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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 5/11/09

1-2-3 What Are We Fighting For? The War Crimes Song-and-Dance Routine

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By Dave Lindorff

We’re been here before, many times.

The US causes massive civilian deaths through its indiscriminate use
of heavy air power, and then tries to claim it’s the enemy’s fault for
“hiding” among the civilians and “using them as shields.”

In Vietnam, where the US was fighting against a local revolutionary
movement that was seeking to overthrow the puppet regime backed by
America, American planes routinely bombed and napalmed villages,
claiming that the Viet Cong were hiding amongst the peasants. Women,
old men and children would die in droves—several million of them by the
time that war was over--and we’d be told it was all the fault of the
Communists, who, we were told, had no regard for innocent life.

In Iraq, we took a city of 300,000, Fallujah, and effectively
leveled it. Anyone who died there was presumed to be an insurgent,
though the truth was, the Marines encircling the city before the
onslaught only allowed fleeing women, girls and male children who were
under the age 12 to flee, sending older boys and men seeking to get out
back into the city to meet their fate.

Just this week, the brave Marines in Iraq blew away a 12-year-old
boy after someone tossed a grenade their way. Local people said the
grenade had been tossed by an older man standing near the boy, who
fled. The unlucky boy, who was just a kid who sold gum for a living,
had not done anything, local people said.

Now it’s Afghanistan, where upwards of 120 people, including babies
and small children, were slaughtered during a battle in a remote part
of the country in the latest example of mass deaths at the hands of
American forces. Local people say that several villages in the Bala
Baluk district of Farah Province of were intensely bombarded by US
planes, causing most if not all of the deaths. The US response to the
initial charges of a mass slaughter of civilians was to blame the
deaths on the Taliban. When it became clear that the victims had died
of burns and shrapnel, not from bullets, the US came out with a new
explanation: The Taliban had tossed grenades at the locals. But reporters at the scene reported seeing huge craters and leveled buildings—not
what you get from hand grenades. Then came reports of unusually deep
and localized burns—the type caused by white phosphorus—a weapon that
the US has used widely in Iraq--including in densely populated
Fallujah—and in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon immediately said it did not use white phosphorus bombs
in the battle in question, and suggested instead that perhaps the
Taliban had used phosphorus grenades. This again was an absurd
argument. The purpose of phosphorus weapons, primarily, is to light up
a battlefield, but Taliban fighters don’t want lit up battlefields.
They prefer operating the dark. It is the US that wants to light up

Besides, there are those craters to explain.

So the next dance step was to say that the Taliban had caused the
deaths, because during their retreat they had fled to the town, miles
from the scene of the battle that led to the calling in of air support
by US advisers to embattled government forces, and in so doing, had
brought the attack upon the villagers.

Well, assuming that is true, there is still the problem that under
the Geneva Conventions, it is a war crime to attack an enemy where the
risk of harming large numbers of civilians is too great. The extreme
example would the bombing of a school full of children on the grounds
that a few enemy soldiers were hiding in the school (something that the
Israeli military did in Gaza during the recent invasion, causing the
deaths of dozens of children). But bombing a town full of people in
order to hit a few retreating enemy fighters is equally criminal—a
point that the Pentagon, and the compliant US media, are ignoring.

Barack Obama’s war in Afghanistan—for it is indeed his war now—is
turning into the same kind of bloody imperial slaughter that Iraq was
earlier under President Bush. The stated objective—eliminating Al
Qaeda—has been lost. The enemy of all this fighting isn’t Al Qaeda at
all; it is the indigenous Taliban—the former governing power in
Afghanistan until the US invasion in 2001, and a political organization
that never was an enemy of the US.

Whatever one might think of the religious fanatics and misogynists
who go under the name Taliban, they are not seeking to overthrow the
West. They are simply seeking to return to power in Afghanistan, one of
the poorest, remotest, and economically and politically least important
countries in the world.

And to defeat that movement, if that can even be done, the US is
going to have to kill Afghani civilians by the truckload, as it has
been doing.

And then there has to be the inevitable dancing around to hide the criminality of what the US is doing.

The blame-the-victim dance goes on.

DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist. His latest
book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work
is available at
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Dave Lindorff, winner of a 2019 "Izzy" Award for Outstanding Independent Journalism from the Park Center for Independent Media in Ithaca, is a founding member of the collectively-owned, journalist-run online newspaper (more...)

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