Blogs > Cliopatria > Checkpoints

Mar 9, 2005 4:08 pm


This is outside my usual area, but I am compelled to bring to the attention of the readers of this blog a Frontline report called"A Company of Soldiers" that was broadcast February 22. It shows clearly the casual way in which checkpoints are being manned by U.S. forces in Iraq and why innocent civilians are dying at the hands of American soldiers.

Toward the beginning of the report, which can be streamed online, a camera crew follows a small company of soldiers posted at a highway on-ramp checkpoint. At one point a car is seen in the distance. The soldiers do not wave it off, use hand signals or fire shots that could be perceived as warning shots. Instead, with the car barreling down the road toward them they pause, watch, and then start firing. From the soldiers' perspective it is impossible to determine the occupants of the car or their purpose. The car turns around and heads in the direction it came from. Was anybody shot or killed? Who knows? The soldiers don't investigate and the occupants of the car certainly don't hold a press conference to present their side.

I was appalled as I watched this video scene unfold. It seemed inconceivable that we could risk taking life on an ordinary highway so casually. When a few days later we all heard the news about the Italian journalist I couldn’t help but think that she was a victim of this same casual approach.

Sure, war is dirty and ugly and if I were stationed in Iraq I would be frightened not to shoot when a car is barreling down the road at me. But don't checkpoints need to be established with some care? Don't the people innocently traveling down the road need to be told IN ADVANCE that they are approaching a checkpoint?

And why aren't the media broadcasting this actual footage of a checkpoint so viewers can understand the casual way in which checkpoints have been established? That means you CNN, MSNBC, CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox. Call up Frontline. Get the video. AND SHOW IT.

This is the published transcript of the event. But it has to be seen to be grasped.

NARRATOR: Today Dog Company has been ordered to set up a roadblock while the rest of the battalion hunts for insurgents hiding in the area.

Maj. LEIKER: Hey, Dan, you're in charge of that lane, OK?

Sgt. SHANE CARPENTER: What am I, chopped liver?

Pvt. JOSUE REYES: Everybody feels scared. When I go out the gate, I feel kind of anxious and nervous at the same time. But I don't really feel fear, like, so much fear that I can't function, you know?

Sgt. SHANE CARPENTER: All right? I don't want to hear it.

Pvt. JOSUE REYES: Especially when, you know, there's a car on the side of the road, and it's just sitting there and you have to go past it. And you— there's the sense that, you know, that could be the car that blows up.

NARRATOR: Suddenly, they spot a car coming their way.

Sgt. SHANE CARPENTER: Warning shot! Warning shot! Engage!

PFC. BENJAMIN MORGAN: He passed the trigger line. He passed the trigger line. Sir? The Humvee's right here, sir. He could see us!

NARRATOR: The car had approached the roadblock at high speed. To the soldiers, it seemed like the driver accelerated after the warning shot, so the order was given to shoot directly at the car.

Pvt. JOSUE REYES: Hey, dude. See him run right at us? The minute you said that, I was, like,"Fuck this."

PFC. BENJAMIN MORGAN: I know. The guy— after the warning shot, he sped up.


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More Comments:

Marcin Wilkowski ( - 3/13/2005

>Every civilian death gives insurgents more ammunition to >use in the propaganda war against us.

but there is a propaganda on the other site too.. it is truism but I think more attention to the more critical reception of the media writing about war should be taken.
I do not know how it is in US but in Poland it seems to be only one-point-of-view thinking reported in the mainstream tv and press.

Ben J Franklin - 3/10/2005

Ms. Ammerman, WE - THE USA - invaded their country.

How would you feel, if you had to pass through checkpoints on the road, set up by heavily armed aliens speaking foreign languages, dressed in foreign clothing, who have the right to murder you and YOUR SONS for any whim at any moment they choose - no investigation, no charges, nobody to answer.

Unfortunately, your sons, and other USA troopers are like the NAZIS were in countries they invaded in Europe. They have total control over life and death and answer to no one for the crimes they committ every day.

Basically, Ms. Ammerman, you are saying, "I don't give a darn how many Iraqis die, I just want my two boys home safely."

I agree that the young Americans manning these checkpoints are not monsters, but the rotten Bush, and his monsters are turning our young people into murdering invaders destroying a nation and its people.

War is the process of arming soldiers and putting them into a situation where they must kill or be killed and the allowing basic instinct to take over.

I hope your sons neither kill nor are killed. The only way to guarantee this is to demand our troops be withdrawn immediately.


HNN - 3/10/2005

I can well understand your concerns.

My argument is that where checkpoints are established they need to be clearly marked with large signs in advance of the line cars cannot cross without being fired upon.

This small innovation would not increase the danger to our troops. But it would help reduce the number of unnecessary civilian deaths.

If an emphasis is not placed on preventing civilian deaths we will never be able to leave Iraq. Every civilian death gives insurgents more ammunition to use in the propaganda war against us.

Priscilla S Ammerman - 3/10/2005

I too hate that innocents must die at checkpoints in Iraq. I also saw the segment of Frontline referred to in this piece. I guess because I have sons currently serving in Iraq I saw the piece with a different perspective.

Before we focus the blame for the deaths of innocents solely on the shoulders of American soldiers perhaps we should look at a group more worthy of such charges. American soldiers are using procedures developed in reaction to numerous suicide bombing at checkpoints in Iraq. My sons, as well as those of thousands of other Americans, cannot wait to see the whites of the drivers eyes when challenging a vehicle that ignores checkpoints. Suicide bombings have made such precautions impossible. If soldiers waited and approached the car, they could very well be dead before they could verify the intentions of the drivers.

These are young Americans manning those checkpoints not monsters. No matter how much bravado they may display to a camera crew, I know that they feel the remorse and guilt inherent to all humans whenever an Iraqi is mistakenly killed.

As a mother, though, I want my sons to come home in one piece. Please remember that checkpoints would not have such Draconian protocol in place where the threat of suicide bombers not so real to every young American standing of that stretch of dangerous road.