Iraq: A man who killed five Americans gets released. Where's the outrage?

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.


About michaelhastings

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6 Responses to Iraq: A man who killed five Americans gets released. Where's the outrage?

  1. veyepete says:

    First you say that “it is believed” that this man killed several, however there was no trial. You have obviously tried him and found him guilty. Was your ‘court’ in session when Blair and Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction? Was there outrage then? How many innocents have been rounded up to torture to appease the God of war? What is the real cause of terrorism? What country has started this battle and is now still causing trouble in the mid east as air passengers are treated like criminals in their own country? The world should focus attention there and stop this debacle where it was begun. My outrage lies with a media who can not ask pertinent questions and give us real answers.

    • Michael Hastings says:

      I hear you on the media, and have written much about that here. And yes, there’s a lot that the U.S. political leadership should be held accountable for. In fact, I was using this as an example of how those in the U.S. media and our political class are still doing there best to avoid looking too closely at what was wrought in Iraq. Anyway, there’s certainly plenty of outrage to go around.

  2. nikesjordan says:

    Iraq is under the shadow of war , terrible place and country. . Alldeals under USD 40 ! Belts, sneakers, hat/caps, Jeans,sunglasses, dunks, Paypal, free shipping,

  3. boberto851 says:

    Perhaps we should be a little more outraged, but perhaps our outrage is overshadowed by our shame. I mean, in degrees of severity, a man killing five enemy soldiers is hardly newsworthy compared to say, the execution of 12 children. The man didn’t come to the U.S. and kill them. Still, I am saddened for U.S. citizens who can’t make that distinction. It would save them a great deal of misdirected grief. The key word in the article is “war”.

  4. Zaid Jilani says:

    It definitely sounds like the sort of narrative that would light up the airwaves if it wasn’t part of what has become the newest “forgotten war” (it traded with Afghanistan).

  5. rbrander says:

    My question would be, “Exactly who let him go?”

    I don’t believe that civilian authority is in any kind of charge in Iraq, even today. I’m guessing he was not in custody of the Iraqi government, so that makes it an American military decision.

    And when have you EVER heard military decisions widely questioned in any medium with a large audience?

    Conservatives won’t criticize them because, well, they just don’t criticize the military, up there on the high pedestal.

    Liberals won’t criticize this one, because it’s one of those wishy-washy, soft-on-bad-guys, “nuanced and thoughtful” moves that is bad tactics and good strategy.

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