Afghan war is 7 years old;
Now Bush raids Pakistan;
Where are the protests?
A WALL Commentary
The Pentagon calls it “Operation Enduring Freedom”: It is the undeclared war on the people of Afghanistan that Bush Junior started on October 7, 2001. It could well be called “Operation Enduring War.”
AFGHANISTAN — The Russians could not conquer it. Do we really expect to do so?
Both major presidential candidates support it, advocate intensifying it, and vow to achieve “victory,” whatever that is. And notwithstanding widespread opposition to George W. Bush’s Iraq war since it began in 2003, Americans generally have been as united in favoring the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan as they were in opposing the Soviet intervention there, 1979–1989.
Not even the August 22 slaying of 91 civilians — including 61 children, in an air and ground assault on the village of Azizabad in Herat province — has stirred any mass protests in the United States. It did provoke a series of anti-American protests in Afghanistan, and even the pro-U.S. President Hamid Karzai has strongly condemned it. In 2007 he asked Bush to stop bombing the Afghan people. Bush was deaf to his plea.
Lately Karzai has offered to hold talks with the Taliban about reconciliation. And Britain’s most senior military commander in Afghanistan, Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, has told London’s Sunday Times (10-5-08) that the conflict cannot be won militarily and can be resolved only by a deal with the Taliban. Where is it written that the U.S. has to fight them?
Polls show that majorities of the Canadians and French want to end their nations’ involvement in the war. And a French weekly has run a leaked copy of a coded diplomatic message (9-2-08) about a meeting with the British ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles. He said security and corruption there were going from bad to worse and the government had lost all trust. “The military presence is part of the problem, not the solution,” and to add NATO troops would “identify us even more clearly as an occupying force.” He advised turning Afghanistan over to an “acceptable dictator.”
Pakistan’s new president, Asif Ali Zardari, has spoken out too, protesting the U.S. raids on his country. They date from at least 2005, but Bush has ordered them intensified — in what amounts to his third war — without obtaining permission of either Congress or the Pakistani government. Last September brought a ground raid by U.S. commandos and, three weeks later, a ground battle between American and Pakistani troops after the latter fired on invasive helicopters. U.S. missile attacks on houses in North Waziristan killed at least nine people on October 1 and at least 21 two days later.
Zardari, widower of the assassinated Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, said his nation could not allow its territory to be “violated by our friends.” (With friends like that —!) The prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, later used stronger language, calling missile attacks by U.S. drones in Pakistan “a form of terrorism” (10-2-08). Whether the irony was intentional is not clear. It is also uncertain if anyone in our government thinks about the wisdom of battling another nuclear power.
Was Bush goaded into his stepped-up violations of Pakistan’s territory by campaign remarks of Senator Barack Obama? The latter had said that if the Pakistan leadership did not attack the “high value” targets within that country, he, as President Obama, would do so. Obama, in turn, may have been reacting to Hillary Clinton’s taunting that he was “naive” because he would talk to Iranians without preconditions. Senator John McCain’s policy has been “bomb, bomb, bomb.” Obama and McCain — who never met a war he didn’t like — are at loggerheads on Iraq, and Democratic strategists may think that too much peace isn’t politic.
Lawless and useless
Like Bush, neither candidate has displayed much respect for our Constitution, which gives Congress the sole authority to initiate war; or for international law, which prohibits aggressive war. Since Truman’s undeclared war against the Koreans and Chinese, 1950-1953, nearly every president has sought to show that he can dictate war at will, commit aggression freely, and kill with the best of them.
The men on the Al Qaeda mission of September 11, 2001, were mostly Saudis and included no Afghans. Congress never declared war on Afghanistan. All it voted for, on September 14, was a vague resolution to let the president use “necessary and appropriate force” against anyone he determined aided the acts of the 11th or harbored anyone who did. The measure mentioned no country; no objective, besides preventing future terrorism; and no time frame. Fighting might not be over “in our lifetime,” as Vice-President Cheney said. After all, how can you kill an ism? But the resolution did not sanction a war against terrorism in general. The foe had to have some responsibility for 9-11.
Members of Congress, sworn to support the Constitution, all docilely surrendered to the unelected president their exclusive constitutional authority to declare war — that is, all except Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California). At least the resolution letting Bush, Jr., decide for them whether or not to attack Iraq drew 133 nays in the House and 23 in the Senate on Oct. 10–11, 2002. (See WarandLaw.org: “Why Bush’s war is illegal,” 2002, and “Congress’s resolution for war on Iraq was based on White House falsehoods,” 7-4-03, WarandLaw.org.)
Why so little protest against one unlawful, aggressive, and seemingly unending war when so many oppose the other? Is it because the intervention in Afghanistan has taken only 609 lives of young GIs (as of 10-6-08), about a seventh of the comparable toll in Iraq? Or is it because of a prevalent faith that Bush’s Afghan adventure involves fighting terrorism, not seeking oil or empire?
Never mind the Bush regime’s ties to the openly imperialist Project for the New American Century and the twenty or more U.S. meetings with the Taliban from 1998 (under Clinton) to August 2001 to negotiate an oil pipeline through Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden’s future came up in those meetings. The Taliban would not turn over a fellow Muslim to Western “infidels” but indicated they could accept a face-saving arrangement, like sending him to a neutral country for trial. Following 9-11, Bush issued them an ultimatum — knowing they would not comply — to give up Bin Laden, or else. After using him as an excuse for war, Bush showed no interest in him at a press conference five months later: “So I don’t know where he is. You know, I just don’t spend that much time on him…. I truly am not that concerned about him.”
From Oct. 7, 2001, through September 2008, military action by U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan killed between about 6,800 and 8,100 civilians, according to an estimate by Prof. Marc W. Herold, of the University of New Hampshire, who has been compiling such data for these seven years.
Like the British ambassador quoted above, Herold finds the military actions counterproductive. “… The current bombing, night-time assaults upon villages, hooding and abducting suspects, kicking down doors and entering women’s quarters, etc. is forging an unlimited supply of recruits to the resistance.” Failure to improve living conditions, unbridled corruption, and a current culture of official impunity further stokes the resistance, he writes.
He regrets that the Taliban are conflated with Al Qaeda in political speeches, for they “share very little and do not regard each other with high esteem.” The Taliban (literally meaning religious students), who ruled Afghanistan, repressively, from 1996 to 2001, are an Islamic movement with deep roots in Afghanistan, composed largely of Pashtun Afghans. They form only part of the resistance to the U.S.-NATO occupation, which includes many Afghans outside of the Taliban: nationalists, revenge-seekers, poppy growers, unemployed men, etc. Al Qaeda, on the other hand, is a stateless, floating coalition formed to violently oppose those perceived as foes of Islam.
The Pakistani prime minister had a point: Are the U.S. forces and confederates really fighting terrorism or engaging in it? It depends: If their actions are designed to spread terror to intimidate a population, especially for a political aim, then terrorism is the right word. That was the function of the Pentagon’s “shock and awe” method in Iraq — to make the people so terrified that they would want to surrender. It matters none to the victims whether the assailant is a national armed force or a religious fanatic armed with a bomb or a plane.
The Geneva Conventions’ Protocol Additional (1977) prohibits any military attack directed at civilians or indiscriminate attack on both civilians and military targets. It was signed by the U.S., though (unlike the fully effective basic Geneva Conventions, 1949) it has never come before the Senate for ratification. But Amnesty International and others say it has become part of customary international law.
A U.S. Army Field Manual (FM 27-10) recognizes such law. Under “The Law of Land Warfare,” it says: “Customary international law prohibits the launching of attacks (including bombardment) against either the civilian population as such or individual civilians as such…. Loss of life and damage to property incidental to attacks must not be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage expected to be gained.” It paraphrases The Hague Convention on rules of land warfare (1907): “Cities, towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings which may be classified as military objectives, but which are undefended … are not permissible objects of attack.”
That is the law, but a dirty secret has been exposed: The military targets civilians. It makes cold-blooded, calculated attacks on them and their homes. The slayings of civilians are not “mistakes,” contrary to what news media may report. As long there is a suspicion that a wanted member of the enemy is among them, attacks are launched with full knowledge that most of those killed will be innocents. Following the slaughter, the victims are then defamed as terrorists, insurgents, or the like — maybe even blamed for starting the fight.
“There’s this macabre kind of calculus that the military goes through on every air strike, where they try to figure out how many dead civilians is a dead bad guy worth,” said Marc Garlasco, described as the chief of “high value targeting” for the Pentagon at the start of the Iraq war, in an interview with Scott Pelley on Sixty Minutes (10-28-07, updated 8-28-08).
“Our number was 30. So, for example … if you’re gonna kill up to 29 people in a strike against Saddam Hussein, that’s not a problem. But once you hit that number 30, we actually had to go to either President Bush or Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld.” Before the invasion, he recommended the number 50 for “high-value” targets: Iraqi officials. None of those on his list were killed, only “a couple of hundred civilians at least.”
Pelley asked Air Force Col. Gary Crowder, deputy director of the Combined Air Operations Center, for both Afghanistan and Iraq: “Two men with AK-47s run into a house. Do you bomb the house?” Crowder answered, “In some circumstances we will bomb the house.” Whether a bombing is planned for days or minutes, the ground commander decides if it is “worth the cost.”
A ground force led by U.S. special forces, carrying out a midnight raid supposedly to apprehend a Taliban commander, allegedly came under fire as it approached the Afghan village of Azizabad, south of Herat city, four miles east of the Shindand air base, on Aug. 22, 2008. The forces called in air support and a fierce air and ground bombardment followed between 2 and 8 a.m.. The bombs struck a large gathering honoring a deceased local leader. The fictional, Pentagon version was that the raid killed 30 militants, no civilians. Later it changed to 25 militants and five civilians. Reporters from various media interviewed survivors.
“We were holding a memorial service in our home,” said Fatima, 25, from her hospital bed, as tears streamed down her face. “Suddenly the infidels attacked and I lost consciousness. When I came to, I was in hospital, and they told me that all of my family were dead and already buried. Was my two-year-old child a terrorist?” She lost her children and husband.
Ghulam Azrat, director of the middle school in Azizabad, said he collected 60 bodies after the bombing. “We put the bodies in the main mosque. Most of these dead bodies were children and women.” Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson of National Public Radio visited Azizabad, and reported in part:
Abdul Rashid treads gently across the rubble that was once his uncle’s home…. He spots a little girl’s shoe, caked in dried blood. He picks it up and waves it angrily in a visitor’s face. “Does this look like it fits a Taliban fighter?” … Rashid takes a few more steps and picks up a torn woman’s veil. “Does this look like something the Taliban would wear…. He pages through a handwritten report that lists the names and ages of 91 dead, most of them relatives. Sixty were children, and at least 15 more were women, say UN and Afghan officials…. Rashid says the latest victim, a 6-year-old girl, was buried the day before. Afghan officials say Rashid’s neighborhood … was packed with visitors the morning of the attack. They were there to attend a memorial ceremony honoring his late brother….
Ahmad Shah Andiwal, of Azizabad, said that “someone had reported to the government officials that Taliban fighters were brought up to the village to attack the airport of Shindand district. I was there and I did not witness any Taliban fighters or Al Qaeda members.”
Nur Ahmad, who was buried in rubble but saved by a rescue team, remarked, “The Taliban were better than this puppet government and its masters. The Taliban would at least distinguish between civilians and enemies. But these thugs think everybody is their enemy.”
Villagers gathered in protest. When soldiers of the Karzai government attempted to distribute food, clothes, and $2,000 for each victim, they were stoned. The soldiers then fired into the crowd, injuring up to eight people, including a child critically. The people angrily rejected the offerings, saying, according to one Ghulam Azrat, “We want our children. We want our relatives.”
Nek Mohammad Ishaq, a Herat provincial council member, one of a government delegation sent to investigate, said he was sitting with villagers on the floor of the mosque when a man walked in carrying a stuffed handkerchief. The latter wanted everyone to see its contents: parts of hands and feet of children.
(Among sources: “In memory of 91 innocent Afghans …” by Marc W. Herold, Rawa.org; Afghanistan News; Associated Press; Institute for War & Peace Reporting.)
If an invader had imposed on us what the Afghan people have suffered, which of us wouldn’t think of rebelling? U.S. attacks on civilians in Afghanistan have gone on for seven years, though they have not always received American media attention. The following are early highlights (with media sources). Such incidents are worth thinking about when politicos praise the sublime, heroic quality of our fighters and call for more of them.
The village of Karam was razed; survivors spoke of 200 dead (BBC, 10-10-01). Planes bombed a hospital in Herat city; Afghans said over 100 died (AP, 10-22-01). A mosque there and a nearby village were hit too, with cluster bombs and radioactive explosives (AFP-10-25-01). Red Cross warehouses in Kabul were bombed three times (Reuters, 10-27-01). In Kandahar, bombs struck a bus filled with passengers (Times, UK, 10-28-01). “A US bomb flattened a flimsy mud-brick home in Kabul on Sunday, blowing apart seven children as they ate breakfast with their father. The blast shattered a neighbour’s house, killing another two children” (Times of India, 10-29-01, citing Reuters).
Bombs wrecked a Red Crescent hospital in Kandahar; a doctor said 15 died (AP, 10-31-01). Jets leveled the village of Chowkar-Karez; survivors reported at least 60 killed (AFP, 11-2-01). A Pentagon official admitted, “The people there are dead because we wanted them dead” (CNN.com, 11-2-01). Cluster bombing of homes around Khanabad for four days killed as many as 150 civilians. A refugee was quoted: “I saw 20 dead children on the streets — 40 people were killed yesterday alone ... burned by the bombs ... [or] crushed by the walls and roofs of their houses...” (Independent, UK, 11-19-01).
Over 25 bombs destroyed the village of Kama Ado, killing 100 to 200 civilians, witnesses and survivors said; and bombing killed at least 50 villagers at Khan-e-Muirajuddin (AP, 12-1-01). Warplanes attacked tribal elders en route from Paktia province to Kabul, killing up to 40, wounding perhaps 60 (Guardian, UK, 12-28-01, citing Reuters).
In place of ten homes and up to 107 residents, including many women and children, brick piles, flesh, hair, and pools of blood remained after a pre-dawn air raid demolished the village of Qalai Niazi as inhabitants slept following a wedding celebration. (Reuters, 12-31-01; LA Times, 1-8-02.) At least three Afghan wedding parties were attacked. One of them, killing 63 and wounding over 100 in the village of Kakarak, made a stir because the pro-U.S. Afghan government protested. Survivors said hundreds were dancing when planes attacked, dropping bombs, then shooting rockets at people as they ran for their lives. (CBS News, 7-2-02; and see “U.S. attacked Afghan weddings several times...,” WarandLaw.org, 7-5-02.)
The victims here may not have been civilians, but this was a major war crime: Thousands of Taliban fighters imprisoned by the Northern Alliance were killed, in part with U.S. cooperation: many by suffocation in sealed containers, some by point-blank shooting after torturous questioning by U.S. intelligence agents, and others by missiles fired from U.S. aircraft. Many of those shot were found with hands bound. (Guardian, UK, 12-1-01, 8-19-02; Middle East Times, 12-7-01; mediachannel.org, 12-8-01; alternet.org, 7-8-02.)
In confidential reports that came to light, the U.S. Army admitted habitual torture and abuse of Afghan detainees at the Bagram Collection Point. Many had done nothing wrong. In December 2002, GIs chained two young men to a ceiling and over several days tortured, beat and kicked them to death. One was an innocent, slight taxi driver of 22 who had just happened to be driving past a base that had been a rocket target. Before The New York Times and Human Rights Watch investigated, U.S. military officials in Afghanistan claimed the deaths were natural. Two months after a military coroner ruled the deaths homicides, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Lt. General Daniel K. McNeill, denied that abuse had anything to do with the deaths and said generally accepted “interrogation techniques” were used.
The number of detainees who have died from such “techniques” is in the hundreds. In 2005 AP reported that 108 detainees had died in U.S. military custody in Afghanistan and Iraq; and the American Civil Liberties Union released documents of 44 autopsies in the two places, 21 of them listed as homicides. An ACLU lawyer, Amrit Singh, said, “These documents present irrefutable evidence that U.S. operatives tortured detainees to death during interrogation.”
Fifteen GIs were cited for probable responsibility for the two homicides at Bagram; seven were charged. A military court in Texas imposed jail terms ranging from two to five months for offenses such as assault and dereliction of duty. A manslaughter charge against a private first class was dropped and he was only demoted. One man got a $1,000 fine, another a letter of reprimand, another acquittal (NY Times, AP, and web, 2005-06). If only the invaders’ victims got off that easy!
October 7, 2008