Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Afghanistan War Crimes Covered Up

No surprise here. It was all done before in Vietnam. Sure, Americans eventually found out about My Lai, but that was only the largest of many, many atrocities committed by US forces in a war they could not win. The brass tried to cover-up My Lai too, but the cover eventually failed because one former soldier, Ron Ridenhour, wrote a letter to the president and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Amnesty International issued a report concerning the accountability of the US military for Afghan civilian deaths in a five year period of 2009 to 2013. The group, which has no love for the United States government, conducted 125 interviews with Afghan witnesses to attacks that resulted in civilian casualties and examined the documentary record. Amnesty International concluded that the US ignored abundant and credible evidence of unlawful killing of civilians. While the laws of war do not protect a civilian in every instance, summary executions or indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks are considered war crimes. Only six cases of unlawful killing of civilians in the last five years resulted in criminal prosecutions of US servicemen. Sgt. Robert Bales is the most notorious example, having killed 16 civilians during a nighttime rampage. He is serving a life sentence without parole for his crimes. However, other serious crimes have not been meaningfully investigated primarily because the military system relies on self-reporting. Troops in combat situations have little incentive to report possible crimes up the chain of command and many disincentives to remain silent. Even if a case reaches the level of formal prosecution and the public becomes aware of it through an Article 32 hearing, its outcome is heavily influenced by command structure. Under this arrangement only the most flagrant violations or morally reprehensible behavior becomes a criminal case in the military's courts martial. Moreover, the military withholds information on accountability for civilian casualties. FOIA requests are ineffective, or responses delayed for so long the information requested is irrelevant. The Nation filed a broad FOIA request about Afghan civilian casualties in September, 2011 and as of July, 2014 there has been no response. America's longest war is scheduled to end this year.

Night time raids by US special forces and bombing runs often result in civilian casualties that are never investigated. One example cited by Amnesty is the February 2010 raid on a family compound in Khataba Village, Paktia Province. A prominent village family was celebrating the birth of a grandson. Twenty to thirty people had gathered at night including local officials, law enforcement officers, and a vice-chacellor of nearby Gardez University. The raid began after 3am. Two guests who went outside to see what was happening were shot dead in the courtyard. Two pregnant women in the doorway were also shot dead. Only after five people were down with wounds, some fatal, did the shooting stop. Shots were fired by snipers on a nearby rooftop and there was no exchange of gunfire, just a barrage from Special Forces. The compound gate was then blown open and troops entered the house. Male occupants still alive were forced outside into the cold without shoes where they waited for hours, hands over black sacks on their heads. Pleas to aid the dying and injured were ignored. Bullets were removed from bodies and walls. The home was ransacked and valuables stolen.

When asked about this raid, US military officials claimed the victims had been killed in a "traditional honor killing" implying the Taliban was responsible. They said Special Forces found them already dead when the raid took place. An investigator from the Afghan Human Rights Commission visited the village the day after the attack and interviewed twenty people including family members and eyewitnesses. His investigation confirmed the raid was an unprovoked assault on a peaceful celebration and that there were attempts to remove evidence from the scene. His findings were later corroborated by the Criminal Investigation Division of the Afghan Interior Department. A subsequent 13 March 2010 article in the The Times of London reported a cover-up of a botched night raid that killed five civilians. In the face of adverse publicity, military authorities attempted to explain away the dead saying soldiers found the bodies during the raid, with two women bound, apparently awaiting burial. Unable to piece together a coherent or credible cover story, NATO finally admitted responsibility for the deaths in April 2010, but the US military never investigated the attack. No one involved in the attack has ever been prosecuted for a war crime. The family's patriarch reluctantly accepted some money and a few sheep as compensation for the unjustified killings when offered to him in person by Vice Admiral William McRaven, Commander of the Joint Special Operations Command. The grieving patriarch later told Amnesty he believes an informer gave false information to the US military about militant activity at his house, and he wants the perpetrators prosecuted for their crimes.