"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Eyewitness in Iraq

Here's a fascinating eyewitness account of the U.S. job in Iraq, from embedded reporter and science writer Mike Fumento:

"First the weather report. The heat is awesome now. Basically look at the Baghdad temperature and add ten to 15 degrees. At night it doesn’t get cooler than 80 and by 8 in the morning it’s 100. Today we were out working in full body armor and one temperature checked showed 17. I’m amazed I’m handling it as well as I am. But then again, you don’t have much choice. You do your job and that’s that.

"Work was my embed with EOD – Explosives Ordinance Division. They’re a kick-butt bunch of guys drawn from all the services. Their job here is to handled unexploded ordinance, dispose of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and investigate the aftermath of suicide bombings. It’s like a firehouse here. You sit around with every comfort in the world (except alcohol!) and wait for an emergency call. They got me up early in the morning for the first call, a 130 mm shell stuffed with plastic explosive dug into the dirt by the side of a paved road. A team whose job it is to spot IEDs found it and secured the area before we got there. Bomb disposal isn’t what it used to be. Now they use Talon robots, such as the ones I wrote about. They’re quite amazing. Later I saw them use it to open a door latch and crawl into the barracks. Unfortunately, while the Talon made it to the IED just fine the monitor went out. So the couldn’t use it to yank the wires.

"But then they whipped out a tiny flat little robot they call a 'bomb-blower.' It’s only about 18 inches long and maybe six inches high. They put C-4 plastic explosive onto it, drove it over the IED, and blew it. Nice explosion; got pictures. But as per usual the actual IED, though disarmed, was still active. They collected pieces to be sent to forensics to make determinations about who might have made the made it. They even dust for fingerprints. Then they checked to see if there were wires leading to a detonator because they want to track what systems are being used. We found just six inches of wire but that was enough. Meanwhile, the MPs providing security nabbed two guys running away wearing jogging suits and tennis shoes. They were wearing scarves indicating they were from another Arab country and indeed neither looked the least bit Iraqi. I think they were Jordanian. Since they had absolutely no other purpose being there other than to set off the IED, it’s almost a given they were the would-be killers. Yes, got pictures.

"Then it was time to blow the device itself and the honor was given to me. The det [detonation] cord was bad though so we had to go through it again. This time two Iraqis drove danger close near it. We set off flairs but to no avail. When the charge went off, they both dived out of the truck and one landed in a shallow canal. At first we were horrified but we found them none the worse for the wear and explained with pictograms what we’d done. They were quickly all smiles. They don’t like IEDs, either. Yes, got pictures of everything. Literally a blast. We made several runs after that but they were all pretty worthless. One suspect IED turned out to be literally a bag of chicken s---!. They did collect a piece of mortar round where a poor Iraqi worker had stumbled across one and blown a hole in his chest.

"These guys are real pros. It was quite an honor being with them and yet almost nobody knows they exist. I hope to fix that a bit. After all, this is almost entirely a war of explosives. The bad guys are aren’t too big on standing and fighting."

This material has yet to be published, though it surely will be, and Mike has a lot more to report. His website, www.fumento.com, will be well worth a visit for those desiring more of Mike's excellent firsthand observations and his countless articles on other subjects.

10 comments:

Tlaloc said...

"Since they had absolutely no other purpose being there other than to set off the IED, it’s almost a given they were the would-be killers."

Good old presumption of guilt. We'd have a hell of a time shooting down british choppers and shelling wedding parties without it...

S. T. Karnick said...

To be fair, war zones are not typically good places to look for the rule of law, and shooting down British choppers and shelling wedding parties are by no means the norm even in Iraq.

More importantly for the present discussion, it is essential to recognize that all Mike said was that the U.S. soldiers "nabbed" the two men, which clearly means that they were arrested; he does not say or even remotely suggest that they were executed without trial, or even that anything at all was done to them without further investigation. I think that soldiers under perpetual threat of death deserve better than flippant dismissals.—STK

Anonymous said...

Tlaloc posted a direct quote, so when you inform us about "all" Mike said, and leave out that direct quote, you come across as being quite dishonest. Let's also remember that Mike is a reporter, not a soldier, although I think that "embedded propagana conduit" is probably a better description of his job.

S. T. Karnick said...

Anonymous: The entire article by Mike is at the top of the comments page, as is Tlaloc's gloss, so repeating it was entirely unnecessary. If anything dishonest was done here, it was done by Tlaloc in failing to quote Mike fully. However, I do not assert that what Tlaloc did was dishonest.

Regarding your final point, I was not referring to Mike as a soldier, as is quite clear. I think that what Tlaloc said about "good old presumption of guilt" could have been taken as applying to the soldiers, which is indeed how I took it, and I wanted to make sure that such an interpretation would not be left to stand.

Finally, I would greatly appreciate it if you would refrain from attributing motives to me and in particular of accusing me of dishonesty. Given that I have been perfectly reasonable and polite throughout this discussion, I believe that you owe me an apology, though I do not demand or expect one.—STK

Tlaloc said...

"To be fair, war zones are not typically good places to look for the rule of law, and shooting down British choppers and shelling wedding parties are by no means the norm even in Iraq."

Unfortunately shooting first and asking questions later does seem to be common at US checkpoints in Iraq. A culture of "guilty til proven innocent" can only enghance that.



"More importantly for the present discussion, it is essential to recognize that all Mike said was that the U.S. soldiers "nabbed" the two men, which clearly means that they were arrested; he does not say or even remotely suggest that they were executed without trial, or even that anything at all was done to them without further investigation."

Doesn't it bother you at all that he assumes he immediately knows the guilt of two men picked up in proximity to a crime scene based on nothing more than a scarf and his unsupported assertion they had no other reason to be there? Does it start to make you uncomfortable when the figures come out that something like 90% of those picked up eventually turn out innocent? And finally does it rachet the discomfort up to heeby jeeby level when you consider that those mistakenly arrested innocents faced torture to the extent of dying at the hands of their american captors? How bad does this have to get before you actually start to care?


"I think that soldiers under perpetual threat of death deserve better than flippant dismissals.—STK "

That's funny I thought soldiers who have been party to atrocities deserve to be monitored rather closely. Interesting how we see things differently. Of course my way DECREASES the amount of innocent blood on our hands. That's a good thing, right?

S. T. Karnick said...

Tlaloc: We do see things differently. These soldiers did no harm at all to the two detainees as far as we know. Does that not matter to you? How is it fair or decent to condemn these soldiers out of hand without knowing the details? Detaining innocent people in a war zone is not an atrocity; it is in fact the norm, on both sides in any war. It is certainly better than shooting first and asking questions later, which you correctly find appalling. Do you seriously contend that these soldiers should simply have left these two men to go on their way and possibly kill other soldiers and Iraqi civilians? Isn't it clearly the lesser of two evils to detain them and attempt to find out their intentions? (And I am absolutely NOT advocating torture or anything like it!)

I certainly deplore any and all real wrongs that have been done by our side in this war. Absolutely and without exception. Now, can you meet me halfway and admit that it is unfair to accuse people about whom you know absolutely nothing as being party to atrocities? Are you fair-minded enough to do that?—STK

James Elliott said...

To be totally fair, I don't think Tlaloc was doing any such thing. Rather, he was pointing out a certain presumption of guilt (one that exists not only in soldiers in war zones but among police today, etc.) that can lead to a prediliction to violence, which will, by the law of statistics (which, as Tlaloc pointed out, are staggering) will affect innocents.

Tlaloc was not accusing THESE soldiers of anything. However, I think Tlaloc is quite right to be concerned about the mentality indicated by such a statement as the reporter's. His statement was in no way unreasonable. I saw none of the condemnation Mr. Karnick apparently felt was inferred. Soldiers in occupation zones by necessity must be held to high standards of action.

In this case, Tlaloc did not appear to have a problem with the soldiers' actions, which, as Mr. Karnick points out, were restrained and proper. He had a problem with the mentality behind the reporter's statement and a pattern of behavior such a mentality appears to lead to with staggering frequency (I am not referring to check-point shootings, which military protocol gives the soldiers little leeway in).

S. T. Karnick said...

I certainly agree on the principles outlined here by Mr. Elliott. I would give Mike rather more leeway than Tlaoc does, given that Mike was there and we weren't, but I can accept that other inferences about the reporter's thought processes are quite possible on the basis of the limited information available in Mike's note dashed off in a war zone.—STK

Tlaloc said...

"Tlaloc: We do see things differently. These soldiers did no harm at all to the two detainees as far as we know. Does that not matter to you?"

Of course it matters to me! Why else would I be arguing for safeguards so we can keep it that way?



"How is it fair or decent to condemn these soldiers out of hand without knowing the details?"

I don't. I am suspicious of these soldiers precisely because we have seen the details of previous grievous harm inflicted by their brethren. Are they then automatically guilty? No of course not. But should they be subject to close scrutiney? Absolutely.



"Detaining innocent people in a war zone is not an atrocity; it is in fact the norm, on both sides in any war."

I never said detaining was an atrocity. It was the torture we have ample evidence of now at sites in three countries that concerns me. That's what I want to make sure stops and is prevented from re-occuring.



"Do you seriously contend that these soldiers should simply have left these two men to go on their way and possibly kill other soldiers and Iraqi civilians? Isn't it clearly the lesser of two evils to detain them and attempt to find out their intentions?"

Should they be detained? Sure. Should the people doing the detaining be allowed to maintain a "guilty til proven innocent" mentality which may very well lead to the kinds of horrors (torture, shooting unarmed families, etc) we've seen so far? No way. We shouldn't be there period but if we are going to subject them to a foreign occupation we better damn well make sure our troops aren't seeing them as the enemy.



"Now, can you meet me halfway and admit that it is unfair to accuse people about whom you know absolutely nothing as being party to atrocities? Are you fair-minded enough to do that?"

They are not party to atrocities personally (that we know) but as members of a group with a long and firmly established history of atrocities they do deserve to be under a microscope. I hope ferverently that none of them are ever in a position where they compromise themselves and this country but can I just trust that's the case? No.

S. T. Karnick said...

Tlaloc: I think that if you look at Mr. Elliott's comment and my response you may be satisfied that we have reached something of a consensus here.—STK