The bodies of Afghan civilians loaded into the back of a truck in Alkozai
village of Panjwayi district of Kandahar (AFP)
"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 article for 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 very first 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 Afghanistan offered 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 killed several 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 study by 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. Marines urinating 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 deliberately incinerated 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 of Kapisa, "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 this perception.
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 the atrocities, trauma, terror, dehumanization and devastation that have befallen the Afghan people at the orders and hands of American soldiers, officers, and commanders-in chief.
Haditha Massacre, Iraq, 2005
Such criminal brutality is obviously not limited to Afghanistan. Sunday's massacre of 16 human beings in Kandahar recalls the massacre 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 sentence did 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 and psychological torture of thousands of people, including at places like Guantanamo, Bagram, and Abu Ghraib, where detainees were raped 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 Taliban condemned 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.