Military lawyer jailed for exposing Afghanistan war crimes?


This 2017 video is called Afghan files expose deadly secrets of Australia‘s special forces.

By Mike Head in Australia:

Lawyer charged for exposing Australian war crimes in Afghanistan

11 March 2019

A former Australian military lawyer, once a captain in Britain’s Special Air Service (SAS), has been charged over the alleged leak of documents to journalists containing evidence of war crimes committed in Afghanistan by Australia’s Special Forces.

David McBride, 55, appeared in the Australian Capital Territory Magistrates Court last Thursday, accused of leaks to Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and Fairfax Media reporters during 2014 to 2016.

The charges relate in part to an ABC investigation published in 2017, called “The Afghan Files: Defence leak exposes deadly secrets of Australia’s special forces.” It provided some detail­ about long-suppressed official investigations into alleged war crimes.

Most of the documents, which the ABC did not release, reportedly covered “at least 10” incidents between 2009 and 2013 in which military investigators summarily cleared Special Forces soldiers of killing civilians, including children, or other war crimes.

Among the investigations mentioned were cases relating to the death of a man and his six-year-old child during a raid on his house, and the killing of a detainee who was alone with a soldier.

In 2013, troops commanded by Australian SAS officer Andrew Hastie, now a Liberal Party member of parliament who chairs the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Security and Intelligence, severed the hands of alleged dead Taliban fighters. This followed a training session where soldiers were told such methods could be used for identification purposes.

Some of the atrocities, such as the killing of the captured detainee, were already known. Despite some derisory compensation payments, each incident inflamed popular hostility in Afghanistan to the Australian and other occupying forces. They also underscored the inherently criminal character of the US-led Afghanistan war.

McBride entered no pleas. Instead, speaking to the media outside court, he said he had admitted handing over the documents but would defend his actions on legal grounds.

“I saw something illegally being done by the government and I did something about it,” he said. “I’m seeking to have the case looking purely at whether the government broke the law and whether it was my duty as a lawyer to report that fact.”

McBride suggested a cover-up at the highest levels of the military. He stated: “I have a duty to look after Australia, if that means reporting illegal activity by the top brass of the ADF [Australian Defence Force] I’m going to do it… If I was afraid of going to jail, why would I have been a soldier?”

The ex-ADF lawyer said he first sought an internal inquiry through the defence department and then went to police. When police did not act, he went to the media. He said he gave the documents to the ABC, the Sydney Morning Herald and journalist Chris Masters, but only the ABC published a report.

The lawyer is charged with theft and three counts of breaching the Defence Act, for being a member of the defence force and communicating information. The charges, if prosecuted on indictment, have maximum penalties of an unlimited fine or imprisonment for any term.

McBride faces a further charge under Criminal Code secrecy provisions, which were expanded and subjected to harsher penalties as part of last year’s “foreign interference” legislation. Imprisonment for up to 10 years can be imposed for an “aggravated” offence of leaking official secrets that allegedly prejudice Australia’s military defence or security.

McBride said he had been living in Spain, but was arrested at Sydney airport last September after a brief visit to his daughter. He is next due in court on May 13.

The government and the military are insisting that McBride’s trial must be conducted in secret, in order to suppress the details of the leaked documents. A Legal Aid representative for McBride told the court that his office was having difficulty finding a lawyer with the necessary security clearance to represent McBride.

McBride’s actions point to concerns within the military-intelligence establishment itself that the abuses committed by the Special Forces in Afghanistan have been so egregious that they have publicly discredited the “elite” units, on which Australian and allied governments rely for military interventions.

After studying at Sydney University and Oxford, McBride joined the British army. He spent six years with the Queen’s household cavalry, and also served with the SAS and in Northern Ireland and Afghanistan. In 2002, he stood unsuccessfully as a Liberal Party candidate in a New South Wales (NSW) state election.

The ABC reported that some of the cases were being probed by an inquiry run by NSW Supreme Court judge Paul Brereton, an army reserve major general, which was set up in 2016 by General­ Angus Campbell, who is now Chief of Defence.

The leaked material provided only a partial glimpse of Australia’s war crimes. It was published by the ABC in an effort, accompanied by belated military inquiries, to clean up the reputation of the Special Forces by blaming a minority of “bad apples” supposedly caught up in a “warrior culture”.

In reality, any brutal “culture” in the ADF is an inevitable result of the neo-colonial wars of occupation in the Middle East, which treat the populations as a whole as the enemy and involve the killing of anyone who resists.

Accounts of war crimes committed by Australian Special Forces are not new. Internal investigations, in recent conflicts alone, go back to the Australian military intervention in East Timor in 1999.

The military’s actions have been whitewashed at the highest levels of the ADF, with the full support of successive governments. In May 2013, Stephen Smith, the defence minister in the last Labor government, rejected complaints by Afghan detainees that they were subjected to humiliating public searches of groin and buttocks areas, as well as poor food and cold cells.

Last June, in a damage control operation, the current Liberal-National government belatedly revealed a third closed-door inquiry into alleged war crimes. After a Fairfax Media investigation reported further killings by Australian commandos, the Defence Department announced that earlier last year, military chiefs commissioned David Irvine, a former intelligence chief, to conduct an inquiry.

This “independent assessment” was designed as another official cover-up, seeking to cloak the barbaric character of the US-led occupation of the impoverished country. Such wars necessarily require the recruitment and training of soldiers to become hardened killers.

In addition to Hastie, ex-military commanders are prominent throughout the political and military establishment. Duncan Lewis, the current Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) director-general, is a former SAS officer.

Government Senator Jim Molan headed allied military operations in Iraq during 2004-05. A Labor Party MP and ex-minister, Mike Kelly, was a colonel and Director of Army Legal Services, which would have handled complaints against Special Forces members.

Brutal Special Forces operations are part of expanded preparations for use at home, as well. Alongside deployments to neo-colonial wars, the commandos train to suppress social unrest, in the name of combatting terrorism or “domestic violence”.

The author also recommends:

New evidence of more Australian special forces’ war crimes in Afghanistan
[11 June 2018]

After a decade of cover-up by police chiefs and successive governments, a police informer in the Australian state of Victoria, known previously to the public only as “EF,” “informant 3838” or “Lawyer X,” was this month named as Nicola Gobbo, a member of a prominent legal family. Gobbo’s identity further points to the top-level and systemic use of lawyers and others to supply potentially incriminating information to police, regardless of the principle of lawyer-client privilege and other confidentiality rules: here.

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Dutch Afghan war ‘hero’ arrested for anti-police violence


This 15 November 2018 video says about itself:

This British soldier was deployed when he had PTSD symptoms – BBC

Historian Dan Snow breaks the silence around the devastating impact of war on the mental health of our soldiers. Here, he meets Sean Jones who made a startling discovery about his mental health, years after the army had already re-deployed him to Afghanistan.

The Dutch Major Marco Kroon case may be about PTSD or other mental heath problems caused by the Afghan war; maybe it is not. If it is, then the Dutch government should have provided proper mental health care for this officer; instead of parading him about as a ‘war hero’, supposedly a shiny example for Dutch children.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Marco Kroon arrested ‘because of headbutting a police officer’

Major Marco Kroon was arrested yesterday in Den Bosch. This confirms his lawyer Geert-Jan Knoops. Kroon is said to have headbutted a police officer. This is reported by several media, including the dailies De Telegraaf and the Brabants Dagblad.

Kroon is said to have administered his headbutt after being caught by the cop while urinating in public. The military police only informed the Brabants Dagblad that “a military man” has been arrested. …

Military Order of William

Kroon was awarded the highest military order, the Military Order of William, by Queen Beatrix in 2009. He had been nominated for this because of courage and leadership in Afghanistan.

After that, Kroon got regularly in trouble. He was convicted in 2011 for illegal possession of weapons.

The military police then also accused him of hard drugs possession; for which he was not convicted.

Last year he claimed to have killed a Taliban fighter who had kidnapped and abused him.

The Public Prosecution Department investigated the case, but found insufficient clues that it really happened. No definitive answer could be given and the investigation was therefore stopped.

Kroon may lose his award if he would be sentenced to at least a year of imprisonment unconditionally or if he would be dishonourably discharged.

Earlier, the Dutch government spent 300,000 euros on Kroon’s lawyers; but not this time.

More Afghan civilians being killed


This 2012 video says about itself:

US soldier kills Afghan civilians in shooting rampage

A number of Afghan families are in mourning after a US soldier killed at least 16 civilians in a night-time shooting spree. Women, children and elderly men are among the dead. The man left his base in Kandahar province and entered people’s homes in the early hours, apparently shooting people at random. …

Anti-American feeling is already high after US soldiers burned a copy of the Koran last month, triggering widespread protests.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan is rising to a record high

The war in Afghanistan has caused the highest number of civilian deaths since 2009, the year the United Nations started tracking the number of victims systematically. The UN mission in Afghanistan counted a total of 10,993 civilian casualties in 2018: 3804 dead and 7,189 injured.

The increase of 11 percent compared to 2017 was mainly caused by the increased number of suicidal attacks by Islamic State (ISIS) and the increase in the number of air raids by the USA and its allies. …

The UN envoy for Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, calls the increase in civilian casualties “very disturbing and totally unacceptable”. “It’s time to end this tragedy”, Yamamoto said. “The best way is to stop fighting.”

‘Endless Afghan war, based on untruths’


This 22 August 2017 video from the USA says about itself:

Endless War In Afghanistan

Institute for Policy Studies’ Phyllis Bennis and Paul Jay discuss war without end in Afghanistan.

Translated from an interview in Belgian center right daily De Standaard by Corry Hancké, 21 February 2019:

‘The unnecessary war’

For eighteen years already, foreign troops have been in Afghanistan. They have invaded the country to catch Osama bin Laden and to topple the Taliban government. According to journalist Bette Dam, the Taliban had surrendered in 2001, but the Americans have never done anything with that. And the media are not blameless. ‘Leading American and European media based themselves for seventy to ninety percent on Western [establihment] sources.’ …

Today, her book In Search of the Enemy, the story of a terrorist who wanted to be a friend, appears. It is about Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban on whose head the US Americans had put a bounty of 10 million dollars. Dam has been conducting research for five years. She talked to his close associates, with ministers, with Omar bin Laden, who lived with his father in Afghanistan, and other key figures.

Bette Dam went to the Jamia Uloom-ul-Islamia Binori Town-madrassa in Karachi, where Mullah Omar supposedly had been radicalized. She spoke to the son of the founder of the school. ‘The people who have become famous in the media as students of this school have not studied here. I have never seen Mullah Omar here”, she says in her book, confirming what she had heard from many others.

Almost illiterate Koran teacher

During a conversation in Amsterdam, Dam gives her view of the man who is such a mystery. “Mullah Omar stayed in Afghanistan all the time, he was a simple, almost illiterate Koran teacher in a small school in Deh Rawod, in the southern province of Uruzgan.” In 1994, at the request of Haji Bashar, a local businessman, Mullah Omar became leader of an uprising that wanted to get rid of the tax collectors along the roads that cost the businessmen a lot of money. Omar hated the chaos and the lawlessness in his country. He felt that Pakistan was responsible for this because, in cooperation with the CIA and the new Afghan president Burhaniddin Rabbani, it had supported warlords to conquer the country against the Soviets. Because of their internecine conflicts they then landed the country in a civil war. …

For me, Mullah Omar is a stubborn villager who prefers not to go have to do much with unknown organizations. … He did not have an international jihad agenda‘, says Bette Dam. …

“At first the Americans were not so negative about the Taliban, because they brought order”, says the journalist. “But those [Taliban] courts sometimes decided that someone should be hanged. The image of the battered and hanged former president [pro-Soviet] Mohammad Najibullah was bad news for Mullah Omar. He had wanted Najibulllah to appear in a court of law. He was also against women being beaten. Yet a video appeared on which the religious police beat women. That was disastrous for the image of the Taliban. The criticism was hard on Mullah Omar. In 1994, the Americans had signed a blueprint for an Islamic state. “This is what you wanted, isn’t it?”, said Mullah Omar.”

‘The US American embassy in Pakistan got all its information from secondary sources. They had none among the leaders in Kandahar. Their information was determined by Afghans who had gone to the Pakistani city Quetta and by the people around the warlord Massoud. I find it amazing that they only relied on sources from one group’, Dam notes. …

According to American diplomatic notes that Dam could study, Mullah Omar had met Osama bin Laden every month in Quetta or in the villages on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. That is not true, the Dutch journalist discovered. She writes, under the authority of bin Laden’s son, that his father met Mullah Omar only a year after his arrival in Afghanistan, when he was summoned and was told that he had to keep a low profile. ‘Mullah Omar had indeed fought in the same fight against the Russians, but he had a different ideology than bin Laden. Mullah Omar had an Afghan agenda. Bin Laden had an Al-Qaeda agenda. …

But that made the situation more difficult for Mullah Omar, because he did not want to expel the Al Qaeda man from the country. If he were to surrender Bin Laden, he would, like those other fighters who had fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan, disappear or be shot in a foreign prison. Dam writes that Mullah Omar intended to have Bin Laden on trial in Afghanistan and that he had unsuccessfully asked the US to give evidence [about Al Qaeda attacks]. “There was no evidence”, a US diplomat said to Dam years later. …

Bette Dam is convinced, based on conversations with some former Taliban ministers, that Mullah Omar was not aware of the 9/11 attacks either. When Mullah Omar again refused to expel Osama bin Laden, the Americans invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. A few weeks later they had Kabul in their hands.

Furious Rumsfeld

Bette Dam describes in her book the last meeting of the Taliban leadership, in which Mullah Omar on December 5, 2001 hears that the Taliban commanders no longer want to fight. He hands over power to Mullah Obaidullah and disappears. Abdul Salam Rockety, a commander who was there, later told Dam: “We were so glad that the war would soon be over. Nobody wanted the Taliban to continue fighting, everyone wanted to focus on the future, on cooperation with future President Hamid Karzai. Maybe with the Americans.”

The next day Mullah Obaidullah drove to Kandahar, where he told Karzai that the Taliban were laying down their arms. After Karzai had told the good news to some international newspapers, he got a phone call from an angry Donald Rumsfeld. The US Secretary of Defense demanded that Karzai revoke his words. “The Taliban and Mullah Omar are as big enemies to the US as Al-Qaeda,” Rumsfeld had said. The Taliban, who had first received clemency, became hunted wildlife.

Mutasim Agha Jan, a close friend of Mullah Omar, and a few Taliban leaders with whom Bette Dam spoke, say that it was not until 2004, possibly even until 2006, that the Taliban started to carry out organized attacks. Let us recall that NATO, including Belgian army troops, has been present in Afghanistan since 2003. All the while, the Western mantra was that we were fighting the rebellious Taliban there.

Oil and weapons industry

‘After 9/11 fear has gripped us, and that has made us stupid. The Taliban and Al Qaeda were generalized about. After the towers had collapsed, we did not take time and think rationally to investigate who was really responsible for this’, says Dam. ‘The great steps taken at a rapid pace and the war strategy that was outlined at that time have never been corrected in the last 18 years.’

Some people claim that the US is going to continue this war for the oil and weapons industry, but the Dutch journalist thinks that the way of decision-making in Washington is decisive. “The team around Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton contains many military experts who constantly think about security issues: am I being attacked, yes or no? After 9/11, the diplomatic route was switched off. Eg, the State Department, responsible for foreign policy, did not know that the Taliban wanted to surrender. It has only been discovered years later. An unnecessary war has therefore been fought. “It’s a crusade“, George Bush said in 2001.”

Bette Dam is not pleased with the way in which the United States got away with this narrative. There were, with a few exceptions, no journalists who had an eye for the other side of the story. ‘Research shows that many American and European leading media have relied on anonymous officials, embedded reporting and seventy to ninety percent on Western [establishment] sources. We are actually talking about that conflict to ourselves.”

Dam believes that the media should take a good look in the mirror. ‘I think we should do a hard reset and evaluate our work. Maybe we should deploy as many people inside the war on terror areas as in Washington or Brussels. You must be able to cross check every story. If you can not invest in such journalists, then you should not write about it either. Then just say: we do not know.”

Dutch Afghan war veterans’ health problems


Burn pit in Afghanistan, photo Dutch Ministry of Defence

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Within two weeks, 110 soldiers have already reported that they have become ill through so-called burn pits or are worried about them. Burn pits are pits that were used to burn waste in mission areas in Afghanistan.

There was unrest among soldiers sent out after colleagues reported health complaints that might be related to those burn pits. Initially, Minister Bijleveld [of war, sorry I am supposed to say Defense] said that no one had reported to the Ministry of Defense, but later it turned out that soldiers had indeed expressed their concerns, eg, to military physicians. These, however, were not considered official reports.

Bijleveld then set up a hotline that started on 4 February. In the meantime 110 people have registered there. If the reports give reason to do so, the minister wants to independently investigate the health complaints, and will let the House of Representatives know. She wants to make a decision in April.

Cancer

In the burn pits, waste was burned in the open air. Soldiers claim that they have contracted cancer or other diseases as a result of the harmful substances released.

In her letter, Bijleveld writes that it is not uncommon to process waste in this way in mission areas. Often it is the only way to get rid of waste. The local population also does it.

In George W Bush’s ‘new’ Afghanistan, very many people are hungry and poor. They have no money to get rid of waste in more environmentally and medically sound ways. They as well may be suffering from the diseases caused by burn pits.

See also here.

British killing of Afghan, Iraqi civilians


This 6 February 2019 video says about itself:

Ex British soldiers: UK commanders authorized civilian killings in Iraq

Killing of civilians in Iraq, children included, was authorized by UK commanders – several former British soldiers say.

“Our commanders, they would tell us: ‘We will protect you if any investigation comes. Just say you genuinely thought your life was at risk – those words will protect you.’”

By Jean Shaoul in Britain:

British troops given free hand to shoot civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan

13 February 2019

The British Army’s rules of engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan allowed troops to shoot unarmed civilians they suspected of keeping them under surveillance.

This resulted in numerous casualties, including children and teenage boys.

An investigation by Ian Cobain, based upon statements by former UK soldiers and published by the Middle East Eye (MEE) website, points to war crimes having been committed.

Cobain, who writes for the Guardian, has covered six wars, including the 1991 Gulf War and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. In September 2005, he revealed that the UK was supporting the CIA’s illegal extraordinary rendition program. While the MEE was unable to independently verify all the interviewees’ accounts, several ex-soldiers serving in different units at different times and in two different theatres of war made broadly similar allegations. In what can only be construed as an admission of guilt, the Ministry of Defence refused to comment.

Cobain interviewed several former British army soldiers who confirmed they were given orders to shoot at civilians suspected of surveilling them. This was sanctioned under the pretext that civilians were suspected of planting roadside bombs, or of acting as spotters or “dickers”—a term used during the conflict in Northern Ireland—for armed fighters.

Soldiers shot civilians without evidence they posed a threat. One soldier stationed in southern Iraq claimed he and fellow troops were told they were allowed to shoot anyone who acted suspiciously. Simply holding a mobile telephone, carrying a shovel, or being on the roof of a building—a normal occurrence in the summer heat—constituted “acting suspiciously” and warranted shooting, mostly carried out at night.

According to military law experts and the 1977 Geneva Conventions, shooting civilians is only lawful if they are participating directly in hostilities. But with no precise definition of “direct participation”, civilians are expected to be given the benefit of the doubt. Under UK domestic law, which is applicable to the armed forces, a soldier can use force to defend him/herself and others, including lethal force, only provided that it is reasonable in the circumstances.

This relaxing of the rules of engagement resulted in “a killing spree.” One former soldier said he saw a significant number of fatal shootings of civilians in Basra, not all of whom he believed were keeping British troops under surveillance. He claimed that he and his fellow soldiers were promised that they would be protected in the event of any investigation by military police. He told the MEE, “Our commanders, they would tell us: ‘We will protect you if any investigation comes. Just say you genuinely thought your life was at risk—those words will protect you’.”

Another former soldier, who served in Basra in 2007, said that he “had never seen such lawlessness.” He added, “We were shooting old men, young men.” They were not expected to ask for permission before opening fire, he said. “Anyone you deem is a terrorist, you shoot them. But how could we know if they were a threat? Not all of them were dickers, some were just holding phones.”

A former Royal Marine who served in Helmand province in Afghanistan in 2008 said that although he had to issue verbal warnings to “dickers” before firing warning shots, this routine was not always followed. He cited an incident where his captain had shot an eight-year-old child, “under the impression they were dicking us.” The captain acknowledged he had not followed the rules and insisted upon reporting it to his superiors, even though they made it clear that if he said he had followed the rules of engagement, they would back him up regardless of whether he had or had not done so. “But”, he said, “The boss reported what he had done and was removed from the troop.”

The rules on shooting changed from time to time. One former soldier, who served in Helmand in 2010 with the Parachute Regiment, said that on arrival in the province he was told that he was no longer permitted to shoot civilians thought to be keeping troops under surveillance. “During our first briefing, we were told: ‘We are no longer shooting dickers.’ It was back to winning hearts and minds.”

The soldier said that British troops continued to shoot civilians, and even mounted a cover-up of the killing of two unarmed teenage boys. He and other soldiers had seen two youths approaching on a scooter. “The lieutenant who was in charge ordered that warning shots be fired. We were firing over their heads and then at the ground in front of them, but they just kept coming. They were laughing. I wondered whether they were high.” As they were riding away, a corporal decided to fire his machine gun at them. When the patrol discovered that both boys were unarmed, two Soviet-era weapons—an assault rifle and a machine gun—were taken from the base and placed beside their bodies and photographed.

The UK’s Royal Military Police have been investigating other claims that special forces troops planted weapons on a number of Afghan men who were shot dead during night raids on their homes.

Such was the anger over civilian casualties that they became a frequent source of contention between the coalition commanders and civilian authorities in Iraq and Afghanistan, prompting the US puppet Afghan President Hamid Karzai to speak out. While the US commander General Stanley McChrystal adopted a policy of so-called “courageous restraint”, under which forces were expected to use less firepower, British troops were soon complaining that they were being expected to fight the Taliban “with one hand tied behind our backs.”

Such crimes flow from the thoroughly predatory motives of the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, where there are still 1,000 and 1,400 British troops (fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria), respectively. The September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington were seized upon as the pretext to take over these countries to secure domination over one of the world’s most strategic and resource-rich regions.

The murders made public by the Middle East Eye are a devastating exposure of the bloody role of British imperialism in Afghanistan and Iraq, whose civilians have alleged numerous incidents of abuse. Along with the hundreds of thousands of documents made public by WikiLeaks, they form the factual basis for a war crimes indictment of the leaders of the British government.

Tony Blair, Jack Straw and Gordon Brown and all the top military and foreign policy officials who served in the Labour governments that approved the wars and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, deserve to face an international war crimes tribunal. Their Conservative counterparts should stand in the dock alongside them.

The response of the British media is significant. None of the mainstream media outlets in Britain have mentioned Cobain’s findings. The only English-language media channels carrying reports were Al Jazeera and several Russian and Iranian channels.

The revelations of war crimes are also a warning to workers and youth. Such operations and policies are part of preparations for use at home. As well as deployments to new overseas neo-colonial wars, the armed forces will be used to suppress domestic unrest in the name of combatting the disruption caused by Brexit.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson laid out proposals for a massive escalation of British militarism post-Brexit in a speech to the Royal United Services Institute. The UK must be ready to use “hard power to support our global interests,” he insisted. His speech in London Monday was framed around the need to confront Russia (mentioned 14 times), which was “rebuilding its military arsenal,” and China, which is “developing its modern military capability and its commercial power.” Quoting Winston Churchill on the necessity of British forces being able to develop “a reign of terror down enemy coasts,” Williamson declared that “Churchill’s vision” was now the goal for “our Royal Navy and for our Royal Marine Commandos.” Virtually any pretext could be used by Britain’s armed forces to go into combat, because the “very character of warfare itself is changing” as “boundaries between peace and war are becoming blurred”: here.

New York Times regrets its Afghan warmongering


This 6 October 2015 CNN TV video from the USA says about itself:

Doctors Without Borders: Airstrike was a war crime

Doctors Without Borders Executive Director Jason Cone calls the bombing of a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan by American forces a war crime. He speaks with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

By Bill Van Auken in the USA:

New York Times admission of Afghanistan fiasco provokes “human rights imperialist” backlash

9 February 2019

An editorial published by the New York Times on February 4 titled “End the War in Afghanistan” has provoked a backlash from prominent supporters of the decades-long US “war on terrorism” and the fraud of “humanitarian intervention”.

The Times editorial was a damning self-indictment by the US political establishment’s newspaper of record, which has supported every US act of military aggression, from the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and the US wars for regime change in Libya and Syria beginning in 2011.

The editorial presents the “war on terror” as an unmitigated fiasco, dating it from September 14, 2001, when “Congress wrote what would prove to be one of the largest blank checks in the country’s history”, i.e., the Authorization for Use of Military Force against Al Qaeda and its affiliates, which is still invoked to legitimize US interventions from Syria to Somalia, Yemen and, of course, Afghanistan.

On the day that this “blank check” was written, the Times published a column titled “No Middle Ground”, which stated “the Bush administration today gave the nations of the world a stark choice: stand with us against terrorism, deny safe havens to terrorists or face the certain prospect of death and destruction. The marble halls of Washington resounded with talk of war.”

It continued, “The nation is rallying around its young, largely untried leader—as his rising approval ratings and the proliferation of flags across the country vividly demonstrate …”

This war propaganda was sustained by the Times, which sold the invasion of Afghanistan as retribution for 9/11 and then promoted the illegal and unprovoked war against Iraq by legitimizing and embellishing the lies about “weapons of mass destruction”.

With the first deployment of US ground troops in Afghanistan, the Times editorialized on October 20, 2001: “Now the nation’s soldiers are going into battle in a distant and treacherous land, facing a determined and resourceful enemy. As they go, they should know that the nation supports their cause and yearns for their success.”

Now the Times acknowledges: “The price tag, which includes the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and increased spending on veterans’ care, will reach $5.9 trillion by the end of fiscal year 2019, according to the Costs of War project at Brown University. Since nearly all of that money has been borrowed, the total cost with interest will be substantially higher… More than 2.7 million Americans have fought in the war since 2001. Nearly 7,000 service members—and nearly 8,000 private contractors—have been killed. More than 53,700 people returned home bearing physical wounds, and numberless more carry psychological injuries. More than one million Americans who served in a theater of the war on terror receive some level of disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

The massive loss of life, destruction of social infrastructure and vast human suffering inflicted by these wars on civilian populations are at best an afterthought for the Times. Conservative estimates place the number killed by the US war in Afghanistan at 175,000. With the number of indirect fatalities caused by the war, the toll likely rises to a million. In Iraq, the death toll was even higher.

What does the Times conclude from this bloody record? “The failure of American leaders—civilians and generals through three administrations, from the Pentagon to the State Department to Congress and the White House—to develop and pursue a strategy to end the war ought to be studied for generations. Likewise, all Americans—the news media included—need to be prepared to examine the national credulity or passivity that’s led to the longest conflict in modern American history.”

What a cowardly and cynical evasion! Three administrations, those of Bush, Obama and Trump, have committed war crimes over the course of more than 17 years, including launching wars of aggression—the principal charge leveled against the Nazis at Nuremberg—the slaughter of civilians and torture. These crimes should not be “studied for generations”, but punished.

As for the attempt to lump the news media together with “all Americans” as being guilty of “credulity” and “passivity”, this is a slander against the American people and a deliberate cover-up of the crimes carried out by the corporate media, with the Times at their head, in disseminating outright lies and war propaganda. The Times editors should be “prepared to examine” the fact that journalistic agents of the Nazi regime who carried out a similar function in Germany were tried and punished at Nuremberg.

The Times editorial supporting a US withdrawal reflects the conclusions being drawn by increasing sections of the ruling establishment, including the Trump administration, which has opened up negotiations with the Taliban. It is bound up with the shift in strategy by US imperialism and the Pentagon toward the preparation for “great power” confrontations with nuclear-armed Russia and China.

The Times’ call for an Afghanistan withdrawal has provoked a heated rebuke by defenders of the “war on terrorism” and “humanitarian intervention”, who have denounced the newspaper for defeatism. Such a withdrawal, a letter published by the Times on February 8 argued, would “accelerate and expand the war”, “allow another extremist-terrorist phenomenon to emerge”, and “result in the deaths and abuse of thousands of women.”

The signatories of the letter include Frederick Kagan, David Sedney and Eleanor Smeal.

Kagan has a great deal invested in the Afghanistan war. He and his wife Kimberly served as civilian advisers to top generals who directed the war and elaborated the failed strategies of counterinsurgency (COIN). He has been a vociferous supporter of every US war and every escalation, arguing most recently for the US military to confront Russian- and Iranian-backed forces in Syria.

Likewise Sedney, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense responsible for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, now working at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Married to a top lobbyist for Chevron who worked extensively in Central Asia, he has his own interests in the continuation of US military operations in the region.

Smeal is the president of the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMD) and a former president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), who is widely described as one of “the major leaders of the modern-day American feminist movement.”

A leading figure in the Democratic Party, Smeal is no Jane-come-lately to the filthy campaign to promote the war in Afghanistan as a “humanitarian” exercise in promoting the rights of women. In 2001, Smeal and her FMD circulated a petition thanking the Bush administration for its commitment to promoting the rights of women in Afghanistan. After the bombing began on October 7, she declared, “We have real momentum now in the drive to restore the rights of women.” …

Urging on the conquest of Afghanistan, she wrote, “I should hope our government doesn’t retreat. We’ll help rip those burqas off, I hope. This is a unique time in history. If you’re going to end terrorism, you’ve got to end the ideology of gender apartheid.”

Aside from costing the lives of hundreds of thousands of Afghan women, the US war has left women, like the entire population, under worse conditions than when it began. Two-thirds of Afghan girls do not attend school, 87 percent of Afghan women are illiterate, and 70-80 percent face forced marriage, many before the age of 16.

Recent reports suggest that the maternal death rate may be higher than it was before the war began, surpassed only by South Sudan. While USAID has poured some $280 million into its Promote program, supposedly to advance the conditions of Afghan women, it has done nothing but line the pockets of corrupt officials of the US-backed puppet regime in Kabul.

The attempt by the likes of Smeal and leading elements within the Democratic Party to cloak the bloodbath in Afghanistan as a crusade to “liberate” women and promote “democracy” is itself a criminal act.

On October 9, two days after Washington launched its now 17-year-long war on Afghanistan and amid a furor of jingoistic and militarist propaganda from the US government and the corporate media, the World Socialist Web Site editorial board posted a column titled “Why we oppose the war in Afghanistan.” It rejected the claim that this was a “war for justice and the security of the American people against terrorism” and insisted that “the present action by the United States is an imperialist war” in which Washington aimed to “establish a new political framework within which it will exert hegemonic control” over not only Afghanistan, but over the broader region of Central Asia, “home to the second largest deposit of proven reserves of petroleum and natural gas in the world.”

The WSWS stated at the time: “Despite a relentless media campaign to whip up chauvinism and militarism, the mood of the American people is not one of gung-ho support for the war. At most, it is a passive acceptance that war is the only means to fight terrorism, a mood that owes a great deal to the efforts of a thoroughly dishonest media which serves as an arm of the state. Beneath the reluctant endorsement of military action is a profound sense of unease and skepticism. Tens of millions sense that nothing good can come of this latest eruption of American militarism.

“The United States stands at a turning point. The government admits it has embarked on a war of indefinite scale and duration. What is taking place is the militarization of American society under conditions of a deepening social crisis.

“The war will profoundly affect the conditions of the American and international working class. Imperialism threatens mankind at the beginning of the twenty-first century with a repetition on a more horrific scale of the tragedies of the twentieth. More than ever, imperialism and its depredations raise the necessity for the international unity of the working class and the struggle for socialism.”

These warnings and this perspective have been borne out entirely by the criminal and tragic events of the last 17 years, even as the likes of the New York Times find themselves compelled to admit the bankruptcy of their entire record on Afghanistan, and their erstwhile “liberal” allies struggle to salvage some shred of the filthy banner of “human rights imperialism”.