Nothing to See Here, Folks: Covering Up a Massacre in Afghanistan

"I want to ask: What does apology mean? We apologize for our mistakes and repeat our mistakes again? What meaning does this have?" --Sayid Mohammed Mal, Vice Chancellor, Gardez University and survivor of Feb. 12 night raid in Paktiya Province, Afghanistan.

The video below shows a survivor of a brutal, botched special forces raid on February 12, 2010, in which U.S. and allied forces killed 5 civilians, including local Afghan officials and pregnant women. If that were the extent of the bad conduct in this incident, it would be devastating enough. Unfortunately, personnel under McChrystal's command compounded the outrage by tampering with evidence at the scene and then attempted a propaganda job and cover-up of the massacre, which has now blown up in their faces.

Initially, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) claimed that "insurgents" "engaged the joint force in a fire fight and were killed." The release states the special forces then made a "gruesome discovery," finding "the bodies of three women who had been tied up, gagged and killed" and that the bodies had been "hidden." They also claim that the "joint force immediately secured the area and requested expert medical support and will conduct a joint forensic investigation."

Almost every piece of this initial description of the chain of events was later proved to be a lie.

Faced with the persistent, professional reporting of The Times' (UK) Jerome Starkey, multiple witness accounts of the incident and the results of an Afghan investigation, McChrystal's personnel finally admitted responsibility in an April 4 press release. ISAF wants to pass off their initial lies about the incident as the unfortunate result of "cultural misunderstandings" and "poor wording." McChrystal has ordered a new investigation, but his personnel's recent behavior shows exactly why they cannot be trusted to investigate themselves.

ISAF's "aw, shucks" explanation ignores the fact that the original release described a non-existent fire fight and claimed that coalition forces discovered the long-dead bodies of the women hidden in a room when they were, in fact, killed during the raid by U.S. and allied forces. By admitting to killing the women, McChrystal's forces have implicitly admitted to conveying multiple flat-out lies to the public. Their inadequate explanation and subsequent deletion of the original offending press releases represent a transparent attempt to extricate themselves from a failing web of propaganda intended to shield the personnel involved from accountability without properly acknowledging their role in deceiving the Afghan and American publics.

This brings us back to Sayid's question above. "What does apology mean? We apologize for our mistakes and repeat our mistakes again?" ISAF apologized to his family, only to turn around on April 19 and do this:

A NATO military convoy in eastern Afghanistan shot to death four unarmed civilians in a vehicle early Monday evening, including a police officer and a 12-year-old student, Afghan officials said Tuesday.

The killings in Khost Province, near the border with Pakistan, led to a dispute almost immediately between local Afghan leaders and NATO officials.


NATO described the dead as two insurgents and their "associates."

NATO's acknowledgment Wednesday that the unarmed young men shot to death two days earlier in Khost province were not "known insurgents," as previously alleged, has prompted another military apology and fueled anger over civilian casualties.

...NATO officials said that fingerprints of two of the men killed in Khost had shown up in an insurgent biometric database but that they later decided the data might not be relevant.

ISAF/NATO forces shoot up a vehicle full of people after claiming they thought it was a threat to them. They then examine the bodies in the car and find no weapons. Then, they check their fingerprints to find out if they were in the insurgent database. Now, why in the world, after you've discovered the vehicle and the men and children you just shot posed no threat, would you then think about running a biometric test on their bodies to see if they were in a database of "known insurgents?" Are we thinking maybe we can find something to help cover our behinds, perhaps?

Sound familiar? ISAF excuses their killing of a local official and a child with an initial, immediate claim that the victims were insurgents. After a dispute with locals, ISAF has to admit that they weren't, in fact, insurgents. See a pattern? If not, maybe you should take a look at the statements of one Col. Greg Julian regarding an airstrike in Farah last year that killed more than 100 people.

What does it mean for McChrystal's people to apologize for killing innocent people and lying about it, only to have them turn around and keep repeating the same behavior? Why should we be moved or lend credulity to such apologies?

McChrystal has ordered another investigation of the incident in Gardez that killed Sayif's family members, but ISAF's behavior over the past months makes them the least credible investigators possible, especially when ISAF forces have been accused with tampering with the evidence in the first place. Please take a moment to sign Rethink Afghanistan's petition for an independent, U.N.-led investigation.

We deserve the truth, not more spin.