Photos © by Bud Korotzer
Those who already know that this was all a terrible mistake, that no U.S. personnel would ever purposely call for a strike on a hospital even if they thought there were Taliban inside, should be the ones most eager for the most credible investigation possible: namely, the one under the Geneva Conventions, which MSF this morning demanded, by the tribunal created exactly for such atrocities.
n Geneva this morning, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) demanded a formal, independent investigation into the U.S. airstrike on its hospital in Kunduz. The group’s international president, Dr. Joanne Liu (pictured above, center), specified that the inquiry should be convened pursuant to war crime-investigating procedures established by the Geneva Conventions and conducted by The International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission. “Even war has rules,” Liu said. “This was just not an attack on our hospital. It was an attack on the Geneva Conventions. This cannot be tolerated.”
Liu emphasized that the need for an “independent, impartial” investigation is now particularly compelling given what she called “the inconsistency in the U.S. and Afghan accounts of what happened over the recent days.” On Monday, we documented the multiple conflicting accounts offered in the first three days by the U.S. military and its media allies, but the story continued to change even further after that. As The Guardian’s headline yesterday noted, the U.S. admission that its own personnel called in the airstrike — not Afghan forces as it claimed the day before — meant that “U.S. alters story for fourth time in four days.” All of this led Liu to state the obvious today: “We cannot rely on internal military investigations by the U.S., NATO and Afghan forces.”
An independent, impartial investigation into what happened here should be something everyone can immediately agree is necessary. But at its daily press briefing on Monday, the U.S. State Department, through its spokesperson Mark Toner, insisted that no such independent investigation was needed on the ground that the U.S. government is already investigating itself and everyone knows how trustworthy and reliable this process is:
QUESTION: The — so MSF is calling for an independent investigation of this incident by a neutral international body. Is that something the administration would support?
MR TONER: Well, we’ve got three investigations underway. Certainly, we’ve got our own DOD-led investigation. We obviously strongly believe that can be a very transparent and accountable investigation. Let’s let these three investigations run their course and see what the results are.
I would say — and I know the White House spoke about this earlier — we have reached out to some of the leadership in Médecins Sans Frontières to express our condolences over this tragic incident. But as to whether there needs to be an independent fourth investigation, we’re satisfied, I think, at this point that enough investigations are underway that we’ll get to the truth.
QUESTION: You don’t think that with the U.S., which is — which has an interest in how this investigation proceeds and what the outcome is, and being involved in all three investigations somehow affects the legitimacy of it?
MR TONER: I mean, frankly, I think we’ve proven over time that we can investigate incidents like these — like this, and as I said, hold anyone accountable who needs to be held accountable, and do it in such a way that’s transparent and, I think, credible.
QUESTION: Just along those lines —
MR TONER: Please.
QUESTION: — MSF has said that this is a clear presumption of a war crime that’s been committed here. Some have suggested that the ICC take it up. Is it a safe bet that the U.S. would vote against/veto any attempt in the Security Council to bring this incident for — up for an ICC investigation?
MR TONER: I don’t want to answer a hypothetical. On the war crime question itself, we’re just not there yet, and I don’t want to prejudge any outcome of any investigation.
QUESTION: What do you mean, “We’re just not there yet”?
MR TONER: I mean we’re conducting investigations, we’re looking at this very closely, and we’re going to, as multiple folks have said including the president over the weekend — that we’re going to hold those accountable and it’s going to be a credible investigation.
QUESTION: Does that mean —
QUESTION: So it’s conceivable to you that this could have been a war crime?
MR TONER: I said we’re not — we’re letting the investigations run their course.
QUESTION: Well, regardless of whether or not you —
MR TONER: I’m not going to — I’m not even — yeah, please, Matt.
QUESTION: No, but I want to —
MR TONER: Sure, go ahead. Sorry.
QUESTION: Is it not — I mean, it’s always been assumed, I think — and I just want to know if this assumption is still safe — that the U.S. would oppose an attempt to refer an incident involving U.S. troops to the International Criminal Court.
MR TONER: That’s —
QUESTION: I mean, as it’s — as it was being formed, you guys ran around signing these Article 98 —
MR TONER: That’s a perfectly sound assumption.
Can anyone justify that? So predictably, American journalists have announced without even waiting for any investigation that this was all a terrible accident, nothing intentional about it. Those U.S.-defending journalists should be the angriest about their government’s refusal to allow an independent, impartial investigation since that would be the most effective path for exonerating them and proving their innocent, noble intentions.
Many Americans, and especially a large percentage of the nation’s journalists, need no investigation to know that this was nothing more than a terrible, tragic mistake. They believe that Americans, and especially their military, are so inherently good and noble and well-intentioned that none would ever knowingly damage a hospital. John McCain expressed this common American view and the primary excuse now accompanying it — stuff happens — on NPR this morning:
They’re certain of this despite how consistent MSF has been that this was a “war crime.” They’re certain of it despite how many times, and how recently, MSF notified the U.S. military of the exact GPS coordinates of this hospital. They’re certain of it even though bombing continued for 30 minutes after MSF pleaded with them to stop. They’re certain of it despite the substantial evidence that their Afghan allies long viewed this exact hospital with hostility because — true to its name and purpose — the group treated all wounded human beings, including Taliban. They’re certain of it even though Afghan officials have explicitly defended the airstrike against the hospital on the ground that Taliban were inside. They’re certain of it despite how many times the U.S. has radically changed its story about what happened as facts emerged that proved its latest claims false. They’re certain of it despite how many times the U.S. has attacked and destroyed civilian targets under extremely suspicious circumstances.
But they are not apparently so certain that they desire an independent, impartial investigation into what actually happened here. The facially ludicrous announcement by the State Department that the Pentagon will investigate itself produced almost no domestic outrage. A religious-like belief in American exceptionalism and tribal superiority is potent indeed, and easily overrides evidence or facts. It blissfully renders the need for investigations obsolete. In their minds, knowing that it was Americans who did this suffices to know what happened, at least on the level of motive: It could not possibly be the case that there was any intentionality here at all. As McCain said, it’s only the Bad People — not Americans — who do such things deliberately.
But those who already know that this was all a terrible mistake, that no U.S. personnel would ever purposely call for a strike on a hospital even if they thought there were Taliban inside, should be the ones most eager for the most credible investigation possible: namely, the one under the Geneva Conventions, which MSF this morning demanded, by the tribunal created exactly for such atrocities.
“Great shapes like big machines rose out of the dimness, and cast grotesque black shadows, in which dim spectral Morlocks sheltered from the glare…there was an altogether new element in the sickening quality of the Morlocks — a something inhuman and malign…I wondered vaguely what foul villainy it might be that the Morlocks did under the new moon.”
– H.G. Wells, The Time Machine, 1895
Nearly eight years ago, on April 1, 2004, former speech writer and Special Assistant to Ronald Reagan, Peggy Noonan wrote an articlefor the Wall Street Journal, where she was a contributing editor. It began like this (emphasis in original):
The world is used to bad news and always has been, but now and then there occurs something so brutal, so outside the normal limits of what used to be called man’s inhumanity to man, that you have to look away. Then you force yourself to look and see and only one thought is possible: This must stop now. You wonder, how can we do it? And your mind says, immediately: Whatever it takes.
The brutal, inhuman event she was referring to was the killing in the Iraqi city of Fallujah of four American civilian contractors, whose SUV was ambushed by rocket-propelled grenades the day before. The four men, all employees of the infamous mercenary outfit Blackwater, were shot, their bodies burned, mutilated, and dragged through the streets in celebration. The charred corpses of two of those killed that day were strung up on a bridge over the Euphrates River. The news, and accompanying photographs, sent shockwaves of horror and disgust through the United States and prompted endless editorials from coast to coast.
Noonan described “the brutalization of their corpses” as “savage, primitive, unacceptable” and decried that the “terrible glee of the young men in the crowds, and the sadism they evinced, reminds us of the special power of the ignorant to impede the good.” She wrote that the Iraqis responsible for such gruesome actions “take pleasure in evil, and they were not shy to show it. They are arrogant. They think barbarity is their right.”
White House spokesman Scott McClellan condemned the killings as “despicable, horrific attacks” and “cowardly, hateful acts,” saying, “it was inexcusable the way those individuals were treated.” He called those responsible for the deaths “terrorists” and “a collection of killers” and vowed that “America will never be intimidated by thugs and assassins.”
A few days later in the San Diego Union-Tribune, editor Robert J. Caldwell wrote of the “grisly horror,” the “shocking slaughter,” the “barbarism” and “butchery,” the “homicidal hatred,” and insisted that “if we permit atrocities like the one in Fallujah to drive the U.S.-led coalition into retreat and premature withdrawal” and “[i]f we falter in Iraq, we let the mob in Fallujah win.” Similarly, Noonan suggested,
It would be good not only for elemental justice but for Iraq and its future if a large force of coalition troops led by U.S. Marines would go into Fallujah, find the young men, arrest them or kill them, and, to make sure the point isn’t lost on them, blow up the bridge.
Whatever the long-term impact of the charred bodies the short term response must be a message to Fallujah and to all the young men of Iraq: the violent and unlawful will be broken. Savagery is yesterday; it left with Saddam.
In fact, in retaliation, savagery returned with a vengeance as United States Marines immediately bombarded Fallujah, killing over 600 Iraqis, most of them women, children, and the elderly in the veryfirst week of the assault in early April 2004, eleven months after George W. Bush declared “Mission Accomplished.” By the end of the year, after two massive assaults on the city by the U.S. military, over 2,000 Iraqis, including hundreds of women and children, had been killed by American soldiers, thousands more injured and at least 300,000 displaced.
Such is the American capacity for blood-thirsty revenge.
Nowhere has this vengeance been more tragically demonstrated than Afghanistan and upon an innocent and terrorized civilian population that bares absolutely no responsibility for the events that led the United States to invade and occupy the country over a decade ago.
According to the official U.S. government story, the attacks of September 11, 2001 were carried out by 19 hijackers, none of whom were from Afghanistan. Fifteen were from Saudi Arabia, two from the United Arab Emirates, one from Egypt and another from Lebanon. None of them lived in Afghanistan. They lived in Hamburg, Germany. They didn’t train in Afghanistan, but rather in Sarasota, Florida. They didn’t attend flight school in Afghanistan; their school was in Minnesota. The attacks were reportedly planned in many places, including Falls Church, Virginia and Paris, France, but not in Afghanistan.
Soon after the 9/11 attacks, the Taliban leadership in Afghanistanoffered repeatedly “to hand bin Laden over to a neutral Islamic country for trial, if there is proof of his crimes.” In response, George W. Bush replied, “We know he’s guilty. Turn him over.”
On October 1, 2001, the Taliban repeated their offer, telling reporters in Pakistan, “We are ready for negotiations. It is up to the other side to agree or not. Only negotiation will solve our problems.” The next day, when Bush was asked about this offer at a press conference, he replied: “There’s no negotiations. There’s no calendar. We’ll act on our time.” Refusing to provide any evidence of bin Laden’s guilt, U.S. officials stated that the Taliban offer was “inadequate” and instead “dispatched war planes and ships towards Afghanistan,” beginning its illegal bombing campaign on October 7, 2001.
By early December 2001, over 6,500 tons of munitions had been dropped on Afghanistan by US-led NATO forces, including approximately 12,000 bombs and missiles. By the end of March 2002, over 21,000 bombs and missiles had been dropped,murdering well over 3,000 Afghan civilians in air strikes. In the first two months alone, Afghan civilians were killed at an average rate of 45 per day.
The killing has continued unabated for over ten years and is routinely ignored by the mainstream media, which choose instead to praise American soldiers for their duty, their heroism, and their sacrifice.
Just last month, on February 8, 2012, a NATO air strike killedseveral children in the eastern Kapinsa province of Afghanistan, with “young Afghans of varying ages” identified among the casualties. Similar strikes were responsible for the murders of nearly 200 civilians last year alone. Furthermore, in less than ten months from 2010 to early 2011, well over 1,500 Afghan civilians were killed by U.S. and NATO forces in night raids, a brutal occupation tactic that has been embraced – along with drone attacks – by Barack Obama. According to a September 2011 studyby the Open Society Foundation, “An estimated 12 to 20 night raids now occur per night, resulting in thousands of detentions per year, many of whom are non-combatants.” These raids produce heavy civilian casualties and often target the wrong people.
And earlier today, Sunday March 11, 2012, Reuters reported,
Western forces shot dead 16 civilians including nine children in southern Kandahar province on Sunday, Afghan officials said, in a rampage that witnesses said was carried out by American soldiers who were laughing and appeared drunk.
One Afghan father who said his children were killed in the shooting spree accused soldiers of later burning the bodies.
Witnesses told Reuters they saw a group of U.S. soldiers arrive at their village in Kandahar’s Panjwayi district at around 2 am, enter homes and open fire.
The New York Times reported that “a United States Army sergeant methodically killed at least 16 civilians, 9 of them children,” after “[s]talking from home to home.”
Residents of three villages in the Panjwai district of Kandahar Province described a terrifying string of attacks in which the soldier, who had walked more than a mile from his base, tried door after door, eventually breaking in to kill within three separate houses. At the first, the man gathered 11 bodies, including those of four girls younger than 6, and set fire to them, villagers said.
The Guardian added, “Among the dead was a young girl in a green and red dress who had been shot in the forehead. The bodies of other victims appeared partially burned. A villager claimed they had been wrapped in blankets and set on fire by the killer.”
The mainstream media was quick to follow the lead of “U.S. military officials” who “stressed that the shooting was carried out by a lone, rogue soldier, differentiating it from past instances in which civilians were killed accidentally during military operations.”
While Reuters noted that, while ” U.S. officials” asserted “that a lone soldier was responsible,” this conflicted with “witnesses’ accounts that several U.S. soldiers were present.”
“I saw that all 11 of my relatives were killed, including my children and grandchildren,” said a weeping Haji Samad, who said he had left his home a day earlier.
The walls of the house were blood-splattered.
“They (Americans) poured chemicals over their dead bodies and burned them,” Samad told Reuters at the scene.
Neighbors said they had awoken to crackling gunfire from American soldiers, who they described as laughing and drunk.
“They were all drunk and shooting all over the place,” said neighbor Agha Lala, who visited one of the homes where killings took place.
“Their (the victims’) bodies were riddled with bullets.”
A senior U.S. defense official in Washington rejected witness accounts that several apparently drunk soldiers were involved. “Based on the preliminary information we have this account is flatly wrong,” the official said. “We believe one U.S. service member acted alone, not a group of U.S. soldiers.”
“Some villagers reported that more than one US soldier was involved,” wrote Emma Graham-Harrison, The Guardian‘s Kabul-based correspondent, “but Afghan officials and the NATO-led coalition said they believed the killer worked alone.”
The Washington Post quoted Fazal Mohammad Esaqzai, deputy chief of the Kandahar provincial council, as saying, “They entered the room where the women and children were sleeping, and they were all shot in the head. They were all shot in the head.” Esaqzai was “doubtful of the U.S. account suggesting that the killings were the work of a lone gunman…About an hour later, residents in a nearby village heard gunshots, and they later discovered the corpses of five men inside two houses located near each other, Esaqzai said.”
A reporter for The New York Times “inspected bodies that had been taken to the nearby American military base counted 16 dead, and saw burns on some of the children’s legs and heads. ‘All the family members were killed, the dead put in a room, and blankets were put over the corpses and they were burned,’ said Anar Gula, an elderly neighbor who rushed to the house after the soldier had left. ‘We put out the fire.'”
One of the survivors from the attack, Abdul Hadi, 40, said he was at home when a soldier broke down the door.“My father went out to find out what was happening, and he was killed,” he said. “I was trying to go out and find out about the shooting, but someone told me not to move, and I was covered by the women in my family in my room, so that is why I survived.”
U.S. officials were also quick to express their “deep sadness” as they described the “individual act” as an “isolated episode.” Lt. Gen. Adrian J. Bradshaw, deputy commander of the international coalition in Afghanistan, called the murders “callous.” Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told Afghan president Hamid Karzai, “I condemn such violence and am shocked and saddened that a U.S. service member is alleged to be involved.” U.S. President Barack Obama declared, “I offer my condolences to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives, and to the people of Afghanistan, who have endured too much violence and suffering. This incident…does not represent the exceptional character of our military and the respect that the United States has for the people of Afghanistan.”
These isolated incidents and that kind of respect have been obliterating the lives of Afghan civilians for over a decade. Such exceptional character was responsible for the premeditated murders of at least three Afghan civilians in Kandanhar in the first half of 2010. Between January and May 2010, members of a U.S. Army Stryker brigade, who called themselves the “Kill Team,” executed three Afghans, staged combat situations to cover-up the killings, took commemorative and celebratory photographs with the murdered corpses, and took fingers and teeth as trophies. To date, eleven soldiers have been convicted in connection to the murders. Last year, one of the soldiers, Specialist Jeremy Morlock of Wasilla, Alaska was sentenced to 24 years in prison for his role in the killings. One of the leaked Kill Team photos shows “Morlock smiling as he holds a dead man up by the hair on his head.” At the beginning of his court-martial, Morlock bluntly told the judge, “The plan was to kill people, sir.” Nevertheless, he may be eligible for parole in less than seven years.
Last month, a video posted online showed four giddy U.S. Marinesurinating on the bodies of three slain Afghan men while saying things like “Have a good day, buddy” and “Golden like a shower.” One of the soldiers was the platoon’s commanding officer. Just a few weeks later, American troops at Bagram Air Base deliberatelyincinerated numerous copies of the Qur’an and other religious texts, sparking mass riots across Afghanistan and leading to a rash of killings of U.S. and NATO soldiers by Afghans armed and trained by NATO. Just two days ago, in the eastern Afghan province ofKapisa, “NATO helicopters apparently hunting Taliban insurgents instead fired on civilians, killing four and wounding three others.”
A 2011 military report determined – shockingly – that the treatment of Afghans by the occupying armies was one reason why members of the Afghan National Security Force sometimes kill their NATO comrades. The report credited such actions to “a crisis of trust and cultural incompatibility.” One would hope that night raids, drone strikes, the willful execution of men, women, and children, mutilating, desecrating and pissing on corpses would be “incompatible” with any “culture.”
In the wake of the Qur’an burnings, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters, “We can’t forget what the mission is – the need to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda remains,” and stressed that “the overall importance of defeating al-Qaeda remains.”
Carney said this despite the fact that, in late June 2010, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta judged that the number of al-Qaeda militants in Afghanistan was “at most…maybe 50 to 100, maybe less.” In April 2011, General David Petraeus told reporters in Kabul that al-Qaeda’s total strength in Afghanistan is “generally assessed at less than 100 or so” combatants, of whom only “a handful” were seen to pose a threat to Western countries. Months later, in November 2011, The Washington Post quoted a “senior U.S. counterterrorism official” as saying, “We have rendered the organization that brought us 9/11 operationally ineffective.” The official also stated that al-Qaeda’s entire leadership consisted only of two top positions and described the group as having none of “the world-class terrorists they once had.”
As such, the U.S. military and its coalition partners have been waging a war against a civilian population, allegedly in pursuit of what remains of a leaderless and powerless band of potential terrorists affiliated with the group accused (but never charged, tried or convicted) of planning and executing the 9/11 attacks.
To make matters even more appalling, hardly any Afghans even know the “reason” why foreign armies have invaded and occupied their land and have been killing their family and friends for years. A survey released by the International Council on Security and Development in November 2010 revealed that, “in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, the two provinces currently suffering the most violence” and where Obama had recently sent thousands of American soldiers, “92% of respondents in the south are unaware of the events of 9/11 or that they triggered the current international presence in Afghanistan,” after being read a three-paragraph description of the attacks. Furthermore, of those interviewed (one thousand Afghan men ages fifteen to thirty), 40% “believe the international forces are there to destroy Islam, or to occupy or destroy Afghanistan.” Chances are, incinerating their holy scripture and bombing their villages don’t help challenge thisperception.
Consequently, when American missiles and bullets tear through villages, rooftops, windshields, and the living, breathing bodies of Afghan men, women, boys and girls, the carnage is devoid of “context” – not that a deadly attack on U.S. soil over a decade ago can possibly, in any conceivable, legal, or human way, justify theatrocities, trauma, terror, dehumanization and devastation that have befallen the Afghan people at the orders and hands of American soldiers, officers, and commanders-in chief.
Such criminal brutality is obviously not limited to Afghanistan. Sunday’s massacre of 16 human beings in Kandahar recalls themassacre in Haditha, Iraq on November 19, 2005. Following the death of one soldier (and wounding of two others) by a roadside bomb, a squad of Marines killed 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians, including women, an elderly man, children, some of them toddlers.
Led by Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich (who told his men to “shoot first and ask questions later”), Marines ordered a taxi driver and four students at the Technical Institute in Saqlawiyah out of their car and shot them dead in the street, the Marines raided three nearby homes, slaughtering everyone they came in contact with.
Along with his 66-year-old wife Khamisa Tuma Ali, three grown sons, a 32-year-old woman and a four-year-old child, 76-year-old, wheelchair-bound Abdul Hamid Hassan Ali was killed in his own home after having his chest and abdomen riddled with bullets. Nine-year-old Eman Walid witnessed the slaughter of her family. “First, they went into my father’s room, where he was reading the Koran and we heard shots,” she said. “I couldn’t see their faces very well—only their guns sticking into the doorway. I watched them shoot my grandfather, first in the chest and then in the head. Then they killed my granny.”
Younis Salim Khafif, 43, his wife Aida Yasin Ahmed, 41, their 8-year-old son Muhammad, 14-year-old daughter Noor, 10-year-old daughter Sabaa, 5-year-old daughter Zainab, 3-year-old daughter Aisha and a one-year-old baby girl who was staying at their home were all attacked with hand grenades and shot to death at close range. In the third house, four adult brothers, Jamal, Marwan, Qahtan and Chasib Ahmed were all killed by the Marines. Another brother, Yousif, who survived the attack, recalled, “The Americans gathered my four brothers and took them inside my father’s bedroom, to a closet. They killed them inside the closet.” The soldiers then took photos of the dead and desecrated their bodies by urinating on them.
Despite overwhelming evidence, only a single solider, Wuterich, stood trial for these murders. All charges against the other Marines who committed these atrocities were dropped or dismissed. Wuterich, whose own charges of assault and manslaughter were also dropped, was convicted on January 24, 2012 of only negligent dereliction of duty. He got a demotion and a pay cut. His sentencedid not include any jail time.
This kind of American impunity is hardly surprising.
Over the past decade, the United States military has invaded and occupied two foreign countries (illegally bombing and drone striking at least four others), and has overseen the kidnapping, indefinite detention without charge or trial, and the physical andpsychological torture of thousands of people, including at places like Guantanamo, Bagram, and Abu Ghraib, where detainees wereraped by their American captors. Prisoners held by the United States in Afghanistan and Guantanamo, in addition to being “chained to the ceiling, shackled so tightly that the blood flow stops, kept naked and hooded and kicked to keep them awake for days on end,” have also been beaten to death by their American interrogators. Of the fifteen soldiers charged with detainee abuse ranging from “dereliction of duty to maiming and involuntary manslaughter,” all but three have been acquitted. Those three received written reprimands and served, at most, 75 days in prison for their war crimes and crimes against humanity.
In response to the lethal rampage in Kandahar today, the Talibancondemned the “sick minded American savages” and vowed to “take revenge from the invaders and the savage murderers for every single martyr.” The official Taliban statement continued,
A large number from amongst the victims are innocent children, women and the elderly, martyred by the American barbarians who mercilessly robbed them of their precious lives and drenched their hands with their innocent blood.
The American terrorists want to come up with an excuse for the perpetrator of this inhumane crime by claiming that this immoral culprit was mentally ill.
If the perpetrators of this massacre were in fact mentally ill then this testifies to yet another moral transgression by the American military because they are arming lunatics in Afghanistan who turn their weapons against the defenceless Afghans without giving a second thought.
The words could be Peggy Noonan’s. One would assume, as the victims of this latest massacre were not trained, uniformed combat troops, heavily-armed and armored, serving in a military occupation of an invaded and destroyed foreign country, but rather innocent civilians, many of them children, that the Noonans of the world would similarly cry out for justice, for vengeance, for retribution.
But don’t hold your breath.
Their silence – or worse, equivocation – will be thunderous.
“It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.”
– Albert Einstein
On Saturday August 6, 2011, a U.S. military Chinook transport helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan, killing 30 American soldiers, including 17 elite Navy SEALs, and eight Afghans. The mainstream news media was awash with somber reports about this being the “deadliest day” for U.S. forces in the ten years since the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan began.
Notably, many news outlets such as ABC, NBC, CBS, and The Washington Post claimed the helicopter crash and its 30 American casualties marked the “deadliest day of the war”, without adding the vital qualification, “for United States military personnel.” Even the progressive website Truthout provided its daily email blast that day with the headline: “Deadliest Day in Decade-Long Afghanistan War: 31 Troops Killed in Shootdown.”
The obvious implication of these reports was that on no single day since October 7, 2001, when the U.S.-led invasion and bombing campaign began, had as many people been killed in Afghanistan as on August 6, 2011.
Perhaps most brazen and sanctimonious regarding this claim was MSNBC‘s primetime anchor Lawrence O’Donnell. Introducing the “Rewrite” segment of his Monday August 8 broadcast of “The Last Word”, O’Donnell looked directly into the camera and, in his measured and most heartfelt serious voice, told his viewers:
“This weekend saw the worst single loss of life in the ten years of the Afghan War.”
He was lying. Unless, of course, like so many Americans, O’Donnell doesn’t count Afghan civilians as human beings worthy of being allowed to stay alive. In fact, the invisibility of the native population of Afghanistan is so ubiquitous in the American media, O’Donnell and his writers probably didn’t even think they needed to acknowledge civilian death tolls at the hands of foreign armies. As General Tommy Franks, who led the invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq, told reporters at Bagram Air Base in March 2002 when asked about how many people the U.S. military has killed, “You know we don’t do body counts.”
After showing a video clip of CIA Directer-cum-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s statement that the helicopter crash served as “a reminder to the American people that we remain a nation still at war,” O’Donnell took seven minutes of airtime to lecture his viewers about a country that has forgotten the hardships of warfare, due to the absence of a draft or rationing or war taxation. Clearly passionate and frustrated, he rhetorically wondered, “What kind of nation would need to be reminded that it is still at war?” He continued,
“There will be other nights for us to discuss the way forward or the way out of Afghanistan. Tonight is not that night. Tonight is for reminding this nation that it is indeed at war. And tonight is for reminding the nation of the price of war. The ultimate sacrifice.”
At this point, O’Donnell displayed photographs of some of the soldiers killed in the crash while delivering brief biographies, a sort of “Last Word” eulogy for the dead.
In his effort to tug at his viewers heartstrings, O’Donnell told us of one young soldier who had only “been in Afghanistan for less than two weeks.” Another was described by his mother as “a gentle giant.” A SEAL Team 6 member also killed in the crash, we were told, had a wife, a two-year-old son and a two-month old baby girl while another solider was survived by his pregnant wife and three children. O’Donnell eulogized one of the deceased servicemen by telling us of his personal history as a high school wrestler and his lifelong dream of becoming a Navy SEAL.
O’Donnell concluded the segment with the assurance that none of the family members of those soldiers who had died – as opposed to the million of Americans whose lives are totally unaffected by the ongoing occupation – needed any “reminding” that “we are a nation at war.”
Never once during this paean to the military did O’Donnell make even a passing reference to the thousands upon thousands of Afghan men, women, and children killed by U.S. and NATO forces in their own homeland, their own country, their own towns, their own communities, their own homes, hospitals, mosques, andschools, and at their own weddings.
The Afghan village of Karam was completely destroyed on October 12, 2001 when American forces dropped a one-ton bomb on it and killed over 100 people. On October 21, 2001, “At least twenty-three civilians, the majority of them young children, were killed when U.S. bombs hit a remote Afghan village,” according to areport by Human Rights Watch.
Not a solitary syllable was uttered to honor the seven children blown apart “as they ate breakfast with their father” when “a US bomb flattened a flimsy mud-brick home in Kabul” on Sunday October 29, 2001. The Times of India, citing a Reuters report, revealed that “the blast shattered a neighbour’s house killing another two children.”
A few weeks later, on November 17, 2001, U.S. bombs fired at the village of Chorikori murdered “two entire families, one of 16 members and the other of 14, who lived, and perished, together in the same house,” reported The Los Angeles Times. Shortly thereafter, heavy American bombing in Khanabad near Kunduz was said to have killed 100 people. The same day, a religious school in Khost was bombed, killing 62 people.
Around the same time, James S. Robbins, a professor of International Relations at the National Defense University, published an article in The National Review entitled, “Humanity of the Air War: Look how far we’ve come.” The piece began this way: “Think airpower can’t bring victory in Afghanistan? Think again.”
Robbins continued his claim that “the air campaign over Afghanistan has been effective by most reports” and that “critics of the air campaign at home and abroad make as much of civilian casualties as suits their purposes, but arguments over whether a few, a dozen, or hundreds of people have died only show how civilized warfare has become.” He averred that “[a]ny civilian deaths caused by allied bombs are unintended deaths” (emphasis in original), declared that the U.S. was using the “tools and means of the humane” to bomb Afghan civilians to death on a regular basis, and concluded, “The allied air campaign is demonstrating how moral a war can be.”
On December 31, 2001, U.S. ground forces confirmed an enemy target in the village of Qalaye Niazi and “three bombers, a B-52 and two B-1Bs, did the rest, zapping Taliban and al-Qaida leaders in their sleep as well as an ammunition dump.” A military spokesman, Matthew Klee, proudly told reporters that the strike was an unmitigated success, saying, “Follow-on reporting indicates that there was no collateral damage.” However, The Guardian reported:
Some of the things his follow-on reporters missed: bloodied children’s shoes and skirts, bloodied school books, the scalp of a woman with braided grey hair, butter toffees in red wrappers, wedding decorations.
The charred meat sticking to rubble in black lumps could have been Osama bin Laden’s henchmen but survivors said it was the remains of farmers, their wives and children, and wedding guests.
They said more than 100 civilians died at this village in eastern Afghanistan.
In the first three months of the Afghanistan assault, Carl Conetta of the Project on Defense Alternatives found that upwards of 4,200-4,500 Afghan civilians had been killed as a result of the U.S.-led bombing campaign and the “starvation, exposure, associated illnesses, or injury sustained while in flight from war zones” that followed the invasion and airstrikes. In May 2002, Jonathan Steele of The Guadian reported that, up to that point, “As many as 20,000 Afghans may have lost their lives as an indirect consequence of the US intervention.”
For O’Donnell, it appears the “price of war” doesn’t include the 48 civilians killed and 117 wounded, many of them women and children, when U.S. jets bombed a wedding party in Oruzgan in July 2002, the 17 civilians, mostly women and children, killed by coalition bombs in Helmand in February 2003, the eight civilians killed by a U.S. gunship and bomber in Bagram Valley the same month, the eleven civilians killed, including seven women, by a U.S. laser-guided bomb that hit a house outside the village of Shkin in April 2003, the six family members killed by U.S. bombs that hit the village of Aranj in October 2003, or the nine children (seven boys and two girls aged 9 to 12) murdered by two U.S. A-10 Thunderbolt II planes which attacked the village of Hutala while the children were playing ball.
The human cost of the Afghan occupation, so far as O’Donnell is concerned, doesn’t include the eleven people, four of them children, killed by an American helicopter which fired on the village of Saghatho in January 2004, the scores of civilians bombed to death by NATO airstrikes in October 2006, eight civilians shot by American soldiers in Kandahar in 2007, the more than 100 civilians killed innumerous U.S. and NATO bombings in May 2007, the seven children killed by a U.S.-led airstrike in June 2007, the group of bus passengers gunned down by US troops on December 12, 2008, the seven civilians killed by American troops in a rural village near Nad-E’ali in 2009, the 26 civilians, including 16 children, killed by British forces, the scores of dead civilians in Kunduz and Helmand who were killed by 500-pound bombs dropped by U.S. jets in September 2009, the 27 civilians killed by a NATO strike in the Afghan province of Uruzgan in February 2010, the five civilians, including two pregnant women and a teenage girl killed in Khataba, the 45 civilians (most of whom were women and children) murdered by a NATO rocket in Afghanistan in July 2010, the 30 or more civilians killed in two NATO air strikes on two villages in the Nangarhar province in August 2010, or the numerous civilian men, women, children, dogs, donkeys, and chickens slaughtered by Task Force 373, a clandestine black ops unit which NATO uses as an assassination squad.
On March 23, 2011, U.S. Army Specialist Jeremy Morlock was sentenced to 24 years in prison for the willful murder and mutilation of three Afghan civilians – a fifteen-year-old boy, a mentally-retarded man, and a religious leader. Other members of Morlock’s platoon, the 5th Stryker Combat Brigade, have been “charged with dismembering and photographing corpses, as well as hoarding a skull and other human bones,” The Washington Post previously reported. At the beginning of the court-martial proceedings, Morlock admitted to the military judge presiding over the case that the murders he and four fellow soldiers were charged with committing had been deliberate and intentional. “The plan was to kill people, sir,” he said.
Broadcasting live across the country that evening, Lawrence O’Donnell didn’t cover the story. Instead, he spent a considerable amount of airtime justifying Barack Obama’s decision to begin bombing Libya, interviewing Anthony Weiner about healthcare, and poking fun at potential GOP presidential candidates. He ended the program that night, however, with a touching and earnest memorial for someone who had recently died: Elizabeth Taylor.
For O’Donnell, the “ultimate sacrifice” he spoke of this week naturally didn’t include the Afghan man, four women, and baby murdered at a wedding party by a Polish mortar strike on the village of Wazi Khwa on August 16, 2007, which also injured three other women, one of whom was nine months pregnant. Nor does it include the “nineteen unarmed civilians killed and 50 wounded” when, during “a frenzied escape” on March 4, 2007, U.S. Marines “open[ed] fire with automatic weapons as they tore down a six-mile stretch of highway, hitting almost anyone in their way – teenage girls in fields, motorists in their cars, old men as they walked along the road.” The April 2009 U.S. raid on Khost, which killed four civilians, including a woman and two children, didn’t receive a sad obituary on primetime cable television either. The American soldiers on that raid “also shot a pregnant woman and killed her unborn baby, which had almost come to term.”
To O’Donnell, the “worst single loss of life” in Afghanistan during the last decade wasn’t the more than 140 civilians reportedly killed when “U.S. aircraft bombed villages in the Bala Boluk district of Afghanistan’s western Farah province” on May 3, 2009 in what is now known as the the Granai airstrike. Reuters revealed that “93 of those killed were children — the youngest eight days old,” and that “[a]ccording to villagers, families were cowering in houses when the U.S. aircraft bombed them.” The death toll of this one airstrike is nearly five times larger than the U.S. helicopter crash, which took the life of not a single civilian, let alone child.
255 civilians were killed in military operations in June 2008. In early July 2008, near the village of Kacu, “a U.S. air strike killed 47 civilians, including 39 women and children, as they were travelling to a wedding in Afghanistan…The bride was among the dead.”
The following month, 90 civilians, including 60 children and 15 women, werekilled during military operations in Herat province alone.
Sixty-five civilians, including 40 children, were killed in a NATO assault on Kunar in February 2011. A few weeks later, NATO helicopter gunners shot nine boys – aged 9 to 15 – to death as they gathered firewood. On May 28, 2011, NATO bombs killed two women and 12 children in Helmand. In the month leading up to the Chinook crash last week, dozens of Afghan civilians were killed in NATO airstrikes and raids.
O’Donnell didn’t feel the need to show pictures of any of these victims or quote what their loved ones had to say about them.
The “deadliest day”, in O’Donnell’s estimation, could not possibly have been when, in July 2007, “U.S. special forces dropped six 2,000lb bombs on a compound where they believed a ‘high-value individual’ was hiding, after ‘ensuring there were no innocent Afghans in the surrounding area’. A senior US commander reported that 150 Taliban had been killed. Locals, however, reported that up to 300 civilians had died.”
Lawrence O’Donnell didn’t tell his viewers of the hopes and dreams of the hundreds of Afghan children liberated forever from this world by noble American troops and their stalwart allies. He didn’t mention how some of the young boys murdered by U.S. missiles loved to play soccer and couldn’t wait to learn how to drive. He didn’t solemnly note that many of the young girls shot to death by soldiers who love what they do wanted to become doctors and lawyers and human rights activists and teachers and wives and mothers. He didn’t devote a segment of his show to the murder of Mohammed Yonus, “a 36-year-old imam and a respected religious authority”, killed in Kabul in early 2010 while commuting to a madrasa where he taught 150 students.” The New York Times reported, “A passing military convoy raked his car with bullets, ripping open his chest as his two sons sat in the car.”
O’Donnell didn’t tearfully point out that the bullets and bombs that have killed so many men and women have left countless orphans and widows and taken countless children away from countless parents all sacrificed on the altar of the so-called “War on Terror” and American security and exceptionalism.
None of these innocents – people obliterated in their own houses, in their own fields, and in their own cars on their own roads – was accorded a second of screen time or a moment of acknowledgment during O’Donnell’s “Rewrite.”
It is unsurprising that, in March 2010, General Stanley A. McChrystal told U.S. troops during a video-conference about civilian deaths at checkpoints in Afghanistan, “We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat.” Nevertheless, upon McChrystal’s dishonorable retirement only a few months later, Defense Secretary Robert Gates delivered the following tribute: “Over the past decade, arguably no single American has inflicted more fear, more loss of freedom and more loss of life on our country’s most vicious and violent enemies than Stan McChrystal.”
Lawrence O’Donnell, while chastising the American public for not paying enough attention to our myriad military invasions, occupations and war crimes, said that only “a nation whose news media is more troubled by the loss of credit-ratings than the loss of life” could act in such a way. He didn’t mean, of course, the loss of Afghan lives, only of American soldiers. The U.S. government operates the same way; it still doesn’t compile death tolls for its murderous operations. Earlier this year, the ACLU revealed [PDF]:
The Department of Defense has confirmed that it does not compile statistics about the total number of civilians that have been killed by its unmanned drone aircraft.
According to the DOD, the military’s estimates of civilian casualties do not distinguish between deaths caused by remote-controlled drones and those caused by other aircraft. While each drone strike appears to be subject to an individual assessment after the fact, there is no total number of casualties compiled. Moreover, information contained in the individual assessments is classified – making it impossible for the public to learn how many civilians have been killed overall.
On July 5, 2005, journalist Peter Symonds wrote:
In what can only be regarded as a bloody act of revenge, the US military last Sunday killed as many as 17 civilians in an air raid on the remote village of Chechal in the northeast Afghan province of Kunar.
The attack took place just five kilometres from where a US Chinook helicopter was shot down, four days before, resulting in the deaths of 16 US special forces personnel — the largest single loss of American troops since the US-led invasion of the country in 2001.
While it remains to be seen what kind of lethal punishment Afghan civilians will bear in retaliation for the most recent Chinook crash with its record-breaking American death toll, one thing is certain: Lawrence O’Donnell will offer no words of sorrow or condolence, no melancholy homage to the dead, no decorous harangue of the American public for not caring enough, for not knowing the names, faces, and stories of those killed by our own soldiers whose salaries we pay and bombs we build.
To mourn only fallen soldiers of one’s own country and not even notice the civilians they are trained to kill in their own country is to rewrite the history of war and violence and further entrenches the vile ideology of “us vs. them”, inverts aggressor and victim, and praises invasion and empire. Lawrence O’Donnell, by deliberately ignoring the thousands of Afghan dead during his encomium for the dead American soldiers, has proven that, as far as the mainstream media is concerned, justice will never have the last word.
The last month has seen growing public debate over the shambles of the Afghan war. The much-heralded counter-insurgency is failing and the Obama administration and its allies are killing more civilians than ever before. Winning hearts and minds, indeed. At such times, unembedded journalism and thinking is essential.
Compiled by Antony Loewenstein
In other news:
– Al Jazeera English’s Listening Post asked me to comment on the recent Wikileaks revelations about war crimes in Iraq.
– Exclusive report in Australian magazine Crikey on Australian troops working with the US on assassination squads in Afghanistan and beyond (and the furious establishment’s response). Sydney University Law Professor Ben Saul comments.
– Investigation in Australian magazine Crikey on local unions embracing boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, an interview with union leader Paul Howes and Israel/Palestine.
– Appearance on ABC TV News24 talking about Afghanistan, 9/11 and drugs policy.
– Responses to the recent Independent Australian Jewish Voices ad in Australia and Zionist attack on pushing for BDS and one-state solution.
– ABC Online investigation into the Western media’s seduction by the regime in Sri Lanka.
– Appearance on ABC TV News24 discussiong gay marriage, asylum seekers and internet policy.
– Sydney 2SER Radio interview about the proposed $60 billion arms sale from the US to Saudi Arabia.
– During my recent visit to the Ubud Writers Festival in Bali, Indonesia, I interviewed well-known Australian author Christos Tsiolkas.
– Interview on British website Counterfire about Israel/Palestine.
– Interview on independent Australian radio program The Wire about suicides in immigration detention and the role of multinational Serco.
– Extract of a recent interview I conducted with leading US Jewish writer Norman Finkelstein talking about the two-state solution.
– Review of the extraordinary new film by director Julian Schnabel, Miral, that tells the Palestinian story from the 1948 Nakba onwards.
– Article in literary journal Overland on flailing US policy in the Middle East.
Antony’s Blog is worth logging into daily…. You can find it HERE
A Senseless War Begins Its 10th Year …an address to the nation from President Barack Obama (as reported by Michael Moore)
My Fellow Americans:
Nine years ago today we invaded the nation of Afghanistan. I’d just turned 40. I had a Discman and an Oldsmobile and had gotten really into LiveJournal. That was a long time ago. It was so long ago, does anybody remember why we’re even there? I think everyone wanted to capture Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice. But he got away sometime in the first month or so. He left. We stayed. Looking back now, that makes no sense.
Needing to find a new reason for the mission, we decided to overthrow the religious extremists who were running Afghanistan. Which we did. Sorta. Unlike Osama, they never left. Why not? Well, they were Afghans, it was their country. And, strangely enough, a lot of other Afghans supported them. To this day, the Taliban only have 25,000 armed fighters. Do you really think an army that tiny could control and suppress a nation of 28 million against their will? What’s wrong with this picture? WTF is really going on here?
The truth is, I can’t get an answer. My generals can’t quite tell me what our mission is. If we went in there to rout out al-Qaeda, well, they’re gone too. The CIA tells me there are under 100 of them left in the whole country!
My generals have also admitted the following to me:
1. There is no way we can defeat the Taliban. They enjoy too much popular support in the rural areas, the majority of the country.
2. Even though we’ve been there nine years, the truth is the Taliban, not us, not the Afghan government, control the country. After nine years, we’ve only completely run the Taliban out of 3% of Afghanistan.
3%!! (Just for reference, it took us only ELEVEN MONTHS after D-Day to entirely defeat the Nazis across all of Europe.)
3. Our troops and their commanders are still trying to learn the language, the culture, the customs of Afghanistan. The fact is, our troops are simply not trusted by the average people (especially after they’ve killed numerous civilians, either through recklessness or for sport).
4. The Afghan government we installed is corrupt beyond belief. The public does not trust them. President Karzai is on anti-depressants and our advisors tell us he is erratic and loopy on many days. His brother has a friendly relationship with the Taliban and is believed to be a major poppy (heroin) dealer. Heroin poppies are the #1 contributor to the Afghan economy.
The war in Afghanistan is a mess. The insurgency grows — and why wouldn’t it: foreign troops have invaded and occupied their country! The people responsible for 9/11 are no longer there. So why are we? Why are we offering up the lives of our sons and daughters every single day — for no reason anyone can define.
In fact, the only reason I can see is that this war is putting billions of profits into the pockets of defense contractors. Is that a reason to stay, so Halliburton can post a larger profit this quarter?
It is time for me to bring our troops home — right now. Not one more American needs to die. Their deaths do not make us safer and they do not bring democracy to Afghanistan.
It is not our mission to defeat the Taliban. That is the job of the Afghan people — if that is what they choose to do. There are many groups and leaders of countries in this world who are despicable. We are not going to invade 30 countries and remove their regimes. That is not our job.
I am not going to stay in Afghanistan just because we’re already there and we haven’t “won” yet. There is nothing to win. No one from Genghis Khan to Leonid Brezhnev has been able to win there. So the troops are coming home.
I refuse to participate in scaring the American people with a phony “War on Terror.” Are there terrorists? Yes. Will they strike again? Sadly, yes. But these terrorist acts are few and far between and should not dictate how we live our daily lives or make us ignore our constitutional rights. They should never distract us from what our real priorities are in making our country safe and secure: Everyone with a good job, families able to own a home and send their kids to college, universal health care that’s coordinated by your elected representative government — not by greedy, profit-hungry insurance companies. THAT would be true homeland security.
And what about Osama bin Laden? Nine years and we can’t find a 6’5″ Arab man who apparently is on dialysis? Even after offering $25 million to anyone who will tell us where he is? You don’t think someone would have taken us up on that by now?
Here’s what I know: Osama bin Laden is a multi-millionaire — and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about the rich is that they don’t live in caves for 9 years. Bin Laden is either dead or hiding out in a place where his money protects him. Or maybe he just went home.
Just like we should do. Now. My condolences to the families of all who died in this war. Most of them signed up after 9/11 and wanted to do their duty because we were attacked. But we were not attacked by a country. We were attacked by a few religious extremists. And you don’t defeat a few thugs by shipping halfway around the world thousands of armored vehicles and hundreds of thousands of soldiers. That is just sheer idiocy.
And it ends tonight.
God be with you.
I’m not a Muslim.
(End of speech, as transcribed by Michael Moore)
By Michael Moore
So … it turns out President Eisenhower wasn’t making up all that stuff about the military-industrial complex.
That’s what you’ll conclude if you read Bob Woodward’s new book, Obama’s War. (You can read excerpts of it here, here and here.) You thought you voted for change when you cast a ballot for Barack Obama? Um, not when it comes to America occupying countries that don’t begin with a “U” and an “S.”
In fact, after you read Woodward’s book, you’ll split a gut every time you hear a politician or a government teacher talk about “civilian control over the military.” The only people really making the decisions about America’s wars are across the river from Washington in the Pentagon. They wear uniforms. They have lots of weapons they bought from the corporations they will work for when they retire.
For everyone who supported Obama in 2008, it’s reassuring to find out he understands we have to get out of Afghanistan. But for everyone who’s worried about Obama in 2010, it’s scary to find out that what he thinks should be done may not actually matter. And that’s because he’s not willing to stand up to the people who actually run this country.
And here’s the part I don’t even want to write – and none of you really want to consider:
It matters not whom we elect. The Pentagon and the military contractors call the shots. The title “Commander in Chief” is ceremonial, like “Employee of the Month” at your local Burger King.
Everything you need to know can be found in just two paragraphs from Obama’s War. Here’s the scene: Obama is meeting with his National Security Council staff on the Saturday after Thanksgiving last year. He’s getting ready to give a big speech announcing his new strategy for Afghanistan. Except … the strategy isn’t set yet. The military has presented him with just one option: escalation. But at the last minute, Obama tells everyone, hold up – the door to a plan for withdrawal isn’t closed.
The brass isn’t having it:
“Mr. President,” [Army Col. John Tien] said, “I don’t see how you can defy your military chain here. We kind of are where we are. Because if you tell General McChrystal, ‘I got your assessment, got your resource constructs, but I’ve chosen to do something else,’ you’re going to probably have to replace him. You can’t tell him, ‘Just do it my way, thanks for your hard work.’ And then where does that stop?”
The colonel did not have to elaborate. His implication was that not only McChrystal but the entire military high command might go in an unprecedented toppling – Gates; Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Gen. David H. Petraeus, then head of U.S. Central Command. Perhaps no president could weather that, especially a 48-year-old with four years in the U.S. Senate and 10 months as commander in chief.
But here’s the question Woodward doesn’t answer: Why, exactly, can’t a president weather ending a war, even if he has to fire all his generals to do it? It’s right there in Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution: The President’s in charge of the military. And so is Congress: the army can’t just march over to the Treasury Department and steal the money for wars. Article I, Section 9 says Congress has to appropriate it.
In the real world, though, the Constitution’s just a piece of paper. In the real world, a President who fired his top military in order to stop a war would be ruined before you could say “bloodless coup.” The Washington Post (filled with ads from Boeing and Northrop Grumman) would scream about how he was the reincarnation of Neville Chamberlain. Fox and CNN (filled with “experts” who work for think tanks funded by Raytheon and General Dynamics) would say he was a girly-man who had to be impeached. And Congress (which experienced its own escalation in lobbying from defense contractors just as the Afghanistan escalation was being decided) might well do it. (By the way, if you want to listen to Lyndon Johnson talk in 1964 about how he might be impeached if he didn’t follow the military-industrial complex’s orders and escalate the war in Vietnam, just go here.)
So here’s your assignment for tonight: Watch Eisenhower’s famous farewell speech.
And then start thinking about how we can tame this beast. The Soviet Union had its own military-industrial complex, which is one reason they got into Afghanistan … which is one reason there’s no more Soviet Union. It happened to them.
Don’t think it can happen to us?
It was back in 1941.
I was a member of a good platoon.
We were on maneuvers in Lou’siana one night
By the light of the moon.
The Captain told us to ford a river.
That’s how it all begun.
We were knee deep in the Big Muddy,
And the big fool said to push on.
The Sergeant said, “Sir, are you sure
This is the best way back to the base?”
“Sergeant, go on, I’ve forded this river
About a mile above this place.
It’ll be a little soggy, but just keep sloggin’.
We’ll soon be on dry ground.”
We were waist deep in the Big Muddy,
And the big fool said to push on.
The Sergeant said, “Sir, with all this equipment,
No man will be able to swim.”
“Sergeant, don’t be a Nervous Nelly,”
The Captain said to him.
“All we need is a little determination.
Men, follow me. I’ll lead on.”
We were neck deep in the Big Muddy,
And the big fool said to push on.
All at once the moon clouded over.
We heard a gurglin’ cry.
A few seconds later the Captain’s helmet
Was all that floated by.
The Sergeant said, “Turn around, men.
I’m in charge from now on.”
And we just made it out of the Big Muddy
With the Captain dead and gone.
We stripped and dived and found his body
Stuck in the old quicksand.
I guess he didn’t know that the water was deeper
Then the place he’d once before been.
Another stream had joined the Big Muddy
About a half mile from where we’d gone.
We were lucky to escape from the Big Muddy
When the big fool said to push on.
Now I’m not going to point any moral —
I’ll leave that for yourself.
Maybe you’re still walking, you’re still talking,
You’d like to keep your health.
But every time I read the papers, that old feeling comes on,
We’re waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep in the Big Muddy,
The big fool says to push on.
Waist deep in the Big Muddy,
The big fool says to push on.
Waist deep, neck deep,
Soon even a tall man will be over his head.
We’re waist deep in the Big Muddy,
And the big fool says to push on.
Image ‘Copyleft’ by Carlos Latuff
Image ‘Copyleft’ by Carlos Latuff
Click HERE for hi-res version for
November 20, 2001: General Abdul Rashid Dostum and US-allied Northern Alliance surround Kunduz, Afghanistan, where Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters hide amongst civilians.
November 24, 2001: The New York Times reports the beginning of the surrender of Taliban troops to the US and Northern Alliance near Kunduz, Afghanistan.
November 25, 2001: As the surrendering fighters exit Kunduz, a revolt erupts at the Qala Jangi fortress in Mazar-e Sharif.
November 28, 2001: Many of the prisoners who surrendered to Dostum and allies are transferred to cargo container trucks at the Qala-e-Zeni fortress for transport to Sheberghan prison.
November 30, 2001: According to reports, when the container trucks are opened at Sheberghan Prison, hundreds of prisoners are found dead of heat, thirst, asphyxiation and shooting.
January 11, 2002: The first detainees from Afghanistan arrive at Camp X-Ray at Guantánamo Bay Prison, Cuba.
January 16-21, 2002: PHR researchers Jennifer Leaning, MD, and John Heffernan visit Sheberghan Prison, document appalling conditions there, and report the presence of an alleged mass gravesite at nearby Dasht-e-Leili.
January 28, 2002: PHR informs the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Security Operations, Dr. Joseph Collins, of the existence of alleged mass graves at Dasht-e-Leili.
February 7, 2002: President Bush signs an order stripping detainees at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere of Prisoner of War status and certain protections provided by the Geneva Conventions.
February 7-14, 2002: Under the auspices of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, PHR sends forensic experts William Haglund, PhD (Forensic Anthropologist and then-Director of PHR’s International Forensic Program) and Stefan Schmitt, MS (Forensic Consultant) to conduct a preliminary forensic assessment of various mass graves in northern Afghanistan, including Dasht-e-Leili. PHR completes an internal report on the mass graves (PDF).
March 1, 2002: PHR sends a letter addressed to then-Chairman of the Interim Government of Afghan Hamid Karzai (PDF) calling for the protection of mass graves and a plan for further investigation of the Dasht-e-Leili site.
March 15, 2002: A copy of the letter to Chairman Karzai (PDF) and the internal PHR report on the site (PDF) are delivered to Secretary of State Colin Powell; Pierre Richard Prosper, US Ambassador for War Crimes; Lorne Craner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Department of State; and Dr. Joseph Collins, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Department of Defense.
Dr. Collins forwards the PHR report to senior Department of Defense officials for further review. Mr. Craner informs Department of State officials about PHR report. PHR receives no response.
Early 2002: FBI Special Agent in Charge Dell Spry, head of the FBI component of the Criminal Investigative Task Force at Guantnamo Bay, interviews ten survivors of the alleged “Death Convoy” and files witness reports with FBI headquarters. Spry is told to stop any further investigation of the incident.
April 26 – May 7, 2002: PHR forensic experts William Haglund, PhD (Forensic Anthropologist and then-Director of PHR’s International Forensic Program) and Nizam Peerwani, MD (Forensic Pathologist) conduct a preliminary investigation of the Dasht-e-Leili site, which includes digging a test trench that exposes fifteen bodies, and conducting autopsies on three exhumed bodies. The manner of death is determined to be homicide and cause of death in each of the autopsied bodies is determined to be consistent with suffocation.
May 1, 2002: The New York Times publishes a story titled, “Study Hints at Mass Killing of the Taliban,” by Carlotta Gall.
May 2, 2002: Following the first public media report of the mass gravesite in the May 1 article, PHR makes public its report on findings at Dasht-e-Leili (PDF) in January and February 2002, together with a press release calling for the protection of, and further investigation of, the site (PDF).
June 13, 2002: In response to video testimonies released by filmmaker Jamie Doran, PHR reissues its public call for protection of gravesites and a full investigation in a press release (PDF). PHR’s John Heffernan appears on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, also calling for protection of Afghan gravesites and a full investigation.
August 2002: Special Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan and National Security Council Senior Director for Southwest Asia Zalmay Khalilzad meets with Pierre Prosper, Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues at the Department of State, and discourages Prosper from investigating the Dasht-e-Leili site.
August 5, 2002: PHR again meets with Deputy Assistant Secretary Collins. He tells PHR that the Department of Defense will take no action to secure the Afghan mass gravesite or to investigate it.
August 7, 2002: PHR sends a letter to high-level UN officials asking the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) to support the protection and further investigation of the Dasht-e-Leili gravesite.
August 20, 2002: Newsweek provides the first comprehensive reporting on Dasht-e-Leili. The magazine’s cover story, “The Death Convoy of Afghanistan,” which describes suffocation of prisoners, reportedly in container trucks following their surrender at Kunduz, raises questions regarding US involvement.
August 22, 2002: PHR issues a press release entitled “Physicians for Human Rights Welcomes Afghan Government’s Pledge to Investigate Mass Grave but Says Afghans Lack Expertise and Resources To Do it Alone; U.S. Response Insufficient; Urges UN to Authorize Commission of Inquiry” (PDF).
August 26, 2002: PHR sends a letter to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (PDF), asking for the assurance of security at the gravesite and for the US Department of Defense to review its own responsibilities regarding its ally’s compliance with the Geneva Conventions.
September 19, 2002: The UN authorizes an official investigation of mass graves in Afghanistan, including the site at Dasht-e-Leili. However, early 2003 plans for an exhumation of the site by PHR experts are postponed indefinitely due to failures to provide protection for the investigation and apparent lack of political will to support the effort.
September 30, 2002: In a Newsweek article, “War Crimes: Digging up the Truth,” Roy Gutman and John Barry report that the UN and the Afghan government agree to allow a forensic team to investigate the mass grave at Dasht-e-Leili.
December 21, 2002: US Human Rights organization leaders meet with Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz. At that meeting, PHR requests protection for its forensic team, security for site and a full investigation of the grave.
June 11-12, 2003: PHR’s Deputy Director, Susannah Sirkin, discusses the Dasht-e-Leili case with Special Forces officers, military/humanitarian law experts, and human rights organizations at Fort Bragg during an “Ethical Dilemmas for Special Forces” workshop. The discussion focuses on US responsibility under the Geneva Conventions for fully investigating the incident and protecting evidence as well as its responsibilities for violations by allies who are known human right violators.
2003-2006: PHR continues to advocate for protection of the site and investigation of the grave, including with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNAMA, realizing, however, that the politics of the situation and conditions on the ground in Afghanistan are not conducive to meeting this goal at this time.
June 21, 2006: Having received no response to its advocacy, and concerned that investigation of the gravesite had still not occurred, PHR submits a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the US Department of State, the Department of Defense, the Air Force, the Navy, the US Central Command, and the Central Intelligence Agency for all information relating to occurrences on and around November 2001 in the region of Dasht-e-Leili. (PDF)
August 5, 2006: Apparent Earth moving equipment and one pit present at Dasht-e-Leili site (see for entry for June 2009).
February 19, 2008: PHR files a legal complaint in US District Court for the District of Columbia against the Department of Defense (PDF) for its failure to respond to the June 2006 FOIA request.
July 6, 2008: As part of a larger UN forensic assessment mission, IFP Forensic Director Stefan Schmitt visits Dasht-e-Leili and documents large pits in the area where mass graves were documented in 2002, indicative of large-scale destruction of evidence. Schmitt raises concerns in meetings with UN and Afghan officials in Kabul.
November 17, 2008: Believing that the FOIA documents (part 1 [PDF 7.3MB], part 2 [PDF 5.5MB]) received to date do not represent a thorough search of the relevant records, PHR files a Motion for Summary Judgment against the Department of Defense for its failure to respond appropriately to PHR’s June 2006 FOIA request.
December 9, 2008: IFP Director Stefan Schmitt submits his confidential written report to UNAMA and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR) with findings and recommendations from his June 24 – July 17, 2008, assessment trip to Afghanistan.
December 11, 2008: McClatchy Newspapers’ Tom Lasseter reports evidence of grave site tampering at Dasht-e-Leili, which had been observed by the PHR forensic expert.
December 12, 2008: PHR issues a press release entitled: “PHR Calls for Probe into Removal of Mass Graves in Afghanistan”
December 19, 2008: PHR writes to President Karzai asking him to request assistance from ISAF (International Security Forces-Afghansitan) to protect the mass gravesite.
December 22, 2008: PHR sends a letter to General David McKiernan, Supreme Commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, requesting that he offer ISAF (International Security Forces-Afghanistan) assistance to the Government of Afghanistan to secure the mass grace site and protect witnesses.
December 27, 2008: General McKiernan responds to PHR’s letter requesting investigation of the grave site and protection of the witnesses, saying it is the Afghan government’s responsibility to request this assistance.
June 2009: PHR learns through satellite imagery analysis provided by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), that apparent earth-moving equipment was present at the site on August 5, 2006. The image shows the presence of one large pit, and apparent earth-moving equipment in a second area. A subsequent photo reveals a second pit where the apparent earth-moving equipment had been.
July 10, 2009: New York Times article by Pulitzer Prize winning reporter James Risen reveals new evidence that the Bush Administration impeded at least three federal investigations into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan beginning in 2002. The Times reports PHR’s call for the Department of Justice to investigate alleged obstruction of justice by the Bush Administration for shutting down an FBI criminal probe, and at least two other federal investigations, of the alleged Dasht-e-Leili massacre.
PHR reiterates its call on the Government of Afghanistan, which has jurisdiction over the alleged mass grave site, to: