This Tuesday past (24 January), Lieutenant Colonel David Jones passed judgement on Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich for ‘dereliction of duty’. Normally, the maximum penalty open to an American military judge for this conviction would be a 3-month jail sentence, 2/3 forfeiture of pay and a demotion to the rank of private. Jones did not sentence Wuterich to jail. He did dock his pay but did not cut it by the maximum permitted 2/3 as the divorced father is solely responsible for the upkeep of his 3 daughters. He did demote Wuterich to the rank of private.
Jones’ sentencing of Wuterich would appear to have finally brought the long-running ‘Haditha Massacre’ case to an end in the military legal system. However, in the way he and the American military prosecutors have done this, they may well have sentenced to death hundreds of American soldiers and many more civilians of various nationalities.
From the evidence presented by prosecutors, Wuterich is directly responsible for the deaths of 9 innocent Iraqi civilians and indirectly responsible for the deaths of 15 others killed by the men in his command.
There is no doubt Wuterich is responsible for the 24 deaths. According to Al Jazeeera TV (2012), military spokesperson Joe Koppell said: “Staff Sergeant Wuterich accepted responsibility … and agreed and admits that he gave a verbal order to shoot first, ask questions later, or don’t hesitate to shoot, and words to that effect.” The victims of Wuterich’s orders included 10 women and children killed at point-blank range. 6 people were killed in one house, most shot in the head, including women and children huddled in a bedroom. An elderly man in a wheelchair was another fatality.
The original charge against Wuterich was murder which was then reduced to 9 counts of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault. The American military prosecutors this week allowed Wuterich to enter a plea of guilty to the lesser charge of dereliction of duty. As Jones found out, when passing sentence, under the terms of the plea bargain authorised by Lieutenant General Thomas Waldhauser, he was not able to jail Wuterich.
Of the men under Wuterich’s command at Haditha, one was acquitted and the cases against the others were dropped on legal technicalities.
The relatively small amount of attention paid in the Western media to the Wuterich verdict and sentencing indicates a lack of appreciation of how it will be perceived in non-western cultures. The headline playing out across the Muslim world will be something like: ’24 Iraqi lives are not even worth 3 months in prison’.
Ali Badr, a Haditha resident and relative of one of the victims, called Wuterich’s sentence “an insult to all Iraqis” and “solid proof that the Americans don’t respect human rights” (Al Jazeera, 2012). Awis Fahmi Hussein, who survived Haditha after being shot in the back, told the Associated Press’ Julie Watson (2012): “I was expecting that the American judiciary would sentence this person to life in prison and that he would appear and confess in front of the whole world that he committed this crime, so that America could show itself as democratic and fair.”
According the Los Angeles Times Tony Perry (2012), Waldhauser will offer no public explanation of his decision to accept the plea bargain and stipulate that Wuterich receive no jail time.
To add insult to injury, the convicted criminal keeps his job and, at some time in the future, may again be in a position where he has innocent civilians in the sights of his automatic rifle.
For the likes of al-Qaeda and other fundamentalist Islamist groups, the farce of Wuterich’s trial is yet more proof that Muslim lives are nothing like as important as American lives. It’s more justification for the view that Muslims are oppressed by the Americans and their infidel allies – which makes it another rallying point for previously-uninvolved Muslims to come to the defence of their brothers, as indeed the Qur’an (Sura 2:191, 193) instructs them to. Those who are deeply religious and with the BLUE vMEME dominating in their selfplexes may feel compelled to do their duty if fed the appropriate provocative material from radical imams.
Lieutenant Colonel Jones and the Lieutenant General Waldhauser have given al-Qaeda a wonderful cause for a recruitment drive. Which is why Jones may well have sentenced more American soldiers and innocent civilians to death.
The ‘Fog of War’ and the ‘Animal in Man’
The prosecutors argued that, on the day of the killings in November 2005, Wuterich lost control after seeing a friend blown apart by a bomb, before leading the soldiers under his command on a murderous rampage. His defence said he did the best he could in the ‘fog of war’ and that his squad truly believed they were on a search for insurgents. However, Wuterich’s former squad members testified during the hearings that they did not receive any incoming gunfire nor find any weapons at the scene of the killings.
Wuterich told the court: “When my marines and I cleared those houses that day, I responded to what I perceived as a threat, and my intention was to eliminate that threat in order to keep the rest of my marines alive. So when I told my team to shoot first and ask questions later, the intent wasn’t that they would shoot civilians, it was that they would not hesitate in the face of the enemy.”
His assertion that “…I never fired my weapon at any women or children that day” was contradicted by a former squad mate who said he joined Wuterich in firing in a dark back bedroom where a woman and children were killed.
It appears, essentially, that Wuterich led his men on a brutal murderous rampage against innocent civilians because one of their own had been killed in front of their eyes.
Hot-blooded revenge in a state of, fright shock and high physical arousal…?
It would be far from the first time in recent history that atrocities and massacres have been committed by soldiers in a war context. And while Iraq in 2005 was far from being a full-scale war, American troops were fighting a ruthless and brutal insurgency that was killing and wounding men from their ranks on an unpredictable but scarily frequent basis.
I’ve talked before about contexts such as war which release the ‘animal in man’ – most notably in ‘Prisoner Abuse and the Mess in Iraq’. In terms of Spiral Dynamics (Don Beck & Chris Cowan, 1996) this is the RED vMEME doing what it wants in that moment of time without constraint or thought of consequences. In his Psychoanalytic Theory Sigmund Freud (1920) would see Haditha as the Thanatos element of the Id unleashed to fulfil its death instinct. Don Beck (2002) has cautioned that countries going to war should prepare their populations back home for stories of their troops committing atrocities.
What about the aftermath?
If, then, atrocities such as Haditha are inevitable from time to time – no matter how much we try to minimise their likelihood – questions then come as to how we deal with survivors, relatives and perpetrators in the aftermath.
If we accept that atrocities will happen in contexts such as war, when traumatised soldiers get carried away temporarily in their bloodlust, then it can be argued that reducing the charges against Wuterich from murder to involuntary manslaughter is appropriate.
After the shootings, Wuterich clearly knew he and his men had done wrong. (The BLUE vMEME – Freud’s Superego – kicking back in.) The sergeant lied to his commanding officers by stating that 15 of the dead Iraqi civilians were killed in the same explosion that led to the incident. Few outside of the immediate scene knew about the killings and the American military first attempted to downplay the killings until a local human rights activist went public with video footage of the aftermath. A subsequent investigation by Time suggested that most of the dead were shot by Marines – and in March 2006 a criminal investigation was begun.
With regards to the survivors and the relatives, should the American military pay compensation? As yet, there is no indication that this will happen. The American military does not routinely pay compensation for foreign nationals innocently killed or injured in its operations in their country. However, it is possible for survivors and relatives to pursue compensation claims through the American courts – assuming, of course, that they could muster the considerable financial resources required to do this!
This,and the fact that Wuterich will not serve even a day in prison following his sentencing, really does appear to show that the Americans do attribute lesser value to Iraqi lives than American lives. (No one who has been convicted of killing Americans walks free from an American court.
Henri Tajfel & John Turner’s (197 ) Social Identity Theory – see Prejudice & Discrimination – offers a powerful explanation for this discrimination (which is racism in all but name). Simply by categorising ourselves into ‘us’ (American liberators) and ‘them’ (Iraqi Muslims) – we end up absorbing the norms and values of our in-group and stereotyping and demeaning their out-group in the worst possible way. Thus, out-group Iraqi lives are worth nothing like as much as American lives.
It is, of course, the PURPLE vMEME’s tribalism which is behind this not-of-our-tribe discrimination. It’s also how, in part at least, the Nazis were able to manipulate the German people (‘us’) into nationwide complicity in the persecution of the Jews (‘them’).
If the Americans want to avoid being seen as hypocritical, partial, tribalist and racist, then they need to rethink substantially the way they deal with the aftermath of atrocities like Haditha.
The difference between war and counter-insurgency
Before we leave this brief study of the tragedy of Haditha, it’s worth considering the kind of situation those American troops found themselves in.
They were combat troops trained for straight forward battle but tasked to take on insurgents using guerrilla and terrorist tactics in a crowded, residential areas. From the British Army in Malaya in the 1950s, through American troops in the South Vietnamese cities in the 1970s and Russian troops in Afghan villages in the 1980s, the use of regular battle troops in such neo-policing operations has a bad history. Atrocity, murder, torture, rape and the widescale alienation of civilian populations have tended to characterise such operations. Again, it’s the PURPLE vMEME’s tribalist discrimination at work; but the more different ethnically and racially the civilian population have been from the soldiers, the more the soldiers have tended to abuse them.
From an Integrated SocioPsychology perspective, I would argue that a different time of man is needed for urban counter-terrorist operations than for an outright battle. If we use Hans Eysenck’s Dimensions of Temperament construct, then someone high in Psychoticism is more likely to make the kind of soldier needed for a battle. So compulsive and impulsive they are effectively fearless is very much what’s desirable. Ruthless brutality towards the enemy is also quite welcome.
Hunting out insurgents hiding amongst a civilian population is a very different game to slaughtering your enemy on the battlefield and requires a different sort of mindset. Yes, the soldier still needs to be lightning quick in their reflexes but the ability to slow yourself for that vital second or two under extreme provocation, such as the bomb blast at Haditha, is essential for successful interactions with the often equally-terrified civilians. Self-restraint is not a trait of Psychoticism; so men high on that temperamental dimension are not the right kind of people for neo-policing operations. When RED wants revenge, as it did in Wuterich, then it’s much more difficult, if not impossible, for BLUE to restrain it if the person is high in Psychoticism.
Of course, there are other factors which predicate the inhibiting or disinhibiting of behaviour. But, if we can at least get the right kind of soldier temperamentally suited to the task at hand, then we are more likely to minimise the risk of massacring of civilians in counter-terrorism operations.
While, unfortunately, there will still undoubtedly be outright battles in wars between countries in the decades and centuries to come, the guerrilla/insurgent/terrorist element of warfare has increased substantially since the end of World War II. Military planners, in who they recruit and how they train those recruits, need to have more diverse resources to deploy to different situations.