Operation Bury ‘Em Alive

When we look back to the beginning of the 15-year U.S.-Iraq war, we recall incidents that have been forgotten, or were not given public attention at the time. These occurrences are important because they kept escalating the severity of the violence thrust against Iraq from 1991 until today. Once one method was accepted, another came forth with even more dire consequences.

On the first two days of the ground war during Desert Storm (February 24 and 25, 1991), U.S. troops, using tanks and earthmovers that had been specially fitted with plows, buried thousands of Iraqi soldiers alive.

Three brigades of the 1st Mechanized Infantry Division (the Big Red One) used the tactic to destroy trenches and bunkers that were being defended by about 10,000 Iraqi soldiers. These combatants were draftees, not the seasoned troops such as the Republican Guard.

The assault had been carefully planned and rehearsed. According to U.S. participants, about 2,000 Iraqis surrendered and were not buried. Most of the rest, about 8,000, were buried beneath tons of sand — many trying to surrender. Captain Bennie Williams was rewarded for his part in the burying with a Silver Star. He said, “Once we went through there, other than the ones who surrendered, there wasn’t anybody left.”

According to a senior Army official who was questioned, under anonymity by Spotlight News, about the tactics, the use of earthmovers is standard procedure in breaching obstacles and minefields. The heavy equipment precedes armored and infantry units to level barriers, then the vehicles can move quickly through enemy defenses. The official stated that any Iraqi troops who remained in their bunkers would have been buried and killed. He added, “This is war. This isn’t a pickup basketball game.”

Colonel Anthony Moreno, commander of the 2nd Brigade, said, “For all I know, we could’ve killed thousands.” A thinner line of trenches on Moreno’s left flank was attacked by the 1st Brigade commanded by Colonel Lon Maggart. He estimated that his troops buried about 650 Iraqis alive.

Long after Desert Storm, in an interview with New York Newsday, Maggart and Moreno gave some of the first public testimony about the burying alive of Iraqis. Prior to their statements, then Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney, never mentioned the atrocities, even when he submitted a report to Congress just prior to the interviews. The only time Cheney mentioned the burying of Iraqi troops occurred when he acknowledged that 457 dead enemy soldiers were buried by U.S. forces at 56 sites during the ground war. By using the figure of 457, Cheney admitted the United States did not live up to international agreements concerning burying war dead because more than 100,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed in Desert Storm. Technically, he may have been correct about not including those buried by U.S. tanks because they were not dead whey they were buried.

The technique in burying the soldiers involved a pair of M1-A1 tanks with plows shaped like giant teeth along each section of the trench line. The tanks took up positions on either side of the trenches. Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Vulcan armored personnel carriers straddled the trench line and fired into the Iraqi soldiers as the tanks covered them with piles of sand.

According to Moreno, “I came through right after the lead company. What you saw was a bunch of buried trenches with peoples’ arms and things sticking out of them.” Maggart added, “I know burying people alive like that sounds pretty nasty, but it would be even nastier if we had to put our troops in the trenches and clean them out.”

The attack contradicted U.S. Army doctrine, which calls for troops to leave their armored vehicle to clean out trenches or to bypass and isolate fortified positions. Moreno admitted that the assault was not according to policy as he said, “This was not doctrine. My concept is to defeat the enemy with your power and equipment. We’re going to have to bludgeon them with every piece of equipment we’ve got. I’m not going to sacrifice the lives of my soldiers — it’s not cost-effective.”

The most disturbing aspect of the incident was the secrecy involved. When Newsday broke the story, everyone was taken by surprise. According to members of the House and Senate Armed Forces Committee, the Pentagon had withheld details of the assault from the committees. Senate Chairman, Sam Nunn, was unaware of the assault and after he was notified, he stated, “It sounds like another example of the horrors of war.” Quickly, the incident was forgotten.

Today, we see the same strategy. Take the Abu Ghraib torturing and murders. Everybody was aghast. Committees held meetings and spoke of the “fog of war.” Then, everybody went home and forgot about it.

The current resistance consists of members who had friends and family incarcerated at Abu Ghraib. Some have stated the Abu Ghraib torture as their reason to join the resistance.

If we knew the truth, I am sure that some current resistance members fighting against the U.S. occupiers had an uncle, or a father, or brother, who never returned home after Desert Storm and was never notified of their deaths because the soldiers are still buried somewhere in the desert, never to have their bodies found. The resisters did not hear Sam Nunn’s message.

The Nunn legacy of burying his own head in the sand and not admitting to an atrocity carries on today. Abu Ghraib; Fallujah; Ramadi; killing of reporters; bombing hospitals; etc. Same script, different names.