"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan’

Assassin-In-Chief: Secret “Kill List”, Drone Strikes & Covert Wars Significantly Expanded Under Obama

In Uncategorized on June 5, 2012 at 7:13 pm

Oldspeak:”Assassination has been thoroughly institutionalized, normalized, and bureaucratized around the figure of the President. Without the help of or any oversight from the American people or their elected representatives, The president alone is now responsible for regular killings thousands of miles away, including those of civilians and even children.  He is, in other words, if not a king, at least the king of American assassinations.  On that score, his power is total and completely unchecked.  He can prescribe death for anyone “nominated,” choosing any of the “baseball cards” (PowerPoint bios) on that kill list and then order the drones to take them (or others in the neighborhood) out. can stop any attack, any killing, but there is no one, nor any mechanism that can stop him.  An American global killing machine (quite literally so, given that growing force of drones) is now at the beck and call of a single, unaccountable individual.  This is the nightmare the founding fathers tried to protect us from.” -Tom Engelhardt. More failed, murderous and counterproductive atrocity worthy Bush-era terrorism policy expanded, unfettered and completely unaccountable to anyone but Barack Obama. While corporate sponsored sheeple ring their hands over psuedo-divisive and sensationalized “issues” like gay marriage, Our president has done away with 5th amendment right not to “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Everyone in a “strike zone” is civilian or not, designated as a “combatant” or “militant” and is thus subject to summary execution at the whim of the President. The U.S.homeland has been designated as a “battleground”, and the military is allowed to operated here. Unmanned drones are watching us from U.S. skies right now. Protestors are classified as “low-level terrorists”. What happens when the “terrorist threat” from within becomes greater than that from without? As we’ve seen from the brutality of responses to Occupy Wall Street Protests nation-wide by hyper-militarized and aggressively trained police forces, whatever happens ain’t pretty. Protestors homes have been raided, and they’ve been arrested, detained, and charged with terrorism BEFORE THEY EVEN ACTUALLY PROTEST. Pre-crime is now prosecutable.All the elements are in place to facilitate a rapid transition to a fully formed totalitarian state. I highly recommend you read the NY Times propaganda piece before you read the articles below. “War Is Peace”, “Freedom Is Slavery”

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Hope Burning

Obama Expands Secret Wars Across The Globe

By Tom Engelhardt @ TomDispatch.com:

Be assured of one thing: whichever candidate you choose at the polls in November, you aren’t just electing a president of the United States; you are also electing an assassin-in-chief.  The last two presidents may not have been emperors or kings, but they — and the vast national-security structure that continues to be built-up and institutionalized around the presidential self — are certainly one of the nightmares the founding fathers of this country warned us against.  They are one of the reasons those founders put significant war powers in the hands of Congress, which they knew would be a slow, recalcitrant, deliberative body.

Thanks to a long New York Times piece by Jo Becker and Scott Shane, “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will,” we now know that the president has spent startling amounts of time overseeing the “nomination” of terrorist suspects for assassination via the remotely piloted drone program he inherited from President George W. Bush and which he has expanded exponentially.  Moreover, that article was based largely on interviews with “three dozen of his current and former advisers.”  In other words, it was essentially an administration-inspired piece — columnist Robert Scheer calls it “planted” — on a “secret” program the president and those closest to him are quite proud of and want to brag about in an election year.

The language of the piece about our warrior president was generally sympathetic, even in places soaring.  It focused on the moral dilemmas of a man who — we now know — has personally approved and overseen the growth of a remarkably robust assassination program in Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan based on a “kill list.” Moreover, he’s regularly done so target by target, name by name.  (The Times did not mention a recent U.S. drone strike in the Philippines that killed 15.)  According to Becker and Shane, President Obama has also been involved in the use of a fraudulent method of counting drone kills, one that unrealistically deemphasizes civilian deaths.

Historically speaking, this is all passing strange.  The Times calls Obama’s role in the drone killing machine “without precedent in presidential history.”  And that’s accurate.

It’s not, however, that American presidents have never had anything to do with or been in any way involved in assassination programs.  The state as assassin is hardly unknown in our history.  How could President John F. Kennedy, for example, not know about CIA-inspired or -backed assassination plots against Cuba’s Fidel Castro, the Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, and South Vietnamese autocrat (and ostensible ally) Ngo Dinh Diem? (Lumumba and Diem were successfully murdered.)  Similarly, during Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, the CIA carried out a massive assassination campaign in Vietnam, Operation Phoenix.  It proved to be a staggeringly profligate program for killing tens of thousands of Vietnamese, both actual enemies and those simply swept up in the process.

In previous eras, however, presidents either stayed above the assassination fray or practiced a kind of plausible deniability about the acts.  We are surely at a new stage in the history of the imperial presidency when a president (or his election team) assembles his aides, advisors, and associates to foster a story that’s meant to broadcast the group’s collective pride in the new position of assassin-in-chief.

Religious Cult or Mafia Hit Squad?

Here’s a believe-it-or-not footnote to our American age.  Who now remembers that, in the early years of his presidency, George W. Bush kept what the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward called “his own personal scorecard for the war” on terror?  It took the form of photographs with brief biographies and personality sketches of those judged to be the world’s most dangerous terrorists, each ready to be crossed out by Bush once captured or killed. That scorecard was, Woodward added, always available in a desk drawer in the Oval Office.

Such private presidential recordkeeping now seems penny-ante indeed.  The distance we’ve traveled in a decade can be measured by the Times’ description of the equivalent of that “personal scorecard” today (and no desk drawer could hold it):

“It is the strangest of bureaucratic rituals: Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die. This secret ‘nominations’ process is an invention of the Obama administration, a grim debating society that vets the PowerPoint slides bearing the names, aliases, and life stories of suspected members of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen or its allies in Somalia’s Shabab militia. The nominations go to the White House, where by his own insistence and guided by [counterterrorism ‘tsar’ John O.] Brennan, Mr. Obama must approve any name.”

In other words, thanks to such meetings — on what insiders have labeled “terror Tuesday” — assassination has been thoroughly institutionalized, normalized, and bureaucratized around the figure of the president.  Without the help of or any oversight from the American people or their elected representatives, he alone is now responsible for regular killings thousands of miles away, including those of civilians and even children.  He is, in other words, if not a king, at least the king of American assassinations.  On that score, his power is total and completely unchecked.  He can prescribe death for anyone “nominated,” choosing any of the “baseball cards” (PowerPoint bios) on that kill list and then order the drones to take them (or others in the neighborhood) out.

He and he alone can decide that assassinating known individuals isn’t enough and that the CIA’s drones can instead strike at suspicious “patterns of behavior” on the ground in Yemen or Pakistan. He can stop any attack, any killing, but there is no one, nor any mechanism that can stop him.  An American global killing machine (quite literally so, given that growing force of drones) is now at the beck and call of a single, unaccountable individual.  This is the nightmare the founding fathers tried to protect us from.

In the process, as Salon’s Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, the president has shredded the Fifth Amendment, guaranteeing Americans that they will not “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”  The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel produced a secret memo claiming that, while the Fifth Amendment’s due process guarantee does apply to the drone assassination of an American citizen in a land with which we are not at war, “it could be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch.”  (That, writes Greenwald, is “the most extremist government interpretation of the Bill of Rights I’ve heard in my lifetime.”)  In other words, the former Constitutional law professor has been freed from the law of the land in cases in which he “nominates,” as he has, U.S. citizens for robotic death.

There is, however, another aspect to the institutionalizing of those “kill lists” and assassination as presidential prerogatives that has gone unmentioned.  If the Times article — which largely reflects how the Obama administration cares to see itself and its actions — is to be believed, the drone program is also in the process of being sanctified and sacralized.

You get a sense of this from the language of the piece itself.  (“A parallel, more cloistered selection process at the C.I.A. focuses largely on Pakistan…”)  The president is presented as a particularly moral man, who devotes himself to the “just war” writings of religious figures like Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, and takes every death as his own moral burden.  His leading counterterrorism advisor Brennan, a man who, while still in the CIA, was knee-deep in torture controversy, is presented, quite literally, as a priest of death, not once but twice in the piece.  He is described by the Times reporters as “a priest whose blessing has become indispensable to Mr. Obama.”  They then quote the State Department’s top lawyer, Harold H. Koh, saying, “It’s as though you had a priest with extremely strong moral values who was suddenly charged with leading a war.”

In the Times telling, the organization of robotic killing had become the administration’s idée fixe, a kind of cult of death within the Oval Office, with those involved in it being so many religious devotees.  We may be, that is, at the edge of a new state-directed, national-security-based religion of killing grounded in the fact that we are in a “dangerous” world and the “safety” of Americans is our preeminent value.  In other words, the president, his apostles, and his campaign acolytes are all, it seems, praying at the Church of St. Drone.

Of course, thought about another way, that “terror Tuesday” scene might not be from a monastery or a church synod, but from a Mafia council directly out of a Mario Puzo novel, with the president as the Godfather, designating “hits” in a rough-and-tumble world.

How far we’ve come in just two presidencies!  Assassination as a way of life has been institutionalized in the Oval Office, thoroughly normalized, and is now being offered to the rest of us as a reasonable solution to American global problems and an issue on which to run a presidential campaign.

Downhill All the Way on Blowback Planet

After 5,719 inside-the-Beltway (largely inside-the-Oval-Office) words, the Times piece finally gets to this single outside-the-Beltway sentence: “Both Pakistan and Yemen are arguably less stable and more hostile to the United States than when Mr. Obama became president.”

Arguably, indeed!  For the few who made it that far, it was a brief reminder of just how narrow, how confining the experience of worshiping at St. Drone actually is.  All those endless meetings, all those presidential hours that might otherwise have been spent raising yet more money for campaign 2012, and the two countries that have taken the brunt of the drone raids are more hostile, more dangerous, and in worse shape than in 2009.  (And one of them, keep in mind, is a nuclear power.)  News articles since have only emphasized how powerfully those drones have radicalized local populations — however many “bad guys” (and children) they may also have wiped off the face of the Earth.

And though the Times doesn’t mention this, it’s not just bad news for Yemen or Pakistan.  American democracy, already on the ropes, is worse off, too.

What should astound Americans — but seldom seems to be noticed — is just how into the shadows, how thoroughly military-centric, and how unproductive has become Washington’s thinking at the altar of St. Drone and its equivalents (including special operations forces, increasingly the president’s secret military within the military). Yes, the world is always a dangerous place, even if far less so now than when, in the Cold War era, two superpowers were a heartbeat away from nuclear war.  But — though it’s increasingly heretical to say this — the perils facing Americans, including relatively modest dangers from terrorism, aren’t the worst things on our planet.

Electing an assassin-in-chief, no matter who you vote for, is worse.  Pretending that the Church of St. Drone offers any kind of reasonable or even practical solutions on this planet of ours, is worse yet.  And even worse, once such a process begins, it’s bound to be downhill all the way.  As we learned last week, again in the Times, we not only have an assassin-in-chief in the Oval Office, but a cyberwarrior, perfectly willing to release a new form of weaponry, the most sophisticated computer “worm” ever developed, against another country with which we are not at war.

This represents a breathtaking kind of rashness, especially from the leader of a country that, perhaps more than any other, is dependent on computer systems, opening the U.S. to potentially debilitating kinds of future blowback.  Once again, as with drones, the White House is setting the global rules of the road for every country (and group) able to get its hands on such weaponry and it’s hit the highway at 140 miles per hour without a cop in sight.

James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and the rest of them knew war, and yet were not acolytes of the eighteenth century equivalents of St. Drone, nor of presidents who might be left free to choose to turn the world into a killing zone.  They knew at least as well as anyone in our national security state today that the world is always a dangerous place — and that that’s no excuse for investing war powers in a single individual.  They didn’t think that a state of permanent war, a state of permanent killing, or a president free to plunge Americans into such states was a reasonable way for their new republic to go.  To them, it was by far the more dangerous way to exist in our world.

The founding fathers would surely have chosen republican democracy over safety.  They would never have believed that a man surrounded by advisors and lawyers, left to his own devices, could protect them from what truly mattered.  They tried to guard against it.  Now, we have a government and a presidency dedicated to it, no matter who is elected in November.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Engelhardt discusses drone warfare and the Obama administration, click here or download it to your iPod here.

Barack Obama Signs Pact With Hamid Karzai To Keep U.S. Troops In Afghanistan Through 2024

In Uncategorized on May 1, 2012 at 5:39 pm

Oldspeak:”I will promise you this, that if we have not gotten our troops out by the time I am president, it is the first thing I will do. I will get our troops home. We will bring an end to this war. You can take that to the bank.”  Candidate Barack Obama, October 27, 2007 Welp. So much for ending the war in Afghanistan. Keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan virtually guarantees this war will continue until 2024.  The Taliban has no interest in negotiating peace while  American troops are in Afghanistan. I’m sure this development will make the Military Industrial Complex very happy. No comment on the 1,000 of mercenaries and private army soldiers there too.  Or the TAPI Pipeline that needs to be protected.  Yet another campaign promise, broken. This resource war trumps that promise. This is the nature of a Unitary Executive. Making “surprise trip” to a war zone to Sign a war pact that affect us all with no input from constituents, or their “representatives” in Congress.  I have no words.”

By Ben Farmer @ The U.K. Telegraph:

The agreement would allow not only military trainers to stay to build up the Afghan army and police, but also American special forces soldiers and air power to remain.

The prospect of such a deal has already been met with anger among Afghanistan’s neighbours including, publicly, Iran and, privately, Pakistan.

It also risks being rejected by the Taliban and derailing any attempt to coax them to the negotiating table, according to one senior member of Hamid Karzai’s peace council.

A withdrawal of American troops has already begun following an agreement to hand over security for the country to Kabul by the end of 2014.

But Afghans wary of being abandoned are keen to lock America into a longer partnership after the deadline. Many analysts also believe the American military would like to retain a presence close to Pakistan, Iran and China.

Both Afghan and American officials said that they hoped to sign the pact before the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan in December. Barack Obama and Hamid Karzai agreed last week to escalate the negotiations and their national security advisers will meet in Washington in September.

Rangin Dadfar Spanta, Mr Karzai’s top security adviser, told The Daily Telegraph that “remarkable progress” had been made. US officials have said they would be disappointed if a deal could not be reached by December and that the majority of small print had been agreed.

Dr Spanta said a longer-term presence was crucial not only to build Afghan forces, but also to fight terrorism.

“If [the Americans] provide us weapons and equipment, they need facilities to bring that equipment,” he said. “If they train our police and soldiers, then those trainers will not be 10 or 20, they will be thousands.

“We know we will be confronted with international terrorists. 2014, is not the end of international terrorist networks and we have a common commitment to fight them. For this purpose also, the US needs facilities.”

Afghan forces would still need support from US fighter aircraft and helicopters, he predicted. In the past, Washington officials have estimated a total of 25,000 troops may be needed.

Dr Spanta added: “In the Afghan proposal we are talking about 10 years from 2014, but this is under discussion.” America would not be granted its own bases, and would be a guest on Afghan bases, he said. Pakistan and Iran were also deeply opposed to the deal.

Andrey Avetisyan, Russian ambassador to Kabul, said: “Afghanistan needs many other things apart from the permanent military presence of some countries. It needs economic help and it needs peace. Military bases are not a tool for peace.

“I don’t understand why such bases are needed. If the job is done, if terrorism is defeated and peace and stability is brought back, then why would you need bases?

“If the job is not done, then several thousand troops, even special forces, will not be able to do the job that 150,000 troops couldn’t do. It is not possible.”

A complete withdrawal of foreign troops has been a precondition for any Taliban negotiations with Mr Karzai’s government and the deal would wreck the currently distant prospect of a negotiated peace, Mr Avetisyan said.

Abdul Hakim Mujahid, deputy leader of the peace council set up by Mr Karzai to seek a settlement, said he suspected the Taliban had intensified their insurgency in response to the prospect of the pact. “They want to put pressure on the world community and Afghan government,” he said

Obama’s Secret Wars: How Shady U.S. ‘Counter-Terrorism’ Policies Are More Dangerous Than Actual Terrorism

In Uncategorized on July 13, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Oldspeak: “Ask yourself how you’d feel if you were just walking along minding your own business, and without warning, a Hellfire guided missile just dropped out of the sky and blew people up. I would venture to say you’d feel terrified and terrorized. That’s basically how innocents civilians in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq and Libya feel. Quasi-discriminately bombing the shit out of civilians isn’t ‘Counter-Terrorism’. It’s just terrorism. State-sanctioned, but yeah, terrorism. And contrary to the reassuring speeches from Obama and his military commanders quoting cooked statistics, this tactic is not making us safer. It is exposing us to exponentially greater danger. Neither is paying the natives to torture and indefinitely detain ‘suspected terrorists’. Neither are the U.S. Air Forces’ plans to QUADRUPLE it’s drone air force on some ol ‘Empire Strikes Back’ shit. But these tactics are being held up as “”more efficient counterterrorism.”  Efficient for whom? Defense contractors? Bankers? War Profiteers? Definitely not for the countless dead and maimed. The reality is these policies have been losing the hearts and minds, turned whole populations against the U.S., while creating more and more extremists dedicated to killing U.S. citizens. ‘At present, however, U.S. “counterterror policy” is clearly on a collision course with reality. It can only be hoped that when U.S. leaders are finally forced to acknowledge the moral and strategic bankruptcy of their counterterrorism policy that the damage they have done will not be irreversible’. -Fred Branfman

By Fred Branfman @ Alter Net:

Obama should be held accountable for vastly expanding the military establishment’s worldwide license to kill.

Although President’s Obama’s partial Afghan troop withdrawal announcement has received more attention, his June 29 “National Strategy for Counterterrorism” is of far greater long-term significance. This remarkable document states that the U.S. government intends to “disrupt, dismantle, and eventually defeat al-Qa’ida and its affiliates and adherents,” in the following “areas of focus”: “The Homeland, South Asia, Arabian Peninsula, East Africa,Europe, Iraq, Maghreb and Sahel, Southeast Asia (and) Central Asia.”

This assassination strategy is already operational in six Muslim countries with a combined population of 280 million: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Libya, which has become a laboratory experiment for urban drone assassinations. The London Sunday Times reported a year ago that “President Obama has secretly sanctioned a huge increase in the number of US special forces … with American troops now operating in 75 countries.” There are presently 60,000 Special Operations forces worldwide, with 7,000 U.S. assassins unleashed upon Afghanistan and 3,000 in Iraq. Lt.-Col. John Nagle (ret.), an enthusiastic assassination supporter, has correctly called these operations “an almost industrial-scale counterterrorism killing machine.”

Obama vs. Petraeus in 2012

President Obama, a former constitutional law lecturer, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and rhetorical advocate of the Rule of Law cannot possibly reconcile his previously stated beliefs with his presently creation of an “industrial-size killing machine” that sees U.S. leaders unilaterally hunt, kidnap and murder any person anywhere on earth — including “the Homeland” — whenever they feel like it, without outside oversight or their victims enjoying any legal or human rights whatsoever. Whatever his personal beliefs at this point, the president likely hopes that this “counterrorism strategy” will help protect him from inevitable Republican attempts to blame him during the 2012 presidential campaign for the likely losses the U.S. will sustain in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and elsewhere in the next 16 months. And normally principled liberal supporters like the Center for American Progress, which called the strategy “more efficent counterterrorism,” may well have made the same calculation.

But this “counterterrorism” program not only formalizes extrajudicial state killing formerly associated in the public mind only with the Gestapo and KGB. It also drastically weakens, not strengthens, U.S. national security. The U.S. is bedeviled today precisely because previous presidents created long-term disasters by making disastrous short-term political decisions – steadily escalating in Indochina to avoid defeat before the next election, creating al-Qaeda and allowing Pakistani dictator Zia ul-Haq to acquire nuclear weapons in the name of fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, arming the Shah of Iran and then arming Saddam Hussein against Iran after the Shah fell.

It is true that America badly needs an alternative to occupying foreign lands. But a worldwide assassination program that motivates countless potential suicide bombers, weakens friendly governments, strengthens U.S. foes and increases the danger of nuclear materials falling into the hands of anti-Americanterrorists, is hardly more “cost-effective counterterrorism.” On the contrary. It exponentially increases America’s enemies while doing them comparatively little damage.

David Petraeus claimed success for his “counterinsurgency surge” in Iraq on the grounds that it reduced violence there. He has thus failed in Afghanistan by his own criteria, since his “counterterror surge” has seen violence increase by 51 percent over a year ago according to the U.N., and in Pakistan where militant activity has increased by more than 400 percent since he expanded U.S. war-making there after becoming Centcom commander.

Despite this, newly appointed CIA Chief Petraeus has now been tasked with expanding his failed counterterror policies worldwide. He will seek to integrate military and CIA assassination capabilities; vastly increase and make more deadly a drone airforce, both that of the CIA and a U.S. Airforce which alone plans to quadruple its drone force and now “trains more pilots to operate drones than to fly bombers or fighter jets”; and he will increase the numbers and geographic scope of 60,000 Special Operations assassins and their backup support.

Besides the state of the economy, the 2012 presidential election may well hinge on whom the public blames more for the losses likely to occur in the next 18 months in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Republicans are already blaming Obama, using Petraeus’s manifest disloyalty to his Commander-in-Chief when he criticized Obama’s partial Afghan troop withdrawal. It may well be that Obama’s reelection will depend on the public learning the truth: that U.S. losses in the “AfPak theater” are due to Petraeus’ reckless and irresponsible expansion of U.S. war-making into Pakistan after becoming Centcom Commander in the fall of 2009, and his failed shift from “counterinsurgency” to “counterterrorism” after taking over in Afghanistan in September 2010.

The truth is that Obama has been listening to his “Commanders in the field” for 30 months now, as the Republicans have demanded, and they have failed him. If Obama does lose the 2012 election because of the military’s failures, he will have only himself to blame. Previous U.S. presidents, from Abraham Lincoln to Harry Truman, gained political strength by risking cashiering incompetent military officers. By promoting Petraeus, Obama has placed himself in a no-win situation, inextricably binding himself — and his nation — to the general’s countless reckless misjudgements, strategic failures and such manipulations of the media as his recent false claim to have reduced violence 5 percent in Afghanistan.

Two months after David Petraeus’ fateful decision to unleash “counter-terror” in southern Afghanistan, the international press (it was ignored in the U.S.) reported that the floor of Kandahar’s only hospital was “on some days, filled with blood”, and civilian casualties so exceeded its capacity that sick patients had to be transported to Pakistan for medical help. Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, close ally Britain’s Special Representative to Afghanistan, stated that David Petraeus should be “ashamed of himself,” explaining that “he has increased the violence (and) trebled the number of special forces raids.”

“For Every Dead Pashtun Warrior, There Will Be 10 Pledged to Revenge.”

Obama counterterrorism advisor John Brennan sought to package Obama’s strategy as consisting of only surgical strikes on known al-Qaeda leaders, making the delusional and fanatic claim that in the last year “there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities that we’ve been able to develop.” In fact, Reuters reported 13 months ago that “the CIA received approval to target … a wider range of targets in Pakistan’s tribal areas … in many, if not most cases, the CIA had little information about the foot soldiers killed in the strikes.” The evidence clearly indicates that the U.S. has since conducted hundreds of strikes in Pakistan without knowing how many civilians were among the 1900 people it has murdered — only 56 of whom were named as “al Qaeda and Taliban Leaders” by the strongly pro-drone Long War Journal.

If manned helicopter strikes in the middle of Baghdad, with pilots hovering over and discussing their targets, can murder a Reuters journalist for carrying a camera and a doctor trying to rescue him — as revealed in the Wikileaks “Collateral Murder” video – one can only imagine the drone-caused civilian carnage in remote areas of both Pakistan and Afghanistan that are inaccessible to the outside world.

The mentality behind counterrorism has been described by former head of the CIA Counterterrorism Center in 2005-6, Robert Grenier as “kill them before they kill you” — a primitive law of the jungle mentality more appropriate to organized crime than a superpower which confronts a 1.8 billion strong Muslim world in which, for each of “them” the U.S. kills it creates exponentially more of “them” committed to killing “us.”

This strategy is thus not only immoral and illegal, but poses a clear and present danger to U.S. national security. In return for killing a handful of “al-Qaeda leaders” it dramatically increases the ranks of potential anti-U.S. suicide bombers, weakens friendly governments, strengthens U.S. foes, and increases the risk of nuclear materials falling into unfriendly hands. Its basic premise — that there is a fixed quantity of “al-Qaeda leaders, adherents and affiliates” whose death reduces the threat to the U.S. — is simply wrong. As Cowper-Coles has explained, “for every dead Pashtun warrior, there will be 10 pledged to revenge.” Former CIA counterrorism operative Michael Scheuer has stated that “Petraeus’s ‘decapitation’ approach was also unlikely to work. ‘The Red Army tried that for 10 years, and they were far more ruthless and cruel about it than us, and it didn’t work so well for them.’”

Does it really make sense to kill a handful of top leaders, who can be easily replaced by often more competent deputies, at the cost of motivating entire populations to support killing Americans?

The latest example is Yemen where, the Washington Post has reported,”attacks on electricity plants and oil pipelines have left Yemen’s economy on the edge of collapse, with the most damaging strike carried out in retaliation for a U.S. counterterrorism raid.” After the U.S. assassinated a tribal chief’s innocent son, he retaliated by cutting Yemen’s main oil pipeline. By aiding Yemen’s economic collapse, U.S. counterterrorism is increasing support for terrorism.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Pakistani militants focused almost entirely on their immediate surroundings. But now, as a result of U.S. war-making in Pakistan, former CIA counterterrorism chief Grenier has explained that “it’s not just a matter of numbers of militants who are operating in that area, it also effects the motivations of those militants … They now see themselves as part of a global Jihad. They are not just focused on helping oppressed Muslims in Kashmir or trying to fight the NATO and the Americans in Afghanistan, they see themselves as part of a global struggle, and therefore are a much broader threat than they were previously. So in a sense, yes, we have helped to bring about the situation that we most fear.”

It was one thing for U.S. leaders in years past to murder and enslave defenseless Native Americans and Africans, impose vicious dictatorships throughout poverty-stricken Latin America, and kill 3 million Indochinese who posed no threat whatsoever to Americans. But it is quite another for the U.S. today to slowly and inexorably turn vast portions of the 1.8 billion strong and oil-rich Muslim world against it – especially nuclear-armed Pakistan which has already conclusively demonstrated how “counter-terrorism” harms U.S. interests far more than helps it.

U.S. Policy Increasing The Nuclear Danger in Pakistan
In the wake of Osama Bin-Laden’s murder, Congress, the media and pundits have finally begun to awaken to the fact that, as John Kerry recently stated, “in many ways, the Afghanistan war is a sideshow to the main event, if you will, that is next door.” But officials and pundits blame the problems in Pakistan entirely on a “Pakistani military (which views) the United States as a hostile force trying to perpetuate a state of `controlled chaos’ in Pakistan and determined to `denuclearize’ the regime,” as Fareed Zakaria recently wrote. None have had the intellectual courage to admit that, given the paranoia and incompetence of Pakistan’s leaders, U.S. “counterterrorism” policy has made the situation infinitely worse.

The current attempt to blackmail “main event” Pakistan into supporting U.S. military efforts in “sideshow” Afghanistan by withholding $800 million in military aid is only the latest example of the incoherence of present U.S. policy, and strengthens the case – as discussed below – for shifting to a focus on economic and social aid.

Pakistan has in many ways been a laboratory for counterterrorism, and U.S. experience there proves conclusively that any successes it has enjoyed are far outweighed by its failures. President Obama stated in his Afghan withdrawal speech that “together with the Pakistanis, we have taken out more than half of al-Qaida’s leadership.”

But, as I have been warning for two years now, the failures of U.S. counterterrorism strategy in Pakistan are so great that it is madness to extend this failed policy to the entire Muslim world. U.S. counter-terror policy in Pakistan has contributed to:

– A vast increase in overall militant strength: While U.S. officials claim drone strikes are hurting Pakistani militants in tribal areas, in fact the Federation of American Scientists reports that “in less than a decade Pakistan has witnessed terror incidents increase almost fifty-fold.” Though the CIA quintupled drone strikes in Pakistan to an annual average of 79 in 2009-10 from16 in 2004-8, it has not reduced violence. On the contrary, incidents of reported terrorism in Pakistan havequadrupled from an annual 2004-8 average of 470 to a 2009-10 annual average of 1723, with the number and seriousness of attacks skyrocketing even higher in 2011. Numerous reports indicate that drone strikes have driven jihadi forces further east into Karachi and then the Punjabi heartland where they are increasingly cooperating together and pose a growing danger to the Pakistani state. It has also increased the risk of suicide-bombers among the more than one million Pakistanis in the U.K., many with British passports able to travel freely to the U.S., whom David Cameron reported in Wikileaks cables were “radicalized” by the U.S. invasion of Iraq and have been presumably even more upset by growing U.S. murder of Pakistanis since.

– A growing nuclear threat: U.S. counterterror drone strikes have contributed to 59 percent of the Pakistani people — over 110 million people — regarding the U.S. as their “enemy.” While U.S. leaders continue to cavalierly disregard Pakistani public opinion, former U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson reported in the Wikileaks cables that because of the public’s hatred of the U.S., the Pakistani government has refused to cooperate with the U.S. on safeguarding its nuclear materials. U.S. ignoring Pakistani public opinion has thus helped create the single greatest threat to U.S. national security today. “Despite its political instability, Pakistan … has the world’s fastest-growing nuclear stockpile,” the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists recently reported. And it is considered one of the most insecure by nuclear experts. Former Senator Sam Nunn, who heads the Nuclear Threat Initiative, has said that “we are in a race between cooperation and catastrophe” in Pakistan.

U.S. policy has so angered the Pakistani military that the possibility of a pro-jihadi military coup is openly discussed in the N.Y. Times and in a new book by Bruce Riedel, who coordinated Obama’s fall 2009 Afghan policy review and worked at the CIA when the Ronald Reagan armed Osama Bin Laden and supported Muslim extremist General Zia ul-Haq during the 1980s, the key U.S. foreign policy mistake leading to 9/11. Riedel’s book describes in chilling detail precisely the “all-too-inevitable”disaster that current U.S. counterterrorism strategy could lead to. He writes that the “simplest way a jihadist Pakistan would emerge would be another military coup led by a general who shares the the worldview of Zia ul-Haq. A new Islamic Emirate of Pakistan … would take control of the nuclear arsenal.” Aligned with al Qaeda and armed with nuclear weapons, such a state would be a nightmare.

And, as he notes, there is precious little the U.S. could do in the event of such a coup: “U.S options to change the regime by means of a coup or assisting dissidents … would be limited. The United States is so unpopular in Pakistan today that its endorsement of a politician is a kiss of death.” And if the U.S. tried to invade,he writes, “the Pakistanis would of course use their nuclear weapons to defend themselves … an invasion would be a mission from hell. There are no good choices.” He also explores the possibility of another Mumbai-like attack on India from Pakistan, concluding that “sooner or later a Pakistan-based terror attack on India is going to lead to Armageddon.”

Nothing illustrates the incoherence of U.S.-Pakistan policy more, however, than Riedel’s next chapter. America’s most oft-quoted expert on Pakistan and participant in U.S. policy-making actually proposes expanding the very policies — drone strikes, pressure on border areas and attacks within Pakistan that have made a military coup an “all-too-possible nightmare scenario.” His most striking proposal is that “Washington could specifically target ISI officers (by) taking action against their individual and corporate financial holdings.” It is difficult to imagine any single action more likely to provoke the very coup that Riedel properly warns against. King’s College professor Anatol Lieven has correctly written that “any US action that endangered the stability of the Pakistani government would be insane. Nukes could fall into the hands of terrorists, along with huge quantities of conventional arms.” Yet Riedel proposes, and the U.S. government is today conducting, precisely such “insane” policies, making the prospect of an anti-U.S. military coup ever more likely!

“Counterterrorism” Harms U.S. National Security More Than “Terrorism

Although most Americans opposed postwar “communism,” by the late 1950s they had concluded that the “anti-communist” overreaction — including Joe McCarthy, loyalty oaths, blacklists, the House Unamerican Activities Committee and FBI spying on Americans — posed a far more immediate threat to American democracy. Similarly today, while no one can doubt that “terrorism” poses a threat, it is already clear that today’s U.S. “counterterrorism” crusade poses a far greater danger both to U.S. national security and American values by exponentially increasing those committed to murdering Americans.

The best way for the U.S. to fight terror in Pakistan is to end its drone strikes and violations of Pakistani sovereignty, and focus on effective economic and humanitarian aid. Perhaps then public hatred of the U.S. will be sufficiently reduced so as to allow for collaborative police work that targets terrorists effectively, and safeguards nuclear weapons.

A second priority for U.S. policy is to promote the Pakistani military’s stated desire,according to former U.S. Ambassador Patterson, for “deterrence, dialogue and development” toward its enemies. The Pakistanis, unlike the U.S., will have to live with their adversaries for the rest of time. They should be supported in their efforts to reach accommodations with them.

A third priority would be to realize that effective economic aid, e.g. bringing a reliable supply of electricity to the tens of millions of Pakistanis who lack it, will advance U.S. interests — including cooperation on nuclear materials — far more than drone strikes. The Pakistan Tribune has reported that Pakistan Prime Minister Gilani believes that “America should also help Pakistan in addressing its problems, particularly the prevailing issue of loadshedding. He said the government was working on a war footing to resolve the issue of loadshedding … The prime minister also said he had discussed with the US leadership the growing resentment against the local people due to rapid drone attacks on Pakistani territory.”

And a fourth priority, of course, would be to accelerate the U.S. withdrawal from “sideshow” Afghanistan.

At present, however, U.S. “counterterror policy” is clearly on a collision course with reality. It can only be hoped that when U.S. leaders are finally forced to acknowledge the moral and strategic bankruptcy of their counterterrorism policy that the damage they have done will not be irreversible.

Fred Branfman exposed the U.S. Secret Air War against Laos, wrote Jobs From the Sun, California’s SolarCal strategy, and developed high-tech and “investment economics” as a Cabinet-level official for Gov. Jerry Brown, head of Sen. Gary Hart’s think tank, and directing Rebuild America whose advisors included Larry Summers, Paul Krugman and Robert Noyce.

 

As Debt Talks Threaten Medicare, Social Security, Study Finds U.S. Spending $4 Trillion On Wars

In Uncategorized on July 8, 2011 at 7:51 pm

Oldspeak:“Why is it that state and local governments are going broke and selling everything not nailed down to stay afloat, public and government workers are being discarded in droves, infrastructure is crumbling, millionaire politricians from “both” parties want to cut social safety nets and entitlement programs for poor, elderly, sick and disenfranchised people, but the U.S. government magically can find 4 TRILLION DOLLARS to kill more innocents than bad guys in illegitimate & illegal wars using borrowed money to pay for? Why is corporate media leading us to believe that “entitlement programs” and unions, and teachers and public workers and their fat pensions are to blame for the monumental U.S. debt crisis? Why is so little attention being paid to the TRILLIONS that have been printed by the U.S. Treasury and given away to Military-Fianacial Industrial Complex to keep it running, to the detriment of many other sectors of the U.S. Economy? Why is war more vital an interest that medical care, care for the elderly, and maintenance of a robust public sector? War is big business. War expands empire. War aquires other nations oil. War promotes scarcity. War is a drug. A drug the U.S. desperately needs to kick.

RELATED LINKS

By Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now:

As part of ongoing debt negotiations, the White House has proposed slashing more than $4 trillion from annual budget deficits over the next decade — twice what Obama had proposed earlier. While much of the talk in Washington centers on taxes, Social Security and Medicare, far less attention is being paid to the growing cost of the U.S. wars overseas. A new report from Brown University has estimated the true cost of the U.S. wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan will end up costing approximately $4 trillion — far more than the Bush or Obama administrations have acknowledged. The authors of the study reveal that because the war has been financed almost entirely by borrowing, $185 billion in interest has already been paid on war spending, and another $1 trillion could accrue in interest alone through 2020. We speak with Neta Crawford, co-director of the Costs of War Project, and a Professor of Political Science at Boston University.

JUAN GONZALEZ: President Obama met with congressional leaders at the White House Thursday and vowed not to sign a short-term extension of U.S. $14.3 trillion debt ceiling beyond the approaching August 2nd deadline. As part of the debt negotiations, the White House has proposed slashing more than $4 trillion from annual deficits over the next decade – twice what Obama had promised earlier.

While much of the talk in Washington centers on taxes, Social Security and Medicare, far less attention is being paid to the growing cost of U.S. wars overseas. The U.S. military and the C.I.A. are currently carrying out operations in at least six countries – Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia.

AMY GOODMAN: A new report released by Brown University has estimated the true cost of the U.S. wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan will end up costing approximately $4 trillion – far more than the Bush or Obama administrations have acknowledged. The authors of the study reveal because the war is being financed almost entirely by borrowing, $185 billion in interest has already been paid on war spending, and another $1 trillion could accrue in interest alone through 2020. It could cost nearly another $1 trillion to pay for the medical care and disability for current and future war veterans.

To discuss the cost of war, we’re going up to Boston University to speak with Professor Neta Crawford. She’s the co-director of the Cost of War Project and a professor of political science at Boston University. The significance of this report, even as they’re debating the deficit in Washington, and talking about agreeing on deep cuts to Social Security and Medicare – Neta Crawford, the cost that the United States is spending right now in the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and what you’re pointing out in this report – equally in Pakistan – right now?

NETA CRAWFORD: Yes, the United States has already spent about $3 trillion and it will spend much more than that over the next several decades, including that maybe $1 trillion that was mentioned by your reporter, on veterans and medical.

AMY GOODMAN: Lay out for us what you have found, these massive costs that we, in this country I think, have very little awareness of the media covering actual war less and less.

NETA CRAWFORD: Well, there are two aspects of that. First, the president and many people focus on just the Pentagon’s appropriation for the wars in the last 10 years, and that’s $1.3 trillion in constant dollars. But the costs are deeper than that. They go to veterans medical and disability costs, foreign assistance, homeland security, and then, as you mentioned, interest on the debt. When you add all that up, it is about twice what we tend to talk about if we just focus on Pentagon appropriations.

The other element of the costs is that future cost, which we must pay – the interest on the debt and veterans’ medical and disability. Then there’s another layer of costs which we were not able to fully calculate, which are the social costs to families and also the cost to state and local governments for veterans’ care. Then there are many other pockets of cost if you look all over the U.S. government.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yesterday on the show we talked about the problems of post-traumatic stress with many veterans and the suicide rates. What portion of this cost that is never factored in did you conclude was a result of both the need for current medical treatment for returning veterans as well as future treatment?

NETA CRAWFORD: Well, the U.S. has already spent already about $32 billion in medical and disability for veterans, but that doesn’t include what families are spending privately nor what state and local governments are spending. Of course, all of this is an under-estimate of the toll because as you know, until recently, the U.S. was not including many people who do have traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress because those were under-diagnosed.

AMY GOODMAN: Why aren’t we seeing this reflected in the conversations on the networks, as this whole discussion about deficits takes place? The massive cost that is going into the state of war rather than back into the states of this country, that are in such dire need, Professor Crawford?

NETA CRAWFORD: I think it’s partly that after 9/11, we are in such shock and fear that this lingered, and the tendency not to question what seemed to be defense expenditures, were actually – they could have been questioned. That’s a long-term sort of hangover of the 9/11 attacks, our sort of inability to be questioning these budgets. I think another element here is that, again, the cost is sort of hidden from view and put in these different budgets so it’s hard, unless you take a more comprehensive view, to get a handle on the scale of the cost.

A third factor is perhaps that these wars have been funded mostly through special appropriations or emergency appropriations until recently. Those costs are not scrutinized as much by Congress as they out to be.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Of course, one part of that that has been now structurally put into our budget is Homeland Security. Your assessment of the enormous expenditure? Because it seems that no matter what the budget deficit is, there’s always money available for more efforts at Homeland Security. Can you talk about this impact of actually militarizing the domestic budget of the United States?

NETA CRAWFORD: That is about an additional $400 billion over the last 10 years for Homeland Security. Of course, it is in a way ironic because at the same time U.S. has spent this money to increase preparedness, it took away National Guard troops and equipment and moved them abroad. In a sense, robbing Peter to pay Paul.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Crawford, included in the cost of war – you’ve got the financial costs, far more than has been estimated before here in this country. I mean, Professors Stiglitz and Bilmes at Harvard, the Nobel Prize winning economists, say we’re talking about actually estimates over years of something like $5 trillion, but also the human casualties cost of war.

NETA CRAWFORD: We calculated, estimated about 225,000-250,000 people have died – that’s including soldiers, civilians, contractors. But more than that, we know this is a conservative estimate because in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan, there has been a tendency to under count and not report the direct war dead. In addition, we tend to focus on those were killed by bombs and bullets, but pay less attention to those who died because of lack of safe drinking water or disease or displacement and inability to eat, so that rates of malnourishment are still high in Iraq. Malnutrition is very high in Afghanistan. Millions of people in Pakistan are displaced and don’t have regular access to food and safe drinking water.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Crawford, we’ll leave it there but we’ll link to your report at democracynow.org, called Cost of War. Professor Crawford is professor of political science at Boston University.

The Lies That Sold Obama’s Escalation in Afghanistan War

In Uncategorized on July 5, 2011 at 10:48 pm

Oldspeak:”Lies and deceptions that affected the family of Caylee Anthony draw more ire and outrage than the lies and deceptions that affect everyone in the U.S. via it’s manufactured wars of aggression in which it finances all sides and innocent children die every day. “The story of the lies that took the Obama administration into a bigger war in Afghanistan shows that those lies have structural, systemic roots. The political dynamics surrounding the making of war policies are so completely dominated by the vested interests of the heads of the Pentagon, the military, and other national security bureaucracies that the outcome of the process must be based on a systematic body of lies. Only by depriving those institutions of their power can Americans have a military policy based on the truth.”-Gareth Porter The U.S. Government has been captured by corporate military, financial, energy, and media interests, whose objective is to perpetually sell citizens products (wars, debt, oil, content) that are unsustainable, destructive, and unneeded, whose sales primarily benefit them. Children are dying needlessly DAILY from a myriad of correctable social and economic problems, global debt is spiraling out of control, deadly dependence on dirty energy sources are destroying us and the planet which sustains us. The death of one young american girl is indeed tragic, but it’s in no way deserving of the wall to wall coverage it’s been given, when one considers the existential threats we face as a species. But alas the words of Edward Bernays have proven prescient “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never seen” – Edward Bernays, ‘Propaganda’ 1936. In this world the enormous, generationally impactful, life threatening crimes are shrugged at (illegal war, environmental destruction, financial malfeasance) while sensationalized singular crimes are highlighted and dissected with grotesque voyeuristic morbid fascination. “Ignorance is Strength”

By Gareth Porter @ Truthout:

A few days after Barack Obama’s December 2009 announcement of 33,000 more troops being sent to Afghanistan, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Robert Gates advanced the official justification for escalation: the Afghan Taliban would not abandon its ties with al-Qaeda unless forced to do so by US military force and the realization that “they’re likely to lose.”

Gates claimed to see an “unholy alliance” of the Afghan Taliban, al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban emerging during 2009. Unless the United States succeeded in weakening the Taliban in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda would have safe haven in Afghanistan, just as they had before the 9/11 attacks, according to Gates.

Even in comparison with the usual lies that justify wars, this one was a whopper. Gates was deliberately ignoring the serious political split that had become apparent in 2008 between Mullah Omar, the spiritual and political leader of the Taliban, and the leadership of al-Qaeda over fundamental issues of strategy and ideology.

After the July 2007 Pakistani military assault on the militants occupying the Red Mosque in Islamabad, al-Qaeda had openly backed Pakistani militants in their declaration of war against the Pakistani military and the Pervez Musharraf regime. Omar, who needed Pakistani support against the US-NATO forces, began urging Pakistani militants to shun violence against the Pakistani security apparatus, but the newly established militant organization Tehrik-e-Taliban paid no attention to him, as recounted by the recently murdered [4] Pakistani journalist Sayed Saleem Shahzad in a book published just days before his death [5].

Shahzad’s book reveals, In fact, that one of al-Qaeda’s aims in setting up the new organization was to try to draw Afghan Taliban away from Omar’s influence. Soon after that al-Qaeda move, he sent a trusted adviser, Tayyeb Agha, to a meeting in Saudi Arabia with a delegation of Afghan parliamentarians convened by Saudi King Abdullah in September 2008 [6]. That meeting alarmed al-Qaeda leaders, who did not want any move toward peace in Afghanistan, according to Shahzad’s account based on many interviews with al-Qaeda strategists over the past several years.

The ideological-strategic conflict between Omar and al-Qaeda was well known within US intelligence and counterterrorism circles. Two days after Gates made his argument about the Taliban and al-Qaeda, in an interview with me [7], Arturo Munoz, who had been supervising operations officer at the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center from 2001 to 2009 and had extensive experience in Afghanistan, referred to the differences between the Taliban and al-Qaeda over al-Qaeda’s war against the Pakistani military. “The Taliban is a homespun Pashtun locally-based revolutionary movement with a set of goals that are not necessarily those of al-Qaeda,” said Munoz.

In fact, Omar himself had issued a message on September 19, 2009, which had explicitly characterized the Taliban as a “nationalist movement” – an obvious rebuff to the al-Qaeda position that nationalism is the enemy of the global jihad, as jihadist scholar Vahid Brown pointed out [8]  at the time.

Plumping Up the War Rationale

The Obama administration has relied heavily, of course, on the widespread impression that the Taliban regime was somehow mixed up with Osama bin Laden’s plotting the 9/11 attacks. But as opposition to the war has mounted, Bruce Riedel, the former CIA official and National Security Council staffer brought in by Obama to lead the administration’s policy review of Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2009, has sought to reinforce that message.

In his new book, “Deadly Embrace [9],” Riedel refers to “the remarkable alliance, even friendship,” between Omar and Bin Laden, which “seems to have remained intact to this day.” In a remarkable passage about the period from Bin Laden’s arrival in Afghanistan in 1996 to the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001, Riedel writes:

The Taliban promised Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to “control” their “guest,” but he continued to issue statements and no real effort was made to rein him in. Bin Laden moved to Kandahar to be close to Mullah Omar, proclaimed his loyalty to the “commander of the faithful” (Omar’s self-proclaimed title) and married one of Omar’s daughters to further cement their bond.

Riedel goes on to suggest that Omar became an enthusiastic convert to Bin Laden’s global jihadist cause. “Omar found in Osama and al-Qaeda,” he writes, “an ideology that transcended Afghanistan, played to his ego and validated his role as commander of the faithful.”

The problem with this dramatic portrayal of a close relationship between Omar and Bin Laden, however, is that every single assertion in it is demonstrably false. Riedel’s version of the relationship could not be any further from the actual record of interactions between the two men during Bin Laden’s stay in Afghanistan, available from multiple primary sources.

Brown, a research fellow at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, reported [10] last year that the memoirs of one of Bin Laden’s close collaborators in Afghanistan, the Egyptian jihadist known as Abu’l-Walid al-Masri, had provided new insights into the relationship between Bin Laden and Omar. Al-Masri recalled that Omar had informed Bin Laden from the beginning of his stay that he was forbidden from issuing statements to the media without the prior consent of the Taliban regime and from doing anything to directly antagonize the United States.

Bin Laden repeatedly violated the injunction against speaking to news media in 1996 and 1997 and Omar reacted strongly to his defiance. In “The Looming Tower [11],”  Lawrence Wright recounts the story told by Bin Laden’s personal guard Khalid al-Hammadi of what happened after Bin Laden gave an interview to CNN in March 1997. Omar ordered Bin Laden brought by helicopter from Jalalabad to Kandahar airport for a meeting, according to the guard’s account. There, Omar told Bin Laden that he was being moved immediately to Kandahar, citing as the reason a plot by tribal mercenaries to kidnap him. The real reason for the move, of course, was to exercise tighter control over his guest. The order to move was accompanied by a sharp warning to Bin Laden: the contacts with the foreign press had to stop.

Nevertheless, Bin Laden defied Omar a second time. In late May 1998, he arranged to meet with Pakistani journalists and with another US television crew – this time from ABC – in Jalalabad. He declared in those interviews that his aim was to expel US forces and even “Jews and Christians” from the Arabian Peninsula.

An enraged Omar personally called Rahimullah Yusufzai, one of the Pakistani journalists who had reported on the meeting with Bin Laden in Jalalabad and said, “There is only one ruler. Is it me or Osama?” according to Yusufzai [12]. Yusufzai, who has met and interviewed Omar on ten occasions over the years and also knew Bin Laden, says the relationship between the two men was “very tense” and “never cordial [13].”

In June 1998, Omar told Prince Turki al Faisal, the head of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency, that he was willing to expel Bin Laden, but he wanted a joint committee of Islamic scholars to issue a fatwa that would absolve him of his responsibility to protect his Muslim guest, according to Turki’s account to journalist Steve Coll [14]. A month later, a Taliban envoy was sent to Saudi Arabia to reaffirm the deal.

What appears to have turned Omar against the planned expulsion of Bin Laden was the US cruise missile strikes against Bin Laden’s training camps in Afghanistan in retaliation for the August 1998 bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. When Prince Turki returned to see Omar less than a month after the US missile attack, Omar’s attitude had “changed 180 degrees [12].”

Omar gave the Saudi intelligence chief no explanation for his change of heart. But he was more forthcoming with the Director General of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), Ziauddin Butt, who met him a few weeks after the missile attacks. The Taliban leader complained that Bin Laden was “like a bone stuck in my throat. I can’t swallow it, nor can I get it out!” The problem, he explained, was that Bin Laden had become such a hero in the eyes of the Taliban rank and file – apparently because of the US missile strikes against his training camps – that “My people will lynch me if I hand him over.”

Although reluctant at first to get rid of the troublesome Bin Laden, Omar agreed to the Pakistani’s suggestion that Bin Laden be tried for the embassy bombings by judges from four Islamic countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, as the ISI chief later told historian Shuja Nawaz, author of “Crossed Swords [15].”

In 1999, the Taliban regime actually ordered the closure of several training camps being used by al-Qaeda’s Arab recruits, according to jihadist sources cited by Brown [10]. And an email from two leading Arab jihadists in Afghanistan to Bin Laden in July 1999, found on a laptop that had once belonged to al-Qaeda and later purchased by a strange quirk of fate by a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, referred to “problems between you and the Leader of the Faithful” as a “crisis.” The email even suggested that the Taliban regime might go so far as to “kick them out” of Afghanistan [16].

Bin Laden’s Phony Pledge of Allegiance

The real story of Bin Laden’s pledge of loyalty to Omar, which Riedel touts as evidence of their chumminess, shows that it was exactly the opposite of that. According to Egyptian jihadist al-Masri’s account, reported in detail by Brown [10],  relations between Bin Laden and Omar became so tense after the Embassy bombings that some in Bin Laden’s entourage urged him to consider an oath of allegiance (bay’a) to Omar simply to avoid a complete rupture between the two.

But Bin Laden resisted the idea, according to al-Masri, initially arguing that such a pledge of allegiance could only be undertaken by Afghans. And after agreeing, on al-Masri’s urging, to give Omar such a pledge in person in late November 1998, Bin Laden failed to show up for the meeting. Al-Masri told Bin Laden that his no-show would confirm Omar’s impression of him as arrogant and full of himself. Nevertheless, in the end, Bin Laden refused to go to Omar himself to give his pledge, sending al-Masri instead, evidently because he wanted to be able to deny later on that he had personally sworn allegiance to Omar. Al-Masri concluded that the whole exercise was an “outright deception” by Bin Laden of a man with whom he was fundamentally at odds.

Riedel’s claim that Bin Laden married one of Omar’s daughters would certainly represent evidence of a bond between the two men, if true. Unfortunately for the point man for Obama’s policy review, it is another easily provable lie. A recent report [17] on the wives who survived the killing of Bin Laden shows that three of Bin Laden’s five wives were Saudis, one was Syrian and one was Yemeni. None were of Afghan descent.

Riedel cites a 2005 book ” href=”http://www.amazon.com/Revolution-Unending-Afghanistan-Comparative-International/dp/02%3E”>http://www.amazon.com/Revolution-Unending-Afghanistan-Comparative-Intern… [18] by French specialist on Afghanistan Gilles Dorronsoro. But Dorronsoro told this writer he realized after the book was published that the story was not true and that it may have well been circulated deliberately by Omar’s enemies in the Northern Alliance to discredit him.

Riedel tops off his grotesquely distorted description of Omar’s relationship with Bin Laden by suggesting that the Taliban leader knew that an al-Qaeda attack on the US homeland was coming, citing Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf as the source. But Musharraf says nothing of the sort. He affirms in memoirs [19] what al-Qaeda insider Fazul Abdullah Muhmmad has written in his own memoirs – that Bin Laden kept the plan secret even from his closest al-Qaeda collaborators, except for Mohammed and Abu Hafs al-Masri, until the end of August 2001. Musharraf merely passes on speculation by unnamed intelligence sources that Omar may have guessed that something big against the United States was in the works.

What Riedel fails to inform his readers is that the main planner of the 9/11 operation, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, told his interrogators that Bin Laden had complained to his intimates late that summer about Omar’s unwillingness to allow any attack on the United States – thus implying very clearly that he could not be brought into their confidence, according to the 9/11 Commission Report.

This writer sent an email to Riedel asking why he had ignored the sources cited in this article, which provide a very different view of the Omar-Bin Laden relationship from the one he describes in his book. “Because the facts were to the contrary,” he responded. “The Taliban did nothing to rein in AQ but they were eager to have their apologists paint a happy picture.”

When I asked him in a second email if he was saying that al-Masri, Bin Laden’s personal guard and all the other sources who have since provided a different picture were “apologists” for Omar, Riedel did not respond.

Riedel probably never bothered to consult these sources. Someone so deeply imbedded in the interests of powerful institutions has no incentive to look beyond the superficial and distorted reading of the evidence that clearly serves those interests. His disinterest in finding facts that would get in the way of the necessary official rationale for war provides a perfect illustration of the way lying to the public is inherent in the nature of national security policymaking.

The story of the lies that took the Obama administration into a bigger war in Afghanistan shows that those lies have structural, systemic roots. The political dynamics surrounding the making of war policies are so completely dominated by the vested interests of the heads of the Pentagon, the military, and other national security bureaucracies that the outcome of the process must be based on a systematic body of lies. Only by depriving those institutions of their power can Americans have a military policy based on the truth.

U.S. Casualties At 2 Year High In Iraq, Will Spike If Administration Pledges To Stay Longer

In Uncategorized on June 28, 2011 at 10:32 am

Oldspeak: Curious. In the wake of last weeks exhalations of troop withdrawal in Afghanistan, and the “receding tide of war” we can safely say we’ve seen this movie before. President Obama announced last year the U.S. had ended hostilities in Iraq and that the combat mission in Iraq was over. Yet today we find that more U.S. troops are being killed in Iraq now than at any point in the past 2 years. Couple that with the facts that the U.S. is the worlds biggest military spender and arms dealer and  a recent report that HALF of the World’s refugees are running from U.S. wars, and you have to ask yourself if the flowery words about bringing peace, ‘stability’ security, democracy & ‘protecting innocents’ in wayward nations really, in objective reality match this administration’s actions. I mean come on people the U.S. is in 5 count em 5 WARS, that we know of  (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya). The U.S. is actively hunting and trying to kill another leader of an Islamic nation, Muammar al-Qaddafi for reasons unknown, and has already killed one of his sons and 2 of his grandchildren in that effort. Moral of the story? War is not helping, it’s exacerbating the problem. It’s killing it U.S. financially and causing chaos in occupied countries. One would be wise to pay less attention to Obama’s words and more attention to his actions, they’re considerably less flowery and significantly more dangerous. Brimg ‘em home Obama. Like for real for real. ‘War is Peace’. 0_O

By Ben Armbruster @ Think Progress:

Two American troops were killed in northern Iraq yesterday while “conducting operations.” The New York Times reports that the military “did not elaborate, but that terminology is usually meant to indicate the deaths were caused by enemy attack.” And earlier this month, an Iranian-backed Shiite militia group attacked and killed six U.S. soldiers. Now, total U.S. combat deaths in Iraq in June has reached 11, the most since May 2009. But despite the fact that Americans are still dying combat related deaths in Iraq, President Obama announced last year that the U.S ended hostilities in Iraq and said as recently as last week in his speech that America’s combat mission there was already over:

Yet tonight, we take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding. Fewer of our sons and daughters are serving in harm’s way. We have ended our combat mission in Iraq, with 100,000 American troops already out of that country.

This simply isn’t the reality that troops on the ground are facing. Putting the number of recent U.S. combat deaths in Iraq aside, militants there are still attacking U.S. forces there with continuing regularity even though the Americans are relegated to their bases and cannot conduct combat operations without permission from the Iraqis. U.S. forces are facing “an increasingly dangerous environment in southern Iraq,” the AP reported last month, “where Shiite militias trying to claim they are driving out the U.S. occupiers have stepped up attacks against bases and troops.”

Indeed, the Irainian-backed group Kataib Hezbollah, which claimed responsibility for the attack earlier this month, said its attacks on U.S. troops were aimed at stopping the “occupation interference” in Iraq’s affairs and forcing the U.S. to abide by the withdrawal deadline. And while it’s unclear how much Muqtada al-Sadr’s supporters are participating in attacks on U.S. forces, he has pledged to unleash his Mehdi Army if the Americans stay past 2011.

One analyst has also said that he has seen an increase in the use of armor piercing IEDs called explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs. “The increase in attacks shows that Iranian-backed cells enjoy greater freedom of movement than they have in the past,” said Michael Knights, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

At the same time, top U.S. officials like incoming Defense Secretary Leon Panetta have said that if the Iraqis ask, the U.S. will keep an unspecified number of troops (some have estimated around 10,000) past the Dec. 31 total withdrawal deadline. Some have cited increased sectarian tensions as one reason for the Americans to stay, but as journalist Mark Kukis noted recently, a prolonged American presence there will only exacerbate the problem:

Secular, nonsectarian Sunni militants, men who consider themselves Iraqi nationalists for resisting a foreign military presence, drift into the company of Iraq’s al-Qaeda contingent when seeking help to lash out at U.S. forces. This drift in effect bolsters al-Qaeda radicals, allowing them to pursue more easily sectarian violence against Shi’ites. Increased sectarian aggression on the part of al-Qaeda produces a violent response from Shi’ite militias such as the Mahdi Army and the Iraqi government, whose security forces are quick to indulge in brutal crackdowns against Sunni communities where militants are thought to be active.

Whether sectarian tensions in Iraq will rise to level of the civil war days of 2006 and 2007 if the Americans leave is uncertain but unlikely. However, there is one certainty if U.S. troops withdraw on time: After Dec. 31, 2011, Iraqi militants will no longer launch attacks on and kill American soldiers.

Obama Plan For Afghan War Withdrawal Will Leave Troop Numbers At Pre-Surge Levels

In Uncategorized on June 24, 2011 at 11:30 pm

Oldspeak:”Mission Accomplished: REDUX. Obama gave an awesome speech the other day but here’s the reality check- ‘US taxpayer dollars are still funding the Taliban. Prior to the 9/11 attacks, the Taliban government was funded by the US taxpayer. In fact, the Taliban still receives a significant portion of their funding courtesy of the US taxpayer. As The Nation recently reported: “It is an accepted fact of the military logistics operation in Afghanistan that the US government funds the very forces American troops are fighting. And it is a deadly irony, because these funds add up to a huge amount of money for the Taliban. ‘It’s a big part of their income,’ one of the top Afghan government security officials told The Nation in an interview. In fact, US military officials in Kabul estimate that a minimum of 10 percent of the Pentagon’s logistics contracts–hundreds of millions of dollars–consists of payments to insurgents.” In a ‘war’ where American taxpayers are funding both sides, where “our” side is paying 1 million dollars for every soldier deployed, $400 dollars for every gallon of gas consumed, and paying thousands of rarely mentioned in corporate media mercenaries (much more than regular army soldiers) who have a vested financial interest in perpetuating the war- bankers oil companies and military contractors are winning and America is losing. ‘Ignorance is Strength’

By Amy Goodman & Juan Gonzalez @ Democracy Now:

President Obama’s plan to draw down U.S. troops in Afghanistan still leaves more in the country than when he came into office. In a televised address, Obama said he will also bring home another 23,000 troops by the end of summer in 2012, leaving around 70,000 military forces, plus thousands of contractors. We discuss the longest war in U.S. history with Gareth Porter, an investigative journalist and historian specializing in U.S. national security policy. “There is an effort here to create a narrative that, as he put it, the war is receding, the tide of war is receding, when in fact nothing of the sort is happening,” says Porter. “Clearly, the Taliban are carrying out counterattacks this year and will do so again next year. That’s not going to come to an end.”

Guest:
Gareth Porter, historian and investigative journalist specializing in U.S. national security policy.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We begin today’s show on the nearly decade-old war in Afghanistan. It is already the longest war in U.S. history. On Wednesday night, President Obama announced a plan to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan this year and bring another 23,000 home by the end of the summer in 2012.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Thanks to our extraordinary men and women in uniform, our civilian personnel, and our many coalition partners, we are meeting our goals. As a result, starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point. After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead. Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.

We’re starting this drawdown from a position of strength. Al-Qaeda is under more pressure than at any time since 9/11. Together with the Pakistanis, we have taken out more than half of al-Qaeda’s leadership. And thanks to our intelligence professionals and Special Forces, we killed Osama bin Laden, the only leader that al-Qaeda had ever known. This was a victory for all who have served since 9/11. One soldier summed it up well. “The message,” he said, “is we don’t forget. You will be held accountable, no matter how long it takes.”

JUAN GONZALEZ: President Obama’s plan would leave around 68,000 military personnel, plus thousands of contractors, still in the country—the same size as before the troop surge last year. Along with emphasizing what the U.S. and its allies had achieved since the surge, Obama acknowledged that work remained to be done.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: In Afghanistan, we’ve inflicted serious losses on the Taliban and taken a number of its strongholds. Along with our surge, our allies also increased their commitments, which helped stabilize more of the country. Afghan security forces have grown by over 100,000 troops, and in some provinces and municipalities we’ve already begun to transition responsibility for security to the Afghan people. In the face of violence and intimidation, Afghans are fighting and dying for their country, establishing local police forces, opening markets and schools, creating new opportunities for women and girls, and trying to turn the page on decades of war.

Of course, huge challenges remain. This is the beginning, but not the end, of our effort to wind down this war. We’ll have to do the hard work of keeping the gains that we’ve made, while we draw down our forces and transition responsibility for security to the Afghan government. And next May, in Chicago, we will host a summit with our NATO allies and partners to shape the next phase of this transition.

JUAN GONZALEZ: President Obama concluded his speech by saying that Americans can take solace in the fact that two long conflicts were being brought to an end.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Yet tonight, we take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding. Fewer of our sons and daughters are serving in harm’s way. We’ve ended our combat mission in Iraq, with 100,000 American troops already out of that country. And even as there will be dark days ahead in Afghanistan, the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance. These long wars will come to a responsible end.

AMY GOODMAN: To discuss the President’s remarks, we go to Washington, D.C., to Gareth Porter, historian, investigative journalist, specializing in U.S. national security policy.

Your assessment of President Obama’s announcement last night?

GARETH PORTER: Oh, I think there are two major storylines here about his speech. First, he made it clear that he had leaned very sharply in favor of the interests of the Pentagon and the military, as opposed to the interests or the views of those in his own administration who believe that we needed to save a lot more money from this war by withdrawing troops much faster, particularly the increment called the surge starting in 2010. He basically gave General Petraeus most of what he wanted, despite the fact that you’re going to hear cries of pain from supporters of the military that he didn’t get everything. He wanted two full years of combat against the Taliban with the vast majority of the surge troops. He got one year and eight months, which, obviously, is roughly 80 percent of what he asked for. On the other hand, I think the—what I call the domestic faction of the Obama administration really lost out. They had hoped that the full increment, the surge increment of troops, 33,000, would be withdrawn this year, before the end of the year. And that was clearly a very major disappointment.

I think the second storyline is equally important, and that is that Obama likened the—what he called the “responsible” withdrawal from Afghanistan to what has been done in Iraq. And of course, that reminds us that what the President did in Iraq was to promise to withdraw combat troops, combat brigades, while in fact leaving them there well beyond the date that they were supposed to be withdrawn. So, I think we can look forward to, you know, beyond 2012, having combat troops continue to carry out the war, while the President is talking about withdrawing them. I think we’re in for a repeat of the Iraq experience there.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Gareth Porter, isn’t this an attempt by the President basically to control the narrative on this, to declare “mission accomplished” when the reality is that Afghanistan still is an extremely dangerous place and that the efforts of the administration to, quote, “pacify” the country have not succeeded, and then, two, to claim that the troops have been withdrawn, when they are going to be leaving a significant number of troops there for years to come?

GARETH PORTER: Well, absolutely. There is an effort here to create a narrative that, as he put it, the war is receding, the tide of war is receding, when in fact nothing of the sort is happening. I mean, clearly, the Taliban are carrying out counterattacks this year and will do so again next year. That’s not going to come to an end. His vague language in this regard is, I’m afraid, going to come back to bite him, because it’s going to become clear that he couldn’t deliver on that promise of sort of an ebbing of the tide of war.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And you’ve done research into the claims of General Petraeus back late last year about the number of Taliban killed or captured. Could you talk about that?

GARETH PORTER: Yes, this is really an important part of the narrative that General Petraeus has been very successful in creating about the success of the Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan, in which he claimed that over a 90-day period—this was the claim in August of 2010—that over a 90-day period, the Special Operations Forces had actually captured 1,355 rank-and-file Taliban. Now, that was in addition to claims of killing more than 1,000 Taliban rank and file, and capturing and killing 356 middle- and high-ranking Taliban.

Now, most of those claims, the claims about killing of Taliban, could not be fact-checked, but there was a way to fact-check the claim of capturing that many Taliban. And what I did was to obtain an unclassified paper from the task force responsible for detention affairs in Afghanistan, Task Force 435, which showed the monthly intake and release of prisoners to and from the main detention center at the Bagram Air Base called Parwan. And what it showed was that only 270 Afghans were admitted as supposed Taliban into the detention facility during those 90 days. And so, this is roughly 20 percent of the 1,355 claimed Taliban captives who turned out to be—who were not found to be civilians just in the first few days. But then, in subsequent months, another couple of hundred were released from the detention facility, and in the end, about 90 percent of those claimed to be captive Taliban were in fact found to be civilians.

AMY GOODMAN: Gareth Porter, we’ve been reporting for quite a while that the U.S. is talking with the Taliban. Well, in his speech, President Obama indicated the U.S. might negotiate with the Taliban to enable a lasting solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We do know peace cannot come to a land that has known so much war without a political settlement. So as we strengthen the Afghan government and security forces, America will join initiatives that reconcile the Afghan people, including the Taliban. Our position on these talks is clear: they must be led by the Afghan government, and those who want to be a part of a peaceful Afghanistan must break from al-Qaeda, abandon violence, and abide by the Afghan constitution. But, in part because of our military effort, we have reason to believe that progress can be made.

AMY GOODMAN: Gareth Porter, your quick response?

GARETH PORTER: Yeah, this is a statement of policy that essentially puts forward totally unrealistic negotiating aims. No one—no independent analyst of the Taliban really believes that they are going to cave in to pressure from the U.S. military to sit down and negotiate an agreement without a commitment by the United States in advance to a timetable for withdrawal. This, of course, is exactly what the Obama administration refuses to provide. So, this really reminds me, more than anything else, of the Lyndon Johnson administration’s position on negotiations in the spring of 1965, before there was any realism in the U.S. position at all.

The Kill Team – How U.S. Soldiers In Afghanistan Murdered Innocent Civilians And Mutilated Their Corpses

In Uncategorized on March 30, 2011 at 1:01 pm

In a break with protocol, the soldiers also took photographs of themselves celebrating their kill. In the photos, Morlock grins and gives a thumbs-up sign as he poses with Mudin’s body. Note that the boy’s right pinky finger appears to have been severed. Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs reportedly used a pair of razor-sharp medic’s shears to cut off the finger, which he presented to Holmes as a trophy for killing his first Afghan.

Oldspeak: ” So much for Obama’s pledge to “protect innocent civilians”. Gotta do it in Libya, but Afghanis can go fuck themselves. This is why they hate us. It’s not because of our “freedom”. They hate us because we have sociopathic racist killers roaming their countries looking for old men and children to kill because they’re bored or frustrated. It’s because the supposed champions of freedom and justice, allow and encourage their soldiers to engage in war crimes and terrorist acts killing innocents. I wonder if President Obama has seen these photos. I can’t imagine he has, because they’re reason enough to initiate complete and permanent withdrawal of all U.S. personnel from this god forsaken country. OBAMA, bring ‘em home and get them sorely needed psychiatric help or prison. Or both. :-|”

By Mark Boal @ Rolling Stone:

Early last year, after six hard months soldiering in Afghanistan, a group of American infantrymen reached a momentous decision: It was finally time to kill a haji.

Among the men of Bravo Company, the notion of killing an Afghan civilian had been the subject of countless conversations, during lunchtime chats and late-night bull sessions. For weeks, they had weighed the ethics of bagging “savages” and debated the probability of getting caught. Some of them agonized over the idea; others were gung-ho from the start. But not long after the New Year, as winter descended on the arid plains of Kandahar Province, they agreed to stop talking and actually pull the trigger.

Bravo Company had been stationed in the area since summer, struggling, with little success, to root out the Taliban and establish an American presence in one of the most violent and lawless regions of the country. On the morning of January 15th, the company’s 3rd Platoon – part of the 5th Stryker Brigade, based out of Tacoma, Washington – left the mini-metropolis of tents and trailers at Forward Operating Base Ramrod in a convoy of armored Stryker troop carriers. The massive, eight-wheeled trucks surged across wide, vacant stretches of desert, until they came to La Mohammad Kalay, an isolated farming village tucked away behind a few poppy fields.

To provide perimeter security, the soldiers parked the Strykers at the outskirts of the settlement, which was nothing more than a warren of mud-and-straw compounds. Then they set out on foot. Local villagers were suspected of supporting the Taliban, providing a safe haven for strikes against U.S. troops. But as the soldiers of 3rd Platoon walked through the alleys of La Mohammad Kalay, they saw no armed fighters, no evidence of enemy positions. Instead, they were greeted by a frustratingly familiar sight: destitute Afghan farmers living without electricity or running water; bearded men with poor teeth in tattered traditional clothes; young kids eager for candy and money. It was impossible to tell which, if any, of the villagers were sympathetic to the Taliban. The insurgents, for their part, preferred to stay hidden from American troops, striking from a distance with IEDs.

While the officers of 3rd Platoon peeled off to talk to a village elder inside a compound, two soldiers walked away from the unit until they reached the far edge of the village. There, in a nearby poppy field, they began looking for someone to kill. “The general consensus was, if we are going to do something that fucking crazy, no one wanted anybody around to witness it,” one of the men later told Army investigators.

The poppy plants were still low to the ground at that time of year. The two soldiers, Cpl. Jeremy Morlock and Pfc. Andrew Holmes, saw a young farmer who was working by himself among the spiky shoots. Off in the distance, a few other soldiers stood sentry. But the farmer was the only Afghan in sight. With no one around to witness, the timing was right. And just like that, they picked him for execution.

He was a smooth-faced kid, about 15 years old. Not much younger than they were: Morlock was 21, Holmes was 19. His name, they would later learn, was Gul Mudin, a common name in Afghanistan. He was wearing a little cap and a Western-style green jacket. He held nothing in his hand that could be interpreted as a weapon, not even a shovel. The expression on his face was welcoming. “He was not a threat,” Morlock later confessed.

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Morlock and Holmes called to him in Pashto as he walked toward them, ordering him to stop. The boy did as he was told. He stood still.

The soldiers knelt down behind a mud-brick wall. Then Morlock tossed a grenade toward Mudin, using the wall as cover. As the grenade exploded, he and Holmes opened fire, shooting the boy repeatedly at close range with an M4 carbine and a machine gun.

Mudin buckled, went down face first onto the ground. His cap toppled off. A pool of blood congealed by his head.

The loud report of the guns echoed all around the sleepy farming village. The sound of such unexpected gunfire typically triggers an emergency response in other soldiers, sending them into full battle mode. Yet when the shots rang out, some soldiers didn’t seem especially alarmed, even when the radio began to squawk. It was Morlock, agitated, screaming that he had come under attack. On a nearby hill, Spc. Adam Winfield turned to his friend, Pfc. Ashton Moore, and explained that it probably wasn’t a real combat situation. It was more likely a staged killing, he said – a plan the guys had hatched to take out an unarmed Afghan without getting caught.

Back at the wall, soldiers arriving on the scene found the body and the bloodstains on the ground. Morlock and Holmes were crouched by the wall, looking excited. When a staff sergeant asked them what had happened, Morlock said the boy had been about to attack them with a grenade. “We had to shoot the guy,” he said.

It was an unlikely story: a lone Taliban fighter, armed with only a grenade, attempting to ambush a platoon in broad daylight, let alone in an area that offered no cover or concealment. Even the top officer on the scene, Capt. Patrick Mitchell, thought there was something strange about Morlock’s story. “I just thought it was weird that someone would come up and throw a grenade at us,” Mitchell later told investigators.

But Mitchell did not order his men to render aid to Mudin, whom he believed might still be alive, and possibly a threat. Instead, he ordered Staff Sgt. Kris Sprague to “make sure” the boy was dead. Sprague raised his rifle and fired twice.

As the soldiers milled around the body, a local elder who had been working in the poppy field came forward and accused Morlock and Holmes of murder. Pointing to Morlock, he said that the soldier, not the boy, had thrown the grenade. Morlock and the other soldiers ignored him.

To identify the body, the soldiers fetched the village elder who had been speaking to the officers that morning. But by tragic coincidence, the elder turned out to be the father of the slain boy. His moment of grief-stricken recognition, when he saw his son lying in a pool of blood, was later recounted in the flat prose of an official Army report. “The father was very upset,” the report noted.

The father’s grief did nothing to interrupt the pumped-up mood that had broken out among the soldiers. Following the routine Army procedure required after every battlefield death, they cut off the dead boy’s clothes and stripped him naked to check for identifying tattoos. Next they scanned his iris and fingerprints, using a portable biometric scanner.

Then, in a break with protocol, the soldiers began taking photographs of themselves celebrating their kill. Holding a cigarette rakishly in one hand, Holmes posed for the camera with Mudin’s bloody and half-naked corpse, grabbing the boy’s head by the hair as if it were a trophy deer. Morlock made sure to get a similar memento.

No one seemed more pleased by the kill than Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, the platoon’s popular and hard-charging squad leader. “It was like another day at the office for him,” one soldier recalls. Gibbs started “messing around with the kid,” moving his arms and mouth and “acting like the kid was talking.” Then, using a pair of razor-sharp medic’s shears, he reportedly sliced off the dead boy’s pinky finger and gave it to Holmes, as a trophy for killing his first Afghan.

According to his fellow soldiers, Holmes took to carrying the finger with him in a zip-lock bag. “He wanted to keep the finger forever and wanted to dry it out,” one of his friends would later report. “He was proud of his finger.”

After the killing, the soldiers involved in Mudin’s death were not disciplined or punished in any way. Emboldened, the platoon went on a shooting spree over the next four months that claimed the lives of at least three more innocent civilians. When the killings finally became public last summer, the Army moved aggressively to frame the incidents as the work of a “rogue unit” operating completely on its own, without the knowledge of its superiors. Military prosecutors swiftly charged five low-ranking soldiers with murder, and the Pentagon clamped down on any information about the killings. Soldiers in Bravo Company were barred from giving interviews, and lawyers for the accused say their clients faced harsh treatment if they spoke to the press, including solitary confinement. No officers were charged.

But a review of internal Army records and investigative files obtained by Rolling Stone, including dozens of interviews with members of Bravo Company compiled by military investigators, indicates that the dozen infantrymen being portrayed as members of a secretive “kill team” were operating out in the open, in plain view of the rest of the company. Far from being clandestine, as the Pentagon has implied, the murders of civilians were common knowledge among the unit and understood to be illegal by “pretty much the whole platoon,” according to one soldier who complained about them. Staged killings were an open topic of conversation, and at least one soldier from another battalion in the 3,800-man Stryker Brigade participated in attacks on unarmed civilians. “The platoon has a reputation,” a whistle-blower named Pfc. Justin Stoner told the Army Criminal Investigation Command. “They have had a lot of practice staging killings and getting away with it.”

From the start, the questionable nature of the killings was on the radar of senior Army leadership. Within days of the first murder, Rolling Stone has learned, Mudin’s uncle descended on the gates of FOB Ramrod, along with 20 villagers from La Mohammad Kalay, to demand an investigation. “They were sitting at our front door,” recalls Lt. Col. David Abrahams, the battalion’s second in command. During a four-hour meeting with Mudin’s uncle, Abrahams was informed that several children in the village had seen Mudin killed by soldiers from 3rd Platoon. The battalion chief ordered the soldiers to be reinterviewed, but Abrahams found “no inconsistencies in their story,” and the matter was dropped. “It was cut and dry to us at the time,” Abrahams recalls.

Other officers were also in a position to question the murders. Neither 3rd Platoon’s commander, Capt. Matthew Quiggle, nor 1st Lt. Roman Ligsay has been held accountable for their unit’s actions, despite their repeated failure to report killings that they had ample reason to regard as suspicious. In fact, supervising the murderous platoon, or even having knowledge of the crimes, seems to have been no impediment to career advancement. Ligsay has actually been promoted to captain, and a sergeant who joined the platoon in April became a team leader even though he “found out about the murders from the beginning,” according to a soldier who cooperated with the Army investigation.

Indeed, it would have been hard not to know about the murders, given that the soldiers of 3rd Platoon took scores of photographs chronicling their kills and their time in Afghanistan. The photos, obtained by Rolling Stone, portray a front-line culture among U.S. troops in which killing Afghan civilians is less a reason for concern than a cause for celebration. “Most people within the unit disliked the Afghan people, whether it was the Afghan National Police, the Afghan National Army or locals,” one soldier explained to investigators. “Everyone would say they’re savages.” One photo shows a hand missing a finger. Another depicts a severed head being maneuvered with a stick, and still more show bloody body parts, blown-apart legs, mutilated torsos. Several show dead Afghans, lying on the ground or on Stryker vehicles, with no weapons in view.

In many of the photos it is unclear whether the bodies are civilians or Taliban, and it is possible that the unidentified deaths involved no illegal acts by U.S. soldiers. But it is a violation of Army standards to take such photos of the dead, let alone share them with others. Among the soldiers, the collection was treated like a war memento. It was passed from man to man on thumb drives and hard drives, the gruesome images of corpses and war atrocities filed alongside clips of TV shows, UFC fights and films such as Iron Man 2. One soldier kept a complete set, which he made available to anyone who asked.

The collection also includes several videos shot by U.S. troops. In a jumpy, 30-minute clip titled “Motorcycle Kill,” soldiers believed to be with another battalion in the Stryker Brigade gun down two Afghans on a motorcycle who may have been armed. One of the most chilling files shows two Afghans suspected of planting an IED being blown up in an airstrike. Shot through thermal imaging, the grainy footage has been edited into a music video, complete with a rock soundtrack and a title card that reads ‘death zone.’

Even before the war crimes became public, the Pentagon went to extraordinary measures to suppress the photos – an effort that reached the highest levels of both governments. Gen. Stanley McChrystal and President Hamid Karzai were reportedly briefed on the photos as early as May, and the military launched a massive effort to find every file and pull the pictures out of circulation before they could touch off a scandal on the scale of Abu Ghraib. Investigators in Afghanistan searched the hard drives and confiscated the computers of more than a dozen soldiers, ordering them to delete any provocative images. The Army Criminal Investigation Command also sent agents fanning out across America to the homes of soldiers and their relatives, gathering up every copy of the files they could find. The message was clear: What happens in Afghanistan stays in Afghanistan.

By suppressing the photos, however, the Army may also have been trying to keep secret evidence that the killings of civilians went beyond a few men in 3rd Platoon. In one image, two dead Afghans have been tied together, their hands bound, and placed alongside a road. A sign – handwritten on cardboard from a discarded box of rations – hangs around their necks. It reads “Taliban are Dead.” The Pentagon says it is investigating the photos, but insists that there is little more investigators can do to identify the men. “It’s a mystery,” says a Pentagon spokesman. “To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure they know where to take it next. All we have is two apparently dead Afghans handcuffed to each other against a mile marker. We don’t know much beyond that. For all we know, those two guys may have been killed by the Taliban for being sympathizers.”

But such statements suggest that the Pentagon isn’t following every lead. A Stryker vehicle in the photos, for example, bears identifying marks that are clearly visible in the image. And according to a source in Bravo Company, who spoke to Rolling Stone on the condition of anonymity, the two unarmed men in the photos were killed by soldiers from another platoon, which has not yet been implicated in the scandal.

“Those were some innocent farmers that got killed,” the source says. “Their standard operating procedure after killing dudes was to drag them up to the side of the highway.”

Army prosecutors insist that blame for the killings rests with a soldier near the bottom of the Stryker Brigade’s totem pole: Calvin Gibbs, a three-tour veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who served as a squad leader in 3rd Platoon. Morlock and five soldiers charged with lesser crimes have pleaded guilty in exchange for testifying against Gibbs, who faces life in prison for three counts of premeditated murder.

The 26-year-old staff sergeant has been widely portrayed as a sociopath of Mansonesque proportions, a crazed killer with a “pure hatred for all Afghans” who was detested and feared by those around him. But the portrait omits evidence that the Army’s own investigators gathered from soldiers in Bravo Company. “Gibbs is very well-liked in the platoon by his seniors, peers and subordinates alike,” Spc. Adam Kelly reported, adding that Gibbs was “one of the best NCOs I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with in my military career. I believe that because of his experience, more people came back alive and uninjured than would have without him having been part of the platoon.” Another soldier described Gibbs as an “upbeat guy, very funny. He was one of those guys you could talk to about anything and he would make you feel better about the situation.”

At six-feet-four and 220 pounds, Gibbs could certainly intimidate those around him. Growing up in a devout Mormon family in Billings, Montana, he had dropped out of high school to get an equivalency degree and enlist in the Army. He plunged into soldiering, accumulating a slew of medals in Iraq, where the line between legitimate self-defense and civilian deaths was often blurry at best. In 2004, Gibbs and other soldiers allegedly fired on an unarmed Iraqi family near Kirkuk, killing two adults and a child. The incident, which was not prosecuted at the time, is now under investigation by the Army.

Before he joined Bravo Company in November 2009, Gibbs worked on the personal security detail for one of the top commanders in Afghanistan, a controversial, outspoken colonel named Harry Tunnell. Tunnell, who at the time was the commander of 5th Stryker Brigade, openly mocked the military’s approach to counterinsurgency – which emphasizes the need to win the support of local civilians – as better suited to a “social scientist.” “Political correctness dictates that we cannot talk about the oppressive measures employed during successful counterinsurgency campaigns,” he wrote. Tunnell also pushed his men to go after “guerrilla hunter killers,” insisting that the enemy “must be attacked relentlessly.”

When Gibbs left Tunnell’s detail and arrived at the front, he quickly became an extreme version of a relentless attacker. After he took command, Gibbs put a pirate flag on his tent. “Hey, brother,” he told a friend. “Come down to the line and we’ll find someone to kill.” A tattoo on his left shin featured a pair of crossed rifles offset by six skulls. Three of the skulls, colored in red, represented his kills in Iraq. The others, in blue, were from Afghanistan.

By the time Gibbs arrived, morale in the Stryker Brigade had hit rock bottom. Only four months earlier, the unit had been deployed to Afghanistan amid a chorus of optimism about its eight-wheeled armored vehicles, a technological advancement that was supposed to move infantry to the battlefield more quickly and securely, enabling U.S. troops to better strike against the Taliban. By December, however, those hopes had dissolved. The Taliban had forced the Strykers off the roads simply by increasing the size and explosive force of their IEDs, and the brigade had suffered terrible casualties; one battalion had lost more soldiers in action than any since the start of the war. Gibbs, in fact, had been brought in after a squad leader had his legs blown off by an IED.

The soldiers were bored and shellshocked and angry. They had been sent to Afghanistan as part of a new advance guard on a mission to track down the Taliban, but the enemy was nowhere to be found. “To be honest, I couldn’t tell the difference between local nationals and combatants,” one soldier later confessed. During the unit’s first six months in Afghanistan, the Taliban evaded almost every patrol that 3rd Platoon sent out. Frustrations ran so high that when the unit came across the body of an insurgent killed by a helicopter gunship in November 2009, one soldier took out a hunting knife and stabbed the corpse. According to another soldier, Gibbs began playing with a pair of scissors near the dead man’s hands. “I wonder if these can cut off a finger?” Gibbs asked.

The Pentagon’s top command, rather than addressing the morale problems, actually held up the brigade as a media-worthy example of progress in the war. The month after the helicopter incident – only four weeks before the killings began – the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, paid a heavily publicized visit to the area. The military’s strategy of counterinsurgency, he reminded members of 5th Stryker Brigade, required them to win hearts and minds by protecting the population. “If we’re killing local civilians,” he cautioned, “we’re going to strategically lose.”

Gibbs had a different idea about how to breathe new life into 3rd Platoon. Not long after he arrived, he explained to his fellow soldiers that they didn’t have to wait passively to be attacked by the enemy’s IEDs. They could strike back by hitting people in towns known to be sympathetic to the Taliban. “Gibbs told everyone about this scenario by pitching it – by saying that all these Afghans were savages, and we had just lost one of our squad leaders because his legs got blown off by an IED,” Morlock recalled. Killing an Afghan – any Afghan – became a way to avenge the loss.

The members of Bravo Company began to talk incessantly about killing Afghans as they went about their daily chores, got stoned or relaxed over a game of Warhammer. One idea, proposed half in jest, was to throw candy out of a Stryker vehicle as they drove through a village and shoot the children who came running to pick up the sweets. According to one soldier, they also talked about a second scenario in which they “would throw candy out in front and in the rear of the Stryker; the Stryker would then run the children over.” Another elaborate plan involved waiting for an IED attack, then using the explosion as an excuse to kill civilians. That way, the soldiers reasoned, “you could shoot anyone in the general area and get away with it.”

“We were operating in such bad places and not being able to do anything about it,” Morlock said in a phone interview from the jail at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. “I guess that’s why we started taking things into our own hands.”

After killing the Afghan boy at La Mohammad Kalay, members of 3rd Platoon were jubilant. “They were high-fiving each other about having killed the guy,” one soldier recalled. They put the corpse in a black body bag and stowed it on top of their Stryker for the ride back to FOB Ramrod. No sooner had they arrived at the base than they were recounting the tale to soldiers they barely knew.

A few hours after the shooting, during a routine checkup at the base’s clinic, Holmes and Morlock bragged about having killed an insurgent to Alyssa Reilly, a fair-skinned, blond medic who was popular among the men in the unit. Reilly later paid the soldiers a social visit, and they all sat around playing spades. When it came time for their wager, Morlock and Holmes said they would bet a finger. Then they tossed the finger that Gibbs had sliced from Mudin’s body on the card pile. “I thought it was gross,” Reilly told investigators.

Morlock was particularly eager to volunteer the truth to his fellow soldiers, evidently unconcerned about how they would react to his having murdered an unarmed Afghan. The same evening he shot Mudin, several members of Bravo Company convened in the privacy of a Stryker vehicle for a nightcap of hashish, a common activity among the unit. Hash supplied by Afghan translators was a major part of the daily lives of many soldiers; they smoked up constantly, getting high in their vehicles, their housing units, even porta-potties. Now, in the tanklike interior of the Stryker, surrounded by its mesh of wires and periscopes and thermal-imaging computers, Morlock passed the hash and recounted the killing in detail, even explaining how he had been careful not to leave the grenade’s spoon and pin on the ground, where they might have been used as evidence that a U.S. weapon had been involved in the attack. For the same reason, he’d also been careful to brush away traces of white explosive powder around Mudin’s body.

Before the military found itself short of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, Morlock was the kind of bad-news kid whom the Army might have passed on. He grew up not far from Sarah Palin in Wasilla, Alaska; his sister hung out with Bristol, and Morlock played hockey against Track. In those days, he was constantly in trouble: getting drunk and into fights, driving without a license, leaving the scene of a serious car accident. Even after he joined the Army, Morlock continued to get into trouble. In 2009, a month before he deployed to Afghanistan, he was charged with disorderly conduct after burning his wife with a cigarette. After he arrived in Afghanistan, he did any drug he could get his hands on: opium, hash, Ambien, amitriptyline, flexeril, phenergan, codeine, trazodone.

As Morlock bragged about the killing, word of the murder spread back home to families and friends. Soldiers e-mailed photos to their buddies and talked about the killing during visits home. On February 14th, three months before the Army launched its investigation, Spc. Adam Winfield sent a Facebook message to his father, Chris, back in Cape Coral, Florida. A skinny, bookish 21-year-old, Winfield was pissed off at being disciplined by Gibbs. “There are people in my platoon that have gotten away with murder,” he told his father. “Everyone pretty much knows it was staged. . . . They all don’t care.” Winfield added that the victim was “some innocent guy about my age, just farming.”

During Facebook chats, Winfield continued to keep his father in the loop. “Adam told me that he heard the group was planning on another murder involving an innocent Afghanistan man,” Chris Winfield, himself a veteran, later told investigators. “They were going to kill him and drop an AK-47 on him to make it look like he was the bad guy.” Alarmed, the elder Winfield called the command center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and told the sergeant on duty what was going on. But according to Winfield, the sergeant simply shrugged it off, telling him that “stuff like that happens” and that “it would be sorted out when Adam got home.” Tragically, commanders at the base did nothing to follow up on the report.

Back in Afghanistan, Winfield was having second thoughts about reporting the incident. He believed the killings were wrong, but he had finally earned a place in the “circle of trust” erected by Gibbs, who had started off thinking of him as too “weak” to belong to the kill team. Reversing course, he begged his father to stop contacting the Army, saying that he feared for his life. Winfield said Gibbs had warned him that if he told anyone about the murder, he would “go home in a body bag.” His father agreed to keep the matter quiet.

Given the lack of response from their superiors, the soldiers of 3rd Platoon now believed they could kill with impunity – provided they planted “drop weapons” at the scene to frame their victims as enemy combatants. The presence of a weapon virtually guaranteed that a shooting would be considered a legitimate kill, even under the stricter rules of engagement the military had implemented as a key element of counterinsurgency. A drop weapon was the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card. And in the chaotic war zone, they were easy to find.

The military keeps close track of the weapons and ammunition it issues to soldiers, carefully documenting every grenade exploded, every magazine expended. So Gibbs made it his business to gather “off the books” weapons through a variety of channels. He got friendly with guys in the Afghan National Police and tried to trade them porn magazines in exchange for rocket-propelled grenades; he cajoled other units to give him munitions; he scrounged for broken and discarded UXO – unexploded ordnance – until he had collected a motley arsenal of random weaponry, old frag grenades, bent RPG tails, duct-taped claymore mines, C-4, mortar rounds. His best find was a working AK-47 with a folding butt stock and two magazines, which he pulled from the wreckage of an Afghan National Police vehicle that had been blown up near the base’s gate. Gibbs placed the AK-47 and the magazines in a metal box in one of the Strykers. Later, a corporal named Emmitt Quintal discovered the gun and wondered what it was doing there. As he recalled, Staff Sgt. David Bram “sat me down and explained to me that it was basically to cover our ass if anything happened.”

Two weeks after the murder of Gul Mudin, something did.

It was the night of January 27th and the platoon was driving along the highway near their forward operating base. Suddenly, through their thermal imaging, they spotted a human heat signature on the side of the road – a potentially suspicious sign, since the Taliban often operate at night, using the cover of darkness to plant IEDs.

The patrol stopped 100 yards away from the man, and a handful of soldiers and an interpreter got out of their vehicles. They could see that the man was crouched down, or curled up like a ball close to the ground. As they approached, the man stood up and held his arms in front of his chest. To the soldiers, the motion was either an indication that he was cold, or that he was hiding a suicide-bomb vest.

Shouting to the man in Pashto, the soldiers illuminated him with intense, high-power spotlights and ordered him to lift up his shirt. But the man began to pace back and forth in the blinding white light, ignoring their calls. “He was acting strange,” recalls a soldier. For several minutes the man shuffled around as the soldiers fired warning shots at him. The bullets skipped around him.

Then – ignoring the warnings – the man began walking toward the troops. “Fire!” someone yelled. Gibbs opened fire, followed by at least five other soldiers. In the course of a few seconds, they expended approximately 40 rounds.

The man’s body lay on the ground. He turned out to be completely unarmed. According to official statements made by several soldiers, he also appears to have been deaf or mentally disabled. Above his beard, a large portion of his skull was missing, blown away by the hail of bullets. Spc. Michael Wagnon collected a piece of the skull and kept it as a trophy.

It was the team’s second killing of an unarmed man in as many weeks, and the second time they violated a body. But rather than investigate the shooting, the platoon’s officers concentrated on trying to justify it. When 1st Lt. Roman Ligsay radioed Capt. Matthew Quiggle, the platoon’s commanding officer, and informed him that the same unit had shot an unarmed Afghan male, the captain was furious. “He strongly believed that we had illegitimately killed a local national,” recalls Quintal.

Quiggle ordered Ligsay to search until they found a weapon. “Lt. Ligsay was pretty freaked out,” Quintal recalls. “He was positive he was going to lose his job.” For the next hour the platoon swept the area with their flashlights looking for weapons, but they couldn’t find anything.

Then Staff Sgt. Bram ordered Quintal to hand him the AK-47 magazine that Gibbs had stowed in the metal box in the Stryker. A private named Justin Stoner passed it down. A few minutes later, a voice called out in the darkness. “Sir!” Bram yelled. “I think I found something.”

Lt. Ligsay walked up and saw the black magazine lying on the ground. He called it in, and the platoon breathed a sigh of relief. The members of the kill team knew it was a drop magazine, but it turned the shooting into a legitimate kill.

“The incident was staged to look like he may have had a weapon,” Stoner told investigators. “Basically, what we did was a desperate search to justify killing this guy. But in reality he was just some old, deaf, retarded guy. We basically executed this man.”

Under the rules of engagement, however, the U.S. military still considers the man responsible for his own death. Because he ignored the platoon’s warnings and moved in their direction, no one has been charged in his killing – even though the Army now knows he was gunned down by soldiers intent on shooting unarmed civilians for sport.

Within a month, according to the Army, Gibbs executed another civilian and planted a weapon on the body. It was during Operation Kodak Moment, a routine mission to photograph and compile a database of the male residents of a village called Kari Kheyl. On February 22nd, the day of the mission, Gibbs hid the AK-47 he had stolen from the Afghan National Police in a black assault pack. As the platoon made its way through the village, he went to the hut of Marach Agha, a man he suspected of belonging to the Taliban, and ordered him outside.

First Gibbs fired the AK-47 into a nearby wall and dropped the weapon at Agha’s feet. Then he shot the man at close range with his M4 rifle. Morlock and Wagnon followed up with a few rounds of their own. With the scene staged to his satisfaction, Gibbs called in a report.

Staff Sgt. Sprague was one of the first to respond. Gibbs claimed that he had turned a corner and spotted the man, who had fired at him with the AK-47, only to have the rifle jam. But when Sprague picked up the Kalashnikov, it seemed to be in perfect operating condition. A short time later, as he walked down a dusty alley in the village, Sprague himself came under attack from small-arms fire. He responded instinctively by squeezing the trigger on the AK-47 – and the gun fired “with no problems at all.”

Sprague reported the discrepancy to Lt. Ligsay. When the body was identified, relatives also reported that Agha was a deeply religious man who would never have taken up arms. He “did not know how to use an AK-47,” they told Ligsay. Once again, however, no action was taken, nor was Gibbs disciplined.

With their commanding officers repeatedly failing to investigate, the kill team was starting to feel invulnerable. To encourage soldiers in other units to target unarmed civilians, Gibbs had given one of the “off the books” grenades he had scrounged to a friend from another battalion, Staff Sgt. Robert Stevens. “It showed up in a box on my desk,” recalled Stevens, a senior medic. “When I opened the box, I saw a grenade canister, which had a grenade in it and a dirty green sock.” Figuring the sock was some kind of joke, Stevens threw it away. Later, when he saw Gibbs, he mentioned getting the grenade.

“Did you get the other thing?” Gibbs asked.

“What, the sock?” Stevens said.

“No, what was in the sock,” Gibbs replied.

Inside the sock, Gibbs had placed a severed human finger.

Stevens got the message. On March 10th, as his convoy was driving down Highway 1, the central road connecting Kandahar to the north, Stevens stuck his head out of his Stryker’s open hatch and tossed the grenade. It detonated a few seconds later than he had anticipated, and when it blew, it thudded into the vehicle. Stevens immediately began firing at a nearby compound of huts, yelling at another platoon member to do the same. “Get the fuck up, Morgan!” he screamed. “Let’s go, shoot!”

No casualties were reported from the incident, but it earned Stevens an Army Commendation Medal and a Combat Medical Badge. Stevens later admitted that he had concocted the ambush not only because he wanted to get rid of the illegal grenade but because he “wanted to hook up the guys in the company” with their Combat Infantryman Badges, 14 of which were awarded in the aftermath of the shooting. All of the awards were revoked when the Army learned the attack had been faked.

The assault staged by Stevens suggested a new way to target Afghan civilians. In addition to approaching targets on foot, Gibbs decided to use his Stryker as a shooting platform, affording greater mobility with the protection of armor. In a perverse twist, the vehicle that had proved ineffective at combating the Taliban was about to be turned on the very people it was supposed to defend.

On March 18th, during a maintenance run to Kandahar Airfield, the unit drove past a populated area of the city. According to one soldier, Gibbs opened the hatch of the moving Stryker and tossed out a grenade. As it exploded with a loud bang, shrapnel hit the Stryker. “RPG!” Gibbs shouted. “RPG!” Sgt. Darren Jones, who had discussed faking attacks with Gibbs, opened fire indiscriminately on the local residents, who frantically scrambled to avoid the incoming rounds. Gibbs raised his M4 and laid down fire as well.

There is no way to know how many, if any, casualties resulted from the fusillade. Lt. Ligsay, who was in the same Stryker with Gibbs and Jones, maintains that he mistakenly believed the attack to be genuine and ordered the convoy to keep moving. The platoon did not return to the area to conduct a battle damage assessment, and no charges were ever filed in the incident.

A few weeks later, sometime in late March or early April, members of 3rd Platoon fired on unarmed civilians twice on the same day, indicating a growing sense of their own invincibility. Five soldiers were part of a patrol in a grape field in the Zhari District when they spotted three unarmed men. According to Stevens, Gibbs ordered the soldiers to open fire, even though the men were standing erect and posed no threat. All five soldiers fired their weapons at the men, but they managed to escape unscathed. Gibbs was not pleased. “He mentioned that we needed to work on our accuracy,” Stevens recalled, “because it did not appear that anyone was hurt.”

That same evening, while manning a guard tower overlooking a field in the Zhari District, soldiers from 3rd Platoon were directly told not to shoot at an elderly farmer who had been granted permission to work his land nearby. Despite the warning, two soldiers reportedly shot at the farmer as if he were an armed combatant. They once again failed to hit their target, but the officer in charge was furious. “This farmer has never been a problem,” he later told investigators. “He’s 60 to 70 years old.”

One morning that spring, Gibbs approached Morlock flashing what looked like a small metal pineapple. “Hey, man, I’ve got this Russian grenade,” he said. Gibbs added that the weapon would be the perfect tool to fake another attack, since the Taliban were known to carry Russian explosives. Morlock liked the idea. The night before, talking with a bunch of soldiers outside their bunk rooms, he had announced that he was looking to kill another haji, a pejorative term that U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan use for Muslims. One soldier who took part in the conversation dismissed it as idle talk. “I didn’t really think anything of it,” he told investigators, “because soldiers say stuff like that all the time.”

The morning of May 2nd, the platoon was on a routine patrol in a village called Qualaday, a few miles from base. Following standard procedure, the unit’s leaders entered a house to talk with a man who had previously been arrested for having an IED. That inadvertently left the rest of the platoon free to roam the village looking for targets, without having to worry about an officer’s supervision.

Outside the house, Morlock was overheard instructing Winfield in how a grenade explodes, cautioning him to remain on the ground during the blast. Then the two soldiers moved off with Gibbs. Nearby, in a compound filled with children, they picked out a man with a white beard and escorted him outside. “He seemed friendly,” Winfield recalled. “He didn’t seem to have any sort of animosity toward us.”

Gibbs turned to his men. “You guys want to wax this guy or what?” he asked. Morlock and Winfield agreed that the man seemed perfect.

Gibbs walked the Afghan to a nearby ditch and forced him to his knees, ordering him to stay that way. Then he positioned Morlock and Winfield in a prone position behind a small berm no more than 10 feet away. “To be honest,” Morlock later told investigators, “me and Winfield thought we were going to frag ourselves, ’cause we were so fucking close.”

With everyone in position, Gibbs took cover behind a low wall and chucked a grenade toward the Afghan. “All right, dude, wax this guy!” he shouted. “Kill this guy, kill this guy!”

As the grenade went off, Morlock and Winfield opened fire. Morlock got off several rounds with his M4. Winfield, who was armed with the more powerful SAW machine gun, squeezed off a burst that lasted for three to five seconds.

Gibbs shouted for Morlock to proceed with the next stage of the plan. “Get up there and plant that fucking grenade!”

The man lay where he had fallen. One of his feet had been blown off by the blast; his other leg was missing below the knee. Morlock ran up and dropped the Russian pineapple grenade near the dead man’s hand. Gibbs walked up to the body, stood directly over it, and fired twice into the man’s head, shattering the jaw.

Later, when the scene had calmed down – after soldiers had pushed away the dead man’s wife and children, who were screaming, hysterical with grief, and Morlock had spun the story to the higher-ups – Gibbs took out a pair of medical shears and cut off the corpse’s left pinky finger, which he kept for himself. Then, wearing a surgical glove, he reached into the dead man’s mouth, pulled out a tooth and handed it to Winfield.

Winfield held the tooth for a while. Then he tossed it aside, leaving it behind on the ground at Qualaday.

This time, though, the villagers refused to be placated. The dead man, it turned out, was a peaceful cleric named Mullah Allah Dad. Two days later, the murder provoked an uproar at a districtwide council attended by Capt. Quiggle, the unit’s commanding officer. The district leader launched into a blistering attack of the platoon. “He pretty much told us that we planted the grenade in order to shoot the guy,” recalled 1st Lt. Stefan Moye, who escorted Quiggle to the meeting.

But the next day, instead of launching an inquiry into the platoon’s behavior, Quiggle dispatched Moye to the scene of the shooting to do damage control. With Gibbs hovering nearby, the lieutenant found two elderly villagers who claimed to have seen Mullah Allah Dad with a grenade. Relieved, Moye urged them to spread the word. “This is the type of stuff that the Taliban likes to use against us and try to recruit people to fight against us,” he said.

His mission accomplished, Moye left the village feeling that the platoon could return to its usual rhythms. “After that,” he said, “everything was normal.”

Things might have remained “normal,” and the killings might have continued, if it hadn’t been for what began as a trivial spat between bunkmates. Around midnight, the same evening that Moye returned from pacifying village elders, Pfc. Stoner walked into the company’s tactical operations center to register a complaint. Stoner, who had helped plant the AK-47 magazine on the civilian murdered by the highway, said he was sick and tired of other soldiers in the unit using his room as “a smoke shack for hash.” Worried that the lingering odor would get him busted, he had asked them to find another place to get stoned. They had refused, pausing only to remove the battery from the room’s smoke detector.

“They baked the room many times until it stank constantly,” Stoner said. “I was worried for my own job.” Emphasizing that he wasn’t a snitch, Stoner told the sergeant on duty that he didn’t want to get his fellow soldiers in trouble. Then, growing emotional, he mentioned that “he and a bunch of other guys had executed a local national out on Highway 1.” The sergeant didn’t take the story seriously enough to report it up the chain of command. “I thought he was just upset and needed to talk to someone about the incident,” he later recalled. Instead of alerting his superiors about the murder allegation, the sergeant simply assured Stoner that the matter of hash smoking in his room would be handled quietly, and that his identity would be kept confidential.

But discretion wasn’t exactly the unit’s strong suit. By the next day, everyone knew that Stoner had ratted them out. “Everyone began to panic,” Quintal recalls. Gibbs, who didn’t care for hashish, gathered members of the kill team in his room. “We need to address the situation with Stoner,” he reportedly said. “Snitches get stitches.”

On May 6th, Gibbs and six other soldiers descended on Stoner’s room, locking the door behind them, and attacked Stoner while he was sitting on his bed. Grabbing him by the throat, they dragged him to the floor and piled on, striking him hard but taking care to avoid blows to the face that might leave visible bruises. “I’ve been in the Army four years,” Morlock said as he pummeled Stoner in the stomach. “How could you do this to me?” Before leaving, they struck Stoner in the crotch and spit in his face.

A few hours later, Gibbs and Morlock returned to Stoner’s room. As Stoner sat on his bed, still dazed from the assault, Morlock explained that the beating would not happen again, so long as Stoner kept his mouth shut “from fucking now on.” If Stoner were disloyal again, Gibbs warned, he would be killed the next time he went out on patrol. “It’s too easy,” he added, explaining that he could hide Stoner’s body in a Hesco barrier, one of the temporary structures used to fortify U.S. positions.

Then Gibbs reached into his pocket and took out a bit of cloth. Unfolding it, he tossed two severed fingers on the floor, with bits of skin still hanging off the bone. If Stoner didn’t want to end up like “that guy,” Morlock said, he better “shut the hell up.” After all, he added, he “already had enough practice” at killing people.

Stoner had no doubt that Morlock would follow through on the threat. “Basically, I do believe that Morlock would kill me if he had the chance,” he said later.

But the beating proved to be the kill team’s undoing. When a physician’s assistant examined Stoner the next day, she saw the angry red welts covering his body. She also saw the large tattoo across Stoner’s back. In gothic type, beneath a grinning red skull flanked by two grim reapers, it read:

what if im not the hero

what if im the bad guy

Stoner was sent to talk to Army investigators. In the course of recounting the assault, he described how Gibbs had thrown the severed fingers on the floor. The investigators pressed him about how Gibbs came by the fingers. Stoner told them it was because the platoon had killed a lot of innocent people.

At that point, the investigators asked Stoner to start from the beginning. When had the platoon killed innocent people? Bit by bit, Stoner laid out the whole history, naming names and places and times.

As other members of the platoon were called in and interviewed, many confirmed Stoner’s account and described the shootings for investigators. Morlock, who proved particularly gregarious, agreed to speak on videotape. Relaxed and unconcerned in front of the camera, he nonchalantly described the kills in detail.

Morlock’s confession kicked off an intense search for evidence. When the Army’s investigators were dispatched to FOB Ramrod, they went straight to the top of a Hesco barrier near Gibbs’ housing unit. Right where Morlock said it would be, they found the bottom of a plastic water bottle containing two pieces of cloth. Inside each piece of cloth was a severed human finger. But then a strange thing happened. When investigators compared prints of the two fingers to those in the company’s database, the prints didn’t match up. Either the records were screwed up, which was quite possible, or there were more dead guys out there who were unaccounted for.

Last week, on March 23rd, Morlock was sentenced to 24 years in prison after agreeing to testify against Gibbs. “The Army wants Gibbs,” says one defense lawyer. “They want to throw him in jail and move on.” Gibbs insists that all three killings he took part in were “legitimate combat engagements.” Three other low-level soldiers facing murder charges – Winfield, Holmes and Wagnon – also maintain their innocence. As for the other men in Bravo Company, five have already been convicted of lesser crimes, including drug use, stabbing a corpse and beating up Stoner, and two more face related charges. In December, Staff Sgt. Stevens was sentenced to nine months in prison after agreeing to testify against Gibbs. He was stripped to the lowest service rank – private E-1 – but over the protests of military prosecutors, he was allowed to remain in the Army.

So far, though, no officers or senior officials have been charged in either the murders or the cover-up. Last October, the Army quietly launched a separate investigation, guided by Brig. Gen. Stephen Twitty, into the critical question of officer accountability. But the findings of that inquiry, which was concluded last month, have been kept secret – and the Army refuses to say whether it has disciplined or demoted any of the commanders responsible for 3rd Platoon. Even if the commanding officers were not co-conspirators or accomplices in the crimes, they repeatedly ignored clear warning signs and allowed a lethally racist attitude to pervade their unit. Indeed, the resentment of Afghans was so commonplace among soldiers in the platoon that when Morlock found himself being questioned by Army investigators, he expressed no pity or remorse about the murders.

Toward the end of Morlock’s interview, the conversation turned to the mindset that had allowed the killings to occur. “None of us in the platoon – the platoon leader, the platoon sergeant – no one gives a fuck about these people,” Morlock said.

Then he leaned back in his chair and yawned, summing up the way his superiors viewed the people of Afghanistan. “Some shit goes down,” he said, “you’re gonna get a pat on the back from your platoon sergeant: Good job. Fuck ‘em.”

In Kabul, Biden Promises U.S. Support Beyond 2014

In Uncategorized on January 12, 2011 at 2:30 pm


Oldspeak: ” ‘War is a drug.’ -Chris Hedges. Looks like it’s official. The U.S. is never leaving Afghanistan. Last June, Obama hedged on his pledge to begin withdrawing troops in July 2011. Today, Biden is saying “It is not our intention to govern or to nation-build….If the Afghan people want it, we won’t leave in 2014.” Riiiiight. “If the Afghan people want it.” The Afghan people want the U.S. out of their country YESTERDAY. They get the shit bombed out of them daily by U.S. troops and Predator drones, while their “government” stands by, complicit in the killing of untold numbers of civilians. The reality is their wants  don’t really matter. Untapped oil, natural gas and mineral deposits, coveted by the U.S. do. Does anyone really believe the obviously corrupt puppet  installed by the U.S. is going to refuse U.S. offers to stay and “support”? C’mon Son.”

From Joshua Partlow and Pamela Constable @ The Washington Post:

KABUL – Vice President Biden on Tuesday pledged long-term American support for Afghanistan, offering a commitment to help the war-torn nation beyond the 2014 target both countries have set to have Afghans fully in charge of their own security.

The day after he arrived in Kabul on an unannounced visit, Biden toured a training academy for Afghan soldiers, had lunch with President Hamid Karzai and said he was confident of the effectiveness of the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy.

“We’ve largely arrested the Taliban momentum here in some very important areas,” Biden said, speaking alongside Karzai. “But these gains – as you pointed out to me, Mr. President – we know are fragile and reversible.”

During the intense Washington debate leading to the dispatch of 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan last year, Biden argued for a smaller military footprint, more focused on counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders.

“It is not our intention to govern or to nation-build,” Biden said. “As President Karzai often points out, this is the responsibility of the Afghan people, and they are fully capable of it.”

But he stressed that the United States would continue to assist the Afghan government. “If the Afghan people want it, we won’t leave in 2014,” Biden said.

NATO, including the United States, has pledged economic and security assistance beyond 2014, and the United States is separately negotiating its own long-term strategic accord with Afghanistan. It is unclear whether any such agreement would involve an ongoing U.S. troop presence.

The vice president arrived in Islamabad on Wednesday for a one-day visit with senior Pakistani officials. Officials at the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad said Biden would meet separately with President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani and Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, the army chief, before leaving late Wednesday to return to the United States.

Pakistani sources in Washington said Biden’s discussions would focus on the Obama administration’s concerns over growing political instability and economic problems inPakistan. The government’s ruling coalition came close to collapse recently, and it was salvaged only after officials agreed to lower fuel prices, a populist concession that has alarmed international lenders and U.S. officials.


1st US Soldier Of Alleged “Kill Team” Targeting Afghan Civilians Faces Military Tribunal for War Crimes

In Uncategorized on October 7, 2010 at 12:10 pm

 

Cpl. Jeremy Morlock of Wasilla, Alaska, faces charges including premeditated murder and conspiracy.

Oldspeak: “Move evidence of the “Call of Duty/Modern Warfare” effect. Army Specialist Jeremy Morlock is the 1st of 12 US soldiers accused of forming a secret “kill team” in Afghanistan that murdered unarmed Afghan civilians at random and collected body parts, such as fingers, for trophies. They are also accused of using hashish, dismembering and photographing corpses, and possessing human bones such as a skull and leg bones. The Army is attempting to prevent the release of dozens of photographs that reportedly show Morlock and other soldiers posing with the murdered Afghan civilians. “The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug” -Chris Hedges.”

 

From Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now:

AMY GOODMAN: A US soldier charged with murdering civilians and other crimes in Afghanistan made his first court appearance at a military court in Washington state Monday. Army Specialist Jeremy Morlock is the first of twelve US soldiers accused of forming a secret “kill team” in Afghanistan that murdered unarmed Afghan civilians at random and collected body parts, such as fingers, for trophies. They are also accused of using hashish, dismembering and photographing corpses, and possessing human bones such as skull and leg bones.

Earlier this year, Morlock was interviewed by Army investigators and acknowledged his role in the deaths of the three Afghans which took place in Kandahar between January and May. Video of part of Morlock’s confession to Army investigators has been leaked to the media. In the video—and you have to listen carefully—Morlock admits Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs ordered him to kill an innocent unarmed Afghan civilian.

    JEREMY MORLOCK: And then he kind of placed me and Winfield off over here, so we had a clean line of sight for this guy. And, you know, he pulled out one of his grenades, American grenade, you know, popped it, throws the grenade, and then tells me and Winfield, “Alright, wax this guy. Kill this guy. Kill this guy.”

    ARMY INVESTIGATOR: Did you see him present any weapons? Or did he—was he aggressive at you at all? Did he—

    JEREMY MORLOCK: No, not at all. Nothing.

    ARMY INVESTIGATOR: OK.

    JEREMY MORLOCK: He wasn’t a threat.

 

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, Morlock’s attorney, Geoffrey Nathan, defended him, saying Morlock was taking a variety of prescription drugs issued by the military to treat injuries he sustained in battle. He also linked the killings to overall US policy in Afghanistan.

    GEOFFREY NATHAN: We believe that a jury will exonerate Morlock as a consequence of both a failed policy, a failed medical practice compounded with a failed policy. Let’s face it. Why are we still in Afghanistan? What are we accomplishing over there, other than taking good kids through multiple tours of duty, extending them, enlarging them, and then, frankly, ruining them? You know, this family has been torn apart by this, and it’s unfair to them. He should have never been there at all. He didn’t need to be there. And we believe that the combination of a failed policy emanating out of the White House and the demonstrative scientific evidence that I put forward today will indeed exonerate Morlock.

 

AMY GOODMAN: The Army is attempting to prevent the release of dozens of photographs that reportedly show Jeremy Morlock and other soldiers posing with the murdered Afghan civilians. A top Army official recently ordered that any images of dead or wounded Afghans may not be made public during Morlock’s hearing. Morlock is the first of five soldiers accused of murder. Seven others are accused of trying to block the investigation.

Chris McGreal is the Washington correspondent for the London Guardian. He has been following this story. He joins us on the line from Washington, DC.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Chris. Can you lay out how this story was exposed and, well, what’s happening now with this hearing? Who is this kill team?

CHRIS McGREAL: This kill team is particularly striking incidents of organized killing of civilians, in that it seems to have been premeditated. And if we believe the accounts of some of the soldiers involved in court, including Jeremy Morlock, who you’ve just mentioned, it was instigated by the Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs after he arrived from a tour of duty in Iraq. And in discussions in which he is said to have sounded out the other members of his unit, to do something along these lines, which he seems to have done as well in Iraq, he certainly seems to have implied that he did this kind of thing in Iraq. He talked about setting up a kill team for a month within his unit who might be interested. Jeremy Morlock, who was a specialist, Army specialist, at the time, seems to have sided with Calvin Gibbs. Other soldiers were brought in. And then they simply set about identifying innocent Afghans, who, when they were on patrol, they plucked out just because they felt like it and then set about killing them.

In some cases—one particular man, which Jeremy Morlock talks about, he was taken from his home. He was told to stand against a wall. He wasn’t given—he wasn’t armed. He wasn’t any kind of threat. He wasn’t told why he had been taken out of his home. And then Morlock and Gibbs walked the other side of the wall and dropped a grenade over, and then went round, and if the man was still alive, they shot him.

So, it seems to have been a practice that Gibbs brought from Iraq, and he seems to have felt that he could get away with it. It was eventually uncovered because one member of the unit who knew about it had also noticed that bound up will all of this was very heavy drug use, or regular drug use, anyway, and he went to report it. When he reported that to one of his superiors, word got back to Gibbs and others, and they beat him up and tried to prevent him from reporting anything else. He went back to other officers, and once he was talking about why he’d been beaten up, which was over the drugs, then the information about the kill team came out.

AMY GOODMAN: The hearings are taking place at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. The soldiers in the Third Platoon, Bravo Company, Second Battalion, First Infantry Regiment of what’s now the Second Stryker Brigade?

CHRIS McGREAL: Yeah, that’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about the soldier who contacted his father.

CHRIS McGREAL: Well, the Army is saying that the fact that they moved so swiftly—once they were informed about all of this, they moved swiftly to break up the kill team, and they’re using that as evidence that this kind of conduct is not tolerated inside the military. But it seems that at least two soldiers had, in one way or another, contacted the authorities and, in one case, contacted a parent to say that this was going on. The information did reach back to the military, and they seem initially not to have acted upon it. Certainly, the information filtered up within Gibbs’s own unit, and nothing seems to have been done. And it would seem that there’s some merit to the claim that it was initially covered up, because if we look at the charges, although five soldiers are charged with murder, seven others are charged with essentially trying to cover up the crime, which means that at least twelve soldiers within this unit knew it was going on. And if twelve knew, it’s highly likely that a lot more knew about it.

AMY GOODMAN: This was Specialist Adam Winfield, twenty-one years old, who said he told his father. And the father said he—he reached his father through Facebook, and the father said he tried to contact the base and was told that Adam, the soldier, had to report to his superiors, but his superiors in Afghanistan were part of this. This is exactly who he was afraid of.

CHRIS McGREAL: Yeah. It really only seems that this case was dealt with when it moved outside of the authorities immediately responsible for this unit in Kandahar. Once other investigators were brought in, principally over the assault of the soldier for reporting the drug use, then it essentially moved beyond the unit and the military authorities in Kandahar, and it became harder for the military to contain it.

AMY GOODMAN: Chris McGreal, what about the photographs? I mean, we know what happened with Abu Ghraib. Those photos got out. President Obama has sided with the Bush administration in not allowing the release of other photos in other cases. But now you have this group of photos that—can you describe them? What exactly is this evidence of?

CHRIS McGREAL: Well, I have not seen the photos, but we do have descriptions of the photos. Essentially, what they appear to be is a series of photos in which dead Afghans are treated as though they are hunting trophies, with soldiers posing by them as though they had been on safari in Africa a century ago, which of course is revealing of all kinds of things but also very demeaning of the dead in the photos. I’m sure the military and the American authorities don’t want them to come out, because I suspect they will be deeply upsetting to many Afghans and will confirm what many Afghans already feel, which is that there is an indifference towards all life, including Afghan civilian life, in—within the coalition forces, and particularly the US forces. We don’t know—I personally don’t know how many of these photos there are and who exactly is in them, although it is known that there are quite a few of them, and it does seem to have been part of a regular practice. Again, there seems to have been a culture of this as part of how this unit went about its daily duties.

AMY GOODMAN: According to Craig Whitlock in the Washington Post, digital photographs of the corpses and of soldiers posing with them circulated widely among the unit soldiers, who stored the images on laptops and thumb drives, according to court papers. Investigators have tried to collect all the images, but Army officials are worried they could become public and possibly inflame tensions among Afghans. Several other soldiers have also given statements to investigators, saying hashish was rampant in the unit and that some members kept Afghan finger and leg bones as trophies. Chris McGreal?

CHRIS McGREAL: Yes, I mean, there’s seems to—it’s clear that this is all part of, you know, a much bigger culture. If you have, I suppose, a staff sergeant who arrives from Iraq saying that, you know, he’d like to carry on doing what he did in Iraq, it’s clear that this is much wider than just this unit. But, yes, they seem to have appear—they appear to have been free—felt they were free to pretty much do what they liked, to select victims—that one of the prosecutors has called this “sport,” effectively, that they killed for sport. And I think their behavior suggests that. Having killed for sport, they then collected the trophies, the fingers and bones and the skull, and they took—they took photographs of their kills and next to their kills. And the general approach towards this does seem to have been to treat it as though killing Afghan civilians was sport.

AMY GOODMAN: Chris McGreal, you know, this story was breaking during the whole Terry Jones scandal, the pastor who was going to burn a Quran on September 11th, this one pastor, a lot attention on that. But this, which is so much more explosive and involves so many other people, this has been now brewing for a while. The hearings already started on the base. And yet it’s gotten very little attention in the United States.

CHRIS McGREAL: Yes. Well, it seems to have got a little bit more attention recently in the run-up to the hearings, but it’s true. Perhaps—it is not clear to me why, because it was written about by the press in Seattle when the charges were first laid back in May, and it has been written a bit about by the Associated Press. But it’s only now that it’s caught attention here. I’m not entirely sure why that is. But as you say, it seems to have been a long time coming.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, very quickly—I know you have to go, Chris. You’ve written about Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, breaking down and crying, talking about not wanting his son to be a refugee, wanting Afghans to able to stay in Afghanistan. Talk more about what took place.

CHRIS McGREAL: Well, this was—he was actually at a school for International Literacy Day, but it came on the day that they were launching the High Peace Council, which is essentially going to be the body that is going to try and negotiate with the Taliban and other insurgents and just bring an end to this war. And Karzai broke down while appealing to the people of Afghanistan to find some sense, as he put it, and put an end to this conflict.

I mean, I think that it was obviously a very emotional speech for him, and he feels that because he spent so many years in exile himself, first fleeing after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and then remaining in exile during the Taliban rule—his own father was murdered by the Taliban—and he knows the experience of exile and being victimized by oppressive forces.

I think, you know, his appeal, though, was a reflection of the fact that he actually doesn’t have much confidence now that this conflict is going to—or that the way this conflict is being conducted is going to end with the Taliban being defeated. He’s facing the reality that there has to be a deal with the Taliban in the end, and the only way to bring an end to the conflict is to bring all Afghans on board. And it was a very heartfelt appeal for that.

AMY GOODMAN: Chris McGreal, I want to thank you very much for taking this time, Washington correspondent for The Guardian in London.


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