Soft targets

Thursday, December 11th, 2003

When we killed nine children in Afghanistan on Dec. 6, we were hunting a suspected Taliban leader with an A-10 Warthog attack jet.

Forget, for a moment, the bad intelligence that resulted in nine small raised gravesites adorned with children’s clothing pushing out of the rocky earth of southern Afghanistan, and simply consider the magnitude of overkill involved in this mission, and how it is a microcosm of the entire Bush administration war on terror.

In order to take out Mullah Wazir — described as a “junior mullah” and sought in connection with two killings and for “bragging loudly” about his terrorist ties — we dispatched a plane that could carry up to 16,000 pounds of ordnance, including Maverick and Sidewinder missiles, and was mounted with the GAU-8 Avenger seven-barrel cannon, an air-to-ground “soft target killer and tank buster” with depleted uranium-tipped ammo.

This was all to rid planet earth of a single human being — albeit a killer (maybe) and braggart. He may or may not have been where he was supposed to be on Saturday morning — the carnage was so great, we don’t know for sure if we got him — but we do know nine children were foolish enough to be playing in the vicinity, so we rid the world of them.

At this point, those of us who read such stories closely require a great deal more from our news sources than we get — not so much more facts and perspective, though that would help, but rather something I want to call soul-searching. If that’s too much to ask for, however, I’d settle for incredulity, a.k.a., skepticism, a quality selectively missing from mainstream, embedded reporting.

Such reporting would begin, perhaps, with the question: Who the hell do we think we are?

We don’t just get to take children out with air-to-ground missile strikes, apologize and continue pursuing the same single-minded strategy — a strategy that the U.S. itself acknowledges resulted, prior to Dec. 6, in the deaths of 123 Afghan civilians due sheerly to bombing errors.

I know of no ongoing tally of Afghan civilian dead since we invaded the country two-plus years ago, but our war games in Iraq thus far have netted a tally of between 8,000 and 10,000 civilian dead, according to Iraq Body Count. And these are just the dead directly attributable to military action; there aren’t even estimates for the number of casualties from, for instance, curable and war-related diseases.

Nor are there estimates of how many people’s attitudes in the occupied countries have been hardened against us, due to rage, grief and ongoing humiliation.

“Civilians shot back at the Americans,” a 30-year-old man, who was wounded by shrapnel in the recent battle of Samarra, was quoted as saying. “They claim we are terrorists. So OK, we are terrorists. What do they expect when they drive among us?”

In that battle, the most significant controversy is not how many guerillas we killed but whether, as even our own media have suggested, U.S. troops fired wildly, indiscriminately and “hysterically” into residential areas during the ambush, and sustained the shelling of such “soft targets” as schools and mosques — and even the local hospital — long after the guerillas had slipped away.

Skeptical reporting would topple this war.

Such reporting, while backing away from the PR gimmickry of Karl Rove (the “turkey” Bush served to a few photogenic troops at the Baghdad airport on Thanksgiving morning was fake), might actually regard something like the recent action of Paul Bremer, illegal under international law, privatizing virtually all of Iraq’s infrastructure — known as Order 39 — as newsworthy. “Iraq is not America’s to sell,” wrote The Nation columnist Naomi Klein, one of the few journalists to publicize this secret giveaway to well-connected corporations such as Halliburton and Bechtel.

But apparently she’s wrong. The whole country is just another soft target.