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America's worst side in Iraq


SPEAKING LAST week before the National Association of Black Journalists, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice talked about how security was hardened in the United States after Sept. 11. Her speech seemed patented until she said, "But if we in the United States are not going to change who we are, if we are going to preserve the nature of our open society, there is only so much hardening that we can do. We need to address the source of the problem. And to do that we must go on the offensive." Rice says we are not going to change who we are. It is hard to be more offensive than that.

America is nearly two years into invasions in which we have killed more civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan than the number who died in the United States on 9/11. Yet we have no Osama, no Saddam, no weapons of mass destruction, no nuclear weapons plants, no peace.

In the 2000 presidential debates, Bush said he would stop "extending our troops all around the world in nation-building missions." Bush is now so obsessed with nation-building that he is blind to how killings of Iraqi civilians by US soldiers devalue Iraqis even as he claims to liberate them.

Witness the witless comments made last week by the American commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez. Sanchez told The New York Times that he decided to scale back his self-described "iron-fisted" raids in the search for loyalists to Saddam Hussein after the new Iraqi leaders told him that too many innocent families were brutalized by US soldiers.

"When you take a father in front of his family and put a bag over his head and put him on the ground, you have had a significant adverse effect on his dignity and respect in the eyes of his family," Sanchez said.

You mean Sanchez actually had to be told that you do not make friends behaving like the LAPD? That was not all. Sanchez bizarrely implied that unlike the victims of 9/11, whom we grant eternal innocence, Iraqis carry evil in their hearts. He said the US raids "created in this culture some Iraqis that then had to act because of their value systems against us in terms of revenge, possibly because there were casualties on their side and also because of the impact on their dignity and respect."

Your value system would be skewed too, if you saw one indiscriminate shooting too many. In the week since Sanchez said he was dropping the iron fist, American soldiers mistakenly killed two members of the American-installed police force. A third police officer who survived the attack said US soldiers shot one of the other officers between the eyes even though that officer had already been wounded and was shouting that he was a police officer. The surviving officer said he was kicked and beaten despite waving his badge and despite being wounded in the leg.

In another tragedy, panicked US soldiers, thinking a blown transformer was a bomb, fired on a car filled with a family who did not see the soldiers' checkpoint. The attack widowed a woman, killing her husband, two daughters, and a son. The youngest was 8. The family was coming home from dropping off a grandmother. The surviving daughter, 13-year-old Hadeel Kawaz, said the soldiers left her dying father and siblings bleeding for an hour without medical attention. During the occupation, the family had given water to patrolling US soldiers.

Rice is right. We have not changed. Hadeel Kawaz might as well have been a Cherokee in the 1830s, watching her family die in the Trail of Tears.

As Iraqi civilians duck and try to decide whether they are the recipients of freedom or friendly fire, one thing is certain. Bush's friends are getting rich off Iraq a lot faster than Iraqis themselves.

Two weeks ago, Halliburton, the Houston oil company once run by Vice President Dick Cheney, announced a profit of $26 million in the second quarter of this year. In 2002 the company lost $498 million.

It helps that Halliburton got the majority of the work to rebuild Iraq's oil fields. At home President Bush filed briefs to the Supreme Court against affirmative action for African-Americans. In Iraq, Halliburton got an old boy, no-bid contract. Outrage forced a reopening of the bidding, but not before Halliburton racked up $641 million in work. Halliburton is also the sole provider of troop support services in Iraq and Afghanistan. For those services the company has already received $529 million in a 10-year contract that has no ceiling.

"Iraq was a very nice boost," one analyst told The Wall Street Journal. Cheney's friends get a boost. Civilians get brutality. Rice was absolutely right in the wrong way. She thought she was boasting about going on the offensive to protect an open society. When our freedom comes at the cost of killing police and gunning down a father, two daughters, and a son and leaving them for dead, nothing has changed. America remains an open society that relies far too much on a closed mind.

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is

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