FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Poisoning the Well

The first principle of humanitarian relief is that it be impartial, that aid be given on the basis of need without any consideration of political agendas.

The United States government, the same government that aroused international execration by using Red Cross markings on planes used to smuggle arms to the contras in Nicaragua, has once again made a mockery of that principle with its conduct in Afghanistan.

Its conduct to this point was bad enough causing the suspension of aid programs for weeks because of threats of bombing; constructing a “humanitarian” reason to bomb (air drops are required to feed people, the planes will be endangered, so we must bomb to suppress air defenses); causing renewed suspension because of the bombing; and the piece de resistance, adding insult to injury by dropping 35000 meals a day to replace programs that had fed millions. That last has been repeatedly criticized by aid organizations as associating humanitarian operations with military assault, thus making aid work far more difficult and dangerous as a spokesperson for Doctors Without Borders put it, “We do not want to be perceived as a part of the U.S. military campaign.”

At a Pentagon news briefing on Wednesday, however, this politicization was taken to new heights with the invocation of unnamed “sources” claiming that “there are reports that the Taliban might poison the food and try to blame the United States,” according to Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He went on to warn Afghans receiving aid, “If it comes from Taliban control, they must be careful.”

It scarcely needs mentioning that poisoning one’s own populace is senseless, and that there is no reason to suppose the Taliban is planning anything of the sort. In fact, it was reported yesterday that officials from the World Food Program expressed “surprise” at the allegations, with one saying “If they’re talking about the food we deliver, there’s not been a single instance that we know of in which the Taliban have tampered with it. Stolen, yes, but not tampered.”

When contacted, Sam Barratt of Oxfam International, currently working out of Peshawar, Pakistan, characterized the Pentagon statement as “deeply unhelpful,” adding, “This claim further goes to undermine the position of aid agencies in the country.”

It’s well known that our government frequently uses “disinformation” in wartime. And we find out long afterward. We know now that the story about Iraqi soldiers throwing Kuwaiti babies out of incubators was a fabrication created by a Washington PR firm and that the “nurse” testifying about it was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States, who wasn’t even in the country at the time. We found that out, but not before an Amnesty International report about it was circulated to all the media and to all of Congress, playing a major role in building support for the Gulf War.

In order to combat disinformation effectively, however, we will have to learn how to recognize it before the war is over, while it’s still relevant to current affairs. And, in fact, we’ve already seen open evidence of its use in this crisis. Government officials were forced to admit that reports that the terrorists targeted Air Force One were untrue (presumably they were circulated to further anger the American public).

If we do manage to have the courage of our intellectual convictions, the question still remains, “What is our government trying to do?”

A clue may be found in previous statements by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who expressed concern early on that humanitarian operations be conducted ”in a manner that does not allow this food to fall into the hands of the Taliban.” Since the Taliban, as the men with guns, will always be fed while there is any food in the country, this seems like a hint that the United States would consider interfering with the supply of humanitarian aid in Taliban-controlled areas, in order to erode public support for the Taliban. Further hints come today, with the second bombing of a Red Cross warehouse complex in Kabul. It was entirely plausible that the first strike was accidental, but the second does make one wonder. Obviously, there is no way to know, but some vigilance is definitely in order.

Such tactics are not at all foreign to the U.S. government. Making the Chilean economy and later the Nicaraguan “scream” was an essential, deliberate part of destabilizing the Allende and Sandinista governments.

UN agencies have warned that 7.5 million people are dependent on aid for their survival through the coming winter. UNICEF has estimated that 100,000 children may die. The U.S. government has continued its protracted bombing campaign in the face of numerous concerted from private aid agencies and from the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right of Access to Food for a bombing halt so that supplies can be trucked in. Simultaneously, the noncombatant toll of the bombings continues to grow a bus in Kandahar, a hospital in Herat, numerous private homes, and more.

Notwithstanding its invocation of humanitarian concerns, the U.S. government has shown a criminal indifference to human life. It has sabotaged one of the few truly noble, truly heroic efforts in the modern world humanitarian aid. It has also severely tainted public discourse, to the point where it is difficult to know what is true and what is not.

Among Afghans and other peoples for whom water is scarce, poisoning a well is the deepest crime, more powerfully symbolic even than taking a human life. The reason is that it takes something vital, something necessary to preserving life, and perverts it into a force of destruction.

That is what our government has now done. CP

Rahul Mahajan serves on the National Board of Peace Action and is a member of the Nowar Collective. He is the author of the forthcoming “The New Crusade: America’s War on Terrorism” (Monthly Review Press). He can be contacted at rahul@tao.ca

More articles by:
September 24, 2018
Jonathan Cook
Hiding in Plain Sight: Why We Cannot See the System Destroying Us
Gary Leupp
All the Good News (Ignored by the Trump-Obsessed Media)
Robert Fisk
I Don’t See How a Palestinian State Can Ever Happen
Barry Brown
Pot as Political Speech
Lara Merling
Puerto Rico’s Colonial Legacy and Its Continuing Economic Troubles
Patrick Cockburn
Iraq’s Prime Ministers Come and Go, But the Stalemate Remains
William Blum
The New Iraq WMD: Russian Interference in US Elections
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Snoopers’ Charter Has Been Dealt a Serious Blow
Joseph Matten
Why Did Global Economic Performance Deteriorate in the 1970s?
Zhivko Illeieff
The Millennial Label: Distinguishing Facts from Fiction
Thomas Hon Wing Polin – Gerry Brown
Xinjiang : The New Great Game
Binoy Kampmark
Casting Kavanaugh: The Trump Supreme Court Drama
Max Wilbert
Blue Angels: the Naked Face of Empire
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail