Posted By Ahmed Abdullah
September 28, 2007
Iraqis are not just suffering from daily bombings, kidnappings and shootings, they are also being lured into their deaths by a highly controversial U.S. tactic that has been exposed this week.
According to the Washington Post, U.S. snipers are ordered to lure Iraqis by scattering explosives and ammunition on the ground as “bait” and then kill whoever picks them up in an inhumane practice that has caused the deaths of a number of Iraqis who were subsequently classified as “enemy combatants” to falsely show the success of the U.S. troop “surge”.
The tactic was exposed in court documents related to murder charges against three American troops who are accused of planting incriminating evidence on Iraqi civilians they had killed.
"Baiting is putting an object out there that we know they will use, with the intention of destroying the enemy,” Captain Matthew Didier, the leader of an elite U.S. Army Ranger sniper scout platoon, said in a sworn statement published by the Washington Post.
"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."
Capt Didier, of the 1st Battalion 501st Infantry Regiment, said members of the U.S. military's Asymmetric Warfare Group visited his unit in January and given them “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."
According to the BBC, the Asymmetric Warfare Group grew out of a taskforce formed after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to develop methods to reduce roadside bombs.
Within months of the introduction of the "baiting" program, three snipers from Capt Didier's platoon were charged with premeditated murder for using the “drop items” to cover up unprovoked shootings and make them appear legitimate.
Specialist Jorge Sandoval and Staff Sgt Michael Hensley are accused of placing a spool of wire -- sometimes used to detonate roadside bombs -- in the pocket of an Iraqi civilian who Spec. Sandoval killed on 27 April this year.
The third soldier, Sgt Evan Vela, is accused of shooting an Iraqi prisoner twice in the head with a 9mm pistol on the orders of Staff Sgt Hensley. The two soldiers told investigators that the man was carrying an AK-47 rifle, but their comrades have testified that the rifle was planted next to the detainee after the shooting.
In earlier testimony Pte David Petta said he believed that "classified" items were to be placed on people killed by the sniper unit "if we killed somebody that we knew was a bad guy but didn't have the evidence to show for it".
Curtis Carnahan, Spc Sandoval’s fathers, accuses the U.S. army of holding the proceedings in a war zone to try to minimise publicity. "I feel you can't prosecute our soldiers for acts of war and threaten them with years and years of confinement when this ["bait"] programme, if it comes to the light of day, was clearly coming from higher levels."
Defending the army, a U.S. military spokesman said: “We don't discuss specific methods of targeting enemy combatants. The accused are charged with murder and wrongfully placing weapons on the remains of Iraqi nationals. There are no classified programmes that authorise the murder of local nationals and the use of 'drop weapons' to make killings appear legally justified."
But an army official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of secrecy rules, told to AFP that “baits” such as detonation cords or blasting camps had been left by a number of units to lure Iraqis. "This is usually done in locations where people are looking to harm soldiers," he said.
Another top U.S. military source confirmed to The Independent that U.S. soldiers in Iraq use the baiting policy. “The guys picking them up are sometimes bad guys. But how do you know each time?” he asked.
James Ross, the legal and policy director of Human Rights Watch, said the dispersal of ammunition and explosives by U.S. occupation forces as a method of targeting fighters presents obvious human rights problems. “It seems to me that there are all sorts of reasons that civilians would want to pick up ammunition that is sitting on the ground," he said.
Calling for an immediate investigation of any baiting program, Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, criticised the policy as highly arbitrary. "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 in the Post article.