[HCCN] Kathy Kelly: Pacified

Judith Robbins JUDY at ROBBINSandROBBINS.com
Tue Mar 30 19:04:38 EDT 2010

Published on Tuesday, March 30, 2010 by CommonDreams.org

by Kathy Kelly
If the U.S. public looked long and hard into a mirror reflecting the  
civilian atrocities that have occurred in Afghanistan, over the past  
ten months, we would see ourselves as people who have collaborated  
with and paid for war crimes committed against innocent civilians who  
meant us no harm.

Two reporters, Jerome Starkey (the Times UK ), and David Lindorff,  
(Common Dreams ), have persistently drawn attention to U.S. war  
crimes committed in Afghanistan. Makers of the film "Rethinking  
Afghanistan" have steadily provided updates about the suffering  
endured by Afghan civilians. Here is a short list of atrocities that  
have occurred in the months since General McChrystal assumed his post  
in Afghanistan.

December 26th, 2009:  US-led forces, (whether soldiers or "security  
contractors" (mercenaries) is still uncertain), raided a home in  
Kunar Province and pulled eight young men out of their beds,  
handcuffed them, and gunned them down execution-style.  The Pentagon  
initially reported that the victims had been running a bomb factory,   
although distraught villagers were willing to swear that the victims,  
youngsters, aged 11 - 18, were just seven normal schoolboys and one  
shepherd boy.  Following courageous reporting by Jerome Starkey, the  
U.S. military carried out its own investigation and on February 24th,  
2010, issued an apology, attesting the boys' innocence.

February 12, 2010:  U.S. and Afghan forces raided a home during a  
party and killed five people, including a local district attorney, a  
local police commander two pregnant mothers and a teenaged girl  
engaged to be married.  Neither Commander Dawood, shot in the doorway  
of his home while pleading for calm waving his badge, nor the  
teenaged Gulalai, died immediately, but the gunmen refused to allow  
relatives to take them to the hospital. Instead, they forced them to  
wait for hours barefoot in the winter cold outside.

Despite crowds of witnesses on the scene, the NATO report insisted  
that the two pregnant women at the party had been found bound and  
gagged, murdered by the male victims in an honor killing.  A March  
16, 2010 U.N. report, following on further reporting by Starkey,  
exposed the deception, to meager American press attention.

Two weeks later: February 21st, 2010: A three-car convoy of Afghans  
was traveling to the market in Kandahar with plans to proceed from  
there to a hospital in Kabul where some of the party could be taken  
for much-needed medical treatment.  U.S. forces saw Afghans  
travelling together and launched an air-to-ground attack on the first  
car.  Women in the second car immediately jumped out waving their  
scarves, trying desperately to communicate that they were civilians.   
The U.S. helicopter gunships continued firing on the now unshielded  
women. 21 people were killed and 13 were wounded.

There was press attention for this atrocity, and U.S. General Stanley  
McChrystal would issue a videotaped apology for his soldiers' tragic  
mistake.  Broad consensus among the press accepted this as a gracious  
gesture, with no consequences for the helicopter crew ever demanded  
or announced.

Whether having that gunship in the country was a mistake - or a crime  
- was never raised as a question.

And who would want it raised?  Set amidst the horrors of an ongoing  
eight-year war, how many Americans think twice about these  
atrocities, hearing them on the news.

So I'm baffled to learn that in Germany, a western, relatively  
comfortable country, citizens raised a sustained protest when their  
leaders misled them regarding an atrocity that cost many dozens of  
civilian lives in Afghanistan.

The air strike was conducted by US planes but called in by German  
forces.   On September 4, 2009, Taleban fighters in Kunduz province  
had hijacked two trucks filled with petrol, but then gotten stuck in  
a quagmire where the trucks had sank.  Locals, realizing that the  
trucks carried valuable fuel, had arrived in large numbers to siphon  
it off, but when a German officer at the nearest NATO station learned  
that over 100 people had assembled in an area under his supervision,  
he decided they must be insurgents and a threat to Germans under his  
command. At his call, a U.S. fighter jet bombed the tankers,  
incinerating 142 people, dozens of them confirmable as civilians.

On September 6, 2009, Germany's Defense Minister at the time, Franz  
Josef Jung, held a press conference in which he defended the attack,  
playing down the presence of civilians.  He wasn't aware that video  
footage from a US F15 fighter jet showed that most of the people  
present were unarmed civilians gathering to fill containers with fuel.

On November 27, 2009, after a steady outcry on the part of the German  
public, the Defense Minister was withdrawn from his post, (he is now  
a Labor Minister), and two German military officials, one of them  
Germany's top military commander Wolfgang Schneiderhan, were forced  
to resign.

I felt uneasy and sad when I realized that my first response to this  
story was a feeling of curiosity as to how the public of another  
country could manage to raise such a furor over deaths of people in  
faraway Afghanistan.  How odd to have grown up wondering how anyone  
could ever have been an uninvolved bystander allowing Nazi atrocities  
to develop and to find myself, four decades later, puzzling over how  
German people or any country's citizenship could exercise so much  
control over their governance.

Today, in the US, attacks on civilians are frequently discussed in  
terms of the "war for hearts and minds.".

Close to ten months ago, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told  
reporters at a June 12, 2009 press conference in Brussels that  
General Stanley McChrystal "would work to minimize Afghan civilian  
casualties, a source of growing public anger within Afghanistan."

"Every civilian casualty -- however caused -- is a defeat for us,"  
Gates continued, "and a setback for the Afghan government."

On March 23rd, 2010, McChrystal was interviewed by  the Daily  
Telegraph. "Your security comes from the people," he said. "You don't  
need to be secured away from the people. You need to be secured by  
the people. So as you win their support, it's in their interests to  
secure you, .... This can mean patrolling without armored vehicles or  
even flak jackets. It means accepting greater short-term risk - and  
higher casualties - in the hope of winning a "battle of perceptions  
and perspectives" that will result in longer-term security."

And on March 2nd, 2010, he told Gail McCabe "What we're trying to do  
now is to increase their confidence in us and their confidence in  
their government.  But you can't do that through smoke and mirrors,  
you have to do that through real things you do - because they've been  
through thirty-one years of war now, they've seen so much, they're  
not going to be beguiled by a message."

We're obliged as Americans to ask ourselves whether we will be guided  
by a message such as McChrystal's or by evidence.  Americans have not  
been through thirty-one years of war, and we have managed to see very  
little of the consequences of decades of warmaking in Afghanistan.

According to a March 3, 2010 Save the Children report, "The world is  
ignoring the daily deaths of more than 850 Afghan children from  
treatable diseases like diarrhea and pneumonia, focusing on fighting  
the insurgency rather than providing humanitarian aid."  The report  
notes that a quarter of all children born in the country die before  
the age of five, while nearly 60 percent of children are malnourished  
and suffer physical or mental problems.  The UN Human Development  
Index in 2009 says that Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries  
in the world, second only to Niger in sub-Saharan Africa.

The proposed US defense budget will cost the U.S. public two billion  
dollars per day.  President Obama's administration is seeking a 33  
billion dollar supplemental to fund wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Most U.S. people are aware of Taleban atrocities, and many may  
believe the U.S. troops are in Afghanistan to protect Afghan  
villagers from Taleban human rights abuses.  At least the mainstream  
news media in Germany and the UK will air stories of atrocities. The  
U.S. people are disadvantaged inasmuch as the media and the Pentagon  
attempt to pacify us, winning our hearts and minds to bankroll  
ongoing warfare and troop escalation in Afghanistan.  Yet it isn't  
very difficult to pacify U.S. people.  We're easily distracted from  
the war, and when we do note that an atrocity has happened, we seem  
more likely to respond with a shrug of dismay than with a sustained  

At the Winter Soldier hearings, future presidential hopeful John  
Kerry movingly asked Congress how it could ask a soldier "To be the  
last man to die for a mistake," while contemporary polls showed less  
prominent Americans far more willing to call the Vietnam war an evil  
- a crime - a sin - than "a mistake."  The purpose of that war, as of  
Obama's favored war in Afghanistan, was to pacify dangerous  
populations - to make them peaceful, to win the battle of hearts and  

Afghan civilian deaths no longer occur at the rate seen in the war's  
first few months, in which the civilian toll of our September 11  
attacks, pretext for the war then as it is now, was so rapidly exceeded.

But every week we hear - if we are listening very carefully to the  
news, if we are still reading that final paragraph on page A16 - or  
if we are following the work of brave souls like Jerome Starkey - of  
tragic mistakes.  We are used to tragic mistakes.  Attacking a  
country militarily means planning for countless tragic mistakes.

Some of us still let ourselves believe that the war can do some good  
in Afghanistan,  that our leaders' motives for escalating the war,  
however dominated by strategic economic concerns and geopolitical  
rivalries, still in some small part include the interests of the  
Afghan people.

There are others who know where this war will lead and know that our  
leaders know, and have simply become too fatigued, too drained of  
frightened tears by this long decade of nightmare, to hold those  
leaders accountable anymore for moral choices.

It's worthwhile to wonder, how did we become this pacified?

But far more important is our collective effort to approach the  
mirror, to stay in front of it, unflinching, and see the consequences  
of our mistaken acquiescence to the tragic mistakes of war, and then  
work, work hard, to correct our mistakes and nonviolently resist  
collaboration with war crimes.
Kathy Kelly, a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.  
Kathy Kelly's email is kathy at vcnv.org

Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

URL to article: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/03/30-0
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