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We Burn Corpses, Don't We?

War Crimes in Afghanistan

by ERID RUDER

Shocking images from Afghanistan have again exposed the racist barbarism of the U.S. "war on terror."

Last week, U.S. soldiers were caught on videotape burning the bodies of two dead Taliban fighters–something forbidden under Islamic law–in Gonbaz, a village in southern Afghanistan.

After the bodies had been defiled, U.S. psychological operations specialists used loudspeakers to taunt local villagers, in an attempt to draw out other Taliban supporters. "Attention, Taliban, you are all cowardly dogs," blared the loudspeakers, after calling out several religious leaders by name.

"You allowed your fighters to be laid down facing west and burned. You are too scared to come down and retrieve their bodies. This just proves you are the lady boys we always believed you to be…You attack and run away like women. You call yourself Talibs, but you are a disgrace to the Muslim religion, and you bring shame upon your family. Come and fight like men instead of the cowardly dogs you are."

The taunts–according to Stephen Dupont, the Australian freelance journalist embedded with the soldiers, who captured the incident on video–were designed to infuriate. "They used that as psychological warfare, I guess you’d call it," said Dupont of the October 1 incident. "They deliberately wanted to incite that much anger from the Taliban so the Taliban could attack them…That’s the only way they can find them."

The images provoked outrage in Afghanistan and throughout the Muslim world. "The burning of these bodies is an offense to Muslims everywhere," said cleric Said Mohammed Omar. "It makes no difference that they were Taliban." Abdul Qayum, a senior cleric in Kandahar, said, "During the past quarter-century of war, I have never heard of anyone burning dead bodies. The Americans claim to be here to bring peace, but what are we supposed to think about this?"

Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai tried to help his Pentagon puppet masters contain the damage by dismissing the incident, saying that sometimes "soldiers make mistakes." But this latest revelation shows that the atrocities committed by the U.S. military–from the torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo to the murderous siege of the Iraqi city of Falluja–aren’t "mistakes." They’re policy.

In the U.S., the media has generally connected the desecration of the two bodies in Afghanistan with the defiling of the Koran by U.S. interrogators earlier this year. But every report also said that Newsweek retracted that story about the Koran–even though the magazine’s retraction was limited to admitting that a government report didn’t reveal the abuse, not that the incident never occurred.

And the U.S. government has confirmed other atrocities committed in Afghanistan–like the case of a 22-year-old taxi driver named Dilawar who died with his wrists chained to the top of his cell at Bagram Air Base after being tortured for nearly four days by U.S. interrogators.

The videotape comes at a bad time for the Bush administration for two reasons.

One, the administration is seeking to scuttle or at least blunt legislation before Congress that would ban the use of torture by U.S. troops–on the grounds that this would "tie the hands of interrogators." Supporters of the legislation now have fresh ammunition to make the case that guidelines are necessary, if for no other reason than to give the impression that the U.S. cares about human rights.

And two, the Bush administration is struggling to maintain its assertion that the U.S. occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq are on track.

Even before this video came to light, news from Afghanistan suggests the opposite is true. During 2005, for example, 86 U.S. soldiers were killed in Afghanistan–compared to 55 killed between the beginning of the U.S. operation to oust the Taliban in October 2001 and the end of 2002.

The illicit drug trade–largely ended under the Taliban–has flourished under the U.S. occupation, with opium production now accounting for 60 percent of the economy, by one estimate.

The massive scale of the drug trade is both an embarrassment for the administration, as well as a strategic dilemma. "You can’t have a nation-building policy on the one hand and a policy to kill off a major sector of the economy on the other," said Afghanistan expert Barnett Rubin. "There is no sign of a comprehensive development strategy…to build an economy that is legal," Rubin added.

During the last four years, the U.S. has spent $5 billion–roughly equal to Afghanistan’s annual gross domestic product–to prop up the Karzai government, but to little effect.

Karzai won re-election last October by appealing to voters’ fears of the warlords who now control huge swaths of the country, but after he was back in office, he brought several of the most ruthless warlords into his cabinet. Then, U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad endorsed the decision, saying six months ago that the "decision to give a role to…regional strongmen is a wise policy."

For the people of Afghanistan, fed up with U.S. atrocities and support for regional warlords, there’s growing talk of ejecting U.S. troops–just as the former USSR’s military was kicked out in 1989 after a decade of occupation. "Their future will be like the Russians," said Zahidullah, a resident of Kabul.

Eric Ruder writes for the Socialist Worker.