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

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Home Invasions 

From CNN yesterday, a story that Anderson Cooper has covered extensively on his show this week:

Witnesses began describing the final moments of and futile attempts to save a Connecticut mother and her two daughters inside their burning home, opening the trial Monday for one of the men who authorities claim is responsible for their murders.

Prosecutors declined to give an opening statement to start the trial of Joshua Komisarjevsky, 31, who faces 17 charges in a brutal home invasion in Cheshire. But they did introduce tapes from two 911 calls, a bank teller who claimed the mother tried to withdraw $15,000 as ransom and a police officer who found Dr. William Petit -- the lone survivor -- fighting for life outside his family's burning home.

The first defendant to stand trial in the case, Steven Hayes, was sentenced to the death penalty in December after being convicted on 16 of 17 charges filed against him.

Prosecutors allege that Hayes and Komisarjevsky went into the Petit home, beat and tied up Dr. William Petit, raped and strangled his wife, molested one of their daughters and set the house on fire before attempting to flee.

Gareth Porter, today:

A military officer who had approved night raids told one of the authors that targeting individuals believed to know one of the insurgents is a key factor in planning the raids. If you can’t get the guy you want, said the officer, you get the guy who knows him.

Even when people who are known to be civilians have not been targeted in a given raid, they have been detained when found on the compound of the target, on the ground that a person’s involvement in the insurgency is not always clear until questioned, according to military officer who has been involved in operational questions surrounding the raids interviewed for the report.

Raids prompted by the desire for intelligence can result in the deaths of civilians. The Afghan Analysts Network, a group of independent researchers based in Kabul, investigated a series of night raids in Nangarhar province in October and November 2010 and found that the raids were all targeting people who had met with a local religious cleric who was believed to be the Taliban shadow province governor.

Two civilians were killed in those raids when family members came to the defense of their relatives.

According to Time, the US stages approximately 40 raids every night. Porter states that the number of raids in neighboring Pakistan is kept secret. Beyond this, it is important to remember that US forces have only successfully targeted the right homes, businesses and individuals about 50% of the time, leaving aside the question as to whether they were properly selected at all.

Last year, there was this incident in Afghanistan:

Days after the raid in Surkhrod, the fear and outrage were still palpable — and the bloodstains and bullet holes still much in evidence.

Accounts by villagers, including Kushkaki, the head of the extended family of men, women and children living in the compound, suggested that gunfire had erupted without warning shortly after 1 a.m. Most of those inside, together with farmworkers on rope cots out in the courtyard, were fast asleep, they said.

My brother ran out to see what was happening; he was killed right away, Kushkaki said. My son ran out too and was shot as well. I carried him inside in my arms, but he bled to death, here on this carpet.

The American officials describe a much different scenario: the arriving troops, through Afghan interpreters, making repeated calls through bullhorns for those inside to come outside — a practice they say is always adhered to.

It's literally a script, said one of the task force officials, adding that the call-out was answered with a hail of gunfire from inside the compound.

Family members acknowledged firing AK-47s at the invaders, but insisted they did not know they were shooting at Afghan and American forces.

We thought they were thieves, raiders, said Kushkaki. Other family members said any warning might have been drowned out by the sound of a storm that night.

Family members said that when the shooting broke out, they called the police, an assertion supported by the district police chief, Said Ghafour. The gun battle was in full swing by the time he and his men arrived, Ghafour said, and they were kept 200 yards away from the scene.

Ghafour said he knew nothing of the raid in advance; the U.S. military said the strike had been coordinated with provincial leaders. When authorities at the district level are not told in advance about a raid, the American officials said, it is generally because of concerns about corruption or insurgent sympathies that will lead to the target being tipped off.

All the deaths — eight by the Americans' count, nine by the family's — occurred in the first 45 minutes of contact, the U.S. officials said.

Kushkaki said he believed his 16-year-old son had run from the house unarmed. The American officials said he would have been shot only if he had a weapon in his hands, but they could not be certain that he did.

And, then, there was this one:

It was two o’clock in the morning on Feb. 15. Mullah Abdul Khaliq, who taught at a local school here in Nawa district, was asleep with his family when the helicopters began circling overhead.

We could not leave our houses, said Abdullah, a neighbor of Mullah Khaliq’s. Everyone understood that the U.S. forces were carrying out a raid somewhere, and we were all afraid. In the morning we found out that something was very wrong at the house of Mullah Khaliq.

U.S. forces had broken into Khaliq’s house and what happened next is an all too familiar scenario to the people of this beleaguered district, which has now been caught for almost two years between the Taliban and the U.S. military.

The wife told me that her son ran out of the house and was shot on the spot, recounted Abdullah. They then asked Mullah Khaliq if he was Taliban. He said ‘no we are not,’ but they searched the house and shot him in the head. His other son is missing. We saw blood, he must have been injured. His nephew, who was visiting, was also killed.

Prosecutable as heinous crimes at home, a preferred counterinsurgency strategy abroad.

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