The human cost of the Afghan occupation, so far as O’Donnell is concerned, doesn’t include the eleven people, four of them children, killed by an American helicopter which fired on the village of Saghatho in January 2004, the scores of civilians bombed to death by NATO airstrikes in October 2006, eight civilians shot by American soldiers in Kandahar in 2007, the more than 100 civilians killed in numerous U.S. and NATO bombings in May 2007, the seven children killed by a U.S.-led airstrike in June 2007, the group of bus passengers gunned down by US troops on December 12, 2008, the seven civilians killed by American troops in a rural village near Nad-E’ali in 2009, the 26 civilians, including 16 children, killed by British forces, the scores of dead civilians in Kunduz and Helmand who were killed by 500-pound bombs dropped by U.S. jets in September 2009, the 27 civilians killed by a NATO strike in the Afghan province of Uruzgan in February 2010, the five civilians, including two pregnant women and a teenage girl killed in Khataba, the 45 civilians (most of whom were women and children) murdered by a NATO rocket in Afghanistan in July 2010, the 30 or more civilians killed in two NATO air strikes on two villages in the Nangarhar province in August 2010, or the numerous civilian men, women, children, dogs, donkeys, and chickens slaughtered by Task Force 373, a clandestine black ops unit which NATO uses as an assassination squad.
On March 23, 2011, U.S. Army Specialist Jeremy Morlock was sentenced to 24 years in prison for the willful murder and mutilation of three Afghan civilians – a fifteen-year-old boy, a mentally-retarded man, and a religious leader. Other members of Morlock’s platoon, the 5th Stryker Combat Brigade, have been “charged with dismembering and photographing corpses, as well as hoarding a skull and other human bones,” The Washington Post previously reported. At the beginning of the court-martial proceedings, Morlock admitted to the military judge presiding over the case that the murders he and four fellow soldiers were charged with committing had been deliberate and intentional. “The plan was to kill people, sir,” he said.
Broadcasting live across the country that evening, Lawrence O’Donnell didn’t cover the story. Instead, he spent a considerable amount of airtime justifying Barack Obama’s decision to begin bombing Libya, interviewing Anthony Weiner about healthcare, and poking fun at potential GOP presidential candidates. He ended the program that night, however, with a touching and earnest memorial for someone who had recently died: Elizabeth Taylor.
For O’Donnell, the “ultimate sacrifice” he spoke of this week naturally didn’t include the Afghan man, four women, and baby murdered at a wedding party by a Polish mortar strike on the village of Wazi Khwa on August 16, 2007, which also injured three other women, one of whom was nine months pregnant. Nor does it include the “nineteen unarmed civilians killed and 50 wounded” when, during “a frenzied escape” on March 4, 2007, U.S. Marines “open[ed] fire with automatic weapons as they tore down a six-mile stretch of highway, hitting almost anyone in their way – teenage girls in fields, motorists in their cars, old men as they walked along the road.” The April 2009 U.S. raid on Khost, which killed four civilians, including a woman and two children, didn’t receive a sad obituary on primetime cable television either. The American soldiers on that raid “also shot a pregnant woman and killed her unborn baby, which had almost come to term.”
To O’Donnell, the “worst single loss of life” in Afghanistan during the last decade wasn’t the more than 140 civilians reportedly killed when “U.S. aircraft bombed villages in the Bala Boluk district of Afghanistan’s western Farah province” on May 3, 2009 in what is now known as the the Granai airstrike. Reuters revealed that “93 of those killed were children — the youngest eight days old,” and that “[a]ccording to villagers, families were cowering in houses when the U.S. aircraft bombed them.” The death toll of this one airstrike is nearly five times larger than the U.S. helicopter crash, which took the life of not a single civilian, let alone child.
255 civilians were killed in military operations in June 2008. In early July 2008, near the village of Kacu, “a U.S. air strike killed 47 civilians, including 39 women and children, as they were travelling to a wedding in Afghanistan…The bride was among the dead.”
The following month, 90 civilians, including 60 children and 15 women, were killed during military operations in Herat province alone.
Sixty-five civilians, including 40 children, were killed in a NATO assault on Kunar in February 2011. A few weeks later, NATO helicopter gunners shot nine boys – aged 9 to 15 – to death as they gathered firewood. On May 28, 2011, NATO bombs killed two women and 12 children in Helmand. In the month leading up to the Chinook crash last week, dozens of Afghan civilians were killed in NATO airstrikes and raids.
O’Donnell didn’t feel the need to show pictures of any of these victims or quote what their loved ones had to say about them.
The “deadliest day”, in O’Donnell’s estimation, could not possibly have been when, in July 2007, “U.S. special forces dropped six 2,000lb bombs on a compound where they believed a ‘high-value individual’ was hiding, after ‘ensuring there were no innocent Afghans in the surrounding area’. A senior US commander reported that 150 Taliban had been killed. Locals, however, reported that up to 300 civilians had died.”
Lawrence O’Donnell didn’t tell his viewers of the hopes and dreams of the hundreds of Afghan children liberated forever from this world by noble American troops and their stalwart allies. He didn’t mention how some of the young boys murdered by U.S. missiles loved to play soccer and couldn’t wait to learn how to drive. He didn’t solemnly note that many of the young girls shot to death by soldiers who love what they do wanted to become doctors and lawyers and human rights activists and teachers and wives and mothers. He didn’t devote a segment of his show to the murder of Mohammed Yonus, “a 36-year-old imam and a respected religious authority”, killed in Kabul in early 2010 while commuting to a madrasa where he taught 150 students.” The New York Times reported, “A passing military convoy raked his car with bullets, ripping open his chest as his two sons sat in the car.”
O’Donnell didn’t tearfully point out that the bullets and bombs that have killed so many men and women have left countless orphans and widows and taken countless children away from countless parents all sacrificed on the altar of the so-called “War on Terror” and American security and exceptionalism.
None of these innocents – people obliterated in their own houses, in their own fields, and in their own cars on their own roads – was accorded a second of screen time or a moment of acknowledgment during O’Donnell’s “Rewrite.”
It is unsurprising that, in March 2010, General Stanley A. McChrystal told U.S. troops during a video-conference about civilian deaths at checkpoints in Afghanistan, “We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat.” Nevertheless, upon McChrystal’s dishonorable retirement only a few months later, Defense Secretary Robert Gates delivered the following tribute: “Over the past decade, arguably no single American has inflicted more fear, more loss of freedom and more loss of life on our country’s most vicious and violent enemies than Stan McChrystal.”
Lawrence O’Donnell, while chastising the American public for not paying enough attention to our myriad military invasions, occupations and war crimes, said that only “a nation whose news media is more troubled by the loss of credit-ratings than the loss of life” could act in such a way. He didn’t mean, of course, the loss of Afghan lives, only of American soldiers. The U.S. government operates the same way; it still doesn’t compile death tolls for its murderous operations. Earlier this year, the ACLU revealed [PDF]:
The Department of Defense has confirmed that it does not compile statistics about the total number of civilians that have been killed by its unmanned drone aircraft.
According to the DOD, the military’s estimates of civilian casualties do not distinguish between deaths caused by remote-controlled drones and those caused by other aircraft. While each drone strike appears to be subject to an individual assessment after the fact, there is no total number of casualties compiled. Moreover, information contained in the individual assessments is classified – making it impossible for the public to learn how many civilians have been killed overall.
On July 5, 2005, journalist Peter Symonds wrote:
In what can only be regarded as a bloody act of revenge, the US military last Sunday killed as many as 17 civilians in an air raid on the remote village of Chechal in the northeast Afghan province of Kunar.
The attack took place just five kilometres from where a US Chinook helicopter was shot down, four days before, resulting in the deaths of 16 US special forces personnel — the largest single loss of American troops since the US-led invasion of the country in 2001.
While it remains to be seen what kind of lethal punishment Afghan civilians will bear in retaliation for the most recent Chinook crash with its record-breaking American death toll, one thing is certain: Lawrence O’Donnell will offer no words of sorrow or condolence, no melancholy homage to the dead, no decorous harangue of the American public for not caring enough, for not knowing the names, faces, and stories of those killed by our own soldiers whose salaries we pay and bombs we build.
To mourn only fallen soldiers of one’s own country and not even notice the civilians they are trained to kill in their own country is to rewrite the history of war and violence and further entrenches the vile ideology of “us vs. them”, inverts aggressor and victim, and praises invasion and empire. Lawrence O’Donnell, by deliberately ignoring the thousands of Afghan dead during his encomium for the dead American soldiers, has proven that, as far as the mainstream media is concerned, justice will never have the last word.