Saturday, May 29, 2010

Killing Afghan Civilians in Nevada

OK, that's a misleading title, I admit. The killing of 23 Afghan civilians was done in Afghanistan, of course, when they were rocketed from a helicopter in February this year. Yet a key role in the identifying of the target, three vehicles driving along some dusty road not near any American troops, was done by some drone operators sitting in a facility in Nevada; they watched the three cars for three hours before directing the attack.

Once the extent of the mistake became clear there was a serious investigation, and four American officers were reprimanded. The whole story is summed up in the New York Times, here. I recommend reading it.

As I never tire of saying, I'm in favor of the American war in Afghanistan. It's a just war, being waged mostly with just means, and when mistakes are inevitably made, the Americans seem to be doing their best to learn from them and not repeat them. Still, reading the report does raise a number of points.

1. The deaths of 23 Afghan civilians is truly tragic. No ifs and buts.

2. It is now commonplace for deaths in combat zones to be the result of actions taken by well-fed, well-clothed professionals sitting in air-conditioned facilities literally half way around the world from the events. These professionals have probably never heard shots fired in anger, if they've heard shots fired at all; they are in no personal danger at any time, cannot plead to have operated under the stress of battle conditions nor emotional turmoil caused by, say, violence threatening their families. Nor do they have any personal experience of the land they're attacking: it's appearance, smells and sounds, nor, bizarre as it ought to sound but probably no longer does, any personal encounters with any of the people of the nation their actions are impacting upon.

3. The investigation seems to have been done entirely by military investigatory outfits. No so-called "independent investigations" were involved.

4. The identity of the investigators and their institutional proximity to the targets of the investigation raise no eyebrows. No-one is demanding that civilians investigate the military, and no-one's dreaming of bring in the United Nations, or any other international outfit.

5. No-one assumes that if civilians died, it must be that civilians were intended to die.

6. All of this in spite of the fact that the killings apparently took place in a sparsely populated rural area, and even according to the report, there were indications that not all was well, and that women and children might have been present, even before the attack; the attack happened some seven miles from the nearest American ground forces, if I'm reading the story correctly.

One of the reasons I read the entire 575-page Goldstone report, as well as many other shorter documents, was to understand how Israel's enemies operate. The modes of thought and speech they routinely use against Israel are totally lacking in this report: not surprising, of course, but important to keep in mind. There are various wars going on these days, but Israel is judged by uniquely harsh and negative standards.


Anonymous said...

there was an incident in which 142 Afghans around Kundus presumably mostly civilians were killed due to a command by a German officer.

There is a parliamentary investigation going on. I remember hearing 3 things about it, the officer seems to have behaved OK, the Defense Minister may have been falsely informed or not after the incident and the soldiers want their rules of engagement changed or got them already changed.

The most prominent of the 3 points in the media seems to me to be the middle one, i.e. the opposition seeing a chance to embarrass the government, the first and the last of the themes discussed I probably only know about because I regularly listen to a radio special for soldiers.

last but not least nobody has asked for an independent checking up or supervising or whatever else. Who else outside of Germany has heard about the thing at all? Compare that to Israel!!!!

Anonymous said...

The UN isn't exactly 'demanding' an end to the CIA drone strikes either, merely 'asking'

I'd like to see a thorough comparison between the American and the Israeli targeted strikes. And of the media converage surrounding them.

4infidels said...

It is makes you wonder about the moral compass of the Obama administration. Obama loudly bragged early and often in his Presidency that the U.S. no longer tortures, investigated interrogation methods used by the CIA and publicly disclosed those methods to the whole world, regardless of the effect on American national security.

The administration is willing to take the chance of killing noncombatants if there is the possibility of eliminating an anti-American terrorist. However, he chastises the U.S. for having waterboarded the man who admitted planning the Sept. 11 attacks and decapitating Daniel Pearl, even though the Bush administration did so in order to prevent future American casualties.

I am not suggesting that the U.S. should make a habit of torturing prisoners or that strikes against an enemy during war should be called off just because there is a potential for noncombatants being killed. What I am saying is that there is little logic or consistency to what the U.S. or "international community" considers acceptable during war. And regardless of the rules, they will always be changed, distorted or enforced in a one-sided fashion when Israel is involved.

RK said...

No-one is demanding that civilians investigate the military, and no-one's dreaming of bring in the United Nations, or any other international outfit.

Sure about that? Plenty of lefties want the U.N. or the F.B.I. to investigate mishaps in Afghanistan, and I suspect it's only a matter of time before there are similar calls for this incident.

RK said...

Silke, I remember that -- General McChrystal was on CNN sometime last year talking about it. It's not like it went underreported outside of Germany, either. To quote Dr. Strangelove, my source was the New York Times. The political fallout was also discussed on popular American blogs. Whatever the truth is, it's a terrible tragedy.

I admit I had missed the report from the Afghanistan Rights Monitor that found that 60–70 non-combatants were killed in the attack, based on interviews with local residents. Hmm, smells like Human Rights Watch.

Barry Meislin said...

My sense is that they will not attack America or NATO (or allied) actions in Afghanistan (or other places) because they sense that the current US administration is with them (i.e., an ally) regarding the need to dismantle Israel, and they dare not alienate the enabler of a once-in-a-blue-moon opportunity.

Of course they are wrong: the Obama administration is not one that can be alienated on the subject of dismantling Israel.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry I miswrote, I'll try again:

how much reporting is there on the goings-on of the parliamentary inquiry?
(Google suggested to me almost none)
which is not amazing because judging by German media the most interesting stuff by now is whether the minister lied or was lied to by his subordinates. The civilians killed don't seem to interest any longer while you may be sure that any Israeli mishaps with a lot less loss of life will always be remembered and not only mentioned but told in an implying use of words.

I came new to the business of news addict with the last Lebanon war and I still can't quite believe of how warped our BBC-status-equivalent media go after it always in the guise of "helping Israel to be good" singling it out with gusto disproportianally.


Anonymous said...

once more:

Below is the best information I know of because its geared at soldiers on the investigation whether there should be a trial on Oberst Klein who ordered the attack (it should not) - sorry it is German - The radio piece is from April 24 - have there been any calls for an independent international inquiry? UN, HRW, AI?

- note that in the piece it says about the acquittal "as was expected" (wie allgemein erwartet worden war) - can you imagine the howl if Israel would have said that about an acquittal of a soldier in a non-judgmental way?

RK said...

Silke, You're right, I haven't heard much about the results of the parliamentary inquiry. But if I'm reading you correctly, isn't that even more unfair to the soldiers? At the time, the Germans were widely blamed for being the most incompetent of the NATO forces and undermining the push to reduce civilian casualties, and the embedded reporter from the Washington Post essentially laid the fault at the door of the soldier who called in the strike. Now it seems he was exonerated, but the miasma still remains.

Rabbi Tony Jutner said...

The Hague is building large prisons to accomodate the inflow of US and aparheid zionist war criminals. I look forward to seeing Judge Goldstone condemn Petraeus and Gates as well as Ashkenazi and and Barak

Anonymous said...

ahhh, fairness to soldiers, that is a totally different and really dismal story again - they get it from all sides (Nato-partners, German civilians, government you name it)

- they are sent there with the most ridiculous rules of engagement and safety regulations (most infamous TÜV which stands for a check-up vehicles have to pass regularly and if that didn't happen on time due to whatever in Kundus they weren't allowed to use them with all that that entailed). All that makes them look like cowards and clowns to the other forces there - from what I hear via word of mouth they mind very much having to perform in a war that may not be called a war with all that that entails for what they are allowed to do and for what they may be held responsible.

but the open point remains could an Israeli news item upon acquitting a soldier have gotten away with "as was generally expected". ... and there my bet is on "no way".