While England's punishment fits with George W. Bush's pledge to prosecute military personnel for wrongdoing in Iraq, a larger question is whether low-ranking soldiers are becoming scapegoats for the bloody fiasco that Bush created when he ordered the invasion in defiance of international law. Pumped-up by Bush's false claims linking Iraq to the Sept. 11 terror attacks, US soldiers charged into that Arab country with revenge on their minds.
In a healthy democracy, the debate might be less about imprisoning England and other "grunts" than whether Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other war architects should be "frog-marched" to the Hague for prosecution as war criminals.
The international community also has largely shied away from the issue of Bush's criminality, apparently because of the unprecedented military might of the United States.
If the leaders of a less powerful nation had invaded a country under false pretenses - touching off a war that left tens of thousands of civilians dead - there surely would be demands for war crimes prosecutions before the International Criminal Court at the Hague. But not for Bush and his War Cabinet.
But the cavalier treatment toward Iraqi lives can be traced back to the very start of the war. Determined to invade Iraq, Bush brushed aside international objections, prevented the completion of a United Nations search for alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and unleashed his "shock and awe" bombing campaign on March 19, 2003.
Bush and his high command authorized the bombing of one Baghdad restaurant - where civilians were having dinner - because of shaky intelligence that Saddam Hussein might be eating there, too. The logic apparently was that the goal of killing Hussein justified the slaughter of the innocent restaurant clientele.
As it turned out, Hussein was not there, but the attack killed 14 civilians, including seven children. One mother collapsed when rescue workers pulled the severed head of her daughter out of the rubble.
In another US bombing raid, Saad Abbas, 34, was wounded, but his family sought to shield him from the greater horror. The bombing had killed his three daughters - Marwa, 11; Tabarek, 8; and Safia, 5 - who had been the center of his life.
"It wasn't just ordinary love," his wife said. "He was crazy about them. It wasn't like other fathers." [NYT, April 14, 2003]
The horror of the war was captured, too, in the fate of 12-year-old Ali Ismaeel Abbas, who lost his two arms when a US missile struck his Baghdad home. Ali's father, Ali's pregnant mother and his siblings were all killed.
As he was evacuated to a Kuwaiti hospital, becoming a symbol of US compassion for injured Iraqi civilians, Ali said he would rather die than live without his hands.
The slaughter extended to the battlefield where the outmatched Iraqi army sometimes fought heroically though hopelessly against the technologically superior US forces. Christian Science Monitor reporter Ann Scott Tyson interviewed US troops with the 3rd Infantry Division who were deeply troubled by their task of mowing down Iraqi soldiers who kept fighting even in suicidal situations.
"For lack of a better word, I felt almost guilty about the massacre," one soldier said privately. "We wasted a lot of people. It makes you wonder how many were innocent. It takes away some of the pride. We won, but at what cost?"
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