The Sunday Times this week had a front page report about civilians killed at checkpoints in Iraq by Us soldiers. The statistics come from files published by the Wikileaks website.
Here are some highlights:
American troops shot dead 681 innocent civilians at security checkpoints including 30 children.
This was the direct result of an order to shoot at any vehicle that failed to stop. This resulted in six times as many civilian casualties as ‘insurgents’ being killed. Often the Americans opened fire without warning.
June 14 2005 US troops raked a car containing 11 civilians with gunfire Seven passengers including two children were killed because, despite attempting to flag the car down, it did not stop.
Between 2004 and 2009 832 people were killed at or approaching checkpoints or convoys and 2,200 wounded.
The Sunday Times also reports on a level of torture by the current Iraqi regime, under the noses of the Coalition, which is reminiscent of the Saddam years. Many of the victims were handed over to the Iraqis by Coalition forces. For ‘Coalition’ read American.
The leaked documents describe more than 300 cases of detainees being abused by ‘coalition’ forces. The Sunday Times tells us that one detainee was forced to dig up a roadside bomb.
Two men attempting to surrender to an Apache helicopter crew were, nevertheless, shot dead.
Does the US government hold its head in shame? No! Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemns the leaks for endangering lives without, apparently, caring too much about the death of innocents or the cavalier disregard for international law including the Geneva Convention demonstrated by these documents.
The Sunday Times report continues:
In Salahuddin province in 2008 children collecting firewood were attacked by an Apache helicopter crew. They though they were planting roadside bombs. One of the children died.
I ask you, dear reader, to replace ‘coalition’ and ‘US/American’ with ‘Israeli’ and ‘Iraqi’ with Palestinian. Replace ‘Iraq’ with ‘Gaza’ or ‘the West Bank’.
Now tell me that if it were a matter of Israel and the Palestinians the world would not be in uproar, that the UN Human Rights Council would not at this very moment be putting together an Israel-bashing committee of investigation and already call these incidents ‘war crimes’, ‘crimes against humanity’. And tell me that the Islamic world and the Hamas apologists in Europe would not be comparing Israel to the Nazis.
None of the incidents involving coalition troops has had proper public investigation, so I do not judge in advance. What I say is that in a war, and especially in asymmetric wars, where the enemy can be dressed like a civilian, be a woman in a hijab or a 14 year old boy with a suicide belt, mistakes are made.
But if it were Israel making the mistakes, the result would be very different.
Where is the Islamic world’s fury about Iraqi civilians? Why do they not ask for UN enquiries? Where are the resolutions in the Security Council? Why is the reaction to 680 innocent deaths in Iraq different to a reported similar number in Gaza?
On the israelagainstterror.blogspot website (Hat Tip Matt Pryor) their article refers to a NY Times piece which highlights a statistic about the ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in conflicts of the 20th Century.
Apparently the figure is 10 civilians to every soldier/combatant.
In Gaza 2009/9 :
If one accepts the Israel Defense Forces’ statistics, then noncombatants accounted for only 39 percent of Palestinian fatalities — less than half the standard 90 percent rate noted by the ICRC. Nongovernmental organizations obviously cite a much higher civilian casualty rate. But even they put it below 90 percent.
According to B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, Israeli forces killed 1,390 Palestinians in the war, including 759 noncombatants, 349 combatants, 248 Palestinian policemen, two in targeted assassinations (bizarrely, these aren’t classified as either combatants or noncombatants), and 32 whose status it couldn’t determine. The policemen are listed separately because their status is disputed: Israel says the Hamas-run police force served as an auxiliary army unit; Palestinians say the policemen were noncombatants.
Omitting the 34 whom B’Tselem didn’t classify, these figures show civilians comprising 74 percent of total fatalities if the policemen are considered noncombatants, and 56 percent if they’re considered combatants. Either way, the ratio is well below the 90 percent norm.
The most anti-Israel accounting, from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, lists 1,417 Palestinian fatalities, including 236 combatants, 926 civilians, and 255 policemen. But even these figures, if we assume the policemen were noncombatants, put civilians at only 83 percent of total deaths — less than the proportion the Red Cross deemed the norm back in 2001. Treating the policemen as combatants lowers the rate to 65 percent.
The article concludes that although the civilian casualty rate was high, and this can be partially accounted for by the very point I was making above, namely, the combatants fighting the Israelis did not wear uniform and hid amongst civilians and used the civilian infrastructure for weapons stores, shelter, firing positions and, cynically, as part of a human shield strategy, nevertheless the ratio of civilian to combatant deaths, by whoever’s statistics you choose to agree, was lower than the average in other conflicts.
In other words, the statistics give a lie to the claim of the Goldstone Report that Israel deliberately targeted civilians.
Now tell me the Israelis were more guilty than the Americans.
I suspect that the Americans and Israelis had a few bad soldiers whose actions were illegal, or even plain stupid. But I am also damn sure that both armies were fighting in the most difficult of all scenarios where telling civilian from combatant does not conform to the simplistic norms that observers sitting comfortably at home and in judgement in front of their TV or reading their newspaper would like to assume.