Published on Wednesday, January 2, 2002 in the Irish Times
Civilian Death Toll is Not Big News
by Vincent Browne
More than 100 civilians were killed in a small village, Qalaye Naizi, in eastern Afghanistan by bombs dropped from US aircraft on Sunday. A cameraman who visited the village after the bombing said he could see huge craters blasted by bombs. Amid the destruction were scraps of flesh, pools of blood and clumps of what appeared to be human hair.
On Thursday last, US warplanes killed 40 civilians in Ghazni, south-west of Kabul. Also recently, 65 people, including tribal elders, were killed by US bombing while they were traveling in a convoy to Kabul to take part in the inauguration ceremony of the Afghan interim government.
On October 11th, more than 160 civilians were killed in a bombing raid in Karam, west of Jalalabad. Of the 60 mud huts in the village, 40 were destroyed.
On October 18th, the central market place, Sarai Shamali, near Kandahar, was bombed and 47 civilians were killed. On October 23rd, low-flying US gunships fired on the farming villages of Bori Chokar and Chowkar-karez, north of Kandahar, killing 93 civilians.
On November 10th, villages in the Khakrez district were bombed and more than 150 civilians were killed. On November 18th, bombing by US B52s killed again more than 150 civilians.
On the morning of Sunday, December 1st, B52 bombers made four passes over the village of Kama Ado, southwest of Jalalabad. The planes dropped 25 bombs each of 1,000 pounds.
Prof Marc Herold, of the departments of economics and women's studies at the University of New Hampshire, has published his estimate of the number of civilians killed in the bombardment of Afghanistan by US forces from October 7th, when the bombing started, to December 7th.
He relied only on official news agency reports, major newspapers in the US, Britain, Pakistan and India, and broadcast organizations, notably the BBC. He has calculated that in the period covered by his research the number of people killed has been 3,767, an average of 62 civilians per day. The total is well in excess of the number of people killed in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11th (that figure is now estimated at around 3,100).
Assuming that the average killing rate has been maintained since December 7th, the total number of civilians killed in Afghanistan is now (as of New Year's Day) 5,317. Prof Herold acknowledges that his tabulation is based only on killings reported in the mainstream media. What of killings in remote areas of Afghanistan which never got recorded in the major news outlets? What of the people who have later died of wounds inflicted by the bombing?
And how about the number of people who have died as a direct result of the war; people denied access to food aid (over one million people were said by the aid agencies to be at risk at the outset of the bombing), people who have died because electricity was cut off, because hospitals were bombed, because their access to food was shut down?
For the most part, the media in the US, Britain and here have been indifferent to this slaughter. It is not that these atrocities have got no coverage, although precious little, it is that they are rarely highlighted and never drawn together to present the full awful picture of what is going on.
For instance, yesterday's New York Times carried no mention of the killing of the 100 civilians in Qalaye Naizi on Sunday night. The Washington Post carried the story in an inside page, as did the Los Angeles Times. There was no mention in the Boston Globe.
Sky News and CNN carried the story in its news bulletins on Monday but in secondary slots after reports of the launch of the euro (which was hardly news at all since we all knew about this for years).
As I was out of Ireland on Monday I don't know how RTÉ television news treated the story but it rated behind a thoroughly innocuous statement from the European Central Bank on the 1p.m. radio news. The RTÉ website news carried no mention of the bombing on Monday evening. When stories of these slaughters are carried at all they are prefaced by denials by the US military. And even when the US military acknowledge a slaughter, it is carried as though it was of no consequence.
When a Pentagon spokesman was asked about the bombing of Chowkar-karez on October 23rd when at least 93 civilians were killed, he said: "The people are dead because we wanted them dead." When asked about the incident, Donald Rumsfeld said: "I cannot deal with that particular village." And that was that.
And, of course, nobody in government or in politics has a word to say about it, not in the US, not in Britain, and certainly not here.
This is not quite a new barbarism as the obscenities engaged in by both sides in the second World War, and then carried to a refinement in the Vietnam war, were the precursors of all this.
But there was a hope (wasn't there?) after the Vietnam war that we had entered into a more civilized era; that no more would the slaughter of innocents be condoned or acquiesced in.
But we should have known. We remained silent while Iraq was bombarded in 1991 and Yugoslavia in 1999, and the new canon of "humanitarian bombing" was sanctioned. Where next? Iraq again? Or Somalia? Or Sudan? What matter.
Have a happy new year.
© 2002 ireland.com