Where Are This War's Heroes, Military and Journalistic?

When Charlie Company's Lt. William Calley ordered and encouraged his
men to rape, maim and slaughter over 400 women and children and old
people in My Lai in Vietnam back in 1968, there were at least four
heroes who tried to stop him or bring him and higher officers to
justice. One was helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson Jr., who evacuated some
of the wounded victims, and who set his chopper down between a group of
Vietnamese and Calley's men, ordering his door gunner to open fire on
the US soldiers if they shot any more people. One was Ron Ridenhour, a
soldier who learned of the massacre, and began a private investigation,
ultimately reporting the crime to the Pentagon and Congress. One was
Michael Bernhardt, a soldier in Charlie Company who witnessed the whole
thing, and reported it all to Ridenhour (also confiding that if
Ridenhour didn't succeed in getting prosecutions going he had a hit
list of all the officers involved and planned to execute them
himself!). And one was journalist Seymour Hersh, who broke the story in
the US media.

Today's war in Afghanistan also has its My Lai massacres. It has
them almost weekly, as US warplanes bomb wedding parties, or homes
"suspected" of housing terrorists that turn out to house nothing but
civilians. But these My Lais are all conveniently labeled accidents.
They get filed away and forgotten as the inevitable "collateral damage"
of war. There was, however, a massacre recently that was not a
"mistake"--a massacre which, while it only involved fewer than a dozen
innocent people, bears the same stench as My Lai. It was the
execution-style slaying of eight handcuffed students, aged 11-18, and a
12-year-old neighboring shepherd boy who had been visiting the others,
in Kunar Province, on Dec. 26.

Sadly, no principled soldier with a conscience like pilot Hugh
Thompson tried to save these children. No observer had the guts of a
Michael Brernhardt to report what he had seen. No Ron Ridenhour among
the other serving US troops in Afghanistan has investigated this
atrocity or reported it to Congress. And no American reporter has
investigated this war crime the way Seymour Hersh investigated My Lai.

There is a Seymour Hersh for the Kunar massacre, but
he's a Brit. While American reporters like the anonymous journalistic
drones who wrote CNN's December 29 report
on the incident took the Pentagon's initial cover story--that the dead
were part of a secret bomb-squad--at face value, Jerome Starkey, a
dogged reporter in Afghanistan working for the Times of London and the Scotsman,
talked to other sources--the dead boys' headmaster, other townspeople,
and Afghan government officials--and found out the real truth about a
gruesome war crime--the execution of handcuffed children. And while a
few news outlets in the US like the New York Times did
mention that there were some claims that the dead were children, not
bomb-makers, none, including CNN, which had bought and run the
Pentagon's lies unquestioningly, bothered to print the news update
when, on Feb. 24, the US military admitted that in fact the dead were
innocent students. Nor has any US corporate news organization mentioned
that the dead had been handcuffed when they were shot.

Starkey reported the US government's damning admission. Yet still the US media remain silent as the grave.

Under the Geneva Conventions, it is a war crime to execute a
captive. Yet in Kunar on December 26, US-led forces, or perhaps US
soldiers or contract mercenaries, cold-bloodedly executed nine
hand-cuffed prisoners. It is a war crime to kill children under the age
of 15, yet in this incident a boy of 11 and a boy of 12 were handcuffed
as captured combatants and executed. Two others of the dead were 12 and
a third was 15. These are capital offenses under the Geneva
Conventions, to which the US is a signatory. So is covering up the
crime, all the way up the chain of command.

I called the Secretary of Defense's office to ask if any
investigation was underway into this crime or if one was planned, and
was told I had to send a written request, which I did. To date, I have
heard nothing. The Pentagon PR machine pretended to me on the phone
that they didn't even know what incident I was talking about, but
without their "help" I have learned that what the US military has
done--no surprise--is to pass the buck by leaving any investigation to
the International Security Assistance Force--a fancy name for the
US-led NATO force fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. It's a clever
ruse. The ISAF is no more a genuine coalition entity than was George
Bush's Iraq War Coalition of the Willing, but this dodge makes
legislative investigation of the event impossible, since Congress has
no authority to compel testimony from NATO or the ISAF as it would the
Pentagon. A source at the Senate Armed Services Committee confirms that
the ISAF is investigating, and that the committee has asked for a
"briefing"--that means nothing would be under oath--once that
investigation is complete, but don't hold your breath or expect
anything dramatic.

I also contacted the press office of the House Armed Services
Committee to see if any hearings into this crime have been planned. The
answer is no, though the press officer asked me to send her details of
the incident (Not a good sign that House members and staff are paying
much attention--the killings led to country-wide student demonstrations
in Afghanistan, to a formal protest by the office of President Hamid
Karzai, and to an investigation by the Afghan government, which
concluded that innocent students had been handcuffed and executed, and
no doubt contributed to a call by the Afghan government for prosecution
and execution of American soldiers who kill Afghan civilians.)

There is still time for real heroes to stand up in the midst of
this imperial adventure that may now appropriately be called Obama's
War in Afghanistan. Plenty of men and women in uniform in Afghanistan
know that nine innocent Afghan children were captured and murdered at
America's hands last December in Kunar. There are also probably people
who were involved in the planning or carrying out of this criminal
operation who are sickened by what happened. But these people are so
far holding their tongues, whether out of fear, or out of simply not
knowing where to turn (Note: If you have information you may contact me).
There are also plenty of reporters in Afghanistan and in Washington who
could be investigating this story. They are not. Don't ask me why. They
certainly should not be able to call themselves journalists--at least
with a straight face.

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.