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[casi] "I saw marines kill civilians"

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Ask the Scholar
 Crimes in Iraq
Embedded Photographer:
³I Saw Marines Kill Civilians²
Written for Le Monde by Michel Guerrin
Translated for CounterPunch by Norman Madarasz
Laurent Van der Stockt, a photographer working for the Gamma agency and
under contract for the New York Times Magazine, followed the advance of the
3/4 Marines (3rd battalion, 4th regiment) for three weeks, up to the taking
of Baghdad on April 9. He was accompanied by New York Times Magazine editor,
Peter Maas. Born in Belgium in 1964, Laurent Van der Stockt mainly works in
conflict zones: the first Gulf War, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Chechnya,
Africa and the Occupied Territories. This is his eyewitness account of the
Marinesı march to Baghdad:
³Everything began at the Kuwait/Iraq border. I forced my way into the
country and arrived at Safwan. American soldiers had seized the opportunity
to tear up portraits of Saddam Hussein on the main street. They were doing
this right in front of the local inhabitants, whose elation quickly
vanished. The soldiers obviously didnıt imagine that it was up to the Iraqis
to be doing this, or that it was humiliating for them. These were the same
soldiers who would topple down Saddamıs statue in Baghdad three weeks
I understood that the Marinesı general strategy was to not waste any time.
In the cities they crossed, the Marines had to make a show of force. Then
they would resume their advance by going as fast as possible up by the east
through the desert, and avoid any contact with the population. It takes an
effort to picture what an army looks like as it advances through the sands.
Itıs an anthill. Itıs more than a city on the march. Itıs a world whose
extremities are never seen. Itıs a cutting edge, mechanical version of
Julius Caesarıs army.
During the first few days, with colleagues from the New York Times and
Newsweek, I tried to follow the convoys in a SUV by playing hide-and-seek.
We were spending a lot of time then with the 1 500 Marines of the 3/4,
commanded by Colonel Bryan P. McCoy. His troops gave us water, gas and food.
In exchange for their tolerance, we respected the rules to not pass the
convoy and to camp at such and such a place. We were just barely tolerated.
The colonel could see that the Œfew jokers were behaving wellı. He knew we
had experienced more wars than his own troops.
For McCoy, we were obviously interesting right from the start. We were the
ones who could tell his story. Trust settled in between us. He let us drive
at the head of the convoy. The Marines are generally less privileged than
the army. Theyıre trained to do the dirty work, the less honorary jobs. They
have the oldest tanks, and the least up-to-date M16 rifles. They themselves
translate ŒUSMCı (United States Marine Corps) by United States Misgodded
Children, i.e. the USı forgotten children, forgotten by God.
Their motto is ŒSearch and Killı. The ŒKiloı unit is nicknamed ŒKiller
Kiloı. The words ŒCarnivoreı or ŒBlind Killerı are painted on their tanks.
McCoy could snap with a ŒShame on Youı - a smile flashing across his face -
to the sniper who had just finished telling him: ŒIıve got eight, Sir, but
only fiveı. Literally meaning: Iıve shot eight, but only five of them are
Iıve never seen a war with so few Œreturnsı. The Iraqi army was like a
ghost. It barely existed. Over the three weeks, I only saw the adversary
fire a few short-range rockets and a few shots. I saw deserted trenches, a
dead Iraqi soldier lying next to a piece of bread and some old equipment.
Nothing that really made you feel that there was a real confrontation going
on, nothing comparable to the massiveness of the means at the Americansı
On April 6, we were at the outskirts of Baghdad, facing a strategic bridge
the Americans called Œthe Baghdad Highway Bridgeı. Residential zones were
now much greater in number. American snipers got the order to kill anything
coming in their direction. That night a teenager who was crossing the bridge
was killed.

Marines are conditioned to reach their target at any cost.
On the morning of April 7, the Marines decided to cross the bridge. A shell
fell onto an armored personnel carrier. Two marines were killed. The
crossing took on a tragic aspect. The soldiers were stressed, febrile. They
were shouting. The risk didnıt appear to be that great, so I followed their
advance. They were howling, shouting orders and positions to each other. It
sounded like something in-between a phantasm, mythology and conditioning.
The operation was transformed into crossing the bridge over the River Kwai.
Later, there was some open terrain. The Marines were advancing and taking up
position, hiding behind mounds of earth. They were still really tense. A
small blue van was moving towards the convoy. Three not-very-accurate
warning shots were fired. The shots were supposed to make the van stop. The
van kept on driving, made a U-turn, took shelter and then returned slowly.
The Marines opened fire. All hell broke loose. They were firing all over the
place. You could hear ŒStop firingı being shouted. The silence that set in
was overwhelming. Two men and a woman had just been riddled with bullets. So
this was the enemy, the threat.
A second vehicle drove up. The same scenario was repeated. Its passengers
were killed on the spot. A grandfather was walking slowly with a cane on the
sidewalk. They killed him too (see photo in Le Monde). As with the old man,
the Marines fired on a SUV driving along the river bank that was getting too
close to them. Riddled with bullets, the vehicle rolled over. Two women and
a child got out, miraculously still alive. They sought refuge in the
wreckage. A few seconds later, it flew into bits as a tank lobbed a terse
shot into it.

With my own eyes I saw about fifteen civilians killed in two days.
Marines are conditioned to reach their target at any cost, by staying alive
and facing any type of enemy. They abusively make use of disproportionate
firepower. These hardened troops, followed by tons of equipment, supported
by extraordinary artillery power, protected by fighter jets and cutting-edge
helicopters, were shooting on local inhabitants who understood absolutely
nothing of what was going on.
With my own eyes I saw about fifteen civilians killed in two days. Iıve gone
through enough wars to know that itıs always dirty, that civilians are
always the first victims. But the way it was happening here, it was insane.
At the roughest moment, the most humane of the troops was called Doug. He
gave real warning shots. From 800 yards he could hit a tire and, if that
wasnıt enough, then the motor. He saved ten lives in two hours by driving
back civilians who were coming towards us.
Distraught soldiers were saying: ŒI ainıt prepared for this, I didn't come
here to shoot civilians.ı The colonel countered that the Iraqis were using
inhabitants to kill marines, that Œsoldiers were being disguised as
civilians, and that ambulances were perpetrating terrorist attacks.ı

³Why didnıt you shoot in the air? Or at least shoot me?²
I drove away a girl who had had her humerus pierced by a bullet. Enrico was
holding her in his arms. In the rear, the girlıs father was protecting his
young son, wounded in the torso and losing consciousness. The man spoke in
gestures to the doctor at the back of the lines, pleading: ³I donıt
understand, I was walking and holding my childrenıs hands. Why didnıt you
shoot in the air? Or at least shoot me?²
In Baghdad, McCoy sped up the march. He stopped taking the time to search
houses one-by-one. He wanted to get to Paradise Place as soon as possible.
The Marines were not firing on the thickening population. The course ended
with Saddamıs statue being toppled. There were more journalists at the scene
than Baghdadis. Its five million inhabitants stayed at home.²
Norman Madarasz is a Canadian philosopher residing in Rio de Janeiro,
Brazil. With a Ph.D. from the University of Paris, he frequently writes on
international North-South relations and on the political economy and culture
of Brazil. He is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch and has
published think pieces and philosophical research extensively. You can reach
him at

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