COLLATERAL DAMAGE: AMERICA'S WAR AGAINST IRAQI CIVILIANS, by Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian, Nation Books, 122 pages, $22.95.

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Chris Hedges, former Middle East bureau chief for the New York Times, and Laila Al-Arian, a freelance journalist in New York City, have combined their vast experience in coverage and analysis of war to produce a stunning book, "Collateral Damage," about the worst aspects of the Iraq war.

It is an unapologetic "expose of a military occupation gone awry." The authors discuss how the mechanics of war — home raids, convoys, patrols, detentions and military checkpoints — lead to abuse and the killing of innocent people.

Often, according to the authors, American soldiers have been guilty of committing acts of sadism against Iraqis, who are usually described with the slur, "Hajis," a similar term to "Gooks" when Americans belittled the Vietnamese.

This is much more than the expression of opinion. It represents numerous interviews with veterans of the Iraq war and a careful analysis of the war itself. Many of the veterans were uncomfortable with what they were doing, but did it because they didn't know they didn't have to. It was largely a question of which authority they chose to obey.

One veteran said: "After we arrested drivers, we would choose whichever vehicles we liked, fuel them from confiscated jerry cans, and conduct undercover presence patrols in the impounded cars. But to this day I cannot find a single good answer as to why I stood by idly during the abuse of those prisoners except, of course, my own cowardice."

One veteran described how American soldiers abused corpses of Iraqi dead. He remembered some of them laughing when corpses fell from a truck, then asked others to take a picture of him and the corpse.

Another veteran, who loved animals, remembered his unit approaching an Iraqi family at home while their dog barked at them. The squad leader just calmly shot the dog in the jaw. The veteran telling the story was devastated that this family was "sitting right there, with three little children and a mom and a dad horrified."

One veteran remembered his infantry battalion "trolling for ambushes" on a summer day. An Iraqi man driving a blue, four-door sedan tried to pass the convoy on the left because he was rushing to a hospital to see his newborn son. The gunner fired three bullets at the car, "paralyzing the man who was shaking from the fear of what had just happened."

He said the man was not compensated, and the gunner was not punished.

This represents just a small part of the stories contained in this disturbing but well-written book about the damages of war that journalists don't usually cover.


E-mail: dennis@desnews.com