By Robert Parry
In effect, President George W. Bush transformed elite units of the U.S. military – including Special Forces and highly trained sniper teams – into "death squads" with a license to kill unarmed targets on suspicion that they might be a threat to American occupying forces.
In the recent public debate over whether Bush also authorized the CIA to assemble teams of assassins to roam the world hunting al-Qaeda suspects, the U.S. news media has cited the distinction between such face-to-face executions and the CIA's use of remote-controlled Predator drones firing missiles to kill groups of suspected insurgents in or near the war zones.
However, the evidence is that the Bush administration also permitted U.S. military units to engage in close-quarter executions when encountering alleged insurgents, even if they were unarmed and presented no immediate threat to American or allied troops.
This reality surfaced in 2007 with the attempted prosecutions of several U.S. soldiers whose defense attorneys cited "rules of engagement" that permitted killing suspected insurgents.
One case involved Army sniper Jorge G. Sandoval Jr., who was acquitted by a U.S. military court in Baghdad on Sept. 28, 2007, in the murders of two unarmed Iraqi men – one on April 27, 2007, and the other on May 11, 2007 – because the jury accepted defense arguments that the killings were within the approved rules. (Sandoval was convicted of lesser charges relating to planting evidence on a victim to obscure the facts of the homicide.)
The Sandoval case also revealed a classified program in which the Pentagon's Asymmetric Warfare Group encouraged U.S. military snipers in Iraq to drop "bait" – such as electrical cords and ammunition – and then shoot Iraqis who picked up the items, according to evidence in the Sandoval case. [Washington Post, Sept. 24, 2007]