collateral damage ?
phil.graham at MAILBOX.UQ.EDU.AU
Mon Nov 5 21:40:04 UTC 2001
FWD from nettime re censorship and recontextualisation of death.
Date: Sun, 4 Nov 2001 22:47:01 -0600
From: Steve McAlexander <mcalexander at veriomail.com>
To: nettime-l at bbs.thing.net
Subject: <nettime> Collateral Damage?
Sender: nettime-l-request at bbs.thing.net
Reply-To: Steve McAlexander <mcalexander at veriomail.com>
[via nettime-bold at nettime.org]
This is a personal testimony written by a U.S. citizen living in India.
It's long, and emotional but definately worth reading...
-----Original Message----- #################################################
Everything I hear from "back home" suggests that visual images of the pale
corpses of seven (need I say civilian?) babies and children killed two
days ago by yet another US "smart bomb" explosion in residential Kabul are
not making it onto American television screens. Nor the visual coverage of
Jalalabad, Kabul and Kandahar hospitals presently flooded with innocent
Afghan civilians burned, maimed, disfigured and dying from direct US bomb
explosions on their homes. Nor the picture of an orphaned Afghan baby
whose face is half skin, half shrapnel from a US bomb, that greeted me on
the Telugu news station (not a CNN affiliate) when I woke up this morning.
Everything I hear coming out of the US seems to support Harper's Magazine
publisher John Macarthur's recent comment that the current US aggression
in Afghanistan is "the most censored war." When I turn on CNN (we do have
a television in the flat where I live in Hyderabad, but the neighborhood
monkeys sometimes tear up the wires, so it doesn't always work), I see
affirmation of that which is rapidly making the US "free press" the shame
of the international media community. Parochialism of fantastic
proportions, 10 second soundbytes at the expense of context and substance,
all-terror-all-the-time (as one friend of mine put it), and most insidious
in the current context, shameful dependence on and uncritical acceptance
of Pentagon handouts instead of substantial, critical coverage of the
ground situation in Afghanistan.
The US corporate media seems to be muting any talk of civilian casualties
first by framing any such news with "Taliban claims that" and then happily
putting the matter to rest with Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman's
conclusive remark, "I would put very low credibility in any Taliban
report." Thus the matter is safely disposed of and we can return to
anthrax, fear, and how we might be attacked next.
So let's humor Bryan Whitman for a minute. Setting aside all Taliban
claims, here are just a few of the reports from the ground in Afghanistan,
from non-Taliban survivors, eye-witnesses, independent journalists, UN
officials present on site, the Pentagon's own occasional admissions of
guilt, and residents of the affected areas. I can cite and forward to you
every one of my sources if you are interested.
Since October 7, the US has:
Killed four Afghan UN workers engaged in clearing the countryside of
landmines, and destroyed the building of their NGO, Afghan Technical
Consultants, in Kabul. Oct 8.
Bombed a civilian area near the Jalalabad airport, blowing the leg and
fingers off of 16-year-old Afghan ice cream vendor Assadullah, wounding
numerous others, and destroying homes. Oct 8.
Bombed a populated residential area in central Kabul near a joint
military-civilian hospital, destroying homes and inflicting uncertain
numbers of civilian casualties. Oct 8.
Killed a 12 year old child and destroyed several homes in the village of
Qala-e-Chaman near the Kabul airport. Oct 11.
Destroyed 60-70 homes in the village of Khrum, near Jalalabad, killing
"definitely above 150" civilians, possibly many more, and wounding large
numbers. Oct 10. A journalist who visited the mass graves and destruction
at Khrum recounted, "I meet Rahmatullah, a callow 16-year old. There's
only one survivor in his family of six," a sister, who's hospitalized in
Jalalabad. I talk to Rahmatullah. It's pointless. Numbed with shock, he
only shakes his head." Later, in a hospital in Jalalabad where the
survivors of Khrum are being treated, "There's Gul Khan, a three-year-old
child, with a head injury. His younger sister is unconscious. Rahmat Bibi,
three, is crying inconsolably, writhing in pain, her legs smashed. She
wants her mother. But her mother is rotting under the rubble of Khrum. I
meet Tooray, the only survivor in a family of eight. "'What's there for me
to live?' he moans."
Dropped a 2,000-pound bomb onto a residential complex in Kabul, killing
unspecified numbers of civilians. This one is a Pentagon admission. Oct
Destroyed the international telephone exchange in Kabul, cutting off
civilians from contact with the outside world and helping restrict media
coverage. Oct 13.
Reduced to rubble the historic, Mughal period Balahisar Fort, one of
Kabul's celebrated heritage sites. Oct 14.
Dropped a "smart bomb" onto another residential area in Kabul, killing
unspecified numbers of civilians. Oct 14.
Bombed a hospital in Kandahar, killing five civilians. Oct 15.
Bombed with a "direct hit" a boy's school in Kabul. Oct 17.
Bombed and destroyed civilian homes and a bus in Kandahar, killing
unspecified numbers of civilians. Oct 19. A journalist in Kandahar
reporting on the destruction wrought by the favorite toy of every
adolescent video-game addict boy, "the US military's AC-130 'Spectre'
wrote, "the devastation was enormous. When I visited a house nearby, I saw
the horribly mutilated remains of at least one woman. "Later, we visited
the still-smoking remains of a bus. The Taliban claimed 18 civilians had
been on board. The bodies had long since been removed. The effect of these
devastating attacks on the morale of the inhabitants of Kandahar was
shattering." People had been leaving for more than a week, driven out not
just by fear of bombs but by a shortage of water "caused by a direct
American hit last weekend that took out the water pumping system. Any hope
it could be repaired was dashed four days ago, when the main power station
was destroyed, leaving people to queue with buckets for hours at wells."
Killed eight members of a single family all at once, along with other
unspecified numbers of civilian casualties, by bombing their homes in
Kabul. Two of the children might have been saved, reported their surviving
uncle, were it not that Kabul's crowded hospitals now have a blood
shortage. Oct 21.
Dropped a "smart bomb" on Herat's second largest hospital, killing at
least 70 patients and around 100 people altogether. Oct 22.
Bombed and killed unspecified numbers of civilians in a mosque and a
clinic in Paktia. Oct 22.
Dropped "cluster bombs" on Herat, trapping and killing at least nine
civilians. Oct 22.
Admitted (the Pentagon) "US warplanes mistakenly dropped a 1,000 pound
bomb near a home for the elderly in Afghanistan and two 500 pound bombs in
a residential area outside the capital Kabul," causing unspecified numbers
of civilian casualties. Oct 24.
Killed at least 20 civilians, including nine children, as they tried to
flee Tarin Kot, a town under attack by US warplanes. Oct 25.
Killed large numbers of civilians and destroyed their homes in Tarin Kot.
Oct 25. One journalist wrote of an Afghan man named Ullah who lost all of
his immediate family in the US bombing. "SIn the 11 hours between the
explosion and the moment when he finally regained consciousness, the
bodies of Ullah's wife, his four children, his parents, and five of his
brothers and sisters had been lifted from the rubble and buried. What do
you say to a stranger who tells you he has just lost every member of his
immediate family? All you can decently do is ask questions. When did it
happen? On Friday night or early Saturday morning. Where? In a suburb of
Tarin Kot, capital of the Afghan province of Oruzgan. And why? But Ullah,
who is not familiar with the phrase 'collateral damage' or 'just war' does
not have an answer." The journalist goes on to describe a woman in the
hospital burned, maimed and blinded by the explosion of a US bomb in her
Killed at least 15 civilians, mostly children, several babies, and
destroyed homes in Qali Hotair, a residential area of northeast Kabul. Oct
28. One surviving woman sobbed, "They killed all of my children and
husband. What shall I do now? Look at their savageness."
And in a spectacular display of America's profound humanitarian concern
for the plight of starving and soon to be freezing Afghans, US jets bombed
two warehouses of the International Committee of the Red Cross, destroying
large quantities of wheat, blankets and other supplies on Oct 16. Ten days
later, on Oct 26 US jets again "accidentally" bombed the Red Cross, this
time striking six warehouses, including the two from before, and again
destroying humanitarian supplies. Recall that all of the above, and this
is by no means an exhaustive list, just a sampling of what's been
available from the free press on this side of the world ?are confirmed by
eye-witnesses, survivors, families of the victims, journalists, residents,
UN activists present, and the humble Pentagon itself. In fact, though
Rumsfeld might not care to hear it (and certainly would rather not the
American public hear it), what the journalists are finding and what the
eye-witness survivors of the bombing are reporting confirms that the
Taliban claims are? pretty accurate. Around 200 civilians killed in Khrum?
Well, yes. Likewise the carnage in Herat. In Kabul. In Kandahar. Slowly
but surely, the reports of fleeing survivors and international journalists
are confirming the Taliban claims. Definitely hundreds, and probably more
than a thousand innocent Afghan people have been killed directly by US
bombs in the last 23 days.
Consistently, in response to the almost daily reports of civilian deaths,
Don Rumsfeld has been repeating "we don't target civilians." Rear Admiral
John Stufflebeem recently elaborated that "what hits that may have
occurred in residential areas are rare mistakes, or rare errors is
probably more appropriate." First of all, I would think language like
Stufflebeem's "hits that may have occurred" immediately following his
public admission that such hits are confirmed realities, would insult the
intelligence of the thinking American public. Then there is the matter of
these events being "rare," when in fact incidents of the US bombing
residential areas average more than one a day, if one doesn't count any of
the Taliban claims. More at the heart of the matter, though, is the basic
thrust of Rumsfeld's and Stufflebeem's assertions, that civilian deaths
are not intentional, they are mistakes or errors, regrettable, but
inevitable in the pursuit of our "just cause."
To those whose family members have been mangled and buried under rubble,
it doesn't matter whether the perpetrators intended to commit the murder
or not. From the words of civilian Afghan survivors of the US bombing, it
seems that Afghans are no more comforted by Rumsfeld's assurances that the
US 'smart bombs? raining on residential homes are all accidents than
survivors of WTC would have been if the hijackers had left a note saying
"sorry about the civilian casualties, but you must understand that our
primary goal was simply to bring the buildings down." Before we accept
justification for the murder of innocent people "it's regrettable, say
Rumsfeld and Bush, but hard to avoid in the pursuit of our just cause"
before we accept this dangerous line of reasoning, recall that the
hijackers, too, evidently felt that theirs was a just cause, one worth
dying for, as Bush would like our soldiers to be. No matter how righteous
the hijackers' anger toward American imperialism might have been, nothing
can justify the atrocities they committed. But we cannot have it both
ways: if the killing of innocent civilians is condemnable and wrong, then
the killing of innocent civilians is condemnable and wrong. Slaughter is
slaughter. Terror is terror. It was an unspeakable crime against humanity
in New York on September 11, and it is an unspeakable crime against
humanity in Afghanistan today.
Two enormous differences: one, the perpetrators of September 11 did not
claim democratic representation of an entire country. The US government,
however, does claim to represent you and me as it decimates and terrorizes
the Afghan civilian population (while failing to make any significant
headway in finding bin Laden or hurting the Taliban). Two, the
perpetrators of September 11 did not have the resources of the most
extensive, comprehensive, colossal propaganda machine in the world in
their hands. The perpetrators of the current atrocities in Afghanistan do,
as was made embarrassingly evident when all five major US television news
networks grovellingly obliged Condoleeza Rice's "request" to censor bin
Laden and al-Jazeera, when major newspapers began censoring comics
critical of George Bush, when Barnes and Noble began canceling readings of
books critical of George Bush, when a cable show cancelled Carol Wells'
appearance because her anti-war posters were not approved, when anti-war
activists found words stuffed in their mouths by the New York Times in its
remarkably titled article "Protestors in Washington urge Peace with
Many of you have written to me about the sorry state of affairs when
pillars of the American "free press" publicly state, with a straight face,
that it is their "patriotic duty" to exercise censorship. But I've also
been hearing from several of you who are solidly in agreement with the
general consensus now enjoyed by the mainstream media, the current
administration, and a majority of the US population. I briefly wanted to
address a couple of concerns you have conveyed to me.
"The US strikes in Afghanistan are defensive in nature." The policy idea
is that the strikes are "defensive" in the sense that their express
purpose is to destroy al-Qaeda, an aggressive terrorist outfit that
attacks Americans. I agree that the policy idea sounds good and fits
cleanly into the understanding of the war that Bush's speeches present to
us nicely packaged every few days. The problem is that the packaged
understanding, however appealing, is terribly divorced from the ground
reality: al-Qaeda remains vigorously intact, the Taliban are dancing and
cheering to the sound of missiles, and bin Laden continues to elude.
Meanwhile what the policy makers call defensive strikes, and what the
American public understandably wants to think of as defensive strikes, are
inflicting the same kind of carnage, terror and suffering on innocent
Afghans that hijackers inflicted on innocent citizens of the US and many
other countries on September 11. If you'd like to assert that the US
strikes in Afghanistan are supposed to be defensive, well fine; but that's
not going to hold any water with the 16-year-old ice cream vendor whose
leg was blown off by a US missile on day one. Nor should it.
"Anti-war language like yours is just what the terrorists want from
Americans now." This point and its obvious response have both been
repeated ad nauseam in recent weeks so I won't dwell on it. Anyone can say
anything is "just what the terrorists want": the statement alone hardly
constitutes an intellectually sustainable criterion for discrediting an
argument. And the obvious response is that terrorism thrives on the
escalation of violence. Every day that the US continues to massacre
innocent Muslims in Afghanistan, uncountable numbers of young people will
ideologically join ranks with Osama. Violent US aggression gives
legitimacy and moral standing to its opponents. State terrorism breeds
"What we do to the Afghans cannot be as bad as what the Taliban is doing."
This one is invariably followed up with the equation with Hitler and Nazi
Germany. That the Taliban are purveyors of massive violence and oppression
is not in doubt. That being buried under rubble, having one's children all
killed, or having one's face torn apart by shrapnel constitutes a better
deal than living with the whips, stonings, suppression and other horrors
of the Taliban is an interesting assertion that I propose we debate not
amongst ourselves in standard parochial American fashion, but rather take
up with the people of Afghanistan. We might do well to note that western
journalists in Afghanistan are encountering increasing hostility and
resentment from Afghan civilians devastated by the bombings ("First you
bomb us, then you come to take pictures!" said an angry old man in Khrum).
Or that non-Taliban Afghan women, so often invoked by Americans as reasons
why we must destroy the Taliban, are marching in huge numbers in the
streets of Pakistan's cities and refugee camps denouncing US aggression,
carrying banners that read "Stop the killing of innocent Afghan Muslims".
If everything went according to the rosy vision of Bush's speeches, the
famous 'burqa-clad women" of Afghanistan would be weeping with gratitude
as every next Anglo-American commando parachuted onto Afghanistan's dusty
surface. But in fact that doesn't seem to be the case; women and children
?as usual the worst hit in wartime ?are increasingly raising their voices
against the US bombing. They don't support the Taliban, they don't support
the US bombing. The idea that those are the only two options is not only
dimly conceived, but also insulting to the dignity and intelligence of the
Finally, one other concern I have with the "what we're doing cannot be as
bad" thesis is that it represents a symptom of a larger illness, that is,
the mainstream American public's general disbelief that what "our"
government (and our businesses, our banks, our US-trained military allies,
etc.) does in the rest of the world can really be as bad as what voices
from ravaged "developing countries" say. This is a huge issue so I won't
try to address it here, except to say that even if the current state of
the media and public discourse in the US shows little promise of it,
people in places like South Asia are nonetheless still hoping that the
sensitive, thinking American public will respond to current world crises
by rising out of its somnolence (the corporate media is the opiate) and
holding its government accountable for its actions. As an American living
abroad I would like to see the US less hated. This cannot be accomplished
by shouting, "We're good! We're good! We're a peaceful nation! Why don't
you poor countries understand!" while killing and terrorizing and smashing
the homes of innocent people, who have absolutely nothing to do with
either state terrorism or non-state terrorism, in one of the poorest
countries in the world. This can be accomplished (along with the lessening
of terror in the world) by radically changing US foreign policy in ways
that actualize, rather than make a mockery of, our Constitution's ideals
of freedom and democracy. Though less spectacular and less profitable for
Lockheed-Martin et al, working with the people of Afghanistan and the
United Nations to responsibly negotiate a political solution to
Afghanistan's current crisis, using the instruments of international law
to pursue justice in the context of September 11, would be a good start.
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