Meet Qais Khazali, a 26 year old Shiite militant who the U.S. believes was behind the killing of 5 American soldiers in Karbala three years ago. Mr. Khazali’s band of merry Shiites was also was responsible for the kidnapping of Briton Peter Moore and five of his Western security guards. Peter Moore was released from captivity last week, although his security guards had all been executed by Mr. Khazali’s team.
In exchange for Moore’s release, Mr. Khazali, along with a number of his followers, have been set free.
The Brits, the Americans, the Iraqis all deny there has been a quid pro quo, and claim that this is just part of a larger program of reconciliation for the Iraqi government. (They are all, of course, lying.)
This story, at least from my vantage point, seems to have gone mostly unremarked upon in the United States. I find this somewhat curious, as it would seem to be perfect fodder for either right wing, or left wing talk shows.
A man who killed 5 of our boys has gone free–where’s the outrage?
The answer to this is somewhat complex, and has a lot to with the ideology of those in the U.S. who have supported the war from afar. Basically, it doesn’t really fit well into the black and white view of the war; it raises the troubling moral compromises that the Surge was founded upon; and, certainly, brings into focus all the unsavory elements you take on as nation when you get involved in a prolonged campaign of counterinsurgency, especially in a country that’s not your own.
Ideology is neat and righteous, while the the strategy to enforce that ideology, counterinsurgency, is messy and morally ambivalent.
In other words: For this war to be “successfully” concluded, you need to leave a somewhat stable government behind in Baghdad, which means you have to let guys who killed Americans(and other Iraqis) go free as part of what’s everyone calls “reconciliation.”
Reconciliation should not be mistaken for justice. In fact, reconciliation is often foregoing justice for some idea of larger good. Let bygones be bygones and the like.
What’s interesting is that in other conflicts, usually the word “truth” is attached to reconciliation, as in a “truth and reconciliation” committee. Truth stands in place of justice–with the truth, at least, victims can get some kind of intellectual and emotional satisfaction, some kind of healing, or at least that’s the idea.
With “reconciliation” in the case of Qais Khazali, truth seems to be something that everyone wants to avoid. As mentioned, the Brits, the Americans, and the Iraqi government are all either dodging or obfuscating or just pretending that what’s happening isn’t really what’s happening.
Which leads me to wonder: does reconciliation work without truth?
I doubt it, and certainly truth is something American government officialdom is going to do their best to avoid looking at in Iraq as we leave here. (To his credit, General Petraeus, reminiscent of Colonel Mathieu in the Battle of Algiers, is willing to look at this issue squarely. It’s just that no one at home seems to want hear it.) Said General P:
“The way you end these kinds of conflicts, the way you end these kinds of wars . . . is by individuals ultimately reconciling. That process is one we have supported and the Iraqi government has supported as well,” Gen. David H. Petraeus said on a visit last week to Baghdad, when asked about Khazali’s transfer to Iraqi custody.
So let this be another lesson from “these kinds of wars,” launched with such alleged moral clarity, and still defended with such moral clarity, which we will surely see again in Afghanistan. We’re asking Americans to fight and die, and then we’re letting their killers go free. That’s, as they say, the truth.