2m2ba #4: Killings and cover-ups

Jerome Starkey of the London Times published a great piece of reporting yesterday about an incident in Afghanistan’s Paktia province on February 12 when U.S. Special forces gunned down two pregnant women, a teenage girl, a police officer and his brother in their home– and then “dug bullets out of their victims’ bodies in the bloody aftermath of a botched night raid, then washed the wounds with alcohol before lying to their superiors about what happened… ”
Glenn Greenwald has an excellent follow-up today in which he gives extensive details of how successful the cover-up was. Well, it was especially successful in that the military concocted a cover-up story–as shown in this NATO press release from the time– and then most of the US MSM just swallowed that whole story completely and regurgitated it without trying to do any independent reporting.
The NATO cover-up story was particularly odious because it blamed the U.S.’s opponents for the killings and quoted NATO/ISAF’s Canadian spokesman as saying,

    “ISAF continually works with our Afghan partners to fight criminals and terrorists who do not care about the life of civilians.”

He should resign.
Greenwald noted that the only independent reporting that came out at the time was performed by AP and by Pajhwok Afghan News, an independent news agency created in Afghanistan to enable war reporting by Afghans.
Late on Sunday night, the U.S. military command in Kabul finally admitted that its forces had, in fact, killed the women during the nighttime raid.
This news comes out at the same time that Wikileaks, yesterday, published some extremely disturbing footage, shot from a U.S. attack helicopter in Baghdad in July 2007, that shows the chopper’s gunners gunning down a group of around 7-8 people who appear to be relaxedly standing and walking in a street. The group included two TV cameramen for Reuters. It seems the troops on the chopper thought the cameras were weapons– but no-one shown o the video looks as though they’re in any kind of combat stance.
Reuters has been trying since 2007 to get the military to release the video. Wikileaks does not say how it got it.
On the video, the U.S. troops later fire at a van that comes to pick up a wounded survivor from the assault. Then, as U.S. ground troops arrive, one of their voices on the intercom is laughing about having driven over a body.
All these revelations that keep coming out about the strong propensity of U.S. (and Israeli) troops to engage in excessive violence, and the propensity of their respective high commands to cover up that fact, underline a couple of important lessons:

    1. Armed conflict is always violent, and extremely damaging to anyone who is in the war zone. No matter how often they tell us about “pinpoint accuracy”, “smart weapons”, and so on, the vast majority of the violence involved in armed conflict is brutal and anything but “pinpoint”.
    2. Armed conflict always also brutalizes those sent out to engage in it. And it brutalizes people more and more over time, as acts that earlier are seen as taboo or “exceptional” progressively become more and more routine. Time was, in Israel, the military would rigorously investigate the cause of every death-in-conflict of a Palestinian. Then it stopped doing that. Then it started acting as if extrajudicial executions could be considered as “just routine”…

Using violence to try to resolve differences is outrageous, and barbaric. All of us who live in countries that claim to respect human life and human liberties should renounce it. Guess what, we do now have international institutions that, if further strengthened, could help us resolve all the world’s big conflicts without recourse to war.

6 thoughts on “2m2ba #4: Killings and cover-ups

  1. brian

    ‘The NATO cover-up story was particularly odious because it blamed the U.S.’s opponents for the killings and quoted NATO/ISAF’s Canadian spokesman as saying,
    “ISAF continually works with our Afghan partners to fight criminals and terrorists who do not care about the life of civilians.”‘
    this is what Israel did also in 2006 after they shelled Gaza beach breaking a 2 year ceasefire…blamed the palestinians for the deaths that occured.

  2. scott

    I appreciate you, Juan Cole et. al. attempting to take this down a notch, and you helping us consider the insidious nature of arguments about war being “targeted,” humane etc.
    But I think we should all look carefully at this video…. I’m sickened by so many sub-plots. Take for example the cameraman reaching for his “weapon”…. struggling perhaps to “shoot” a picture of his attackers….
    And “our guys”, the “boys on steroids with deadly toys,” are pleading with their video game masters to give ’em permission to blast him. (like this is Luke Skywalker) They finally get it…..
    Ah, but some military guys are out saying that well, you have to err on the side of caution, those rpg’s can be deadly….. so “blast ’em”
    and then swear at the corpses….
    Shameful

  3. Erik

    The sort of vileness shown in that video should not be seen as an anomaly, but rather as typical behavior undertaken by the aggressor in wars of colonial expansion, which is what both “conflicts” really are.
    I like Nurnberg prosecutor, Jackson’s succinct take on aggressive war being the supreme international crime having all the other individual crimes subsumed within.
    We should not be surprised by this type of behavior; atrocities are what you do when you take over someone else’s country, expect the population to come to heal, and, when it does not do so, you react to the resulting rebellion in the only way occupying armies always have.
    Always remember: the stories we get to hear are only a small sample, as these incidents are usually covered up. Both the Iraq “war” and its Afghan sibling are morally squalid adventures in imperial domination, undertaken by bad people in this country. That Obama has been co-opted or bought into the process is a shame. Leaving both countries, totally, is the only upright thing to do. Perhaps the process of economic decay in this country will bring that to pass and perhaps prevent some future similar adventures

  4. Karl Weber

    Unfortunately combat training, out of necessity, does not focus on restraint. It is focused on self-preservation and accomplishing the mission through destruction of the enemy.
    Combat training does not teach compassion for anyone including those who need to be written off as collateral damage.
    War is barbaric as it has been from prehistoric time through the present. It justifies brutality as necessary to achieve victory through combat. It makes barbarians of us all including those “who only stay at home and wait” and cheer for their armed forces.

  5. HALI

    Where are your values? Tony Bliar was harping about this!
    Than the Americans talk about reaching the Muslim World!
    It is precisely these types of killings that exasperate the Muslim feelings..whom do you blame now?

  6. iain

    “Guess what, we do now have international institutions that, if further strengthened, could help us resolve all the world’s big conflicts without recourse to war.”
    I second that.
    It will have to happen eventually I would think, but of course those ‘benefiting’ from the status quo will do their all to prevent it in the meantime..

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