Sunday, July 30, 2006

Lebanon: Qana Deja-Vu

An unfortunate attribute of conducting war from the air is it's a lot harder to verify that your target is your enemy....

Ten years ago, in April 1996, Israel was pursuing Operation Grapes of Wrath in Lebanon against Hizballah targets. After announcements from the Israel Defense Force telling residents of several South Lebanon towns to flee, about 800 residents of Qana took shelter at a Fijian UNFIL camp near Qana. In a horrific miscalculation, Israeli artillery shelled the UNFIL compound, killing over 100 innocent civilians (including many women and children), seriously injuring another hundred, and seriously injured four Fijian troops serving at the UN post. The resulting public outcry, especially within Israel, brought Operation Grapes of Wrath to a screeching and premature halt.

Now, ten years later, Israel is again running a major campaign against Hizballah, and just this morning, we have another tragic targeting decision regarding the town of Qana, as described by Haaretz:

At least 54 Lebanese citizens were killed, at least 37 of them children, in the IAF strike on a building early Sunday, Lebanese police said. Dozens of others were reportedly trapped in the rubble. Several houses collapsed and a three-story building where about 100 civilians were sheltering was destroyed, witnesses and rescue workers said.
Here is a link to several photographs of the aftermath of the Qana bombing.

Like 1996, the Israeli government quickly issued a statement of "deep regret" about the bombing, and promising an investigation.

It will be interesting to see how the reaction to this incident plays out within Israel, and in the United States. Already, Condoleezza Rice has stated that it is time for a cease-fire, and has remained in Israel to negotiate this with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The key, however, will be the public reaction within Israel. Israel is a democracy, and images of dozens of dead children being pulled from the rubble of a building destroyed by an Israeli bomb will not likely be well received there. As for the reaction within Israel and its supporters, an interesting sampling can be found in the comments section of the Haaretz article about the incident. Some of the most disgusted-sounding comments there were posted by Israelis and Jews. Here are some excerpts:

Title: The end of the war
Name: McR of Tlv City: Tel Aviv State: Israel

This is the end of the war

Title:practically ashamed to be pro-Israel
How can Israelis seriously ask those of us who have traditionally supported them--politically, financially, intellectually--to go on defending this kind of crap?The attacks on Lebanon have now become a disaster of the first order. One that could have been avoided.Hizbollah wanted Israel to react this way... and sadly, Israelis were eager to oblige. Israel has grossly over-reacted, perpetuated the crisis, failed to defeat Hizbollah (indeed, Israel may have greatly strengthened the hand of Hizbollah/Syria/Iran in the region), it has appeared intransigent & unimaginative in the eyes of the world, it has caused a major humanitarian disaster (for everyone to see)... and as a result, Israel has caused a considerable number of its supporters abroad to reassess their unflinching defense of Israeli policy.I`ll always be pro-Israel, in my heart. But I simply refuse to *let my voice be heard* defending this mindless, myopic, self-defeating reaction any longer. G-d help you, Israel.


Title: Disgusted Jew
Disgusting. Savage. Barbaric. Those are the words to describe the Israeli government today.Never again will I speak out in defense of Israel.Never again will I cringe when people call us murderers and terrorists.Never again will I donate a penny to any pro-Israel organization.You want to act like animals, do it on your own and stop demanding money and help from good Jews around the world that don`t want to be tainted with your disgusting actions.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Lebanon: waiting for the other shoe to drop

I've been watching the news over the past few days with mixed feelings. On one side, I feel the Israeli reaction to the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was a major overreaction: rather like swatting a fly with a sledgehammer or killing an ant with a 155mm howitzer. Israel should realize that Hamas and the Palestinian people do not speak with one voice, and the Palestinian cabinet ministers they took prisoner and the people who work in the offices they bombed likely had no advance knowledge of the assault.

On the other hand, I do think Israel's response to the attack from Lebanon has thus far been fairly restrained. I was alarmed last week when I first heard the rhretoric from Israeli politicians threatening to "turn back the clock 20 years in Lebanon", but I am glad that the attacks in Lebanon thus far have exercised a lot more restraint than this:

  • The attacks on Beirut's airport punched holes in the runway and took out the fuel depot. The apparent goals of these attacks were to prevent Hizballah from resupplying, and to prevent Hisballah from transporting the two captured soldiers outside Lebanon - since according to news reports, Israel had intelligence that Hizballah was planning to transport the captured soldiers to Iran. Punching holes in the runways and blowing up the fuel depots effectively shut down the airport, but are the least expensive components to repair (certainly less expensive than if they'd bombed the terminal).
  • The attacks on Beirut's airport appear to have been done using precision munitions that prevented damage to more expensive items there: the terminals, and various commercial aircraft sitting on the tarmac. Consider this picture below (source): note the holes punched in the runways, but the undamaged $150 million terminal building and the undamaged aircraft owned by various airlines (each of which are worth tens of millions of dollars), and undamaged houses beside the airport.

  • The bombing of an airport runway on a Lebanese military base seems to have been for the same purpose.
  • The bombing of bridges and the road from Syria to Lebanon seemed a continuation of the dual goals of preventing Hizballah from resupplying, and to prevent them from transporting the captive soldiers out of the country.
  • From news reports, the bombings in Lebanon have been concentrated in Hizballah strongholds, including Hizballah buildings in southern Beirut.

Israelis should be intelligent enough to realize that Lebanon is not their real enemy here. The enemy is Hizballah. Hizballah is like a cancerous tumor that has grown within Lebanon for the past few decades. Like other tumors, Hizballah may be contained within the victim, and may be made up from parts of its victim, but does not act in the interests of the victim. And, like other tumors, Hizballah may lie benign for many years, and suddenly turn malignant, as it seems to have now. Like other cancer victims, many in Lebanon may wish for Hizballah to be gone, but have thus far been unable to effect this desire.

Despite the initial rhetoric of the Israeli government against Lebanon, they seem to have realized that Lebanon is not their true enemy. The fact that Israeli officials have not repeated the "turn the clock back" rhetoric, and that Israel has not escalated to a wholesale destruction of Lebanese infrastructure (electrical grid, etc.) supports this suggestion.

Perhaps Israeli officials have realized that Hizballah's support comes more from the Syrian and Iranian government than from the Lebanese government. When Iranian-made rockets land in Haifa, it is logical to wonder how Hizballah got these advanced rockets to begin with. Likewise, when it is learned that Hizballah is using Syrian ammunition to attack Israel, Syria becomes implicated. And, when Israel has intelligence suggesting that Hizballah is planning to fly its captured soldiers to Iran, this strongly suggests the collusion of elements of the Iranian government.

Knowing this, one must wonder when the next shoe will drop in this fight. If Israel knows that Iran and Syria were behind Hizballah's attack on its territory, will they be content to sit idly by and pretend that they were not involved? This does not seem like Israel's style. Instead, I would expect Israel's attack on Syria and Iran to be fierce, and to be delivered with much less restraint than was exercised in Lebanon. Why hasn't Israel given any hint of this so far? Perhaps they are adhering to the words of the famed Chinese general Sun Tzu:

All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him. If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected. These military devices, leading to victory, must not be divulged beforehand.
Sun Tzu: "The Art of War"

If I were living in Syria or Iran right now, I would be worried. Very worried...

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Hisballah: Baiting the Hook

Earlier today, Hisballah operatives from southern Lebanon crossed into northern Israel, killing three Israeli soldiers and taking two as prisoner. Israel reacted quickly, launching airstrikes against bridges and other infrastructure in southern Lebanon, and sending Israeli troops into Lebanon in search of the captured soldiers. Israeli army chief Lt. Gen Dan Halutz was quoted as threatening to "turn back the clock in Lebanon 20 years" if the soldiers are not released.

The capturing of these Israeli soldiers seems to me like Hizballah baiting the hook. Over the past several days, they've observed the disproportionate reaction Israel has had to Palestinian militants capturing one Israeli soldier. Hisballah leaders likely thought to themselves, "if they'd do all that over one soldier, one can imagine what they'd do if we captured two."

Hizballah has a few reasons for wanting to goad Israel into invading Lebanon: most notably, pulling Israel into a wider conflict with Syria, and perhaps Iran also. From Hizballah's perspective, the timing of such a conflict could not be much better:
  • Israel's closest ally, the United States, is already tied up in another conflict in Iraq.
  • Israel's forces are already involved in an incursion in the Gaza Strip.
  • Syria, Hizballah's major sponsor, was pressured to remove the bulk of its security forces from Lebanon just a year ago. Helping Lebanon fight off an Israeli incursion would provide Syria a convenient excuse to send its forces back in.
  • Iran, Syria's other major sponsor, has elected a hardline president who has been calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map" for months, and is perhaps looking for an opportunity to put his money where his mouth is.

Unfortunately, if Hizballah was baiting the hook this morning, Israel was biting it this afternoon, with its cabinet authorizing "severe" retaliation against Lebanon. In doing so, Israel is playing straight into Hizballah's plan.

Prospects for peace in that part of the Middle East are really not looking good tonight. I just hope this violence does not spiral into a more widespread conflict.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Idiot terrorist plot: New York tunnels

Yesterday, the New York Daily News broke a story about an al-Qaeda plot to detonate explosives in the Holland tunnel, the goal of which was to flood lower Manhattan with water, much like New Orleans was flooded after Hurricane Katrina.

An interesting idea, except for one major engineering problem: Manhattan is above the level of the Hudson River. The reason New Orleans was flooded when the levees were breached was because it is below the level of the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain. New York, on the other hand, does not need levees to protect it from the Hudson River - Manhattan is a natural island above the water level. Even if they succeeded in rupturing the tunnel wall, it would only cause flooding in the subway system - and nothing that could not be quickly fixed.

Another major engineering problem is the strength of the tunnels, and the amount of explosives this would require. The terrorists allegedly planned to bring explosives in backpacks onto a PATH train connecting New Jersey to New York City. When you realize that these explosives would need to not only rupture the train car, but would need to get through the concrete and steel-reinforced tunnel tube, and 40 feet of bedrock above, with the pressure of the river water pushing down on the bedrock and tunnel walls (and acting against the force of the explosive), you realize the amount of explosive needed to accomplish this task is monumental. And these guys were planning to carry this explosive onto the train in backpacks?

What a bunch of idiots....

Thursday, July 06, 2006

And I thought Haditha was bad... now comes Mahmoudiya (updated July 6)

Original Post (June 30)

Fresh news from the Washington Post today:

BEIJI, Iraq -- Five U.S. Army soldiers are being investigated for allegedly raping a young woman, then killing her and three members of her family in Iraq, a U.S. military official told The Associated Press on Friday.

The soldiers also allegedly burned the body of the woman they are accused of raping.

Maj. Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of coalition troops in Baghdad, had ordered a criminal investigation into the alleged killing of a family of four in Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad, the U.S. command said. It did not elaborate.


The killings appeared to have been a "crime of opportunity," the official said. The soldiers had not been attacked by insurgents but had noticed the woman on previous patrols.

Absolutely disgusting.... words cannot express the revulsion we should feel at a crime like this.

Update (July 1)

The Washington Post published a new article today on the alleged rape and murder in Mahmoudiya, which gives a bit more insight into the incident. Some excerpts:

Mahmudiyah police Capt. Maaly Hassan Felayh said the killings in March took place in a rural neighborhood called Stream Three, three miles south of the town center.


Another local resident, Sadeq Muhammed al-Janabi, a farmer, said the woman who was raped and killed was an elementary school teacher.

The Associated Press issued a report that provided some additional details:

The Americans entered the Sunni Arab's family home, separated three males from the woman, raped her and burned her body using a flammable liquid in a cover-up attempt, a military official close to the investigation said. The three males were also slain.

The soldiers had studied their victims for about a week and the attack was ``totally premeditated,'' the official said on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing. The family had just moved into the home in the insurgent-riddled area around Mahmoudiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad.

Australia's Herald Sun had some additional details:

In Baghdad, the US military issued a sparse statement, saying only that a criminal investigation had been ordered into the alleged slaying of a family of four in Mahmoudiya, 30km south of Baghdad.

According to a senior US Army official, the incident was revealed by a soldier during a routine counselling-type session. That soldier did not witness the incident, but heard about it.

A second soldier, who also was not involved, said he overheard soldiers conspiring to commit the crimes and later saw bloodstains on their clothes, the official said.

One other disturbing detail: one of the three males who were allegedly killed was a child.

The news coverage of this incident is just starting to build momentum. We still do not know the woman's name, or the names of her family members who were killed, and we have not seen pictures of them. I expect these details will start to come out in the next few days as the news media continues to investigate this incident.

Update (July 3, 12 noon):

The Washington Post published more details about the case today. The rape victim was a 15 year old girl named Abeer Qasim Hamza. Here are a few excerpts from the Washington Post article:

BAGHDAD, July 2 -- Fifteen-year-old Abeer Qasim Hamza was afraid, her mother confided in a neighbor.

As pretty as she was young, the girl had attracted the unwelcome attention of U.S. soldiers manning a checkpoint that the girl had to pass through almost daily in their village in the south-central city of Mahmudiyah, her mother told the neighbor.

Abeer told her mother again and again in her last days that the soldiers had made advances toward her, a neighbor, Omar Janabi, said this weekend, recounting a conversation he said he had with the girl's mother, Fakhriyah, on March 10.


Before leaving, the attackers fatally shot the four family members -- two of Abeer's brothers had been away at school -- and attempted to set Abeer's body on fire, according to Janabi, another neighbor who spoke on condition of anonymity, the mayor of Mahmudiyah and a hospital administrator with knowledge of the case.


Janabi was one of the first people to arrive at the house after the attack, he said Saturday, speaking to a Washington Post special correspondent at the home of local tribal leaders. He said he found Abeer sprawled dead in a corner, her hair and a pillow next to her consumed by fire, and her dress pushed up to her neck.

"I was sure from the first glance that she had been raped," he said.


Death certificates viewed Sunday at the Mahmudiyah hospital identified the victims as Fakhriyah Taha Muhsin, 34, killed by gunshots to her head; Qasim Hamza Raheem, 45, whose head was "smashed" by bullets; Hadeel Qasim Hamza, 7, Abeer's sister, shot; and Abeer, shot in the head. Abeer's body also showed burns, the death certificate noted.

On a separate note, the Associated Press reported today that a former soldier was charged in US District Court with rape and murder. Here is an excerpt from CNN:

(AP) -- An Army veteran of the fighting in Iraq has been charged in federal court in Charlotte, North Carolina, with murder and rape in a March 12 attack on an Iraqi family.

Steven Green, who has been discharged from the Army, was arrested in recent days in North Carolina, two federal law enforcement officials said Monday.

The fact that this case has progressed so quickly, and that charges have already been filed just a week into the investigation, suggests that the evidence here is very strong.

Update (July 3, 4 PM):

The Associated Press has released a few more details:

Steven D. Green, a 21-year-old former Army private first class who was recently discharged because of a "personality disorder," appeared in a federal magistrate's courtroom in Charlotte Monday.


Prosecutors said Green and others entered the home of a family of Iraqi civilians, where Green shot the three relatives, and he and another soldier raped the woman and killed her. According to an accompanying affidavit, photos taken by Army investigators in March showed a burned body of "what appears to be a woman with blankets thrown over her upper torso."

FBI agents arrested Green on Friday in Marion, N.C. He is being held in Charlotte without bond pending a transfer to Louisville, Ky.

The case is being handled by federal prosecutors there because Green, who served 11 months with the 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell, Ky., is no longer in the military. According to an affidavit filed with the criminal complaint, he was given an honorable discharge "before this incident came to light. Green was discharged due to a personality disorder."

He faces a possible death sentence if convicted of murder.


According to the affidavit's account, the soldiers changed their clothes before going to the woman's residence to avoid detection. Once there, the affidavit said, Green took three members of the family _ an adult male and female, and a girl estimated to be 5 years old _ into a bedroom, after which shots were heard from inside.

"Green came to the bedroom door and told everyone, 'I just killed them. All are dead,'" the affidavit said.

The affidavit is based on interviews conducted by the FBI and investigators at Fort Campbell with three unidentified soldiers assigned to Green's platoon. One of the soldiers said he witnessed another soldier and Green rape the woman.

"After the rape, (the soldier) witnessed Green shoot the woman in the head two to three times," the affidavit said.

Update (July 3, 5 PM):

Here is a picture of Steven D. Green (center) the accused ringleader of this rape/murder being escorted from the US Federal Courthouse in Charlotte after his first court appearance today:

Photo: Patrick Schneider of the Charlotte Observer

The Charlotte Observer adds a few other interesting details about Steven Green:

He was due to return a rental car in Fort Campbell over the weekend. Records show he is registered to vote in Midland, Texas.Green was arrested and charged by civilian authorities because he's no longer in the Army, but he could be reinstated into the service and tried in a military court, an Army spokesman said.

Update (July 3, 8 PM):

Here is a link to the the 10 page long criminal complaint, filed on Friday in US District Court in the Western District of Kentucky, against Steven D. Green. In this complaint, Green is charged with violations against Title 18 of the United States Code, sections 7 (Special Maritime & Territorial Jurisdiction), 1111 (Murder), 2241 (Aggravated Sexual Abuse), and 3261(a)(2) (Criminal Offenses by Certain Members of the Armed Forces).

The criminal complaint is quite disturbing to read. According to this complaint, Green and three other soldiers plotted the rape for a week. They changed into dark clothing so as not to be seen. After arriving at the house, Green first took three members of the victim's family (her mother, father, and little sister) into a room, closed the door, and shot them dead with an AK47 the men found in the house. Then, Green and one other soldier raped the woman, and after they were done, Green took the same AK47 and shot her in the head. After returning to the base, the men removed their blood-stained clothing and burned it.

The criminal complaint has a few differences versus the Washington Post investigation. The number and sex of the victims are the same in both accounts, however the criminal complaint estimates the rape victim's age as 25 years old (while the Post investigation has her as a 15 year old girl). It is important to note that the criminal complaint estimates the victim's age, based on the appearance of her partially burned body as seen in pictures from the crime scene. It is quite feasible that one could mistake the body of a 15 year old girl in that condition as being 25 years old. It is also important to realize that the FBI did not know the identity of the victims when the complaint was released - this only came to light today with the Washington Post article.

I wonder if any additional charges will be added as a result of the victim's young age, now that her identity is known.

Update (July 6):

The LA Times published a report today, titled In Cold Blood: Iraqi Tells of Massacre at Farmhouse. In the article, they interviewed Abu Firas Janabi, a cousin of Abeer's mother Fakhriya. Janabi described the family as simple subsistence farmers making their living off a small plot of land, and that Abeer, like many peasant girls her age, was not in school and seldom left the house.

Janabi and his wife were the first on the scene after the murders, as described in this excerpt:

"Never in my mind could I have imagined such a gruesome sight," Abu Firas Janabi said of the day in March when his cousin, Fakhriya Taha Muhsen; her husband, Kasim Hamza Rasheed; and their two daughters were slain and their farmhouse set ablaze.

"Kasim's corpse was in the corner of the room, and his head was smashed into pieces," he said. The 5-year-old daughter, Hadel, was beside her father, and Janabi said he could see that Fakhriya's arms had been broken.

In another room, he found 15-year-old Abeer, naked and burned, with her head smashed in "by a concrete block or a piece of iron."

"There were burns from the bottom of her stomach to the end of her body, except for her feet," he said.

"I did not believe what I was seeing. I tried to fool myself into believing I was in a dream. But the problem was that we were not dreaming. We put a piece of cloth over her body. Then I left the house together with my wife."

Janabi also accompanied Abeer's two surviving brothers (who were at school that day) to the US Army base in Mahmoudiya to visit a high-ranking US Army officer who had wanted to express his condolances:

The investigator told him that a high-ranking U.S. officer wished to pay his condolences to the family. The next day, he brought Fakhriya's cousin, Mohammed, to the base along with the two boys to meet the commander.

"He hugged the children and kissed them several times," Janabi said. "It was hard for him to control his tears."

One of the more interesting quotes in the article is this one:

Janabi said he learned of the inquiry involving the soldiers last week, and an American investigator asked him to tell his side of the story.

"He was saying that he wants to find out the truth," Janabi said. "I told him I didn't want any money or compensation. The most important thing is that the criminal must be punished in a punishment in the same level of the crime he committed. He must not be imprisoned for four to six months and that is all."

I don't think Janabi has to worry about anyone getting off with a slap on the wrist in this case. From these allegations, Steven D. Green is perhaps the best example in a long time of why certain crimes carry the death penalty here.