Tragic Lessons of Afghan Massacre

The massacre of 16 Afghans, including nine children, allegedly by a deranged U.S. Army sergeant has stirred more anger toward the decade-long, U.S.-led occupation of Afghanistan, but it also underscores how the stresses of endless war are shattering the psyches of combat soldiers, as Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman notes.

By Amy Goodman

We may never know what drove a U.S. Army staff sergeant to head out into the Afghan night and allegedly murder at least 16 civilians in their homes, among them nine children and three women.

The massacre near Belambai, in Kandahar, Afghanistan, has shocked the world and intensified the calls for an end to the longest war in U.S. history. The attack has been called tragic, which it surely is. But when Afghans attack U.S. forces, they are called “terrorists.” That is, perhaps, the inconsistency at the core of U.S. policy, that democracy can be delivered through the barrel of a gun, that terrorism can be fought by terrorizing a nation.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta meets with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on March 15. (Photo credit: U.S. Defense Department)

“I did it,” the alleged mass murderer said as he returned to the forward operating base outside Kandahar, that southern city called the “heartland of the Taliban.” He is said to have left the base at 3 a.m. and walked to three nearby homes, methodically killing those inside.

One farmer, Abdul Samad, was away at the time. His wife, four sons, and four daughters were killed. Some of the victims had been stabbed, some set on fire. Samad told The New York Times, “Our government told us to come back to the village, and then they let the Americans kill us.”

The massacre follows massive protests against the U.S. military’s burning of copies of the Quran, which followed the video showing U.S. Marines urinating on the corpses of Afghans. Two years earlier, the notorious “kill team” of U.S. soldiers that murdered Afghan civilians for sport, posing for gruesome photos with the corpses and cutting off fingers and other body parts as trophies, also was based near Kandahar.

In response, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta rolled out a string of cliches, reminding us that “war is hell.” Panetta visited Camp Leatherneck in Helmand province, near Kandahar, this week on a previously scheduled trip that coincidentally fell days after the massacre.

The 200 Marines invited to hear him speak were forced to leave their weapons outside the tent. NBC News reported that such instructions were “highly unusual,” as Marines are said to always have weapons on hand in a war zone. Earlier, upon his arrival, a stolen truck raced across the landing strip toward his plane, and the driver leapt out of the cab, on fire, in an apparent attack.

The violence doesn’t just happen in the war zone. Back in the U.S., the wounds of war are manifesting in increasingly cruel ways.

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The 38-year-old staff sergeant who allegedly committed the massacre was from Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), a sprawling military facility near Tacoma, Wash., that has been described by Stars and Stripes newspaper as “the most troubled base in the military” and, more recently, as “on the brink.” 2011 marked a record for soldier suicides there. The base also was the home for the “kill team.”

The Seattle Times reported earlier this month that 285 patients at JBLM’s Madigan Army Medical Center had their post-traumatic stress disorder diagnoses inexplicably reversed by a forensic psychiatric screening team. The reversals are now under investigation due to concerns they were partly motivated by a desire to avoid paying those who qualify for medical benefits.

Kevin Baker was also a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army, stationed at Fort Lewis. After two deployments to Iraq, he refused a third after being denied a PTSD diagnosis. He began organizing to bring the troops home. He told me:

“If a soldier is wounded on a battlefield in combat, and they’re bleeding to death, and an officer orders that person to not receive medical attention, costing that service member their life, that officer would be found guilty of dereliction of duty and possibly murder.

“But when that happens in the U.S., when that happens for soldiers that are going to seek help, and officers are ordering not a clear diagnosis for PTSD and essentially denying them that metaphoric tourniquet, real psychological help, and the soldier ends up suffering internally to the point of taking their own life or somebody else’s life, then these officers and this military and the Pentagon has to be held responsible for these atrocities.”

While too late to save Abdul Samad’s family, Baker’s group, March Forward! — along with Iraq Veterans Against the War’s “Operation Recovery,” which seeks to ban the deployment of troops already suffering from PTSD — may well help end the disastrous, terrorizing occupation of Afghanistan.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,000 stations in North America. She is the author of Breaking the Sound Barrier, recently released in paperback and now a New York Times best-seller.

© 2012 Amy Goodman

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4 comments on “Tragic Lessons of Afghan Massacre

  1. Pingback: Covert History » Tragic Lessons of Afghan Massacre

  2. The “tragic lessons of Afghan massacre” is the Sargent will be accountable for his crimes. How many innocent Afghan victims the farce War of Terror begun by the War Criminal Bu$h II/Blair administrations, with “Nobel Peace Prize” (sic) Obama and Cameron continuing and expanding its borders will not be held accountable for their crimes.

    • tedbohne on said:

      hopefully, some american (hardly!) or someone else will ask what happens to this “stop loss draft” employed by Bush and his “dick,” cheney newly revitalized with a heart that a worthy human being deserved, keeps people in combat for years, in a war with clearly no rules of engagement, poorly trained from private to four star general. a war based on outed vetted lies and notably criminal behavior. he will have to pay for his “crimes?” though this is a catastrophe of the very first magnitude, who are the real criminals? we already know that. this guy had been in for at least three tours. maybe he got to go home for a time between tours, with the agonizing knowledge that he would have to go back. my guess is he spent many sleepless nights waiting to do his “patriotic” duty. though the UCMJ allows soldiers to disobey unlawful orders, there is no such thing as “justice” in the military, or the rest of this ragbag country.

  3. Tyrone B on said:

    As a Racial Minority in the United States, I find it shocking that so many (undoubtedly) White Folks (worst of the Hypocrites) are condemning Iran, Syria, Russia, etc., so self-righteously, but without acknowledging their own Cruel, and Inhumane history. Tens of Millions of Blacks and Native Americans (the so called “Red Indians”) were systematically Worked to Death or Massacred for over 400 years in the USA for Greed and Profit.

    Even now in the 21st century (each year) Millions of Black and Hispanic young men are Illegally Racially Profiled and Hundreds are Brutally Murdered in the USA by (predominantly) White Police/Sheriff/Troopers officers and the “Internal Affairs Divisions – IAD” of the respective departments cover-up the Racist-Crimes with little or no punishment for the officer(s) (most of the time).

    So before you Hypocrites start shouting words like anti-Semite, Holocaust-denier, etc., talk about how White Americans owe American Minorities (Blacks and Native Americans in Particular) more than a Trillion Dollars in Reparations for 400+ Years of Crimes against Humanity. And just because Obama is now President (after 230+ years of rule by White, Male Presidents), it doesn’t rule out the “Worst-Ever” Crime against Humanity– the “Black Holocaust.”

    And since you Whites value Women’s Rights so much, Tell Me: How come our Country (USA) has never elected a Female President or Vice-President yet? After all, Pakistan (Muslim Country) and India (Hindu Country) have had Presidents and Prime-Ministers who were Women. Where is your Self-Righteous “moral compass” when you can’t vote a Female leader into power in over 230 years, but have the gall to condemn other foreign countries for violating women’s rights.

    First attend to the “Dirt at Home” (skeletons in the closet) before you start pointing fingers at Foreign Countries you Fake-Ass Hypocrites and Sell-Outs.