Blaming the Dead Victims

We’re been here before, many times.

The US causes massive civilian deaths through its indiscriminate use of heavy air power, and then tries to claim it’s the enemy’s fault for “hiding” among the civilians and “using them as shields.”

In Vietnam, where the US was fighting against a local revolutionary movement that was seeking to overthrow the puppet regime backed by America, American planes routinely bombed and napalmed villages, claiming that the Viet Cong were hiding amongst the peasants. Women, old men and children would die in droves—several million of them by the time that war was over–and we’d be told it was all the fault of the Communists, who, we were told, had no regard for innocent life.

In Iraq, we took a city of 300,000, Fallujah, and effectively leveled it. Anyone who died there was presumed to be an insurgent, though the truth was, the Marines encircling the city before the onslaught only allowed fleeing women, girls and male children who were under the age 12 to flee, sending older boys and men seeking to get out back into the city to meet their fate.

Just this week, the brave Marines in Iraq blew away a 12-year-old boy after someone tossed a grenade their way.  Local people said the grenade had been tossed by an older man standing near the boy, who fled. The unlucky boy, who was just a kid who sold gum for a living, had not done anything, local people said.

Now it’s Afghanistan, where upwards of 120 people, including babies and small children, were slaughtered during a battle in a remote part of the country in the latest example of mass deaths at the hands of American forces. Local people say that several villages in the Bala Baluk district of Farah Province of were intensely bombarded by US planes, causing most if not all of the deaths. The US response to the initial charges of a mass slaughter of civilians was to blame the deaths on the Taliban. When it became clear that the victims had died of burns and shrapnel, not from bullets, the US came out with a new explanation: The Taliban had tossed grenades at the locals. But reporters at the scene reported seeing huge craters and leveled buildings—not what you get from hand grenades.  Then came reports of unusually deep and localized burns—the type caused by white phosphorus—a weapon that the US has used widely in Iraq–including in densely populated Fallujah—and in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon immediately said it did not use white phosphorus bombs in the battle in question, and suggested instead that perhaps the Taliban had used phosphorus grenades. This again was an absurd argument. The purpose of phosphorus weapons, primarily, is to light up a battlefield, but Taliban fighters don’t want lit up battlefields. They prefer operating the dark. It is the US that wants to light up targets.

Besides, there are those craters to explain.

So the next dance step was to say that the Taliban had caused the deaths, because during their retreat they had fled to the town, miles from the scene of the battle that led to the calling in of air support by US advisers to embattled government forces, and in so doing, had brought the attack upon the villagers.

Well, assuming that is true, there is still the problem that under the Geneva Conventions, it is a war crime to attack an enemy where the risk of harming large numbers of civilians is too great. The extreme example would the bombing of a school full of children on the grounds that a few enemy soldiers were hiding in the school (something that the Israeli military did in Gaza during the recent invasion, causing the deaths of dozens of children). But bombing a town full of people in order to hit a few retreating enemy fighters is equally criminal—a point that the Pentagon, and the compliant US media, are ignoring.

Barack Obama’s war in Afghanistan—for it is indeed his war now—is turning into the same kind of bloody imperial slaughter that Iraq was earlier under President Bush.  The stated objective—eliminating Al Qaeda—has been lost. The enemy of all this fighting isn’t Al Qaeda at all; it is the indigenous Taliban—the former governing power in Afghanistan until the US invasion in 2001, and a political organization that never was an enemy of the US.

Whatever one might think of the religious fanatics and misogynists who go under the name Taliban, they are not seeking to overthrow the West. They are simply seeking to return to power in Afghanistan, one of the poorest, remotest, and economically and politically least important countries in the world.

And to defeat that movement, if that can even be done, the US is going to have to kill Afghani civilians by the truckload, as it has been doing.

And then there has to be the inevitable dancing around to hide the criminality of what the US is doing.

The blame-the-victim dance goes on.

DAVE LINDORFF  is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). He can be reached at dlindorff@mindspring.com




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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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