Monday, April 25, 2011

Murder, Purpose and the State.

How to make tax-funded sadistic serial killers scarier.
By Michael Price

Once again I learn of brutal, tragic murders by US forces from Stefan Molyneux. Once again I am struck not just by the brutality, but the incompetence of the US forces. This might seem besides the point, it would be little comfort to the victim's relatives that they were murdered by people who could actually win wars. But in fact it is the key to a much darker, much more horrifying side of the story than Molyneux, or indeed anyone that I can find has detected.

It is well known that murdering people makes people want to kill you. Indeed blood-feuds were common in pretty much every ancient culture we know of and never stopped in some areas (Afghanistan in particular). An armed force that genuinely hopes to gain control of an area without exterminating it's inhabitants needs to minimise it's killing to avoid retaliation. Naturally armed opponents still need to be killed or at least run off, but killing civilians is VERY counter-productive. This is not just my view, it is official US counterinsurgency doctrine. No competent coalition officer would be ignorant of this. Yet such killings occurred in this unit and kept occurring for months, raising the anger at US forces and encouraging attacks. Further more the breakdown in discipline makes the whole unit much less effective at actually fighting. How can one explain such a lapse, not just in the morality of the troops but their effectiveness in what is allegedly the chief goal of the occupation, winning over the Afghans?

Several explanations are possible, firstly that such activities are so difficult to detect that dedicated officers simply weren't capable of curbing the violent impulses of the troops. However this explanation is wrong on two counts. Firstly the criminals weren't hard to detect, they were known to everyone with remarkable speed. Suspicions were raised possibly before the first victim was even dead and they openly showed signs of exactly the behaviour they were subsequently found guilty of. Secondly officers made little or no effort to determine if these soldiers were murdering civilians even when they had good reason to suspect them. They did have suspicions from the very start of the killing spree, yet the officer's first act was to ensure one source of information, the first victim, was destroyed.

There was no attempt to search for other evidence, for instance the pin and spoon of the grenade the victim was supposed to have thrown. Significantly the murderers knew to conceal these as they were US issue and might have pointed to their own guilt. But their absence was scarcely less incriminating. The pin on a grenade keeps the “spoon”, a spring-loaded lever, in the safe position. If not held by the pin, the throwers hand or some obstacle the spoon revolves away from the body of the grenade and then completely separates from it. The spoon is normally released either before the weapon is thrown (if you wish to shorten the time between throwing and detonation) or as it is. In the former case you would expect it to be fairly close to the original throwing point, in the later further towards the target but probably still close. In neither case should a metal object be hard to find with metal detectors. Yet no attempt was made to do this, despite Afghanistan being notorious for mines and other traps.

When suspicions were raised officers didn't seem to take even the most basic steps to find the truth. At the scene a village elder accused Morlock of throwing the grenade. The obvious response would be to ask Morlock how many grenades he had checked out and how many he had now. A discrepancy would be obvious evidence of wrongdoing. Officers have every reason in the US army to keep track of grenades, as they can be used to kill them without leaving forensic evidence. Killing one's commanding officer during Vietnam was called “fragging” (after “fragmentation grenade”) for a reason. Another would be to ask him where he was when the grenade exploded and to search the area for the spoon and pin, exactly what Morlock anticipated when he was “careful not to leave the grenade's spoon and pin on the ground”. Which leads to the question, where did he leave them? The obvious answer is on him, in a pocket or in his webbing. This means that at the very start a suspicious officer could have searched the murderer and found part of the murder weapon on him. You don't have to be CSI-qualified to make a conclusion from there.

So why didn't he? One explanation is that he's bad at his job, which is controlling his men in such a way that they both say within the approved methods of war and achieve their strategic objectives. However nothing bad seemed to happen to the officers in charge of these men, even those who knew about the killings don't seem to have suffered. They haven't even lost out on promotions. The obvious answer is his job and that of other officers isn't to wage war within approved methods of war and achieve the strategic objectives. In fact their job isn't to do either.

If they wanted to achieve their strategic objectives they would eliminate soldiers under their command who went around murdering people and thus undermining everything the US government is (supposedly) trying to achieve. And by “eliminate” I don't necessarily mean try or transfer, the odd “coordinate mistake” with the artillery will work just as well. Even better if the troops suspect the truth. If the troops can be intimidated to cover up a murder of an innocent they can certainly be intimidated into not talking about the execution of said murders. Particularly since the executioners control their deployment and whether they get reinforced. Even if the leadership aren't prepared to treat their troops that badly* they could still mount courts martial against the suspects and make it clear that anyone even thinking of doing this is in for hell on earth.

Obviously if they were trying to wage war within approved methods they weren't trying that hard.

So what was the job of these officers? What were they in Afghanistan to do if not to achieve the strategic objectives of their masters and thereby the political objectives of their master's masters? Well they were in Afghanistan to be in Afghanistan. “We're here because we're here because we're here because we're here” as the old song goes. The purpose of the killing (both “legitimate” and “illegitimate”) is to persuade the ones with the purse-strings that killing needs to be done. Their function is propaganda, not on behalf of the state, but on behalf of the armed forces in general and the army in particular. This propaganda is aimed not just at the people of the United States but at the United States Government itself. They are their to convince politicians that a force capable of action such as they take is needed. In this context, the murders and the official response to it make perfect sense. The more killing the more it looks like they are facing great opposition and therefore the more justified their presence is. The only problem was that the “kill-team” (a grandiose title for a “team” that would have been useless in a firefight) couldn't keep their mouth shut and eventually told someone who had no reason to be loyal to them.

* note the troops that aren't murdering people actually benefit from such a brutal regime towards murders, it reduces murder of civilians which reduces retaliation attacks which makes them safer.