-- Before you can have a debate, two people have to disagree. But if the United States is complicit in possible war crimes committed by Northern Alliance forces in Afghanistan, the U.S. reaction is indifference.
Murmurs abroad that U.S. forces may have been guilty of failing to intervene to prevent atrocities at a fortress near Mazar-e-Sharif have been met with resounding silence in the United States.
A computer database search of U.S. newspapers from recent days reveals an almost total absence of stories examining the issue.
One rare exception was an article in yesterday's Boston Globe, which asked: "What legal obligations do U.S. personnel advising the Alliance forces have to halt abuses?"
It quoted concerned officials from the Red Cross and Human Rights Watch.
Richard Hartung, director of the New-York based World Policy Institute, said he is concerned both about possible war crimes being committed in Afghanistan -- including civilian casualties from the bombing campaign -- and the silence that has greeted the issue, which he attributes to a cowed U.S. media.
"I don't know whether they are intimidated or whether they have just been drawn into the war, but they are being much less critical" than usual for wartime, he said in an interview.
As a result, he said, "people don't have any basis to make a judgment or show their concern."
He also suggested that rage over the losses of Sept. 11 may have engendered a callousness that makes Americans indifferent to alleged atrocities against the Taliban.
Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch in New York, said there has been little debate over the events at Mazar-e-Sharif, or over the war in general.
"It's as though this war is taking place in an atmosphere awash with patriotism, to the point where questioning aspects of the war is seen as somehow unpatriotic," she said in an interview yesterday.
There has been domestic criticism of the U.S. war effort, especially on the home front -- for instance, critics from all sides of the political spectrum have castigated President George W. Bush for establishing military tribunals that exempt foreign nationals charged with terrorism against the United States from the protections of the U.S. justice system.
But this has not been matched by criticism of the effort overseas.
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