See No Evil

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

The heavily armed, trained killer was “under stress” when he raped, then murdered a 14-year-old girl and tried to burn her body, after having murdered her parents and 7-year-old sister.

“He’s my Steve. You can’t stop loving someone.”

Here are the two poles of our existence, the human condition stretched between them, as taut as it can go, perhaps. How do we embrace a crime such as this — we, as Americans, who underwrote it? We want to push the accused into the deepest corner of our forgetting, but we can’t quite do so.

The aunt, who attended the recent trial of former Pfc. Steven Green, at a civil court in Paducah, Ky., still loves this boy and told reporters, after his sentence to life in prison without parole, “We did not send a rapist and murderer to Iraq.”

And I believe her.

I believe her without minimizing the crime, without blocking my ears to the wailing remorse of the surviving family members who traveled from Iraq to witness the trial and testify at the “impact hearing” and who wanted Green to get the death penalty. And I believe her in spite of the media’s stalled impasse of consensus expertise that explains and dismisses the actions of Green and two fellow GIs, James P. Barker and Paul Cortez, on March 12, 2006, in the village of Mahmoudiya, as further examples of the stress our soldiers are under in Iraq and Afghanistan. These are bad places. They lost it, y’know?

To my mind, such locked-in know-nothingism, such refusal to make obvious connections, makes the mainstream U.S. media fully complicit in the conspiracy to evade, indeed, shatter the whole concept of, responsibility for the consequences of our wars of conquest and occupation.

These wars, or the fomenting of the precondition that makes them possible — the dehumanization of whole nationalities — are in and of themselves the problem: They are the disease. Green’s crimes, and all the other propaganda embarrassments for which low-ranking scapegoats have been publicly chastised, are the symptoms. How many symptoms do we need before we dare address the underlying condition, which infects all of us?

The crime for which Green, Barker and Cortez have all been convicted — and the only crime involving U.S. soldiers killing Iraqis that has resulted in more than a slap on the wrist or outright dismissal of charges — is unbearable in its details. The three drunkenly conspired one day to rape and murder Abeer Qassim al-Janabi, a young woman who passed regularly through the checkpoint they guarded. They forced their way into her house; Green killed her mother, father and sister, then participated in the gang-rape of the 14-year-old, after which he shot her in the head, then set fire to her body.

The plan was to burn the house down and blame the insurgents, and it almost succeeded. That scenario would have suited the Army just fine, but the truth leaked out and trials and convictions — a.k.a., damage control — became necessary. Yet I insist that this case is not closed.

We must look at it in the context of all the other symptoms suddenly manifesting. These include: 1. The shootings at the mental health clinic in Baghdad, by an Army sergeant on his third tour of duty, in which five people died. 2. The surfacing of more Abu Ghraib torture photos, which military people have dissuaded President Obama from releasing because of their alleged graphic depiction of rape and other brutal activities that are likely to enflame anti-Americanism in the Middle East. 3. The soaring military suicide rates and the recent three-day suicide stand down at Fort Campbell, Ky., in response to 11 suicides at the base in 2009.

The larger context, of course, includes the deaths of uncounted thousands — likely hundreds of thousands — of Iraqi, Afghan and, now, Pakistani civilians — by U.S. and allied bombs and missiles; the night raids and general reign of terror in occupied Iraq, in which military-age males (MAMs, in Army acronym-speak) were frequently rounded up en masse and shipped off to detention centers; the toxic devastation that follows in the wake of our bombings, and the soaring rates of cancer, birth defects and neurological illnesses these toxins cause, affecting American troops as well as local civilians.

The context also includes the training that our troops, including Steven Green, received before deployment: e.g., hours of bayonet training (“Kill! Kill!”) which has zero combat usefulness in the war on terror, but serves to desensitize the troops and inculcate a monstrous contempt for the people whose country they will occupy.

“We did not send a rapist and murderer to Iraq,” said Patty Ruth, Steven Green’s aunt.

And Green himself, in the statement he released after his conviction, said: “I see now that war is intrinsically evil, because killing is intrinsically evil. And I am sorry I ever had anything to do with either.”

Then the door closes and the lock snaps shut on the killer and his newfound, too-late wisdom.