War Crimes by the Numbers
By: shep

by shep

“Our objective is to protect innocent life. And we've got a lot of brave souls in the theater working hard to protect innocent life.”
--George Bush, on the recent killing of Iraqis by Blackwater USA guards

"The moral vacuum of Iraq -- where Blackwater USA guards can kill 10 or 20 Iraqis on a whim and never be prosecuted for it -- did not happen by accident. It is yet another example of something the Bush administration could have prevented with the right measures but simply did not bother about as it rushed into invading and occupying another country. . . .”
-- Michael Hirsh

The most recent survey of Iraqi deaths as a result of the US invasion and occupation puts the civilian death toll at
1.2 million, with a margin of error of 2.4%.
Certainly, all of those deaths were not the direct result of US military action. So, let’s lop off the margin of error, round to the 7th decimal and, to be scrupulously fair, cut the number in half. That’s about 500, 000 innocent, dead Iraqis. Next, let’s compare that to the deaths of American soldiers which stands (until the next Pentagon announcement) at 3,792.

So that’s approximately 130 innocent Iraqis killed for every US soldier. Got that? While “[o]ur objective is to protect innocent life,” as we liberate and teach them western democratic values, our soldiers are killing 130 innocent Iraqis for every soldier killed by any means, including accidents and friendly fire. But let's set that number aside for a minute and see what the Geneva Conventions say about protecting civilians:

Article 51.-Protection of the civilian population
1. The civilian population and individual civilians shall enjoy general protection against dangers arising from military operations…

2. The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited…
4. Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited. Indiscriminate attacks are:
(a) Those which are not directed at a specific military objective;
(b) Those which employ a method or means of combat which cannot be directed at a specific military objective; or
(c) Those which employ a method or means of combat the effects of which cannot be limited as required by this Protocol; and consequently, in each such case, are of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction.
5. Among others, the following types of attacks are to be considered as indiscriminate:
…(b) An attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.”
[Emphasis mine]

There’s more, about protecting civilian infrastructure and “[p]recautions” to be taken: In the conduct of military operations, constant care shall be taken to spare the civilian population, civilians and civilian objects.”

So what should the ratio of non-combatant to combatant deaths look like if “constant care” is taken? World War I (even before Geneva) might make a good baseline. We had our machine guns, torpedoes and aerial bombardment, the major modern tools for indiscriminant killing in war (but without all that “precision” targeting capability we’re so smug and self-satisfied about today). It was also before we developed the physical and moral capacity to firebomb and nuke civilian cities and carpet bomb countries.

WWI gave us roughly 8 million civilian deaths by combat forces and 8.3 million combatant deaths; a little better than a one-to-one ratio. Go back a century to the Napoleonic Wars (1792-1815), when you had to line up your rifle sight on your target or run them through with a sword – non-combatant to combatant ratio one-to-five – and you can see the beginning of modern “progress”.

It always seemed axiomatic to me that in wars waged by "civilized" nations, more soldiers should die than civilians. Even WWII, which killed over 70 million, still had a non-combatant to combatant death ratio of roughly one-to-one, once death by disease and famine is eliminated. And even though the United States dropped more bombs on tiny Vietnam than were dropped by all of the participants in all of World War Two, the ratio was still (at worst) only 4-to-one.

In Iraq, we’ve “advanced” that ratio to at least 130-to-one (why this isn’t “news” is yet another damning indictment of what American journalism has become). You can say you believe that the US military is taking “constant care…to spare the civilian population, civilians and civilian objects,” but the numbers prove that you are simply deluding yourself. More than any pervious war, by official policy, our forces are using massive firepower, they’re often doing it in a dense urban environment and they aren’t just shooting back at who’s shooting at them. Simply put, providing "general protection" and exercising “constant care” can’t produce a ratio like that; they are the product of purposefully chosen rules of engagement that risk civilian death to protect soldiers – and contractors.

The truth is, in the moral and political calculus among many US politicians and war proponents (and perhaps many non-supporters as well), one American life is simply worth more than 130 innocent Iraqi men, woman and children. Republicans indemnify contractors from prosecution and change the definition of war crimes for a reason. It’s been more than four years and no one can advocate continuing this particular war policy without also accepting the outrageous outcome.

The fact that this is happening with no morally defensible justification for our invasion and occupation of Iraq in the first place, and no likely objective for the current policy that can be offered by war proponents or their supporters, makes it more than betrayal of the public trust or even a simple war crime. It is a betrayal of our humanity and our honor. It is a betrayal of everything that matters: God, country and ourselves.

[Cross-posted at E Pluribus Unum]