The U.S. Army Staff Sgt. who walked through two villages in Afghanistan around 3 a.m. March 11 is reported to have methodically killed, using single shots to the head, 16 civilians that he'd dragged from their beds. Eleven were reportedly from one family. Nine were children. He set some of the corpses on fire.
Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said of this latest U.S. massacre that it "cannot be forgiven."
The Taliban promised revenge against what it called "sick-minded American savages," a characterization that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta appeared to confirm when he coldly told the press later that day, "These kinds of events and incidents are going to take place. ... This is not the first of those events, and they probably won't be the last."
Seth Jones of the Rand Corporation, a former Special Forces officer in the Pentagon, embraced this blood thirsty image of the United States at war when he said March 12 on PBS News Hour, "This is not as out-of-the-norm as it's appearing in the media. ... Afghans are used to being killed."
Our savages are clearly not confined to the killing fields. Afghans can be forgiven for demanding that the latest Son of (Uncle) Sam be turned over to local authorities, especially in view of U.S. atrocities that have been treated lightly or have gone unpunished.
In November 2001, hundreds of captured Afghan fighters were packed into sealed metal shipping containers and moved to the town of Mazar. Hundreds died of asphyxiation en route, were executed when some of the bodies were dumped along the way, or were killed when the containers were riddled with machine gun fire at Mazar under the watchful eyes of 30 to 40 elite U.S. Special Forces. The documentary "Massacre at Mazar" includes eyewitness accounts of the killings. No U.S. personnel have even faced an inquiry.
No U.S. soldiers have been prosecuted for jet fighter attacks gone astray, for bombing civilians targeted with unreliable "intel," or for the pilotless drone "accidents" directed from thousands of miles away that have left scores of children dead. Eleven children ages 2 to 7 were killed last May 28; six kids were killed Nov. 24; eight more were killed Feb. 15. No charges were brought against two Marines in charge of a unit that killed 19 people and wounded 50 in Afghanistan by firing indiscriminately at cars and bystanders in 2008.
When U.S. crimes of war have been prosecuted, their official trivialization and the lack of severe consequences have been appalling. The literate population of Afghanistan may be more aware of this "norm" than U.S. readers. Pvt. Charles Graner, of the Abu Ghraib torture cell in Iraq, was released after 6- 1/2 years of a 10-year sentence. In 2009, charges were dropped against four U.S. military contractors from Blackwater Corp. who slaughtered 17 civilians in Baghdad. This year, Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich was allowed to plead guilty to "dereliction of duty" after overseeing the murders of 24 sleeping civilians in Haditha, Iraq in 2005. Sgt. Wuterich had told his men "Shoot first, ask questions later." Six of them had their charges dropped and one was acquitted, and Wuterich walked free without jail time.
A May 31, 2011 warning from President Karzai should be reread today by Pentagon generals: "If they continue their attacks on our houses, then their presence will change from a force that is fighting terrorism to a force that is fighting against the people of Afghanistan. And in that case, history shows what Afghans do with trespassers and with occupiers." The graveyard of empires indeed.