Over the past week a tremendous amount of energy has been devoted to analyzing every detail about former US general David Petraeus’ extra-marital affair with his biographer Paula Broadwell. Outside of a few reporters like Michael Hastings and Glenn Greenwald few journalists care to look at Petraeus’ real crimes, namely his military record and his short stint as director of the CIA. In both cases, Petraeus presided over massive war crimes, first in the so-called ‘surge’ in Iraq and the occupation of Afghanistan and next as the director of drone strikes throughout Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. The case of Yemen is of special interest. Wikileaks revelations show that Petraeus conspired with Yemeni dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh to cover up US responsibility for the murder of 44 civilians (22 of which were children) in the al Majala province.
Civilian death has never figured prominently, if at all, Petraeus’ strategic calculus. Michael Hastings, writing in Buzzfeed, observed this as well. In Petraeus’ 1987 dissertation titled ‘Military Lessons from Vietnam’ he reserves no words for the estimated 3.4 million Vietnamese killed. In fact, he says the main victims of the war were US Marines. Respected law scholar Andrew Bacevich called Petraeus a disciple of the ‘crusader’ school. Here the military assumes a role which values pacification and ‘stability’ over ‘search and destroy’ missions of the kind William Westmoreland carried out in Vietnam. In short, Petraeus is a sophisticated war criminal. In addition to bombing the enemy, he must “win their hearts and minds” through military occupation. It is therefore little wonder that Petraeus’ most sordid crimes were carried out during his military operations in Iraq. Petraeus was the commander of the 101st airborne division during the siege of Fallujah. The horrific war crimes carried out in Fallujah violated every principle of international law, most notably the Geneva Conventions. Petraeus also played a lead role in Operation Iraqi Freedom another war crime that led to the brutal death of uncounted Iraqi civilians. Among the most gruesome episodes of the Iraqi invasion was the March cluster bombing of Nadr village.
This air campaign flooded Hilla hospital with 61 corpses, “80 percent were civilians,” according to doctors. Award winning journalist Robert Fisk called the bombing “unforgivable and contrary to international law.” Two victims that Fisk highlighted in his book were the Nasr sisters. The younger of the two, Maryam Nasr (5 years old), had a bomblet embedded in her right eye, and “wounds to the stomach and thighs.” Fisk went on to note “the use of cluster bombs in these villages–even if aimed at military targets–…transgresses international law,” a sentiment widely shared by the global community which has been working vigorously pass a UN ban on cluster munitions.
A diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks in August of 2011 revealed that “the United States attempted to dissuade the Afghanistan government from ratifying the Convention on Cluster Munitions”, a policy which remained throughout Petraeus’ tenure as commander. The official excuse for this decision was that cluster bombs “continue to have military utility.” I have reason to believe the Nasr sisters probably hold a different opinion.
Unfortunately, such crimes were common during Petraeus’ tenure as commander. In fact, Amnesty International reported that US soldiers from the 101st division stole “3 million Iraqi dinars–$2,000–from an Iraqi family‘s home.” A 2006 surgeon general report on Operation Iraqi Freedom provides a great deal of substance in explaining this abuse of civilians. According to the report only 47% of soldiers felt that “all non-combatants should be treated with dignity and respect”. Moreover, 36% of soldiers and 39% of Marines thought “torture should be allowed in order to gather important info about insurgents”.When this background is addressed it is no surprise that Petraeus’ depredations in Iraq carried over quite neatly into Afghanistan where he backed a viscous death squad known as the Afghan local police. In a 2011 testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee Petraeus’ said the ALP was “arguably the most critical element in our effort to help Afghanistan develop the capability to secure itself.”
The ALP helped Afghanistan “develop the capability to secure itself,” through murders, theft, illegal detentions, and torture. Amnesty International reported on several of these crimes. One of ALP’s more notorious crimes occurred in April 2011 when “four armed ALP members in Baghlan abducted a 13 year old boy on his way home from a bazaar and took him to the house of an ALP sub-commander where he was gang raped.” In another incident ALP member Nur-ul Haq, with the backing of US forces, invaded a house in the Shahabudeen area and murdered the owner’s nine-year old son. In the area of torture, “two boys were detained overnight by the ALP beaten and one of them had nails hammered into his feet while in ALP custody.”
Incidentally, it is well known the ALP was staffed with former Hezb-i-Islami fighters, a brutal organization founded by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. In a July 2006 report Human Right’s Watch noted that Hekmatyar joined ranks with the Taliban to eliminate girl’s education in Afghanistan. In addition to the “attacks on teachers, students, and school buildings,” Hekmatyar also has a major hand in the drug trade. The UN, the US, and NATO described the drug trade as “the gravest threat to security in Afghanistan”. Despite these clear crimes against humanity, the US-led NATO occupation did not suspend training for these forces until September 2012 , meaning Petraeus backed these death squads throughout his period as lead commander. This alliance with the murderers of Afghanistan receives little attention as a defining feature of Petraeus’ counterinsurgency strategy. On a side note, Hekmatyar ‘s Hezb-i-Islami is not featured on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations, an interesting fact given the hypocritical outrage over the shooting of Malala Yousafzai who was fighting for exactly what Hekmatyar aims to prevent. Rather they are listed as a “group of concern”. Presumably, the State Department is “concerned” that Guldbuddin is no longer carrying out acts of terror on behalf of the CIA, as he did during the Soviet occupation. The massive record of crimes carried out by the ALP remain unpunished, a direct consequence of the legal immunity that comes with US support.
In this respect, recent praises for Petraeus reaches new peaks of absurdity. Michael Shear writing in the New York Times stated that Petraeus “almost single-handedly forced a profound evolution in the country‘s military thinking and doctrine with his philosophy of counterinsurgency, focused more on protecting the civilian population than on killing enemies.” If the cover up of the murders in al Majala weren’t a clear enough counterexample to this propaganda, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism puts it in more concrete terms. Since his appointment as CIA director in October 2011 Petraeus has carried out a series of strikes in West Asia. In 2012 alone a total of 42 strikes were carried out. The civilian death toll in Pakistan from this program is 475-885 people (176 children).
Each of these strikes carried out by the CIA, according to core standards of international law, are acts of terrorism. Andrew Burt, a supporter of drone strikes, noted in an article published by Yale International Law Journal that CIA drone strikes violate the “principle of distinction” which prohibits civilians from engaging in hostilities. From this observation he concluded that many have questioned “whether the CIA civilian drone operators who engage in armed attacks against members of al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces might share the same legal status as the terrorists they combat.” Burt calls this similarity between the CIA and “terrorists” a “potential irony”, an inevitability when analyzing the actions of superpower states built on double standards.
This brief overview demonstrates that the so-called “fall” of David Petraeus is a fiction. These crimes and the many others which he had a hand in have gone unpunished. The maiming of children like the Nasr sisters remains in the dark, while the sex drive of the man who was partly responsible for their disfigurement makes headlines across the nation. Meanwhile, 69% of Americans support assassinating “terrorists”, a figure which exceeds the percentage of Americans who desire democracy in the Middle East (46%).
In Aristophanes’ ancient play Lysistra, the main character persuades the women of Greece to withhold sexual attention from their husbands unless the fighters of Athens and Sparta negotiate a peaceful conclusion to the Peloponnesian war. This classic work of gender-relations was written prior to the advent of predator drones, huge aircraft carriers, M1 Abram tanks, and nuclear weapons. No longer are generals faced with the hard choice between marital sex and mass murder. The murders can go on uninterrupted and without criticism, if you follow the path of “King David” and cheat.
Fisk, Robert. The great war for civilisation: the conquest of the Middle East. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. Print.