Define 'sectarian,' kill three examples

iraq us troopsfe3eVA Washington Post story has been bothering me for more than a week and I have had trouble figuring out why. In a way, this is a hate-crime story -- only it is set in Iraq.

As a rule, the concept of hate crimes bothers me. I have trouble understanding why a criminal deserves a worse punishment because he or she is thinking a specific hateful thought than a person who commits the same crime who is not thinking that same specific thought. The legislating of which hateful thoughts are worse than others is another concept that bothers me.

But let's not discuss that issue today. Please. I just wanted you to know that this is part of what has me mystified about the U.S. government's attempts to figure out precise definitions of what is and what is not a "sectarian killing." It appears that this is a crucial issue in defining whether White House policies in the alleged nation of Iraq are "working" or not.

Once again, officials are trying to figure out what people are thinking at the moment when they commit crimes. If a Sunni bandit kills a Shia merchant for money, is it a "sectarian" or "hate" crime? What if the same bandit kills the same merchant while screaming "die, apostate, die"? Is it a "sectarian" crime if he stabs the victim, but not if he shoots him?

It appears that U.S. officials have created precise descriptions of how Muslims kill people when they do so for "sectarian" reasons. The team leader in this project is Chief Warrant Officer 3 Dan Macomber.

"We look at every single record and de-conflict between coalition and host nation [information] to ensure that nothing is duplicate or erroneous," he said. "Then we look at every record and apply our methodology and criteria to it and assess whether it's ethno-sectarian."

Their written definition of that term is: "An event and any associated civilian deaths caused by or during murders/executions, kidnappings, direct fire, indirect fire, and all types of explosive devices identified as being conducted by one ethnic/religious person/group directed at a different ethnic/religious person/group, where the primary motivation for the event is based on ethnicity or religious sect."

The process to determine whether a body is that of a Shiite, a Sunni or a member of any one of a welter of minority sects in Iraq is imperfect, Macomber said. "Sometimes they know by any type of identification," he said. "There are times when they don't know. ... A lot of times it comes down to, a body was found in a Shiite area, it wasn't moved anywhere, and we'll make that call that it was likely a Shiite person."

But how do you determine if a bomb was set for doctrinal reasons? And is Iraq a safer place if the percentage of people whose throats are slashed goes down, yet the percentage of persons who get shot in the back of the head goes up?

See why this story has me confused and a bit depressed?

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