"Let us not become the evil we deplore", warned Congress member Barbara Lee when she cast the lone vote against going to war in Afghanistan in September 2001. Well, it's time to look in the mirror--and it's not a pretty picture.
Just contemplate these two incidents, one that took place in Iraq in 2007 and has now gone viral on the internet, the other that took place in Gardaz, Afghanistan in February 2010.
Baghdad: U.S. aerial shooters chuckle as they let loose a torrent of bullets, killing over a dozen people, including two Reuters staff. Then they unleash another round on an Iraqi who--passing by in his van--tries to help the wounded. When the American soldiers discover they have hit two children in the van, they can be heard snorting, "It's their fault for bringing their kids into a battle."
No one--from those who pulled the triggers to those who gave the okay--has been punished for the murder of these innocents. That's because this blatant disregard for human life falls within the rules of engagement. And the only reason the incident came to light is thanks to Reuters for its persistence and to Wikileaks for procuring the footage and putting it on their site.
Gardez, Afghanistan: US Special Operations forces surround a home where a party is taking place for the birth of a grandson. Two men come out to see why they are being surrounded. They are shot dead. The US soldiers later report they found three women inside the house, gagged and murdered by their own relatives.
The Times of London later reports that the women were killed by the American soldiers. Not only that. To hide the murder, the soldiers dug bullets out of the women's bodies and washed the wounds with alcohol to hide the evidence. One of the women was a pregnant mother of 10; another was a pregnant mother of six; the third was a teenage girl.
No one has been punished in this incident either. General McChrystal was briefed on the case in March but said nothing about it. The murders only came to light because the Times reporter Jerome Starkey visited the family and talked to Afghan investigators.
While McChrystal issued a new directive in July 2009 restricting activities likely to result in civilian casualties and urged troops to act with greater sensitivity to Afghan cultural and religious concerns, the killing of innocents continues. According to the UN, at least 98 Afghan civilians were killed in night raids in 2009.
The same is true at checkpoints. In a rare moment of honesty, while addressing a virtual townhall with troops in Afghanistan, General McChrystal admitted the following:
We really ask a lot of our young service people out on the checkpoints because there's danger, they're asked to make very rapid decisions in often very unclear situations. However, to my knowledge, in the nine-plus months I've been here, not a single case where we have engaged in an escalation of force incident and hurt someone has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it and, in many cases, had families in it... We've shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force.
Our killing of civilians has spread to Pakistan, where the most deadly attacks come from unmanned drones. A report by the New America Foundation speculates that U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan have killed somewhere around 700 to 1,000 people, one-third of them civilians.
As Americans of conscience, we can't stand by and allow these killings to continue. Here are some actions we should we be calling for:
- stop the air wars, including the deadly drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan;
- stop the night raids that sow terror and abuse;
- hold the soldiers and higher ups accountable for their actions, including General McChrystal;
- pressure Congress to hold hearings on these atrocities;
- organize teach-ins that educate the public and help build the anti-war movement.
These are all critical actions to engage in. But there is really only one way to stop the collateral murder by our military: stop the wars and bring our troops home. The Obama administration is now asking Congress for another $33 billion of our tax dollars for war. Enough is enough. These are wars we can't afford, we can't win, and we can't condone on moral grounds. Call your representatives--202-224-3121--and tell them "No more money for war." It's time we stop being and funding the evil we deplore.