Well, John the Baptist after torturing a thief
Looks up at his hero the Commander-in-Chief
Saying, “Tell me great hero, but please make it brief
Is there a hole for me to get sick in?
— Bob Dylan, “Tombstone Blues”
One can only assume that the regular editors of the New York Times were all out at a party, or left early for a weekend in the Hamptons, or something — but somehow, the paper published a front webpage story that stated — without the usual thousand excuses and extenuations — that American troops are routinely slaughtering Afghan civilians at checkpoints. What’s more, the story unequivocally ties the civilian killings to the “surge” ordered by the noble Nobel Peace laureate, Barack Obama.
Here’s what the Times says:
American and NATO troops firing from passing convoys and military checkpoints have killed 30 Afghans and wounded 80 others since last summer, but in no instance did the victims prove to be a danger to troops, according to military officials in Kabul.
And what is the paper’s authority for this astounding admission of atrocity? Not the usual “unnamed sources” or “senior official in a position to have knowledge of the situation,” but none other than Obama’s hand-picked commander on the Af-Pak front, General Stanley “Black Ops” McChrystal his own self:
“We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat,” said Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who became the senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan last year. His comments came during a recent videoconference to answer questions from troops in the field about civilian casualties.
Let’s repeat the much-media-lauded general’s statement again: “We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat.” Now, what would the authorities say if you or I shot “an amazing number of people who have never proven to be a threat?” Why, they would call us murderers — even mass murderers. Yet this is precisely what “the senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan” has just declared, on videotape.
The story goes on to make the extraordinarily straight — and indisputable — point that these wanton killings of civilians who have never even “proven to be a threat” is fanning the very “insurgency” (which is the Beltway term of art for any resistance to American military presence”) whose quelling is the ostensible reason for the Laureate’s “surge” in the first place:
Failure to reduce checkpoint and convoy shootings, known in the military as “escalation of force” episodes, has emerged as a major frustration for military commanders who believe that civilian casualties deeply undermine the American and NATO campaign in Afghanistan.
Many of the detainees at the military prison at Bagram Air Base joined the insurgency after the shootings of people they knew, said the senior NATO enlisted man in Afghanistan, Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Hall.
“There are stories after stories about how these people are turned into insurgents,” Sergeant Major Hall told troops during the videoconference. “Every time there is an escalation of force we are finding that innocents are being killed,” he said.
The story even states plainly that the official figures of admitted killing of unthreatening civilians — already unconscionably high — might not be the true extent of these atrocities:
Shootings from convoys and checkpoints involving American, NATO and Afghan forces accounted for 36 civilian deaths last year, down from 41 in 2008, according to the United Nations. With at least 30 Afghans killed since last June in 95 such shootings, according to military statistics, the rate shows no signs of abating.
And those numbers do not include shooting deaths caused by convoys guarded by private security contractors. Some tallies have put the total number of escalation of force deaths far higher.
A spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, Zemary Bashary, said private security contractors sometimes killed civilians during escalation of force episodes, but he said he did not know the number of instances.
The story also presents an example of one slaughter of civilians, and shows how it leads directly to the rise of resistance against the American military presence:
One such case was the death of Mohammed Yonus, a 36-year-old imam and a respected religious authority, who was killed two months ago in eastern Kabul while commuting to a madrasa where he taught 150 students.
A passing military convoy raked his car with bullets, ripping open his chest as his two sons sat in the car. The shooting inflamed residents and turned his neighborhood against the occupation, elders there say.
“The people are tired of all these cruel actions by the foreigners, and we can’t suffer it anymore,” said Naqibullah Samim, a village elder from Hodkail, where Mr. Yonus lived. “The people do not have any other choice, they will rise against the government and fight them and the foreigners. There are a lot of cases of killing of innocent people.”
Finally, the story depicts McChrystal — again, the handpicked commander of the commander-in-chief — stating flatly when it comes to the widely ballyhooed “counterinsurgency doctrine” that is supposedly now governing the military occupation of Afghanistan, the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. In other words, it’s a full-scale, four-star FUBAR:
More recently, General McChrystal moved to bring nearly all Special Operations forces in Afghanistan under his control. NATO officials said concern about civilian casualties caused by these forces was partly behind the decision, along with the need to better coordinate units and ensure that local commanders were aware of what was happening.
One unit could be doing counterinsurgency, while another carried out “a raid that might in fact upset progress,” General McChrystal explained during the videoconference.
Beyond the bare facts reported by the story — i.e., the top American commanders acknowledge that their forces are killing scores of innocent civilians who pose no threat to the occupiers, and that their own incompetent policies are actually breeding more hatred and resistance — there is also the astonishing circumstance that we have a story on the Laureate’s “good war” in Afghanistan that is almost entirely nothing but bare facts.
Of course, the story appeared late on a Friday, and will no doubt disappear down the memory hole in short order. (What, you think the Sunday talk shows will be filled with heated discussions about “McChrystal’s astounding admission”?) Still, I must admit that when I read the piece, I honestly did a double-take; I thought it was a hoax — or perhaps a hack. Not because the story seemed implausible — but precisely because it didn’t, and because it was shorn of most of the self-serving, empire-justifying bullshit that surrounds accounts of the “Peace Prize Surge.”
Again, just think of it, let it sink in, attend to the word of the commander: “We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat.” Again: “We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat.” Again: “We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat.”
Again: what do you call it when innocent, unarmed, defenseless people who “have never proven to be a threat” are gunned down in cold blood? What do you call such an act?