Posts Tagged ‘Dave Lindorff’

Demonizing Iran: US Media Continue Beating War Drums

April 22, 2010

by Dave Lindorff, CommonDreams.org, April 22, 2010

Just yesterday, the New York Times had a lead story about Israeli planning to possibly “go it alone” in an attack on Iran if the US were not to “succeed” in its diplomatic efforts to get Iran to “stop” it’s alleged attempts to develop a nuclear weapon capability.

Aside from the fact that there is no hard evidence that Iran is trying to make a nuclear bomb or even to refine uranium to obtain nuclear-grade material, the paper ignored one crucial point: Israel cannot “go it alone” in any strike on Iran, since its key weapons–F15 and F-16 fighter-bombers–are supplied to it, and kept flying, thanks to the equipment and spare parts provided by the United States. Indeed the entire Israeli military machine is largely financed and armed by the US.

Contsinues >>

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The War on Afghan Civilians

March 18, 2010

By Dave Lindorff, Counterpunch, March 17, 2010

Three months after it initially lied about the murder by US forces of eight high school students and a 12-year-old shepherd boy in Afghanistan, and a month after it lied about the slaughter by US forces of an Afghan police commander, a government prosecutor, two of their pregnant wives and a teenage daughter, the US military has been forced to admit (thanks in no small part to the excellent investigative reporting of Jerome Starkey of the London Times), that these and other atrocities were the work of American Special Forces, working in conjunction with “specially trained” (by the US) units of the Afghan Army.

Continues >>

Are US forces executing children in Afghanistan? Americans don’t even know to ask

January 5, 2010

By Dave Lindorff, This Can’t Be Happening,  Jan 3, 2009

The Taliban suicide attack that killed a group of CIA agents in Afghanistan on a base that was directing US drone aircraft used to attack Taliban leaders was big news in the US over the past week, with the airwaves and front pages filled with sympathetic stories referring to the fact that the female station chief, who was among those killed, was the “mother of three children.”

But the apparent mass murder of Afghan school children, including one as young as 11 years old, by US-led forces (most likely either special forces or mercenary contractors working for the Pentagon or the CIA), was pretty much blacked out in the American media. Especially blacked out was word from UN investigators that the students had not just been killed but executed, many of them after having first been rousted from their bedroom and handcuffed.

Here is the excellent report on the incident that ran in the Times of London (like Fox News, a Rupert Murdoch-owned publication) on Dec. 31:

Western troops accused of executing 10 Afghan civilians, including children

By Jerome Starkey in Kabul

American-led troops were accused yesterday of dragging innocent children from their beds and shooting them during a night raid that left ten people dead.

Afghan government investigators said that eight schoolchildren were killed, all but one of them from the same family. Locals said that some victims were handcuffed before being killed.

Western military sources said that the dead were all part of an Afghan terrorist cell responsible for manufacturing improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which have claimed the lives of countless soldiers and civilians.

“This was a joint operation that was conducted against an IED cell that Afghan and US officials had been developing information against for some time,” said a senior Nato insider. But he admitted that “the facts about what actually went down are in dispute”.

The article goes on to say:

In a telephone interview last night, the headmaster [of the local school] said that the victims were asleep in three rooms when the troops arrived. “Seven students were in one room,” said Rahman Jan Ehsas. “A student and one guest were in another room, a guest room, and a farmer was asleep with his wife in a third building.

“First the foreign troops entered the guest room and shot two of them. Then they entered another room and handcuffed the seven students. Then they killed them. Abdul Khaliq [the farmer] heard shooting and came outside. When they saw him they shot him as well. He was outside. That’s why his wife wasn’t killed.”

A local elder, Jan Mohammed, said that three boys were killed in one room and five were handcuffed before they were shot. “I saw their school books covered in blood,” he said.

The investigation found that eight of the victims were aged from 11 to 17. The guest was a shepherd boy, 12, called Samar Gul, the headmaster said. He said that six of the students were at high school and two were at primary school. He said that all the students were his nephews.

Compare this article to the one mention of the incident which appeared in the New York Times, one of the few American news outlets to even mention the incident. The Times, on Dec. 28, focusing entirely on the difficulty civilian killings cause for the US war effort, and not on the allegation of a serious war crime having been committed, wrote:

Attack Puts Afghan Leader and NATO at Odds

By Alissa J. Rubin and Abdul Waheed Wafa

KABUL, Afghanistan — The killing of at least nine men in a remote valley of eastern Afghanistan by a joint operation of Afghan and American forces put President Hamid Karzai and senior NATO officials at odds on Monday over whether those killed had been civilians or Taliban insurgents.

In a statement e-mailed to the news media, Mr. Karzai condemned the weekend attack and said the dead had been civilians, eight of them schoolboys. He called for an investigation.

Local officials, including the governor and members of Parliament from Kunar Province, where the deaths occurred, confirmed the reports. But the Kunar police chief, Khalilullah Ziayee, cautioned that his office was still investigating the killings and that outstanding questions remained, including why the eight young men had been in the same house at the time.

“There are still questions to be answered, like why these students were together and what they were doing on that night,” Mr. Ziayee said.

A senior NATO official with knowledge of the operation said that the raid had been carried out by a joint Afghan-American force and that its target was a group of men who were known Taliban members and smugglers of homemade bombs, which the American and NATO forces call improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.’s.

According to the NATO official, nine men were killed. “These were people who had a well-established network, they were I.E.D. smugglers and also were responsible for direct attacks on Afghan security and coalition forces in those areas,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the issue.

“When the raid took place they were armed and had material for making I.E.D.’s,” the official added.

While the article in the New York Times eventually mentions the allegation that the victims were children, not “men,” it nonetheless begins with the unchallenged assertion in the lead that they were “men.” There is no mention of the equally serious allegation that the victims had been handcuffed before being executed, and the story leaves the impression, made by NATO sources, that they were armed and had died fighting. There is no indication in the Times story that the reporters made any effort, as the more enterprising and skeptical London Times reporter did, to get local, non-official, sources of information. Moreover, the information claiming that the victims had been making bombs was attributed by Rubin and Wafa, with no objections from their editors in New York, to an anonymous NATO source, though there was no legitimate reason for the anonymity (“because of the delicacy of the situation” was the lame excuse offered)–indeed the use of an anonymous source here would appear to violate the Times’ own standards.

It’s not that in American newsrooms there was no knowledge that a major war crime may have been committed. Nearly all American news organizations receive the AP newswire. Here is the AP report on the killings, which ran under the headline “UN says killed Afghans were students”:

The United Nations says a raid last weekend by foreign troops in a tense eastern Afghan province killed eight local students.

The Afghan government says that all 10 people killed in a village in Kunar province were civilians. NATO says there is no evidence to substantiate the claim and has requested a joint investigation.

UN special representative in Afghanistan Kai Eide said in a statement Thursday that preliminary investigation shows there were insurgents in the area at the time of the attack. But he adds that eight of those killed were students in local schools.

Once again, the American media are falling down shamefully in providing honest reporting on a war, making it difficult for the American people to make informed judgements about what is being done in their name.

Let’s be clear here. If the charges are correct, that American forces, or American-led forces, are handcuffing their victims and then executing them, then they are committing egregious war crimes. If they are killing children, they are committing equally egregious war crimes. If they are handcuffing and executing children, the atrocity is beyond horrific. This incident, if true, would actually be worse than the infamous war crime that occurred in My Lai during the Vietnam War. In that case, we had ordinary soldiers in the field, acting under the orders of several low-ranking officers in the heat of an operation, shooting and killing women, children and babies. But in this case we appear to have seasoned special forces troops actually directing the taking captives, cuffing them, herding them into a room, and spraying them with bullets, execution style.

Given the history of the commanding general in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, who is known to have run a massive death squad operation in Iraq before being named to his current post by President Obama, and who is known to have called for the same kind of tactics in Afghanistan, it should not be surprising that the US would now be committing atrocities in Afghanistan. If this is how this war is going to be conducted, though, the US media should be making a major effort to uncover and expose the crime.

On January 1, the London Times’ Starkey, in Afghanistan, followed up with a second story, reporting that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is calling for the US to hand over the people who killed the students. He also quoted a “NATO source” as saying that the “foreigners involved” in the incident were “non-military, suggesting that they were part of a secret paramilitary unit based in the capital” of Kabul. Starkey also quotes a “Western official” as saying: “There’s no doubt that there were insurgents there, and there may well have been an insurgent leader in the house, but that doesn’t justify executing eight children who were all enrolled in local schools.”

Good enterprise reporting by the London Times and its Kabul-based correspondent. Silence on these developments in the US media.

Meanwhile, it has been a week now since the New York Times reporters Rubin and Wafa made their first flawed and embarrassingly one-sided report on the incident, and there has been not a word since then about it in the paper. Are Rubin and Wafa or other Times reporters on the story? Will there be a follow-up?

On the evidence of past coverage of these US wars and their ongoing atrocities by the Times and by other major US corporate media news organizations, don’t bet on it. You’ll do better looking to the foreign media for real information about a story like this.

By the way, given that we’re talking the allegation of a serious war crime here, it is important to note that, under the Geneva Conventions, it is a legal requirement that the US military chain of command immediately initiate an official investigation to determine whether such a crime has occurred, and if so, to establish who was responsible and bring them to justice. One would hope that the commander in chief, President Obama, would order such an inquiry.

Any effort to prevent such an inquiry, or to cover up a war crime, would be a war crime in itself. We just had one administration that did a lot of that. We don’t need another one.

Editorial Comment:

As a teenager, I spent a year going to school in Darmstadt, in what was then West Germany. I used to have many discussions with German friends about how Germans could have allowed Nazism to happen, and how anyone could have allowed the kinds of atrocities which we Americans learned that German soldiers had committed during the war–the destroying of entire towns when one partisan fired on a German soldier, the killing of prisoners of war, etc. Of course we know now that Americans too committed equally heinous war crimes, culminating in the use of the two atomic bombs against civilian targets, not to mention the firebombing of Darmstadt itself by the Brits. But the larger point at the time was, how could Germans, who are decent people for the most part, have allowed the horror of Nazism to happen?

Now we are confronted yet again with an example of American military forces (and it matters not a whit whether they are uniformed regular soldiers or paid mercenaries who executed those Afghan kids) apparently committing exactly the type of atrocity for which the German Waffen SS was known. And whether or not the charges are true, there is enough evidence at this point, with the special UN representative in Afghanistan saying it happened, for us to believe it probably did happen. Yet there has not been one editorial in the US media calling for an open investigation into this alleged atrocity. No Americans are marching in the street demanding answers. Obama, whose daughter Malia is 11–the same age as the youngest of the slain boys–has not said a word, although Afghan students are demonstrating en masse, and burning him in effigy because of this latest outrage.

So what makes us Americans any better than the Germans of 1940? In a way, we are really worse. It would have taken considerable courage, as my German friends have pointed out, to take a stand against German atrocities in 1940, when such a stand could mean arrest, imprisonment and even execution, even execution of one’s family. No such risks are faced by Americans who take a stand against American atrocities. Here one faces, at most, social ostracism or a minor citation for arrest at a protest.

We are, as a nation, only as good as our worst behavior and our worst impulses, and can be judged by how we respond to them when they are manifested in our name. And right now, Americans aren’t looking very good at all.

PS: Kudos to David Swanson of the website www.afterdowningstreet.org, for bringing attention to this story.

The Shame and Folly of Obama’s War in Afghanistan

December 8, 2009

by Dave Lindorff, CommonDreams.org, Dec 7, 2009

There are so many things wrong with Obama’s “New and Improved” Afghanistan War that it’s hard to know where to begin, but I guess the place to start is with his premise.

If America needs to be fighting in Afghanistan because Al Qaeda planned and launched the 9-11 attacks from there back in 2001, as the president claimed in his lackluster address to the cadets at West Point last week, then we would have to assume either that Al Qaeda is still there, or that if we were not there fighting, that Al Qaeda would be back to plan more attacks.

Well, we know Al Qaeda is not there, because US intelligence reports that there are “fewer than 100” Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan at most at this point, and probably a good deal fewer. Maybe even zero. Al Qaeda has long since moved on to Pakistan and thence to other countries far removed from Afghanistan (even Defense Secretary Robert Gates, after speculating that Osama bin Laden “might be” hopping back and forth across the border with Pakistan like a kid doing a double-dare game, concedes that in truth no one in the US has any idea where bin Laden is, or whether he is even in South Asia). But would Al Qaeda come back if the Taliban, ousted back in 2001 by US Special Forces, were to return to power in Kabul? Not likely. As the New York Times reported in last Sunday’s paper, the Afghan Taliban have convincingly broken with Al Qaeda, because of the latter organization’s targeting of the Pakistani government, which has long had a supportive relationship with the Afghan Taliban. Besides, the Taliban in Afghanistan have a clear goal of ruling Afghanistan, and the US has already demonstrated both that it can live and work with a Taliban government, as it was doing before the 9-11 attacks, and that it will punish the Taliban if they allow Al Qaeda a free hand inside their country. So the odds of a re-established Taliban regime in Afghanistan inviting Al Qaeda to move back in and set up shop are somewhere around zero.

Ergo, whatever he may say, the current Christmas ramp-up in the war announced by Obama has nothing to do with 9-11, nothing to do with combating terrorism, and nothing to do with protecting American security.

What about the bogie-man of a so-called “failed state”? Obama said a failed state in Afghanistan could mean a return of Al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations.

The problem with this second argument is that Afghanistan already is a failed state, if the definition of a failed state is one in which there is no effective central government. For that matter, Afghanistan has been a failed state since the overthrow of Mohammed Najibullah, the Communist leader who had the country largely unified and who was instituting reforms like protecting the rights of women, building roads, etc. (the very things the US says it wants to do), until he was driven out of power and ultimately hung by forces, including the Taliban) organized and armed by the CIA.  Actually, the truth is that Afghanistan has always been something less than a real nation, with different ethic groups occupying different regions of the country largely operating like autonomous little countries.  To expect such a situation to somehow coalesce into something resembling a European nation-state is simply ludicrous. In fact, the only commonality uniting the various ethnic groups within Afghanistan actually is religion-they’re nearly all Islamic-which suggests that the Taliban, for all their medieval fundamentalism, may have a significant edge in the nation-building game.

Moving on to strategy, Obama talks about effectively doubling the number of US and NATO forces fighting in the country (the term “fighting” is used loosely because many of the European forces are barred by their governments from actually engaging in combat), with the goal being, reportedly, to protect the cities from Taliban attacks (and good luck with that!) and giving the current government in Kabul time to build up a 400,000-man army that supposedly would take over the job of security.

Hmmmm. If you protect the cities, by definition you leave the countryside around the cities unprotected, right? But you cannot do that in a country that is largely rural, so the US will inevitably resort to search-and-destroy run-outs into the countryside, and of course air attacks by bombers and remote-controlled drones, in a doomed effort to keep the Taliban at bay. But such actions, as America leaned when it tried the same policy in Vietnam, inevitably mean massive and disproportionate civilian casualties-the so-called “collateral damage” of war.  And civilian casualties are not the way an army wins “hearts and minds.”  In fact, a high rate of civilian casualties means the destroying of hearts, minds, limbs, families, houses, etc., and the concomitant creation of blood enemies. So we start out by making more enemies outside the city gates.

Meanwhile, we are unlikely to make the cities safe either because it’s damnably easy for bombers to slip in and pop one off in a crowded bazaar or school or office building, as the Taliban have already repeatedly demonstrated.

But even assuming the best of luck with protecting a handful of Afghan cities, the idea of creating a functioning army of 400,000, as Obama and his generals have called for, and upon which Obama bases his promise to “start bringing home” troops in July 2011, is surely a pipe-dream (literally really, given that the current army is already awash in opium addicts). The Afghan Army at present numbers 90,000, but it is rife with corruption and, moreover, is largely composed of Tajiks, the dominant ethnic group in northern Afghanistan, who are widely despised by the Pashtun, who are concentrated in the south and east of the country, and other minority groups.  The idea that a Tajik or Tajik-led army could succeed in the south and east, where the Taliban are strongest, is fanciful at best and tragic at worst. Furthermore, most of those in the current military, if they aren’t drug addicts, are either corrupt, or just temporary workers, staying in as long as there is a paycheck and no fighting, but quick to go AWOL when they have enough cash, or when a mission is ordered that involves real fighting.  There is close to no chance that a true national army capable of securing most of the sprawling land of Afghanistan under central government control could be created. As hard as it’s been for the US military occupation force in Iraq to train and field an Iraqi army, at least the US there has been working with a trained officer corps inherited from Saddam Hussein, and with a core of soldiers who had already served, and with new recruits who are literate, and who have a some desire to rebuild a national government.  Afghanistan has none of those things.

And about that July 2011 “deadline” for starting to bring home US troops from Afghanistan. This was nothing but a PR feint for Obama’s liberal supporters-a fig leaf to get them on board his war express.  In fact, by late last week, White House and Pentagon officials were all back-pedaling and explaining that July 2011 was just the date that the first handful of US troops would “start coming home.”  In fact, if that even really does happen, it turns out that under Obama’s new war plan for Afghanistan, US troops will be deep in the swamp of Afghan battle for years after 2011-a clear acknowledgement that the plan for training an Afghan army to take over from the US is also just so much talk.

One can speculate about why Obama is so clearly sabotaging his presidency with this doomed crusade in Afghanistan. Some speculate that he was sandbagged by his generals, and certainly Gen. Stanley McChrystal crossed the line into improper politicking and insubordination to his commander-in-chief when he went public to lobby for the addition of more than 40,000 additional troops. But Obama could have survived that treachery had he wanted to, by playing Harry Truman and sacking McChrystal for insubordination. There are those who say it is all about wanting to build a pipeline for transporting oil to the Indian Ocean and bypassing Russia. But that begs the question of how such a pipeline, if it were built, could ever be kept secure from sabotage, running as it would have to, through both Afghanistan and Pakistan (besides, back in 2001 the US was once negotiating with the Taliban government to get permission for Unocal to build such a line, which would have made some sense if there was no war going on). It could also be that this war is all about providing an argument for ever higher spending on the military at a time when there is really no good justification for it in a nation that already spends more on arms and troops than all the rest of the world combined. But really, the military has demonstrated its ability to keep on winning increased appropriations even when wars are winding down and threat levels are reduced. That, after all, is what the fake “war on terror” has been all about-keeping the American public frightened and willing to keep throwing money at the Pentagon.  No, to me the best argument for this new war campaign may be simply that, like presidents Johnson and Nixon before him, Obama doesn’t want to be tagged as the president who lost a war.

And for that, we can expect to see thousands of young Americans die, and tens or hundreds of thousands of Afghanis die.

To make matters worse, once more Americans start coming home in a parade of flag-draped coffins, the war for Obama, and for whoever succeeds him after his own failed tenure as president, will be self-promoting and effectively permanent.   As we saw in the case of the Indochina War, those dead soldiers and Marines will become a fearsome impediment to any effort to end this longest of wars, and a grisly justification for continuing to send more young people after them to be chewed up and killed. For what president, beginning with Obama, will have the political and personal courage to say that those who died in Afghanistan died in vain?

Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. He is author of Marketplace Medicine: The Rise of the For-Profit Hospital Chains (BantamBooks, 1992), and his latest book “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net

British Inquiry: Blair Conspired with Bush as Early as 2002 to Plot Iraq Invasion

November 25, 2009

By Dave Lindorff, The Public Record,  Nov 24, 2009

Tony Blair at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2009. Photo by Andy Mettler/flickrTony Blair at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2009. Photo by Andy Mettler/flickr

Most Americans are blissfully in the dark about it, but across the Atlantic in the UK, a commission reluctantly established by Prime Minister Gordon Brown under pressure from anti-war activists in Britain is beginning hearings into the actions and statements of British leaders that led to the country’s joining the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Even before testimony began in hearings that started yesterday, news began to leak out from documents obtained by the commission that the government of former PM Tony Blair had lied to Parliament and the public about the country’s involvement in war planning.

Britain’s Telegraph newspaper over the weekend published documents from British military leaders, including a memo from British special forces head Maj. Gen. Graeme Lamb, saying that he had been instructed to begin “working the war up since early 2002.”

This means that Blair, who in July 2002, had assured members of a House of Commons committee that there were “no preparations to invade Iraq,” was lying.

Things are likely to heat up when the commission begins hearing testimony. It has the power, and intends to compel testimony from top government officials, including Blair himself.

While some American newspapers, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, have run an Associated Press report on the new disclosures and on the commission, key news organizations, including the New York Times, have not. The Times ignored the Telegraph report, but a day later ran an article about the British commission that focused entirely on evidence that British military leaders in Iraq felt “slighted” by “arrogant” American military leaders who, the article reported, pushed for aggressive military action against insurgent groups, while British leaders preferred negotiating with them.

While that may be of some historical interest, it hardly compares with the evidence that Blair and the Bush/Cheney administration were secretly conspiring to invade Iraq as early as February and March 2002.

Recall that the Bush/Cheney argument to Congress and the American people for initiating a war against Iraq in the fall of 2002 was that Iraq was allegedly behind the 9-11 attacks and that it posed an “imminent” danger of attack against the US and Britain with its alleged weapons of mass destruction.

Of course, such arguments, which have subsequently been shown to have been bogus, would have had no merit if the planning began a year earlier, and if no such urgency was expressed by the two leaders at that time. Imminent, after all, means imminent, and if Blair, Bush and Cheney had genuinely thought an attack with WMDs was imminent back in the early days of the Bush administration, they would have been acting immediately, not secretly conjuring up a war scheduled for a year later. (The actual invasion began on March 19, 2003).

As I documented in my book, The Case for Impeachment, there is plenty of evidence that Bush and Cheney had a scheme to put the US at war with Iraq even before Bush took office on Jan. 20, 2001. Then Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill in his own tell-all book, The Price of Loyalty, written after he was dumped from the Bush Administration, recounts that at the first meeting of Bush’s new National Security Council, the question of going to war and ousting Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was on the agenda.

Immediately after the 9-11 attacks, NSC anti-terrorism program czar Richard Clarke also recalled Bush ordering him to “find a link” to Iraq. Meanwhile, within days, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was ordering top generals to prepare for an Iraq invasion. Gen. Tommy Franks, who was heading up the military effort in Afghanistan that was reportedly closing in on Osama Bin Laden, found the rug being pulled out from under him as Rumsfeld began shifting troops out of Afghanistan and to Kuwait in preparation for the new war.

It is nothing less than astonishing that so little news of the British investigation into the origins of the illegal Iraq War is being conveyed to Americans by this country’s corporate media—yet another example demonstrating that American journalism is dead or dying.

It is even more astonishing that neither the Congress nor the president here in America is making any similar effort to put America’s leaders in the dock to tell the truth about their machinations in engineering a war that has cost the US over $1 trillion (perhaps $3 trillion eventually when debt payments and the cost of veterans care is added in), and over 4000 lives, not to mention as many as one million innocent Iraqi lives.

Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist. He is author of Killing Time: An Investigation into the Death Penalty Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal (Common Courage Press, 2003) and The Case for Impeachment (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at thiscantbehappening.net

Agent Orange in Vietnam. Ignoring the Crimes Before Our Eyes

October 17, 2009

By Dave Lindorff, Counterpunch, Oct 16 – 19, 2009

On Oct. 13, the New York Times ran a news story headlined “Door Opens to Health Claims Tied to Agent Orange,” which was sure to be good news to many American veterans of the Indochina War. It reported that 38 years after the Pentagon ceased spreading the deadly dioxin-laced herbicide/defoliant over much of South Vietnam, it was acknowledging what veterans have long claimed: in addition to 13 ailments already traced to exposure to the chemical, it was also responsible for three more dread diseases—Parkinson’s, ischemic heart disease and hairy-cell leukemia.

Continues >>

Caught in a Lie: US Uses Phosphorus Weapons in Afghanistan

May 18, 2009

Dave  Lindorff | This Can’t Be Happening, May 18, 2009

When doctors started reporting that some of the victims of the US bombing of several villages in Farah Province last week—an attack that left between 117 and 147 civilians dead, most of them women and children—were turning up with deep, sharp burns on their body that “looked like” they’d been caused by white phosphorus, the US military was quick to deny responsibility.

US officials—who initially denied that the US had even bombed any civilians in Farah despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, including massive craters where houses had once stood—insisted that “no white phosphorus” was used in the attacks on several villages in Farah.

Official military policy on the use of white phosphorus is to only use the high-intensity, self-igniting material as a smoke screen during battles or to illuminate targets, not as a weapon against human beings—even enemy troops.

Now that policy, and the military’s blanket denial that phosphorus was used in Farah, have to be challenged, thanks to a recent report filed from a remote area of Afghanistan by a New York Times reporter.

C.J. Chivers, writing in the May 14 edition of the NY Times, in an article headlined “Korangal Memo: In Bleak Afghan Outpost, Troops Slog On,” wrote of how an embattled US Army unit in the Korangal Valley of Afghanistan, had come under attack following a morning memorial service for one of its members, Pfc. Richard Demeter, who had been killed the day before by a mine.

Chivers wrote:

“After the ceremony, the violence resumed. The soldiers detected a Taliban spotter on a ridge, which was pounded by mortars and then white phosphorus rounds from a 155 millimeter howitzer.

“What did the insurgents do? When the smoldering subsided, they attacked from exactly the same spot, shelling the outpost with 30-millimeter grenades and putting the soldiers on notice that the last display of firepower had little effect. The Americans escalated. An A-10 aircraft made several gun runs, then dropped a 500-pound bomb.”

It is clear from this passage that the military’s use of the phosphorus shells had not been for the officially sanctioned purpose of providing cover. The soldiers had no intention of climbing that hill to attack the spotter on the ridge themselves. They were trying to destroy him with shells and bombs. In fact, the last thing they would have wanted to do was provide the enemy spotter with a smoke cover, which would have helped him escape, and which also would have hidden him from the A-10 ground attack planes which had been called in to make gun runs at his position. Nor was this a case of illuminating the target. The incident, as Chivers reports, took place in broad daylight.

Clearly then, this article demonstrates that it is routine for US soldiers to call in phosphorus rounds to attack enemy soldiers, which is supposed to be against US military policy for this material. Whoever was manning the howitzer had a stock of the weapons on hand, and was ready to fire them.

The US initially flatly denied using white phosphorus weapons in Iraq, when reports first began to come out, including from US troops themselves, that they had been used extensively against insurgents defending the city of Fallujah against US Marines in November 2004. Under mounting pressure, the Pentagon first admitted that it had used the chemical in Fallujah but only “for illumination.” Later, the Pentagon added that it had used phosphorus as a “screen” to hide troops. But finally, in 2005, the Pentagon was forced to admit that it had also used white phosphorus directly as a weapon against enemy Iraqi troops in the assault on Fallujah, a city of 300,000 that still held many civilians.

The same pattern of denial and eventual admission regarding the use of this controversial and deadly weapon by US forces now seems to be repeating itself in Afghanistan.

It is odd that given the controversy over the use of white phosphorus weapons, which result in terrible wounds and eventual death as phosphorus particles burn their way down through flesh to the bone and sometimes straight onward through a body, leaving a charred channel of destruction, the New York Times’ Chivers—or more likely his editors back in New York?—ignored any mention of the issue while reporting on the use of the chemical rounds to attack a lone spotter on the ridge.

Given the current controversy over whether the US used white phosphorus shells or bombs in Falah Province only days before, it is hard to understand why the issue wasn’t mentioned in this particular article. Indeed, in the online version of the story, the word phosphorus is set as a hotlink to an article on the controversy over the battlefield use of phosphorus, indicating that at least someone at the Times has integrity and a good news sense.

As for the US government and the Pentagon, it is clear that they know the weapon is a vicious and controversial one, and that besides causing horrific and painful wounds, it is profoundly dangerous for innocent civilians, particularly when used in town or village settings.

It is bad enough that the US is using this weapon. It is even worse that it is forced to lie about it.

Surely if the goal of US policy is to win the hearts and minds of Afghanistan’s people, it shouldn’t be using a weapon that causes such terrible and indiscriminate wounds. Then again, maybe winning those hearts and minds isn’t really the goal. Maybe, as in the so-called “Pacification Program” applied by US forces in rural South Vietnam, the goal is to terrorize Afghan villagers in Taliban-dominated regions into rejecting the Taliban in their midst.

Requests for answers from the press office at the Pentagon, and at military headquarters in Afghanistan, regarding US policy on the use of white phosphorus, and on the specific use of the shells mentioned in the New York Times article were ignored.

Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. He is author of Marketplace Medicine: The Rise of the For-Profit Hospital Chains (BantamBooks, 1992), and his latest book “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net

America’s Imperial Wars: We Need to See the Horrors

April 11, 2009

By Dave Lindorff | Counterpunch, April 10 – 12, 2009

When I was a 17-year-old kid in my senior year of high school, I didn’t think much about Vietnam. It was 1967, the war was raging, but I didn’t personally know anyone who was over there, Tet hadn’t happened yet. If anything, the excitement of jungle warfare attracted my interest more than anything (I had a .22 cal rifle, and liked to go off in the woods and shoot at things, often, I’ll admit, imagining it was an armed enemy.)

But then I had to do a major project in my humanities program and I chose the Vietnam War. As I started researching this paper, which was supposed to be a multi-media presentation, I ran across a series of photos of civilian victims of American napalm bombing. These victims, often, were women and children—even babies.

The project opened my eyes to something that had never occurred to me: my country’s army was killing civilians. And it wasn’t just killing them. It was killing them, and maiming them, in ways that were almost unimaginable in their horror: napalm, phosphorus, anti-personnel bombs that threw out spinning flechettes that ripped through the flesh like tiny buzz saws. I learned that scientists like what I at the time wanted to become were actually working on projects to make these weapons even more lethal, for example trying to make napalm more sticky so it would burn longer on exposed flesh.

By the time I had finished my project, I had actively joined the anti-war movement, and later that year, when I turned 18 and had to register for the draft, I made the decision that no way was I going to allow myself to participate in that war.

A key reason my—and millions of other Americans’–eyes were opened to what the US was up to in Indochina was that the media at that time, at least by 1967, had begun to show Americans the reality of that war. I didn’t have to look too hard to find the photos of napalm victims, or to read about the true nature of the weapons that our forces were using.

Today, while the internet makes it possible to find similar information about the conflicts in the world in which the US is participating, either as primary combatant or as the chief provider of arms, as in Gaza, one actually has to make a concerted effort to look for them. The corporate media which provide the information that most Americans simply receive passively on the evening news or at breakfast over coffee carefully avoid showing us most of the graphic horror inflicted by our military machine.

We may read the cold fact that the US military, after initial denials, admits that its forces killed not four enemy combatants in an assault on a house in Afghanistan, but rather five civilians—including a man, a female teacher, a 10-year-old girl, a 15-year-old boy and a tiny baby.  But we don’t see pictures of their shattered bodies, no doubt shredded by the high-powered automatic rifles typically used by American forces.

We may read about wedding parties that are bombed by American forces—something that has happened with some frequency in both Iraq and Afghanistan– where the death toll is tallied in dozens, but we are, as a rule, not provided with photos that would likely show bodies torn apart by anti-personnel bombs—a favored weapon for such attacks on groups of supposed enemy “fighters.” (A giveaway that such weapons are being used is a typically high death count with only a few wounded.)

Obviously one reason for this is that the US military no longer gives US journalists, including photo journalists, free reign on the battlefield. Those who travel with troops are under the control of those troops and generally aren’t allowed to photograph the scenes of devastation, and sites of such “mishaps” are generally ruled off limits until the evidence has been cleared away.

But another reason is that the media themselves sanitize their pages and their broadcasts. It isn’t just American dead that we don’t get to see. It’s the civilian dead—at least if our guys do it.  We are not spared gruesome images following attacks on civilians by Iraqi insurgent groups, or by Taliban forces in Afghanistan. But we don’t get the same kind of photos when it’s our forces doing the slaughtering. Because often the photos and video images do exist—taken by foreign reporters who take the risk of going where the US military doesn’t want them.

No wonder that even today, most Americans oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan not because of sympathy with the long-suffering peoples of those two lands, but because of the hardships faced by our own forces, and the financial cost of the two wars.

For some real information on the horror that is being perpetrated on one of the poorest countries in the world by the greatest military power the world has ever known, check out the excellent work by Professor Marc Herold at the University of New Hampshire (http://cursor.org/ and http://www.rawa.org/).

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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