April 16, 2003 | The Los Angeles Times

But Who Was Protecting Iraqis From Human Shields?

.By Norah Vincent

The ironies of war are always bitter, but few are rich and still fewer have ever been quite so rich as those that have enshrouded the farcical crusaders we have come to know as human shields.

What has become, since the war in Iraq began, of those peripatetic peaceniks who descended on Baghdad last winter?

Or should I say, what became of those who didn't flee that country before the onset of hostilities, when it suddenly occurred to them that they might actually get hurt?

Until last Sunday, according to the Wall Street Journal, seven of them had been camping relatively comfortably at the Sabanissan water treatment project in northern Baghdad, along with five Iraqi engineers who stayed at the plant to keep water flowing in their capital.

When the “shields” arrived in late February — in the company of Iraqi intelligence agents, naturally — they took over the top manager's office suite, plugged in their boom box and sat stoically shielding to the liberationist tunes of Bob Dylan.

The already overwrought engineers were then assigned the task of providing their uninvited guests with food and water, two precious commodities of which most Iraqi civilians were in desperately short supply. Not so the squatters.

As it happened, U.S. soldiers weren't on the gravy train either, some of them having been reduced to one grubby ration a day when supply lines stalled early in the push to Baghdad. So when several American Marines who hadn't had anything remotely like a real meal in months made their way into the Sabanissan plant several days ago, the ensconced human shields dipped into their collaborationist cornucopia and fed the hangdogs of war a veritable feast of vegetable omelets, rice, cucumber slices and tomato.

The Marines would leave without knowing when, if ever, they'd eat like that again. The human chefs, meanwhile, would be heading home the next day, their “work” apparently done.

During the course of their time together, the Iraqi engineers confessed to the Marines that, in the beginning, they had hated the foreign activists, whom they saw as just another hassle they didn't need, not to mention seven superfluous mouths they shouldn't have had to feed at a time when their own countrymen were half-starved.

But all that changed when the invasion of Baghdad began and looters showed up at the plant, whereupon Marc Eubanks, described as “an American peace activist,” volunteered to patrol the grounds with an AK-47 assault rifle he borrowed from a cache the engineers had had the foresight to keep. As they walked the grounds together, one of the engineers confronted the looters, shouting: “Go and tell your partners the Americans are here, and they will destroy your houses if you don't leave.”

Can this be true? A peace activist taking up arms with such alacrity? And allowing the force of the American military — whose imperialist aggression he so decries and whose humanitarian intent and protective efficacy he emphatically denies — to be invoked on his behalf?

Scratch a peacenik, it seems, and you'll find a willing executioner when the threat is immediate enough.

Push a ranting anti-American to the wall and he'll fall back on Uncle Sam for his deliverance.

Send the vestal vegan among starvelings and he'll stage an eat-in at their expense.

Pack the yapping activist back to his moral vacuum with this slogan on his chest: “I went to Baghdad and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.

Norah Vincent is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies