Published on Tuesday, March 30, 2010 by CommonDreams.org
If the U.S. public looked long and hard into a mirror reflecting the civilian atrocities that have occurred in Afghanistan, over the past ten months, we would see ourselves as people who have collaborated with and paid for war crimes committed against innocent civilians who meant us no harm.
Two reporters, Jerome Starkey (the Times UK ), and David Lindorff, (Common Dreams ), have persistently drawn attention to
December 26th, 2009: US-led forces, (whether soldiers or "security contractors" (mercenaries) is still uncertain), raided a home in Kunar Province and pulled eight young men out of their beds, handcuffed them, and gunned them down execution-style. The Pentagon initially reported that the victims had been running a bomb factory, although distraught villagers were willing to swear that the victims, youngsters, aged 11 - 18, were just seven normal schoolboys and one shepherd boy. Following courageous reporting by Jerome Starkey, the
February 12, 2010: U.S. and Afghan forces raided a home during a party and killed five people, including a local district attorney, a local police commander two pregnant mothers and a teenaged girl engaged to be married. Neither Commander Dawood, shot in the doorway of his home while pleading for calm waving his badge, nor the teenaged Gulalai, died immediately, but the gunmen refused to allow relatives to take them to the hospital. Instead, they forced them to wait for hours barefoot in the winter cold outside.
Despite crowds of witnesses on the scene, the NATO report insisted that the two pregnant women at the party had been found bound and gagged, murdered by the male victims in an honor killing. A March 16, 2010 U.N. report, following on further reporting by Starkey, exposed the deception, to meager American press attention.
Two weeks later: February 21st, 2010: A three-car convoy of Afghans was traveling to the market in
There was press attention for this atrocity, and U.S. General Stanley McChrystal would issue a videotaped apology for his soldiers' tragic mistake. Broad consensus among the press accepted this as a gracious gesture, with no consequences for the helicopter crew ever demanded or announced.
Whether having that gunship in the country was a mistake - or a crime - was never raised as a question.
And who would want it raised? Set amidst the horrors of an ongoing eight-year war, how many Americans think twice about these atrocities, hearing them on the news.
So I'm baffled to learn that in
The air strike was conducted by US planes but called in by German forces. On September 4, 2009, Taleban fighters in Kunduz province had hijacked two trucks filled with petrol, but then gotten stuck in a quagmire where the trucks had sank. Locals, realizing that the trucks carried valuable fuel, had arrived in large numbers to siphon it off, but when a German officer at the nearest NATO station learned that over 100 people had assembled in an area under his supervision, he decided they must be insurgents and a threat to Germans under his command. At his call, a
On September 6, 2009,
On November 27, 2009, after a steady outcry on the part of the German public, the Defense Minister was withdrawn from his post, (he is now a Labor Minister), and two German military officials, one of them Germany's top military commander Wolfgang Schneiderhan, were forced to resign.
I felt uneasy and sad when I realized that my first response to this story was a feeling of curiosity as to how the public of another country could manage to raise such a furor over deaths of people in faraway
Today, in the
Close to ten months ago, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters at a June 12, 2009 press conference in
"Every civilian casualty -- however caused -- is a defeat for us," Gates continued, "and a setback for the Afghan government."
On March 23rd, 2010, McChrystal was interviewed by the Daily Telegraph. "Your security comes from the people," he said. "You don't need to be secured away from the people. You need to be secured by the people. So as you win their support, it's in their interests to secure you, .... This can mean patrolling without armored vehicles or even flak jackets. It means accepting greater short-term risk - and higher casualties - in the hope of winning a "battle of perceptions and perspectives" that will result in longer-term security."
And on March 2nd, 2010, he told Gail McCabe "What we're trying to do now is to increase their confidence in us and their confidence in their government. But you can't do that through smoke and mirrors, you have to do that through real things you do - because they've been through thirty-one years of war now, they've seen so much, they're not going to be beguiled by a message."
We're obliged as Americans to ask ourselves whether we will be guided by a message such as McChrystal's or by evidence. Americans have not been through thirty-one years of war, and we have managed to see very little of the consequences of decades of warmaking in
According to a March 3, 2010 Save the Children report, "The world is ignoring the daily deaths of more than 850 Afghan children from treatable diseases like diarrhea and pneumonia, focusing on fighting the insurgency rather than providing humanitarian aid." The report notes that a quarter of all children born in the country die before the age of five, while nearly 60 percent of children are malnourished and suffer physical or mental problems. The UN Human Development Index in 2009 says that
At the Winter Soldier hearings, future presidential hopeful John Kerry movingly asked Congress how it could ask a soldier "To be the last man to die for a mistake," while contemporary polls showed less prominent Americans far more willing to call the Vietnam war an evil - a crime - a sin - than "a mistake." The purpose of that war, as of Obama's favored war in
Afghan civilian deaths no longer occur at the rate seen in the war's first few months, in which the civilian toll of our September 11 attacks, pretext for the war then as it is now, was so rapidly exceeded.
But every week we hear - if we are listening very carefully to the news, if we are still reading that final paragraph on page A16 - or if we are following the work of brave souls like Jerome Starkey - of tragic mistakes. We are used to tragic mistakes. Attacking a country militarily means planning for countless tragic mistakes.
Some of us still let ourselves believe that the war can do some good in
There are others who know where this war will lead and know that our leaders know, and have simply become too fatigued, too drained of frightened tears by this long decade of nightmare, to hold those leaders accountable anymore for moral choices.
It's worthwhile to wonder, how did we become this pacified?
But far more important is our collective effort to approach the mirror, to stay in front of it, unflinching, and see the consequences of our mistaken acquiescence to the tragic mistakes of war, and then work, work hard, to correct our mistakes and nonviolently resist collaboration with war crimes.
URL to article: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/03/30-0
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs