U.S. officials are "probing a possible attempted coverup" in the deaths of five Afghan civilians in February in a raid carried out by U.S. Special Forces accompanied by Afghan troops, the Los Angeles Times reports. Among the charges is that the bodies were tampered with by U.S. forces to conceal the cause of death.
But even as the U.S. is supposedly investigating, U.S. officials say allegations that bullets were dug out of the bodies as part of a coverup are baseless, the LAT says.
Jerome Starkey had reported in the Times of London that Afghan investigators said U.S. Special Forces soldiers dug bullets out of their victims' bodies. But U.S. Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, General McChrystal's spokesman, said no forensic evidence or eyewitness testimony had been presented to support that account, the LAT says.
Admiral's Smith's statements appear to be a classic non-denial denial. Apparently no-one outside the U.S. military is in any position to provide any definitive "forensic" evidence, because Afghan investigators were not able to autopsy the bodies, as the New York Times reported, and because Afghan police were prevented by foreign forces from coming near the bodies, as the Los Angeles Times reported.
As for "eyewitness testimony," the New York Times reported on April 5:
Mohammed Tahir, whose 18-year-old daughter was killed, said he had watched from the compound through an open door as an American knelt over one corpse with a knife and tried to extract bullets. "I saw them working on the bodies," Mr. Tahir said. "I saw a knife in one of the American's hands."
But regardless of whether U.S. forces removed bullets from the bodies - or if they did, what their motivation was for doing so - on the more basic question of whether there was a "cover-up" by U.S. forces, it's hard to come up with any plausible story consistent with the information now in the public domain which does not conform to the ordinary meaning of the term "coverup."
Here is part of what a NATO press release said about the incident on February 12, still posted on NATO's web site:
Joint Force Operating in Gardez Makes Gruesome Discovery
An Afghan-international security force found the bound and gagged bodies of three women during an operation in the Gardez district, Paktiya Province last night.
The joint force went to a compound near the village of Khatabeh, after intelligence confirmed militant activity. Several insurgents engaged the joint force in a fire fight and were killed. Subsequently, a large number of men, women, and children exited the compound, and were detained by the joint force. When the joint force entered the compound they conducted a thorough search of the area, and found the bodies of three women who had been tied up, gagged and killed. The bodies had been hidden in an adjacent room.
NATO now admits that this account of events was not true: the women were killed during the U.S. Special Forces raid.
Writing for Inter Press Service on April 7, Gareth Porter reported:
McChrystal's spokesman Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale told IPS Monday, "I can tell you unequivocally that there was no evidence of a cover-up." [...] In an e-mail response to a question from IPS about how it was possible that the U.S. SOF personnel had killed the women but believed they had been killed before the raid, Breasseale suggested that the joint force had not discovered the bodies for some extended period of time after beginning their search of the compound.
But go back to the Feb. 12 NATO press release, still posted on the web. Not only was it claimed that the women were already dead when U.S. Special Forces arrived on the scene, it was claimed that they were "tied up" and "gagged."
Even if one were to accept the claim that the U.S. Special Forces could not distinguish between women that they had killed and women who were already dead when the raid began, presumably it does not require advanced medical training to distinguish between a corpse which is "tied up" and "gagged" and one which is not. Either they were or "tied up" and "gagged" or they were not. If they were not, then the claim that they were was a lie, and some human being made up that story, and presumably that story was made up to obscure the fact that the women were killed by the U.S. Special Forces. And I would imagine that if one were to ask 100 disinterested observers selected at random, 100 would say that the fabrication of such a story, which was subsequently released by NATO as official information, would constitute a "coverup."
If you don't want your tax dollars spent murdering Afghan civilians, tell Congress.