May 8, 2009
Patrick Cockburn reports that the death count is rising from this week's American airstrike on an Afghan village compound where women, children and elderly men were taking shelter from a battle several miles away; Afghan officials now say that almost 150 civilians were killed. [One of the few survivors is pictured at left.] What's more, it turns out that the attack was not a single, mistaken shot, but part of a sustained bombing campaign, lasting for hours, in which three villages were "pounded to pieces." From The Independent:
Shouting "Death to America" and "Death to the Government", thousands of Afghan villagers hurled stones at police yesterday as they vented their fury at American air strikes that local officials claim killed 147 civilians.
The riot started when people from three villages struck by US bombers in the early hours of Tuesday, brought 15 newly-discovered bodies in a truck to the house of the provincial governor. As the crowd pressed forward in Farah, police opened fire, wounding four protesters....
As usual, the Americans, while expressing "deep regret," tried to blame the atrocity on someone else, but were, as usual, belied by the evidence:
The protest in Farah City is the latest sign of a strong Afghan reaction against US air attacks in which explosions inflict massive damage on mud-brick houses that provide little protection against bomb blasts. A claim by American officials, which was repeated by the US Defence Secretary Robert Gates yesterday in Kabul, that the Taliban might have killed people with grenades because they did not pay an opium tax is not supported by any eyewitnesses and is disproved by pictures of deep bomb craters, one of which is filled with water...
Pictures of the aftermath of the attack show people standing beside the remains of a relative which often only looks like a muddy pile of torn meat. One elderly white bearded man, said by neighbours to have lost 30 members of his family, squats despairingly beside a body that has been torn into shreds. Among the few wounded to stay alive is a child with a badly burned face.
As Cockburn makes clear, the devastation of the shelter was not a one-off incident, but the inevitable result of a full-scale bombing attack all over area:
The US admits that it did conduct an air strike at the time and place, but it is becoming clear, going by the account of survivors, that the air raid was not a brief attack by several aircraft acting on mistaken intelligence, but a sustained bombardment in which three villages were pounded to pieces. Farouq Faizy, an Afghan radio reporter who was one of the first to reach the district of Bala Baluk, says villagers told him that bombs suddenly, "began to fall at 8pm on Monday and went on until 10pm though some believe there were still bombs falling later". A prolonged bombing attack would explain why there are so many dead, but only 14 wounded received at Farah City hospital.
The attack was on three villages ľ Gerani, Gangabad and Koujaha ľ just off the main road. It is a poppy growing area of poor farmers and there were several fields of poppies near the villages.
As we noted here last week, the Obama Administration has adopted a new tactic of "taking the fight" to Afghanistan's opium-growing regions:
As the New York Times reports, the Progressive Commander is about to pour thousands of troops into Afghanistan's heavily populated opium-growing regions, using a military sledgehammer to destroy the only source of income for large portions of the poverty-wracked nation.
This is criminal folly on a monumental scale, worthy in every respect of Obama's "continuity" with Bush's military policies (and personnel, like Robert Gates). The result will inevitably be an even larger number of civilian casualties than are now being harvested on a regular basis in the "good war," with an even more embittered -- and more poverty-stricken -- population.
As noted, the massacre in Gerani took place miles away from the battle that was its ostensible provocation, Cockburn reports:
Provincial officials, including the governor Rohul Amin, say that in the lead-up to the bombing there was heavy fighting between hundreds of Taliban and the Afghan Army and police. Going by Mr Faizy's account there had been, "a fight some seven or eight kilometres from the three villages in which two Afghan Army and a US Humvee were destroyed. A third Afghan Army vehicle was captured."
The Afghan troops were accompanied by American "advisors," who called in the airstrike. But the response went far beyond the localized Taliban attack; obviously, American officials decided to flatten the surrounding villages as well -- no doubt on the basis of the idea that inevitably takes hold in the minds of "counterinsurgency forces" in every disputed occupation of foreign lands: "There are no civilians, the natives are all out to kill us."
We have seen this mindset played out over and over again -- most recently in Vietnam and Iraq. The most blatant and extreme expression of the idea -- and its inevitable outcome -- was on display this week in a quiet Kentucky courtroom, where former soldier Steven Green was convicted of murder and rape in the horrific atrocity he and his comrades carried out in the Iraqi village of Mahmudiyah.
We first wrote about the case almost three years ago ("Home Free: American Power in Mahmudiyah"), but Gail McGowan Mellor provides a good summary of the incident in her excellent Huffington Post story on the case:
Fourteen-year-old Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi's home in Iraq was a sturdy farmhouse full of light in an isolated area but only a few hundred yards from a U.S. traffic checkpoint [TCP.] After watching the tall, modestly-dressed girl working in her family's field, U.S. 101st Airborne Private James Barker, as he testified, decided to rape her. He recruited Green, who wanted to kill some civilian Iraqis and then their sergeant. In uniform, Barker became bold enough to barge into her home, leering at Abeer in front of a family which was helpless to stop U.S. troops in full gear. Off again to themselves, drinking whiskey which they would later say they got from the Iraqi Army, the eventually five U.S. soldiers reasoned that the family would be easy to kill and that nothing more substantial than her parents stood between them and Abeer. Sex was incidental; the goal, they all testify, was to hurt Iraqis. All but one of the five got out of uniform, putting on the dark Army "ninja" outfits that the Army had designed to keep them warm at night. Then they deserted their post, maneuvering through backyards to burst into the house in black clothes in full daylight.
While Specialist James Barker pinned a terrified Abeer down, and Cortez raped her, Green shoved her parents and six-year-old sister Hadeel at gunpoint into a room with him and shut the door. The mother Fakhriya Taha Muhasen and the father Qassim Hamza Raheem huddled in a corner trying to shield Hadeel, so Green killed the father, then the mother, then Hadeel, shooting the six-year-old point blank in the face with an AK47. He then re-entered the main room where she was, threw the AK47 down, raped Abeer, and standing up from doing it, put a pillow over her face and shot and killed her.
The soldiers used kerosene to set the lower part of her dead body on fire, and after they left, flames caught the house, bringing the family's relatives who saw the smoke then the bodies. They ran to the U.S. checkpoint for help, but two of the killers who were among the U.S. troops responding managed to blame the slaughter on "insurgents." Abeer's two younger brothers, surviving because they had been at school, came home to find their house burned, their family dead and blood and brains all over the walls. The killers meanwhile celebrated with a barbeque. Green bragged to anyone who would listen about what he had done, including the officer. Then Green, unpunished, was honorably discharged with a diagnosis of "antisocial psychiatric disorder."
To "justify" the crime -- or at least mitigate it -- the defense called numerous witnesses who revealed that inevitable mindset of counterinsurgency cited above:
The witnesses said that the family whom Green and the other four soldiers had slaughtered were killed because they were Iraqi; that combatants and non-combatanbts seemed indistinguishable; or as one said with what sounded like bewildered accusation, "they look just like me and you," they were "all out to get us."
However, in his closing arguments at the trial, Green's defense attorney did make one telling point:. From AFP:
But Green's defense attorney Scott Wendelsdorf told jurors the stresses of war had left Green a broken man in a strange world. "Madness. Madness. That's the only possible word," he told them.
...Wendelsdorf blamed the crime on the lack of leadership at Traffic Checkpoint 2, where Green served with the other soldiers involved in the crimes at the al-Janabi home. "They didn't come there as criminals," he said. "They were made criminals at TCP 2."
He noted that Green had been diagnosed as having Combat Operational Stress Disorder three months before the attack.
Green might well have been a disturbed individual before he went into the military; he was certainly, certifiably disturbed long before the murder spree. But it didn't matter. The bipartisan American war machine needed his warm body -- and his addled brain -- to carry out its own still-continuing rape-murder writ large: the invasion and occupation of Iraq, a berserk rampage that President Obama has declared "an extraordinary achievement."
Nothing on earth excuses, justifies or mitigates the horrific crime that Green and his fellow soldiers committed in Mahmudiya. We are each of us responsible for our individual acts. But such crimes are absolutely inevitable in the conditions of a criminal war; and the leaders, instigators -- and continuers -- of such a war are guilty of even far greater atrocities, even if they never wet their own dainty hands with blood.
As we noted in that 2006 story on Steven Green and Mahmudiya:
But you're on your own this time, comprade; Uncle Rummy's done cut you loose, set you up for the old "bad apple" shuck-and-jive. Sure, he's personally signed direct orders that he knew would kill thousands of civilians every bit as innocent as that family you massacred -- but then, he's an Ivy League man, a corporate chieftain, a respected public servant, and you are just another hick from the sticks. He's home free; you're going all the way down.
Let this be a lesson to all the cannon fodder out there: don't get above your raising, don't emulate your betters. Law is for the lowly, not the great and good.