the long-suffering Iraqi people. Although virtually all resistance groups called for her release her kidnapers killed her in cold blood.

We doubt if the Marine responsible for the shooting in the mosque fits any profile of a war criminal that we would imagine. We know he had been wounded himself not long before the incident, patched up, sent back to fight. We know he was aware that some of his comrades had been killed by booby-traps set on Iraqi dead. Who knows how one would react in the same situation?

I’m not prepared to grant blanket absolution to the perpetrators of these two murders. Every individual has to accept some moral responsibility for their acts.

But the ultimate and greater responsibility for these crimes–as well as all the death, suffering and destruction caused by warfare under the "civilized" rules of the Geneva Conventions–lies elsewhere. I’m talking about the gang who works from Ten Downing Street and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Their criminal war inevitably produces such savage excesses on both sides. The blood of the unknown fighter in Falluja, and of Margaret Hassan, stains their hands as well.

11/16/2004