Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Body Desecration

Last week came the allegations that American Soldiers had desecrated the bodies of two Taliban fighters by lining them up facing west towards Mecca and then cremating them while they conducted psy-ops by taunting the other Taliban hiding in the hills to get them to come out and fight.

It all started when the military apparently allowed an enemy propagandist, John Martinkus, to be embedded into a platoon from the 173rd Airborne Brigade. He's ostensibly a reporter for the Australian T.V. network SBS, but he sidelines as an activist to help our enemies achieve their goals of removing coalition forces from Afghanistan and Iraq. His report on the event in question included a video of the burning bodies.

From the transcript of the SBS report:

At the top of the hills above the village the soldiers have taken the tactics of psychological warfare to a grotesque and disturbing extreme. US soldiers have set fire to the bodies of the two Taliban killed the night before. The burning of the corpses and the fact that they've been laid out facing Mecca is a deliberate desecration of Muslim beliefs.

As Jason Coleman points out, by the way the shadows fall, this is demonstrably false.

Simple examination of the photo shows that the corpses WERE NOT laid out facing West, if they were, they would be oriented in line with the shadows on the ground, instead they are oriented perpendicular to the shadows, unless you live at the North or South pole, you can test this for yourself if you go outside with a compass in the morning or afternoon. Face West or East and observe your shadow.

So we know that they were not "laid out facing Mecca" and do not demonstrate a deliberate desecration of Muslim beliefs.

Later footage shows two US soldiers reading from a notebook messages which they said had already been broadcast to villagers.

"Attention Taliban you are cowardly dogs," the message reads. "You allowed your fighters to be laid down facing West and burnt.

"You are too scared to retrieve their bodies. This just proves you are the lady boys we always believed you to be."

Following this initial report, all the usual suspects came out to bitch and assume the worst about our military.

Andrew Sullivan shrieked,

"If you need further proof that this administration's abandonment of clear Geneva guidelines has clearly undermined the war, then read this. The use of religion to taunt and torment the enemy has been going on for a long time now. From smearing inmates with fake menstrual blood, to desecrating the Koran, to forcing one Abu Ghraib prisoner to drink alcohol and eat pork, to burning Muslim corpses facing West ... we now have a litany of abuses that are objectively evil and almost designed to lose us support among the broad Muslim population."
It's unclear how Sullivan feels about members of the military calling the enemy "cowardly dogs", knowing how Muslims of the region feel about those animals.

One of the inmates at the Daily Kos used this event to abandon the pretense of "supporting the troops."

How much longer is this going to go on? How long can the US occupational forces in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to brutalise the situation and feed the cycle of violence?

There is an attitude amongst American soldiers, particularly those of the lower ranks, that they are beyond the restraint of law. That it is all a big game. It turns my stomach each time I see a US military spokesmen refer to insurgents as 'the bad guys,' as though this was some kind of computer game. I honestly don't believe that many of these soldiers see it as an actual country with an actual society, and not simply their playground for the next few years, to be forgotten the moment they leave. That attitude of ignorant, macho, gung-ho violence is directly responsible for the near constant stream of reports of abuse, violence and lawbreaking by US soldiers.

Well, maybe it's time to stop 'supporting the troops.' Maybe it's time to stop painting this sort of thing as the random acts of a violent few, and to start acknowledging the institutional mindset that influences this sort of behaviour. It is a mindset of brutality, of unaccountability and of wilfull [sic] ignorance.
The U.N. rushed to condemn it. Centcom issued a condemnation of the allegations (I'm still not sure what that means, but I think it means we condemn it if it's true.) Others immediately started screaming about Geneva Conventions. It turns out as it so often does that the story flogged by the 'objective' media and celebrated by the leftists (who really do support the troops and want victory just as much as everybody else) wasn't quite true.

From Time Magazine:

There simply wasn't enough room on the rocky hilltop above Gonbaz village in southern Afghanistan for the U.S. platoon and the corpses of the two Taliban fighters. The Taliban men had been killed in a firefight 24 hours earlier, and in the 90-degree heat, their bodies had become an unbearable presence, soldiers who were present have told TIME. Nor was the U.S. Army unit about to leave—the hilltop commanded a strategic view of the village below where other Taliban were suspected to be hiding.

Earlier, Lt. Eric Nelson, the leader of B Company, I-508 platoon leader had sent word down to Gonbaz asking the villagers to pick up the bodies and bury them according to Muslim ritual. But the villagers refused—probably because the dead fighters weren't locals but Pakistanis, surmised one U.S. army officer.

It was then that Lt. Nelson took the decision that could jeopardize his service career. "We decided to burn the bodies," one soldier recounts, "because they were bloated and they stank." News of this cremation might have remained on these scorching hills of southern Afghanistan had the gruesome act not been recorded on film by an Australian photojournalist, Stephen Dupont. Instead, when the footage aired on Australian TV on Wednesday, it unleashed world outrage. A Pentagon spokesman described the incident as "repugnant" and said that the army was launching a criminal investigation into the alleged desecration of the corpses, which is in violation of the Geneva Convention on human rights.

Time does a pretty good job of finally getting the other side of the story out there. But even in doing so, they fail to do the research on the regulations applying the Geneva Conventions that took blogger Jason Van Steenwyk five minutes to do for them.

That the Geneva conventions specifically allows for the cremation of enemy dead for reasons of hygiene.

From Field Manual FM 27-10:

Bodies shall not be cremated except for imperative reasons of hygiene or for motives based on the religion of the deceased. In case of cremation, the circumstances and reasons for cremation shall be stated in detail in the death certificate or on the authenticated list of the dead.
The commander on the ground is a lieutenant. Nobody yet has come up with a better idea. What was he supposed to do?

This lieutenant had apparently made an effort to allow the locals to recover the dead. He fulfilled his obligations to the deceased by attempting to make that coordination.

He fulfilled his obligations to protect his men by having them cremated.

Case closed. The chattering classes should cut the LT some slack. And Time Magazine, which failed to do the reporting necessary to uncover the regulations with regard to the disposal of enemy dead in logistically adverse conditions (I found it in five minutes) ought to refrain from speculating on the course of this LT's career until they bother to download a clue.
Jason Coleman went on to point out,

We also know, from the interview with Stephen Dupont who took the picture, that it was NOT the psychological warfare operatives who burned these bodies. The PsyOps operatives arrived on the scene LATER (how later does not matter), and while they DID use the incident as part of their PsyOps plan to draw out the Taliban, they DID NOT burn the corpses as part of the plan. The PsyOps operatives used the fact that the bodies had to be burned for hygenic purposes and twisted the event to suit their PsyOps operational plan. In other words.

The PsyOps operative lied to the Taliban soldiers in the village in the hope it would infuriate them and drive them into the open.

Guess what Mr. Martinkus? That's their job. PsyOps is not the practice of telling your enemy the truth, it's telling the enemy what you think will disturb them, it's telling your enemy what you think will enrage them and cause them to make mistakes and engage in poor tactical descisions that you can take advantage of.


Mr. Martinkus has taken events, twisted them out of proportion and then broadcast that psychological warfare element back at the people of America and the world. Just as the PsyOps operatives wished to enrage the Taliban and get them out into the open where they could be destroyed, Mr. Martinkus is trying to get the American people to become enraged at the actions of our own military.

Somehow I doubt that the explanation for this event will get the overhyped headlines or air time that the initial allegations did when it served the purpose of making our guys look bad.

Thanks to Blackfive for pointing me towards Jason Coleman's piece.