Moving Targets

Erasing Zarqawi

This week on War News Radio, we take a look at the effects of targeted killings and at the ethics behind them. How has the U.S. policy of targeting enemy leaders played out in Iraq and elsewhere? Listen now to Duncan Gromko’s report.

Then, in Part Two of our series on looted Iraqi artifacts, we learn that trading the priceless relics is not just a risky business; for some it can mean life or death. Listen now to the extended report from Hansi Lo Wang and Shelley Salant.

Finally, we get an update on the events of this week’s Armed Services Committee Hearings on Guantanamo Military Commissions and on what they could mean for detainee rights. Listen now to Amelia Templeton’s report.

These stories, plus the week’s news, from War News Radio.

Listen to the whole show:

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EVA BARBONI: i’m eva barboni

JOHN WILLIAMS: and I’m john williams


If you watch Al-Jazeera or monitor the arabic language internet sites, you will find that this war in Iraq and the collatoral damage that it has caused has been nothing less than a godsend to al-qaeda.

EVA BARBONI: This week on War News Radio: targeted killings; are some of our tactics in Iraq backfiring?

JOHN WILLIAMS: We’ll also hear part 2 of our look into the black market in artifacts from Iraq.

EVA BARBONI: Finally, a direct report from Washington on this week’s armed services committee hearings on Guantanamo military commissions.

JOHN WILLIAMS: But first, a roundup of this week’s news.

EVA BARBONI: In the midst of violence in Israel, the Gaza strip, and Lebanon, Iraq appeared to move closer to all-out civil war this week. On Sunday, Shi’a militiamen massacred Sunni civilians in the al-jihad district of Baghdad, igniting a new round of reprisal killings, which have claimed upwards of 140 lives. We spoke with Phebe Marr, senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace and author of A Modern History of the Middle East, who explained why these recent developments have been particularly disturbing.


it has morphed into ethnic and sectarian warfare, strife, violence. To my experience, something i’ve never seen in iraq in its modern history.

JOHN WILLIAMS: Rumor has it that Muqtada Al-Sadr’s Mahdi army has been at the center of the recent sectarian violence, though they have denied any involvement. Marr fears that this surge in attacks is coming from a new kind of assailant with no intention of striking coalition forces.


it also seems to be, in some cases, individual, groups and individuals waylaying people depending on whether they’re sunni or shi’a, even going into their homes, and targeting people specifically because they are the other sect.

EVA BARBONI: Some of these groups have even started setting up temporary “check-points” where militants examine the IDs of civilians passing through and execute those who are from the wrong sect.

JOHN WILLIAMS: In response to the new tactic, many Iraqis are purchasing fake IDs in an attempt to hide their identities, using IDs with Shi’a names when passing through Shi’a checkpoints and Sunni names for Sunni-run checkpoints. But determining who’s running a given checkpoint isn’t always easy. Baghdad resident Walid describes the chaos created by the new terror tactic.

Ax: Some check points are fake checkpoints used by terrorists. You don’t know if this is true checkpoint or fake checkpoint.

EVA BARBONI: Iraqi government and U.S. military officials are scrambling to implement a plan to put an end to the killing. US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld paid a surprise visit to Baghdad on Wednesday to discuss the rise in sectarian violence. Rumsfeld blamed the conflicts on terrorists trying to undermine the government by causing civil war in Iraq. He said that the solution to the problem is not military intervention, but rather lies with reaching out to the Sunni minority and beginning a reconciliation process.

JOHN WILLIAMS: We spoke with James Dobbins, director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the Rand Corporation. He agreed that the solution to this problem lies outside of military might, but he thinks it may also lie outside of Iraq.


i do think that we could be more effective in gaining the cooperation of regional states in trying to stabilize iraq, and i think we should focus more effort on that.

EVA BARBONI: But some Iraqis are frustrated with the way the government is handling the situation. We spoke with one woman from Baghdad who thinks that the government could be doing more to stop the violence. Traveling around the Middle East, she says, is just a diplomatic distraction.

Our government is useless, helpless. Roaming around the world, and everyone here is dying here. i lost the feeling of wanting to be alive. The only truth in our lives nowadays is that we are waiting when we are going to die. I feel myself losing control and losing strength. I cant bear anymore.

JOHN WILLIAMS: Another proposal for peacekeeping in and around Baghdad is importing troops from Kurdistan in the North, in the hopes that they would not show loyalty to either side in sectarian battles. Dobbins believes there are no good solutions left in the current situation, and that bringing in Kurds to do the job is probably no different.


one can think of a lot of reasons why that would be an undesireable step; probably leading to antagonisms in both the shi’a and the sunni community and making the govt in baghdad quite unpopular. On the other hand, if the situation continues to deteriorate, it may be that this is the least bad alternative.

EVA BARBONI: Coalition forces nudged the bird from the nest on Thursday, handing over full control of the southern Al-Muthanna province to Iraqi security forces. The coalition plans to hand over the reigns of security to Iraqi troops in 8 other provinces by the end of the year. Muthanna was the first because it is one of the quietest regions. Only 700 coalition troops were stationed in the province before the transfer, and they will remain in Muthanna to continue providing support to local security forces.

JOHN WILLIAMS: In Samawah, the province’s capital, Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki spoke at a ceremony celebrating the transfer of power from British to Iraqi forces. Al-Maliki applauded the local government, but warned that terrorists would try to undermine progress in the region.

EVA BARBONI: On Sunday the US military announced that five soldiers had been indicted for their part in the brutal rape and murder of a young Iraqi girl in March. The men are also accused of involvement in the killing of the girl’s, mother, father, and younger sister. One soldier had already been charged with masterminding the attack, and pleaded not guilty. Four of the five soldiers are accused of participating in the atrocities, while the fifth has been charged with dereliction of duty for neglecting to report the incident.

JOHN WILLIAMS: Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki said he will ask the UN Security Council to revoke American soldiers’ immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts. Immunity was initially granted by the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2004, and was confirmed by a Security Council resolution. Despite Al-Maliki’s request, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters that he did not expect to see any changes in the legal status of American troops.

EVA BARBONI: Moving to ensure that, quote, “not all of their eggs are in one basket,” pentagon leaders announced on Wednesday that the army would discontinue its multibillion dollar contracts with Halliburton. Instead, they plan to split up the work among three separate companies, with a fourth overseeing the others. Since 2001, Halliburton has received roughly 17.1 billion dollars in contracts to provide services to the US army worldwide. The vast majority of those contracts, over 15 billion dollars, were for services in Iraq, where Halliburton provides everything from toilet paper to power lines. Halliburton maintains its right to participate in the upcoming bidding process.


JOHN WILLIAMS: Though this week’s violence was especially heated, it wasn’t a case of spontaneous combustion. Check out our website at war news radio [dot] org to find our comprehensive timeline of the history of sectarian violence in Iraq since the US invasion of 2003.

EVA BARBONI: This is War News Radio.

JOHN WILLIAMS: On June 29th, the Supreme Court struck down the special military commissions created by President Bush to try the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and other detainees in the War on Terror. Most importantly, the Supreme Court ruled that even irregular soldiers and terrorists are protected by the Geneva Convention and should not be subject to inhumane or degrading treatment.

But the Court did not decide what kind of tribunals the Guantanamo Bay prisoners should be given- that’s congress’s responsibility. And so this week, military experts have been invited to testify in the House and Senate and help Congress set new standards for detainee rights at Guantanamo Bay.

Our Washington correspondent, Amelia Templeton has been following these debates. Tell us a little bit about the Senate Armed Services Committee meeting yesterday.

Amelia: Well yesterday, the Senate Armed Services Committee invited six experts in military law to testify and all of them were either retired or active duty Judge Advocate Generals in the Navy, the Army, the Marine Corps, the Air Force. They’re sort of the top military law experts in the country and I guess what was so fascinating about yesterday’s hearing was how much agreement there was between these six men. All of them were asked point blank what they thought the baseline for the trials should be and all of them said either the uniform code of military justice or the Court’s martial process. All of them were asked if they believed evidence that was obtained using torture or questionable practices should be considered admissible and all of them very clearly answered that no evidence obtained using torture should be admissible in a military court. You know, when askeDuncan Gromko: are we legally required –and not just legally, but morally required- to follow the Geneva Convention’s third article- that’s the article that says we cannot treat prisoners of war inhumanely or in humiliating ways. They all agreed that we have an obligation to uphold the article of the Geneva Convention no matter who is in our custody.

JOHN WILLIAMS: And why did the generals and admirals believe it was so important to use the uniform code of military justice as a baseline?

Amelia: The practical argument was simply that they believe that using the uniform military code, they’ll be able to get convictions. Currently, not a single person has been convicted- not a single Guantanamo prisoner. All of these men went on to express concern that if we work with the current tribunal that President Bush has set up, and if we don’t change enough about them, the Supreme Court will simply strike down the next case that comes before them. I think all of these men consider that notion of justice and the values embodied in that code as what defines us. A senator asked the generals if we could win the War on Terror and still remain within Article Three of the Geneva Convention and all of them replied that yes we could.

JOHN WILLIAMS: Do you think we’re going to see a decision made about detainee trials anytime soon?

Amelia: I’m inclined to say that we won’t see a decision anytime soon. And I think that there’s a lot of implicit criticism there from the Senate to the Congress. And later, there was some explicit criticism of the House of Representatives. Senator Clinton actually called their debate on Wednesday embarrassing, and I think there was a really strong consensus in the Senate yesterday that they need to place some kind of break on the wild rhetoric and the sort of fear tactics that we have seen to some extent, particularly before November elections. This is just the beginning of the debates, so I’ll try to keep you guys updated as the story unfolds in Washington.

JOHN WILLIAMS: Our Washington correspondent, Amelia Templeton.

EVA BARBONI: This is WNR. Ever since the first day of the war when bombs were dropped on Saddam Hussein’s bunker, the US has targeted key enemy leaders. In the game of assassination, a few tons of explosives for one man is nothing extraordinary when it can cripple enemy resistance. Targeted killings are integral to US policy, but are they always in our best interest? Duncan Gromko reports.

DUNCAN GROMKO: since the 1970s, assassinations have been banned as a method of carrying out foreign policy – a result of revalations of abuse.


A couple plots were revealed that the US agents were trying to assassinate Fidel Castro…

DUNCAN GROMKO: lisa hijjar, author of from nuremburg to guantanamo: law and american power politics.


… Qadhafi of Libya, and others. In that time period, of Watergate, post Vietnam, the sense that many institutions had run amok. An executive order was developed, first by Gerald ford and it was renewed by every president until the current president, prohibiting assassinations as a matter of US policy.

DUNCAN GROMKO: despite this executive ban, the united states government still targets specific individuals for destruction, at least in the context of a war like iraq. Out of israel’s expereince using targeted killings, asa kasher wrote “assassination and prevenative killing.” a professor at tvu, he defends the tactic.


Most cases of targeted killing aren’t assassinations because most of the people don’t claim political prominence because they are operatives within the machinery of creating terror activities.

DUNCAN GROMKO: Kasher says such killings are justified when they are done for security reasons.


I think that when you face terror, you don’t have a choice. There is a military necessity, or a fighting terror necessity, to killing certain people.

DUNCAN GROMKO: when the war on terror moved to iraq, the us military started targeting iraqis up and down the ladder. Again, professor hijjar, from santa barbara univ.


The US, in 2003, started using what were called decapitation strikes, similar to the use of pilot-less drones. They had informers in Iraqi society who were given cell phones with links to US bases, the technology was such that they could track where the cell phone was and send in missiles.

DUNCAN GROMKO: according to milton bearden, who worked for the cia for over 30 years and was in charge of operations in afghanistan during the 1980’s, this tactic has not been so successful in iraq.


So many of the decapitation strikes are failures. We have Zarqawi, but we have the first air assault in the Iraq war was that strike where we thought we were hitting Saddam and thought that would be decapitation. We didn’t get him, so that was a failure.

DUNCAN GROMKO: whether the strikes hit their target or not, the tactic of targeting individuals from the air leads to unintended collateral damage. Again, bearden.


God I think, all the sides of these wars have checked their morals at the door.

DUNCAN GROMKO: moral or not, bearden thinks that targeted killings are messy because of collateral damage, and they backfire.


Collateral damage, so far, is acceptable to us, ok? If you watch Al-Jazeera or monitor the Arabic language internet sites, you will find that this war in Iraq and the collateral damage that it has caused has been nothing less than a godsend to al-Qaeda, which quite possibly today would be on shaky legs if it didn’t have this wonderful recruitment tool every morning it can be portrayed across the landscape where 1.2 billion Muslims live in everyday as murder and mayhem every single day. Lovely children blown away, all of that.

DUNCAN GROMKO: both hijjar and bearden are concerned about the backlash from collateral damage. But kasher, a veteran of the israeli-palestinian conflict, says that on balance, these tactics have been successful for israel.


It does render us closer to a peace agreement because it shows the Palestinians that we are not going to change our policies because of terrorism. On the other hand, it does not render us closer to a peace agreement because some people are, feel hurt, humiliated by these activities and are easily drafted into trying to do it on their own.

DUNCAN GROMKO: critics of targeted assassinations say that they don’t work militarily, because every time you kill a leader, another one rises up. But bearden argues they can done for another motive.


Sometimes tactical killings seem to me to be carried out to make you feel better, that you’ve in fact gotten a little revenge for something

DUNCAN GROMKO: when a country is not at war, a society normally gets its revenge through the courts. For kasher, assassination and targeted killings are a way of bringing about justice when using the courts is not a possibility.


It’s a matter of the duty of the state to defend its citizens. In cases of Israel of Iraq or others, they owe their citizens defense. If the life of the citizens is being jeopardized by a certain person then something should be done about the jeopardy.


I think this is part of the legitimate conduct of whatever the condition we find ourselves in today.

DUNCAN GROMKO: again, bearden of the cia.


It is a life or death issue between us and certain identifiable leaders and groups and so we have to take them out.

DUNCAN GROMKO: protecting it’s citizens seems like the most basic charge given to a state, but professor hijjar worries that as the so called war on terror expands, targeted killings will get out of control.


What Israel and US have in common [is] a very parochial view of their own states’ rights. A hyper sovereign notion that the state has a right to do anything and everything it wants to protect national security as those in power see fit. It’s a dubious interpretation of legal jurisdiction because if all states operated according to those principles then potentially secret agents could be going anywhere in the world and killing anyone who they assumed was dangerous to their state.

DUNCAN GROMKO: finally, milton bearden argues that he’d have far fewer problems justifying targeted killing if the tactic were clearly being used in self defense. In the case of iraq, he’s not so sure.


It’s always easier if you obey the number one rule of warfare, at least my number one rulEva Barboni: the other guy starts the war. If the other guy starts the war you don’t have to explain to everybody what you’re doing.

DUNCAN GROMKO: for wnr, i’m duncan gromko


EVA BARBONI:You’re listening to war news radio. Find us online at war news

JOHN WILLIAMS: This is War News Radio: Moonscape or an archaeological site? It’s hard to tell in Iraq, where sites all over the country are being excavated illegally by hundreds trying to make a living from the past. These looted artifacts are bought by dealers who send them to collectors across the globe. In part 2 of this report by Hansi Lo Wang and Shelley Salant, we discover it’s a profitable -but dangerous- business. Here’s Hansi.

Hansi: Whether it’s a fragment of ancient writing on a clay tablet or a prized statuette, Iraqi antiquities find their way to market. Smaller, less valuable objects end up in neighboring countries like Jordan and Syria, while expensive items are smuggled out of Iraq, often to the west – sometimes to destinations where collectors are waiting for a delivery. The dealing of Iraqi antiquities is so profitable that forgeries have begun to flood the market. Sometimes, the workmanship is so convincing that even archaeologists can’t tell the difference.


it’s just like drugs.

Hansi: Mcguire Gibson, professor of Mesopotamian archaeology at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute.


it’s something people want, something people think is chic, something that people are willing to pay big money for. It’s something that people are willing to sell them, and the only difference i can see is that you don’t normally stuff these antiquities up your nose.

Hansi: And just like drugs, when the heat is on, the market sits on the goods until things cool down.


i think that is what’s happening right now…

Hansi: Robert Goldman, former special prosecutor of the FBI Art Crimes Team.


these objects are sitting somewhere, not just one specific place, perhaps thousands of places, and they’re waiting until there’s less scrutiny, or different ways of smuggling it successfully take place.

Hansi: While the U.N. Security Council and the U.S. lifted the majority of the economic sanctions against Iraq in May 2003, the trade of cultural artifacts from Iraq is still prohibited, and authorities worldwide are on the lookout. But even if authorities track down what they suspect to be a looted Iraqi artifact, these seemingly transparent crimes are difficult to prosecute. Again, McGuire Gibson.


well, everyone knows, everyone in the field knows, this object can only come from southern iraq. This is where these things come from, everyone knows this. but i think that’s not good enough for u.s. law. you have to have a photograph of it sitting in the ground in iraq or sitting on a museum shelf in iraq, and this is one of the big problems.

Hansi: Collectors worldwide know their purchases are illegal. But according to Gibson, they give their actions a positive spin.


some of these people have all the best intentions. They know they’re wonderful objects, they love the objects, they think it’s safer with me than it is in iraq, but if they weren’t in the market then people wouldn’t be digging these things up. The safest place for these things is in the ground.

Hansi: Museums are prohibited from purchasing or exhibiting looted artifacts, but according to Gibson, sometimes they still end up on display often on loan, despite the artifact’s ambiguous origins. And that’s how an Iraqi artifact goes from an Iraqi excavation to a display case in a western museum. But can the cycle be stopped? At some archeological sites, you’d have to convince the village sheik, who does have the power. Joanne Farchakh, archaeologist and Middle East correspondent for the French magazine Archeologia.

if you will just go now to them and tell them to stop digging because iraq is losing its history, he will just look at you with his eyes and he will tell you, i have a thousand people to feed…give me an alternative, make them work for you…and we will stop digging.

Hansi: Can the smuggling be shut down? A cautionary talEva Barboni: In December 2003, customs agents found and confiscated looted artifacts in the southern town of Nasiriyah. The smugglers demanded their loot be returned. The customs agents refused and set off for Baghdad. Three days later, Iraqi authorities found the charred remains of the agents in the desert. The artifacts were gone, but the message from the dealers was there. Again, Joanne Farchakh.

in a muslim society, you do not burn a body. A body should be buried as it is in all its dignity. And to leave a dead man for more than twenty-four hours before you put him in the ground, it’s a question of power, and the smugglers were showing them how powerful they are.

Hansi: It’s even dangerous to investigate the illegal artifacts trade. Joanne Farchakh knows firsthand. She covered the state of Iraq’s excavation sites as a reporter, making frequent on-site trips.

in 2003, when i was there, friends of mine came and said that a convoy was following my car, and they had the orders to shoot me. There are a lot of people who not wish to see me again on the archaeological sites. They told me to leave and that i’m not welcome at all and that i should leave because car accidents happen very frequently on the road between baghdad and amman. So i left.

Hansi: Farchakh adds that the war itself makes the trafficking of looted antiquities easier. It’s impossible to seal the borders, so it’s easy to smuggle artifacts. The dealers, she says, have an interest in keeping the insurgency going. Farchakh fears it will soon be too late to save the ruins in these ancient cities of Iraq.

they have been working for three years by now. We’ll give them two more years or three more years on this scale, and then…i’m really afraid of saying what will happen, you know. It will be terrible for all humanity, to lose completely these cities.

Hansi: Sergeant Matthew Boulay dreamed of stopping the antiquities market. He bought some Iraqi artifacts at a flea market on his military base, where they were being openly and illegally sold. Boulay began what he hoped would be an expose.

i think that we have to be able to protect the sites at the same time that we’re protecting the citizens of iraq.

Hansi: Back in the states, Sergeant Boulay turned over the items to the FBI Art Crimes team, meeting the head of the unit in January 2005 at a strip mall in Pennsylvania. His story marked the FBI’s first recovery in the U.S. of looted cultural property from Iraq. But the affair had less impact than Boulay hoped for.

the main stuff is not going to the military. The important stuff is going to these dealers who then send it out of the country.

Hansi: Professor McGuire Gibson. Clemens Reichel, associate researcher at University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, also fears time’s running out to save Iraq’s ancient past.

human life is irreplaceable. Unfortunately so are archaeological objects. Or rather, the information that goes with them.


what they’re losing is an understanding of who we were in past civilizations, how did we develop as mankind.

Hansi: Former special prosecutor of the FBI Art Crimes team Robert Goldman.


and unless you know where these objects came back in the proper context, you’re losing pages of history, and once the looter removes it out of the country, it can’t be recreated.


personally, i find it hard to stand up and start talking about the situation about antiquities when you know people are being killed.

Hansi: University of Pennsylvania curator Richard Zettler.


if your choice is between a pot like this and somebody’s life, obviously throw the pot away. It just doesn’t mean anything.

Hansi: But for Joanne Farchakh, protecting the cultural heritage of Iraq is essential to the survival of the Iraqi people.


it’s not just a clay pot. It’s not just archeology. It’s actually a whole society living right now from the looting of its own heritage. And it doesn’t do it because it likes to, it does it because it has to. If you want to say you want to secure a future for iraq, it’s your duty in some part to take care of history, because otherwise, you are raising a whole generation of looters, of people who do not believe in their own history. How are they going to believe in their future? If the past isn’t found, the future…there is no future.

Hansi: With Shelley Salant, I’m Hansi Lo Wang for War News Radio.


Host: A post script for our show: Nearing deadline we learned that Valerie Plame, the former CIA agent is now suing Vice President Dick Cheney, Top White House advisor Carl Rove, and former Cheney aide I. Lewis Libby Jr.. Plame claims the three men conspired to destroy her career in the CIA in an attempt to punish her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, for his public insistence that the Bush administration had manipulated intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq.

EVA BARBONI: That’s our show for this week.

JOHN WILLIAMS: War News Radio is a production of Swarthmore College. Find us online at War News Radio [dot] org. There you’ll also find instructions on how to subscribe to our podcast to get war news radio on your computer every week.

EVA BARBONI: Our behind the scenes crew includes Zachary Fryer-Biggs, Reuben Heyman-Cantor, Elizabeth Threlkeld, Nelson Pavlosky, Alex Ginsberg, Laura Pacifici, Shelly Salant, Adam Clapp, Janice Im, and Marty Goldensohn. I’m Eva Barboni

JOHN WILLIAMS: And I’m John Williams. Until next time, thanks for listening.

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