Commentary: What they do in our name
By Sheldon Richman
Thanks to Wikileaks and heroic leakers inside the military, we now know the U.S. government has killed many more innocent Afghan civilians than we were aware of heretofore. We also know that American military and intelligence personnel roam Afghanistan assassinating suspected bad guys. Sometimes they kill people they later acknowledge weren't bad guys at all. "Bad guys," like "Taliban," is implicitly defined as anyone who resists the U.S. occupation force and the corrupt puppet government it keeps in power.
What other atrocities are our misleaders and misrepresentatives committing in our name?
Let's get something straight: to be an enemy of American occupation, bombing, and "nation building" is not the same thing as being an enemy of America or its people. It's time Americans understood that. When you invade another country and people there object, even forcibly, they are not aggressors. You are. To understand this, imagine our being invaded by a foreign military force. Would resistance be aggression?
The U.S. government goes to appalling lengths to deny this truth. It is about to try before a military commission a young Canadian, Omar Ahmed Khadr, who was taken into custody in Afghanistan eight years ago when he was 15 years old. The charge? War crimes, among them "murder in violation of the rules of war," which lawyer Chase Madar calls "a newly minted war crime novel to the history of armed conflict."
Khadr was captured after a four-hour firefight between American forces and so-called militants in the village of Ayub Kheyl near Kabul, during which the Afghans' homes were flattened by 500-pound bombs. One American died later from wounds inflicted by a grenade. Reports conflict, but Khadr was shot several times in the chest and back, then later was found under the rubble, unconscious and seriously wounded - he lost an eye from shrapnel.
Taken to Bagram Airbase, where the U.S. government maintains a prison, Khadr received some medical treatment and was interrogated about his role that day. He was thought to have information about al-Qaeda, since his father was a jihadist and knew Osama bin Laden. Khadr says he was denied pain killers, subjected to what can only be called torture, and forced to do hard work, aggravating his wounds. It was only after this torture that he said he had helped the militants because America was at war with Islam. Despite Canada's request, Khadr was transferred to the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he was again tortured and kept in solitary confinement for long spells. He claims that because of the torture he gave false confessions, including that he threw a grenade. Later he said he had no recollection of throwing a grenade and was in fact rendered unconscious by an American-caused explosion.
Unfortunately, the presiding judge has refused to exclude Khadr's statements made under torture and other cruel treatment, such as threats of gang rape. Militarily commissions are as much the travesty of justice that candidate Obama said they were in 2008. But now he's in charge.
Even if Khadr threw the grenade and killed an American, how can that be a war crime? At worst his actions look like self-defense but at any rate, fighters in combat aren't typically charged with murder.
Is the American military to be permitted to go anywhere the politicians wish and expect the people of the invaded countries meekly to accept their fate and pledge allegiance to the United States? Would we receive an invader that way?
The U.S. government and its well-paid military contractors have an agenda in the Middle East and South Central Asia that has nothing to do with the welfare or safety of average Americans. On the contrary, it is bankrupting them and has made them targets of revenge. There's a simple way to keep American military personnel safe: bring them home.
Obama has shown himself to be worse than his predecessor and the neoconservative empire enthusiasts. His promises to leave Iraq and Afghanistan are hedged so thick that we can expect the occupations to continue for many years ... all in our name. Despite Obama's words, the death and destruction at America's hands are not nearing an end.
Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation