Soldiers or Assassins? The Ugly Face of Neo-Imperialism

It was cold-blooded to a fault. The assassination of 16 innocent Afghans in the middle of the night on March 11, in the village of Panjwai, outside a well-fortified US military base in Afghanistan was carried out with methodical precision by a power-drunk US army sergeant, a ‘model’ representative of America’s military outreach writing new chapters of neo-imperialism in our age.

Staff sergeant Robert Bales-said to be a ‘veteran’ of 10 years in the army and having served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan-walked out of his fortress in the early hours of the morning, entered the nearby village , barged into a house and emptied his bullets into unsuspecting Afghans. By the time his mayhem was over, 16 innocent Afghans were dead, 11 of them from one family. The ‘brave’ veteran’s tally of victims included 9 children and 3 women.

The sergeant, with his mission accomplished returned to his base and slept over it. Two days later, while Afghanistan and much of the civilized world was still in shock over the barbaric massacre of innocent civilians, the assassin was flown out of Afghanistan to the safety of an American military base in Kuwait, a bastion of US military adventurism in Iraq, Afghanistan and other Gulf countries, including a potential target, Iran. A day later, he was flown out to the sanctuary of his home base in US.

Not surprisingly, the administration of Barak Obama took the mayhem in its stride, expressing its regrets over the ghastly incident as if it wasn’t anything unusual.

And it wasn’t unusual, at all, to the head of the military and defence establishment of US, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta. Not bothering to give an explanation why the blood-thirsty ‘veteran’ had spilled so much of innocent Afghan blood in his wanton blood-lust, Panetta just tentatively and dismissively said, in response to the media questions: “These kinds of events and incidents are going to take place…This is not the first of those events, and they probably wouldn’t be the last.”

In other words, Panetta, not remorseful in the least, appeared to be expressing his elaborate military command’s inability to rein in the assassins in his forces masquerading as soldiers on whom so much praise and undeserved glory is routinely showered in a murder-friendly US military culture.

But Panetta was unwittingly, perhaps, right in as far as this incident being not the first of its kind is concerned. Seth Jones of Rand Corporation-a think-tank unabashedly hawking US militarism and penchant to dominate the world-had a sharper focus on why such massacres have been taking place in Afghanistan with such regularity. Talking at PBS News Hour on the day after the massacre he said, quite matter-of-factly, “This is not as out-of-the-norm as it’s appearing in the media…Afghans are used to being killed.”

What Seth Jones should have also added is that the people of Afghanistan are used to being killed at the hands of “sick-minded American savages,” in the words of the Afghan Taliban, for whom massacres like this are welcome opportunities to rope in more and more angry and blood-soaked Afghans into their ranks.

What is closer to reality is the fact that while Afghans may not be getting used to getting killed-no people with a glorious history of resistance to foreign invaders and occupations like the Afghans can ever ‘get used’ to being killed like chattels or partridges-they are being regularly provoked by a besotted and blinded-by-power occupation force like the one currently running berserk over the Afghan terrain but still not knowing how to bring its ill-advised occupation to an end.

Hardly a month before Robert Bales took it upon himself to decimate a handful of ‘uncivilized’ Afghans by clinically mowing them down-a feat that puts to shame the most bizarre of Hollywood ‘Rambos’-some benighted US soldiers at the infamous Bagram military base outside Kabul had burnt copies of the Holy Qur’an. That mischief of tawdry soldiers had led to violent demonstrations in Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan, too, and resulted in at least 35 casualties among the demonstrating crowds.

A few months before the Qur’an burning incident-an act of extreme provocation, given the sanctity of the Holy Book in the heart of every Muslim in the world-American soldiers had been captured on video urinating on the corpses of villagers killed in a blind fury of rage and blood-lust by the same soldiers.

There have been incidents aplenty of American soldiers stomping on corpses of dead Afghans and collecting their body parts as war ‘trophies.’ This abominable practice has gone on, unchecked apparently, despite tall claims from US spokesmen, including Obama, that American soldiers are steeped in showing ‘respect’ to the Afghans and be sensitive to their religious and cultural moorings.

The practice of regarding the Afghans as ‘fair game’ and thus given to being shot down at will by power-drunk American soldiers has been going on since the early days of US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.

Writing an eye-opening piece under the caption of Sick- Minded American Soldiers at War in the March 16 issue of the widely popular, and non-establishment media website, Common Dreams, John Laforge dilated on the massacre that had taken place in November 2001-within days of US invasion of Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11-of hundreds of Afghan ‘combatants.’ They were ferried to the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif in sealed containers, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of them because asphyxiation. Scores others were mowed down when their containers were peppered with machine-gun fire, while 30 to 40 members of the elite Special Forces stood by as silent spectators of the mayhem. Eye-witness accounts of the Mazar mayhem subsequently furnished authenticity to a documentary on the gory incident, called Massacre at Mazar.

Leon Panetta should, of course, have little reason to be surprised as to why such gross violations of the globally-sanctioned terms of occupation of an invaded land are taking place at regular frequency in Afghanistan. The explanation is simple: American soldiers have no fear of accountability or retribution. They have the weird satisfaction, nay full assurance, that they can get away with murder and no harm will come to them. The actions of their government, whisking them away from the scene or scenes of their wanton crimes, is proof of it that they aren’t wrong in regarding themselves beyond the reach of the law of their occupied land.

‘Veterans’ like Robert Bales have been steeped in their belief of being above the law of the occupied land through their exposure to Iraq, before they repeated their criminal activities in Afghanistan.

The world needs no reminding of how berserk the American servicemen and women ran over Iraq. The wanton torture and massive humiliations heaped on the poor Iraqis are still fresh in the collective memory of the world, although the ‘civilized’ western part of it may be reluctant to recall them. Abu Ghraib and the savagery of US torture of its prisoners have been engraved on the minds of the conscientious people of the world for good. So have the memories of how the city of Falluja was laid waste by American soldiers and mercenaries in blind rage.

In his candid Common Dreams piece, cited above, LaForge mentions some of the crimes committed by besotted US soldiers and mercenary contractors justified as ‘norms.’ As he writes, “The literate population of Afghanistan may be more aware of this “norm” than U.S. readers. Pvt. Charles Graner, of the Abu Ghraib torture cell in Iraq, was released after 6-½ years of a 10-year sentence. In 2009, charges were dropped against four U.S. military contractors from Blackwater Corp. who slaughtered 17 civilians in Baghdad. This year, Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich was allowed to plead guilty to “dereliction of duty” after overseeing the murders of 24 sleeping civilians in Haditha, Iraq in 2005. Sgt. Wuterich had told his men “Shoot first, ask questions later.” Six of them had their charges dropped and one was acquitted, and Wuterich walked free without jail time.”

The people of Pakistan, right next-door to Afghanistan, are also being made to bear the burden of living in the shadow of a power for which its own writ of military superiority is the only valid law and must be honoured by all its victims.

The frequency of drone attacks on unsuspecting civilians in the northern areas of Pakistan is continually adding on to the numbers killed in these blind raids. On Obama’s watch in the White House, Pakistan has been blasted by these ghastly visitations of American drones with the rapidity of indiscriminate gun-fire by trigger-happy Americans in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s own estimates of civilians killed in these raids runs to at least five thousand in the past three years; the US, of course, is not in the business of taking body counts in targeted countries.

How is this revival of the archaic law of the jungle by blinded Rambos like Bales going to influence and affect President Obama’s much-touted claim that his soldiers are there, in Afghanistan, to win its people’s hearts and minds is no longer subject to any conjecture. Laforge speaks with conviction on the lethal fallout of such episodes on the war-weary people of Afghanistan. He cites the words of President Hamid Karzai-a veteran votary and Quisling of Washington-on what radical change such incidents have the capability to imprint on the Afghans. Karzai was quoted by the American media, on May 31, 2011, after another dastardly crime by wild and insensitive US soldiers, as warning them:

“If they continue their attacks on our houses, then their presence will change from a force that is fighting terrorism to a force that is fighting against the people of Afghanistan. And in that case, history shows what Afghans do with trespassers and with occupiers.”

Karzai wasn’t posturing when he served this categorical alert to his mentors in Washington. However, the question that arises at this juncture is whether anyone there is listening?

Logic and common sense says the Americans should have their ears plugged to the ground and listen not only to Karzai but also to all others concerned with the future of Afghanistan and worried over the direction in which US war-mongers want to steer the war-torn country.

But the Americans aren’t listening or, to be more realistic, don’t want to listen because much against the conventional wisdom, that they have a timetable to withdraw from Afghanistan, completely, at the end of 2014, there is no plan to get out of Afghanistan, lock, stock and barrel. US is in Afghanistan for a long haul-a very long haul-and that has been their policy since the beginning of their invasion of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is not an end in itself but the means to an end for the dreamers of Pax Americana and American Empire. Iraq was thought to be the lynchpin of it in the beginning and the whole logic of invading that country on the lam was precisely this. However, Iraq didn’t work out the way of the empire dreamers; they abandoned it because of the cost-benefit ratio wasn’t favourable. Besides, fortress Israel, with its own expansionist designs in sync with those of US, is there to ensure America’s proxy hegemony in the Gulf region; not to mention, of course, the supine wealthy Arab rulers and potentates perennially subservient to US interests and diktats.

Afghanistan is now seen as the new beach-head of US Empire controlling the region and casting its lengthy shadows over it. Afghanistan’s geo-strategic value adds new vistas to the dream of the empire; the treasure trove of its potential minerals wealth adds the icing to the cake. US is going to be in Afghanistan for decades to come and must engineer it accordingly.

It’s not only history buffs that should know of it but any serious student of history knows that empire-building has been at the crux of US from its very inception. The foundations of it were laid by decimating natives of America and then using the muscle-power of the slaves brought from Africa to harness the continent’s usurped resources.

In the modern times it’s the people of targeted countries-neo-colonies in today’s lexicon-that must be subdued if they can’t be decimated or exterminated. The muscle-power of erstwhile slaves is to be replaced by vast mineral resources of the quarry to keep hi-tech industries churning. But what eludes the empire dreamers is the historical reality of Afghanistan’s unmatched reputation of being the graveyard of empires. Obama should know that with his perception of history.   

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 April 2012 on page no. 18

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