January 4, 2010
The Taliban suicide attack that killed a group of CIA agents in Afghanistan on a base that was directing US drone aircraft used to attack Taliban leaders was big news in the US over the past week, with the airwaves and front pages filled with sympathetic stories referring to the fact that the female station chief, who was among those killed, was the "mother of three children."
But the apparent mass murder of Afghan school children, including one as young as 11 years old, by US-led forces (most likely either special forces or mercenary contractors working for the Pentagon or the CIA), was pretty much blacked out in the American media. Especially blacked out was word from UN investigators that the students had not just been killed but executed, many of them after having first been rousted from their bedroom and handcuffed.
Here is the excellent report on the incident that ran in the Times of London (like Fox News, a Rupert Murdoch-owned publication) on Dec. 31:
Western troops accused of executing 10 Afghan civilians, including children
By Jerome Starkey in Kabul
American-led troops were accused yesterday of dragging innocent children from their beds and shooting them during a night raid that left ten people dead.
Afghan government investigators said that eight schoolchildren were killed, all but one of them from the same family. Locals said that some victims were handcuffed before being killed.
Western military sources said that the dead were all part of an Afghan terrorist cell responsible for manufacturing improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which have claimed the lives of countless soldiers and civilians.
"This was a joint operation that was conducted against an IED cell that Afghan and US officials had been developing information against for some time," said a senior Nato insider. But he admitted that "the facts about what actually went down are in dispute".
The article goes on to say:
In a telephone interview last night, the headmaster [of the local school] said that the victims were asleep in three rooms when the troops arrived. "Seven students were in one room," said Rahman Jan Ehsas. "A student and one guest were in another room, a guest room, and a farmer was asleep with his wife in a third building.
"First the foreign troops entered the guest room and shot two of them. Then they entered another room and handcuffed the seven students. Then they killed them. Abdul Khaliq [the farmer] heard shooting and came outside. When they saw him they shot him as well. He was outside. That’s why his wife wasn’t killed."
A local elder, Jan Mohammed, said that three boys were killed in one room and five were handcuffed before they were shot. "I saw their school books covered in blood," he said.
The investigation found that eight of the victims were aged from 11 to 17. The guest was a shepherd boy, 12, called Samar Gul, the headmaster said. He said that six of the students were at high school and two were at primary school. He said that all the students were his nephews.
Compare this article to the one mention of the incident which appeared in the New York Times, one of the few American news outlets to even mention the incident. The Times, on Dec. 28, focusing entirely on the difficulty civilian killings cause for the US war effort, and not on the allegation of a serious war crime having been committed, wrote:
Attack Puts Afghan Leader and NATO at Odds
By Alissa J. Rubin and Abdul Waheed Wafa
KABUL, Afghanistan — The killing of at least nine men in a remote valley of eastern Afghanistan by a joint operation of Afghan and American forces put President Hamid Karzai and senior NATO officials at odds on Monday over whether those killed had been civilians or Taliban insurgents.
In a statement e-mailed to the news media, Mr. Karzai condemned the weekend attack and said the dead had been civilians, eight of them schoolboys. He called for an investigation.
Local officials, including the governor and members of Parliament from Kunar Province, where the deaths occurred, confirmed the reports. But the Kunar police chief, Khalilullah Ziayee, cautioned that his office was still investigating the killings and that outstanding questions remained, including why the eight young men had been in the same house at the time.
"There are still questions to be answered, like why these students were together and what they were doing on that night," Mr. Ziayee said.
A senior NATO official with knowledge of the operation said that the raid had been carried out by a joint Afghan-American force and that its target was a group of men who were known Taliban members and smugglers of homemade bombs, which the American and NATO forces call improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.’s.
According to the NATO official, nine men were killed. "These were people who had a well-established network, they were I.E.D. smugglers and also were responsible for direct attacks on Afghan security and coalition forces in those areas," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the issue.
"When the raid took place they were armed and had material for making I.E.D.’s," the official added.
While the article in the New York Times eventually mentions the allegation that the victims were children, not "men," it nonetheless begins with the unchallenged assertion in the lead that they were "men." There is no mention of the equally serious allegation that the victims had been handcuffed before being executed, and the story leaves the impression, made by NATO sources, that they were armed and had died fighting. There is no indication in the Times story that the reporters made any effort, as the more enterprising and skeptical London Times reporter did, to get local, non-official, sources of information. Moreover, the information claiming that the victims had been making bombs was attributed by Rubin and Wafa, with no objections from their editors in New York, to an anonymous NATO source, though there was no legitimate reason for the anonymity ("because of the delicacy of the situation" was the lame excuse offered)--indeed the use of an anonymous source here would appear to violate the Times’ own standards.
It’s not that in American newsrooms there was no knowledge that a major war crime may have been committed. Nearly all American news organizations receive the AP newswire. Here is the AP report on the killings, which ran under the headline "UN says killed Afghans were students":
The United Nations says a raid last weekend by foreign troops in a tense eastern Afghan province killed eight local students.
The Afghan government says that all 10 people killed in a village in Kunar province were civilians. NATO says there is no evidence to substantiate the claim and has requested a joint investigation.
UN special representative in Afghanistan Kai Eide said in a statement Thursday that preliminary investigation shows there were insurgents in the area at the time of the attack. But he adds that eight of those killed were students in local schools.
Once again, the American media are falling down shamefully in providing honest reporting on a war, making it difficult for the American people to make informed judgements about what is being done in their name.
Let’s be clear here. If the charges are correct, that American forces, or American-led forces, are handcuffing their victims and then executing them, then they are committing egregious war crimes. If they are killing children, they are committing equally egregious war crimes. If they are handcuffing and executing children, the atrocity is beyond horrific. This incident, if true, would actually be worse than the infamous war crime that occurred in My Lai during the Vietnam War. In that case, we had ordinary soldiers in the field, acting under the orders of several low-ranking officers in the heat of an operation, shooting and killing women, children and babies. But in this case we appear to have seasoned special forces troops actually directing the taking captives, cuffing them, herding them into a room, and spraying them with bullets, execution style.
Given the history of the commanding general in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, who is known to have run a massive death squad operation in Iraq before being named to his current post by President Obama, and who is known to have called for the same kind of tactics in Afghanistan, it should not be surprising that the US would now be committing atrocities in Afghanistan. If this is how this war is going to be conducted, though, the US media should be making a major effort to uncover and expose the crime.
On January 1, the London Times’ Starkey, in Afghanistan, followed up with a second story, reporting that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is calling for the US to hand over the people who killed the students. He also quoted a "NATO source" as saying that the "foreigners involved" in the incident were "non-military, suggesting that they were part of a secret paramilitary unit based in the capital" of Kabul. Starkey also quotes a "Western official" as saying: "There’s no doubt that there were insurgents there, and there may well have been an insurgent leader in the house, but that doesn’t justify executing eight children who were all enrolled in local schools."
Good enterprise reporting by the London Times and its Kabul-based correspondent. Silence on these developments in the US media.
Meanwhile, it has been a week now since the New York Times reporters Rubin and Wafa made their first flawed and embarrassingly one-sided report on the incident, and there has been not a word since then about it in the paper. Are Rubin and Wafa or other Times reporters on the story? Will there be a follow-up?
On the evidence of past coverage of these US wars and their ongoing atrocities by the Times and by other major US corporate media news organizations, don’t bet on it. You’ll do better looking to the foreign media for real information about a story like this.
By the way, given that we’re talking the allegation of a serious war crime here, it is important to note that, under the Geneva Conventions, it is a legal requirement that the US military chain of command immediately initiate an official investigation to determine whether such a crime has occurred, and if so, to establish who was responsible and bring them to justice. One would hope that the commander in chief, President Obama, would order such an inquiry.
Any effort to prevent such an inquiry, or to cover up a war crime, would be a war crime in itself. We just had one administration that did a lot of that. We don’t need another one.
As a teenager, I spent a year going to school in Darmstadt, in what was then West Germany. I used to have many discussions with German friends about how Germans could have allowed Nazism to happen, and how anyone could have allowed the kinds of atrocities which we Americans learned that German soldiers had committed during the war--the destroying of entire towns when one partisan fired on a German soldier, the killing of prisoners of war, etc. Of course we know now that Americans too committed equally heinous war crimes, culminating in the use of the two atomic bombs against civilian targets, not to mention the firebombing of Darmstadt itself by the Brits. But the larger point at the time was, how could Germans, who are decent people for the most part, have allowed the horror of Nazism to happen?
Now we are confronted yet again with an example of American military forces (and it matters not a whit whether they are uniformed regular soldiers or paid mercenaries who executed those Afghan kids) apparently committing exactly the type of atrocity for which the German Waffen SS was known. And whether or not the charges are true, there is enough evidence at this point, with the special UN representative in Afghanistan saying it happened, for us to believe it probably did happen. Yet there has not been one editorial in the US media calling for an open investigation into this alleged atrocity. No Americans are marching in the street demanding answers. Obama, whose daughter Malia is 11--the same age as the youngest of the slain boys--has not said a word, although Afghan students are demonstrating en masse, and burning him in effigy because of this latest outrage.
So what makes us Americans any better than the Germans of 1940? In a way, we are really worse. It would have taken considerable courage, as my German friends have pointed out, to take a stand against German atrocities in 1940, when such a stand could mean arrest, imprisonment and even execution, even execution of one's family. No such risks are faced by Americans who take a stand against American atrocities. Here one faces, at most, social ostracism or a minor citation for arrest at a protest.
We are, as a nation, only as good as our worst behavior and our worst impulses, and can be judged by how we respond to them when they are manifested in our name. And right now, Americans aren't looking very good at all.
PS: Kudos to David Swanson of the website www.afterdowningstreet.org, for bringing attention to this story.