September 8, 2008
Every day, the shame mounts, the lies grow more brazen and more brutal, and the dishonor spreads and deepens -- ineradicable, like a white garment soaked with blood.
The atrocity in Azizabad, an Afghan village hit by an American airstrike on the night of August 22, is by no means the worst depredation of the so-called "War on Terror," which has left more than million innocent people dead in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia over the past seven years. But the mass death visited upon the sleeping, defenseless citizens of Azizabad encapsulates many of the essential elements of this global campaign of "unipolar domination" and war profiteering: the callous application of high-tech weaponry against unarmed civilians; the witless attack that alienates local supporters and empowers an ever-more violent and radical insurgency; and perhaps the most quintessential element of all -- the knowing lies and deliberate deceits that Washington employs to hide the obscene reality of its Terror War.
In the days following the attack, the American-backed Afghan government, local officials with long-standing relationships with American forces, and representatives of the United Nations declared that at least 90 civilians, most of them women and children, had been killed by American bombs in Azizabad. The Pentagon and White House adamantly denied the eyewitness accounts of their own allies on the scene. Washington claimed that "only" five to seven civilians had been killed in what the Pentagon claimed was a successful Special Forces operation against a Taliban stronghold. [Think of that: "only" five to seven civilians killed! How far have we become steeped in blood, when the obliteration of half a dozen innocent human beings can be dismissed as a trifle.]
What's more, the Pentagon then claimed that the reports of a wider slaughter were being faked by the villagers, at the behest of the Taliban. The American brass even accused the survivors of the attack of creating fake graves to fool the good-hearted U.S. military inspectors who, it was claimed, quickly visited the scene to ascertain the truth.
It is now evident that the Pentagon claims were a lie. There was no investigation at the scene by American forces. No American official has even spoken to the villagers. All of the documentary evidence -- including photos, videos, the eyewitness testimony of Afghan officials and NGO staffers closely associated with the American presence in Afghanistan, and the presence of dozens of fresh, genuine graves -- points overwhelmingly to the truth of the initial report: On the night August 22, American bombs killed approximately 90 people sleeping in their homes in the village of Azizabad, a village where the Taliban had no presence.
Much of this has been confirmed by reporter Carlotta Gall. As she has done so often in her career, first with the Moscow Times and now with the New York Times, Gall has eschewed the well-established routine of most "war correspondents" -- regurgitating official statements from military brass -- and gone straight to the scene to conduct her own investigation. The results have shredded the Pentagon's story -- with its obscene allegation that the victims themselves had fabricated the story of their loss and suffering -- to pieces. And the continuing anger of the American-backed Afghan government has now forced the Americans to promise yet another investigation of the attack perhaps the Pentagon will come up with a more plausible work of fiction next time.
The Afghan government, human rights and intelligence officials, independent witnesses and a United Nations investigation back up [the villagers'] account, pointing to dozens of freshly dug graves, lists of the dead, and cellphone videos and other images showing bodies of women and children laid out in the village mosque.
Cellphone images seen by this reporter show at least 11 dead children, some apparently with blast and concussion injuries, among some 30 to 40 bodies laid out in the village mosque. Ten days after the airstrikes, villagers dug up the last victim from the rubble, a baby just a few months old. Their shock and grief is still palpable....
A visitor to the village and to three graveyards within its limits on Aug. 31 counted 42 freshly dug graves. Thirteen of the graves were so small they could hold only children; another 13 were marked with stones in the way that Afghans identify women’s graves.
Villagers questioned separately identified relatives in the graves; their names matched the accounts given by elders of the village of those who died in each of eight bomb-damaged houses and where they were buried. They were quite specific about who was killed in the airstrikes and did not count those who died for other reasons; one of the fresh graves, they said, belonged to a man who was killed when villagers demonstrated against the Afghan Army on Aug. 23....
The smell of bodies lingered in one compound, causing villagers to start digging with spades. They found the body of a baby, caked in dust, in the corner of a bombed-out room.
Cellphone images that a villager said that he shot, and seen by this reporter, showed two lines of about 20 bodies each laid out in the mosque, with the sounds of loud sobbing and villagers’ cries in the background.
An Afghan doctor who runs a clinic in a nearby village said he counted 50 to 60 bodies of civilians, most of them women and children and some of them his own patients, laid out in the village mosque on the day of the strike. The doctor, who works for a reputable nongovernmental organization here, at first gave his name but then asked that it be withheld because he feared retribution from Afghans feeding intelligence to the Americans.
Gall nails the Pentagon lie that evidence of the massacre had been faked by Taliban-backing villagers:
The United States military, in a series of statements about the operation, has accused the villagers of spreading Taliban propaganda. Speaking on condition that their names not be used, some military officials have suggested that the villagers fabricated such evidence as grave sites — and, by implication, that other investigators had been duped. But many villagers have connections to the Afghan police, NATO or the Americans through reconstruction projects, and they say they oppose the Taliban.
On and on, the evidence mounts up:
The district chief of Shindand, Lal Muhammad Umarzai, 45, said he personally counted 76 bodies that day, and he believed that more bodies were unearthed over the next two days, bringing the total to more than 90. Mr. Umarzai has been praised for bringing security to the district in the three months since his appointment and is on good terms with American and NATO forces in the region...
The United Nations issued a statement pointing to evidence it considered conclusive that about 90 civilians were killed, some 75 of them women and children. Villagers and relatives said that the bodies were scattered in different locations; many of the victims were visiting Azizabad for a family memorial ceremony, and their relatives took their bodies back to their home villages for burial. This reporter did not visit the other villages but was given a detailed list of names and places where the remaining victims were buried.
Accounts from survivors, including three people wounded in the bombing, described repeated strikes on houses where dozens of children were sleeping, grandparents and uncles and aunts huddled inside with them. Most of the village families were asleep when the shooting broke out, some sleeping out under mosquito nets in the yards of their houses, some inside the small domed rooms of their houses, lying close together on the floor, with up to 10 or 20 people in a room....
They came in the night, again and again, and destroyed the houses, blew sleeping families to pieces....then followed it up with a bit of "black ops":
A policeman, Abdul Hakim, whose four children were killed and whose wife was paralyzed, said she had told him how an Afghan informer accompanying the American Special Operations forces had entered the compound after the bombardment and shot dead her brother, Reza Khan; her father; and an uncle as they were trying to help her. She said she had heard her father plead for help and ask the Afghan: "Are you a Muslim? Why are you doing this to us?" Then she heard shots, and her father did not speak after that, he said.
"Why are you doing this to us?" Why indeed? A larger answer to that question would take a long time, and encompass a number of issues, including world energy markets, various corporate and geopolitical strategies, the militarization of the American economy and various currents in American domestic politics, among many others. But a short answer, pertaining specifically to Azizabad, appears to be yet another element that has arisen time and again in the Terror War: an armed American intervention on one side of a local dispute. Gall reports:
The villagers and the relatives of some of the people killed in the raid insisted that none of them were Taliban and that there were no Taliban present in the village. Eight of the men killed were security guards supplied by Reza Khan to a private American security company and did possess weapons, said Gul Ahmed Khan, Reza Khan’s brother....
The Khan brothers are from the most prominent family in the village and were hosting the memorial ceremony for their brother, Taimoor Shah, who was killed in a business dispute a year ago. They had cards issued by an American Special Forces officer that designated each of them as a "coordinator for the U.S.S.F." Another brother, Haji Abdul Rashid, blamed a business rival for falsely telling the Americans that their family supported the Taliban....
Yet still the Pentagon insists that the village was infested with Taliban, both before and after the attack:
In a series of statements about the operation, the American military has said that extremists who entered the village after the bombardment encouraged villagers to change their story and inflate the number of dead. Yet the Afghan government and the United Nation have stood by the victims’ families and their accounts, not least because many of the families work for the Afghan government or reconstruction projects. The villagers say they oppose the Taliban and would not let them in the village.
"You can see our I.D. cards," said a police officer, Muhammad Alam, 35, who was accused by the Americans of being a Taliban supporter and was detained for a week after the airstrikes, then released. "If the Taliban caught me, they would slaughter me."
Two families in the village have lost men serving in the police during recent Taliban attacks. Reza Khan, whose house was the main target of the Special Operations Forces operation, and who was shot dead in the episode, was a wealthy businessman with construction and security contracts with the nearby American base at Shindand airport, and with a cellphone business in the town of Herat. A recent photo of him shows a clean-shaven, slightly portly man in a suit and tie — far from the typical look of a Taliban militant.
So the main target of this combined air and ground attack was a contractor for the local American base. Did someone else, with better connections perhaps, want a slice of that contractor pie? Did they put the finger on Khan and use the American military as a hit squad to get him out of the way? Does anyone believe that the new Pentagon "investigation" of the atrocity will address such questions?
As we have noted before, at the heart of the "War on Terror" is a blind, grubby tapeworm of greed: greed for money, greed for power, greed for the primitive, psychosexual high of dominating your fellow creatures, like apes lording it over the tribe. It would be entirely fitting -- and unbearably evil -- if the little children of Azizabad were murdered in their beds just because someone wanted a piece of Pentagon pork.