Friday, April 20, 2007

We Interrupt These Posts for Some Perspective Pondering

The following quote was posted to the MormonsforObama email list recently:

"I am obligated to try to see the world through George Bush's eyes, no matter how much I may disagree with him. That's what empathy does -- it calls us all to task, the conservative and the liberal, the powerful and the powerless, the oppressed and the oppressor. We are all shaken out of our complacency. We are all forced beyond our limited vision.

No one is exempt from the call to find common ground."

The Audacity of Hope, p. 68

I agree with those words. We should be careful of being so doctrinaire and dogmatic that we are incapable of reasoning with others. When we stop trying to empathize and understand, we dehumanize our opponents in much the same ways that allow the warhawks to wage war and discount the loss of innocent life. It is difficult to bring about much except destructive contention if you aren't willing to try to truly understand the thinking on the other side.

Which is my segueway to why I haven't posted the rest of my FAQ yet. I will, but I like to rethink and fact-check stuff. I was doing research a couple of days ago checking out my counter-arguments to the mantra about how 'if we leave Iraq then [your choice of frightening, sensational, cataclysmic prediction]' The thing is, I really do try to listen to counterpoints like that and I really don't want to advocate doing the wrong thing.

So I'm trying to read articles about why we were in Vietnam and why we left. And what happened when we did. Why we were in Korea and why we left. And then what happened. What we did in Cambodia or not - and why. What happened after WWI and WWII. Etc. And, quite honestly, I don't think I'm savvy enough at the moment to get the straight story - especially on the more recent and probably better documented conflicts (ironically). It might take me years to get a handle on what I think happened in those areas. I do think that 'those that fail to understand history are doomed to repeat it'. But holy cow, maybe we've gotten so partisan and contentious that we are completely unable to learn from those conflicts. It is just stunning the different perspectives people have on them.

Fast-forward to today. Here are two columns posted this week that give startlingly different viewpoints on what our troops are doing on the ground in Iraq today and what would happen if we left:

Here's one that documents some of what I see as a problem for our continuing occupation of Iraq:

"Sorry We Shot Your Kid, But Here's $500"

Here's one that represents what 85% of the people that I interact with seem to believe about the war:

Hypocrisy has a Human Price on the Streets of Baghdad

Excerpt from the
first article:

Last June, The Boston Globe and The New York Times revealed that a local custom in Iraq known as "solatia" had now been adapted by the U.S. military -- it means families receive financial compensation for physical damage or a loss of life. The Globe revealed that payoffs had "skyrocketed from just under $5 million in 2004 to almost $20 million last year, according to Pentagon financial data."

In a column at that time, I asked: How common is the practice? And how many unnecessary deaths do the numbers seem to suggest?

It's necessary to ask because the press generally has been denied information on civilian killings and, in recent years, it has become too dangerous in much of Iraq for reporters to go out and investigate shootings or alleged atrocities.

Now we have more evidence, thanks to an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) request for files on payments by the military. The FOIA request produced 500 case studies, which deserve broad attention.

. . .

Occasionally the officer orders a payment, although it can still make you scream, as for example: "Claimant alleges that her two brothers were returning home with groceries from their business, when U.S. troops shot and killed them, thinking they were insurgents with bombs in the bags. I recommend approving this claim in the amount of $5,000.

More often the officer denies the claim due to alleged lack of evidence, or threatening behavior by the deceased (usually just failing to stop quickly enough while driving) or the death occurring in some sort of vague combat situation. Many of the denials seem arbitrary or unfair, particularly when the only reason cited is a "combat exemption"

. . .

"The claimant and his son were huge supporters of democracy and up to this day held meetings and taught their friends about democracy. The claimant provided two witness statements, medical records, a death certificate, photographs and a scene sketch, all of which supported his claim.

"Opinion: There is sufficient evidence to indicate that U.S. Forces intentionally killed the claimant's son. Unfortunately, those forces were involved in security operations at the time. Therefore, this case falls within the combat exception."

. . .

Dec. 5 2005:

"Claimant alleges that on the above date at the above mentioned location, the child was outside playing by their gate and a stray bullet from a U.S. soldier hit their son in the head and killed him. The U.S. soldiers went to the boy's funeral and apologized to the family and took their information to get to them, but never did. The child was nine years old and their only son.I recommend approving this claim in the amount of $4,000.00.

. . .

Dec. 5, 2004:

"The issue presented is whether claimant may receive compensation for the death of his father, his mother, his brother and 32 sheeps.

"In this case, the claimant has lost his entire family and his herd of sheep that provide a means of income. In addition, the claimant suffered gun shot wounds himself.

"The claimant states that his family was sleeping when the shots were fired that killed his family. He claims that the family had only one AK-47 that the father carried outside after his wife was shot in the head The coalition force may have been justified in shooting at another target where the claimant and his family would be collateral damage to that combat operation. However, the ROE require units to have positive identification of target before engaging. In this case, reports indicate that over one hundred rounds were fired that impacted around a flock of sheep and his sleeping family. Accordingly, it appears that the shooting, although not "wrongful", was conducted "negligently".

"It is therefore my opinion that there is sufficient evidence to justify compensation under the FCA. "

The article quotes more of the claims and discusses the different compensation options or non-compensation options. I thought it was interesting because it refers to actual, verifiable facts – obtained directly from military records through a FOIA request.

Here is an excerpt from the
second article (which, again, represents a point of view that I currently don't espouse but I'm trying to figure out how credible it is):

I have observed first-hand the effects of the Bush Administration's new Iraq security plan since it began two months ago. Street violence in Baghdad and surrounding areas has declined. Shops and markets once boarded up are reopening. Iraqi civilians are venturing out onto the streets again and living their lives with less fear of being persecuted, tortured, maimed or killed. To be sure, there is still plenty of terror and violence in Iraq, but since the "troop surge" began, it has lessened considerably.

. . .

If the Democratic Party is successful in effecting a premature troop withdrawal from Iraq, Nabil and most of his family will likely be killed because of their religious affiliations and because Nabil has been employed by Americans. (You might want to know that Nabil is one of the most decent men I have ever known.)

. . .

Ahmed is smart, funny and resourceful. He is young, and his vibrant girlfriend - soon to be his wife - will likely be killed, along with him, if the Democratic Party succeeds in affecting a premature troop withdrawal from Iraq.

. . .

A year before his home was destroyed, Sadeq was wounded by a sectarian killer who brutally shot him in the back. Still, Sadeq continues working tirelessly to build a future for his family. But there likely will be no future for either him or his family if the American Left and Democratic Party succeed in affecting a premature troop withdrawal from Iraq. Because of his history of working for American companies, Sadeq will likely be hunted down and murdered by terrorists if Iraq is abandoned before law and order is established.

The author explains that he is an expatriate Iraqi who has been in country for a couple of months now, that he was in the US for 9/11 and the war thus far, and that he is blogging his experiences. He says he is working for a contractor in country. In one of his earlier posts he briefly mentions the innocent Iraqis killed by stray American bombing raids that still continue today, but what I can gather seems to lean much more heavily towards keeping the Americans in country. Is the guy for real? Is his blog just a psych-op? Or perhaps he has a skewed view because he is employed by the war profiteers?

Despite the fact that his column is based on partisan conjectures, I am swayed by the emotions. The fact of the matter is that he could be revealed to be a non-Arab, Halliburton covert operative who's never been near the Mid-East and makes these things up sitting in an office in Des Moines, Iowa (and NO I don't really think that but I know there are people who will, so I'm just getting it out of the way) and I would still have to concede that he makes some excellent points.

And what about those points? What do we do for the people who are trying to make things work with the system as it stands? Is it probable that they will all be hunted down, tortured, and shot if we leave? (Again, the first article makes the point that they might be gunned down if we don't . . . and we might be the ones with the guns.) What is right and wrong here?

Interested in your perspective. Please comment.

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