The Washington Post reports:
A Pentagon group has encouraged some U.S. military snipers in Iraq to target suspected insurgents by scattering pieces of “bait,” such as detonation cords, plastic explosives and ammunition, and then killing Iraqis who pick up the items, according to military court documents.
The classified program was described in investigative documents related to recently filed murder charges against three snipers who are accused of planting evidence on Iraqis they killed.
“Baiting is putting an object out there that we know they will use, with the intention of destroying the enemy,” Capt. Matthew P. Didier, the leader of an elite sniper scout platoon attached to the 1st Battalion of the 501st Infantry Regiment, said in a sworn statement. “Basically, we would put an item out there and watch it. If someone found the item, picked it up and attempted to leave with the item, we would engage the individual as I saw this as a sign they would use the item against U.S. Forces.”
In documents obtained by The Washington Post from family members of the accused soldiers, Didier said members of the U.S. military’s Asymmetric Warfare Group visited his unit in January and later passed along ammunition boxes filled with the “drop items” to be used “to disrupt the AIF [Anti-Iraq Forces] attempts at harming Coalition Forces and give us the upper hand in a fight.”
Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, said such a baiting program should be examined “quite meticulously” because it raises troubling possibilities, such as what happens when civilians pick up the items.
“In a country that is awash in armaments and magazines and implements of war, if every time somebody picked up something that was potentially useful as a weapon, you might as well ask every Iraqi to walk around with a target on his back,” Fidell said.
Soldiers said that about a dozen platoon members were aware of the program, and that numerous others knew about the “drop items” but did not know their purpose. Two soldiers who had not been officially informed about the program came forward with allegations of wrongdoing after they learned they were going to be punished for falling asleep on a sniper mission, according to the documents.
Members of the sniper platoon have said they felt pressure from commanders to kill more insurgents because U.S. units in the area had taken heavy losses. The sniper unit — dubbed “the painted demons” because of the use of tiger-stripe face paint — often went on missions into hostile areas to intercept insurgents going to and from hidden weapons caches.
“It’s our job out here to lay people down who are doing bad things,” Spec. Joshua L. Michaud testified in Iraq in July, discussing the unit’s numerous casualties. “I don’t want to call it revenge, but we needed to find a way so that we could get the bad guys the right way and still maintain the right military things to do.”
Within months of the program’s introduction, three snipers in Didier’s platoon were charged with murder for allegedly using those items and others to make shootings seem legitimate. Though it does not appear that the three alleged shootings were specifically part of the classified program, defense attorneys argue that the program may have opened the door to the soldiers’ actions because it blurred the legal lines of killing in a complex war zone.
Now, much of this info comes from defense attorneys, and thus it may or may not be true. My own personal belief is that this program, or something very, very similar exists. War is not pretty and this doesn’t seem outlandish given some of the things we’ve already seen. That said, a few thoughts…
1. In my neighborhood – Silver Lake, about ten minutes by surface street from downtown LA, there are people who go by scavenging in garbage cans every day. There’s an elderly Japanese woman, a homeless Black man, and a few hardworking Central American guys who would be the first to have their heads blown off if something like this happened around here – assuming one of the kids didn’t get to it first.
2. I imagine most adults who saw a banana clip for an AK-47 on the street would pick it up. Of course, with a program like this going, they wouldn’t get the chance to call the cops in order to turn it in.
3. If a cop saw a banana clip for an AK-47 on the street, he/she would pick it up.
4. If there is any group of people even more likely than the average person or scavenger or cop or child to pick up a banana clip for an AK-47 they saw on the street, its an NRA member.
5. Iraq is awash with guns. As a result, everyone can use a banana clip for an AK-47, if for no other reason than putting it into the family’s AK-47 and using it to protect one’s family. (Aren’t we encouraging people to fight the insurgents and criminal gangs?)