Nicky Hager and John Stephenson’s new book, Hit and Run, claims the NZ SAS carried out a revenge raid on an Afghani village which killed six and injured 15 civilians, including women and children. In response, the jaded and inhumane say ‘civilians die in war’, ‘human collateral damage is inevitable’.
Indeed, where disproportionate force is involved, and peasant villagers are blasted in their homes by Apache helicopter gunships, attacked by SAS soldiers, have their houses set on fire, and are bombed again, the chances of civilian deaths are unarguably high. In that sort of retributive, indiscriminate, misguided ‘war’, with poorly defined ‘enemies’, in a country used to foreign invading forces, the chances of both civilian and soldier’s deaths are high.
But to consider this ‘collateral damage’ acceptable, to cover it up, deny it, to refuse to accept responsibility, is what leads to the radicalisation of surviving civilians, the creation of insurgents, and the laying of improvised explosive devices on dusty roads that kill soldiers from those ‘invading forces’ in a vicious cycle. Indiscriminate displays of superior western weaponry, wealth and fire power, ill-directed at strategic level, (why were western troops in Afghanistan again?), and ill-directed at the level of specific targets; this violent domination; this is what also leads to greater insecurity on the streets of London, Paris, New York, and more. Civilians killed on dirt roads in Afghanistan, or Pakistan, are as undeserving victims as those on the streets in the West. But both are victims of Western imperialism in their own way.
More than 26,000 civilian deaths from war related violence were documented in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2014. Three-year-old Fatima and the others killed in the apparent SAS-led raid in 2010, were among at least 440 civilians killed by Western forces that year. Last year alone, there were at least 596 civilians killed by foreign troops in Afghanistan, and the year before, there were 828. And then there are the ongoing revelations of cover ups of even more. On February 12 this year, the US military carried out a raid on an Afghani village which killed two pregnant women and three other victims, and then, allegedly, tried to cover up the crime and blame family members for the atrocity.
General Stanley McChrystal, Head of Staff for all foreign troops in Afghanistan, has vowed to reduce the number of civilian deaths from international forces. He’s only been in the job since late last northern spring, but spends some time travelling around the country apologising for civilians dead, in efforts to diffuse feelings of anger and revenge.
Dr Wayne Mapp Minister of Defence at the time of the disastrous NZ-led raids, defends the New Zealand SAS and their role in alleged civilian deaths in the 2010 bombing ‘fiasco’. He seems to be of the school of thought that ‘shit happens in war, innocent people die’. He says the raids were ‘a counter insurgency operation, so there were always going to be civilians around’, and ‘bear in mind… insurgents… it’s not like a full-time job, wearing a uniform, you can be a farmer by day and an insurgent by night’. But evidence suggests there were no ‘insurgents’ in these villages, just humble villagers, by day and by night. Dr Mapp indicates a view, that it’s so hard to tell insurgents and civilians apart, it’s ok to summarily kill them – they’re not full time soldiers, different rules apply. Conversely, of course, a greater injustice was done to Lieutenant Tim O’Donnell, precisely because he was a soldier, in the line of duty, serving his country. Somehow. (Though, why was NZ in Afghanistan, again? What national interest was being served there? Why really, did Lt Tim O’Donnell die?)
Apparently, the US armed forces consider most military aged male Afghanis as ‘potential combatants’. And like that old story about ‘if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail’, if you think that every male aged from about 13 to 83 is a potential insurgent, most men will be considered fair target. It’s that attitude, with a strong dose of vengeance, that also seems to permeate NZ’s SAS, the Defence Minister, and maybe even the Prime Minister of the time.
But the allegations that the SAS left injured men, women and children to suffer and die after the sniper and gunship raid, when it would have been clear these were no insurgents, are chilling. And to return 10 days after this attack, and demolish their basic houses, in the process of rebuilding, and to turn over a suspect for torture by the Americans, indicates an ethic and attitude unsuited for civilised society.
Claims that these allegations are ‘nothing new’, are irrelevant. An unaddressed injustice has no use-by date, or time limit, especially with allegations of this import. It’s bad enough that NZ troops are even in Afghanistan, and Iraq, supposedly rebuilding the mess most recently created by western force. Transparent due process is required to establish to what degree the charges are true. Though, given ‘western / victor’s justice’, and an evident culture of secrecy, self-justifying defences are more likely than an open and objective inquiry.
Donald Trump Junior criticised London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan for previously saying that terror attacks are part and parcel of living in a big city. But war criminals are in charge of western nations and their budgets – they’re Prime Ministers, Governor Generals and military chiefs, with little or no regard for internationally accepted rules of law, or commonly agreed principles of justice such as proportionality, due process, fair treatment of non-combatants and redress for civilian casualties. Western forces are in these wrecked countries on spurious grounds. Civilian casualties, ‘collateral damage’ are therefore as inevitable in our Western cities, as in the poor impoverished Eastern proxy sites of international war. The treatise of war that takes an eye for an eye, leaves the whole world blind.
General McChrystal won forgiveness by surrendering two sheep to the family of those killed by US troops on February 12. The family said they felt driven to become suicide bombers because of the death of their daughters. But under Afghani tradition, the gifting of sheep as an admission of guilt and a plea for forgiveness, can’t be denied. The need for retribution is annulled. In New Zealand, despite the evidence, our Government is ignoring the need for investigation. We haven’t seen a glimpse of willingness to consider any prospect of guilt, or any need for forgiveness, let alone the offer of sheep.