Wednesday, November 17, 2004


suddenly the media is awash with cries of 'foul' as an American soldier is caught on-camera despatching an injured resistance-fighter in Fallujah.
ostensibly, we're being invited to witness the application of fairness in the struggle for the hearts and minds of the about-to-vote Iraqis. this occupying army, it says, is an honourable force that, like all organisations, contains one or two bad apples who taint the barrel of wholesomeness. look, it says, witness the speed of our reaction: within hours of the event taking place the soldier is suspended and withdrawn from front-line duties, several senior officers issue statements indicating that an enquiry will be initiated, and phrases like 'rules of engagement' and 'possible lapse of discipline' are repeated as if they referred to the rules of monopoly.
we are supposed to understand that the residents of this city of 500,000 souls - that's the same size as Edinburgh or Beirut - were given the option to evacuate before the Americans began their offensive. we are supposed to understand, therefore, that those who chose to remain must come under suspicion of leaning to the idea of resistance rather than acceptance. also, we are supposed to understand that this city had become the final redoubt of an intractable enemy - an Iraqi Masada - whence, once uprooted and neutralised, this evil seed of resistance would never henceforth trouble the peacemakers and the seekers after democracy.
so - you can't make an omelette...
the mosque may or may not have been being used as a centre of resistance. the injured fighters left inside it may or may not have been abandoned by their comrades and their bodies booby-trapped. they may or may not have already been examined by a previous patrol who left them to be picked up later, they being presently occupied with the more urgent matter of securing the next objective. this message may or may not have been relayed to the patrol that subsequently re-entered the mosque and re-discovered the injured men. the soldier who killed the unarmed injured man may or may not have had reason to suspect that he was booby-trapped.
none of this is relevant.
the cameraman who secured this footage for CNN was one Kevin Sites, formerly a 'so-jo' - a solo freelance journalist - who has been reporting from war-zones for the last three or four years - formerly in Afghanistan, now in Iraq. depending on how you look at it, you may perceive him either as a heroic witness to events as he sees them or as a foolhardy egoist who recognises that in times of war, the war-journalist becomes a pander to some dark, base appetites indeed, and that in a war such as this one, where the originating illegitimacy has swiftly been forgotten in the selective illuminations of triumphalism, the market for war-porn becomes fabulously bullish.
his reports - regularly blogged with spectacular success at until his employers - CNN and NBC - insisted that he desist from giving away what they were paying him for - aspire to Hemingway and Gelhorn, and read like a movie script. he is handsome and crop-bearded and long-haired. his preferred headgear - he eschews the battle-helmet - is, naturally, the bandana. he holds his camera as if it were an AK-47. his sights are clearly focussed on one target - the Pullitzer prize. in the movie proper, he'll be played by Willem Dafoe.
meanwhile, he's after a scoop, and, limited though those opportunities are within the strictures of being 'embedded', he seems to have succeeded. on-camera, he's caught a soldier shooting an unarmed and injured man in cold blood.
credit where it's due - the military, thinking fast on their feet, very quickly recognised the value of a damage-limiting loss-leader. in a situation such as Fallujah - an ongoing massacre - it's far better, from their point of view, that the world's eyes should be focussed on this one single supposed infringement of the rules of war (that phrase sticks in the craw) and their own properly righteous reaction to it than on what's really going on - which, given their record so far into this war, is all too imaginable.
so everyone's happy (apart from the arab world): kevin's happy - he got the scoop that secures his reputation, the media's happy - they get the horror-footage that secures viewers and readers, the army's happy - they get a PR gift, Red America's happy - they get confirmation that all's going down as it should in Ey-raq, and Blue America's happy - they get confirmation that the appropriate checks and balances are in place.

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