Today is Veterans Day, the tenth Veterans Day since the Afghanistan War began.
The burden of this brutal, futile war falls heaviest on a very small slice of the population: military members and their families. Many of them think that this war is immoral, and that makes fighting in it a weight they'll have to carry their whole lives. Our new video features the voices of some of these veterans, urging us to rethink the burden we're laying on troops.
There’s going to be, as always, a lot of talk today about supporting the troops, but if “support the troops” is to have any meaning beyond the bumper sticker or car magnet, it’s got to include support for the consciences of those troops. And right now, current military policy includes a healthy dose of disrespect for the deep moral convictions of many of its members.
Many of us are familiar with the concept of conscientious objection--the refusal to participate in combat due to deep religious or ethical objections. But the right to assert a moral objection to service in war is severely limited. Under current law, the right to obtain conscientious objector status is restricted to those who consider all war immoral. In fact, the policy of the Defense Department is that,
“requests by personnel for qualification as a conscientious objector after entering military service will not be favorably considered when these requests are... [b]ased on objection to a certain war.”
But there’s a contradiction here. The policy goes on to state that:
"Relevant factors that should be considered in determining a person’s claim of conscientious objection include training in the home and church; general demeanor and pattern of conduct; participation in religious activities; whether ethical or moral convictions were gained through training, study, contemplation, or other activity comparable in rigor and dedication to the processes by which traditional religious convictions are formulated; credibility of persons supporting the claim....The personal convictions of each person will dominate so long as they derive from the person’s moral, ethical, or religious beliefs."
The problem is that most ethical and religious traditions--traditions that produce sincere personal convictions that should be relevant to the decision whether to grant a particular troop C.O. status--don’t deal with war the way the C.O. policy does.
Most major religious and ethical schools are not pacifist. In the most prevalent of these schools of thought, wars are moral or immoral, just or unjust, solely on a case-by-case basis. Just war theory, both inside and outside its various formulations by religious institutions, philosophers and legal scholars, tends to raise objections to a war based precisely on its particulars.
According to just war theory, to be regarded as just, a war must pass all the following criteria:
It must be defensive, the principle of just cause;
It must be declared by a competent authority;
It must have the right intention to serve justice and lead to peace;
It must have a chance to succeed in its intentions;
It must uphold non-combatant immunity by protecting civilians;
It must be a last resort after all other measures to resolve a conflict have been utilized; and
It must be proportional and result in more good than harm.
So what is a troop to do when, through careful, rigorous study, he or she determines that a particular war--say, the war in Afghanistan--fails to meet several of these criteria? There’s a very strong case to be made that the Afghanistan War does not have a chance to succeed in its intentions, is not a last resort, fails to protect civilians, and results in more harm than good. If a troop came to any of these conclusions, and they had been trained in just war theory, it’s probable that it would lead to a severe crisis of conscience. Current policy would just toss these objections aside.
“This...creates a major, irresolvable conflict. It denies freedom of religious practice and the exercise of moral conscience to those serving in the military who object to a particular war based on the moral criteria of just war, which the military itself teaches and upholds as important.
“What the military teaches, therefore, it also punishes.”
The commission’s report goes on to describe the effect of such a destructive conflict:
"When people in military service are forced to fight a war that violates their most deeply held moral beliefs, the aftermath can be severe. Indeed, new research is showing that war can bring long-lasting moral harm to veterans. VA clinical psychologists have identified a previously untreated and still rarely addressed hidden wound of war called “moral injury.” Moral injury comes from “perpetrating, failing to prevent, or bearing witness to acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.” The long-term impact can be “emotionally, psychologically, behaviorally, spiritually, and socially” devastating, sometimes lasting an entire lifetime. Or the impact of moral injury can foster internal conflict and self-condemnation so severe that their burdens become intolerable and lead to suicide.
Tolerating this destructive contradictory policy fails to support the troops, as does tolerating the continuation of an unjust war in Afghanistan.
As we speak, the Truth Commission on Conscience in War is pushing for the recognition of a right to selective conscientious objection to allow C.O. status for those whose deeply held convictions indict a particular war as unjust or immoral. You can learn more about this and the three days of Veterans Day-related events they’re hosting at http://conscienceinwar.org.
And, if you’re ready to join the tens of thousands of others fed up with this immoral war in Afghanistan, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.
On the tenth Veterans Day of the Afghanistan War, it’s time to do more for our troops and veterans than put a sticker on a car or a magnet on the fridge. Let’s get moving.
We are rapidly approaching the 1,000th American death in the Afghanistan war. Roughly $300 billion in taxpayer funds -- enough to fund more than 46 million one-year university scholarships here at home -- have been spent in Afghanistan for a war propping up Karzai and his corrupt, warlord-ridden narco-state. And now, after that huge expenditure, Karzai is blaming the United States and the United Nations for the fraud he perpetrated in last year's Afghan election fiasco.
Now, he says he's considering joining the Taliban unless he's given tight control of the Afghan election commission -- after using it to steer a multi-million vote fraud last year!
The counterinsurgency strategy chosen by the Obama Administration in Afghanistan requires a legitimate local partner. There's no way around it. It's a prerequisite for success. This week, it's become abundantly clear that we not only lack a reliable, stable ally, but the partner we have is perfectly willing to stab us in the back when it's politically convenient.
We spoke with Peter Galbraith today, and he told us that Karzai's outrageous remarks are part of a disturbing pattern of emotional outbursts tied with rumored drug abuse. Galbraith agrees that we lack a legitimate partner in Afghanistan. As such, he's calling for President Obama to halt the troop increase and to bring home significant numbers of U.S. troops.
Galbraith is right. Propping up Hamid Karzai and his cronies isn't worth the lives of our young men and women. It never was.
Brave New Foundation's Rethink Afghanistan project has been following the story about a night raid in Gardez by U.S. and Afghan forces (see the video above), and today those forces made a major admission about their responsibility for civilian deaths. In a press release issued on Easter (gee, I wonder if they hoped people would be distracted today), the U.S. and allied forces under General McChrystal's command, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), admitted they killed three innocent Afghan women, two of them pregnant.
KABUL, Afghanistan (Apr. 4) - A thorough joint investigation into the events that occurred in the Gardez district of Paktiya Province Feb. 12, has determined that international forces were responsible for the deaths of three women who were in the same compound where two men were killed by the joint Afghan-international patrol searching for a Taliban insurgent.
The two men, who were later determined not to be insurgents, were shot and killed by the joint patrol after they showed what appeared to be hostile intent by being armed. While investigators could not conclusively determine how or when the women died, due to lack of forensic evidence, they concluded that the women were accidentally killed as a result of the joint force firing at the men.
“The women, I’m not sure anyone will ever know how they died.” He added, however, “I don’t know that there are any forensics that show bullet penetrations of the women or blood from the women.” He said they showed signs of puncture and slashing wounds from a knife, and appeared to have died several hours before the arrival of the assault force. In respect for Afghan customs, autopsies are not carried out on civilian victims, he said.
Q: Why would U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan go out of their way to smear a journalist?
A: Because he told the truth about a night raid that killed Afghan civilians, including pregnant women.
Last week, I spoke with Afghanistan-based journalist Jerome Starkey about his reporting on special forces raids that killed civilians and NATOs surprising--and disappointing--response. This video contains disturbing images, and an even more disturbing story of violence, and an attempt to silence a truth-teller. It shows why its absolutely essential that we keep pushing back against the Pentagon's message machine.
Over the past few months, Starkey exposed two incidents where NATO initially claimed to have engaged and killed insurgents, when they'd in fact killed civilians, including school children and pregnant women. In both cases, when confronted with eye-witness accounts obtained by Starkey that clearly rebutted NATO's initial claims, NATO resisted publicly recanting.
In the first case, NATO officials told him they no longer believed that the raid would have been justified if they'd known what they now know, but no official would consent to direct attribution for this admission.
In the second case, NATO's initially made sensational claims that they'd discovered during the raid the bodies of pregnant women that had been bound, gagged and executed. Starkey's reporting forcefully rebutted this claim. Instead of simply retracting their story, NATO went so far as to attempt to damage Starkey's credibility by telling other Kabul-based journalists that they had proof he'd misquoted ISAF spokesman Rear Adm. Greg Smith. When Starkey demanded a copy of the recording, NATO initially ignored him and eventually admitted that no recording existed. NATO only admitted their story was false in a retraction buried several paragraphs deep in a press release that led with an attack on Starkey's credibility.
Under Gen. Stanley McChrystal, NATO's made a big show of apologizing early and often when civilians are killed in broad daylight. But Starkey's reporting and ISAF's reaction to it shows that their natural inclination to escape accountability remains strong and operative when they think they can get away with violent mistakes under the cover of darkness.
And then, the economy collapsed. A decade of wealth, gone. The words "economic depression" dancing around the edges of news stories.
I really knew he was onto something.
Then, Washington bailed out Wall Street. Credit stayed frozen. CEOs got even more obscenely rich as their companies and other people's money burned behind them. Reactionary Tea Party rallies broke out all over the country, and Democrats never mounted an effective response. Right after the most powerful upsurge of progressive power in a generation, the national conversation took a nasty, rightward turn.
I could barely wait for the film to call us to arms.
He didn't let us down. This film is brilliant, powerful. He uses his basic storytelling to connect the dots. No simple villains or straw men. He goes over the financial system and tells the whole, sordid tale. This film is powerful, funny and sad. The "love story" is tragic. I don't know about you, but as the credits rolled, I was ready for a break-up with the title character. And maybe a restraining order.
According to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, U.S. and Allied forces have killed and injured more civilians than have the insurgents during Operation Moshtarak. Incredibly, the Pentagon continues to insist that this operation "protects the people." AIHRC's Feb. 23 press release reports [h/t Josh Mull, our new Afghanistan blog fellow]:
"AIHRC is concerned at the loss of life and civilian harm already caused by this operation. AIHRC found that in the first 12 days of Operation Mushtarak 28 civilians, including 13 children, were killed and approximately 70 civilians, including 30 children, were injured.
"Witnesses suggested the majority of the casualties were caused by PGF artillery and rocket-fire."
Late last year, just after the President announced his escalation, I wrote:
The president’s decision to add more troops is a mistake that will result in deep costs which we cannot afford; increased U.S. casualties; and increased civilian casualties as our troop increase further raises the temperature in the conflict.
“In terms of raw violence, the situation is at a historic worst level, with early 2010 levels of various types of attacks much higher than even last year at this time. Much of that is due to the recent Marja campaign and, more generally, the deployment of additional U.S. (and Afghan) troops to parts of the country where they have not been present before.”
War does not protect civilians. War doesn't make us safer. The Afghanistan war needs to end, now.
A new report from the New America Foundation states that one of every three people killed in the U.S.'s not-so-secret drone war in Pakistan is a civilian. The report also discloses that none of the strikes in 2009 targeted Bin Laden, and that they have had little impact on the Taliban's ability to plan operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. To the contrary, the drone strikes serve as a powerful recruiting tool for the Taliban and al Qaeda.
According to New America Foundation's Peter Bergen and Kathren Tiedemann (emphasis mine):
Our study shows that the 114 reported drone strikes in northwest Pakistan from 2004 to the present have killed between 830 and 1,210 individuals, of whom around 550 to 850 were described as militants in reliable press accounts, about two-thirds of the total on average. Thus, the true civilian fatality rate since 2004 according to our analysis is approximately 32 percent.
The authors note that the rapidly escalating use of drones by the Obama Administration far exceeds the rate of use by the Bush Administration, with 2009's 51 strikes exceeding the total number of strikes under the entire Bush Administration.
The report is worth excerpting at length regarding the effect of drone strikes on al Qaeda and the Taliban. In short, they're not working:
None of the reported strikes has appeared to target America’s most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden.
...[T]he U.S. drone strikes don’t seem to have had any great effect on the Taliban’s ability to mount operations in Pakistan or Afghanistan or to deter potential Western recruits, and they no longer have the element of surprise.
...After around 18 months of sustained drone strikes, many of Pakistan’s militants have likely moved out of their once safe haven in the FATA and into less dangerous parts of the country, potentially further destabilizing the already rickety state.
...[A]lthough the drone strikes have disrupted militant operations, their unpopularity with the Pakistani public and their value as a recruiting tool for extremist groups may have ultimately increased the appeal of the Taliban and al Qaeda, undermining the Pakistani state. This is more disturbing than almost anything that could happen in Afghanistan, given that Pakistan has dozens of nuclear weapons and about six times the population.