William Rivers Pitt: Mystery Train
By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Tuesday 29 November 2005
The Abu Ghraib images were bad enough.
There they were, fresh-faced American soldiers presiding over the systematic torture and humiliation of Iraqis with big smiles and thumbs up. There was the Iraqi corpse, wrapped in a bag and festooned with blood, and a toothsome female American soldier grinning like a kid at Christmas as she leaned over the body. There was the man menaced by a dog being restrained on a leash by an American soldier, and there was the same man in a subsequent photo with a huge, bloody chunk ripped out of his leg.
Now we have these videos, these so-called Aegis videos [http://www.truthout.org/docs_2005/112805A.shtml], allegedly showing contractors in Iraq driving the road between Baghdad and the airport. In the video, men speaking with Irish or Scottish accents use an assault rifle to indiscriminately blast other cars on the road. The video shows cars peppered with bullets careening to and fro, crashing into each other and rolling into the trees. In the background, Elvis Presley can be heard singing "Mystery Train."
The UK Telegraph, reporting on the video, states, "The video, which first appeared on a website that has been linked unofficially to Aegis Defence Services, contained four separate clips, in which security guards open fire with automatic rifles at civilian cars. All of the shooting incidents apparently took place on 'route Irish', a road that links the airport to Baghdad."
"The video first appeared on the website www.aegisIraq.co.uk," continued the Telegraph. "The website states: 'This site does not belong to Aegis Defence Ltd, it belongs to the men on the ground who are the heart and soul of the company.' The clips have been removed."
The road where these videotaped attacks took place, continued the Telegraph report, "has acquired the dubious distinction of being the most dangerous in the world because of the number of suicide attacks and ambushes carried out by insurgents against coalition troops. In one four-month period earlier this year it was the scene of 150 attacks."
That last paragraph begs the obvious question: who exactly is doing the attacking along route Irish, and elsewhere in Iraq for that matter? The fact that this unspeakable act was captured on video, soundtrack and all, does not in any way preclude the probability that this was not the first time a non-Iraqi decided to pass the time by slaughtering innocent people.
An investigation into the substance of this video is onging.
Indeed, there is a substantial body of evidence to suggest that private security contractors in Iraq (who can simply be called mercenaries once we dispense with the euphemisms), who operate beyond any rules or controls, have often engaged in attacks upon Iraqi civilians. One such body of evidence is, in fact, a body.
His name was Ted Westhusing, and he was a colonel in the US Army. A scholar of military ethics and a full professor at West Point, Westhusing volunteered to serve in Iraq in 2004 because he believed the experience would help him teach his students the meaning of honor in uniform. Once in Iraq, he was tasked to oversee a private security company from Virginia called USIS, which had received a $79 million contract to train Iraqi police in special operations.
As the months passed, Westhusing's mood darkened. He received reports that USIS contractors and their Iraqi trainees were killing Iraqi civilians, and that USIS was ripping off the US government by deliberately shorting the number of trainees in the fold so as to increase profits. Westhusing the ethicist became despondent, finding no honor whatsoever in his Iraq service.
One day in June, Westhusing's body was found in a trailer with a bullet wound to the head. His service pistol was found beside him, along with a note. "I cannot support a mission that leads to corruption, human rights abuse and liars. I am sullied," the note read. "I came to serve honorably and feel dishonored. Death before being dishonored any more."
Westhusing's body was flown home to the United States, where it was greeted by his wife, Michelle, and an unidentified lieutenant colonel who had befriended Westhusing at West Point. The lieutenant colonel asked Michelle what had happened to her husband. She replied, simply, "Iraq."
An Army investigation into the allegations raised against USIS is ongoing.
Highly-paid mercenaries are not the only ones who are apparently indiscriminately killing Iraqi civilians. The New York Times editorial board, in an article titled 'Shake and Bake,' published on Tuesday, felt the need to scold the US military for using horrific chemical weapons in battle - weapons that reportedly have caused serious civilian casualties.
"White phosphorus, which dates to World War II, should have been banned generations ago," wrote the Times. "Packed into an artillery shell, it explodes over a battlefield in a white glare that can illuminate an enemy's positions. It also rains balls of flaming chemicals, which cling to anything they touch and burn until their oxygen supply is cut off. They can burn for hours inside a human body. But white phosphorus has made an ugly comeback. Italian television reported that American forces used it in Fallujah last year against insurgents."
"At first," continued the Times, "the Pentagon said the chemical had been used only to illuminate the battlefield, but had to backpedal when it turned out that one of the Army's own publications talked about using white phosphorus against insurgent positions, a practice well known enough to have one of those unsettling military nicknames: 'shake and bake.' The Pentagon says white phosphorus was never aimed at civilians, but there are lingering reports of civilian victims. The military can't say whether the reports are true and does not intend to investigate them, a decision we find difficult to comprehend."
The charges against Aegis have not been proven. The charges against USIS have not been proven. The charge that the US military aimed white phosphorous chemical weapons at civilians has not been proven. In each instance, however, the charges are supported by substantial evidence.
Journalist Seymour Hersh, in a recent New Yorker article titled 'Up In the Air,' described the administration's view of the spiraling madness taking place in Iraq. He recounts the comments of a former defense official who served in Bush's first term. According to Hersh, "'The President is more determined than ever to stay the course,'" the former defense official said. "'He doesn't feel any pain. Bush is a believer in the adage "People may suffer and die, but the Church advances."'"
"He said that the President had become more detached," continued Hersh, "leaving more issues to Karl Rove and Vice-President Cheney." "'They keep him in the gray world of religious idealism, where he wants to be anyway,'" the former defense official said. Bush's public appearances, for example, are generally scheduled in front of friendly audiences, most often at military bases. Four decades ago, President Lyndon Johnson, who was also confronted with an increasingly unpopular war, was limited to similar public forums. "'Johnson knew he was a prisoner in the White House,'" the former official said, "'but Bush has no idea.'"
We are all prisoners on this mystery train. God only knows where it will lead.
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.