Those who are inclined immediately to believe the worst conceivable allegations about American soldiers will doubtless react with their usual glee to the Washington Post’s report about the alleged “bait” method; supposedly “the American government is paying people to kill” whoever picks up ammunition that they leave by the side of the road as bait. If this is true, it is indeed deplorable and extremely stupid, given the obvious risk to innocents. If it is true, of course. But you’ll forgive me if I hesitate to believe the Post. And as Another War On Terror Blog points out, there’s good reason to reserve judgment until more facts develop. First of all, these allegations are made on the basis of allegedly classified documents obtained by the Washington Post, which the Post has not revealed for the public to examine. Second, they were obtained from lawyers for the families of soldiers who are accused of murder—who might be telling the truth, or might be trying to find some way to exonerate their loved ones. Third, the military is not in a position to reveal its tactics, so its hands are tied with regard to responding to these allegations in detail. Fourth, we are not told the context of details that might be important; we are given very sketchy allegations. Finally Army spokesman Paul Boyce has denied the allegations, stating that “There are no classified programs that authorize the murder of local nationals and the use of ‘drop weapons’ to make killings appear legally justified.”
Of course, one can choose not to believe such a denial, and perhaps that denial is a lie—perhaps this really is a tactic that the Army is using in Iraq, and if so, then the soldiers and commanders deserve severe condemnation. Or, perhaps it really happened, but was done by a few soldiers acting on their own. Or, perhaps it did not happen at all, like other slanders against American soldiers that have many times been propagated by the media, who generally do such things with impunity. The wise judge will await corroboration.
Update: From Voice of America:
During a briefing at the Pentagon, Major General Richard Sherlock declined to comment directly on the existence of the program or the cases against the three snipers.
“I can’t discuss this case specifically for a couple of reasons,” he said. “First of all there is a court martial that is about to convene and the soldiers connected with this case and subsequent cases deserve due process. Second of all, we don’t normally discuss specific, tactics, techniques and procedures. However, I will say we base all of our actions on the laws of land warfare and the rules of engagement and our rules of engagement apply in all circumstances, which does not include simply picking something up on the battlefield.”
Is he lying? None of us know.