Abraham’s One Percent Doctrine and the Criminal U.S. Assault on Fallujah
by Joshua Madson
In the books of Matthew and Luke there is this radical statement from John the Baptist, “do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.”1 For centuries the Jewish people had considered themselves chosen by virtue of their lineage. They claimed lineage from the great patriarch Abraham and with it the covenant right to occupy Palestine. They considered themselves a chosen nation written on God’s very hands. John, like most prophets, challenged the very foundation of their national and religious narrative. What made Israel chosen or special if God could raise up children of Abraham from mere stones? In the last week of Jesus’ life he taught what it meant to be a child of Abraham and contrasted that with the works of the devil, specifically murder: “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did… You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning.”2 Jesus made clear that being a child of Abraham was explicitly tied to our deeds and our desires. Jesus also taught that murder is a work of the devil which stands in stark contrast to compassion.
What are the works of Abraham and how can we become children of Abraham? Jewish, Islamic and Christian traditions all revere Abraham and yet we rarely do his works. Often when we think of Abraham’s works we think of the Akedah or binding of Isaac. Certainly this is a significant event in Abraham’s life but there are also other works we would do well to remember. From the very beginning, Abraham’s great commission was to be a blessing to all the families of the earth. Throughout Abraham’s life he practiced hospitality with all those he came in contact with. Perhaps the best illustration of Abraham’s compassion is his pleading on behalf of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Sodom and Gomorrah were the most wicked cities in all of Canaan. The Book of Genesis relates that, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah” was so great, and the sins of their inhabitants so blatant, that God had to “go down” to see it for himself to believe it.3 And yet when Abraham learned the cities would be destroyed by fire, Abraham had compassion and pled their cause. Unlike Vice President Cheney, who advocates bombing and invading an entire country for the sake of a few evil men, Abraham knew that if there were even a handful of innocents living in those two cities, the cost of destroying them would be too high. Abraham advocated vigorously with the Lord to save even the wicked for the sake of the innocent. At some level we must address the implications of Abraham’s works towards Sodom and Gomorrah. What does he tell us about the innocent victims in war, about what the military has termed collateral damage?
It is common for us to speak of the United States as a chosen land. We often hear it compared to a city on a hill, a beacon of light, a nation founded on Judeo-Christian values. But we, like ancient Israel, forget that it is one’s desires and works that matter and not the narratives and labels we give ourselves.
In 2004, we again had the opportunity to choose whose works we would do. The Iraqi city of Fallujah was the site of the brutal murder of four American private security workers who were burnt, dragged, and hung from a bridge over the Euphrates River. Fallujah had become synonymous with the Iraqi insurgency, synonymous with everything that was supposedly wrong about Iraq. Much like Sodom and Gomorrah, it was considered by the US government and media as the most wicked city in the land. Lieutenant Colonel Gary Brandl perhaps described our attitude best, “The enemy has got a face. He’s called Satan. He’s in Falluja. And we’re going to destroy him.”4 However, unlike with the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, there was no Abraham in the US government, or if there was, his voice fell on deaf ears. There in the ancient homeland of the great Abraham, the United States Military rained fire from the sky and committed one of the most brutal massacres of the war to date.
In early April 2004, around 2,000 troops from the US 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, supported by jet fighters and attack helicopters, assaulted Fallujah in an effort to defeat Sunni resistant groups there. As the urban battle with resistance fighters and local residents wore on, the death toll began to mount. Doctors from the local hospital reported 600 Iraqi dead, most of them civilians, including women and children.5 The Marines responded to the doctors’ reports by closing the main hospital, a war crime according to the Geneva Conventions. Ibrahim Younis, the Iraq emergency coordinator for Médecins sans Frontières, visited Falluja during the two week assault, and reported that, “The Americans put a sniper position on top of the hospital’s water tower and had troops in the single-storey building . . . The hospital had four operating theatres, which could no longer be used. If they had been working, it would have saved many lives.”6 A public relations disaster occurred as images and video surfaced resembling mass murder rather than a battle. As the assault became increasingly unpopular internationally, the Marines agreed to an uneasy ceasefire, leaving the city outside their control, and setting the stage for a second assault six months later.
The second U.S. assault on Fallujah, in November 2004, was originally code named, appropriately, “Thanksgiving Massacre” before the British encouraged a more modest name change to “Phantom Fury.”7 It began with nearly two months of aerial attacks. The city was cordoned off, and food, water, and power were cut off in an effort to put strain on the local population. Some 300,000 Fallujans abandoned their homes and fled the city for safety, passing through US military checkpoints. Contrary to the Geneva Convention, any male under age 45 was denied exit and forced back by gunpoint, while machine-gun nests killed anyone who tried to escape across the Euphrates River.8
On November 18, 2004 some 12,000 troops invaded Fallujah. In an effort to control information during the second assault, the first target of operation Phantom Fury was the Fallujah hospital, “because the US military believed it was the source of rumors about heavy casualties [during the first assault]. ‘It’s a center of propaganda,’ a senior American officer said.”9 The hospital’s staff was captured and snipers were positioned on the roofs of hospitals once again. The remaining population, unable to flee and consisting of 30,000 to 50,000 civilians, was considered enemy combatants.10 This means that the same measures the U.S. military used to kill alleged insurgents (described further below), were inevitably used against civilians.
Houses, schools, and mosques were ravaged. According to Fallujah’s compensation commissioner, 36,000 of the city’s 50,000 homes were destroyed, along with 60 schools and 65 mosques and shrines.11 Fallujans were also illegally denied medical treatment from Iraq’s Red Crescent.12 One US commander described the rules of engagement: “If you see someone with a cell phone, put a bullet in their f—ing head.”13 An AP photographer described US helicopters killing a family of five trying to ford a river to safety. “There were American snipers on top of the hospital shooting everyone. With no medical supplies, people died from their wounds.”14
The attack against Fallujah was made even more horrific by the use of thermobaric weapons, white phosphorous, and possibly an advanced form of napalm.15 One of the weapons used by the marines was equipped with thermobaric warheads, also known as a “fuel-air” weapon. This weapon was specifically designed to raze buildings. Fuel-Air weapons are known for creating a cloud of volatile gases which “is then ignited and the subsequent fireball sears the surrounding area while consuming the oxygen in this area. The lack of oxygen creates an enormous overpressure … Personnel under the cloud are literally crushed to death.” Marines used these weapons to clear structures, assuming anyone inside any house or building must be an insurgent, ignoring the fact that roughly 50,000 civilians remained in the city.16
There is also evidence that white phosphorous was used as a weapon and not solely for illumination as originally stated by the US State Department. In fact, the US State Department later issued a correction noting that Field Artillery magazine revealed that white phosphorous had in fact been used “as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes ….”17 This was likely more than psychological, however, as according to the BBC, anyone exposed to these weapons would have experienced the following: “Phosphorus burns on the skin are deep and painful… These weapons are particularly nasty because white phosphorus continues to burn until it disappears… it could burn right down to the bone.”18 To avoid such a fate, insurgents would have to leave their fortified positions, at which point they could be slaughtered by conventional U.S. attacks. Field Artillery describes how Marines, “fired ‘shake and bake’ missions at the insurgents, using [White Phosphorous] to flush them out and [High Explosives] to take them out.”19
Before the invasion of Fallujah, Sgt. Maj. Carlton W. Kent spoke of the coming battle of Fallujah as being no different than the capture of the ancient city of Hue during the 1968 Tet Offensive in Viet Nam. “You’re all in the process of making history. This is another Hue city in the making. I have no doubt, if we do get the word, that each and every one of you is going to do what you have always done — kick some butt.”20
Perhaps, when we remember wars we should do as Kurt Vonnegut suggested “we should take off our clothes and paint ourselves blue and go on all fours all day long and grunt like pigs. That would surely be more appropriate than noble oratory and shows of flags and well-oiled guns.”21 How many innocents does it take in a Fallujah before we refuse to destroy it? Abraham was willing to spare Sodom and Gomorrah for a handful of innocents and yet we are willing to engage in the barbarism of the highest order; innocents be damned. What does the destruction of Fallujah say about our nation, our narrative, and our city on a hill? Who is our father if we cannot even approach the works of Abraham?
1. Matthew 3:9
2. John 8:39-47
3. Genesis 18:20-21
4. Paul Wood, “Fixing the problem of Falluja” BBC, November 7, 2004. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3989639.stm
5. Rory Mcarthy, “Uneasy Truce in the City of Ghosts”, Guardian, April 24, 2004. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/apr/24/iraq.rorymccarthy
6. Rory Mcarthy, “Uneasy Truce in the City of Ghosts.”
7. Sarah Sands “Our troops’ life in Basra: smile, shoot, smile?”, Telegraph, December 24, 2004. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/1479738/Our-troops-life-in-Basra-smile-shoot-smile.html
8. Reuters Dispatch, November 5, 2004
9. Richard Oppel and Robert Worth, “G.I.’s Open Attack to Take Falluja From Iraq Rebels”, New York Times, November 8, 2004. http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/08/international/middleeast/08falluja.html
10. George Monbiot, “Behind the Phosphorus Clouds are War Crimes within War Crimes”, The Guardian, November 22 2005. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/nov/22/usa.iraq1
11. Mike Marqusee, “A name that lives in infamy” The Guardian, November 10 2005. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/nov/10/usa.iraq
12. George Monbiot, “Behind the phosphorus”
13. Newsweek, “Probing Bloodbath.” Evan Thomas and Scoot Johnson, June 12, 2006 http://www.newsweek.com/id/52312
14. Marqusee, “A name that lives in infamy”
15. There is now evidence that MK77, a form of Napalm, was used during the invasion although there is not yet definitive proof that it was used in Fallujah. http://www.rainews24.rai.it/ran24/inchiesta/foto/documento_ministero.jpg
16. George Monbiot, “Behind the phosphorus”
17. US State Department Website, http://usinfo.state.gov/media/Archive_Index/Illegal_Weapons_in_Fallujah.html (Resource no Longer Available)
18. BBC, “US used white phosphorous in Iraq,” Nov. 16, 2005 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4440664.stm
19. “The Fight for Fallujah,” Field Artillery, March-April 2005, By Captain James T. Cobb, First Lieutenant Christopher A. LaCour and Sergeant First Class William H. Hight, pg. 26. Accessed online, http://www.tradoc.army.mil/pao/ProfWriting/2-2AARlow.pdf
20. “U.S. Troops Enter Fallujah”, CBS/AP, Nov. 8, 2004. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/11/08/iraq/main654164.shtml
21. Vonnegut, Kurt, Cat’s Cradle