Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’

Exclusive, on-the-ground interviews obtained by Brave New Foundation’s Rethink Afghanistan project confirm what NATO forces repeatedly denied: U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan killed dozens of people in the Sangin District of Helmand Province on July 23.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s office first acknowledged the incident when they condemned the killings on July 26. At that time, the Afghan National Directorate of Security claimed that the American-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) killed “52 civilians…including women and children” in a “rocket attack.” (The Kabul government later revised that tally to 39.) By Sunday, August 1, there were protests in the streets of Kabul.

ISAF immediately attacked the credibility of the Afghan government’s report, complaining bitterly of Karzai’s decision to condemn the incident without conferring with U.S. and allied forces.

Working with our team in Afghanistan led by Anita Sreedhar, Brave New Foundation‘s Rethink Afghanistan campaign sent an intrepid local blogger into Sangin–one of Afghanistan’s most volatile areas–to get the truth. The video interviews he obtained are incredible and horrifying. We made the full interview transcripts available online at http://rethinkafghanistan.com, and we encourage you to read them. Here’s the short version: Every survivor our interviewer talked to confirmed that a massive civilian casualty event occurred, and that NATO was responsible.

NATO vs. the Kabul Government

ISAF began their push-back against press accounts of the Sangin incident with a simple press release on July 24: “We have no operational reporting that correlates to this alleged incident.” No further press release available on the ISAF website expands or updates this statement. However, ISAF personnel soon ratcheted up their attacks on the Afghan government’s narrative and, in the process, circulated alternative (and often contradictory) official responses, tallies and accounts of the event.

Quoted in a July 27 New York Times article, Rear Adm. Gregory Smith (whom you might remember from that embarrassing and horrific event in Gardez earlier this year) escalated ISAF’s push-back by claiming Karzai’s office’s account was premature and speculative.

“Any speculation at this point of an alleged civilian casualty in Rigi village is completely unfounded…We are conducting a thorough joint investigation with our Afghan partners and will report any and all findings when known.”

On August 5, ISAF spokespeople still claimed to lack information on the outcome of this promised “joint investigation.” However, that didn’t stop other ISAF officials from offering “speculations” of their own. Brigadier General Josef Blotz, for example, claimed that Afghan and coalition forces examined images of the scene and interviewed witnesses but found “no substance in terms of proof or evidence” to support Karzai’s claim. He did, however, concede that "one to three civilians may have been inadvertently killed.”

Later, again on August 5, while ISAF provided quotes from named sources for attribution that denied knowledge of the outcome of the investigation, an unnamed “senior intelligence official” told The New York Times that six civilians died with eight Taliban fighters when a troop fired a Javelin rocket into a structure from which U.S. Marines took fire.

When asked to explain the discrepancy between his tally and that of the Afghan government, the unnamed official cited “political challenges,” as if “political challenges” account for a 33-person difference in the death tallies. This explanation reminds one of the Gardez massacre earlier this year, when ISAF tried to pass off its blatant lie about an American special forces team finding women “bound, gagged and executed” as a “cultural misunderstanding,” when in fact they’d killed the women themselves and tried to dig the bullets out while one of them was still alive, screaming in pain. In effect, this unnamed source accused Afghan locals and officials of lying about civilian deaths because of hard feelings between them and the coalition.

What is going on here? One explanation might be that ISAF engaged in the same type of damage control campaign utilized in other horrifying incidents like the Farah airstrike and the Gardez massacre. In both cases, ISAF initially denied wrongdoing, aggressively attacked the credibility of alternative accounts that disputed the official story, and claimed that the evidence was either neutral or exculpatory. Only when new information made it impossible to deny responsibility did ISAF admit its guilt in both cases. Perhaps we’re seeing a repeat of that behavior here.

Regardless of the source and possible motivation for all this contradicting information and blatant disinformation, what is clear, based on interviews obtained by our team on the ground in Sangin, is that ISAF troops killed dozens of civilians on July 23.

What We Found

52 people were killed! We don’t know how many children or women! …The rest of my family is scattered and lost I don’t know where they are. …My mind doesn’t work okay. … My daughter’s in laws were sitting in our house with their other children when the bombing started I saw them get killed with my own eyes!

–Mahmoud Jan Kaka

I saw a child on the floor was injured. I thought he was the only injured one so I took him to the clinic. When I came back my nephew told me that there were more injured people. I tried to pull my daughter from the rubble but I couldn’t. I heard her calling for help but I couldn’t reach her.

–Abdul Zahar

In all of my experiences not the Russians or the Taliban ever did what they (N.A.T.O.) did. …I wanted to go to the government post and tell them to kill the rest of us too as we have nothing to live for anymore!

…In the morning we see bodies with heads, blood and guts everywhere, arms here and legs there. All of my loved ones who were still alive were soaked in blood. We tried to go and identify the bodies; everyone was looking for there missing relatives. There was so much sorrow and pain from those people who were lost in shock.

–Unnamed Sangin Resident 1

See the full transcripts.

The most important takeaway from these interviews, aside from the universal attribution of blame to NATO, is that there is absolutely no way that the civilian death toll is in the single digits. One person described losing eight family members; another said he lost nine loved ones; still another lost 11. One of the men, Abdul Barg, insisted that, “the number of martyred were no less than 35 up to 50.” He also related that “every family in the village was placing at least a couple of their loved ones in a bag.”

These video interviews prove what NATO wants to deny. As you watch the footage of these Afghan men and hear their voices crack, it becomes sickeningly clear. U.S. and allied forces killed dozens of Afghan civilians in Sangin.

This incident is more than a moral outrage: it shows why the Afghanistan War undermines our safety. Thanks to the work of the National Bureau of Economic Research, we know that, statistically speaking, every time an incident like this happens, we can expect an additional six attacks on coalition forces. But we don’t have to generalize from this incident to see the threat when the specifics spell it out so clearly:

More than 200 people demonstrated over the July 23 incident in the Sangin district of Helmand province… The protesters shouted "Death to America" and carried banners calling for justice and pictures of children they say were killed in the strike…

This is what our elected officials need to understand: when we debate the war in Afghanistan, it’s not an academic exercise. It’s a string of specific incidents like Sangin, concrete moral outrages that pay us back with increased strategic risk.

Our reaction to Sangin and the other similar catastrophes defines us. That’s why when I go into a voting booth this November, or I get a solicitation for a political donation or a request to volunteer for a federal candidate, I’m going ask, “How did this person respond when he or she heard that we slaughtered the heart of a village? Did this person explain it away? Did they continue to support a policy that ensured more Sangins all across Afghanistan? Or did they finally catch themselves, finally realize that this war ensures the slow death of more children under rubble while parents claw at the pile?” These are the questions I’ll ask myself before I punch the touch-screen at the local library, and if the opinion polls are any indication, I’ll be far, far from alone.

I encourage all of you to visit http://rethinkafghanistan.com to send a note to your elected officials and let them know you’ll be watching what they do in response to this disaster, and that you’ll remember it when you vote in November.

The New York Times again referenced the utility of drone strikes in Pakistan when they “avoid civilian casualties” while failing to mention that the overwhelming majority of people killed by U.S. drones in that country are civilians. Again, from a piece by Salman Masood with Pir Zubair Shah contributing:

Publicly, Pakistani officials have been critical of the drone strikes, calling them a breach of the country’s sovereignty. But privately, Pakistani officials acknowledge that the attacks are useful if they avoid civilian casualties and strike militants.

This is a copy-and-paste paragraph from yesterday’s story, which described a drone strike on a funeral in late June without mentioning that it killed 35 non-combatant local villagers, which included 10 children between the ages of 5 and 10 plus four local tribal elders.

Nowhere in this more recent story does Masood clarify that, copy-and-paste un-cited heresay notwithstanding, most people killed by U.S. drones in Pakistan are civilians: as of late May, drone strikes in Pakistan killed “780 civilians and about 50 alleged terrorists.”

I’ll repeat what I said yesterday: “news” stories that reference the utility of drone strikes that avoid civilian casualties–while failing to report that drones kill more than 15 civilians for every one suspected militant–are propaganda pieces. Times readers deserve better than this.

For more on the U.S. media’s inability to come to terms with the bloody costs of our country’s policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, see this excellent piece at TomDispatch.

The story in today’s New York Times by Salman Masood and Pir Zubair Shah on the latest drone strike in Pakistan whitewashes the killing of children and tribal elders in an earlier airstrike:

“The increased aerial strikes come as Pakistani military is gearing up for an ambitious offensive against Mr. Mehsud and his fighters, who number in the thousands. The mountainous region where they areentrenched is considered one of the most difficult terrains for conventional warfare.

“American drone strikes have recently focused on Mr. Mehsud, and he had a close call late last month when an aerial strike struck a village shortly after he had left a funeral.

“Publicly, Pakistani officials have been critical of the drone strikes, citing them as a breach of the country’s sovereignty. But privately, Pakistani officials acknowledge the utility of such attacks, especially when militants are targeted with few civilian casualties.”

This sloppy report’s characterization of the late-June drone strike on a funeral which targeted Meshud leaves out the fact that it killed 40 low-level militants, 35 local villagers, which included 10 children between the ages of 5 and 10 plus four local tribal elders. The omission is particularly glaring considering the next paragraph’s discussion of the attacks’ utility when they involve “few civilian casualties.”

The simple fact is that as of late May, drone strikes in Pakistan killed “780 civilians and about 50 alleged terrorists.”

Come on, New York Times. Get it together. Your readers need and expect news, not card-stacking propaganda.

UPDATE (7/7/09): Masood, Shah and the Times did it again today.

Bob Herbert wrote another excellent column for the New York Times on Afghanistan. This piece highlights the terrible toll on our young people caused by giving and receiving violence:

We’ve already paid a fearful price for these wars. In addition to the many thousands of service members who have been killed or suffered obvious disabling injuries, a study by the RAND Corporation found that some 300,000 are currently suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, and that 320,000 have most likely experienced a traumatic brain injury.

Time magazine has reported that “for the first time in history, a sizable and growing number of U.S. combat troops are taking daily doses of antidepressants to calm nerves strained by repeated and lengthy tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Suicides among soldiers rose in 2008 for the fourth consecutive year, largely because of the stress of combat deployments. It’s believed that 128 soldiers took their own lives last year.

Despite what we are told by people who don’t know what they’re talking about, humans are not designed to be violent, nor designed to thrive in violent scenarios. War is not a “natural” expression of human psychology. In 1986, 20 psychologists, sociologists and other social scientists signed the Seville Statement on Violence which contained five propositions:

IT IS SCIENTIFICALLY INCORRECT to say that:

  • we have inherited a tendency to make war from our animal ancestors.
  • war or any other violent behaviour is genetically programmed into our human nature.
  • in the course of human evolution there has been a selection for aggressive behaviour more than for other kinds of behaviour.
  • humans have a ‘violent brain’.
  • war is caused by ‘instinct’ or any single motivation.

Biology and psychology give us no excuse for our wars. War is one specific, perverse way of participating in large-group conflict, and there are realistic alternatives. War is not an exercise blessed by God. It’s not even good for your mind. War and other violence cause human beings to warp themselves and others. The result: more and more troops kill themselves every year as we grind them into the sand, snow and blood in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This nonsense has gone on long enough. Tell the president and your members of Congress that it’s time to bring all of them home. And then look for ways to disrupt this idiocy.

Kudos to Bob Herbert, NYT columnist for hitting the nail on the head re: Afghanistan:

The economy is obviously issue No. 1 as Barack Obama prepares to take over the presidency. He’s charged with no less a task than pulling the country out of a brutal recession. If the worst-case scenarios materialize, his job will be to stave off a depression.

That’s enough to keep any president pretty well occupied. What Mr. Obama doesn’t need, and what the U.S. cannot under any circumstances afford, is any more unnecessary warfare. And yet, while we haven’t even figured out how to extricate ourselves from the disaster in Iraq, Mr. Obama is planning to commit thousands of additional American troops to the war in Afghanistan, which is already more than seven years old and which long ago turned into a quagmire.

The U.S. military is worn out from years of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan. The troops are stressed from multiple deployments. Equipment is in disrepair. Budgets are beyond strained. Sending thousands of additional men and women (some to die, some to be horribly wounded) on a fool’s errand in the rural, mountainous guerrilla paradise of Afghanistan would be madness.

Read the full article.