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Rules of War In Occupation

The Department of Defense is prosecuting a Marine Lieutenant, Ilario Pantano, for murder arising out of the shooting death, at an Iraq checkpoint, of two suspected “insurgents.” Allegedly, Pantano ordered other troops to remove the suspects’ handcuffs and look away, and then shot the pair in the back, vandalized their vehicle and hung a sign over their corpses bearing a Marine slogan: “No better friend, no worse enemy.”

Pantano protests that it’s impossible to differentiate between innocent civilians and potential terrorists in the environment of “post-war” Iraq. The problem, here, hoewver, is that both sides are at least partially right. As the 1968 Mi Lai scandal in Vietnam shows, a civilized society must have rules of behavior even in warfare. But the situation in Iraq is poised precariously between war and police-state security. More than 1,700 of our troops have been killed, the majority in car bombs and other “IED” attacks, after “major combat operations” ended in May 2003.

How in hell are these young men supposed to know who the bad guys are? Isn’t this just second-guessing combat decisions made in the fog of war? Genocide is one thing, but in the aftermath of Abu Ghraib, this prosecution strikes me as one making a scapegoat of a solitary solider in order to offer a patina of legitimacy to the atrocious inhumanity of what’s really going on over there.

America decided long ago that we could not be the “world’s policemen.” Now the miltary is doing just that in Iraq. The “rules of engagement” need to be changed, fundamentally, so the troops can defend themselves and do their jobs without being blown up by rag-heads whose idealogy is to kill Westerners, not matter why, just because they are not Muslims. As long as America remains an occupying power in Iraq — which is what we are in reality — this problem will not go away by itself. Even worse, Pantano gave up a lucrative career as a New York investment banker to enlist in the Marines to defend this country. He deserves better thanks than a trumped-up murder prosecution.