The recent news brought reports of two incidents in two countries where US troops killed civilians and then lied to cover up the evidence. These are but the latest of a steady stream of lies from military and Pentagon sources about the killing of civilians.
Afghanistan: Killing Pregnant Women and Government Officials
In Afghanistan, the military has finally admitted that Special Forces troops killed two pregnant Afghan women and a girl in a February raid in which Afghan government officials were also killed, according to excellent reporting by Jerome Starkey of The Times of London. They have, however, failed so far to account for their falsehoods spanning several months.
Previously the military had insisted that they killed “terrorists,” and claimed that the women were killed by knife wounds administered several hours before the raid. But now it appears that the knife wounds may have been inflicted by the Special Forces troops excavating their bullets from the dead or dying women’s bodies. As The Times‘ Starkey reported Monday:
US special forces soldiers dug bullets out of their victims’ bodies in the bloody aftermath of a botched night raid, then washed the wounds with alcohol before lying to their superiors about what happened, Afghan investigators have told The Times.
Military spokespersons went further in attempting to cover up the killing by attacking Starkey, the reporter who challenged the official story. As Starkey explained:
[T]hey [US military] have… tried hard to discredit me, personally, for bringing this to the world’s attention. In an unprecedented response to my original story about the Gardez night raid they named me individually, twice, in their denial of the cover up.
They claimed to have a recording of my conversation which contradicted my shorthand record. When I asked to hear it, they ignored me. When I pressed them, they said there had been a misunderstanding. When they said recording, they meant someone had taken notes. The tapes, they said, do not exist.
In this case, as in so many, one can only assume that there was a deliberate attempt to cover up US involvement in the killing. Otherwise, officials would long ago have admitted their error and, one hopes, taken action against those responsible for the combat errors and the lies that followed. One wonders, for example, who told military officials about the knife wounds? If those wounds were, in fact inflicted by Special Forces troops trying to cover their mistake, then someone is responsible for relaying this false information. Or was the information known all along to be false by those relaying this claim to the press? Were the officials just hoping that the press would tire of exploring the incident, allowing their falsehoods to stand?
Iraq: Shooting Photographers From the Air
The news also brings evidence of another civilian massacre, this time from a July 27, 2007 incident near Baghdad in Iraq. Wikileaks released a video apparently showing a US helicopter crew firing upon a group of Iraqis hanging out on a street corner, and on a van that stopped to carry the wounded to the hospital. Over a dozen people, including two Reuters reporters, were killed and two children in the van were wounded.
As in the Afghan incident, the military initially denied that any error had taken place. The New York Times article on the incident was entitled 2 Iraqi Journalists Killed as U.S. Forces Clash With Militias, relaying the military’s false account in the headline. The article also relayed the US account in the text:
The American military said in a statement late Thursday that 11 people had been killed: nine insurgents and two civilians. According to the statement, American troops were conducting a raid when they were hit by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. The American troops called in reinforcements and attack helicopters. In the ensuing fight, the statement said, the two Reuters employees and nine insurgents were killed.
In the video we see the incident from the perspective of the helicopter gunship.
While those in the helicopter assumed those on the ground had weapons, there are no weapons apparent, though it is possible that one person may be armed, hardly a rare occurrence in Iraq. And, more important, there is no conflict and no shots or RPGs are fired at the Americans. Rather, there are the Reuters photographers hanging out with a relaxed group of other Iraqis making no attempt to hide until deadly fire is rained down upon them from the helicopter.
When a van pulls up, no attempt is made to identify the van or its occupants before they are blown away, with permission of an authority on the other end of the radio. Several men from the van were killed along with two children.
With the video, we see that the US military account, while perhaps believed by officials immediately after the incident, could not have been believed by anyone who examined the evidence.
Also apparent in the video is the glee with which the troops executed their attack, laughing as people were killed, cheering when a Bradley tank drives over a body, and blaming the Samaritans in the van who stopped to help the wounded for the wounded children:
“Well it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle. “ [From the transcript.]
After seeing the video, it is easy to explain why the military has for years refused Reuters permission to view it. The US military has been systematically lying, covering up the killing of over a dozen Iraqis.
In neither the Afghan nor Iraqi incidents is there reason to believe that the killings of civilians were intentional. What is more disturbing is that, in both cases, they seem to be, rather, the result of routine actions. These deaths are the expectable result of occupations by foreign troops who view the citizens of the occupied country as potential enemies. Such situations are inevitably going to lead to dehumanizing of the occupied population, who may, after all, harbor “enemies” at any moment. In Iraq, the Iraqis are called “hajis” by the occupiers. One is less careful about killing “hajis” than one would be when killing one’s peers.
These types of incidents, and the dehumanizing attitudes behind them, are facilitated by the “force protection” concept underlying the occupation. Military and political leadership know that domestic support for the occupation cannot be sustained if US casualties grow too rapidly. Thus, an emphasis is put on protecting US troops in ambiguous situations, increasing the risk to civilians.
The troops involved are less to blame than are those who sent them to occupy another people’s land. For the dangers of dehumanization in war are well known, as are its increased risk in counterinsurgency situations. Every occupation, indeed, virtually every war has its massacres. Those in charge know this while pretending otherwise to the people back home. Hence the need for lies, lies, and lies.
Unfortunately, they usually get away with their deceit. And, in only a few instances is there any accountability for the lies.
Thankfully, in the two instances recently in the news, brave reporters risked personal attacks and threats to ferret out the truth. But how many such incidents can they investigate? Despite their efforts, occupation and lies will continue to exist together. While accountability for the liars should be sought, it is even more important to pull our troops out of these foreign lands they do not understand.
Note: The video was released through the intensive efforts of Wikileaks staff. Unfortunately, the Wikileaks web site has not been operating at full capacity for several months due to a financial shortage. Why not contribute to help them remain available to uncover future abuses. As the traditional investigative media collapse, we need sites like Wikileaks more than ever.
STEPHEN SOLDZ is a psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health researcher, and faculty member at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He edits the Psyche, Science, and Society blog. He is a founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, one of the organizations working to change American Psychological Association policy on participation in abusive interrogations. He is President-Elect of Psychologists for Social Responsibility [PsySR]. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org