I GAVE a talk the other day in San Francisco in front of an audience primarily of military people. I was invited by the Marines’ Memorial Association of San Francisco, and I was actually introduced by Major Gen. Mike Myatt, who was one of the commanders of the 1991 Gulf War.
This was hardly an antiwar crowd, but as an indication of how serious the problem of mercenaries and private forces in Iraq has become, many from within the established military are now starting to speak out about it.
So I was honored to be in a room full of people, regardless of their perspective on the war, who take this issue seriously enough to do something about it–who realize that this is an incredible problem. We didn’t share the same global outlook and certainly not the same opinion about the U.S. occupation of Iraq, but on this issue, we’re hearing more and more voices coming from the established military.
Some 1,000 people from across the U.S. gathered for a weekend of left politics and discussion at the Socialism 2008 conference on June 19-22 in Chicago. SocialistWorker.org will be publishing some of the presentations from the weekend, so stay tuned for more.
I’m going to spend time talking about what’s at stake not just with mercenaries in Iraq, but also with the election. But I want to begin by telling a story that makes up part of a substantial investigation I did for the update of my book Blackwater. I have over 110 new pages of material in this book, and I also went through and substantially updated it based on some of the important investigations that have been conducted and are ongoing into Blackwater’s activity.
I open the book with a new investigation of an incident that I know everyone in this room remembers well–the Nisour Squre shootings last September. What I want to do right now is begin by giving you a narrative overview of what exactly happened there–what we understand from eyewitness testimony and from investigations that have been done. Because it really is a horrifying story. I think it’s important not just that we know that Blackwater killed 17 Iraqi civilians, but the nature of that crime, and what the response of the Bush administration was after it.
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ON THAT morning of September 16, 2007, a young 20-year-old Iraqi medical student, Ahmed Haithem Ahmed, was with his mother and father. Ahmed was driving; his mother Mohassin was in the passenger seat. They dropped off his father at the local hospital where he worked, and then they went to go run some errands.
Among the errands that they were running was dropping off college applications for Ahmed’s younger sister. This was an extraordinary family. They very much had medicine in their DNA; they were a family of doctors. They had an opportunity to leave Iraq when the U.S. invasion was imminent, but they ultimately decided as a family that they were going to stay in their country, because they felt that more than ever in the history of their nation, the country was going to need doctors because of the incredible violence and bloodshed that was going to be unleashed. So they stayed in Iraq.
Ahmed and his mother were driving, and they pulled into an area of Baghdad known as the Monsour district. I had been there many times in my travels to Iraq. It used to be an upscale section of the city, where there were markets and cafes and restaurants. Now it’s a hollow shell of its former self.
Continued . . .