SYNDICATED COLUMN: Working for the U.S. Government Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

Harry Truman famously kept a sign on his desk that read: “The buck stops here.” (“Buck” is a disused term for “accountability,” not money.) What Truman’s phrase meant — it says a lot about the state of things that it needs to be explained — was that he, like the captain of a ship, accepted responsibility for everything that happened under his watch.

With Barack Obama, there’s nary a buck to be found. To paraphrase the 1970 movie “Love Story,” working for the United States government means never having to say you’re sorry.

Days before Obama took office in 2009, Obama signaled that federal workers who break the law would have nothing to worry about. During his campaign he’d promised to prosecute the CIA and military personnel who tortured Afghans, Iraqis and other Muslims under orders from Bush and Cheney. People who voted for him expected him to follow through. The CIA torturers were worried sick. Their victims looked forward to seeing justice served.

Breaking his pledge, Obama issued the monsters a “get out of jail free” card. There wouldn’t even be an investigation, much less indictments. “We need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” he said. The new president traveled to Langley to reassure the torturers everything would be cool. (“I will be as vigorous in protecting you as you are vigorous in protecting the American people.”) He even cooperated with the Republicans who approved of torture to pressure other countries not to file charges against U.S. torturers.

After 9/11, Americans asked themselves: why do they (Muslims in general, foreigners in particular) hate us?

No need to ask that one anymore.

One telltale sign that the government is engaged in a cover-up is timing: when it releases a report just before the weekend news blackout, you know something nasty is afoot. Obama’s latest whitewash, dumped online Friday, is the Administration’s attempt to drown its responsibility for one of the most heinous acts of mass murder in years in 3000 pages of spin, dissembling and circular logic.

On October 3rd, an AC-130 fixed-wing gunship — a fearsome array of high-caliber weaponry best described as a hovering battleship — unleashed an hour of hellfire on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan, killing 42 doctors, staffers and patients, and wounding many others. The facility was completely destroyed. MSF (the French acronym for the group) pulled out. There is no longer any high-quality trauma care available in a major city in an active conflict zone.

It is now universally acknowledged that the attack was a mistake.

At the time, however, the Pentagon lied and denied. “Collateral damage,” they first said — they were aiming at something else. For an hour. Over and over. Then they said the Taliban were firing at U.S. forces from inside the hospital. (Never happened.) Next they blamed Afghan forces for calling in the airstrike. (They couldn’t have, and didn’t.) Finally, they admitted it was U.S. Special Forces.

Ultimately the new commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan issued an actual apology on March 22nd. “They hit us six months ago and are apologizing now?” spat Zabiullah Niazi, an OR nurse who lost his eye, one finger and the ability to use his hand, in the attack — and, like the other victims, has yet to receive compensation.

The heavily-redacted 3000-page report issued Friday by the Pentagon “describes a mission that went wrong from start to finish,” according to The New York Times. What stands out is the Americans’ obsession with protecting themselves at all cost, all others be damned — an attitude that has characterized the post-9/11 War of Terror.

“Even after Doctors Without Borders informed American commanders that a gunship was attacking a hospital, the airstrike was not immediately called off because, it appears, the Americans could not confirm themselves that the hospital was actually free of Taliban,” reports the Times. “‘Immediately calling for a cease-fire for a situation we have no SA’ — situational awareness, that is — ‘could put the ground force at risk,’ an American commander [said].” If you’re trying not to hurt innocent people, prudence dictates that you hold fire until your target is positively identified. Here, as usual in U.S. war zones, the default mode was to keep firing no matter what.

This is reckless disregard for human life writ large. So who will be held accountable?

“The punishments for the attack will be ‘administrative actions’ only, and none of those being disciplined will face criminal charges because the attack was determined to be unintentional… The punishments include suspension, removal from command and letters of reprimand, which can seriously damage or end a career.”

Reckless disregard for human life is a war crime. For example, former Rwandan official Clément Kayishema was convicted by an international tribunal for several counts of war crimes related to murder of Hutus in 1994, one of which was his reckless disregard for the possibility that his actions would lead to people’s deaths.

Forty-two people were murdered in Kunduz. So what if it’s just manslaughter or second-degree murder, rather than premeditated first-degree murder? Justice demands prison sentences, not letters added to personnel files.

I’d start with the guy who sits behind Harry Truman’s old desk.

(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “Bernie” is now on sale online and at all good bookstores.)


9 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: Working for the U.S. Government Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

  1. Hey Ted,
    I thought you were better than that, checking facts and all. The AC-130 is a variant on the C-130 transport 4 engine turboprop, not a “helicopter”.

    Keep banging away.


  2. > I’d start with the guy who sits behind Harry Truman’s old desk.

    I’d start with his predecessor, but that’s just me. The Big O is guilty as well.

    Why do so many of our fellow citizens fail to grasp basic facts of human nature? If we do bad unto others, then others feel perfectly justified in doing bad unto us. They don’t care if we think we’re the good guys, they think *they* are the good guys.

    On the day of the Brussels attack, the big city newspaper dedicated half the front page to it. There was at least another full page and a half of analysis, etc, inside. The same day, there was one, single, column inch dedicated to an ME operation of ours which killed even more people. Those other people are going to think that their dead family members are far more important than some Europeans they never met.

    We will never untangle this mess unless and until we understand that every human life is just as valuable as every other human life.

  3. I used to want to fly close air support. I was supposed to be a soldier, but I couldn’t do it for the Deep State, the inept commanders who thought so little of my life and my would be comrades’ let alone the lives of innocents, and an America that long ago ceased to be ours. When was the last time we fought a righteous war?

    • The Sanders Campaign. That was the last righteous war. He still might win it, but after the convention, barring something remarkably unlikely, that will be the end of true liberalism in the United States.

      Sanders came way, way too close. And even with all the rigging, twisting, cheating and media complicity (and complacency), he almost won. The Democratic Machine will never allow that to happen again. Watch for it.

      1. Open primaries/caucuses to be eliminated.
      2. The $12 minimum wage? The “affordable” college tuition? Universal health care? Somehow. Somehow, golly, they just won’t happen. Lose of political impetus or something. But all those things that would genuinely help to level the playing field? Nope. Not on Hillary’s watch.
      3. Invest in prisons. Because you know she’s gonna reward all the black people who voted for her by bringing more of them than ever to heel.

      I’m waiting for the election, then I’m moving to Canada. Or Iceland. Wherever they’ll take me.

  4. This is culturally rather interesting, if sad.

    Individual initiative was supposed to be what differentiated American individualism from communist apparatchiks and Japanese group think. Underdogs holding fast to their own vision over blind loyalty are still a Hollywood staple, at least once they have been vindicated.

    This closing of ranks mentality is the other side of the coin that now even the successful competent contrarians seem to be shunned forever. I’m not talking about whistleblowers or outside Cassandras, rather about Bob Woodward types who, say, were concerned about the Iraq war or called the economic crisis, etc., and do not seem to be re-invited into the establishment anymore.

  5. “So who will be held accountable?”

    The Taliban. Always the Taliban.

    Under US and International Law, anyone killed by the US military is an enemy felon combatant, subject to execution ASAP. The Law is the Law (as Thrasymachus pointed out) and the US, the Greatest Force For Good that has Ever Existed in the Known Universe, can never do anything wrong!

    So those MSF terrorists who were trying to help al-Qaeda and the Taliban in their attacks on the forces of Good got just what they deserved!

    (Of course, some American traitors like Sanders might disagree, but the American voters strongly support Secretary Clinton, since the White House Interns are desperate to get Bill back in the Intern break room, and every decent American wants to see President Clinton remove the evil regimes in Syria, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and China.)

  6. It should be worth noting that, “the buck stops here” sign notwithstanding, old Harry incinerated a couple of hundred thousand Japanese civilians for no reason other than to scare Stalin.

    • That was only part of the agenda … “they” also needed to know precisely how a civilian population would be affected by the catastrophic release of atomic energy, and them pagan godless japs were the perfect target for that particular era of racist warmongering.