The Sergeant and the Girl: Anatomy of a Double Standard
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Written: September, 2000
Atrocities are Good, Massacres are even Better!
In 1979, during my first year of compulsory service in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), I was assigned to a unit of the much-dreaded “Golani” division. The unit’s remit encompassed a few villages in the West Bank. Jimmy Carter was visiting the region and we were tasked with suppressing any sign of overt dissent among the cowed populace. I was delighted to discover that a good friend of mine (we grew up together), SG, ended up in the same outfit. Otherwise, the company was comprised of social rejects, primary school dropouts, and worse.
The commanders of this tightly-knit camaraderie correctly interpreted their orders from highest up: they were to embark on a spree of torture and gruesome murder. One day, when they dispensed with an elderly villager by feeding him jam till his guts burst open, SG and I decided to maintain a coded diary of all events and to inform the military authorities of the unfolding atrocities.
Finally, at a serious risk to our lives, we both testified against the murderers and torturers in a closed session of a military court. The evidence was overwhelming, incontrovertible, and impeccable. Yet, the sentences were laughably lenient: the commander of the company, who murdered at least one Palestinian with his own hands, got six months in jail. Others were reprimanded.
As far as the military is concerned, atrocities and massacres have their good sides. Such misdeeds and abuse serve important strategic goals. They boost the morale of the troops and let them blow off steam; they deter would-be insurgents; they teach the Natives who is boss. The signal that such atrocities send is that the soldiery will stop at nothing and will observe no law when it is out to subdue a hostile population. This is why perpetrators of such deeds – if they belong to a victorious army - are never punished properly and proportionately.
A Kosovo Case Study
"You can't blame the whole army. But why
did they allow such a soldier to come here?"
"We believe he also has a mother an father and we cannot speak good or ill of him."
Hamdi Shabiu, father of Merita, the sexually molested, forcibly sodomized and murdered child
"Sex offenders typically have a history, but if the guy was raised here, and went to school here, is there any evidence of it at all?"
"When soldiers are on a peacekeeping
mission, it can be a very paranoid state. They're not in attack mode, like
they're trained to be; they're stuck in a neutral mode. (But...) the guy's
(Ronghi - SV) a staff sergeant. He's been around, he's not a rookie."
Dr. Keith John Smedi, formerly a Mental Health Officer in the US Army
"We looked at KFOR as saviours, to save
us from war and from violence... We want to see a picture of the man who did
this to us."
Remzje Shabiu, mother of Merita, the sexually molested, forcibly sodomized and murdered child
"We again trust the Americans."
Hamdi Shabiu, father of Merita, the sexually molested, forcibly sodomized and murdered child
Staff Sergeant Frank J. Ronghi sexually molested, forcibly sodomized ("indecent acts with a child") and then murdered an 11-years old girl in the basement of her drab building, when her father went to market to do some shopping. Then he spread flour from a UN aid package over the blood-stained floor. He wrapped the little, still warm body, in two sacks and dumped it under the staircase. He was sentenced to life in prison, without parole. It was a heinous crime which would have most certainly introduced him to the wrong end of a lethal injection in his homeland, the USA. But Staff Sergeant Ronghi was wise to have unleashed his depravity in Kosovo upon an Albanian girl. Ceteris paribus, it would seem that the going rate for dead Albanian girls is lower than for dead American ones.
There is nothing new in this supercilious attitude of the new masters of the universe. Fiercely independent, solipsistically provincial and fatuously ignorant - this nation of video clips and sound bites has imposed its narcissistic "culture" upon a world exhausted by wars hot and cold. Never averse to exploiting the global institutions to its ends - it often refrains from providing them with means. It still owes in excess of 160 million US dollars to the poorer nations of the world - its arrears to the UN peacekeeping operations. It refuses to subject itself to the judgements of the World Criminal Court, to the inspectors of the Chemical Weapons Convention, to the sanctions of the (anti) land mines treaty and to the provisions of the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty. In short, it is a bully - making its own laws as it goes, twisting arms and breaking bones when faced with opposition and ignoring the very edicts it promulgated at its convenience. Its soldiers and peacekeepers, its bankers and businessmen, its traders and diplomats are its long arms, an embodiment of this potent mixture of superiority and contempt.
The case of the bestial murderer Ronghi is not an aberration. It happened before (in Japan in 1995, for instance). Nor is the double moral standard applied only by the USA. When a (most probably intoxicated) Norwegian soldier killed a Macedonian minister and his family in a car crash in August 1999 (having swerved into the wrong lane), he was rushed back to Norway to face an incredibly lenient sentence of two months in prison - unimaginable if the Minister were Norwegian and the venue Oslo. More than 60 criminal investigations against NATO soldiers by the Macedonian police (the tip of an iceberg, no doubt) ended this way. So did proceedings in more than 200 traffic accidents involving almost 20 fatalities. These are the remains of a colonial state of mind - natives come cheap, their lives dispensable, the white man's burden must not be exacerbated by excess legalism. Western folks should stick together, you know and, above all, should never be exposed to the vagaries of primitive indigenous jurisprudence.
In the village of Vitina, in Kosovo, a wiry Hamdi Shabiu, in an upturned fur hat and evanescent nylon jacket, waves the photograph of the swollen face of his formerly beautiful daughter, Merita. Her battered body was discovered on Thursday, January 13, 2000 (no one seems to agree as to where). The 35 year old weapons squad leader from Fort Bragg, North Carolina (born in Niles, Ohio), was arrested 3 days later in a show of unprecedented investigative efficiency. He was transferred to a confinement facility (a military euphemism for prison) in Mannheim and from there to a prison in Wuerzburg, near Frankfurt, Germany.
It was the sad denouement of what started as a love affair. The American contingent of KFOR was welcomed by the Kosovars in scenes of jubilation not seen since the end of World War Two. But this exuberance was soon quelled by the liberties some soldiers took with the local girls (for instance, when "searching" their bodies for "weapons"). Complaints were lodged - and ignored (another pattern of behaviour - American soldiers are ex-territorial). Later, Americans were involved in violent and brutal clashes with local Albanians, including in Vitina. The atmosphere has soured.
The Kosovo the peacekeepers entered is a fantastic place, the outcome of a hundred years of solitude. It is teeming with disgruntled and covinous guerilla fighters, steely-eyed and ruthless mafiosi, contumacious small-time delinquents and noisome, unctuous pimps in chintzy cars. In this nebulochaotically permissive atmosphere of insidious disintegration and ludic, sinuous sex - soldiers became involved in all manner of invenial skulduggery, drug peddling and abuse, in weapons trading and white prostitution networks. Ask any Macedonian, Kosovar, Greek, Albanian, Serb, or Bulgarian and they will tell you how deep and institutionalized the involvement of KFOR soldiers is in the smuggling of cigarettes, alcohol, sugar, flour and consumer goods. The surrealistic morass that is the Balkan has digested them and enmeshed them in venality and crime. The lack of functioning law enforcement institutions and the gaping void that replaced civil society in Kosovo contributed to the general moral turpitude. The unbearable lightness of being has rendered all moral precepts remote and niggling. To these soldiers, Kosovo was an Elysium of sin, an apogee of lasciviousness and avarice, a profligate perdition.
Ronghi set impassively through the reading of his verdict on July 30th. He offered the grieving family a convoluted apology: "I don't know what went wrong that day". Pathological Narcissists are characterized by alloplastic defences. They blame the world, destiny, the Universe, fate, or other people for their behaviour and for its (usually deleterious) outcomes. Faulty maps were blamed on the demolition of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. The unfortunate event of the downing of an Iranian airliner was attributed to "human error". An American pilot violated his flight instructions, killing vacationers in Italy in the process - and was exculpated. Ronghi, described as a wholesome American phenomenon by friends, family and commanders, blamed the day: "I don't know what went wrong that day", he said. He might as well have been discussing a scorched omelette. Devoid of all emotion or compunction, he added stolidly, reading from a crumpled piece of paper his lines of what evidently was, to him, merely a bad script. "I apologize from the bottom of my heart to the family. I ask them for my forgiveness" [sic! How Freudian!]. He added: "I never did anything wrong before. I know what I did was very wrong. That's why I pleaded guilty." In other words: I am a good and upright man, who can tell right from wrong and who assumes responsibility for his wrongful acts. The brutal rape and thrashing to death of a pre-adolescent girl is the exception in an otherwise commendable life and virtuous conduct.
But Ronghi was unfazed by what he did. To bury Merita's body, ensconced in two UN flour sacks, under the staircase in the basement, Ronghi took with him another soldier, a private, who finally turned him in. He told him: "(it was) easy to get away with something like this in a Third World country". Sergeant Christopher Rice, who was on duty the night Ronghi murdered the child, added: "He knew because he'd done it before in the desert (in operation 'Desert Storm' in Iraq - SV)."
If Rice knew this about Ronghi - why didn't he turn him in? If the Army knew this about Ronghi - why did they send him on a peacekeeping mission involving contact with civilian population? Is it true that peacekeeping operations are the dumping grounds of mercenaries and military misfits, drug addicts and the criminally-inclined? That the selection criteria and procedures are less than rigorous is an open secret. Peacekeepers are notoriously culturally insensitive, undressing publicly (in Kumanovo), getting embroiled in inebriated brawls (in restaurants and bars), raping and thieving, smuggling and trading, playing with pistols during the famous Struga poetry festival. This has come to be expected of them. But not murder and, perhaps, not the rape of a pre-pubescent girl.
So many under-estimated the pernicious effects of promiscuousness and disdain combined. Many more have turned a blind eye to the convergence of the armed presence of Albanian thugs of all political hues and their counterparts in KFOR. To many soldiers, the citizens of Kosovo, both Albanian and Serb, were but sub-humans - a view shared by the Albanian predators that confiscated their apartments and killed them by the hundreds. This confluence of jaded scorn, this somnolent sadism and condescending malfeasance, this propinquity of criminal and law - made Kosovo the Dantesque netherland it has become. It killed Merita. It had the face of Ronghi but the number of the beast.
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