A war that guarantees atrocities

March 14, 2012

The only way to stop more killings of innocent Afghans is to end the occupation.

THE MASSACRE of 16 unarmed Afghan civilians in the middle of the night by a U.S. Army soldier was a chilling confirmation of the sheer brutality of the U.S. war on Afghanistan, now more than 10 years old.

This latest nightmare for the Afghan people shows the barbarism that the U.S. war machine is capable of inflicting--whether through the actions of a single heavily armed soldier or the Pentagon's more "clinical" methods, like missiles dropped from unmanned drones.

Barack Obama immediately offered regrets for the latest atrocity, claiming, "The United States takes this as seriously as if this was our own citizens and our own children who were murdered...It's not who we are as a country, and it does not represent our military."

But if the people of Afghanistan have learned anything from the decade-long U.S. war, it is that massacres and mayhem exactly represent the U.S. military.

Claims that the U.S. war and occupation would free Afghans from political tyranny, liberate women and reconstruct the country were proven hollow long ago. The latest massacre is yet more proof that the U.S. war has been an unmitigated disaster for ordinary Afghans--because the war was never about helping them, but about securing U.S. imperial interests in the region.

Survivors mourn the deaths of civilians following the massacre in Kandahar
Survivors mourn the deaths of civilians following the massacre in Kandahar

The killings in Southern Afghanistan are an atrocity caused by imperialism--and the only way to end such violence is to end the U.S. occupation.

ACCORDING TO reports, on the night of March 11, an unnamed 38-year-old U.S. army staff sergeant from the 3rd Stryker Brigade left Camp Belambay in the Panjwai district, about 20 miles west of the city of Kandahar.

The soldier walked a mile south to the village of Balandi, where he entered a house. Neighbors heard screams, shots and an explosion as the soldier hunted down the women and children, shooting and stabbing them before setting some of the bodies on fire. The soldier reportedly then circled back to the north to another village, where he attacked two more homes. Finally returning to the base, he apparently turned himself in.

In all, 16 unarmed civilians--nine of them children--were murdered, and several others were injured.

Mainstream media reports asked in shocked tones how such a horrific crime could be committed by a U.S. soldier--and suggested that the staff sergeant must have suffered a mental breakdown. Although details are scarce, the soldier is believed to be an 11-year war veteran, with three tours in Iraq before his current one in Afghanistan. One report suggests he may have suffered a traumatic brain injury on his last tour in Iraq.

"No Taliban were here. No gun battle was going on," one local woman, a relative of several of the victims, told MSNBC. "We don't know why this foreign soldier came and killed our innocent family members. Either he was drunk, or he was enjoying killing civilians."

But whatever drove the staff sergeant, the media are wrong to portray his crimes as an isolated act. Similar war crimes and massacres have been a feature of the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq throughout the past decade.

In 2009, for example, a group of 12 U.S. soldiers from the 5th Stryker Brigade reportedly took part in the "sport killing" of three Afghan civilians or aided in the cover-up. Only four of the 12 were convicted of any crime. At his court martial, Army Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, the highest-ranking defendant, described cutting fingers off corpses and yanking out a victim's tooth to keep as war trophies, "like keeping the antlers off a deer you'd shoot."

This is the reality of war--the total dehumanization of Afghans in the eyes of their supposed "liberators."

In early 2010, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the general formerly in charge of Afghan military operations, gave an uncharacteristically candid assessment of the occupation:

We've shot an amazing number of people and killed a number, and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force...To my knowledge, in the nine-plus months I've been here, not a single case where we have engaged in an escalation of force incident and hurt someone has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it and, in many cases, had families in it.

THIS LATEST horror comes on the heels of other incidents that exposed the racist and callous attitude of U.S. troops. Last month, the burning of several Korans by American military personnel sparked furious protests across Afghanistan, leading to a surge in deaths among U.S. and NATO soldiers. In January, a video was released showing U.S. Marines urinating on the corpses of several Afghans.

Hatred of the U.S. and its occupying forces has reached a new pitch, and for good reason. Yet to listen to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the U.S. is actually the victim. "We've been through a series of challenging events over these last few weeks in Afghanistan," Panetta said following the massacre. "We seem to get tested almost every other day."

But it is the Afghan people who have been "tested"--every single day for the past 10 years--by bombings, raids and continued brutality from the U.S. military, not to mention repression and corruption from a central state put in power by the occupiers.

Currently, there are 91,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The Obama administration plans to reduce that number to 68,000 by the end of the year, on the way to a proposed withdrawal of troops by 2014.

But even once the war is "over," it won't be at an end. U.S. leaders intend for their military presence in Afghanistan to continue for many years, as an important imperial foothold in a crucial region.

It's no wonder, then, that, while condemning the massacre, Obama also cautioned against the U.S. "rush[ing] for the exits." The killings, he said, show "the importance of us transitioning in accordance with my plan so that Afghans are taking more of the lead for their own security, and we can start getting our troops home."

Such logic turns reality on its head.

From the start 10 years ago, leaders of both the Republicans and Democrats have talked about Afghanistan as the "good war"--one that would liberate the Afghan people from the brutality of the Taliban. Instead, the U.S. itself has waged a brutal onslaught in which civilians have been slaughtered and human rights trampled. Meanwhile, the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai, installed in power by the U.S., presides over a thoroughly corrupt regime where basic human rights, including the treatment of women, has not improved.

Obama's hypocrisy is obvious. The Nobel Peace Prize president may condemn this massacre, but he apparently believes that dropping bombs on unarmed civilians with unmanned drones--standard practice for the U.S. military, and far more deadly in its consequences--is somehow better than shooting them point blank.

Meanwhile, the U.S. war machine continues to take a toll on its own soldiers, who face successive lengthy deployments and untreated physical and mental health problems.

Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, reportedly the home base for the soldier who committed this most recent massacre, was declared by Stars and Stripes to be "the most troubled" in the entire military in 2010. Last year, 12 soldiers at Fort Lewis committed suicide--a record number. And the soldiers convicted in the 2009 killing of three Afghan civilians for "sport" were also based out of Fort Lewis.

According to Jorge Gonzalez, executive director of G.I. Voice, which runs the Coffee Strong resource center for soldiers near Fort Lewis, the base:

has produced a Kill Team, suicide epidemic, denials of PTSD treatment, denials of human rights in the brig, spousal abuse and a waterboarded daughter, murders of civilians (including a park ranger), increased sex crimes, substance abuse, DUIs, police shootings of GIs, police violence toward protesters, differential treatment of GIs, and much more. These abuses are not because of a few bad apples, but because of the base's systematic dehumanization of soldiers and civilians, both in occupied countries and at home.

THE ONLY way to stop more massacres from occurring is to stop the war.

The administration may claim that it is on a path to ending the war, but there is no such thing as a "responsible" timeline for troop withdrawal. Each day that U.S. soldiers remain in Afghanistan is one more day that the Afghan people are unable to determine the course of their own country.

Here at home, the best way to support the Afghan people is to oppose the war--by building opposition to U.S. wars and occupations and protesting at events like this May's NATO summit in Chicago. With Obama's record on the Afghanistan war clear, no one should buy the hype that the Democrats deserve the "antiwar" vote. "Troops out now" should remain our call.

As veteran antiwar activist and author Tariq Ali explained:

In most colonial wars, people are arrested, tortured at random and killed. Not even a façade of legality is considered necessary. The "lone" American gunman who butchered innocents in Afghanistan in the early hours of Sunday morning was far from being an exception. For this is not the act of a deranged maniac, killing schoolchildren in an American city. The "lone" killer is a sergeant in the U.S. army. He's not the first and won't be the last to kill like this...

It's hardly a secret that most Afghans are opposed to the occupation of their country. Occupying soldiers are well aware of the fact. The "enemy" is not hidden. It is the public. So wiping out women and children is part of the war. Helicopter gunships, bomber jets and drones are more effective killers than "lone" gunmen.

So what is to be done? Get out now. These wars that dehumanize the "enemy" also dehumanize the citizens of warmongering nations.

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