Iraq war: cover-up of Australian soldier’s death


Jacob KovcoBy Mike Head:

Australian soldier’s death in Iraq covered-up

Private Jacob Kovco: the unanswered questions

25 September 2006

Like everything associated with the invasion of Iraq, the military board of inquiry into the death of Private Jacob Kovco has become a fiasco laced with lies and cover-up.

On April 21, Kovco, aged just 25, became the first Australian soldier to die in Iraq after being shot through the head with his own 9mm Browning pistol while in his barracks at the Australian Embassy in Baghdad.

From the outset, Defence Minister Brendan Nelson lied about the circumstances of Kovco’s death.

At the same time, Australian consular officials handed his corpse over to a private contractor in Kuwait, which then transported the body of a Bosnian civilian contractor to Australia for burial.

Immediately, it appeared that the government was hiding something.

Kovco had just come off shift from one of the most psychologically traumatising tasks performed by Australian troops in Iraq.

He was an elite sniper, protecting the convoys of light armoured vehicles that transport Australian military, political, diplomatic and intelligence officials around the war-torn capital.

Only three possibilities existed: Kovco committed suicide, he accidentally shot himself or he was killed by a fellow soldier.

Each was politically disastrous for the government, threatening to trigger new concerns about the inhuman conditions faced by the soldiers sent to enforce the US-led occupation of Iraq, and to rekindle widespread opposition to the war.
Bush, terrorism, and Iraq war, cartoon
Five months later, after weeks of contradictory testimony at the inquiry, it is clear that the government and the military brass have worked systematically to prevent the truth ever being known.

When the inquiry ended its hearings last week, and its officers retired to write their report, a litany of unanswered questions remained.

* Virtually all the crime scene evidence in Baghdad was quickly destroyed, either willfully or accidentally, by military officers.

Kovco’s room, which had been splattered with blood, was cleaned out, despite pleas from civilian police to preserve the evidence.

Kovco’s clothes were destroyed, while those worn by his roommates were washed.

Military police performed no forensic tests.

Update: here.

Iraqis’ views on attacks on US troops: here.

4 thoughts on “Iraq war: cover-up of Australian soldier’s death

  1. Stuff Happens Again in Baghdad*

    by FRANK RICH
    The New York Times
    Sept 24, 2006

    It’s not just about torture. Even if there had never been an Abu
    Ghraib, a Guantanamo or an American president determined to rewrite the
    Geneva Conventions, America would still be losing the war for hearts and
    minds in the Arab world. Our first major defeat in that war happened at
    the dawn of the Iraq occupation, before detainee abuse entered our
    language: the Stuff happens! moment at the National Museum in Baghdad.

    Three and a half years later, have we learned anything? You have to
    wonder. As the looting of the museum was the first clear warning of
    disasters soon to come, so the stuff that’s happening at the museum
    today is a grim indicator of where we’re headed in Iraq: America is
    empowering the very Islamic radicals this war was supposed to smite. But
    even now we seem to be averting our eyes from reality on the ground in
    Baghdad.

    Our blindness back in April 2003 seems ludicrous in retrospect. As the
    looting flared, an oblivious President Bush told the Iraqi people in a
    televised address that they were the heirs of a great civilization that
    contributes to all humanity. Our actions or, more accurately, our
    inaction as the artifacts of that great civilization were carted away
    spoke louder than those pretty words. As Fred Ikle, the Reagan
    administration Pentagon policy chief, puts it in Thomas Ricks’s
    “Fiasco,” America lost most of its prestige and respect in that episode.

    That disaster might have been mitigated if our leaders had not dismissed
    the whole episode as a triviality. But Donald Rumsfeld likened the chaos
    to the aftermath of a soccer game and joked that television was
    exaggerating the story by recycling video of a single looter with a
    vase. Gen. Richard Myers defended our failure to intervene as a matter
    of priorities (we had protected the oil ministry). Lt. Gen. William
    Wallace, countering a wildly inflated early claim by a former museum
    employee that 170,000 artifacts had been destroyed, put the number of
    objects still unaccounted for at as few as 17. (The actual number was
    closer to 14,000.)

    The war’s many cheerleaders in the press fell into line. In keeping with
    the mood of the time, administration enforcers like Charles Krauthammer
    and Andrew Sullivan damned Mr. Rumsfeld’s critics as fatuous aesthetes
    exploiting a passing incident to denigrate the liberation of Iraq. In a
    column in Salon titled Idiocy of the Week (that idiot would be me), Mr.
    Sullivan asked rhetorically who was right about the alleged ransacking
    of the museum, Mr. Rumsfeld or his critics? Rummy, of course. He almost
    always
    is.

    Of course, dear old Rummy’s what-me-worry take on the museum was the
    tip-off to how he would be wrong about everything that would follow: he
    reacted with exactly the same disdain and indifference to the insurgency
    happening under his own nose and to Abu Ghraib. There would be a hasty
    corrective to the looting, at least: a heroic Marine Reserve colonel,
    Matthew Bogdanos, commanded a team that ultimately tracked down a bit
    more than a third of the vanished objects. (It was too late to rescue
    tens of thousands of additional treasures in Iraq’s National Library and
    National Archives, both also looted and torched.) But Mr. Rumsfeld’s
    “Stuff happens!” proved indelible because it so resonantly set forth an
    enduring theme of the occupation: that the Americans in charge of Iraq
    were contemptuous of the local populace to whom they were so grandly
    bequeathing democracy and other fruits of civilization.

    The cavalier American reaction to the museum looting was mimicked in the
    $22 billion reconstruction effort, an orgy of corruption and waste that
    still hasn’t brought Iraqis reliable electricity. In a new account of
    the civilian nation-builders in the Green Zone, Imperial Life in the
    Emerald City, Rajiv Chandrasekaran of The Washington Post details how L.
    Paul Bremer III and his underlings enlisted cronies and apparatchiks
    rather than those who might actually know anything about the country’s
    people or their needs. Thus we saddled Iraq with Bernie Kerik, G.O.P.
    fund-raisers and politically connected young ideologues chosen over more
    qualified job applicants who knew Arabic. They saw Iraq as a guinea pig
    for irrelevant (and doomed) experiments, including an antismoking
    campaign and an elaborate American-style stock exchange. Mr.
    Chandrasekaran’s book, while nonfiction, is as chilling an indictment of
    Americas tragic cultural myopia as Graham Greene’s prescient 1955 novel
    of the American debacle in Indochina, “The Quiet American.”

    Our public diplomacy efforts were equally tone-deaf to Iraqis and their
    neighbors. In the early going, the State Department hired a Madison
    Avenue whiz who made sunny TV testimonials about Americas love of
    Muslims. These ads won no hearts or minds, but wasted tons of money and
    even more valuable time. Now this job belongs to Karen Hughes, the
    presidential flack, whose patronizing photo-op tour of the region last
    year earned mostly ridicule.

    Our broadcasting outreach there is supervised by a longtime Karl Rove
    pal, Kenneth Tomlinson, who last month was found by State Department
    investigators to be using his office literally to run a horse-racing
    operation. One of Mr. Tomlinsons thoroughbreds is named Karzai, in
    supposed honor of the Afghan president. If that’s his idea of lifting
    Americas image in the Muslim world, he might as well be on Al Jazeera’s
    payroll. On Wednesday, ABC News reported the bottom line of such P.R.
    misfires: a confidential Pentagon survey found that 75 percent of Iraqs
    Sunni Muslims support the insurgency, up from 14 percent in 2003.

    Speaking before the United Nations last week in what may be the run-up
    to our new war, Mr. Bush was still on his battle-for-civilization kick,
    flattering Iranians much as he has the Iraqis. We admire your rich
    history, your vibrant culture, and your many contributions to
    civilization, he said. All Iranians have to do is look to the Baghdad
    museum today to see that such words are worth no more now than they were
    in 2003.

    It’s symbolic of the anarchy throughout Iraq’s capital that the museums
    entrances are now sealed with concrete to keep out new hordes of killers
    and thieves. But the violence, which seems to spiral with each
    declaration of a new security crackdown, is old news. More revealing is
    the other half of the museums current plight: it is now in the hands of
    Iraq’s version of the Taliban. That sad denouement is another symbol,
    standing for our defeat in the larger war of ideas.

    The museum changed hands in August, when Donny George, its longtime
    administrator and the chairman of Iraq’s official antiquities board,
    fled the country fearing for his life and for the treasures in his care,
    both at the museum and the country’s many archaeological sites. Mr.
    George is a Christian and had good reason to fear. The new government
    minister placed in charge of the museum, a dentist, is an acolyte of the
    radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, whose goal is to make Iraq a
    fundamentalist theocracy. To Mr. Sadr and his followers, the museums
    legendary pre-Islam antiquities, harking back to the ancient
    civilizations of Mesopotamia, are infidels idols to be sacked.

    You might think, given Mr. Sad’rs radicalism, that he is a fugitive
    terrorist on the lam as, say, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was. After all, Mr.
    Sadr’s militia, the Mahdi Army, is a font of death squads at the heart
    of the sectarian warfare; he’s an enthusiastic ally of Hezbollah
    besides. But he is instead a major player in the democracy we have
    installed in Iraq, controlling at least 30 of 275 seats in the
    Parliament and six government ministries, including the power centers of
    transportation and health.

    Back in 2004, the Americans made plans to take down Mr. Sadr, but as
    Larry Diamond, a senior adviser to the coalition authority in Baghdad,
    writes in his book “Squandered Victory,” those plans were shelved for
    various reasons, including political calculations in Washington.
    American forces arrested some Sadr aides last week, but such periodic
    skirmishes notwithstanding, his influence continues to grow. He is a
    crucial ally of the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, who would not be in
    office without his support. In the past few days, both Tony Snow and
    Condi Rice have been reaffirming that the administration has what the
    secretary of state called enormous confidence in Mr. Maliki, despite
    Washington chatter to the contrary.

    One of the first Westerners to warn strongly of the dangers of someone
    like Mr. Sadr was Gertrude Bell (1868-1926), the legendary
    archaeologist, explorer, author and British political officer who
    masterminded the unlikely cobbling together of the modern Iraq state
    after World War I. She warned that a Shiite theocracy in the new country
    would be the very devil. As it happened, it was also Bell who created
    the Iraqi National Museum in 1923.

    The fortunes of her museum, once considered the finest in the Middle
    East, have been synonymous with the fate of Iraq ever since. That’s
    because, like any such national institution, it is not merely some
    building that houses art but a repository of a country’s heart and soul.
    That America has stood helplessly by as Mr. Sadr folds the museum into
    his orbit of power is as ominous a predictor of what lies ahead in this
    war as was our callous reaction to the looting of 2003. For all of
    Americas talk of stamping out a murderous ideology and promoting
    civilization and democracy in Iraq, we are now handing the very devil
    the keys.

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  2. Do Unto Your Enemy… *

    by PAUL RIECKHOFF
    The New York Times
    September 25, 2006

    In 2002, I attended the Infantry Officer Basic Course at Fort
    Benning, Ga. At “the Schoolhouse, ” every new Army infantry officer spent
    six months studying the basics of his craft, including the rules of war.

    I remember a seasoned senior officer explaining the importance of the
    Geneva Conventions. He said, “When an enemy fighter knows he’ll be
    treated well by United States forces if he is captured, he is more
    likely to give up.”

    A year later on the streets of Baghdad, I saw countless insurgents
    surrender when faced with the prospect of a hot meal, a pack of
    cigarettes and air-conditioning. America’s moral integrity was the
    single most important weapon my platoon had on the streets of Iraq. It
    saved innumerable lives, encouraged cooperation with our allies and
    deterred Iraqis from joining the growing insurgency.

    But those days are over. America’s moral standing has eroded, thanks to
    its flawed rationale for war and scandals like Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo
    and Haditha. The last thing we can afford now is to leave Article 3 of
    the Geneva Conventions open to reinterpretation, as President Bush
    proposed to do and can still do under the compromise bill that emerged
    last week.

    Blurring the lines on the letter of Article 3 — it governs the
    treatment of prisoners of war, prohibiting “violence to life and person,
    in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and
    torture” and “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating
    and degrading treatment” — will only make our troops’ tough fight even
    tougher. It will undermine the power of all the Geneva Conventions,
    immediately endanger American troops captured by the enemy and create a
    powerful recruiting tool for Al Qaeda.

    But the fight over Article 3 concerns not only Al Qaeda and the war in
    Iraq. It also affects future wars, because when we lower the bar for the
    treatment of our prisoners, other countries feel justified in doing the
    same. Four years ago in Liberia, in an attempt to preserve his corrupt
    authority, President Charles Taylor adopted the Bush administration’ s
    phrase “unlawful combatants” to describe prisoners he wished to try
    outside of civilian courts. Today Mr. Taylor stands before The Hague
    accused of war crimes.

    It is not hard to imagine that one of our Special Forces soldiers might
    one day be captured by Iranian forces while investigating a potential
    nuclear weapons program. What is to stop that soldier from being
    water-boarded, locked in a cold room for days without sleep as Iranian
    pop music blares all around him — and finally sentenced to die without
    a fair trial or the right to see the evidence against him?

    If America continues to erode the meaning of the Geneva Conventions, we
    will cede the ground upon which to prosecute dictators and warlords. We
    will also become unable to protect our troops if they are perceived as
    being no more bound by the rule of law than dictators and warlords
    themselves.

    The question facing America is not whether to continue fighting our
    enemies in Iraq and beyond but how to do it best. My soldiers and I
    learned the hard way that policy at the point of a gun cannot, by
    itself, create democracy. The success of America’s fight against
    terrorism depends more on the strength of its moral integrity than on
    troop numbers in Iraq or the flexibility of interrogation options.

    Several Republican combat veterans, including former Secretary of State
    Colin Powell and Senators Lindsay Graham, John McCain and John Warner,
    have recognized that the president’s stance on Article 3 is a threat to
    our troops and to our interests. It would be insulting for the president
    to assume he knows more about war than they do.

    But the compromise the president struck with the senators last week
    leaves the most significant questions unresolved. The veterans must hold
    their ground — and the White House must recognize that our troops need
    all the moral authority they can get.

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    Paul Rieckhoff, the executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans
    of America, is the author of “Chasing Ghosts: A Soldier’s Fight for
    America From Baghdad to Washington.”

    Read this at:
    http://www.nytimes. com/2006/ 09/25/opinion/ 25rieckhoff. html?_r=1& oref=slogin& pagewanted= print

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