Another night-time raid on a housing compound in Afghanistan. Another bunch of innocent Afghans killed. Another round of lies by the US-led forces of the so-called International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Only this time, among the dead are two pregnant mothers and a teenage girl.
And once again the US media remain mute, accepting the official story, which was of ISAF forces responding to an attack which in reality appears never to have happened.
Before I started to write this piece, which once again was broken by the intrepid Jerome Starkey, a reporter in Afghanistan who works for the Times of London, I thought maybe I should read the Sunday edition of the New York Times, to see whether America’s “paper of record” had reported on this latest atrocity. But the night before we had suffered a heavy storm that knocked down three large trees in my front yard, and there was currently a thunderstorm underway, with rain pouring down, so I decided, what the hell, I’ll just write it. There’s no way the Times would cover this story.
I was right, of course. When the rain let up, and I went out and got the paper, and scoured it for word of this latest obscene slaughter by US forces, I found nothing. The Times’ reporters in Afghanistan and the reporters in the paper’s Washington bureau who cover the Pentagon had ignored it. So, a Google search discloses, did the rest of the servile US media.
So what actually happened?
According to Starkey, US and Afghan Army forces on February 12 launched a pre-dawn assault on the home of a prominent and popular policeman’s home just outside of Gardez, the capital of Paktia province in eastern Afghanistan. The first person to die was reportedly the policeman himself, Commander Dawood, who had stood in his doorway protesting the innocence of his family. In the volley of fire directed against him by the brave US-led team, his pregnant wife, another pregnant woman and an 18-year-old girl were also slaughtered.
Commander Dawood had been hosting a party to celebrate the naming of a newborn baby boy, Starkey reported. As he writes:
Sitting together along the walls of a guest room, the men had taken turns dancing while musicians played. Mohammed Sediq Mahmoudi, 24, the singer, said that at some time after 3am one of the musicians, Dur Mohammed, went outside to go to the toilet. “Someone shone a light on his face and he ran back inside and said the Taliban were outside,” Mr Sediq said.
Also killed was Dawood’s brother, Saranwal Zahir, a local prosecutor, who had been shouting for soldiers not to shoot as women had run outside to tend to the wounded.
A younger brother of the two men, Mohammed Sabir, was arrested by the invading forces and brought to a US base, where he was held for several days and interrogated by “ an American in civilian clothes,” before being released. Sabir said he was shown photos of a man who had been at the party, a certain Shamsuddin. Sabir says he told the interrogatyor, “Yes, he was at the party. Why didn’t you arrest him?” The man in question, Shamsuddin, later turned himself in and was, after questioning, reportedly also released.
Raising the question, what was this raid, and all the pointless killing, about in the first place?
As Starkey writes, the US and the ISAF initially, following what appears to be standard operating procedure, concocted a lie about the incident In a release immediately afterward, under the headline, “Joint force operating in Gardez makes gruesome discovery,” the NATO release claimed that the US-led team had found the women’s bodies “tied up, gagged and killed” in a room. That statement went on to say: “Several insurgents engaged the joint force in a firefight and were killed.”
As Starkey, who charges NATO with a “coverup,” reports: “The family, however, insists that no one threw so much as a stone.”
He goes on:
Rear Admiral Greg Smith, NATO’s director of communications in Kabul, denied that there had been any attempt at a cover-up.
He said that both the men who were killed were armed and showing “hostile intent” but admitted “they were not the targets of this particular raid.”
“I don’t know if they fired any rounds,” he said. “If you have got an individual stepping out of a compound, and if your assault force is there, that is often the trigger to neutralise the individual. You don’t have to be fired upon to fire back.”
He admitted that the original statement had been “poorly worded” but said “to people who see a lot of dead bodies” the women had appeared at the time to have been dead for several hours.
Starkey reports that the Americans offered the distraught family $2000 per victim of the botched raid. But as the mother of the slain brothers, Bibi Sabsparie, told him bitterly, “There’s no value on human life. They killed our family, then they came and brought us money. Money won’t bring our family back.”
So once again, we have a massacre (in a night-time raid that occurred two weeks after the US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal ordered an end to the practice because of the number of errors and civilian deaths, and the bad public relations such raids cause among Afghans), with no coverage by the US media.
Meanwhile, Starkey says that even in the UK, his stories have been ignored by the rest of the British media, and that his own efforts to get at the truth have begun causing problems with the US-led military command in Afghanistan.
As he told one reader who had written him to congratulate him on his work:
“Word in Kabul is that NATO are turning their wrath on me, personally, and about to release a rebuttal. All of a sudden it’s a daunting prospect and more than ever I feel what it must be like to be churned through the military machine. It’s good to know people appreciate it. I’ve also had emails from the victims’ family, which is heartening.”
It is not easy to be an honest reporter in wartime, where sycophancy and blind patriotism are what is demanded. Sadly, the US media are taking the easy way out, accepting the rules of being embedded, which require them to submit articles for censorship, to avoid being critical and to play the game, in return for getting easy human interest stories to send back to the readers and viewers back home.
That’s not journalism. It’s PR. It ought to be labeled as such.
Extra! Also ignored by the Times and most of the rest of the US corporate media was a historic decision by a federal judge in Chicago on March 4 to compel former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to respond to charges by to US torture victims that Rumsfeld authorized their torture by US forces at Camp Cropper in Iraq. The two men, David Vance and Nathan Ertel, were whistleblowers against the private security (mercenary) firm that had hired them, claiming it was secretly providing arms to insurgents. Instead of getting the firm investigated, they were arrested by US troops and held–and tortured, they claim–for three months, before being released without charge and sent home to the US.
Their attorney, Mike Kanovitz of Chicago’s Loevy & Loevy, correctly calls the quashing of Rumsfeld’s effort to have the suit against him thrown out, “pretty historic”–a former secretary of defense is being accused of authorizing the torture of American citizens and will have to answer the charge in a federal court–but you wouldn’t know it from the response of the US mainstream media, which has been…nothing.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org