- On June 25, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki
issued a plan to bring about national reconciliation in Iraq. The plan
represented a watered-down version of his original proposal that included
a general amnesty except for outright criminals and unreconstructable terrorists.
The published version of the amnesty would be offered to "insurgents
who renounce violence and have not killed American forces or Iraqis."
Some have noted that the new language makes it virtually impossible to
extend amnesty to anybody, but the language at best is an awkward compromise.
First, it was drafted as Maliki's response to an American refusal to agree
with amnesty for anyone who had killed an American serviceman or other
Americans serving in Iraq. Second, it excluded anyone who had killed an
Iraqi because of a comparable uproar among Iraqis who said Iraqi lives
were as important as American ones.
- Anyone in Iraq or America might readily
agree that the idea of extending amnesty to someone who has killed someone
else is repugnant. Unfortunately, killing people is what wars are about,
and the casualties in Iraq have mounted. Last week the number of American
and Coalition deaths went above 2,500, while the wounded exceeded 20,000.
On the Iraqi side, however, the numbers were staggering, even if unclear.
Estimates of Iraqi dead, based on mortuary and other sources of data,
exceed 50,000, and there are enormous gaps in knowledge of Iraqi deaths.
The British medical journal Lancet estimated two years ago that the number
of Iraqi deaths exceeded 100,000, but violence since them may have more
than doubled that number. In an environment that has been riddled for
more than three years with small arms fire, high altitude bombardments,
roadside bombings, and other standoff attacks, who can say exactly, except
the living who count their dead and missing? The bottom line here is that
at least 20 times and maybe 50 times as many Iraqis have died as Coalition
forces, and the number of Iraqis wounded or rendered homeless by bombardment
could easily run more than 500,000.
- If amnesty were about equity and forgiveness,
the casualties of the Iraq war, as indeed of all wars, would pose an insurmountable
barrier to extending it. But amnesty is not about equity and forgiveness,
nor is it a pardon. It is merely recognition of the fact that some definitive
safe status must be extended to all combatants in order reliably to stop
the fighting. In that sense, amnesty is essential for convincing combatants
that they no longer should fight, and if they stop they will not be killed
- No one wants to amnesty murderers. War
at best is a gross form of crime against humanity, but it is not personal.
When it becomes personal, as in cases such as Haditha, the crime of war
has become personal, and a personal killing of another is simply murder.
How to identify such a criminal element is a major challenge for any amnesty
- As reported by UPI last week, a number
of middle and senior grade military officers, in Iraq and elsewhere, who
have commented about the subject have concluded that amnesty, "done
correctly" could end the war more quickly, and that would be a service
to US forces. A number of officers cited the rules of war in saying that
US forces are legitimate targets. Their rationale is if they are "armed,
wearing armor and occupying a foreign country," they are proper targets.
That is a standard definition for a warlike situation.
- One military commander, according to
the UPI report, proposed an amnesty design. His plan would (1) offer amnesty
to "everyone for any attacks against Coalition forces, Iraqi security
forces, sectarian violence and even tribal feuds; (2) deny amnesty to "foreign
fighters and specific, named Iraqi high-value individuals" (precise
definition not provided), (3) put a specific short time limit on the amnesty
(maybe as little as a week); (4) pose "steep" penalties for people
who continue the resistance; and (5) offer specific rewards, with an expiration
date, for those who turn in weapons and such like. For those denied amnesty,
he would offer "a fair trial and no death penalty if they turn themselves
in and give up their weapons."
- The foregoing proposal does about all
of the useful work an amnesty can hope to accomplish. One of its principal
virtues is that it recognizes the hopelessness of trying to sort, after
the fact, who did what to whom. The fog of war will forever obscure the
whole story, and some bad guys will get away with some bad things. But
as one of the officers interviewed for the UPI article commented, "I'm
consoled by the fact that we've dished out much worse that we've taken."
That is an honest and brutally frank appraisal of what has happened in
Iraq. It says that, as judged by comparative casualty rates, most of the
mayhem in Iraq has been committed by Coalition forces. At this stage,
it is a brutish self-service for Americans to pretend otherwise.
- If we are lucky, we will all walk away
from this experience with as little trauma as possible. We should begin
that walk by recognizing that an amnesty - in an important degree - must
extend to all who took part in and contributed to combat in Iraq. This
is not just about Iraqis who may have killed and wounded Coalition men
and women. It is also about the killing and wounding of many times more
Iraqis by American and other Coalition forces. We need Iraqi understanding
of our human losses no more and no less than they need our understanding
of their losses.
- Reality simply escapes anyone who asserts
that we should feel noble about what the Coalition has done in Iraq. That
war is an unnecessary human calamity, and it must end. As we try to end
it, we truly should find a better way to extricate our people from this
disaster than retrieving them from the roof of the US Embassy by helicopter,
as we ended the Vietnam War. If the broadest possible amnesty would help
to accomplish that result, if it will improve prospects that this calamity
will not recur or go on unabated, if it will facilitate amicable settlement,
then it is time to put that amnesty in place.
- The writer is the author of the recently
published work, A World Less Safe, now available on Amazon, and he is a
regular columnist on rense.com. He is a retired Senior Foreign Service
Officer of the US Department of State whose immediate pre-retirement positions
were as Deputy Director of the State Office of Counterterrorism, and as
Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National War
College. He will welcome comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.