Published: 03 June 2006
I remember clearly the first suspicions I had that murder most foul might be taking place in our name in Iraq. I was in the Baghdad mortuary, counting corpses, when one of the city's senior medical officials - an old friend - told me of his fears. "Everyone brings bodies here," he said. "But when the Americans bring bodies in, we are instructed that under no circumstances are we ever to do post-mortems. We were given to understand that this had already been done. Sometimes we'd get a piece of paper like this one with a body." And here the man handed me an American military document showing the hand-drawn outline of a man's body and the words "trauma wounds".
What kind of trauma? Indeed, what kind of trauma is now being experienced in Iraq? Who is doing the mass killing? Who is dumping so many bodies on garbage heaps? After Haditha, we are going to reshape our suspicions.
It's no good saying "a few bad apples". All occupation armies are corrupted. But do they all commit war crimes? The Algerians are still uncovering the mass graves left by the French paras who liquidated whole villages. We know of the rapist-killers of the Russian army in Chechnya. We have all heard of Bloody Sunday. The Israelis sat and watched while their proxy Lebanese militia butchered and eviscerated its way through 1,700 Palestinians. And of course the words "My Lai" are now uttered again. Yes, the Nazis were much worse. And the Japanese. And the Croatian Ustashi. But this is Us. This is Our army. These young soldiers are our representatives in Iraq. And they have innocent blood on their hands.
I suspect that part of the problem is that we never really cared about Iraqis - which is why we refused to count their dead, enumerating only our own losses. And once the Iraqis turned upon the army of occupation with their roadside bombs and suicide cars, they became Arab "gooks", the cowardly, murderous, evil sub-humans whom the Americans once identified in Vietnam. Get a president to tell us that we are fighting evil and one day we will wake to find that a child has horns, a baby has cloven feet. Remind yourself that these people are Muslims and they can all become little Mohammed Attas. Killing a roomful of civilians is only a step further along the road from all those promiscuous air strikes which we are told kill " terrorists" but which all too often turn out to be a wedding party.
In a way, we reporters are also to blame. Unable to venture outside Baghdad - or indeed around Baghdad itself - Iraq's vastness has fallen under a thick, all-consuming shadow. We might occasionally notice sparks in the night - a Haditha or two in the desert - but we remain now meekly cataloguing the numbers of "terrorists" supposedly scored in remote corners of Mesopotamia. For fear of the insurgent's knife, we can no longer investigate. And the Americans like it that way. Who knows what horrors have been committed far away in the sands?
I think it becomes a "habit", this sort of thing. Already the horrors of Abu Ghraib are shrugged away. Oh, that! It was abuse - not torture. And then up pops a junior officer in the United States charged for killing an Iraqi army general by stuffing him upside-down in a sleeping bag and sitting on his chest. And again, it gets few headlines. Who cares if another Iraqi bites the dust? Aren't they trying to kill our boys who are out there fighting terror? When a young American seeks political asylum in Canada, a colleague turns up to give evidence on his behalf. "Terrorists " had put babies on the road of Fallujah to stop American vehicles - and then blown them up. So now, he said, the soldiers were ordered not to stop for babies.
For who can be held to account when we regard ourselves as the brightest, the most honourable of creatures, doing endless battle with the killers of 11 September or 7 July because we love our country and our people - but not other people - so much?
And so we dress ourselves up as Galahads, yes as Crusaders, and we tell those whose countries we invade that we are going to bring them democracy.
I can't help wondering today how many of the innocents slaughtered in Haditha took the opportunity to vote in the Iraqi elections - before their " liberators" murdered them.