In the desert, trees are life

· long story short

I find the whole idea of U.S. troops imposing collective punishment by uprooting longstanding orchards to be sickening on so many levels that I’ve had a hard time coming up with what I want to say about it. Here’s Patrick Neilsen Hayden, borrowed, quoted, and nested:

I’ve been trying all day to get my mind around this.

US soldiers driving bulldozers, with jazz blaring from loudspeakers, have uprooted ancient groves of date palms as well as orange and lemon trees in central Iraq as part of a new policy of collective punishment of farmers who do not give information about guerrillas attacking US troops.

The stumps of palm trees, some 70 years old, protrude from the brown earth scoured by the bulldozers beside the road at Dhuluaya, a small town 50 miles north of Baghdad. Local women were yesterday busily bundling together the branches of the uprooted orange and lemon trees and carrying then back to their homes for firewood.

Nusayef Jassim, one of 32 farmers who saw their fruit trees destroyed, said: “They told us that the resistance fighters hide in our farms, but this is not true. They didn’t capture anything. They didn’t find any weapons.”

Other farmers said that US troops had told them, over a loudspeaker in Arabic, that the fruit groves were being bulldozed to punish the farmers for not informing on the resistance which is very active in this Sunni Muslim district.

“They made a sort of joke against us by playing jazz music while they were cutting down the trees,” said one man. Ambushes of US troops have taken place around Dhuluaya. But Sheikh Hussein Ali Saleh al-Jabouri, a member of a delegation that went to the nearby US base to ask for compensation for the loss of the fruit trees, said American officers described what had happened as “a punishment of local people because ‘you know who is in the resistance and do not tell us’.” […]

The children of one woman who owned some fruit trees lay down in front of a bulldozer but were dragged away, according to eyewitnesses who did not want to give their names. They said that one American soldier broke down and cried during the operation. When a reporter from the newspaper Iraq Today attempted to take a photograph of the bulldozers at work a soldier grabbed his camera and tried to smash it. The same paper quotes Lt Col Springman, a US commander in the region, as saying: “We asked the farmers several times to stop the attacks, or to tell us who was responsible, but the farmers didn’t tell us.”

“I came and called them by their long names, but they did not quiver, they did not hear or answer. They lay dead.”

Iraqi blogger Riverbend discusses the preciousness of palm trees and citrus orchards to desert farmers, and the intense feeling for trees that results.

Juan Cole points out that if we are indeed destroying agriculture in order to punish whole populations for not informing, then we are in direct violation of the Geneva Convention, which specifically prohibits this sort of “collective punishment.” (Commenter “ott”, in the thread following this post at Whiskey Bar, provides the specific Convention passages that apply.)

Teresa, who knows something about growing up in a desert, nailed it in conversation this afternoon. “If I were a child, and remote, powerful strangers came and cut down my trees…I would never again believe that they were the good guys.”

Me, I can’t stop thinking about Ken MacLeod’s point about “giant lizards from another star.” [Electrolite]

I said nearly a year ago that we must seem like aliens from outerspace with our advanced tech (think “death rays”) and total control of the skies.

In general, I support the military. There is a long military tradition in my family dating to the Civil War in this country. I had five uncles in the Pacific war and my father was a marine in the period between Korea and Viet Nam (fortunately). I like the civilian control we have over the military and I think that in some ways the military can be a progressive force in society, when adequately managed.

Having said all that, I also think it’s possible for our military to be put to wrong uses, and I’m hoping there’s a good explanation for the incidents referred to above, because if not – I think we’re treading on dangerous ground, legally, ethically, and in terms of geopolitical strategy.