The Warped Mission of the American Military: "Out-Terrorize the Terrorists" → Washingtons Blog
The Warped Mission of the American Military: "Out-Terrorize the Terrorists" - Washingtons Blog

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Warped Mission of the American Military: "Out-Terrorize the Terrorists"

A number of American soldiers are blowing the whistle on the American military practice of indiscriminately killing Iraq civilians - by randomly firing bullets in a 360 degree circle - anytime that an improvised explosive device hits a U.S. soldier.

As Truthout notes:

Both [specialists Ethan McCord and Josh Stieber] say they saw their mission as a plan to "out-terrorize the terrorists," in order to make the general populace more afraid of the Americans than they were of insurgent groups.

In the interview with [Scott] Horton, Horton pressed Stieber:

"... a fellow veteran of yours from the same battalion has said that you guys had a standard operating procedure, SOP, that said - and I guess this is a reaction to some EFP attacks on y'all's Humvees and stuff that killed some guys - that from now on if a roadside bomb goes off, IED goes off, everyone who survives the attack get out and fire in all directions at anybody who happens to be nearby ... that this was actually an order from above. Is that correct? Can you, you know, verify that?

Stieber answered:

"Yeah, it was an order that came from Kauzlarich himself, and it had the philosophy that, you know, as Finkel does describe in the book, that we were under pretty constant threat, and what he leaves out is the response to that threat. But the philosophy was that if each time one of these roadside bombs went off where you don't know who set it ... the way we were told to respond was to open fire on anyone in the area, with the philosophy that that would intimidate them, to be proactive in stopping people from making these bombs ..."

Terrorism is defined as:

The use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.
So McCord and Stieber are correct: this constitutes terrorism by American forces in Iraq.

Of course, America's institutionalized policy of torture (see this and this) is also terrorism. As I pointed out last year:

An article today in Der Spiegel describes a study on the use of torture over the last couple of thousand years:

A new book, ["Extreme Violence in the Visuals and Texts of Antiquity"] by Martin Zimmerman, a professor of ancient history in Munich, looks at current research into the kinds of violence that inspired "loathing, dread, horror and disgust."

In the ancient Far East, where there were large states peopled by many different ethnicities, leaders demonstrated their might by inventing ingenious new tortures and agonizing methods of execution -- as a way to keep the population obedient...

The issue of state-sanctioned torture to achieve political goals is still a current one.

The study reinforces what I wrote last year:

Listen to the testimony to Congress by a representative of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

"Governments that use torture intend to intimidate their citizens in order to maintain control; those who are tortured become examples of the consequences of dissent."
Indeed, this is a well-known tactic for brutal regimes. Take Zimbabwe, for example:
"Victims and eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch that [Zimbabwe’s brutal regime] has set up detention centers . . . to round up and instill fear in suspected political opponents."
Torture is a form of terrorism, plain and simple.

As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services director told Congress:
"... torture is the deliberate mental and physical damage caused by governments to individuals to ... terrorize society."
And the U.S. policy of assassinating people all over the world (including Americans) - without trial - is a form of terrorism as well.

Unfortunately, this is nothing new. As the former director of the National Security Agency said:
By any measure the US has long used terrorism. In ‘78-79 the Senate was trying to pass a law against international terrorism - in every version they produced, the lawyers said the US would be in violation.

(the audio is here).

And as Truthout points out, the 360 degree firing on innocent bystanders is most definitely a war crime:

High-level orders to kill civilians in the context of retaliation for attacks on forces have already been successfully prosecuted as a war crime. In 1944, German SS Obersturmbannf├╝hrer Herbert Kappler ordered the execution of civilians in the ratio of ten to one for every German soldier killed in a March 1944 attack by Italian partisans. Kappler was sentenced to life in prison. The executions took place in the Caves of Ardeatine in Italy, and were made into the subject of a movie starring Richard Burton. None of the lower-ranking soldiers who actually carried the order out were prosecuted.


The attack which spurred the World War II German commander's retaliatory executions, intended as collective punishment for not informing on partisans, was an IED planted in a garbage container. Kappler's rank was the equivalent of a lieutenant colonel.

The ironic thing is that top conservative and liberal terrorism experts say that torture and other war crimes increase terrorism and reduce national security.

And terrorism is bad for the economy as well.


  1. We can murder civilians because - We're the Good Guys.

  2. Actually the tactic the soldiers describe has been standard operating procedure as the response to an ambush, to my knowledge, since Vietnam. I would think it goes back to the Indian Wars. In earlier real wars it made a certain amount of sense. Even in Vietnam ambushes were usually set up in areas where there were not many civilians or the civilian population was suspected of collaborating with the government. The tactical purpose of the ambush was to halt a moving body of troops so they could more easily be targeted by small weapons fire. In those earlier wars the thinking was anybody in the area was part of the ambushing force, who was there to shoot you, and thus was identified as an enemy.

    In Iraq, and Afghanistan, the use of IEDs is a different attack method. Rather than trying to force the convoy or patrol to halt so they would present a better target for continuing assault by fire, the idea was to simply strike and vanish. The people setting up the devices know that the Americans will respond as they have been trained, and know, too, that the local populace will blame the Americans who are shooting them, not the bomb-makers who caused the Americans to shoot. I don't know how this tactic fits in with "counterinsurgency," but I've thought for many years that it was counter-productive.


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