Murderers Without Frontiers: An American Tradition
This is my latest column for CounterPunch Magazine, written earlier this month: When I heard of the deadly U.S. strike on the Médecins Sans Frontières facility in Kunduz on October 3, I thought of this fragment of ancient history, written by a lowly scribe years ago:
"One of the first moves in this magnificent feat of arms was the destruction and capture of medical centers. Twenty doctors – and their patients, including women and children – were killed in an airstrike on one major clinic, the UN Information Service reports, while the city's main hospital was seized in the early hours of the ground assault. Why? Because these places of healing could be used as ‘propaganda centers,’ the Pentagon's ‘information warfare’ specialists told the NY Times. Unlike the first attack on Fallujah last spring, there was to be no unseemly footage of gutted children bleeding to death on hospital beds."
The attack on the MSF facility might well be an unintended consequence of the "fog of war," as the Americans claim. (Although just before the strike, Pentagon massagers were opining to their media mouthpieces how awful the Russians were for bombing Syria without the super-duper-ultra-advanced "precision" technology and high-tech intelligence that the USA uses. So why did they strike the Kunduz hospital, having been carefully and continually informed of its location beforehand? And why did they keep bombing even after they'd been told of the supposed error? As the MSF tweeted: “Bombing continued for 30 minutes after American & Afghan military officials in Kabul & Washington first informed of proximity to hospital.”)
But whatever happened in Kunduz, America’s Terror Warriors certainly have form, as the Brits say, when it comes to deliberately targeting medical centers. The passage above was from a column I wrote in 2004 about one of the most brazen war crimes of the 21st century: America’s decimation of Fallujah in Iraq.
The city was marked for destruction after four mercenaries were killed there in the early days of the occupation. The incident was depicted as an act of pure evil by the brutal natives; left unreported in almost every story was the fact that the occupying forces had slaughtered more than a dozen civilians before the reprisal against the mercenaries. An initial punishment assault against the city failed, partly due to the bad PR generated by footage of the horrific civilian casualties, and US forces backed off for a few months. But just after the 2004 election, the Pentagon gave their warrior chief, George Bush, a human sacrifice to celebrate his victory, and launched their second attack on the city. As I noted at the time:
“So while Americans saw stories of rugged ‘Marlboro Men’ winning the day against Satan, they were spared shots of engineers cutting off water and electricity to the city – a flagrant war crime under the Geneva Conventions, as CounterPunch notes, but standard practice throughout the occupation. Nor did pictures of attack helicopters gunning down civilians trying to escape across the Euphrates River – including a family of five – make the TV news, despite the eyewitness account of an AP journalist. Nor were tender American sensibilities subjected to the sight of phosphorous shells bathing enemy fighters – and nearby civilians – with unquenchable chemical fire, literally melting their skin, as the Washington Post reports. Nor did they see the fetus being blown out of the body of Artica Salim when her home was bombed during the ‘softening-up attacks’ that raged relentlessly – and unnoticed – in the closing days of George W. Bush's presidential campaign, the Scotland Sunday Herald reports.”
I don’t know if the carnage in Kunduz was “collateral” or, as in Fallujah, carefully planned. But in many ways, it doesn’t matter. Since the days when Jimmy Carter joined his Saudi allies in creating the worldwide network of violent jihadis, through the expansion of extremist jihad by Ronald Reagan (who called the extremists “the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers”) and the systematic campaign to destroy secular governments throughout the Muslim world and empower violent sectarians (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, etc.) to fill the vacuum, the bipartisan military imperialists in charge of the American state bear the responsibility for an untold — and ever-growing — number of atrocities, committed on every side.
Without the invasion of Iraq, no ISIS. Without America’s arming of a global jihad movement to overthrow the secular government in Afghanistan, no al Qaeda. Without 70 years of American protection of the pushers of the most violent, extremist, retrograde off-shoot of Islam, the corrupt Saudi tyrants — coupled with 70 years of America’s relentless destruction and undermining of every single non-sectarian political movement in the Middle East in favor of tyrants, satraps and puppets — no worldwide “radicalization” of repressed and threatened Muslims.
But don’t get me wrong: I don’t want to be seen as part of the “Blame America First” crowd on this. I don’t hold with such a reductive stance, especially in the face of the vast complexities and nuances of geopolitics. No, when it comes to fixing the primary guilt for the dark thunderclouds of fear, war, madness, extremism, instability, tyranny and chaos that loom over our time, I don’t “blame America first.” I blame America first, second, third, fourth, fifth and last. And I damn the bipartisan leaders who have made this so.
UPDATE: Since this piece was written there has been another American-assissted attack on an MSF facility, this time in Yemen, where with American bombs guided by American intelligence, an MSF clinic was hit repeatedly, for two hours, by America's favorite violent sectarians, the Saudis. (Although of course al Qaeda -- one of the chief beneficiaries of the US-Saudi berskerking in Yemen, and also an increasingly important, and increasingly open ally in Syria -- runs a close second. The Independent has more here.)