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March 7, 2005

The Unfortunate Incident Protocol


How the powerful dodge their own bullets

by Dr. Teresa Whitehurst

"A little girl running in fear from armed men is killed in cold blood. … The authorities are trying their best to come up with a reason why this schoolgirl was shot so many times after she was dead – because that's the unusual part. But in no way will the Israeli government, nor the U.S. government, decry the fact that Palestinian civilians like her are being shot on such a regular basis. Instead, they will decry Palestinian terrorism again (unnecessary because we despise terrorism already, but it's a good tactic for diverting our attention) and remind us that soldiers have a right to protect themselves.

"If that doesn't do the trick, they'll bring out the ultimate weapon: 'There are always a few bad apples, and they will be punished.'"
-
"Palestinian Girl, Interrupted"

While so many journalists have been killed by the U.S. military that some have wondered aloud (and lived to regret it) if media personnel might actually be targeted to dissuade independent reporting on Mr. Bush's wars, it's nonetheless unusual for a just-freed journalist, held hostage for a month, to be shot, along with her rescuer, by U.S. troops.

Pro-Bush/pro-war Americans are quick to defend "our troops," even when families are slaughtered and children are orphaned at brutal checkpoints. But the Italians, a people more in possession of their faculties than the radical "conservatives" dominating this morally challenged nation of ours, are less sanguine, perhaps because they're not in the habit of defending cold-blooded murder.

In yet another tragic blunder, revealing to any sentient human being what the U.S. military machine has come to represent for people across the world, "our troops" – no doubt following immoral but quite legal rules of engagement – shot first and asked questions later. Left dead was brave secret service agent Nicola Calipari, who had rescued journalist Giuliana Sgrena. Reuters reports:

"The shooting in Iraq on Friday, as the reporter was being whisked to freedom after being held hostage for a month, was sure to fuel antiwar activists in Italy and put pressure on Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi."

Pressure on Berlusconi? No way! He's a pal of GWB, so not to worry. As I've noted before, the Bush administration, like the Blair establishment and the Israeli government, has turned the "bad apples" excuse for rotten deeds into an art form. To save everyone the time and trouble (not to mention the emotional ups and downs) of following this saga from its tragic beginning to its predictable end, allow me to fast-forward the events of the coming days, weeks, and months.

Damage Control: UIP to the Rescue

Here's what I've determined, from observing the same scenario numerous times, to be an "Unfortunate Incident Protocol" (UIP) , used by both the U.S. and Israeli governments whenever news of our own evildoing gets out:

  1. A tragedy occurs: "Our troops" have killed more innocent people, only this time the victims aren't Arabs/Muslims (in neocon-speak, the "evildoers"), thus the potential for public uproar and backlash exists.

  2. Code Blue! Any signs of uproar or backlash must be attacked preemptively. Immediate public appearances are required by Mr. Bush and the leader of the victim's home country: Talk extensively about the event, how you're praying for the families, and so on.

    1. Stress your "regret" for this "unfortunate incident."

    2. Immediately announce "an independent investigation."

    3. If the natives are getting restless, make statements or decisions to illustrate that this time you're really taking the incident seriously.

    4. Displays of outrage or of "demanding explanations" from the offending nation may be necessary if protests are developing; this is the only situation wherein a coalition partner is not required to present a united front with the Bush administration.

    5. Announce again "the investigation," but add that this time the investigation will be really thorough, leaving no stone unturned, and will not end up whitewashing guilt at all higher levels of authority.

    6. Emphasize that both leaders are in full agreement now, that you're both torn up about it, and that neither is catering to the wishes of the other.

  3. ASAP, tell your State-influenced newspapers to allot only one or two days to the outrageous nature of the incident. They should then shift angles: From day three onward, they should (1) stop writing about public reactions/protests, or the situation (e.g., the war or occupation) that gave rise to the shooting, or the nature of the system (e.g., rules of engagement) that set the shooters up for an incident such as this one, and (2) start writing about the "bad apples" who did the shooting, with as much juicy detail into their lurid pasts or deranged personalities as possible.

  4. Periodically during the next few weeks, have your newspapers write in glowing terms about the extremely thorough, independent, non-whitewashed investigation that your military is performing to "find out who's responsible." (This will end up being, to everyone's "surprise," the individual shooters.)

  5. If possible, have a photo-op with the two leaders together, looking somber, possibly shaking hands or with one arm across the other's shoulder. If this cannot be arranged or would look too cheesy, have other photos published showing diplomats from the two countries meeting, expressing regret over the incident, or talking about the thorough, independent, non-whitewashed investigation.

  6. After a few weeks, when the public furor has died down, have your newspapers report that the investigation is about to come to a close. Hint that nobody higher in rank than the shooters is to blame, and that all military personnel have been extremely cooperative. Papers should depict the issue as a purely internal military affair: No stories should link this unfortunate incident to the war/occupation itself.

  7. A few months later, announce that the thorough, independent, non-whitewashed investigation has been completed and the verdict is in: there was a miscommunication or an error in judgment, which the military regrets, but the ultimate responsibility lies with the troops who fired the fatal shots.

  8. If the public (especially in the victim's home country) is still upset at this time, make the sentence severe (several years in prison). However, in the more likely event that the public is less upset and/or has forgotten this event in the intervening months – during which time many more tragic events have grabbed headlines and attention – the sentence can be mild (a few months in prison, or none).

  9. Have your newspapers do some stories showing troops from both countries working together.

  10. Now it's time for the cherry on the cake: have a photo-op with both leaders smiling, preferably in the Oval Office, announcing that their respective nations are firmer friends than ever. The admirable ways in which this tragic incident was handled, with great cooperation on both sides, only strengthens their resolve to stand by one another in the War on Terror, no matter what the cost.

So for all who fear that this checkpoint killing could have negative fallout for Mr. Bush or Mr. Berlusconi, allow me to assure you that the 10-step system above is rather foolproof. It's worked so many times for Mr. Bush, Mr. Blair, Mr. Sharon, and of course Mr. Berlusconi that there's no reason to believe it won't work now.

Even now, steps in the UIP are being taken to correct mistakes made, so that lessons will be learned (FYI: note the passive voice of this sentence, which is highly recommended for distracting attention or outrage away from the perpetrators of illegal, immoral wars and occupations). As the Reuters article concludes:

"Berlusconi, who defied widespread public opposition to the Iraq war and sent 3,000 troops, took the rare step of summoning U.S. Ambassador Mel Sembler to his office. He demanded the United States 'leave no stone unturned' in investigating the incident.

"President Bush was quick to call Berlusconi and promise a full investigation…"


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Dr. Teresa Whitehurst is a clinical psychologist, author of Jesus on Parenting(2004) and coauthor of The Nonviolent Christian Parent (2004). She offers parenting workshops, holds discussion groups on Nonviolent Christianity, and writes the column, "Democracy, Faith and Values: Because You Shouldn’t Have to Choose Just One." Visit her Web site.

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