For some reason, the grunt’s love song made the brass cringe:
“I grabbed her little sister and put her in front of me . . . as the bullets began to fly, the blood sprayed from between her eyes, and then I laughed maniacally.”
Cpl. Joshua Belile had a recording contract and everything, but, uh-uh. No singing Marine’s gonna be regaling America with the sadistic pleasures to be had in occupied Iraq, no sir, not with all the atrocity investigations going on these days, and the dirty truth of our Middle East adventure oozing into the coverage of even the most administration-sympathetic media outlets.
Last week I wrote a column about horror on the macro level in Iraq: the likely serious health consequences resulting from widespread use of depleted uranium munitions, constituting a crime against not just the Iraqis but the whole world, because of airborne radiation poisoning. This week, horror on the micro level is once again making the news, with the arrest of Steven Green, a recently discharged GI, in connection with the rape and murder of a 15-year-old Iraqi girl, along with the murder of her parents and 7-year-old sister, four months ago in Mahmoudiya.
Atrocity damage control requires isolating such events, not just vertically (keep the blame as far down the chain of command as possible), but horizontally, so that journalists and the public at large don’t start thinking they see a pattern of barbarism in our mission to liberate Iraq. A perfunctory investigation followed by widely publicized punishment needs to end each matter as it comes up.
But suddenly the embedded media aren’t so compliant. As we read about the brutal, premeditated murders in Mahmoudiya on March 12, we’re likely to get a recap of other criminal investigations under way or recently concluded: the Haditha massacre, a shooting in Fallujah (eight servicemen charged with murder), another shooting in Ramadi, the deaths of detainees here and there. Indeed, we might even get a civilian body count thrown in. The acknowledged Iraqi dead are apparently up to 50,000 in the mainstream media (even though the British medical journal Lancet published a study putting the likely total at twice that — a year and a half ago).
All of which brings me back to Cpl. Belile’s derailed recording career. The song he’d posted on the Internet and hoped to make a splash with — “Hadji Girl” — tells the story of a GI who falls for a local girl at an Iraqi Burger King. He accompanies her home but, oops, it’s a trap. The dad and brother, shouting “jihad,” brandish their AK-47s, so he pulls the sister in front of him as a shield and (ha ha) she’s the one who gets shot. Then he returns fire with his M-16 and blows the rest of the family “to eternity.”
Adding to the tenderness of this song, which, according to Marine Times, the high command has apparently forbidden Belile to record, is the fact that “hadji” is a racist term, the new slur for Arabs and Muslims, Iraq war vet Aiden Delgado explained on blackcommentator.com. “It is used extensively in the military,” he said, “. . . with the same kind of connotation as ‘gook,’ ‘Charlie’ or the n-word. Official Army documents now use it in reference to Iraqis or Arabs. It’s real common.” He also said of his Army training: “We sang in cadences. And the chants had anti-Arab themes. Like burning turbans, killing ragheads.”
I humbly submit there’s no such thing as a benign occupation — that you cannot subjugate a people without also dehumanizing them. This is called racism. It’s the ever-present undercurrent of our mission in Iraq and it’s as insidious and life-threatening to Iraqis as DU poisoning, as the story of a real-life “Hadji Girl” in Mahmoudiya makes clear.
According to the Washington Post and other accounts, the young girl, Abeer Qasim Hamza, had the extraordinary misfortune of attracting, with her good looks, the interest of some of the GIs who manned the checkpoint she was required to pass through several times a day. They made advances at her. She was afraid, she told her mother. Her unspeakable tragedy illustrates a basic fact of occupation: Iraqi civilians are at the mercy of immature young Americans with guns. They have no rights.
A witness “found Abeer sprawled dead in a corner, her hair and a pillow next to her consumed by fire, and her dress pushed up to her neck,” the Post said.
Unlike the Marine in the song, the boys from the 502nd Infantry Regiment weren’t lured into temptation by a femme fatale. They were on the prowl for spoils. Pvt. Green and his buddies, accounts tell us, allegedly planned the operation in advance: rape the girl, kill her, set her on fire, kill the witnesses, blame it on the insurgents. It almost worked.
Only after an act of grotesque counter-barbarism — the torture and beheading of two American soldiers from the very same unit — did a guilt-ridden fellow soldier spill the beans about the Mahmoudiya atrocity, during a post-beheading session with a stress counselor.
John Pike, director of the think tank GlobalSecurity.org, suggests that what we’re witnessing is not necessarily a spike in GI murders of Iraqi civilians all of a sudden but, rather, a no-longer-avoidable pressure to investigate them. “It may be,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle, “that this has been going on all along and it was just not being reported.”
I’d say these murders are an absolutely predictable form of the “collateral damage” of occupation. Its architects are the ones who belong on trial, for the rape of a nation.
Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2006 Robert C. Koehler