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Seeing the Truth

Submitted by ross on Sat, 08/21/2010 - 23:08

Ladies and Gentlemen, my name is Ross Caputi. I’m speaking to you today because I have first hand knowledge about the atrocities that were carried out by American forces in Fallujah. I have first hand knowledge because I was there and I helped carry out these atrocities. I was a United States Marine and my battalion was part of the main effort of the second assault on Fallujah that took place in November of 2004, also known as Operation Phantom Fury. It is difficult for me to admit what we did to the people of Fallujah, but the hardest part is explaining to you how we just could not see the harm that we were doing. Although blessed with the gift of sight, we just could not see things as they really were. Only now, six years too late, can I see the truth. I would like to ask everyone listening to remove themselves from ideology, philosophical commitments, and nationalist allegiances and listen to what I am about to say with the objectivity that God would have, taking one life to be equal to another and taking the nationality of the victims and aggressors to be irrelevant. 

My unit was called 1st Battalion 8th Marines Alpha Company and at the time of Operation Phantom Fury I found myself in Headquarters Platoon acting as the Company Commander’s radio operator. I believe that it was November 8th when my unit loaded up into trucks and drove from our base to the outskirts of Fallujah. We drove a few kilometers along a road that cut through the desert towards Fallujah. I remember riding past groups of women and children whom I could see were fleeing for their safety, and I remember wondering how they would survive in the desert. Where would they go? How would they get water? I saw them and I saw their suffering, everyone could, but we could not see that we were directly responsible for their suffering. Perhaps it was too painful of a realization for many of us to make, because we saw ourselves as the liberators, the good guys, and to admit that we were hurting innocent people would have contradicted everything that we claimed to stand for. Was it also too painful for the decision makers who chose to tell the people of Fallujah to leave their homes to admit that we were hurting innocent people? Or were they that evil that they just did not care who we were hurting? I can only speculate about what their motives were, but it does not matter. Either way, our entire command was aware that we had forced the majority of the city’s population, about 200,000 people, into refugee status, it was no secret, but nobody took responsibility for their well being, as international law required of us. [i]
We drove to the outskirts of the city and positioned ourselves on a hilltop where we watched the bombing campaign come to a climax. At that point it was nighttime and all that could be seen of Fallujah was the flashes of our bombs and a thick cloud of smoke pouring out of the city. At a certain point I saw us drop white phosphorous from the sky. The white phosphorous drifted slowly downward in glowing white balls that eventually disappeared into the smoke that was billowing out of the city. I could not see if the white phosphorous actually landed on the city or in the desert at the city’s periphery. I do not think it matters, because with the lack of visibility there was no way to know that we were not dropping it on civilians. It was impossible for us to discriminate targets, as international law required of us.[ii]
Our command told us that we were liberating Fallujah from the terrorists that had taken control of the city. They also told us that all of the civilians had left, even though they knew that thousands of people remained. They told us that our mission was to sweep the city and kill all the terrorists that chose to stay behind and fight. They told us that this operation would break the back of the Iraqi insurgency and would bring freedom and democracy to Iraq. They told us that we were doing this for Iraqis and for the people of Fallujah. I never believed these lies, and I could see that we were actually hurting people; but there was much that I could not see, and I continued to follow orders anyway. I cannot explain to you why, and I imagine that when I stand before God I will not be able to explain it then either. However, I think that everyone else in my unit really believed these lies, and they clung to them to justify everything that we did. It must have been much easier to dismiss the Iraqi resistance as terrorists than to ask ourselves what we would have done if we were in their shoes and a foreign army was occupying our country and was assaulting our city. It must have been much easier to see things as we wanted to see them and to see ourselves as liberators, as the good-guys.
A day after I saw us drop white phosphorous on Fallujah my unit was inserted into the center of the city. We quickly seized a building that we called “the mayor’s complex,” and the captain and I and few others went to the roof so that we could get a good radio signal. We started to take sniper fire and we had to take cover behind a retaining wall on the edge of the roof. A group of civilians appeared in the street below us with white flags. We lifted our heads over the wall to shout at them to go hide,  and as soon as we did sniper fire started to crack over out heads. Everyone around me immediately jumped to the conclusion that this group of civilians had played a trick on us, that they were working with the insurgents to draw us out from behind our cover. There was absolutely no reason to think that they were working with the sniper, who was hundreds of meters away. I am telling you this to illustrate that we did not view the civilians in Fallujah with compassion. We viewed them with suspicion. We saw no clear distinction between civilian and what we classified as terrorist. [iii]
A day later we began sweeping through the city one house at a time. In the houses that I entered I saw family photos hanging up on the walls. I saw dressers full of clothes, refrigerators full of food, and I saw Marines looting everything that appeared valuable out of their homes. I could see that families had been living in those homes just a short while ago, and I knew that they were the same families that I saw walking in the desert, but that did not stop me from looting their houses[iv]. We stole from their homes, and we convinced ourselves that it did not matter; we were perfectly aware that we told them to leave because we were coming through their city guns blazing, but we could not see that we had in fact ruined their lives. Of course not, we were the good guys, we were doing this for them.
Everyday that passed things got worse and worse. We continued to sweep further into the city and we met very impressive resistance, but we always responded with superior firepower. If we suspected that there was a resistance fighter in a house, we would fire tank rounds into it or we would radio in for bulldozers to flatten the house.[v]
The looting continued for several days and my command was perfectly aware of what was happening. I watched as the carnage changed the people around me and a violent hysteria developed in my unit. People from my unit began stealing out of the pockets of dead resistance fighters, and some even mutilated their bodies[vi]. At this point we knew that there were still civilians in the city, despite what our command had told us, but we began using a tactic called reconnaissance by fire, which is when you fire into an area or building to see if people are there. If you hear silence after your firing, then everything is clear. If you hear otherwise, if you hear screaming or moaning, then there are either combatants or civilians there. This tactic is always indiscriminate, which would make it illegal, and our command was very aware that we were using it[vii].
On one of the last days of the assault, we came across a house with two resistance fighters and a young boy bunkered inside. The boy was about ten years old. I do not know if any attempts were made to negotiate or to try to get that boy out of that house in some way and save his life, but eventually we fired grenades into that house until it collapsed on all three of them[viii].
I do not know how to explain the absurdity of our mission in Fallujah, or in all of Iraq for that matter. We occupied a country in order to free it, we assaulted a city in order to save it, and we justified it all by claiming that we were doing this for a people who we considered to be the enemy. We told ourselves that we were liberating the civilians of Fallujah, even though we knew that civilians were being hurt, displaced, and even killed. We justified all of this to ourselves by asserting that collateral damage was a fact of war, and that we were doing this for them, for their freedom and democracy. We justified our actions to ourselves so well that we could not understand why the people of Fallujah were not thanking us. After all, we were risking our lives for them, and it seemed like with every civilian that we killed we asserted more strongly and believed with more conviction than before that we were doing this for them.
My country is still occupying Iraq, and the atrocities continue. That is why we must take a stand now. I beg all of you to please help us stand up for the human rights of the people of Fallujah and Iraq with the same conviction that you would had my unit done this to your city and your family. The culture within the United States right now is not one of peace and justice, I am sorry to say, and for that reason the burden is on the international community to stand up for what is right. International law is meant to apply to everyone, and no country, no matter how powerful it might be, should be exempt. Please help us pressure the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council for an investigation into the war crimes and human rights violations that my country committed in Fallujah. To hold the Unites States of America accountable would reaffirm the centrality of international law and human rights, and it would be a first step towards a future when the weak do not have to fear the strong.
The customary international law rules I am citing here are handily summarized in the International Committee of the Red Cross Summary of International Law. These are the most important rules incorporated in key treaties such as the Geneva Conventions of 1949, the Hague Conventions and Regulations, and the UN Charter. I am listing them here, though, as they are listed in the ICRC Summary for ease of reference.

[i] This point refers to Rule 1; “The parties to the conflict must at all times distinguish between civilians and combatants. Attacks may only be directed against combatants. Attacks must not be directed against civilians.” 
Rule 2: “Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited.”
Rule 129 A: “Parties to an international armed conflict may not deport or forcibly transfer the civilian population of an occupied territory, in whole or in part, unless the security of the civilians involved or imperative military reasons so demand.”
Rule 131: “In case of displacement, all possible measures must be taken in order that the civilians concerned are received under satisfactory conditions of shelter, hygiene, health, safety and nutrition and that members of the same family are not separated.”
Rule 133: “The property rights of displaced persons must be respected.”
[ii] The use of white phosphorus against civilians was banned in the 1980 'Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects' (entered into force in December 1983 and annexed to the Geneva Conventions 1949).
[iii] Rule 5: “Civilians are persons who are not members of the armed forces. The civilian population comprises all persons who are civilians.”
Rule 6: “Civilians are protected against attack, unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities.”
Rule 15: “In the conduct of military operations, constant care must be taken to spare the civilian population, civilians and civilian objects. All feasible precautions must be taken to avoid, and in any event to minimize, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects.”
Rule 16: “Each party to the conflict must do everything feasible to verify that targets are military objectives.”
[iv] Rule 50: “The destruction or seizure of the property of an adversary is prohibited unless required by imperative military necessity.”
Rule 519(c): “Private property must be respected an may not be confiscated except where destruction or seizure of such property is required by imperative military necessity.”
Rule 52: “Pillage is prohibited.”
[v] Rule 7: “The parties to the conflict must at all times distinguish between civilian objectives and military objectives. Attacks may only be directed against military objectives. Attacks must not be directed against civilian objects.”
[vi] Rule 113: “Each party to the conflict must take all possible measures to prevent the dead from being despoiled. Mutilation of dead bodies is prohibited.”
Rule 115: “The dead must be disposed of in a respectful manner and their graves respected and properly maintained.”
Rule 116: “With a view to the identification of the dead, each party to the conflict must record all available information prior to disposal and mark the location of the graves.”
[vii] Rule 70: “The use of means and methods of warfare which are of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering is prohibited;” see also
Rules 15 and 16, above.
Rule 17: “Each party to the conflict must take all feasible precautions in the choice of means and methods of warfare with a view to avoiding, and in any event to minimizing incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects.”
Rule 19: “Each party to the conflict must do everything feasible to cancel or suspend an attack if it becomes apparent that the target is not a military objective or that the attack 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.”
[viii] Rule 135: “Children affected by armed conflict are entitled to special respect and protection.”


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