A Truth Commission for the Afghan War

Ho hum, life goes on, writes Robert C. Koehler.  Especially if you call it collateral damage and refuse to imagine the corpse of your own loved one lying in the rubble. 

In 2012, U.S. Army soldiers scan their area near Combat Outpost Sabari, Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force, Joshua L. DeMotts)

By Robert C. Koehler
Common Dreams 

“Ten members of one family—including seven children—are dead after a US drone strike targeting a vehicle in a residential neighborhood of Kabul . . .

“The youngest victims of Sunday’s airstrike were two 2-year-old girls, according to family members.

“Relatives found the remains of one of the girls, Malika, in the rubble near their home on Monday.”

Ho hum, life goes on — especially if you call it collateral damage and refuse to imagine the corpse of your own loved one lying in the rubble.

The deaths, described in a brief CNN story, resulted from a retaliatory airstrike following the ISIS suicide bombing at the Kabul airport last week, as the U.S. was allegedly ending its 20-year war with Afghanistan . . . 80,000 bombs dropped, several hundred thousand people killed, $2.3 trillion wasted, a country left utterly shattered and impoverished.

The secret to waging war, especially endless war, involves sweeping all this cold, hard data out of the public consciousness.

It also involves maintaining a total disconnect between one’s own acts of violence and those perpetrated by the enemy (the enemy is motivated solely by immoral interests, not by retaliatory outrage).

And above all, perhaps, it involves never acknowledging one’s own economic and geopolitical interests in a given conflict, but endlessly blathering about our ideals and the need to “fulfill our mission.” Indeed, in Afghanistan, as in Iraq (or Vietnam), our mission could have been code-named Casper the Friendly Ghost, so lacking was it in actual substance.

Such rules, of course, must be followed not simply by governmental spokespersons but by the mainstream media. If we all love our wars, we won’t be living in a “divided nation.”

NYT Editorial Board’s Lament 

For instance, The New York Times editorial board, a leading cheerleader of the war on terror from start to finish, recently lamented the tragic nature of the war’s ending thus:

“The rapid reconquest of the capital, Kabul, by the Taliban after two decades of a staggeringly expensive, bloody effort to establish a secular government with functioning security forces in Afghanistan is, above all, unutterably tragic.

“Tragic because the American dream of being the ‘indispensable nation’ in shaping a world where the values of civil rights, women’s empowerment and religious tolerance rule proved to be just that: a dream.”

The takeaway here, of course, is that nothing has been learned, the annual U.S. military budget is still in the neighborhood of a trillion dollars, and China looms as our potential next enemy — that is, the challenger to U.S. global idealism. The U.S. wants to empower women, for God’s sake, and it drop as many bombs as necessary to give them — at least those who survive — the right to get an education.

What seems not to be part of the editorial board’s sense of unutterable tragedy is this:

“At the conclusion of twenty years of occupation and at a cost of one to two trillion dollars,” write Ben Phillips and Jonathan Glennie at Inter Press Service, “Afghanistan has been left the poorest country per capita in Asia; the number of Afghans in poverty has doubled; half of the population is dependent on humanitarian assistance; half lack access to drinkable water; poppy cultivation has trebled and opium production is at its height.”

And as Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J.S. Davies point out, “Even as UN agencies warn of an impending humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, the U.S. Treasury has frozen nearly all of the Afghan Central Bank’s $9.4 billion in foreign currency reserves, depriving the new government of funds that it will desperately need in the coming months to feed its people and provide basic services.

“. . .instead of atoning for our role in keeping most Afghans mired in poverty, Western leaders are now cutting off desperately needed economic and humanitarian aid that was funding three quarters of Afghanistan’s public sector and made up 40 percent of its total GDP.”

While President Joe Biden’s decision to end the 20-year war is necessary and no doubt politically courageous, it’s not enough. Many — perhaps a majority — of Americans know this, but . . . so what? Militarism, and its corporate beneficiaries, still rule, basically with a public shrug of “that’s just the way it is.”

The time for change is now. The American empire is floundering in chaos of its own making and progressives are claiming political traction. After Biden announced the withdrawal, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) tweeted: “America’s longest war is finally over. As we continue working to help our allies and welcome Afghan refugees with open arms, let’s also commit to stopping endless wars once and for all.”

And Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-CA) said, “The answer cannot be more war and violence. The answer cannot be launching more ineffective and unaccountable counterterrorism operations.” She added, according to Truthout, that the United States “owes it to all those who lost their lives to not commit the same mistakes” in the wake of Sept. 11.

Simply suggesting change — wishing and hoping for it — is never adequate. Overcoming war is probably as enormous an effort as waging it, and perhaps one place to start is with a truth commission. 

Open the books, declassify the secrets and lies, let vets talk about PTSD and moral injury, let refugees talk about loved ones found in the rubble, let the corporate militarists disclose their finances, and demand full coverage by the media.

The first step in ending war is seeing it for what it is. This is terrifying to those with secrets to hide, to those who have accepted the façade of “fighting for freedom!” — and justifying murder with it. The point isn’t condemnation but to make sure it doesn’t happen again. 

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, “Courage Grows Strong at the Wound” (2016). Contact him or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

This article is from  Common Dreams.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

23 comments for “A Truth Commission for the Afghan War

  1. September 6, 2021 at 07:32

    Arms manufacturers are a particularly powerful lobby group: part of the great fossil fuel, US dollar as reserve currency and finance industry complex. Most US interventions are about the dominance of these mega industries rather than humane decentralized sustainable development. USA must quit the noble sounding ideology that ends in death and destruction!

  2. Tim S.
    September 5, 2021 at 15:20

    The idea of the ‘truth commission’ sonnds nice — until you realize that this is like calling for the apartheid regime in South Africa to install the truth commission ….

  3. Nathan Mulcahy
    September 5, 2021 at 09:50

    “The secret to waging war, especially endless war, involves ….”, to use the author’s phrase, is actually no secret at all. There are two cases.

    1) if it is a democratic country, then brainwash a significant majority of the citizens, so that they keep on voting to power the war mongering politicians and parties over and over and over, ….

    2) if it is an authoritarian regime then just do wars as you please.

    Case 1: a vast majority of us have rivers of blood on our hands

    Case 2: don’t delude yourself that we live in a democratic country

    Are we care 1 or case 2? What’s your vote?

  4. A
    September 5, 2021 at 05:00

    We do not need a “Truth Commission” to know that every US President (still alive) starting with Jimmy Carter, to the present day, needs to be in prison for war crimes.

    The same can be said for John Howard (Australia), Tony Blair (UK) and any other Prime Minister or Defence Minister who sent troops to Afghanistan to continue the carnage.

    That is a good start. THEN you can all your “Truth Commission” to root out others.

  5. Carolyn L Zaremba
    September 4, 2021 at 13:09

    The attitude of the United States towards anykind of “truth” commission? See Julian Assange.

  6. Carolyn L Zaremba
    September 4, 2021 at 12:58

    “Tragic because the American dream of being the ‘indispensable nation’ in shaping a world where the values of civil rights, women’s empowerment and religious tolerance rule proved to be just that: a dream.” — New York Times

    Don’t make me laugh! Civil rights and women’s empowerment don’t even exist in the United States. See Texas.

  7. Zhu
    September 4, 2021 at 04:07

    Look at human history over the last 5, 000 years and only technology changes.

  8. Zhu
    September 4, 2021 at 03:00

    Don’t hold your breath.

  9. DW Bartoo
    September 3, 2021 at 17:58

    Perhaps it is not so easy to reach a place of concern and despair such that a human being might, quite rationally, consider that “things will not change”.

    After decades of observation, seeing the rule of law perverted, around the world and domestically, watching the government be overtaken by a political class on the make, a financial class on the take, and both profiting from a military empire squandering obscene amounts to kill more than a million human beings over just the last twenty years, while placing the majority of human beings everywhere, even in the “Homeland”, in ever greater precarity, perhaps it would be most useful, for others, were you to offer reasons or mechanisms, beyond the slow and ongoing slog of educational outreach and efforts to organize awareness and bolster the energy to continue the sixty year old fight, from the days of Civil Rights and the anti war efforts, to the present and the future, to successfully bring the truth of war (including that it is based on lies) into public and media awareness.

    Unless you can offer concrete steps that empower people to bring a corrupt government to address the genuine needs of actual human beings, noting, for example that this nation, this society lacks effective and efficient healthcare in the midst of a pandemic, you do not very effectively address the growing despair around a political/economy premised upon predation, monopoly power, and a consistent “policy” of threat and domination, globally, by saying despair and disaffection is “easy”, you really provide nothing which address the very hard road ahead, if humanity is to survive the existential crises of this time, from nuclear Armageddon to environmental collapse.

    These are the most serious threats the human species has ever faced.

    That both are brought on by the behavior of those who have consistently shown that they’ve no regard for life, but only for their own enrichment and empowerment, must be addressed.

    There needs to be more than an assessment of WHAT has happened.

    WHO is responsible for the wars?

    For torture.

    For trashing the world economy and transferring $50 trillion, in the U$, over the last fifty years from the many to the 1%?

    As well, WHY this behavior was permitted and even encouraged?

    HOW did we become a society than can no longer make what we, the many, need?

    These question well ought suggest some necessary changes.

    Perhaps, as you imply that things can and will change, if you should share your vision of intentional change, coupled to conscionable awareness, you might encourage the discouraged to find common ground and purpose, to consider that their thoughts, conversations, comments, concerns can and will have positive impact.

    Rather than chide the desperate and depressed, would it not be more effective, and honest, to encourage dialogue with them?

    Is it not wiser to encourage rather than, essentially, to seek to belittle?

  10. Will
    September 3, 2021 at 17:45

    A truth commission sounds noble but it will not deter the crimes of current and future administrations. Think of the absurdities of Obama’s statement to look forward and not back to absolve the crimes of the Bush administration allowing Obama free rein to peruse his own war crimes as well as torturing and imprisoning those who exposed Bush’s and his own crimes. A piece of work that drone ranger. That concept only served to expose the two tiers of justice inherent in our society. Has anyone ever heard of a judge or a prosecutor say that we should look forward and not back when considering the disposition of someone on trial for a little bit of cocaine or pot, or a robbery or a B&E?

  11. John Neal Spangler
    September 3, 2021 at 16:51

    A truth commission would be very good. I think the Army, Marine corps, State and CIA will resist it bitterly. You can read Scott Horton’s book and see they have a lot to hide.

  12. Jeff Harrison
    September 3, 2021 at 14:51

    I have to agree with Mr. Harrow. Nothing will change. Why? Well, what’s the proximate cause of our current situation? First of all, going way back, the US picked up the ideological banner that had been flying in Europe since before WWII – the fascists vs. the communists. I think this was largely driven by a fear that our system of governance/economics was not really durable so we had to drive out the communists in favor of the fascists so we could all be the same. This is why we forced any country that was undergoing a post colonial transition to have a split. This is why we had N. & S. Yemen, N. & S Vietnam, and N. & S. Korea. And virtually every country whose government we installed is a dictatorship with a few exceptions.

  13. Geoff Burns
    September 3, 2021 at 11:55

    One might get away with saying that America promotes the values of civil rights, women’s empowerment and religious tolerance around the world if you looked only at Afghanistan and started the clock in the fall of 2001. But if you start the clock in the late seventies when Afghanistan had a progressive democratic government which we helped the mujahideen undermine; or you look at Iran in the early 50’s when we overthrew a democratically elected government and installed a brutal dictatorship; or you look at Chile in the 70’s, Nicaragua in the eighties or Honduras in the aughts, or countless other nations, then this idea becomes laughable.

    • Zhu
      September 4, 2021 at 04:05

      The US has long promoted Genghis Khan’s values: kill, rob, rape. The women of Afghanistan did NOT benefit from our occupation, anymore than did women of the Philipppines, of Vietnam, etc., etc.

      • Carolyn L Zaremba
        September 4, 2021 at 13:00

        Or even the women of the United States, as we see the continuing and accelerating attacks on abortion rights.

  14. Robert Harrow
    September 3, 2021 at 09:56

    I’m terribly afraid that nothing will change at all. The constant pro war narrative from the mainstream media will wear down any of our overworked public’s possible resistance to the next war.
    The military contractors will do all in their immense power to stop any idea of change that effects their profits.
    At some point Harris will take over and offer zero resistance to her handlers’ wishes.

    • Consortiumnews.com
      September 3, 2021 at 10:04

      It’s very easy to say nothing will ever change.

    • Carolyn L Zaremba
      September 4, 2021 at 13:01

      This is why capitalism must be overthrown. It has nearly destroyed the entire planet. If it is not stopped, that will happen.

      • A
        September 5, 2021 at 09:59

        The problem is not “capitalism”, which is intended (though sometimes not practiced) as the ability of people to trade with whomever they wish.

        The problem is politics. The propensity of some to control the life of others, regardless of what political form they use: supposed democracies, socialist or communist.

  15. Lynn
    September 3, 2021 at 09:29

    part of that truth commission needs to be a re-examination of the reason we went into that war in the first place, especially
    given the suspicious circumstances for that reason, namely 9/11/01……

  16. Charlotte Ruse
    September 3, 2021 at 09:15

    Bipartisan corruption will never be investigated.

    • Carolyn L Zaremba
      September 4, 2021 at 13:03

      Not by a capitalist government, that’s for sure. The ruling elites work overtime to hide the truth from the citizenry. They control the mainstream media. They control the financial system. They keep the real machinations of government a secret from the people. Capitalism must go before the workers can even begin to make amends for over a century of crime and corruption.

      • A
        September 5, 2021 at 10:00

        You are naive if you do not think socialist and communist regimes also have ruling elites which can do and have done the same.

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