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They Legalised Murder
Matt Howard from Iraq Veterans Against The War (left in picture) is in Australia at the moment speaking out about his involvement in the Iraq war. A public meeting was held at Melbourne University on Thursday 23rd August to hear Matt discuss his experiences of the war and the US military, with question time afterwards.
The meeting was held by Unity For Peace, who tried to get Matt Howard’s visit covered by the major newspapers. Unfortunately, the print media showed no interest in this compelling story. Except for ABC radio.
Professor Gerry Simpson, who has just published a book called Law, War and Crime, introduced Matt’s talk by discussing what he sees as the twin paradigms of the war in Iraq. On the one hand we have those who see war as the answer, UN or no UN. And then there is another group who are committed to the rule of law.
Professor Simpson reminded us that all the architects of the war will soon be out of office. Blair is gone, Bush is going, and Howard’s future doesn’t look so crash hot. What path will the new leaders travel, by the rule of law, or will they choose unruly war?
Matt Howard looks very much like your average college student. He’s young, doesn’t look a day over twenty-five, sports a spiffy pair of glasses and wears a baseball cap. He’s the casual young type you always see on a tram or a bike up Swanston Street on the way to a lecture at Melbourne Uni. The only difference is he’s seen the horrors of war. I don’t know Matt Howard, but after having heard him talk about his experiences, I wish he hadn’t seen what he’d seen.
During the talk he looked down a lot, and he spoke in a halted and troubled voice. You wondered if he was going to break down at any minute as he described scenes that belonged in Picasso’s Guernica.
It was frustrating, we were told, to have the US media always frame the war in Iraq in a certain light, describing the war as a failure, a mistake, a series of miscalculations, an unfortunate blunder, ‘as if this somehow implies that had we done it right then everything would be okay’.
But this type of thinking is wrong, and that even had the US gone in, ousted Saddam Hussein, and left, the war would still be immoral.
Howard’s descriptions of the way the US military operates are probably the most chilling. So called rules of engagement are thrown out the window once you are involved in battle in a foreign country, where even innocent children are considered the enemy. The fighting was more or less one sided, heavy handed, and all coming from the US services.
‘They changed the rules of engagement, they legalised murder. Usually we operate under strict guidelines.’ Yet Howard was advised that he could fire on unarmed people. Or to summarise the ethos that prevailed amongst marines, ‘If it moves, you fire on it.’
‘It was how we conducted ourselves during that initial push to Baghdad that set the tone, that laid the ground work for four years of brutal occupation. It was instantly apparent to myself that this war had nothing to do with liberation and everything to do with subjugation and domination of the Iraqi people.’
Matt Howard knew he was not there to help the people of Iraq because one of the first missions he was assigned once Bagdad had been won was to secure the oil fields. This operation was called Operation Crown Jewel.
The idea behind this operation was the overriding ethos of his whole time in Iraq, the former marine maintains.
Describing the aftermath of a battle, Howard painted a gruesome picture of men, women and children dead. ‘It was the most grotesque scene I had seen, up to that point in my life.’
We were also given a chilling description of US firepower:
‘I don’t think anybody in the public has any idea of the true fire power these weapons present. You know, a fifty calibre machine gun round doesn’t even need to hit you to kill you, it can pass a metre away and your stomach will be ripped up by the velocity of that round and you will be dead.’
Many marines showed their boredom by trashing everything in sight, and wanting to shoot for thrills. 'The mentality was to destroy anything and everything.’
‘We just wanna get some,’ was a common refrain amongst those serving in Iraq.
Amazingly, the army didn’t even have any translators. When Howard asked about translators he was told, ‘What the hell do you need a translator for when you have an M16?’
‘That weapon proved to be the communication tool of choice for the US Marine Corps’
When providing food and water, humanitarian rations, to Iraqi children, his first sergeant told him not to distribute any more food. Eventually all of those supplies would have to be buried in the ground. When he took the issue up with his high commander he was told: ‘The top brass did not want to give the Iraqis the wrong impression about why we were there’
After the war, Howard moved to Canada to try and forget the war, but he found the more he tried to forget the more he couldn’t stop thinking about it. He headed back to the US and found the Iraq Veterans Against the War. This group, he claimed, saved his life.
Matt took questions for about half an hour after his speech, not nearly enough time to answer all the questions that were asked. How to end it all, how to end it all? was a common question. Our speaker didn’t really have a clue, besides the firm knowledge that it was the people themselves who had to stop our leaders.
The question still is, how do we do this?
Unity For Peace will be holding a public meeting titled Report Back From Apec on 13 September, 7pm, at Trades Hall. The Greens candidate for the seat of Melbourne, Adam Bandt, will be speaking.