Whose Hands? Whose Blood? Killing Civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq
by Tom Engelhardt, August 05,2010
Consider the following statement offered by Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a news conference last week. He was discussing Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks as well as the person who has taken responsibility for the vast, still ongoing Afghan War document dump at that site. “Mr. Assange,” Mullen commented, “can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing, but the truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family.”
Now, if you were the proverbial fair-minded visitor from Mars (who in school civics texts of my childhood always seemed to land on Main Street, U.S.A., to survey the wonders of our American system), you might be a bit taken aback by Mullen’s statement. After all, one of the revelations in the trove of leaked documents Assange put online had to do with how much blood from innocent Afghan civilians was already on American hands.
Admittedly, the events recorded in the Wikileaks archive took place between 2004 and the end of 2009, and so don’t cover the last six months of the Obama administration’s across-the-board surge in Afghanistan. Then again, Admiral Mullen became chairman of the Joint Chiefs in October 2007, and so has been at the helm of the American war machine for more than two of the years in question.
He was, for example, chairman in July 2008, when an American plane or planes took out an Afghan bridal party — 70 to 90 strong and made up mostly of women — on a road near the Pakistani border. They were “escorting the bride to meet her groom as local tradition dictates.” The bride, whose name we don’t know, died, as did at least 27 other members of the party, including children. Mullen was similarly chairman in August 2008 when a memorial service for a tribal leader in the village of Azizabad in Afghanistan’s Herat Province was hit by repeated U.S. air strikes that killed at least 90 civilians, including perhaps 15 women and up to 60 children. Among the dead were 76 members of one extended family, headed by Reza Khan, a “wealthy businessman with construction and security contracts with the nearby American base at Shindand airport.”
Mullen was still chairman in April 2009 when members of the family of Awal Khan, an Afghan army artillery commander on duty elsewhere, were killed in a U.S.-led raid in Khost province in eastern Afghanistan. Among them were his “schoolteacher wife, a 17-year-old daughter named Nadia, a 15-year-old son, Aimal, and his brother, employed by a government department.” Another daughter was wounded and the pregnant wife of Khan’s cousin was shot five times in the abdomen.
Mullen remained chairman when, in November 2009, two relatives of Majidullah Qarar, the spokesman for the Minister of Agriculture, were shot down in cold blood in Ghazni City in a Special Operations night raid; as he was — and here we move beyond the Wikileaks time frame — when, in February 2010, U.S. Special Forces troops in helicopters struck a convoy of mini-buses, killing up to 27 civilians, including women and children; as he also was when, in that same month, in a special operations night raid, two pregnant women and a teenage girl, as well as a police officer and his brother, were shot to death in their home in a village near Gardez, the capital of Paktia province. After which, the soldiers reportedly dug the bullets out of the bodies, washed the wounds with alcohol, and tried to cover the incident up. He was no less chairman late last month when residents of a small town in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan claimed that a NATO missile attack had killed 52 civilians, an incident that, like just about every other one mentioned above and so many more, was initially denied by U.S. and NATO spokespeople and is now being “investigated.”
And if blowback comes to the United States, and the first suicide drones arrive, everyone will be deeply puzzled and angered, but one thing is certain, we will not consider any damage done to our society “collateral” damage.