WikiLeaks and the Iraq War

by Guest Blogger on October 29, 2010 · 1 comment

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The following is a guest post by Dr. Daniel Rothbart, Professor of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at the Institute of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, as well as Professor of Philosophy in the Department of Philosophy, at George Mason University.

The recent release of over 400,000 Pentagon documents by WikiLeaks recounts episodes of the inhumane treatment of civilians by allied forces in the Second Gulf War. We can read verbatim testimony of soldiers who witnessed indiscriminate killing, rape, torture, and extortion. And we learn that the Pentagon actually kept a tally of all fatalities of the war. Presumably, the war resulted in 66,081 civilian fatalities out of a total of 109,032 killings from 2004 to 2009. Such record-keeping about civilian casualties is quite rare for state-sponsored militaries. What is not unusual, tragically, is the fact that more civilians than combatants were killed in this war. From a global perspective state-run militaries engaged in protracted conflict will kill more civilians than enemy combatants. And if we take into account the effects of famine and disease arising from the conditions that war creates, the disproportionate rate of civilian fatalities is staggering. According to a U.N. report of 1995 by then Secretary General Kofi Annan, the ratio of civilian to combatant fatalities is approximately three-to-one in protracted violent conflicts of all kinds. And recent studies confirm this ratio for wars up to 2009.

The book REASONS TO KILL provides an excellent analysis of the rationale given by American military and political leaders for engaging in warfare throughout history. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in breaking through the militaristic ideology that too often drives American foreign policy and that, in effect, fosters anti-civilian decisions, actions, and practices. And quite relevant to this ideology are the excuses for civilian devastation at the hands of allied forces in war, so often grounded on notions of about “realities of modern warfare.” Because of war’s realities, the “damage” to civilians during combat is, presumably, unavoidable, inevitable, and, to some degree, acceptable. We are told that their fatality is the cost of freedom (or whatever the goal of the martial forces); battle casualties are costs of war; civilian casualties are the cost of battle, and so on.
But in all too many armed conflicts raging across the globe, brutal treatment of civilians does not “just happen.” It is not merely occasional, nor is it circumstantial to some larger set of events. It is deeply embedded in the character and evolution of today’s hostilities. Civilian devastation is structurally infused in the ways of warfare–past, present, and future. These are suppressed realities of war that are contorted by official statements decisions, policies, culture, and an ideology that tends to dismiss civilian suffering.

And for a state-run military that professes to maintain the highest standards of humane treatment of civilians, the U.S. Department of Defense should have the courage to openly acknowledge responsibility for such treatment, instead leaving this to a media source that leaks internal documents.

Daniel Rothbart
October 28, 2010

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Rich Rubenstein October 29, 2010 at 9:25 pm

Daniel Rothbart, an expert on civilian casualties of war, hits the nail on the head with this comment. Civilian injuries and deaths are consequential, not collateral — and they happen no matter how “surgical” the military tries to be. At the moment, with increased drone and missile attacks on houses in Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan, a deliberate decision has been made to be LESS surgical.

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