Dear New York Times: When Eight Children (Not Men) Get Executed by Foreign Forces, “Karzai vs. U.S.” Is Not the Story

Posted: January 4, 2010 in Uncategorized
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Alissa J. Rubin’s and Abdul Waheed Wafa’s story on the reported execution of eight Afghan boys demonstrates journalistic incompetence or intentional propaganda tactics in the lede:

KABUL, Afghanistan — The killing of at least nine men in a remote valley of eastern Afghanistan by a joint operation of Afghan and American forces put President Hamid Karzai and senior NATO officials at odds on Monday over whether those killed had been civilians or Taliban insurgents.

First of all, these were not “men.” They were boys. The youngest was 11, and the oldest was 17, all of which would be considered children were they not scary brown people in a country we’re bombing.

The military often dismisses this distinction with such euphemisms as, “They’re fighting-age.”

But get this through your stenographic skulls, corporate press: even if these kids were uniformed members of some local militia wearing bandoleers of grenades and toting bazookas, the correct term would be child soldiers.

But, of course, child soldiers is a term that evokes sympathy and tragedy, while “men” of “fighting age” evokes threat and violence.

Rubin and Wafa use the word “men” four times, at least once as a statement of fact without attributing the characterization to anyone. By contrast, the term “schoolboys” is used only once, and then portrayed it only as Karzai’s characterization of the dead.

But the larger issue here is the total deflection of the actual story in the lede. This is not a story about a spat between Karzai and NATO. This is a story about allegations of execution-style killings carried out by coalition forces. For comparison, see the Times UK story on the same incident:

American-led troops were accused yesterday of dragging innocent children from their beds and shooting them during a night raid that left ten people dead.

That accusation is the story, and is far more relevant to the crisis in Afghanistan than The New York Times’ amateurish “he-said-she-said” narrative.

For a much more detailed comparison of the two stories, see this post by Dave Lindorff which brought this to my attention.

To learn more about civilian deaths in the war in Afghanistan, watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part 4): Civilian Casualties.

Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. The views expressed are his own. Visit to send your loved ones a video that matches your concerns about the war in Afghanistan.


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