Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Reprehensible U.S. Policies and Practices in Afghanistan

One of eighteen photos of U.S. soldiers posing with corpses alleged to be insurgents. The Los Angeles Times warned the Pentagon before today publishing two of them.
The POTUS got right up on his bully pulpit to denounce the most recent combat porn photos to emerge from Afghanistan as artifacts of "reprehensible" conduct. Rather, he had his p.r. guy do it for him. Here's how the Guardian reported it:
President Barack Obama on Wednesday demanded an investigation and for those responsible to be held accountable, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters. "The conduct depicted in those photos is reprehensible."
Although many readers vilified the newspaper for endangering active duty troops (seeming to forget that is who took the photos and shared them in the first place) I was proud of the Los Angeles Times, which does occasionally do some fine investigative reporting.  Because of their decision I saw the incident reported on morning television news in the San Francisco Bay area, amid the sensationalism and fluff that customarily passes for journalism in our day.

(One of the results of the erosion of free and truthful reporting is that citizens no longer even recognize it as a bulwark of democracy; they think it exists only to make the government look good, and to shore up support for current programs.)

Here are your very own government officials at the helms of the State Department and the Pentagon, respectively, reacting to the same news.

Photograph: John Thys/AFP/Getty Images
So what's more reprehensible?

From Michael Hasting's article "The Rise of Killer Drones: How America Goes to War in Secret" this week in Rolling Stone:
In his first three years, Obama has unleashed 268 covert drone strikes, five times the total George W. Bush ordered during his eight years in office. All told, drones have been used to kill more than 3,000 people designated as terrorists, including at least four U.S. citizens. In the process, according to human rights groups, they have also claimed the lives of more than 800 civilians. Obama's drone program, in fact, amounts to the largest unmanned aerial offensive ever conducted in military history; never have so few killed so many by remote control.
From veteran and whistleblower Ethan McCord's facebook posting of the LA Times article:
I've been saying this was what happens. I kept being told you're lying its just a few bad apples. NO!!! This is how we are trained!! Wake the fuck up America!!
McCord, as you may recall, heroically came forward to corroborate the incidents depicted in Collateral Murder, the gleeful shooting of civilians, journalists and even children by U.S. soldiers in a helicopter over Bagdhad. It is the video alleged to have been sent to Wikileaks by Bradley Manning, and currently it has 12,563,351 views on the YouTube version.

The local t.v. station included some facts that appear to back up McCord's claim, reminding viewers that the photos were published at a particularly "sensitive" time for public perception of the war in Afghanistan. Three bullet points provided context: 1) recent photos of troops pissing on corpses alleged to be Taleban; 2) burning of Qurans at a U.S. dump near Bagram; and 3) a lone soldier alleged to have killed 17 civilians in a night time rampage near Kandahar. The t.v. reporter didn't bother to say that alleged could just as well be applied to lone as to killer in that sentence, as eyewitnesses have provided ample testimony that Robert Bales was not acting alone.

Here's what I find the most reprehensible: that the U.S. takes our money and spends it on training drone operators who refer to kills they cause and witness on their video monitors as "bug splats" while sanctimonious hypocrites like Obama, Clinton and Panetta get upset when a little bit of truth about how soldiers act in war leaks out to the public.

I am ashamed of my country. I sympathize with Afghans, whose reactions were reported as "Afghans revolted by U.S. troops posing with dead suicide bombers" in a blog of the LA Times:
The fact that the photos in question were taken two years ago did little to blunt the disdain. “Nothing has changed since then, and nothing will,” said Farhad Mohammad, a merchant in the southern city of Kandahar. “Always it is a matter of disrespect.”

Suicide bombers, who cause hundreds of Afghan civilian deaths every year, are widely despised. Even so, the taboo against desecration of the dead is strong in this religiously conservative country.

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