06 August 2009

The Tightrope Gets Thinner

The Tightrope Gets Thinner

M. and I were shocked to read a 25 JUL story about how an Iraqi commander ordered the arrest of three US soldiers after they killed three insurgents near Abu Ghraib. I will fully admit that it is impossible to know what happened without actually being there. But after meeting so many of these young, dedicated, professional soldiers who are serving in Iraq, and seeing firsthand the deadly injuries that they suffer, I come down 100% on the side of our US troops who have to make life and death decisions in an instant.
We read that the troops in this event were in convoy when they received contact in the form of small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. The troops bravely dismounted, pursued the attackers through an urban environment, and killed three insurgents. Civilians were killed in the gun battle. An Iraqi commander arrived late and ordered the troops arrested.
Here is a link to the story:


Fortunately, the following day Iraq Prime Minister Al-Maliki announced that the commander’s decision was in error and expressed his confidence in the troops and gratitude for their service.
The story is here:


I am pleased to see a general improvement in security in Iraq and fewer deaths each day. Best of all, it gives me hope that the day we get our troops home from Iraq is getting closer. But I think that we have to be very careful as we exit that these troops are not subject to second-guessing or legal action just for defending their lives.
This danger is nothing new. One soldier I know who has served bravely and has stood up to complete the mission on multiple tours to Iraq recently described an incident he experienced, very nearby in Abu Ghraib, four years ago. His troops on patrol were confronted with a vehicle speeding toward them, saw and heard gunfire and had to make a life-and-death decision. Like so many others, they performed professionally, and made the safest and correct decision, but with the full weight of responsibility and conscience. You really should read his report via the link below because it gives a rare perspective into the thoughts of troops on the scene.


Recently, my associate loaned me the book “Warlord, No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy”. It is Marine Lt. Ilario Panano’s own account of how he was accused of murder after killing two insurgents in Iraq in 2004. My wife, son, and I were captivated by the story, and again horrified that one of our troops could be put through such an experience after doing his best to defend his men.
There is an adequate summary on Wikipedia here:


Lt. Pantano’s family started the foundation Defend the Defenders. (I don’t know if they are still active)


As a doctor, I don’t have to look far to find reasons why war is so harmful to the many people young and old who are caught in its grasp. But it is important to remember that even as strong, well-equipped and professional as our troops are, we have to look out for them too and be sure that their dedicated actions are not being second-guessed.

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