Attack Puts Afghan Leader and NATO at Odds
By Alissa J. Rubin and Abdul Waheed Wafa
KABUL, Afghanistan -- The killing of at least nine men in a remote valley of eastern Afghanistan by a joint operation of Afghan and American forces put President Hamid Karzai and senior NATO officials at odds on Monday over whether those killed had been civilians or Taliban insurgents.
In a statement e-mailed to the news media, Mr. Karzai condemned the weekend attack and said the dead had been civilians, eight of them schoolboys. He called for an investigation.
Local officials, including the governor and members of Parliament from Kunar Province, where the deaths occurred, confirmed the reports. But the Kunar police chief, Khalilullah Ziayee, cautioned that his office was still investigating the killings and that outstanding questions remained, including why the eight young men had been in the same house at the time.
"There are still questions to be answered, like why these students were together and what they were doing on that night," Mr. Ziayee said.
A senior NATO official with knowledge of the operation said that the raid had been carried out by a joint Afghan-American force and that its target was a group of men who were known Taliban members and smugglers of homemade bombs, which the American and NATO forces call improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.'s.
According to the NATO official, nine men were killed. "These were people who had a well-established network, they were I.E.D. smugglers and also were responsible for direct attacks on Afghan security and coalition forces in those areas," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the issue.
"When the raid took place they were armed and had material for making I.E.D.'s," the official added.
While the article in the New York Times eventually mentions the allegation that the victims were children, not "men," it nonetheless begins with the unchallenged assertion in the lead that they were "men." There is no mention of the equally serious allegation that the victims had been handcuffed before being executed, and the story leaves the impression, made by NATO sources, that they were armed and had died fighting. There is no indication in the Times story that the reporters made any effort, as the more enterprising and skeptical London Times reporter did, to get local, non-official, sources of information. Moreover, the information claiming that the victims had been making bombs was attributed by Rubin and Wafa, with no objections from their editors in New York, to an anonymous NATO source, though there was no legitimate reason for the anonymity ("because of the delicacy of the situation" was the lame excuse offered)--indeed the use of an anonymous source here would appear to violate the Times' own standards.
It's not that in American newsrooms there was no knowledge that a major war crime may have been committed. Nearly all American news organizations receive the AP newswire. Here is the AP report on the killings, which ran under the headline "UN says killed Afghans were students":
The United Nations says a raid last weekend by foreign troops in a tense eastern Afghan province killed eight local students.
The Afghan government says that all 10 people killed in a village in Kunar province were civilians. NATO says there is no evidence to substantiate the claim and has requested a joint investigation.
UN special representative in Afghanistan Kai Eide said in a statement Thursday that preliminary investigation shows there were insurgents in the area at the time of the attack. But he adds that eight of those killed were students in local schools.
Once again, the American media are falling down shamefully in providing honest reporting on a war, making it difficult for the American people to make informed judgements about what is being done in their name.
Let's be clear here. If the charges are correct, that American forces, or American-led forces, are handcuffing their victims and then executing them, then they are committing egregious war crimes. If they are killing children, they are committing equally egregious war crimes. If they are handcuffing and executing children, the atrocity is beyond horrific. This incident, if true, would actually be worse than the infamous war crime that occurred in My Lai during the Vietnam War. In that case, we had ordinary soldiers in the field, acting under the orders of several low-ranking officers in the heat of an operation, shooting and killing women, children and babies. But in this case we appear to have seasoned special forces troops actually directing the taking captives, cuffing them, herding them into a room, and spraying them with bullets, execution style.