U.S. War Crimes in Kandahar

Speaking in 1995, twenty years after the Vietnam War ended, Robert McNamara, the late U.S. Defense Secretary, considered one of the architects of the war, famously said,We were fighting, and we didn’t realize it, a civil war. … And one of the things we should learn is, you can’t fight and win a civil war without side troops, and particularly not when the political structure in a country is dissolved. So it wasn’t the press that was the problem. It was–”the problem was that we were in the wrong place with the wrong tactics.”

Has America learned anything positive from Vietnam? Surely not! Otherwise we won’t be hearing the same kind of comments today about her war in Afghanistan. When George W. Bush invaded Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11 there was such a support within the broader American public that no one cared to remember that since the collapse of the Soviet-supported regime Afghanistan had drifted into a civil war. In a senseless genocidal orgy, the Taliban regime, guilty of providing refuge to OBL, were routed out, and with it tens of thousand of innocent Afghans who had nothing to do with 9/11 were murdered and pulverized. That war still continues to this day with more than 150,000 U.S. and NATO forces stationed in Afghanistan. Of course, the Talibans are no longer in power, they are the rebels. Bush –” the butcher of Baghdad — is gone. Obama is in power as the commander in chief of the US forces.

Hamid Karzai, a U.S. ally, has been ruling the country for the last few years. However, he is opposed by a good portion of the Afghan population, particularly in the eastern and southern Afghanistan. His own group, once the dominant Pashtun population, mostly living outside the capital city Kabul, feels being excluded from his central government, and there’s a rebellion against it. He is not a happy Quisling though. The foreign troops have failed miserably to bring peace to the violence-wracked country. NATO, especially the USA forces, had been accused of balking his government’s efforts to finding a peaceful, power-sharing formula with the Taliban. Mr. Karzai has been complaining against NATO’s heavy-handedness in Afghanistan that had failed to discriminate between civilians and armed rebels that are fighting his regime. The loss of civilian lives at the hand of foreign forces has led to a dramatic increase in anti-American sentiments in Afghanistan.

In one of the most serious accusations of war crimes to emerge from the Afghan conflict, twelve American soldiers face charges over a secret "kill team" that allegedly blew up and shot Afghan civilians at random and collected their fingers as trophies. Five of the soldiers are charged with murdering at least three Afghan men who were killed for sport in separate attacks this year. Seven others are accused of covering up the killings and assaulting a recruit who exposed the murders when he reported other abuses, including members of the unit smoking hashish stolen from civilians. The killings are alleged to have been carried out by members of a Stryker infantry brigade based in Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan.

According to investigation reports and legal documents, Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs who is at the center of this war crime, boasted of the things he got away with while serving in Iraq and said how easy it would be to "toss a grenade at someone and kill them". (The US Army is also scrutinizing a 2004 incident in which Gibbs and other soldiers allegedly fired on an unarmed Iraqi family riding in a car, killing two adults and a child.) According to the Army charge sheet, the first target in Kandahar was Gul Mudin, who was killed "by means of throwing a fragmentary grenade at him and shooting him with a rifle", when the patrol entered the village of La Mohammed Kalay in January. The second victim, Marach Agha, was shot and killed the following month. Gibbs is alleged to have shot him and placed a Kalashnikov next to the body to justify the killing. In May Mullah Adadhdad was killed after being shot and attacked with a grenade. A fourth killing is already being added to the list, after fellow soldiers confessed they killed an Afghan man found sitting by Highway 1 in Kandahar on 28 January.

The Army Times reported that at least one of the soldiers collected the fingers of the victims as souvenirs and that some of them posed for photographs with the bodies. The Army is attempting to prevent the release of dozens of photographs that reportedly show the soldiers posing with the murdered Afghan civilians. The allegations detail some of the cruelest acts carried out by US troops since their invasion of Afghanistan began in 2001.

In a related development, Australia’s chief military prosecutor has said that 3 Australian soldiers will face charges, including manslaughter, over a raid they carried out in Afghanistan in which five Afghan children were killed.

These new revelations do not make Mr. Karzai’s role any easier. In recent months, thousands of Afghan civilians have lost their lives either in NATO-led air-strikes or Taliban operations in different parts of the war-ravaged country. Recently, Mr. Karzai was heard saying that Afghans are caught up in between the goals of Western powers and militants backed by other countries and called on his people to unite for the sake of peace. He said that he was afraid of seeing the next generation, including his son Mirwais, flee the country and lose their Afghan identity. "I do not want Mirwais, my son, to be a foreigner, I do not want this. I want Mirwais to be Afghan." One can only take pity at Hamid Karzai for being a willing partner to the invading force that had killed tens of thousands of his countrymen, young and old. History has failed to educate them on the fates of Mir Zafar and Quisling.

Nor should these revelations about war crimes of the soldiers in occupied territories surprise anyone who had been following America’s crimes elsewhere, from My Lai in Vietnam to scores of places inside Iraq. As we all know the horrendous crimes like the water-boarding, the extraordinary renditions, the torture and savage treatment of Muslim prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay did not take place in vacuum. They did neither originate with 2nd Lt. William Calley and Capt. Ernest Medina of the Vietnam days nor with the Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs of today. These crimes, old and new ones, were all part of a larger, systemic scheme when such were not only tolerated by the upper brass but also encouraged by government policies that depicted the ‘enemy’ as less than human being. It was, therefore, all too easy, all too kosher and Christian-like to kill the ‘heathens’ –” shoot and blow them up for sport and fun. It is also the same with the war crimes of the IDF against the Palestinians in the occupied territories of Israel, and civilian activists in the international waters that tried to bring in aid to the starving people in Gaza. It is same, too, with the savagery of the SPDC regime in today’s Myanmar (Burma) that is routinely practiced against the minority Rohingyas and Karens.

As we have witnessed before with Abu Ghraib, rogue foot soldiers like Gibbs and Morlock are now investigated for their war crimes in Kandahar. However, as long as those on the top, the likes of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, and Rice continue to escape justice for their war crimes, and formulating laws and policies that laid down the very foundation for such horrendous crimes, we won’t be surprised to see or hear resurrection of the old crimes over and over again.

If the USA and its allies in the western world are serious about stopping such war crimes from ever repeating in the future, they need to either try those evil ones that dehumanized those soldiers to bring out the worst evil in them the same way the Khmer Rouge leaders are now tried or send them to the World Court to face justice. Only then shall we be spared of the crimes of Calley and Gibbs.