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2012-04-19

Photos of Soldiers Posing with Afghan Corpses the Latest Outrage of U.S. Occupation of Afghanistan

Guests

Hakim, coordinator for Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers.

Anand Gopal, journalist who covers Afghanistan, Egypt, and other countries in the region. He’s currently working on a book about the history of the decade-long Afghan war.

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We get reaction to two photographs published by the Los Angeles Times that show U.S. soldiers posing with the corpses and body parts of dead Afghans. "I think (the photos) shock us actually more than they shock Afghans," says journalist Anand Gopal. "From the Afghan perspective, we’ve had troops urinating on corpses, a massacre of 17 civilians, air strikes, night raids, troops cutting off fingers for sport, and so, for Afghans, this is part and parcel of the experience of being in war." Meanwhile, several NATO allies have promised to underwrite Afghanistan’s armed forces after foreign troops depart. The United States and other nations plan to retreat from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and hand the security issue over to Afghan security forces. "If we don’t address the agreements that the U.S. and Australian governments and other governments are making for a long-term war strategy in Afghanistan, we are heading for an increase in violence in this part of the world … more serious than the Kabul attacks," says Hakim, coordinator for Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, based in Kabul, Afghanistan. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The Los Angeles Times has published two photographs that show U.S. soldiers posing with the corpses and body parts of dead Afghans. In one of the photos, a U.S. soldier from the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division in 2010 poses with a dead Afghan man’s hand on his shoulder. The newspaper says he was an insurgent. In another, soldiers hold upside-down a mangled corpse of what the L.A. Times identifies as a suicide bomber. They are among 18 photographs given to the L.A. Times by a soldier who said they reveal a breakdown in leadership and discipline that he believes compromised troops’ safety.

The paper’s editor, Davan Maharaj, said he decided that, quote, "publishing a small but representative selection of the photos would fulfill our obligation to readers to report vigorously and impartially on all aspects of the American mission in Afghanistan." He noted the newspaper published "the least gruesome" of the photos and had no plans to publish the others. The images are the latest in a growing list of abuses attributed to the U.S. military in Afghanistan, including the massacre of 17 Afghan civilians, the Koran burning episode, and troops urinating on Afghan corpses.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama called for those responsible to be held accountable, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters, quote, "The conduct depicted in those photos is reprehensible." U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also condemned the photos.

DEFENSE SECRETARY LEON PANETTA: This is not who we are, and it’s certainly not who we represent, when it comes to the great majority of men and women in uniform who are serving there. I expect that the matter will be fully investigated. That investigation has already begun.

JUAN GONZALEZ: After the L.A. Times decided to publish the photos, it waited more than 72 hours so the Pentagon could take extra security precautions in Afghanistan. Panetta said the images might trigger retaliatory violence against foreign soldiers stationed there.

DEFENSE SECRETARY LEON PANETTA: This is war. And I know that war is ugly, and it’s violent. And I know that young people, sometimes caught up in the moment, make some very foolish decisions. I am not excusing that. That’s—I’m not excusing that behavior. But neither do I want these images to bring further injury to our people or to our relationship with the Afghan people. We had urged the L.A. Times not to—not to run those photos. And the reason for that is those kinds of photos are used by the enemy to incite violence, and lives have been lost as a result of the publication of similar photos in the past. We regret that they were published.

AMY GOODMAN: Defense Secretary Panetta was speaking at a meeting of NATO ministers in Brussels Wednesday. Several NATO allies promised to underwrite Afghanistan’s armed forces after foreign troops depart. The United States and other nations plan to retreat from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and hand the security issue over to Afghan security forces.

The NATO talks come just days after one of the most serious attacks on Kabul since the Taliban government was ousted from power in 2001. On Sunday, Afghan militants waged an 18-hour assault on the Afghan capital and three other provinces in what the Taliban called the start of a major spring offensive. The Afghan Defense Ministry said 32 insurgents were killed in the attacks which targeted the Afghan Parliament, the German and British embassies, a supermarket and a hotel. Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the Taliban offensive showed a "failure" by the intelligence services, and especially by NATO.

Well, for more, we’re going to go directly to Kabul, Afghanistan, where we’re joined by a peace activist who is going by the name Hakim. He is coordinator for Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers. And here in New York, we’re joined by Anand Gopal, journalist who covers Afghanistan, Egypt, Syria and other countries in the region, currently working on a book about the history of the decade-long Afghan war. He also has just returned from Syria. But I want to go directly to Kabul now to Hakim.

Can you talk about the release of these photos or what these photos depict from a 2010 deployment of U.S. military, soldiers standing with the body parts or the mangled corpses, posing with them for these photos, Hakim? Have they been showing in Afghanistan?

HAKIM: Yes, certainly. President Karzai himself has called the photos inhumane and provocative, and Afghans who have access to online facilities are becoming familiar with the photos now. And as expected, in the previous videos of U.S. soldiers urinating on corpses and the kill team keeping fingers as trophies, all this seems to be old news, creating quite a bit of anger and cynicism.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Hakim, the recent—the recent coordinated attacks by the Taliban, the impact on the general population, especially with the U.S. government continually claiming that the Taliban insurgency has receded in terms of its strength?

HAKIM: Well, I think that the reports from the U.N. in 2011 about an increase in violence, as well as other reports, counter the narrative that the U.S.-NATO coalition gives about decreasing violence or decreasing Taliban insurgency. I think that the Kabul attacks should point us to think seriously and reexamine the whole war against terrorism in Afghanistan.

AMY GOODMAN: And what happened on this weekend, the coordinated attack, overall, what it means? Also the news, right afterwards, that Australia will be pulling its troops out early from Afghanistan?

HAKIM: Yes, it is interesting to note that the U.S. ambassador, Ryan Crocker, who, by the way, also presided over the disastrous Iraq war, has responded to the Kabul attacks by justifying the fact that early an U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan may provoke further 9/11s. We have to disagree with Ambassador Ryan Crocker. The fact is that all the terrorist-like incidents in the past few weeks, including the Kabul attacks, and the sergeant, Sergeant Bales—in response to the Koran burning and Sergeant Bales’ killing spree in Kandahar, shows that if we don’t address the agreements that the U.S. and Australian governments and other governments are making for a long-term war strategy in Afghanistan, we are heading for an increase in violence in this part of the world, in South Asia, perhaps perpetual war, more serious than the Kabul attacks.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Hakim, the efforts of President Karzai to continue to distance himself publicly from the very American military that arranged to have him essentially installed in power—he continues to call the Taliban "my brothers" and seek to promote peace negotiations—your sense of how that is playing in the general population of Afghanistan, in Afghanistan?

HAKIM: Well, Afghans say that cats do not hunt for rats for the sake of us, and they are wise enough, over the past four decades of war, to realize that Karzai is also playing a game. The Karzai government is seen by ordinary Afghans as very corrupt. And the politicking over the long-term strategy post-2014 is really an economic and geopolitical agreement, in which Karzai himself has passed, for a written agreement in the strategic partnership agreement for the U.S. to finance at least $2 billion U.S. per year for their—for U.S. forces to stay beyond 2014. So, ordinary Afghans are really sick and tired of these games that are being played. Similarly, games have been played by President Karzai.

AMY GOODMAN: Hakim, we’re going to thank you very much for being with us. But I wanted to ask you, as we have before when we’ve had you on, why do you choose not to be identified?

HAKIM: Well, it’s strange that the Afghan friends that I’ve met over the past seven—nine years have given me a name out of affection, and the name Hakim means doctor as well as—local doctor as well as an earnest person. And I’ve been trained as a medical physician. It also conveniently fits into my struggle with the Afghan people in just searching for non-military, nonviolent solutions here.

AMY GOODMAN: Hakim, thank you very much for joining us from Kabul, coordinator of the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers. We’re going to break for just 20 seconds, then come back and get the response of longtime journalist Anand Gopal, who was in Afghanistan for years and now has just returned from Syria. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Anand Gopal is our guest. He’s covered Afghanistan, Egypt, other countries in the region, for various newspapers and magazines, currently working on a book about the history of the Afghan war. On Tuesday, he returned from Syria. But before we talk about Syria, Anand, this latest revelation by the Los Angeles Times of these photographs—they’re so gruesome, they would only print two, which were incredibly gruesome, and they said they were the best of them—and the attack by Leon Panetta on the L.A. Times for even printing those, your response?

ANAND GOPAL: Well, as Hakim said, I think they shock us actually more than they shock Afghans, because, I mean, from the Afghan perspective, we’ve had troops urinating on corpses, a massacre of 17 civilians, air strikes, night raids, troops cutting off fingers for sport, and so, for Afghans, this is part and parcel of the experience of being in war. And there’s a lot of concern, I think, in Washington about us losing the Afghans with these sorts of incidents. But I think their concerns are misplaced, because we’ve already lost them, really, over all these incidents over the last few years.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And the U.S. military—I saw some of the generals or retired generals last night basically saying, "Well, these are isolated incidents. They don’t represent the general conduct of U.S. troops." But isn’t the reality that as any occupation drags on and an army realizes that it is in contradiction with the very people it’s supposed to be protecting, these kinds of incidents tend to escalate and grow, and it’s been seen in many other wars in the past, wars of occupation?

ANAND GOPAL: Oh, absolutely. And they keep talking about rotten apples. But you have to wonder, how many rotten apples do you have to see before you realize that the tree itself is a problem? And this is the experience of Afghans under occupation, I think, and, as you mentioned, under other occupations. I mean, talking to troops who have been there or living with troops, I mean, they’re trained to view every single person as an enemy, and they’re trained to dehumanize the enemy. And so, these things follow from that. And you can’t really run an occupation without having this mentality, because if you start seeing Afghans as human beings, then all of a sudden you’re going to think twice before shooting at them.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yeah, I wanted to ask you, in terms of this whole issue of the United States withdrawing in 2014, will—your sense of whether there will be a genuine withdrawal? And also, that Afghanistan had a previous experience with a foreign army withdrawing, when the Soviet army withdrew after a 10-year occupation and war, and that only ended up in an eruption of a new civil war within Afghanistan that led to the rise of the Taliban.

ANAND GOPAL: Right, and this Status of Forces Agreement, which was just signed, speaks to this, which is essentially saying that the U.S. troops could—can stay, would—implies that they could stay in perpetuity—in other words, that the U.S. troops won’t be subject to the laws of Afghanistan. And the reason that was set up is so that we can—the U.S. can enable themselves to stay there for forever, essentially. I think a lot of the troops will probably be withdrawn, but we’ll see special forces staying on the ground. This will be the state of affairs unless something happens like they’re forced to leave by the Taliban, which I think is unlikely at this point.

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