By Stuart Littlewood – London
Reports of prisoner abuse at the US prison at Bagram air force base in Afghanistan come as no surprise. They are just the latest example of the world’s biggest bully behaving badly as usual.
As if that weren’t enough, I’m reading how some 83 people, mostly civilians, were killed and over 50 injured in three drone attacks within 12 hours in Lataka, South Waziristan.
The first strike killed several suspected Taliban. Later, a second drone fired three missiles into a crowd of funeral mourners.
One of the wounded commented: "If the Taliban are bombing the mosques and America is bombing the funerals, what is the difference between them? We are stuck between Taliban and US attacks and when we are killed, not only no one cries for us, but also we are dubbed militants."
Since August 2008, over 40 US drone strikes have killed at least 410 people. US troops in neighboring Afghanistan are the only forces that deploy unmanned drones in the region.
The use of armed drones is a particularly cowardly form of warfare. These lethal "assets" are computer-controlled from the comfort and safety of an armchair a hundred miles away and guided by dodgy “intelligence”. Or, if the truth be known, no intelligence at all. The Israelis use them extensively in Gaza to unleash death and destruction on civilian targets by remote control. Engines for Israeli drones are believed to be supplied by a British manufacturer, although the government here pretends not to know the truth of the matter.
This trend in ‘sofa slaughter’ has many variations. For example, during the 40-day siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2002 the Israeli Occupation Force set up huge cranes on which were mounted robotic machine guns under video control. Eight defenders, including the bell-ringer, were murdered, some by the robotic guns and some by snipers.
The US and its allies are just as callous in their treatment of civilian prisoners. The British authorities deal with their casual killings by offering £4,500 in compensation, showing how cheaply we value the life of ‘Johnny Foreigner’. And when it comes to prisoner abuse the Israelis, whose every cruel excess the West defends, don’t even spare children, according to various reports.
Something very chilling can take hold of uniformed thugs – I won’t call them soldiers because what many of them do is not proper soldiering – in a war zone; and in the days before high-tech weaponry like drones and robotic machine guns they happily indulged their blood-lust by murdering civilians at close quarters. If you haven’t heard of the My Lai massacre, brace yourself.
In 1968, 150 men of Charlie Company, a US infantry unit, were sent on a ‘search and destroy’ mission into the South Vietnamese village of My Lai. Four hours later more than 500 civilians – unarmed women, children and old men – were dead. Charlie Company hadn’t encountered a single Viet Cong. Nevertheless the unit, led by Lt William Calley, rounded up villagers and machine-gunned them until the dead lay five-deep.
When Calley spotted a baby crawling away, he grabbed her, threw her back into the ditch, and opened fire again.
Helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson, flying over the area, was so sickened by what he saw that he landed his machine to shield villagers from the troops and began rescuing survivors. He ordered his gunner to open up on any American soldiers who continued to shoot civilians.
Some of the dead were mutilated by having “C Company” carved into their chests; some were disembowelled.
Official reports said the My Lai operation was a stunning combat victory, and General Westmoreland congratulated the men on their bravery.
The American people didn’t learn the truth until 18 months later … and then only because a Vietnam veteran, after hearing about the incident from friends who had served in Charlie Company, wrote a letter to his congressman and other prominent officials, including President Nixon.
An army photographer produced pictures of the carnage. Then freelance reporter Seymour Hersh managed to interview Calley and splashed the story over the front pages of American newspapers.
26 members of C Company were charged with criminal behavior but not convicted. Calley himself was eventually court-martialed and sentenced to life imprisonment. After serving just three days he was moved to a comfortable apartment under house arrest, on Nixon’s orders. He was paroled 3 years later.
Hersh said that many in Charlie Company “had given in to an easy pattern of violence” and were totally blind to the humanity of the Vietnamese people. He was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.
My Lai was one of many atrocities committed in Korea and Vietnam. Military training in those days set out to de-humanize not only the enemy but the local civilian population as well. Army culture encouraged its so-called soldiers to think they could treat them like garbage.
Has anything changed? The conduct of the Americans and their close buddies the Israelis is remarkably similar. They are the pace-setters (though not the only practitioners) in savagery and the casual art of killing Johnny Foreigner. It is now done at arm’s length – by remote video control or at the end of a sniper’s scope-sight or by DU tank shell, or from 35,000 feet. No need to personally check the situation on the ground, or look your unarmed victim in the eye, or get your hands dirty. No need to count the bodies afterwards or clear up the shredded and vaporized remains.
Apparently these high-tech killers, their commanders and their political masters have convinced themselves that everyone they don’t like is sub-human.
I’m reminded of a blistering attack by a church minister in Oklahoma after the shock-and-awe onslaught on Iraq, the point at which he discovered that his faith had been hi-jacked by fundamentalists who claimed to speak for Jesus but whose actions were anything but Christian.
“When you live in a country that has established international rules for waging a just war, build the United Nations on your own soil to enforce them, and then arrogantly break the very rules you set down for the rest of the world, you are doing something immoral,” he said.
”When you claim that Jesus is the Lord of your life, and yet fail to acknowledge that your policies ignore his essential teaching, or turn them on their head, you are doing something immoral.
”When you act as if the lives of Iraqi civilians are not as important as the lives of American soldiers, and refuse to even count them, you are doing something immoral.
”When you claim that our God is bigger than their God, and that our killing is righteous, while theirs is evil, we have begun to resemble the enemy we claim to be fighting, and that is immoral.
"We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us."
– Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit: www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk.