Monday, April 16, 2007

Big Surprise: US Troops Used 'Excessive Force' In Firing On Unarmed Civilians In Afghanistan ... Somalia ... Korea ...

BBC News reports:
US marines violated international humanitarian law by using excessive violence in reaction to a suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan, a report says.

The reaction was disproportionate and indiscriminate force used, it said.
That's certainly what it looked like at the time, even though they didn't want us seeing the results, as we mentioned a few days later in "No Photos, Please: Marines Gun Down Civilians In Afghanistan"
At least 12 civilians died and 35 were injured during the incident which took place on 4 March in Nangarhar province.
According to reports we quoted at the time, the original suicide bombing attack had injured one US Marine. Other Marines turned and opened fire on civilians moving along a nearby road, firing randomly into cars and at pedestrians.

And we were not allowed to see photographs of the scene at the time, because, as we mentioned on March 11, the story was an example of How The US Military Protects The American Public From Seeing Details That Are Not As They Originally Were, And Brings Freedom To Afghanistan.
The Afghan report said that, in failing to distinguish between civilian and legitimate military targets, the US marine corps used "indiscriminate force".

"Their actions thus constitute a serious violation of international humanitarian law standards," it said.
Well, you know how it is when you're in a foreign country, you know nothing about the culture, you know nothing about the language, everybody around you is (or could be) the enemy, and who are you supposed to trust?

Besides, you can always say they were shooting at you, and if you're lucky they'll count the bodies as dead terrorists and there won't even be an investigation.

On the other hand not everybody is so lucky. In this case not only have the "hosts" been investigating, but so have the "guests".
A preliminary US investigation agreed with the report that the unit did not come under small-arms fire after the bombing, US media reports said.

Maj Gen Frank H Kearney III, who ordered the inquiry, told the Washington Post newspaper it had found no evidence that the victims were fighters.

"My investigating officer believes these folks were innocent," he was quoted as saying.
That's what it looked like at the time. However:
A US military spokesman said shortly after the incident that the civilians might have been killed by incoming fire from an ambush by insurgents which followed the bombing.
But there was no ambush. Thus we read:
Evidence of a complex ambush involving militant gunmen who fired on the convoy was "far from conclusive", the report said.

According to the authors of the report, who spoke to victims, police and hospital officials as well as eyewitnesses, the marines fired indiscriminately on civilians and their vehicles as they left the scene.
That was the ambush: civilians leaving the scene.
Maj Gen Kearney said no ammunition casings had been found that might substantiate reports that the marines were fired on.

"We found ... no brass that we can confirm that small-arms fire came at them," he told the Washington Post.
No brass. No shell casings. No weapons either. Rather than evidence of incoming fire, what the investigators did find was evidence of lying.
"We have testimony from marines that is in conflict with unanimous testimony from civilians at the site."
Unanimous testimony from civilians at the site is a powerful thing, unless one can show that the civilians are collaborating to tell a unanimous lie. But that gets to be a bit like a conspiracy theory.

On the other hand, it's always useful to say the people you killed were shooting at you, even when it's palpably untrue. Because by the time your story is contradicted, the first news has broken and the story is formed.

This is yet another example of details that are not as they were, but as we can all see, the privilege of passing out details that are not as they were is reserved for the troops who we are asked to support, even if we don't support the war itself.

Thus we suffer not only the burden of waging unnecessary war but also the burden of unnecessary cognitive dissonance.

But that's nothing.

Because halfway around the world, people who never did anything to us have once again suffered "disproportionate and indiscriminate force" because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when some trigger-happy Americans nearby were attacked.

Oh well. At least they were spared having to endure details that were not as they were at the time.


Not so lucky were the refugees from the violence following the US-backed Ethiopian proxy overthrow of Somalia's Islamic Courts, as we've mentioned previously and which has been admirably documented in a series of posts from Chris Floyd (see links here).

As we have mentioned, and as Chris has discussed in detail, refugees fleeing the violence have been bombed, arrested, imprisoned and tortured -- all without anyone coming under any kind of attack, under the pretext that al-Q'aeda fighters may be among them.

Meanwhile, a short and informative piece from Ivan Eland at Consortium News details how the instability the Ethiopian intervention was intended to "cure" was caused by American meddling in the first place.
After 9/11, the Bush administration feared that the absence of a strong government in the “failed state” of Somalia could turn the small east–African country—slightly smaller than Texas—into a haven for terrorists.

The administration ignored the fact that other states with weak governments have not become sanctuaries for terrorists. Even if Somalia had become a terrorist enclave, the terrorists, absent some U.S. provocation, probably would not have attacked the faraway United States.

As a result of the administration’s unfounded fear, the United States began supporting unpopular warlords in the strife-torn nation. That’s when the real trouble began.

The radical Islamists in Somalia never had much following until the Somali people became aware that an outside power was supporting the corrupt and thuggish military chieftains. The popularity of the Islamist movement then surged, allowing the Islamists to take over much of the country.

In sum, where no problem with radical Islamists previously existed, the U.S. government helped create one.
Eland classifies this as another example of American policy-makers making "mistakes"; like Chris Floyd, your nearly frozen correspondent takes a dim view of the "eternal incompetence" defense, and regards these events as much more deliberate -- as well as more sinister.

Perhaps it would be easier to see things the way Ivan Eland does, and it would certainly be more comfortable, but reality keeps getting in the wday. Lately, we've been reading about an imprisoned refugee who was because he wouldn't claim an affiliation with al-Q'aeda, and about another who is still being held because he won't agree to work undercover for his American captors. It's difficult to imagine how these practices -- like much else about the way America now approaches the rest of the world -- could still be in place, if they were mere accidents.

But even this treatment may be merciful, compared to past American actions. As Chris has reported most recently, American troops exterminated hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of refugees fleeing from violence in Korea in 1950, under the pretext that North Korean Communists may be among them, according to recently released papers.

Of course, in the 1950s there was no internet, and a good lie was sufficient to cover such atrocities with a web of deceit that could last for fifty years or more. Nowadays there's much more independent communication going on, and more independent journalism too, so in addition to a good lie we need a world-wide system of "terrorist attacks" and the continual unmasking of "terror cells" to keep a cap on the grisly truth. But still the truth gets out.

As Chris Floyd points out,
Mercilessness toward refugees is a venerable tradition in American military policy.
And the sooner we all take in this very simple truth -- and its none-too-simple implications -- the better off we all will be, as this bogus war rages on to its quietly scheduled conclusion.