Tuesday, May 30, 2006

One man's tragedy, a nation's shame

We have already posted on the developing story of the massacre conducted by US Marines in Iraq. Some of the Marines who witnessed what happened are now speaking out. One Marine, not involved tells a tragic story. Tragic for the people who were senselessly slaughtered by their "liberators" and tragic for this Marine himself.

He is Ryan Briones. Ryan was only 20 years old when he was in Haditha and what he saw has traumatised him and destroyed him emotionally. Perhaps the most outrageous thing about war is that old men by necessity force the killing on the very young. The recruiters use every under handed trick and form of intimidation to try and get high school kids to sign up. These are kids who wouldn't be allowed to sign a contract except to join the military. And with a few months of learning how to kill they are sent off to war. But no one can teach them how to live with killing. No one can teach them how to make sense out what is happening. No one can teach them to keep their wits about them when facing the disgusting and gruesome nature of a violent invasion. And the men who send these young men, far too young for the burdens placed upon them, sit in Washington giving deceptive press conferences, offering the world assurance that things are really going great and pretending to be concerned about the lives they are destroying.

Briones is now 21 years old and he is home. Life is not going well for him. He returned to the United States and fell apart emotionally. He came home and got smashing drunk. And when you understand his story you will understand why. Totally intoxicated he stole a pick up truck and crashed it into a house. He left the scene of the accident and when police tried to arrest him he resisted. He is out on bail. He is also a new member of Alcoholic Anonymous (maybe George Bush can be his sponsor after all George is responsible for Ryan being a member). He is seeing a physician for to deal with post-traumatic syndrome.

His mother had sent a letter to the local papers about the incident. She wrote: "My son saw what the Marines did, and he knew who did it before the Haditha investigations began. He saw the killings and knew who sent the word out to do the killings, he had to clean up the bodies of children who were sleeping in their beds and he saw his best friend die in front of his eyes."

When Ryan went to Haditha that day the first thing he saw was the body of his best friend blown apart in a road side bombing. And then he saw what his fellow Marines had done. He went into the homes of the victims and helped carry the bodies out. "They ranged from little babies to adult males and females. I'll never be able to get that out of my head. I can still smell the blood. This left something in my head and heart." He and another soldier were told to take pictures which he did.

He remembers carrying out the body of a young child, a small girl. He held his arms extended out holding her. He said she was shot in the head. Her small head bounced as he walked and bits of her brain fell out on his leg as he walked. His mother said that this incident haunted him. "He called me many times about carrying this little girl in his hands and her brains splattering on his boots. He'd say, 'Mom, I can't clean my boots. I can't clean my boots. I see her.' "

Ryan turned his camera in when he returned to base. He later returned for it saying that it had been moved and apparently the photos downloaded and the camera erased. He does not know what happened to his photos. Later he was shown photos that someone else had taken. This is a story that won't go away, Mr. Bush.

Ryan says: "I used to be one of those Marines who said that post-traumatic stress is a bunch of bull. But all this stuff that keeps going through my head is eating me up. I need immediate help."

A fish rots from the head down. When the White House condones torture, when it says that anything done to "fight the war on terror" is justified, it sends a message that lawlessness is justified. The Commander in Chief has told those he commands that fidelity to the principle of "innocent until proven guilty" is not longer necessary. And they have put this new principle into practice. They summarily found these civilians guilty. And they carried out the punishment without any of that messy division of government power much the way George Bush has justified his imperial presidency. The soldiers on the ground are still far too young to make the decisions that have been forced upon them. The men in the White House know what they are doing. The troops were following precedents established by Bush and his buddies. If they are put on trial then the Executive branch of the American government is being put on trial with them.

There is a scene in Ayn Rand's film The Fountainhead where Howard Rourke is about to face his verdict in a court of justice. The judge tells the accused to stand. Rourke stands. So does Gail Wynand. I shall not ruin the plot but suffice to say that if Rourke is found innocent Wynand knows it means he is guilty. And if Rourke is found guilty Wynand sees that an his exoneration. When there is finally a court of justice that investigates this massacre of the innocent and the young Marines are asked to stand to hear their verdict it would only be fit and proper for George Bush to be there. He should be standing next to them, shackled if they are, in a prison uniform if they are. And when they are asked to stand he should stand with them. And when they are sentenced he should receive the same justice. These young men can be put on trial for their lives.

If they are found guilty they can be executed for their crimes. Bush won't stand with them. He'll eventually stick his foot in his mouth and say something stupid or insincere or both. He'll retire and get some lucrative job with Halliburton or some other major company which lined it's pockets with the proceeds from this war. Bush will then spend his time doing nothing productive. Which is an improvement over the last six years where almost everything he did was destructive. And he'll work to put his brother in the White House so the fleecing of America can continue. Meanwhile there are more than a handful of young Americans having to live with the horrors that Bush inflicted on them.

Note: The photo is of Susie Briones, Ryan's mother, holding a photograph of her son.