Another murder mystery from America’s favourite sandpit: a McClatchy website reports that “American soldiers opened fire and killed a 12-year old boy after a grenade hit their convoy in Mosul on Thursday”. Did the US military mistake a pre-pubescent child for an insurgent, as friends of the boy believe? Or was it, as the US military spokesman stated, a case of “insurgents paying children to conduct these attacks or assist the attackers in some capacity, undoubtedly placing the children in harm’s way”? Can this mystery be solved without a psychic medium?
Eye witness Ahmed Iz-Aldeen, 56, said the person who threw the grenade was not a boy, but a man in his twenties. Reuters reported Iraqi police statements that the boy, Omar Musa Salih, had not been involved in the grenade throwing. “A 12-year-old child was killed by U.S. soldiers’ random fire” was the line Iraqi news agency Aswat al-Iraq decided to publish; “The incident occurred in Ras al-Jadah area, western Mosul, when the U.S. military opened random fire at pedestrians”, a security source told the news agency.
Jumping on the US-miltary-bashing bandwagon is easy to do, but they are a highly trained organisation; surely their protocols must leave little room for such errors? Just two months ago, another 12-year-old was killed, this time a little girl shot by the warning trooper aiming at a car speeding towards a police station.Col. Gary Volesky was left to express “his condolences to the girl’s family for the unfortunate accident” at another manifestation of fatal flaws in the system.
The killing of civilians is not always accidental; sometimes, it’s part of the job. Three years ago, CommonDreams.org reported that soldiers were under pressure to use extreme force in nearly all situations – regardless of danger to civilians. Darrell Anderson, a US marine and winner of a Purple Heart, recalled an incident in which a car, countaining two children,a man and his wife, sped past the checkpoint he was manning. When Darrell defied pressure from his buddies to shoot at the car, he was reprimanded: “My superior came over and said, ‘What are you doing’, I said, ‘Look, there’s children in the back, it’s a family, I did the right thing, it’s wrong to fire in this situation’. My superior told me: ‘No, you did the wrong thing, You will fire next time, or you will be punished, those are our orders'”. Darrell continues; “At traffic stops we kill innocent people all the time. If you are fired on from the street, you are supposed to fire on everybody that is there. If I am in a market, I shoot people who are buying groceries”.
Such a testimony of civilian killing is just one of many and Captain Todd Brown, Company Commander of the 4th Infantry Division, says, “You have to understand the Arab mind. The only thing they understand is force – force, pride, and saving face”. Emphasis on force. As George W. Bush was fond of saying – we’re dealing with “evil folks”, and military officials are sure evil comes in child sizes: “Coalition forces fired on two of three individuals positively identified as involved in the attack, killing one,who they later discovered was a 12-year-old boy,” stated the email regarding Salih’s death. The boy was found carrying less than $9 dollars worth of Iraqi currency, which McClatchy argues proves he was part of a new trend for insurgents paying children to carry out attacks. The United Nations has repeatedly called attention to the trend of using child insurgents in the Iraq war. Humanitarian news agency IRIN talked to one child insurgent instructor, who said “very small children unable to carry the weight of a weapon are instead taught how to use hand grenades and how to distract US soldiers before attacks”.
The US has promised to conduct an investigation into Salih’s death, but whether some sort of consensus will emerge from conflicting accounts remains to be seen. Until then the Salih, and children like him, falls into the incompatible categories of child and insurgent.