Guest Post: The Warped Mission of the American Military – “Out-Terrorize the Terrorists”

Washington’s Blog

A number of American soldiers are blowing the whistle on the American military practice of indiscriminately killing Iraq civilians – by randomly firing bullets in a 360 degree circle – anytime that an improvised explosive device hits a U.S. soldier.

As Truthout notes:

Both [specialists Ethan McCord and Josh Stieber] say they saw their mission as a plan to “out-terrorize the terrorists,” in order to make the general populace more afraid of the Americans than they were of insurgent groups.

In the interview with [Constitutional lawyer Scott] Horton, Horton pressed Stieber:

“… a fellow veteran of yours from the same battalion has said that you guys had a standard operating procedure, SOP, that said – and I guess this is a reaction to some EFP attacks on y’all’s Humvees and stuff that killed some guys – that from now on if a roadside bomb goes off, IED goes off, everyone who survives the attack get out and fire in all directions at anybody who happens to be nearby … that this was actually an order from above. Is that correct? Can you, you know, verify that?

Stieber answered:

“Yeah, it was an order that came from Kauzlarich himself, and it had the philosophy that, you know, as Finkel does describe in the book, that we were under pretty constant threat, and what he leaves out is the response to that threat. But the philosophy was that if each time one of these roadside bombs went off where you don’t know who set it … the way we were told to respond was to open fire on anyone in the area, with the philosophy that that would intimidate them, to be proactive in stopping people from making these bombs …”

Terrorism is defined as:

The use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.

So McCord and Stieber are correct: this constitutes terrorism by American forces in Iraq.

Of course, America’s institutionalized policy of torture (see this and this) is also terrorism. As I pointed out last year:

An article today in Der Spiegel describes a study on the use of torture over the last couple of thousand years:

A new book, [“Extreme Violence in the Visuals and Texts of Antiquity”] by Martin Zimmerman, a professor of ancient history in Munich, looks at current research into the kinds of violence that inspired “loathing, dread, horror and disgust.”

In the ancient Far East, where there were large states peopled by many different ethnicities, leaders demonstrated their might by inventing ingenious new tortures and agonizing methods of execution — as a way to keep the population obedient…

The issue of state-sanctioned torture to achieve political goals is still a current one.

The study reinforces what I wrote last year:

Listen to the testimony to Congress by a representative of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

Governments that use torture intend to intimidate their citizens in order to maintain control; those who are tortured become examples of the consequences of dissent.”

Indeed, this is a well-known tactic for brutal regimes. Take Zimbabwe, for example:

“Victims and eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch that [Zimbabwe’s brutal regime] has set up detention centers . . . to round up and instill fear in suspected political opponents.”

Torture is a form of terrorism, plain and simple.

As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services director told Congress:

“… torture is the deliberate mental and physical damage caused by governments to individuals to … terrorize society.”

And the U.S. policy of assassinating people all over the world (including Americans) – without trial – is a form of terrorism as well.

Unfortunately, this is nothing new. As the former director of the National Security Agency said:

By any measure the US has long used terrorism. In ‘78-79 the Senate was trying to pass a law against international terrorism – in every version they produced, the lawyers said the US would be in violation.

(the audio is here).

And as Truthout points out, the 360 degree firing on innocent bystanders is most definitely a war crime:

High-level orders to kill civilians in the context of retaliation for attacks on forces have already been successfully prosecuted as a war crime. In 1944, German SS Obersturmbannführer Herbert Kappler ordered the execution of civilians in the ratio of ten to one for every German soldier killed in a March 1944 attack by Italian partisans. Kappler was sentenced to life in prison. The executions took place in the Caves of Ardeatine in Italy, and were made into the subject of a movie starring Richard Burton. None of the lower-ranking soldiers who actually carried the order out were prosecuted.


The attack which spurred the World War II German commander’s retaliatory executions, intended as collective punishment for not informing on partisans, was an IED planted in a garbage container. Kappler’s rank was the equivalent of a lieutenant colonel.

The ironic thing is that top conservative and liberal terrorism experts say that torture and other war crimes increase terrorism and reduce national security.

And terrorism is bad for the economy as well.

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About George Washington

George Washington is the head writer at Washington’s Blog. A busy professional and former adjunct professor, George’s insatiable curiousity causes him to write on a wide variety of topics, including economics, finance, the environment and politics. For further details, ask Keith Alexander…


  1. Debra

    Thanks much for this article, Yves. I totally agree with what you have written here. (see, it DOES happen…)
    This is a drum I have been beating for years, now (but too many people in the U.S. seem to be deaf to it…).
    An important addition, I feel : TORTURE and TERRORISM (to induce obedience by instilling fear) which have the immediate temporary goal of allowing the torturing PERSON to experience a feeling of all powerfulness, are going on all over the inside of U.S. prisons on American citizens.
    We have been EXPORTING this kind of terrorism and torture for years now (one of our most. LUCRATIVE STILL EXISTING EXPORTS ???), while the majority of the citizens of the U.S. have been politely, and discreetly averting their eyes from the “show”…
    ONE of the big problems at this time is that this impunity can not be addressed abroad, I feel, WITHOUT our willingness to address it AT HOME, at least at the same time.
    But..once again I am afraid that the traditional American solutions to this problem will fail… prosecution and imprisonment are insufficient to address this systemic problem.

  2. Jim the Skeptic

    I wasn’t there but ….. Was the original attack an IED or an RPG? If you didn’t know which, you might shoot first in an attempt to stay alive. Failing to return fire could be lethal.

    Suppressive fire is a term used in military science and defined by NATO as “fire that degrades the performance of a target below the level needed to fulfil its mission. Suppression is usually only effective for the duration of the fire.”[1] Suppressive fire is not always a direct form of fire towards targets, it can be an effective visual and audiable distraction. It is one of three types of fire support which is defined by NATO as “the application of fire, coordinated with the manoeuvre of forces, to destroy, neutralize or suppress the enemy.”
    Before NATO defined the term the British and Commonwealth armies generally used ‘neutralisation’ with the same definition as suppression. NATO now defines neutralization as “Fire delivered to render a target temporarily ineffective or unusable.”

    Medal of Honor
    In October 2007, Giunta’s eight-man squad was moving in bright moonlight along a wooded ridgeline in the Korangal Valley[5] when at least a dozen Taliban fighters[6] mounted an ambush that was coordinated from three sides[7] at such close range that close air support could not be provided to Giunta’s unit. Sergeant Josh Brennan, who was walking point, suffered at least 6 gunshot wounds. Giunta, then a specialist, was the fourth soldier back and was shot in the chest but was saved by his ballistic vest.[8] Another bullet destroyed a weapon slung over his back.[9] Moving, firing and throwing hand grenades, Giunta advanced up the trail to assist Staff Sergeant Erick Gallardo and, later, Specialist Franklin Eckrode, whose M249 machine gun had jammed and who was badly wounded.[5] Continuing up the trail, Giunta saw two enemy fighters, one of whom was Mohammad Tali (considered a high-value target),[10] dragging Brennan down the hillside and towards the forest. Giunta attacked the insurgents with his M4 carbine, killing Tali,[11] and ran to Brennan to provide cover and comfort until relief arrived.[8]

    Instant action was all that saved most of those men.

    Think you could do a better job? The recruiters office is open and they always need good officers.

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