• Hiroshima, Syria, Wherever, What’s Different?

    November 23, 2021 // 2 Comments »

    America doesn’t want to know what happens in its wars. It wants to believe each war starts in righteousness, usually something as lofty a goal as freeing people from oppression or bringing them democracy. It then wants to believe our side is clean, as any force of righteousness must be. And then at some point it wants to forget about it all absent a few Business Class upgrades for soldiers flying home next week over Thanksgiving. But what happens when the truth, the overriding truth bigger than a single atrocity, peaks out from under the heavy cover of lies?

    You may remember America went to war in Syria in 2015 under Barack Obama. What was going to happen next there was a major campaign issue in 2016. The catch-phrase was whether either candidate supported “boots on the ground.” Trump, who did not overtly support that, did it anyway, and under now a third president some 900 Americans are still on the ground in Syria on a mission looking for a strategy. It would be surprising if one out of 100 Americans knew today we were still at war in Syria. Don’t ask Senator Tim Kaine, Clinton’s running mate in 2016. During a recent Senate hearing on Afghanistan, he declared, “I am relieved that for the first time in 20 years, children being born in this country today are not being born into a nation at war.” It is doubtful Kaine or more than one out of ten thousand when told of the ongoing fight in Syria could explain why.

    So it is surprising to see the New York Times front page an investigation into a more than two year old U.S. air attack in Baghuz, Syria which killed some 80 women and children. Though the entire strike was preserved on drone video, a precise death count is unlikely because the three weapons dropped, totaling over 2,500 pounds of explosives, would have reduced most of the dead to a fine, pink mist. Hard to count that. The amount of explosives used against these undefended human targets in the open was roughly the equivalent of that carried by a B-25 into actual combat during WWII.

    The rest of the Times’ story is much the same story. The 2019 Baghuz strike was one of the largest civilian casualty incidents of the war, but was never been publicly acknowledged by the U.S. A military legal officer flagged the strike as a possible war crime that required an investigation. But at nearly every step, the military moved to conceal what happened. The death toll was downplayed. Reports were delayed, sanitized, and of course classified. Coalition forces quickly bulldozed the blast site to destroy any possible evidence. A whistleblower in contact with Congress lost his job. The New York Times pieced together what happened, detailed the coverup, and published the story last week. After the Times made its findings known to CENTCOM, a military spokesperson stated “We abhor the loss of innocent life” but stood by the airstrike as justified under whatever rules they were following. It is very unlikely anything more will come of all this.

    There is of course so much to be outraged over here but one realization is that good people were trying to report something very wrong through the chain of command and at every turn were blunted and thwarted. There seems to be no such thing as oversight or accountability. And yep, the whistleblower got burned.

    But the real outrage is the one not acknowledged by the Times. They treat this as if it is all new, headline stuff, the shock of civilian deaths, the coverup, the whistleblower himself the new target. But we refuse in our new righteousness over the cindered bodies of women and children to acknowledge it is closer to the norm than the exception. After nearly 1,000 air strikes in Syria and Iraq in 2019, using 4,729 bombs and missiles, the official military tally of civilian dead for the year was only 22. As a State Department civilian embedded with the military during Iraq War 2.0 I saw many remains of buildings hit by airstrikes. It was very difficult to maintain the illusion that that building, the one with four floors and multiple apartments, had held only insurgents when it was obliterated some night.We choose to only use the word atrocity when we can pin it on a rogue platoon or a sadistic SEAL. But when it all scales up to the use of modern weapons against civilian clusters it turns into some sort of quasi-legal event to be debated and tsk’ed over in the passive voice. Were mistakes made? Can we find a way to reduce it all to some avoidable/unavoidable error, maybe by one pilot or one Special Forces operator who can be punished at little overall cost to the larger organization that put him in the position to screw up?

    We allow the United States to portray its wars as precise and humane because in order to sustain war on an Orwellian scale it is necessary to believe that. We need to believe every report of civilian casualties is investigated and the findings reported publicly, a model of accountability. We believe these things so dearly that we are shocked to read what happened with one airstrike in Syria and rush focus on the coverup not the killing.

    The preferred narrative sounds like a Netflix series log line “One man/A handful of brave reporters knew what was right and risked it all to expose the crime witnessed!” We want to miss the coverup of the coverup, the one that hides what happened in Syria was because we were at war in Syria against a dubious enemy under dubious rules of engagement for a dubious purpose and, to hell with it, people are just gonna die under those circumstances. Same as in Vietnam, same as in Fallujah, same as across dozens of Afghan wedding parties. It is a conversation about the difference between combat and killing. It is the conversation America has avoided since the day it proclaimed itself world policeman and unilaterally declared our right to be right simply because it is us doing it, whatever it might be. Thus in 2021 we still pretend Hiroshima was the exception and not the rule.

     

     

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    Posted in Syria

    U.S. Spent $14.6 Million Taxpayer Dollars on Failed Hospital in Afghanistan

    October 11, 2016 // 25 Comments »

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    The war in Afghanistan is ready to enter its 16th year (if it was a kid it’s be ready to start driving) and by most definitions is pretty much a bust.

    Despite that, both mainstream candidates have made it clear in public statements they intend to continue pouring money — and lives — into that suppurating sore of American foreign policy. Despite that, there has been no mention of the war in two debates.


    Anyway, while we worry a lot about who call who naughty names in the final presidential debate, can you check around where you live and let me know if your town could use a new hospital, all paid for by someone else’s tax dollars, you know, free to you? ‘Cause that’s the deal Afghanistan got from the USG, only even that turned into a clusterfutz when no one paid much attention to how the facility was thrown together.

    There’s a photo, above, of the actual $14.6 million hospital. Seriously.

    And so again we turn to the latest reporting from the saddest people in government, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR). SIGAR just slit its wrists in depression after publishing an inspection report on the $14.6 million U.S.-funded Gardez Hospital.


    The inspection notes:

    — USAID, through one of its partners, awarded a $13.5 million contract to construct the 100-bed hospital by 2011. About five years after that deadline passed and after a cost increase to $14.6 million, the Gardez hospital is mostly complete.

    — SIGAR found deficiencies with the hospital’s fire safety system, including a lack of emergency lighting system, exit signs pointing in the wrong direction, and missing fire alarms.

    — And although the International Building Code requires hospitals to have full automatic fire suppression sprinkler systems, no one required the contractor to install any. Instead, the contract required it somehow only install the pipes, valves, fittings, and connections for the system, but not the water pump, nozzles, and several other parts to provide a complete and workable system.

    — Poor workmanship includes cracks in the roadways and parking areas, crumbling sidewalks, leaking roofs, cracked exterior plaster, peeling paint, and rusted hardware on the security gates. SIGAR brought a total of 42 deficiencies involving poor workmanship to USAID’s over a year ago. Only 13 have been fixed.

    — The hospital’s steam boiler system had not been installed correctly and had missing and damaged parts, a situation described as “dangerous.”

    — The Afghan government estimates it will cost $2.3 million annually to operate and maintain the 100-bed Gardez hospital, which is almost four times the cost to operate the 70-bed hospital that it is replacing. SIGAR found no evidence that USAID had conducted any analysis to determine whether the ministry had the ability to operate and maintain the new health facility, but just built it anyway.




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    Posted in Syria

    Brave Afghan Forces Kill Inside Hospital, for Freedom

    March 3, 2016 // 10 Comments »

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    Apparently a new feature of the modern war of terror is the shameless, blameless, overt targeting of hospitals, doctors and bed-ridden patients, all without the means of even modest self-defense.


    Following the American destruction of a Doctors Without Borders facility in Afghanistan, the Saudi targeting, using American weapons, of hospitals in Yemen, the Israeli destruction, using American weapons, of Palestian hospitals in Gaza, and the Russia/Syrian destruction of a Doctors Without Borders facility in Syria, we now have another case, perpetrated against the rules of war, international treaties and simple humanity.

    (The child shown above was injured in Gaza, 2014. Serves her right for choosing to live among terrorists, amiright?)


    Afghan security forces, possibly accompanied by NATO advisers, raided a hospital south of Kabul and abducted and then killed at least three men suspected of being insurgents.

    The raid began in Wardak Province, 100 miles from Kabul, at a hospital run by the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, an international aid agency. Initial reports differed about whether the units involved in the four-hour raid, whose members descended from helicopters, belonged to the Afghan Army or the police. The number of casualties was also not clear, with different accounts suggesting that between three and five people had been killed.



    The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan denounced the raid, which it said the Afghan Army had conducted, as a gross violation of the Geneva Conventions.

    Yeah, whatever, how quaint.

    “Medical facilities and medical staff are to provide treatment to anyone in need, and patients are to be granted safety according to humanitarian law,” Jörgen Holmström, the Swedish group’s country director, said in a statement. “We will further investigate this violation and let those responsible be held accountable.”

    “Held accountable.” How quaint.

    A spokesman for Wardak Province’s police chief said elite police units, who were possibly accompanied by Americans, had conducted the operation.
    “Those killed in the hospital were all terrorists,” he said, adding that he was “happy that they were killed.”

    A spokesman for the American-led NATO coalition denied involvement. “At this point, we have no reports of any coalition operations near a hospital,” said Col. Michael T. Lawhorn.


    BONUS: The UN states Afghanistan chalked up record civilian casualties in 2015.



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    Posted in Syria

    Life Expectancy Drops for Iraqi Men

    May 14, 2011 // Comments Off on Life Expectancy Drops for Iraqi Men

    embassy in iraq Following the invasion of 2003, the US spent over $58 billion reconstructing Iraq, including a sizable investment in health care. My own PRT paid for mobile health clinics and a women’s health center, plus we arranged dozens of training sessions for Iraqi doctors and donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical equipment.

    Millions were spent by other units rebuilding hospitals (chief among these was a $171 million hospital in southern Iraq Laura Bush “opened” in 2004 that still has never seen a patient).

    The Tarmiyyah Hospital was another major failed construction project. The Army finished ten rooms but did not put a roof on the facility before they abandoned it for security reasons. The hospital had no power from the grid. The Iraqi Ministry of Health refused to accept the building because they did not have the staff, budget or supply systems to open the facility, and it had no roof. Cost: No one will ever know, but in the millions.

    A driving factor behind the failures was that two-thirds of Iraq’s doctors were either killed or more commonly, fled the country as civil society collapsed during the US occupation.

    As a proper metric of our failure, the World Health Organization said Friday the average life expectancy in Iraq fell to 66 years in 2009 from 68 years in 2000, when evil dictator Saddam Hussein was still in power.

    But while Iraqi girls born in 2009 – the most recent year for which figures are available – could still expect to live to 70, boys’ life expectancy dropped sharply to 62 years, compared with 65 years in 2000.

    “The figures reflect the chaos from the conflict and the impact on health systems,” said Colin Mathers, one of the coordinators of WHO’s annual World Health Statistics report.

    The idea is not just to rag on Iraq, or to pile on to tragedy. The idea is that after you spend $58 billion on reconstruction, you generally don’t want to end up with things WORSE than when you started.



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    Posted in Syria