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Fighting with Prinpricks: Pentagon Corruption

Published: February 8, 2008
Section: Opinions


The website “Wikileaks” is less than 14 months old, but already it seems to have achieved a major success. The site is a sort of Wikipedia of leaked government and corporate documents. Its founders and contributors are anonymous, although Chinese dissidents are rumored to be among the creators. Since the sites focus is on corrupt and undemocratic non-aligned countries, some have speculated that the site is a CIA front aimed at discrediting enemies of the United States Government. Wikileaks publication last November of the Standard Operating Procedures for Camp Delta seems to have put those fears to rest.

On Monday, the site posted yet another US military document which piqued the interest of some in the anti-war movement. The document in question is the long secret Rules of Engagement for the U.S. military in Iraq. The document dates from 2005, but chances are it more or less resembles the current rules. The Rules of Engagement are already receiving media coverage in Europe and the Middle East and the New York Times, Washington Post, and Washington Times have all devoted articles to the revelation. This attention will likely widen in the coming days and weeks.

Among other regulations, the document specifies that “if [a] target is in a HIGH CD [high collateral damage] area, SECDEF [Secretary of Defense] approval is required.” HIGH CD is defined as an area with at least “a ten percent chance” of killing 30 or more non-combatants. Left-wing commentator Stephen Soldz jumped on the quote arguing that the Rules of Engagement “suggest that there may exist an extensive documentary record of requests, and possibly [former Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld’s approval or rejection, for attacks with the potential for resulting in significant civilian casualties.” In other words, there might be a treasure trove of documents proving that Donald Rumsfeld is a war criminal. Soldz suggests that Congress subpoena the documents and investigate that possibility. Unfortunately, these documents probably do not exist in the great numbers that Soldz and other anti-war activists imagine.

The reason for this is that although the Pentagon drafted these rules which required the Secretary of Defense to personally approve attacks which might reasonably kill 30 or more Iraqi civilians, the Pentagon also gets to decide which attacks might reasonably kill 30 or more Iraqi civilians. Picture this: a room full of war planners in a Virginia office building sit around a table and discuss whether or not bombing a particular building in Iraq will result in 30 or more civilian casualties. They consult experts who determine how much shrapnel will fly in which angles and consult outdated maps of the Iraqi population to determine the number of civilian dead. If our war planners determine that more than 30 civilians will die, they have an fascinating choice: either they take it to the boss and ask him to sign off, or they change some detail about the bombing (the angle at which the ordinance will be dropped or the type of bomb that will be used) and revise their figures lower and El Jefe never needs to know. I’m fairly certain that in most cases, war planners would choose the latter, meaning the extensive documentation pointing to Rumsfeld’s culpability would be non-existent.

Interestingly enough, the US military, as a matter of policy, never goes back and checks to see if their casualty estimates are correct. Indeed, in the rare cases where human rights organizations have tried to determine the accuracy of pentagon estimates they almost invariably find that the Defense Department’s estimates were low, which only compounds the problem mentioned above. One might assume on first reading the rules that there would exist a document with Rumsfeld’s signature for every attack in Iraq which killed more than 30 civilians. But since the Pentagon’s estimates are almost always low, and are often revised lower during the planning process, then very few US attacks would ever need high level approval.

All this confirms what we already know about the American military. Those at the top always maintain plausible deniability. The most powerful people in our government make sure that any aberrations can be attributed to a few weak links towards the bottom of the chain of command while they, the real perpetrators of war crimes in Iraq, get off scot-free.