Bombings, Torture, Massacres – How I Learned To Love The Wars

Kunduz, Afghanistan (TFC) – The strafing of the hospital lasted for almost an hour; carried out by a United States AC-130 gunship, an aircraft equipped with a heavy weapons payload and high-tech vision equipment, which allows it to annihilate targets with pinpoint accuracy. Night becomes day with its precision eyes and few escape its wrath. When the attack began, The Médecins Sans Frontières hospital (MSF), commonly referred to as Doctors Without Borders, contacted NATO immediately in hopes of stopping the attack, but the assault continued with the AC-130 gunship making up to five passes. Despite two flags draped across the roof marking it as a hospital and the repeated communications from MSF, the bombardment continued. The attack resulted in killing 12 staff members, at least 10 patients, and wounding 37 others. Some died in their beds, burned and shattered.

Image Source: Bird Eye, Flickr, Creative Commons Danger U.S. war crimes ahead

Image Source: Bird Eye, Flickr, Creative Commons
Danger U.S. war crimes ahead

The stories are conflicting; initially it was a strike in which it was defending US military personnel, and as a result the hospital was “collateral damage”. Its forces were under attack and thus the strike was used to assist those alleged US units. It was then admitted that the request was made by Afghan forces who claim the “hospital campus was 100 percent used by Taliban”, which the MSF strongly deny. Now the strike was inadvertent, and a mistake with the Taliban “putting civilians in harms way”, essentially saying, “we did strike the hospital, it was the target, but – Taliban”

No proof has been provided to affirm these claims. They are, as so far, simply the statements from official sources, yet some mainstream media outlets are already parroting these claims and instilling an aura of authenticity where none exists. The same “official” rhetoric that was lambasted and bull-horned during the last “mistake” or “inadvertent collateral damage”. Even if these claims were true, it would STILL be a violation of international law, and thus a war crime.

Targeting a hospital is a war crime – period.

MSF is calling for an impartial and independent probe of the facts and circumstances of the attack with an appeal to The Hague. MSF international president Joanne Liu said, “particularly given the inconsistencies in the U.S. and Afghan accounts of what happened over recent days. We cannot rely on only internal military investigations by the U.S., NATO and Afghan forces”, advocating the mobilization of the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission to conduct an independent investigation into the attack. The US government does not believe that an independent commission investigation is needed.

The high-tech optics aboard the AC-130 are backed up by audio and video recording devices. With over an hour of footage, from before – during – and after the attack that would have been recorded aboard the AC-130. Reviewing the tapes would be valuable, and would illuminate some details of the attack and determine what the gunners and pilots would have been seeing and saying from their vantage point. With MSF stating that not one of their staff members reported fighting inside the hospital compound prior to the strike, the justification by official US and Afghan sources seems to wither and open consideration of the fact that the gun crew was knowingly firing on a hospital that had no enemy combatants.

The Pentagon’s Law of War Manual, released in June, reinforces the necessity of proportionality; it dictates measures in which to levy military force. While international agreements state that hospitals can sustain indirect and minimal damage from military attack, direct attacks are not valid. Especially where flags and other visual signs showing validation and operation of the facility in its humanitarian purpose, but also GPS coordinates along with direct communications from the operators identifying it clearly and openly. “Forces receiving heavy fire from a hospital may exercise their right of self-defense and return fire. Such use of force in self-defense against medical units or facilities must be proportionate. For example, a single enemy rifleman firing from a hospital window would warrant a response against the rifleman only, rather than the destruction of the hospital.” The hospital does not operate heavy artillery or military AC-130s, so it seems proportionality is far removed, even if Taliban fighters were present at all.

The US bombing of the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital operated by “Doctors Without Borders” in Afghanistan is symbolic of US foreign policy and it’s hegemony and imperialist venture throughout the world. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is its legacy, its commitment to war and subsequent war crimes; and the ability to minimize and deflect the truth. Never being accountable in some measureable way to the international and domestic laws it proclaims it upholds. “Freedom, Justice, Liberty, Democracy”.

This is not the first time the US bombed a hospital, nor is it the first time it has committed war crimes.

August 20, 1998: Al Shifa pharmaceutical plant missile strike, Khartoum, Sudan

The US struck the factory with 13 cruise missiles, in response to seven Al Qaeda bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, the very same day that Monica Lewinsky was to appear before a grand jury and testify about her affair with President Bill Clinton. US officials alleged that the plant was “associated with the Bin Laden network” and they had “convincing evidence” that Bin Laden was involved and the plant was related to Bin Laden’s commercial empire. Clinton’s national-security adviser Samuel R. (Sandy) Berger, claimed the Administration had “physical evidence” that the plant made chemical weapons.

Sudanese Interior Minister Abdul Rahim told CNN in a telephone interview that the privately owned pharmaceutical firm had “nothing to do with chemical weapons. We have no chemical weapons factory in our country,” he said.

The effects of the bombing were significant to Sudan. Tens of thousands of people, many of them children, suffered and died as a result, and the Al Shifa plant produced 90 percent of the countries major pharmaceutical products. The US never produced any “convincing evidence” that the plant held chemical weapons.

October 16 and October 26, 2001: Red Cross complex, Kabul, Afghanistan

The US attacked the Red Cross complex housing site in Kabul, not once, but twice. The “error” was conceded to by the Pentagon explaining it was “the wrong target”.

After the first attack a Pentagon representative was sent to the Red Cross headquarters in Geneva to exchange detailed information on Red Cross sites in Kabul, and on the movement of operations and personnel locations. The aim was to avoid the mistakes of the Oct 16th attack.

On Oct 26th, two US Navy fighter-bombers and two B-52’s attacked the Red Cross complex again in two waves. The first was during the early morning and the second was just before noon. The attack hit both the complex and the surrounding neighborhoods.

The US admitted that it was “a human error in the targeting process”, which equates to – the bombs were dropped where instructed, however a few missed. The bombs that struck the neighborhood did so mistakenly because of a “malfunction”.

The Red Cross’s response was “Whoever is responsible will have to come to Geneva for a formal explanation” exclaimed Kim Gordon-Bates, Red Cross spokesman. “Firing, shooting, bombing, a warehouse clearly marked with the Red Cross emblem is a very serious incident. It is a serious thing. It cannot be accepted, especially since we went through the notification of our facilities twice. Now we’ve got 55,000 people without food or blankets, with nothing at all. Recognizing the error does not solve the humanitarian problem”

2003 – 2004 Torture at Abu Ghraib Prison, Iraq

With the US as the occupying power in Iraq following the invasion, Military Intelligence (MI), civilian contractors and US Army forces all operated jointly in the military prison system, which also coordinated with the CIA. Janis Karpinski, an Army reserve brigadier general, was named commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade and assigned charge of the military prisons in Iraq. While experienced in operations, an intelligence officer who served with Special Forces and involved in the 1991 Gulf War, she did not possess the qualifications to run a prison system.

Seymour Hersh wrote:

“Under the fourth Geneva Convention, an occupying power can imprison civilians who pose an “imperative” security threat, but it must establish a regular procedure for insuring that only civilians who remain a genuine security threat be kept imprisoned. Prisoners have the right to appeal any internment decision and have their cases reviewed. Human Rights Watch complained to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that civilians in Iraq remained in custody month after month with no charges brought against them. Abu Ghraib had become, in effect, another Guantánamo.”

Enter – Indefinite Detention.

What perpetuated from indefinite detention at Abu Ghraib was the exposure of larger crimes, massive human rights violations, torture, and systemic cooperation and guidance from Military Intelligence, civilian contractors (specifically CACI International), the CIA, and Army forces. In effect, torture at Abu Ghraib had become normal operations and sanctioned from the highest levels.

These crimes were exposed by published reports from Amnesty International in late 2003 and the Associated Press. A major investigation into the Army’s prison system followed after the reports were published and public outcry intensified a fifty-three-page report written by Major General Antonio M. Taguba, which was not meant for public release, was completed. Its conclusions about the institutional failures of the Army prison system were devastating.

Taguba found and detailed in the report that between October and December of 2003 there were numerous instances of “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” at Abu Ghraib. This systematic and illegal abuse of detainees was perpetrated by soldiers of the 372nd Military Police Company, and also by members of the American intelligence community. (The 372nd was attached to the 320th M.P. Battalion, which reported to Karpinski). Video recordings captured the events as they were carried out.

From the report:

“Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee.”

At Abu Ghraib Army regulations and the Geneva conventions were routinely violated; the day-to-day management of the prisoners was the duty of Army military-intelligence units and civilian contractors. Interrogating prisoners and getting intelligence, by way of intimidation and torture was the priority. Taguba’s report totals and exposes an unsparing study of collective crimes and failure at the highest levels of Army leadership.

Seventeen soldiers and officers were removed from duty, eleven soldiers were charged with various crimes, and convicted in a court martial, which were then sentenced to military prison and dishonorably discharged from service. Two soldiers were sentenced to ten and three years in prison, and Brigadier General Janis Karpinski was reprimanded and demoted to the rank of colonel. Several more military personnel, who were accused of perpetrating or authorizing the measures, including many of higher rank, were not prosecuted.

See additional pictures and info here.

July 12, 2007: “Collateral Murder” of Reuters Journalists in New Baghdad, Iraq

A US Apache gunship unleashed a barrage of 30mm cannon fire killing a dozen people, including two Iraqis working for Reuters news agency. 22-year-old photojournalist Namir-Eildeen and his driver, 40-year-old Saeed Chmagh were killed. The unprovoked attack was aimed at civilians who did not return fire and when the rescue team arrived they were massacred as well. The follow up attack wounded two children that were in the rescue van.

The pilots falsely claimed to have encountered a firefight. The group, prior to being slain by the US Apaches, was standing untroubled with cameras and not pointing any weapons.

The video includes an audio recording of the pilot’s commentary throughout the attack. They requested and were granted permission to fire; they cheered one another while firing on the unarmed civilians and even joked about the dead and dying. (full transcript here) “Hahaha. I hit ’em,” shouts one. Another responds a little later: “Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards.”

Reuters had attempted to obtain the video since the time of the attack through the Freedom of Information Act, but was unable to. They called for an investigation, and in response an official in Baghdad stated: “There is no question that coalition forces were clearly engaged in combat operations against a hostile force.”

The Army concluded an investigation on the two journalists and wounding of the two children, no charges have been laid against the Apache pilots and no investigation of the 11 other deaths was ever conducted.

In 2009 David Finkel wrote “The Good Soldiers”, which contained the transcript and description of the events. Not until the video was released on April 5, 2010 from Wikileaks, via Chelsea Manning, was there a substantial public outcry.

Ethan McCord’s eyewitness story


May – November 1967, Indiscriminate war crimes (various locations), Vietnam

During the Vietnam War, US forces engaged in a systematic and brutal campaign of murder, rape, bombings, massacres, brutality, and cover-ups carried out by the unit known as Tiger Force.

The atrocities follow the My Lai Massacre, (mass killing of between 347 and 504 unarmed Vietnamese civilians in South Vietnam on March 16, 1968) and given the sensitivity and unwillingness of the US Army and its top brass to release knowledge of this known spree of war crimes, an investigation did occur. This investigation lasted for four years. The White House was kept fully aware and received “weekly updates” for a period of time.

The seven months of horrors that were carried out in the jungles and villages in Vietnam saw Tiger Force operate with impunity, openly encouraged by their commanders. Prisoners were captured and beaten, mutilated and executed, so many that investigators lost track. What soon followed was shooting unarmed civilians. The death toll reached into the hundreds. The torture and mutilation of unarmed farmers, their wives, and their children was a signature of Tiger Force; as was their contempt for innocent lives. Severed ears and scalps were kept as trophies and souvenirs.

An American new outlet, The Blade, began a 7-month investigation and published a series of articles in 2003. Until then little was known about the atrocities and the cover up that occurred. Among these findings were:

  • Commanders knew about the platoon’s atrocities in 1967, and in some cases, encouraged the soldiers to continue the violence.
  • Two soldiers who tried to stop the atrocities were warned by their commanders to remain quiet before being transferred to other units.
  • The Army investigated 30 war-crime allegations against Tiger Force between February 1971, and June 1975, finding a total of 18 soldiers committed crimes, including murder and assault. But no one was ever charged.
  • Six soldiers suspected of war crimes – including an officer – were allowed to resign during the investigation, escaping military prosecution.
  • The findings of the investigation were sent to the offices of the Secretary of the Army and the Secretary of Defense, but no action was taken.
  • Top White House officials, including John Dean, former chief counsel to President Richard Nixon, were repeatedly sent reports on the progress of the investigation.

Thousands of official investigation documents and records are still unreleased.

March 16, 1968 – Village of My Lai, Vietnam

The village of My Lai saw close to 504 unarmed men, women, and children tortured and murdered; their bodies mutilated. The massacre was committed by U.S. Army soldiers from C Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, and the 11th Brigade of the 23rd Infantry Division. The incident, war crimes, known to US officials was kept hidden. Only until Seymour Hersh reported the story in 1969 did the US peace movement see an increase in support. The story prompted widespread condemnation, and public support for the US involvement in the Vietnam War declined significantly.

In March 1970, the Army conducted an investigation and filed charges, ranging from murder to dereliction of duty against fourteen officers, including generals and colonels. Only two officers faced court-martial, accused of covering up the massacre, one was found not guilty, and only Lieutenant William Calley Jr was convicted. Calley Jr., a Platoon leader in C Company was found guilty of killing 22 villagers. Originally given a life sentence, he served only three and half years under house arrest.

Men, women, and children were shot. Women were raped and groups of civilians (all unarmed) were massacred. The chaos that ensued makes it hard to paint a coherent picture, however the magnitude and ferocity of the killings were a clear violation of the Geneva Convention. The events were indisputably war crimes.

Warrant Officer Hugh C. Thompson, who was observing the operation from the air, realized no return fire or resistance was occurring from the village. He landed between advancing soldiers, led by Calley, and a group of Vietnamese civilians. He demanded his door gunners to return fire if attacking Americans were to fire on him or the villagers trying to escape. Thompson was able to persuade those civilians to leave the bunker they were in and saved them from almost certain death. This appears to be the only attempt to prevent the atrocity that occurred that day.

The My Lai massacres and the Tiger Force massacres were smaller crimes in the much larger and extensive offences that were occurring during the war. The White House manipulated the peace talks, rebuffed attempts for reconciliation, and ordered massive assaults on the Vietnamese civilian population.

Bombing campaigns that murdered thousands of civilians, the civilian “pacification campaign” program that occurred post Tet-Offensive, and other large military operations (defoliant attacks ect) saw much larger massacres occur throughout the country, and all were sanctioned by high level officials, most notably lead by Henry Kissinger. However with the My Lai massacre, and others, we see a cautiously organized and sanctioned series of cover ups and carefully constructed narratives used to misdirect or misinform the public on the atrocities of the war. Chiefly, that the war itself was illegal and a clear violation of international law and in itself a war crime, however, since a small number of low level soldiers and officers received nominal sentences, the US administration and its military escaped any real criticism both local or international.

From “Manufacturing Consent” – Noam Chomsky & Edward S Herman

“While the nation agonized about the sentencing of Lieutenant William Calley for his part in the My Lai massacre, a new ground sweep in the same area drove some 16,000 peasants from their homes, and a year later the camp where the My Lai remnants were relocated in this operation was largely destroyed by air and artillery bombardment, the destruction attributed to the Viet Cong. These events too passed with little notice, and no calls for an inquiry-reasonably enough, since these too were normal and routine operations.

Medical workers at the nearby Canadian-run hospital reported that they knew of the My Lai massacre at once but gave it little attention because it was not out of the ordinary in a province (Quang Ngai) that had been virtually destroyed by U.S. military operations. The highest- ranking officer to have faced court-martial charges for the massacre, Colonel Oran Henderson, stated that “every unit of brigade size has its My Lai hidden some place,” although “every unit doesn’t have a Riden- hour” to expose what had happened. Knowledgeable elements of the peace movement also gave the My Lai massacre no special notice, for the same reasons.”

Illegal invasions and occupations – greater war crimes

What followed since the dramatic and brutal revelations of Vietnam has since been an unfaltering line of crimes within crimes. The larger legal argument of invasions and occupations of sovereign nations and the malevolent use of military might is often completely disregarded in the media arena. Instead what we hear and see is a puppet show instilling fear and emotional displays of deceptive opinions. The public is treated to a salesman’s display about Americans military weapons; its high tech tools and its fighting men and their proficient skills. What is missing is the fact-checking and honest discussion that critiques the war hawks and holds them accountable to delivering evidence to their claims. After the initial build up and commencement of operations that see the nations, soldiers, and machines thrust into the cauldron of fire and blood, it is too late to see resignation and rejection of policy and direction.

A corporate media that reveres an authoritative ruling, never critiquing the often inaccurate and baseless lies that move us toward war. Journalists and their respective outlets should be the watchdogs and the guards against the brutal and destructive use of force. Instead, they are reserved as lap dogs and used in the facade that “Manufactures Consent”. No longer are they “free and independent”; in fact they are chained and dependent. They are subservient to government narratives to produce and sell viewpoints, never questioning those narratives and becoming a Fourth Branch of the government in the process. They also rely on the corporate support that is connected to those same government narratives to maintain power and dominance. For exactly the same reason, the government relies and utilizes the corporate media, so does the corporate extension. The Military Industrial Complex is not shrinking – it is enlarging.

It’s within this context that our consent for our countries’ foreign policy is derived. We unknowingly and unwittingly accept and give consent to these crimes. The scale is massive. With the count of over one million Iraqis alone killed as a result of Western intervention, pre and post invasion in Iraq, the blood is on our hands.

The Nuremberg Trials and the charges levied on the Nazi’s have left us with a bitter reminder, only our enemies will face meaningful trial for war crimes – we will not.