"What you are seeing is the latest of any number of indicators over the last few months that the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan is in total collapse." - Robert Greenwald and Derrick Crowe, In Afghanistan, the Dam BreaksTruthout.org 03/16/2012
The Kandahar massacre last weekend may become that proverbial straw that broke the camel's back on American participation in the Afghanistan War, though "straw" is hardly an adequate metaphor for a shooting rampage that killed 16 men, women and children and wounded more.
A visit by the incoming colonel here, normally a tightly controlled, canned event, quickly went off script.
"Have you heard what they did in Panjwai? The Americans, they killed a lot of people," an elderly Afghan said to Col. Brian Mennes, who was touring the village.
Mennes, who is taking over a violent swath of Kandahar province, strayed from the talking points put out to troops by Regional Command - South in the wake of a grisly shooting rampage by an American soldier in Panjwai district that left 16 villagers dead.
"It’s terrible, it’s a crime against humanity," he said. "I think God will sort him out. It’s an abomination, an atrocity." [my emphasis]
And those "tightly controlled, canned" shows were the Pentagon's PR spin for the American home front. The reality involved much uglier things than those PR events.
The Kandahar massacre may have been the work of one soldier, if the Pentagon is telling the truth in this case, which is the kind of case they routinely lie about. But it's the kind of war the Pentagon wages now. The main thing they learned from the Vietnam War was new propaganda techniques to lie to the American public about what they were doing.
The fact that such massacres are inevitably a part of the Pentagon's way of war does not for a second excuse the immediate perpetrators in any way. Soldiers who wantonly murder civilians don't need bloggers to make excuses for them. The Pentagon brass is willing and eager to do that all on their own.
One of the most rotten things about our current political culture in the US is the way our politicians tip-toe around criticizing the Pentagon's role in even the worse abuses, like the torture programs in the Bush Gulag that almost certainly is continuing in Obama's "black site" prisons in places like Bagram, or the recent Kandahar massacre this past weekend. Sen. William Fulbright of Arkansas wrote books while he was a sitting Senator with titles like The Arrogance of Power and The Pentagon Propaganda Machine, heavily based on the hearings he held and investigations conducted by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he chaired. And he was willing to criticize his own Democratic President Johnson as well as Republican President Nixon.
Can you imagine a sitting Democratic Senator today publishing a book with a title such as The Pentagon Propaganda Machine? They would wet themselves at the thought.
I'm genuinely concerned about the consequence for other American soldiers from the Kandahar massacre: Christian Hill, JBLM soldiers worry about attack’s falloutTacoma News Tribune 03/13/12. But I'm also sick of the excuses, from the politicians, from the generals, from soldiers. Did none of the perpetrators superiors or fellow soldiers notice that his disciple was slipping? Did he voice no murderous fantasies before he went on his killing "spree", as the mainstream press likes to call it, as though it were a shopping spree? Did no one notice problems he was having from his brain injury that some cowardly anonymous "U.S. official" told McClatchy that the suspect had incurred in Iraq? Did no one on the base notice him getting up in the middle of the night, suiting up with his weapons and going out for a little stroll on his own? Or do they all just snooze at night in the base with no sentries or controls on who comes in or goes out?
It's impossible for me to believe that nobody noticed any danger signs, though we'll never hear about them if the Pentagon PR managers have their way. Hey, those of you who thought he was just a good old boy when he fantasizing about murdering him some brown people or whatever signs he was giving: there's a good chance you or someone else on your base or some other Americans are going to die from retaliatory attacks because you decided you would pretend not to notice. If you don't care about your own lives, you might give a thought to your wives and children and family members back home, even if you don't care about how many locals he might go out and murder in the middle of the night.
This pre-Kandahar massacre piece by Neil Shea, Afghanistan: A Gathering MenaceAmerican Scholar Spring 2012 gives a glimpse at some of the dynamics at work, with soldiers adopting a casual attitude about their duty in the most serious circumstances, with officers looking the other way, and an irresponsible journalists more concerned about telling a story about what an intrepid war correspondent he is than about preventing some other massacre from happening.
Hill's report is based on interviews at the home base of the unit of whom at least one member perpetrated the Kandahar massacre of at least 16 noncombatant civilians.
Local soldiers shared the worries of U.S. officials that the massacre would lead to a repeat of the violence and unrest that followed last month’s burning of Qurans at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan.
Soldiers also agreed that the massacre sheds more negative light on Lewis-McChord, the largest military installation on the West Coast with about 40,00 active-duty soldiers and airmen. The installation gained notoriety for more than a year during the investigation and prosecution of soldiers from another combat brigadewho killed Afghan civilians for sport. There’s also been high-profile crimes committed locally by former or current Lewis-McChord soldiers.
But immediately following that paragraph, Hill's story quotes a supporter of the massacre making a typical excuse:
Sgt. Justin Bishop, 24, another Lewis-McChord soldier heading to Afghanistan, said the vast majority of its soldiers serve honorably and their contributions are undone by a few who "go out of their way and ruin it for the rest of us."
Yes, I said supporter of the massacre. If soldiers from your base are responsible for more than one massacre of civilians, and are known for an unusual amount of violence once they return home, then why should we believe you, Sgt. Bishop, if you apparently can't say straightforwardly to a reporter that the massacre was wrong and despicable, period, full stop? What are you telling the soldiers under your command: if you decide to murder some Afghan kid for the heck of it, don't ruin it for the rest of us by getting caught, okay?
Specialist Andrew Baker, who is hopefully not under the command of massacre-support Bishop, seems to have a father who talks good sense:
Spc. Andrew Baker, 20, said he talked with his father, a senior enlisted soldier stationed in Georgia, after his father asked about all the problems at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Baker believed combat stress was a factor in Sunday’s attacks – the soldier reportedly served three prior tours in Iraq – and he wondered why warning signs were missed. CNN reported Monday that the soldier suspected in the attack was a sniper who was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury in 2010.
“It could have been avoided, and it should have been avoided,” Baker said.
If Sgt. Bishop condemned the killing at all, his condemnation didn't make it into the story. And there's obviously at least one other soldier on the base who could straightforwardly say it was wrong. If we're going to "honor our soldiers," let's honor the ones that exhibit honor, not ones who condone the deliberate massacre of civilians.