The latest example of how the US military can do no wrong

We have seen that no one in the US government ever faces serious punishments for the torture, death, and destruction of innocent people in the many countries with which we are at war, except for those who reveal the truth about such events, as was the case with the punishment meted out to Chelsea Manning for her release of the Collateral Murder video.

The US military also cleared itself for the attack on a hospital in Afghanistan run by Doctors Without Borders and now Jeremy Scahill tells us that they have cleared their soldiers of any wrongdoing for an attack on Afghan villagers in the village of Gardez in 2010 that resulted in the death of seven people, including two pregnant women.

An internal Defense Department investigation into one of the most notorious night raids conducted by special operations forces in Afghanistan — in which seven civilians were killed, including two pregnant women — determined that all the U.S. soldiers involved had followed the rules of engagement. As a result, the soldiers faced no disciplinary measures, according to hundreds of pages of Defense Department documents obtained by The Intercept through the Freedom of Information Act. In the aftermath of the raid, Adm. William McRaven, at the time the commander of the elite Joint Special Operations Command, took responsibility for the operation. The documents made no unredacted mention of JSOC.

Although two children were shot during the raid and multiple witnesses and Afghan investigators alleged that U.S. soldiers dug bullets out of the body of at least one of the dead pregnant women, Defense Department investigators concluded that “the amount of force utilized was necessary, proportional and applied at appropriate time.” The investigation did acknowledge that “tactical mistakes” were made.

The Defense Department’s conclusions bear a resemblance to U.S. Central Command’s findings in the aftermath of the horrifying attack on a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, last October in which 42 patients and medical workers were killed in a sustained barrage of strikes by an AC-130. The Pentagon has announced that no criminal charges will be brought against any members of the military for the Kunduz strike. CENTCOM’s Kunduz investigation concluded that “the incident resulted from a combination of unintentional human errors, process errors, and equipment failures.” CENTCOM denied the attack constituted a war crime, a claim challenged by international law experts and MSF.

Note the charge in the above quote about the macabre sight of US soldiers digging bullets out of the body of a pregnant woman so as to remove evidence that they had shot her.

As is often the case, the US military first lied about what had happened and then when the facts emerged, changed their story, before finally concluding that everything was fine.

The February 2010 night raid, which took place in a village near Gardez in Paktia province, was described by the U.S. military at the time as a heroic attack against Taliban militants. A press release published by NATO in Afghanistan soon after the raid asserted that a joint Afghan-international operation had made a “gruesome discovery.” According to NATO, the force entered a compound near the village of Khataba after intelligence had “confirmed” it to be the site of “militant activity.” As the team approached, they were “engaged” in a “fire fight” by “several insurgents.” The Americans killed the insurgents and were securing the area when they made their discovery: three women who had been “bound and gagged” and then executed inside the compound. The U.S. force, the press release alleged, found the women “hidden in an adjacent room.” The story was picked up and spread throughout the media. A “senior U.S. military official” told CNN that the bodies had “the earmarks of a traditional honor killing.”

But the raid quickly gained international infamy after survivors and local Afghan investigators began offering a completely different narrative of the deadly events that night to a British reporter, Jerome Starkey, who began a serious investigation of the Gardez killings. When I visited Starkey in Kabul, he told me that at first he saw no reason to discount the official story. “I thought it was worth investigating because if that press release was true — a mass honor killing, three women killed by Taliban who were then killed by Special Forces — that in itself would have made an extraordinary and intriguing story.” But when he traveled to Gardez and began assembling witnesses to meet him in the area, he immediately realized NATO’s story was likely false. Starkey’s reporting, which first uncovered the horrifying details of what happened that night, forced NATO and the U.S. military to abandon the honor killings cover story. A half-hearted official investigation ensued.

Witnesses and survivors described an unprovoked assault on the family compound of Mohammed Daoud Sharabuddin, a police officer who had just received an important promotion. Daoud and his family had gathered to celebrate the naming of a newborn son, a ritual that takes place on the sixth day of a child’s life. Unlike the predominantly Pashtun Taliban, the Sharabuddin family were ethnic Tajiks, and their main language was Dari. Many of the men in the family were clean-shaven or wore only mustaches, and they had long opposed the Taliban. Daoud, the police commander, had gone through dozens of U.S. training programs, and his home was filled with photos of himself with American soldiers. Another family member was a prosecutor for the U.S.-backed local government, and a third was the vice chancellor at the local university.

Scahill himself went to the region and investigated the case and provided detailed accounts of this tragedy in his excellent book Dirty Wars (that I reviewed here) and in the 2013 documentary of the same name (reviewed here).

As always, it is helpful to imagine what the reaction by the US government and media would have been if (say) the Russians (or any nation that is perceived as hostile to US hegemony) had done something similar and then cleared itself of any culpability. There would have been howls of outrage about how this proved that they were barbarous brutes who should not be allowed to be part of the community of nations.


  1. busterggi says

    To the military-minded the torture, death, and destruction of innocent people is painless but the truth about it hurts.

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