'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Monday, April 05, 2010

Free Fire Zone Afghanistan (Part 7) 

Investigations into the February 12th night raid in Khataba village in Afghanistan are discovering that the truth is worse than we could have imagined:

US special forces soldiers dug bullets out of their victims’ bodies in the bloody aftermath of a botched night raid, then washed the wounds with alcohol before lying to their superiors about what happened, Afghan investigators have told The Times.

Two pregnant women, a teenage girl, a police officer and his brother were shot on February 12 when US and Afghan special forces stormed their home in Khataba village, outside Gardez in eastern Afghanistan. The precise composition of the force has never been made public.

The claims were made as Nato admitted responsibility for all the deaths for the first time last night. It had initially claimed that the women had been dead for several hours when the assault force discovered their bodies.

Despite earlier reports we have determined that the women were accidentally killed as a result of the joint force firing at the men, said Lieutenant-Colonel Todd Breasseale, a Nato spokesman. The coalition continued to deny that there had been a cover-up and said that its legal investigation, which is ongoing, had found no evidence of inappropriate conduct.

A senior Afghan official involved in a government investigation told The Times: “I think the special forces lied to McChrystal.”

Why did the special forces collect their bullets from the area? the official said. They washed the area of the injuries with alcohol and brought out the bullets from the dead bodies. The bodies showed there were big holes.

As you might have guessed, US media reported on this raid by credulously accepting the NATO explanation, until Afghan investigators and the London Times forced the truth out into the open. In an excellent article posted at Salon today, Glenn Greenwald places this incident within the larger context of NATO's success in persuading the media to accept its false, propagandistic descriptions of events in Afghanistan. Interestingly, Greenwald documents how an Afghan newspaper published, right after the attack, a more nuanced, more accurate description of it, primarily because the reporter talked to the residents of Khataba as well as NATO press officers.

And therein lies the problem. US newspapers and cable channels, to the extent that they attempt to cover the war in Afghanistan at all, look to official sources for the most accurate information. Conversely, like some American feminists, they consider the accounts of Afghans themselves to be the least credible, and, as noted by Greenwald, don't bother to even inquire about them, much less report them.

It is tempting to ascribe this phenomenon solely to nationalistic pressures associated with war coverage, but that would be a mistake. Elite newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post have always practiced this method across the board, even before there was a war on terror. Articles invariably follow a pattern: official US sources first, other friendly official sources second, and, if the reporter gets that far, local accounts and concerns. Of course, sources from governments or groups considered hostile by the US are presented last, with an appropriately dismissive tone. The pattern, with minor variations, is followed without fail regardless of whether the subject of the article is a foreign or domestic subject.

And, as we have learned in relation to the invasion of Iraq and a possible attack upon Iran, off the record official US sources are considered more credible than on the record statements from anyone else, even more credible than direct evidence that refutes them. So, what we have here is a style of propagandistic journalism, a style that predates the war on terror and invasion of Iraq, but one that has become more crude and transparent because of the sensitivity of public opinion.

Of course, the New York Times has finally reported that US troops were responsible for the deaths in Khataba, but, naturally, placed the following emphasis upon it:

The disclosure could not come at a worse moment for the American military: NATO officials are struggling to contain fallout from a series of tirades against the foreign military presence by the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, who has also railed against the killing of civilians by Western forces.

The dead Afghans, it seems, are merely a backdrop for those poor US and NATO officials that now have to deal with the unpleasantness of being caught out in a lie, a kind of deceased human scenery, as it were, like mannequins used to display the lastest fashions at Saks Fith Avenue. Or, perhaps, like a multitude of Banquo's ghosts, causing panic attacks among officials and American reporters alike. And that Karzai! Can't someone get him to shut up? Note the use of the verb railed in the characterization of his objections to civilian killings by US and NATO forces, a subtle way of suggesting that he is either hysterical or exaggerating them.

And, then, finally, there are those pro-war feminists again. Maybe, someone can get around to asking them how the war in Afghanistan is for the benefit of the women there, when US troops are shooting and killing pregnant women, and then, afterwards, carving the bullets out of their bodies.

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