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Lies, Damn Lies, and Pentagon Statistics
8 July 2002
When are dead women and children not recognized as dead women and children? When they are killed by US bombs in Afghanistan!
In an all too familiar lethal pattern, US warplanes recently attacked four small villages in the Oruzgan province of Afghanistan. When initial reports surfaced from surviving family members about scores of civilian casualties, the first response by US military authorities in Afghanistan was denial of culpability. A US officer at the Bagram air base reluctantly admitted that while there were civilian casualties during the operation..., military forces take extraordinary measures to protect against civilian casualties. Only after incontrovertible evidence about the killings surfaced in the world media did Lt. General Dan McNeil, US commander in Afghanistan, announce on July 6, 2002 that 48 civilians had been killed.
Contradicting the claims by US military authorities about the concern for civilian casualties, one eyewitness was quoted in an Agence France Presse report of July 7th that after bombing the area, US forces...refused to let the people help the victims or take them away for treatment. A tribal leader in the area expressed anger and dismay at the US operation by asserting: We fought in the same bunkers with the Americans against the Taliban, but now we are the enemy.
Throughout the US war in Afghanistan, the targeting of civilians, whether intentional or not, has led to death and destruction on a massive scale. The managers of the war, however, have refused to acknowledge responsibility except in a few showcase incidents, such as the friendly fire that killed Canadian soldiers.
One of the most egregious examples of callous disregard for Afghan civilians happened last October when a village north of Kandahar was strafed by AC-130 gunships, resulting in the death of at least 93 civilians. The blunt response by one Pentagon official was that the people there are dead because we wanted them dead. Trying to avoid any further probing of the incident, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said: I cannot deal with that particular village.
In fact, the Pentagon has not kept any statistics about civilian deaths in Afghanistan. Or, rather, there has been no concerted effort to provide the media with the awful death toll of innocents in Afghanistan. Fortunately, Professor Marc Herold of the University of New Hampshire has generated substantive information about such deaths and has made them available on his website. By the end of 2001, the US military had killed more than all of those murdered on September 11th.
Over the first six months of 2002, various reports of bombings of wedding parties and family gatherings in friendly villages have accumulated. And the anger of Afghans against the United States has been growing apace. One survivor of the recent attack on the wedding party at Kakrak agonized that the Americans should be put on trial. Perhaps it's no coincidence that the refusal of the Bush Administration to join the International Criminal Court comes amidst the repeated war crimes in Afghanistan.
Even former war planners, such as John Warden, a retired Air Force strategist, are expressing concern over the direction of US bombing in Afghanistan. We are now doing things that appear to give marginal return, Warden asserts in a July 7 Washington Post article, but at a potentially very high cost. Given Warden s part as a Pentagon spokesperson denying the bombing of a Baghdad bomb shelter that killed over a thousand civilians, it is instructive that there is questioning from former military strategists about US bombing in Afghanistan.
Of course, the Pentagon and the Bush Administration have tried to follow the script from the Gulf War in hiding civilian deaths behind a screen of technowar spectacle and muzzling of media sources. US warplanes deliberately destroyed the Kabul offices of Al Jazeera, the independent Arab television station that broadcast civilian deaths, along with reputed film of Osama bin Laden. (Remember him - the guy who was the supposed target for the war in Afghanistan.) At certain points the Pentagon has been aided, much to the later dismay of Dan Rather, by complicit media executives. CNN's head, Walter Isaacson, early on maintained that it would be perverse to grant any extensive coverage to civilian deaths in Afghanistan. What s more perverse is the failure to provide any consistent analysis of the failures and flaws of the war in Afghanistan and the attendant war against terrorism.
In trying to manage public relations about the operation of warmaking, the Pentagon learned several important lessons from the Vietnam War - don't let reporters get out into the field and don't bother with body counts. The credibility of the military and the Johnson and Nixon Administrations suffered partially as a consequence of intrepid reporting and inflated body counts. So, in Grenada, Panama, and the Gulf War, the Pentagon tried to manage the news in order to cover-up the civilian casualties.
Now, as the Bush Administration and the Pentagon shift into gear for their preemptive warmaking against much of the world, they are developing a Joint Stealth Task Force that can launch sneak attacks whenever and wherever. Of course, the Bush Administration is going out of its way to mount a very visible campaign of regime change in Iraq. The Pentagon's mission is to marshal a massive force for a potential invasion, an invasion that can be counted on killing tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis who will remain hidden or counted as mere collateral damage.
On the other hand, it may be impossible to lie about the statistics of US deaths as body bags start arriving in the United States. Before further tragic deaths occur, this Administration and the Pentagon have got to be corralled. Enough people have suffered from the cowboy in the White House, his hawkish cabinet, and the gun-slinging Pentagon.