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[casi] FW: US troops 'shoot civilians'

US troops 'shoot civilians'

By Bob Graham, Evening Standard, in Baghdad
19 June 2003

American soldiers in Iraq today make the astonishing
admission that they regularly kill civilians.

In a series of disturbing interviews which throws
light on the chaos gripping the country, GIs also
confess to leaving wounded Iraqi fighters to die, and
even to shooting injured enemy

soldiers. They say they are frequently confronted by
fighters dressed as civilians, including women.

Their response is often to shoot first and ask
questions later, even when it means killing genuine
civilians. Yesterday, US troops killed at least one
man and injured three others during a demonstration in
Baghdad by former Iraqi soldiers protesting at not
being paid for two months. US troops first fired into
the air and then into the crowd after the
demonstrators began throwing stones and bricks.

In the worsening cycle of violence, American tactics
like these are feeding the resentment of many Iraqis
who object to the occupation of their country. US
troops are facing a growing number of hitandrun
guerrilla attacks and more than 40 soldiers have been
killed since George Bush declared the war over seven
weeks ago.

The threat American soldiers feel was illustrated
today when a coalition-run humanitarian aid office
north of Baghdad was shelled, killing one Iraqi worker
and wounded 12. The attack represents a tactical shift
by the guerillas as they target fellow Iraqis deemed
to be too close to the allies.

One of the soldiers interviewed by the Evening
Standard, Specialist Anthony Castillo, of the 3/15th
US Infantry, said: "When there were civilians there,
we did the mission that had to be done. When they were
there, they were at the wrong spot, so they were
considered enemy."

The soldiers are furious that their commanders have
reneged on promises to send them home as soon as the
war was won and are now forcing them into the role of

The interviews will make troubling reading for US and
British politicians and senior military staff
desperate to pacify the country and impose order
before a transfer to a civilian government run by

The full interview

'I just pulled the trigger'
By Bob Graham, Evening Standard, in Baghdad
19 June 2003

At first glance they appear to be the archetypal Band
Of Brothers of Hollywood myth, brave and honest men
united in common purpose.

But a closer look at these American GIs, sweltering in
the heat of an unwelcoming Iraq, reveals the glazed
eyes and limp expressions of those who have witnessed
a war they do not understand and have begun to resent.
By their own admission these American soldiers have
killed civilians without hesitation, shot wounded
fighters and left others to die in agony.

What they told me, in a series of extraordinary
interviews, will make uncomfortable reading for US and
British politicians and senior military staff
desperate to prevent the liberation of Iraq turning
into a quagmire of Vietnam proportions, where the
behaviour of troops feeds the hatred of an occupied

Sergeant First Class John Meadows revealed the mindset
that has led to hundreds of innocent Iraqi civilians
being killed alongside fighters deliberately dressed
in civilian clothes. "You can't distinguish between
who's trying to kill you and who's not," he said.
"Like, the only way to get through s*** like that was
to concentrate on getting through it by killing as
many people as you can, people you know are trying to
kill you. Killing them first and getting home."

These GIs, from Bravo Company of the 3/15th US
Infantry Division, are caught in an impossible
situation. More than 40 of their number have been
killed by hostile forces since 1 May - when President
Bush declared major military operations were over -
and the number of hit-and-run attacks is on the
increase. They face a resentful civilian population
and, hiding among it, a number of guerrilla fighters
still loyal to the old regime. A lone Iraqi sniper
nicknamed The Hunter is believed to have claimed his
sixth American victim this week in a suburb of

The man, said to be a former member of the Republican
Guard Special Forces, has developed a cult status
among some Iraqis. One Baghdad resident, Assad al
Amari, said: "He is fighting for Iraq on his own.
There will be many more Americans killed because they
cannot stop The Hunter. He will be given the
protection of people who will let him use their homes
for his shooting."

In this hostile atmosphere the men of Bravo Company
are asked to maintain order, yet at the same time win
hearts and minds. It is not a dilemma they feel able
to resolve. They spoke to me - dressed in uniforms
they have worn for the past six weeks - at their base
in Fallujah. Here US troops killed 18 demonstrators at
a pro-Saddam rally soon after the war and now face
local fighters bent on revenge.

Their attitude to these dangers is summed up by
Specialist (Corporal) Michael Richardson, 22. "There
was no dilemma when it came to shooting people who
were not in uniform, I just pulled the trigger. It was
up close and personal the whole time, there wasn't a
big distance. If they were there, they were enemy,
whether in uniform or not. Some were, some weren't."

Specialist Anthony Castillo added: "When there were
civilians there we did the mission that had to be
done. When they were there, they were at the wrong
spot, so they were considered enemy." In one major
battle - at the southern end of Baghdad at the
intersection of the main highways - the soldiers
estimate about 70 per cent of the enemy's 400-or-so
fighters were dressed as civilians.

Sgt Meadows explained: "The fight lasted for about
eight hours and they just kept on coming all day from
everywhere, from all sides. They were all in plain

"We had dropped fliers a couple of days prior saying
to people to get out of the area if they didn't want
to fight, so basically anyone who was there was a
combatant. If they were dumb enough to stand in front
of tanks or drive a car

towards a tank, then they were there to fight. On that
day it took away the dilemma of who to fire at, anyone
who was there was a combatant."

Cpl Richardson added: "That day nothing went with the
training. There were females fighting; there were some
that, when they saw you f****** coming, they'd just
drop their s*** and try to give up; and some guys were
shot and they'd play dead, and when you'd go by they'd
reach for their weapons. That day it was just f******
everything. When we face women or injured that try to
grab their weapons, we just finish them off. You've
gotta, no choice."

Such is their level of hatred they preferred to kill
rather than merely injure. Sgt Meadows, 34, said: "The
worst thing is to shoot one of them, then go help
him." Sergeant Adrian Pedro Quinones, 26, chipped in:
"In that situation you're angry, you're raging. They'd
just been shooting at my men - they were putting my
guys in a casket and eight feet under, that's what
they were trying to do.

"And now, they're laying there and I have to help
them, I have a responsibility to ensure my men help
them." Cpl Richardson said: "S***, I didn't help any
of them. I wouldn't help the f******. There were some
you let die. And there were some you double-tapped."

He held out his hand as if firing a gun and clucked
his tongue twice. He said: "Once you'd reached the
objective, and once you'd shot them and you're moving
through, anything there, you shoot again. You didn't
want any prisoners of war. You hate them so bad while
you're fighting, and you're so terrified, you can't
really convey the feeling, but you don't want them to

These soldiers have faced fighters from other Arab
countries. "It wasn't even Iraqis that we was killing,
it was Syrians," said Sgt Meadows. "We spoke to some
of the people and Saddam made a call for his Arab
brothers for a holy war against us, and they said they
came here to fight us. Whadda we ever do to them?"

Cpl Richardson intervened: "S***, that didn't really
matter who they were. They wanted to fight us so they
were the enemy. We had to take over Baghdad, period,
it didn't matter who was in there."

The GIs spoke of shooting civilians at roadblocks. Sgt
Meadows said: "When they used white flags we were told
to stop them at 400 metres out and then strip them
down naked then bring them through. Most obeyed the
order. We knew about others who had problems with
[Iraqis] carrying white flags and then opening up on
our guys. We knew about every trick they were trying
to do. Then they'd use cars to try and drive at us.
They were men, women and children. That day we shot up
a lot of cars.

"We'd shoot warning shots at them and they'd keep
coming, so we'd kill them. We'd fire a warning shot
over the top of them or on the road. When people
criticise us killing civilians they don't know that a
lot of these civilians were combatants, they really
were . And they still are."

The men have been traumatised by their experiences.
Cpl Richardson-said: "At night time you think about
all the people you killed. It just never gets off your
head, none of this stuff does. There's no chance to
forget it, we're still here, we've been here so long.
Most people leave after combat but we haven't."

Sgt Meadows said men under his command had been
seeking help for severe depression: "They've already
seen psychiatrists and the chain of command has got
letters back saying 'these men need to be taken out of
this situation'. But nothing's happened." Cpl
Richardson added: "Some soldiers don't even f******
sleep at night. They sit up all f****** night long
doing s*** to keep themselves busy - to keep their
minds off this f****** stuff. It's the only way they
can handle it. It's not so far from being crazy but
it's their way of coping. There's one guy trying to
build a little pool out the back, pointless stuff but
it keeps him busy."

Sgt Meadows said: "For me, it's like snap-shot photos.
Like pictures of maggots on tongues, babies with their
heads on the ground, men with their heads halfway off
and their eyes wide open and mouths wide open. I see
it every day, every single day. The smells and the
torsos burning, the entire route up to Baghdad, from
20 March to 7 April, nothing but burned bodies."

Specialist Bryan Barnhart, 21, joined in: "I also got
the images like snapshots in my head. There are bodies
that we saw when we went back to secure a place we'd
taken. The bodies were still there and they'd been
baking in the sun. Their bodies were bloated three
times the size."

Sgt Quinones explained: "There are psychiatrists who
are trying to sort out their problems but they say
it's because of long combat environment. They know we
need to be taken away from that environment." But the
group's tour of duty has been extended and the men
have been forced to remain as peacekeepers. Cpl
Richardson said: "Now we're in this peacekeeping,
we're always firing off a warning shot at people that
don't wanna listen to you. You make up the rules as
you go along.

"Like, in Fallujah we get rocks thrown at us by kids.
You wanna turn round and shoot one of the little
f*****s but you know you can't do that. Their parents
know if they came out and threw rocks we'd shoot them.
So that's why they send the kids out." Sgt Meadows
said: "Can you imagine being a soldier and being told
'you're fighting a war, then when you finish you can
go home'.

"You go and fight that war, and you win decisively,
but now you have to stay and stabilise the situation.
We are having to go from a full warfighting mindset to
a peacekeeping mindset overnight. Right after shooting
at people who were trying to kill you, you now have to
help them."

The anger towards their own senior officers is
obvious. Cpl Richardson said: "We weren't trained for
this stuff now. It makes you resentful they're holding
us on here. It pisses everyone off, we were told once
the war was over we'd leave when our replacements get
here. Well, our replacements got here and we're still

Specialist Castillo said: "We're more angry at the
generals who are making these decisions and who never
hit the ground, and who don't get shot at or have to
look at the bloody bodies and the burnt-out bodies,
and the dead babies and all that kinda stuff." Sgt
Quinones added: "Most of these soldiers are in their
early twenties and late teens. They've seen, in less
than a month, more than any man should see in a whole
lifetime. It's time for us to go home."

On whether the war was one worth fighting, Sgt Meadows
said: "I don't care about Iraq one way or the other. I
couldn't care less. [Saddam] could still be in power
and, to me, it wasn't worth leaving my family for; for
getting shot at and almost dying two or three times,
there's nothing worth that to me." Even though no
Iraqis were involved, and there is no proof Saddam was
behind it, the attack on the World Trade Center
provides Cpl Richardson and many others with the
justification for invading Iraq.

"There's a picture of the World Trade Center hanging
up by my bed and I keep one in my Kevlar [flak
jacket]. Every time I feel sorry for these people I
look at that. I think, 'They hit us at home and, now,
it's our turn.' I don't want to say payback but, you
know, it's pretty much payback."

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