A Woman and a Child
December 24, 2020
If a picture is worth a thousand words, sometimes a single word or two can create and recreate an entire picture, bringing it into sharp focus. In an on-air interview, I was listening to the controlled fury of retired Marine Corps General Gary Solis denouncing the President’s pardon of four convicted killers. Sentenced for murder and manslaughter, the four had wantonly opened fire on a crowd of Iraqis in 2007, killing 17, all civilians.
Emphasizing the very long-term damage this single act has done to whatever is left of America’s reputation for justice, or even the promise of justice, he said, “…throughout the Middle East… we have provided them now with a hammer with which they can beat us every time we utter the words – we, the United States – utter the words justice or fairness.” That moral high ground was swept away in a corrupt use of a Constitutional power vested in the President.
But General Solis saved his most passionate denunciation describing the massacre of innocents that day in Baghdad. Close to tears, his voice rising in more than righteous indignation, he nearly shouted, “17 Iraqis killed, including women and children.” He paused before correcting himself, now in control of his voice, “a woman and a child.”
A woman and a child. The image hit me in a way that “17 Iraqis killed” or “women and children” had not. A woman and a child.
The mind is such a strange thing. I had absorbed the fact of this barbarous act of mass homicide, but only now was I able to picture the particulars. I imagined a woman and a child, a mother and her nine-year-old son out on a fall day together. I imagined a woman going about her business with her child thinking about his third-grade lessons when, without warning, a group of trigger-happy men armed with military might, opened fire. Who was the first hit, I wondered, the mother or the child? Who watched the other die first?
When I delved into the details online, I discovered that the two victims, a woman and a child, were not related, were not together. No, the boy was not out with his mother, but his father, who had just picked up the boy’s aunt and her three children from her work place. They were driving home when the unprovoked massacre began. They saw the car in front of them blasted apart, learning later that its two occupants, a woman doctor and her medical student son, were among the first to die. Terrified now, the four cousins tried to protect one another in the back seat of their own vehicle when the barrage of bullets raining down struck the boy in the head. His name was Ali Mohammed Hafedh Kinani. He was nine years old.
The boy’s father, Mohammed Kinani al-Razzaq, described the scene like this: “All of a sudden, they started shooting in all directions, and they shot at everyone in front of them. There was nothing left in that street that wasn’t shot: the ground, cars, poles, sidewalks; they shot everything in front of them. It was like the end of days.” When he spoke at the sentencing of the men after they were found guilty in a Washington, D.C. trial, he asked the judge, “What is the difference between these men and terrorists?”
The men that killed Mohammed Kinani’s son, and 16 other ordinary non-combatant Iraqi citizens, were not soldiers. They were not part of the U.S. military occupation of Iraq. Instead, they were hired killers, employed by our government to “privatize” the making of war. They were all in the employ of Erik Prince and his mercenary army for hire, Blackwater Security Consulting. A huge supporter and contributor to Trump’s election – and the brother of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos – Prince sought the intervention of the President, and the President responded by granting pardons to the four, literally letting them get away with murder.
What makes this betrayal of our justice system even more shocking is that this country is at this moment in a fast-paced fury of executions of our own. After a 16-year hiatus in the application of the federal death penalty, disgraced Attorney General William Barr ordered their resumption last July. “The Department of Justice has sought the death penalty against the worst criminals,” he announced at the time. “We owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.”
As death sentences and executions dropped to historic lows in 2020, the federal government, representing all of us, has already carried out more executions this year than all the states combined. It is a strange irony that, like those victims of the Iraqi massacre, 17 people have been put to death in this country this year. Of those, ten were carried out not by individual states, but by the United States. And more are scheduled, including two who have contracted Covid-19 while awaiting their death sentences to be carried out in the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Carved above the entrance to the United States Supreme Court are the words, “Equal Justice Under Law.” The words are noble; the reality is not. “What is the difference between these men and terrorists?” the father of the murdered 9-year-old child asked the sentencing judge, leaving me to ask, what is the difference between the President of the Unites States of America and any tin-pot dictator – and what does that make us?