Tag Archives: Responsibility

#StopWhatever

The city of New York has paid $5.9 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Eric Garner, the unarmed black man who was choked to death by New York police on Staten Island and whose dying words, “I can’t breathe,” became an iconic symbol of police brutality. But no cops have been charged and the city hasn’t formally accepted responsibility. Isn’t it absurd to pay for a death for which you refuse to acknowledge responsibility?

SYNDICATED COLUMN: We Have Found the “One Bad Apple” And It Is Us

Excuses Ring Hollow in U.S.-Occupied Afghanistan

Staff Sargeant Robert Bales is the man accused of going on a March 11th shooting spree that left 16 civilians dead in southeastern Afghanistan. As the New York Daily News put it: “The killings sparked protests in Afghanistan, endangered relations between the two countries and threatened to upend American policy over the decade-old war.”

Why the fuss? This is nothing new. Not to the Afghans.

Over the last ten years U.S. forces have been slaughtering Afghan civilians like they were going out of style. There have been countless massacres of supposed “insurgents” or “terrorists.” Who invariably turned out to have been ordinary men, women and children going about their daily routines.

The only difference between the Bales massacre and other acts of bloodshed is that he acted on a freelance basis, minus orders from his commanding officer. Bales’ actions were so similar to the “normal” behavior of U.S. soldiers that Afghan witnesses weren’t surprised.

Atrocities are business as usual. Afghans have learned that their lives are cheap–not to them, but to the young men and women who patrol their streets and man explosives-laden drone planes from the other side of the world.

On July 7th, for example, an airstrike in Khost province killed at least 13 civilians, mostly women and children. On December 19th, U.S. occupation troops and Afghan collaborators conducting a “night raid” on the home of an anti-narcotics official in Paktia province shot and killed his pregnant wife. At least eight children died in a February 9th airstrike in Kapisa province. A helicopter gunship opened fire on a school in Nangahar province on February 22nd, injuring nine girls.

I literally don’t have enough space to provide a complete accounting of recent U.S. atrocities in occupied Afghanistan. Here’s a brief taste: U.S. Special Forces operatives alone admit killing over 1,500 Afghan civilians in night raids alone during 10 months in 2010 and early 2011.

Afghans know the deal.

Americans don’t.

It’s intentional. The U.S. government doesn’t want ordinary American citizens to know how their “heroic” soldiers behave in remote combat zones. America’s cult of militarism, so important to the Congressmen whose careers depend on defense contractor contributors and to the media outlets for whom war means higher ratings, requires a placid, compliant populace lulled into the ridiculous belief that the U.S. military is defending freedom.

Sgt. Bales is a PR problem. His decision to blow away women and children for no reason whatsoever belies the hero-troops narrative. It’s too icky for even a “support our troops”-besotted public to ignore. So Sgt. Bales has become a political football.

Shortly after the suspect turned himself in, the Army spin machine revved up.

“When it all comes out, it will be a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues–he just snapped,” an unnamed “senior government official” told The New York Times. Just one of those things. What can you do?

Pointing to the fact that Bales’ spree took place while he was on his fourth tour of duty, his lawyer is laying the groundwork for a PTSD defense. “We all know what’s going on over there [in Afghanistan], but you don’t really know it until you listen to somebody like him,” John Henry Browne said to reporters. In other words: war makes people nuts. Blame war, not my client.

After incidents like this, one can always count upon the political class to unleash the “one bad apple” chestnut.

“This incident is tragic and shocking, and does not represent the exceptional character of our military and the respect that the United States has for the people of Afghanistan,” President Obama read from a prepared statement. “Obviously what happened this weekend was absolutely tragic and heartbreaking, but when you look at what hundreds of thousands of our military personnel have, have achieved under enormous strain, you can’t help but be proud generally and I think it’s important for us to make sure we are not in Afghanistan longer than we need to be,” he added in a Denver TV interview.

Don’t blame the war, says Obama. Don’t blame the troops. Whether they’re shooting up their high school or their post office, some people go nuts sometimes. Can’t be helped.

Of course, from the Afghan point of view, this is low-grade, elementary-school-level spin.

Afghans don’t wonder whether the former All-American footballer from Norwood, Ohio was driven crazy by combat, was like that all along, or if this is another Jessica Lynch/Pat Tillman Pentagon lie that will wind up as something completely different than what we’re being told now.

Afghans don’t care why.

The way the Afghans see it is straightforward. The U.S. invaded their country. Without just cause. The U.S. has imposed a ruthless and cruel occupation that has left tens of thousands of their countrymen dead or seriously wounded. The U.S. has installed and propped up Hamid Karzai’s corrupt puppet regime in Kabul.

To the Afghans, Sgt. Bales didn’t kill those 16 people in Kandahar province. The U.S. did. Obama did. We did. After all, if we hadn’t invaded and occupied Afghanistan, Bales wouldn’t have been there in the first place.

Reporters are digging up dirt on Sgt. Bales’ marriage and supposed drinking problems in order to distract us from this simple fact.

(Ted Rall’s next book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt,” out May 22. His website is tedrall.com.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: She Killed Afghans and Iraqis. Now She’s a Peace Child.

Susan Collins and the Precautionary Principle

Susan Collins is a U.S. senator. She is a Republican. She represents the people of Maine.

Senator Collins gets a lot of big things very wrong. Lots of people die because of Senator Collins.

She voted for the invasion of Iraq.

She voted for the invasion of Afghanistan.

Lots of people are dead. Because of her.

In 2007, four years into the Iraq War, when at least 100,000 Iraqis had been killed and the hunt for Saddam’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction had been called off, Senator Collins nonetheless voted to extend the war.

She had another chance in 2008. Voted the same way. More deaths followed.

Late last year, one or two million dead civilians later, most U.S. occupation troops finally pulled out of Iraq. Remember the main argument for staying there, that we were fighting “them” over “there” to avoid having to fight them in the streets of American cities? It’s only been a few months, and anything can happen, but no one—not even Republicans like Senator Collins—seems worried about hordes of Iraqi jihadis rampaging through Baltimore. Obviously they were wrong.

The danger was false. Thus the war was unjustified.

What happens to Senator Collins after signing off on the mass murder of more than a million innocent people? Nothing. She’s planning a wedding.

Now she’s backing away from her other war.

“Despite the extraordinary heroism of our troops and the brilliance of our military leaders,” she wrote in a March 13th letter, “one has to wonder whether the corrupt central government [of Hamid Karzai] and with the history of Afghanistan, whether we can truly achieve the goal of a secure country.” The letter called for a speedier withdrawal than President Obama has announced.

Finally. Right about something.

Intelligence is the best wedding present ever!

Too bad it comes a decade late for the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq. Who should, at bare minimum, enjoy the satisfaction of putting Senator Susan Collins (and those like her) on trial for waging wars of aggression and genocide.

Why am I picking on Collins? If there’s anything more appalling than unleashing death upon the innocent, recasting yourself as a “moderate” after your war sours in the polls is a major contender.

Back in 2001, when she cast votes in favor of dropping cluster bombs, full of brightly colored canisters designed to attract and blow up curious Afghan girls and boys, by the thousands and thousands, Senator Collins had a choice.

She could have listened to the experts. People who had been to Afghanistan. People on the Left.

There are two kinds of foreign policy analysts in the U.S. The right-wingers get interviewed and appointed to blue-ribbon presidential committees and are invariably wrong. The lefties, who more often than not turn out to be correct, get ignored.

After 9/11 the Left was against invading Afghanistan. (The Left doesn’t include Democrats, who were so disgustingly eager to be seen as “tough” on terrorism that they willingly went along with a war against a nation that had nothing to do with the attacks.)

No one likes invaders, but leftist analysts pointed out that Afghanistan’s history of slaughtering invading armies was unparalleled. U.S. forces, we warned, would face the usual Afghan reception. First the fighters would vanish into the population or into the mountains. They’d study us. Then they’d start picking us off two or three at a time. It’s what they did to the English (three times) and the Russians (once). We’d win every battle but it wouldn’t matter. They’d bleed us of young men and young women and political will.

Senator Collins could have read our essays and our books. If she did read them, she could have taken heed. She decided not to.

And so many people died.

After the Taliban were driven into the mountains and/or melted into the population, Republicans like Senator Collins thought they’d been vindicated. The Taliban are not really gone, we on the Left said. They’re just waiting. We’d been vindicated. The Right couldn’t see that. They wouldn’t listen.

Then the U.S. installed Hamid Karzai.

Those of us on the Left, who had actually been to Afghanistan and talked to actual Afghans, warned that Karzai had no political base. That his regime was hopelessly corrupt. That he was putting warlords, who ought to have been in prison for crimes they committed during the civil war, into positions of power and influence. That his government was universally despised.

We said that stuff ten years ago. So it’s a little galling to hear warmongers like Susan Collins talk about Karzai’s corruption and Afghanistan’s unique history. As if she were reporting information that came to light recently.

Senator Collins violated the precautionary principle—a precept enshrined in the law of various countries, including in Europe. A politician who proposes an action that might cause harm is obligated to present concrete evidence that it won’t cause harm. If she fails to meet that burden of proof, the proposal is rejected.

In the case of Collins and the other Republican and Democratic legislators, as well as the pundits and journalists who enabled them, all the evidence they needed that the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq would do more harm than good was as close as their computer or nearest bookstore.

Susan Collins ought to cancel the wedding and surrender at The Hague.

Failing that, the least she could do is shut up.

(Ted Rall’s next book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt,” out May 22. His website is tedrall.com.)