Monday, September 13, 2010

Grand Guignol in Afghanistan: U.S. Soldiers Kill for "Sport", Collect Fingers as "Trophies"

UK Guardian: "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."

In the U.S., there's been little coverage of this tale of U.S. atrocities, first reported last week. It must not be as important as the latest Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck piece. But here's Hal Bernton at the Seattle Times reporting a story the New York Times and Washington Post have still failed to report:
As part of one of the widest-ranging U.S. war-crime cases to emerge from the conflict in Afghanistan, charging documents released Wednesday allege soldiers took finger bones and other body parts cut from Afghan corpses.

The documents provide new public details of the cases against a dozen soldiers who served a year in southern Afghanistan with a Western Washington-based Stryker infantry brigade.
But wait! Maybe there is a Palin angle:
Army investigators have built a substantial portion of their case upon the statements of Spc. Jeremy Morlock, of Wasilla, Alaska, who is alleged to have participated in some of the crimes.
War atrocities are unfortunately not that uncommon, but the U.S. sanitized coverage of the military actions of American soldiers abroad guarantees that this kind of thing rarely reaches the ears of "Homeland" citizens. For a disturbing, yet partial list of such atrocities in Afghanistan, see this CommonDreams article from last April. Of course, in no small measure, the impact of the Wikileaks leak of thousands of U.S. documents on Afghanistan was to publicize the killings of civilians and how they were repeatedly covered up. On the other hand, when last year there were reports the Taliban cut off the fingers of two Afghan voters, Fox News and the right-wing war propaganda machine were right on top of it.

According to Associated Press, Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs formed the "kill team," and he collected more than dead man digits, obtaining besides finger bones, leg bones and a tooth from victims. Some reports say a skull was kept as a trophy, though its recipient wasn't named. The entire sick plot was discovered only after one soldier was severely beaten for supposedly "snitching" about the crimes. Some of the soldiers apparently had their own second thoughts. AP reports that one of them, Spc. Adam Winfield, "sent frantic messages" to his family about the crimes.
"I'm not sure what to do about something that happened out here but I need to be secretive about this," Winfield wrote to his parents in a Facebook message obtained by the AP.

"Should I do the right thing and put myself in danger for it. Or just shut up and deal with it," he wrote. "There are no more good men left here. It eats away at my conscience everyday."
Some of the soldiers involved face penalties of life imprisonment or death. Other charges against this group of soldiers includes possession of hashish, obstruction of justice, and various weapons charges. According to Agence France-Presse the Pentagon is worried about how the news will affect support for the war effort.
The allegations against soldiers recently deployed in southern Afghanistan have yet to be proven but are "serious nonetheless," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters....

Even if the allegations are proved to be untrue, the case "is unhelpful," Morrell said.

"It does not help the perceptions of our forces around the world," he said.
No kidding. Running an imperial war is not easy, especially when racist and prejudiced attitudes at home and in the military are rampant. In the days surrounding the revelations of the "kill team" atrocities in Afghanistan, back in the United States the media was fixated on an obscure religious kook who wanted to burn the Koran, and never-ending diatribes about the building of an Islamic cultural center some four blocks from the previous location of the World Trade Center.

Meanwhile, let's not forget how spook agencies tolerate crazy propaganda from within their own midst. Case in point, the 2004 article by a Harvard lecturer and former Chief of Neuropsychiatry at Guantanamo Bay in the house organ of the American Federation of Intelligence Officers, which made the shocking claim that "hard-core zealots" had "brains that are structurally and functionally different from us." The author, William Henry Anderson, M.D, then opined that 100,000 "zealots" within the Muslim body politic would have to be eliminated, the way "malignant [cancer] cells" are removed from a healthy body. Despite a protest from a psychologist member, the AFIO would not denounce Anderson's article.

These soldiers must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Such a prosecution is not a foregone conclusion, because though charging sheets have been drawn up, as BBC reports, "the cases were in a preliminary phase of investigation and military prosecutors had yet to decide whether to move ahead with proceedings."

But their superiors should be put on trial, too. It seems incredible that no one higher than a sergeant knew what was going on. Indeed, as the Christian Science Monitor and AP accounts make clear, Spc. Adam Winfield's father, informed by his son of the crimes, made numerous attempts to inform the Army about what was happening.

But such a trial might have to take place in the court of public opinion, where opposition to the losing war in Afghanistan continues to build.

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