Remember the recent report of 90 Afghan civilians killed by a US airstrike – which was roundly denied by the US forces but led to Karzai firing two generals for their involvement.
Well, there’s more.
The UN, a leading Afghan human rights group and the Afghan government all investigated and issued reports backing the claims of the villagers in Nawabad. The US forces continued to deny any such killings – saying at most 7 civilians were killed – until this past Saturday. As The Times of London reports:
Last night the Pentagon announced that it was reopening the investigation in the light of “emerging evidence” and was sending an officer to Nawabad to review its previous inquiry. Villagers and the UN insist that 92 were killed, including as many as 60 children.
Emerging evidence? The previous reports which UN sources privately stated were "conclusive" did not lead to a reconsideration by the Pentagon – even though the Financial Times notes these reports were available prior to the Pentagon’s report on the event.
It was only when a video – shot by an Afghan doctor on his cell phone the morning after the killings – became public knowledge that the Pentagon decided to reconsider. The doctor supplied the film to the UN and the Times of London has seen the footage and reports what it shows:
As the doctor walks between rows of bodies, people lift funeral shrouds to reveal the faces of children and babies, some with severe head injuries.
Women are heard wailing in the background. “Oh God, this is just a child,” shouts one villager. Another cries: “My mother, my mother.”
A second film was reportedly shot by Afghan forces which corroborates the doctor’s film but has not been made public according to The Times.
The Financial Times also describes the doctor’s video, saying:
The UN estimates that at least 40 bodies are under white funeral shrouds shown in the video.
The mutilated remains of 10 children are also visible in the video which officials say convinced the UN to support the claims of the Afghan government that the incident was one of the worst atrocities committed by western forces in the country since 2001.
Evidence compiled by a UN team that visited the site also included testimonies of villagers and lists of names that were cross referenced.
”This video really brought home the magnitude and psychological horror of what happened in Shindand,” an official said on condition of anonymity.
…The UN has not yet made the evidence public, saying it is too disturbing to be generally released.
Before the leak to the media of this video the Pentagon repeatedly “strongly denied” the mass slaughter of civilians and backed up its claims with the eyewitness report of “an embedded independent journalist." On Sunday, the Times of London identified that “journalist:”
The US military said that its findings were corroborated by an independent journalist embedded with the US force. He was named as the Fox News correspondent Oliver North, who came to prominence in the 1980s Iran-Contra affair, when he was an army colonel.
Pardon me while I throw up.
Today, Human Rights Watch is issuing a new report on civilian deaths in Afghanistan – Troops in Contact’: Airstrikes and Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan. Amongst the findings:
In the first seven months of 2008, at least 540 Afghan civilians were killed in fighting related to the armed conflict. Of those, at least 367 died during attacks by the various insurgent forces and 173 died during US or NATO attacks. At least 119 were killed by US or NATO airstrikes. For all periods cited, Human Rights Watch uses the most conservative figures available.
Human Rights Watch criticized the poor response by US officials when civilian deaths occur. Prior to conducting investigations into airstrikes causing civilian loss, US officials often immediately deny responsibility for civilian deaths or place all blame on the Taliban. US investigations conducted have been unilateral, ponderous, and lacking in transparency, undercutting rather than improving relations with local populations and the Afghan government. A faulty condolence payment system has not provided timely and adequate compensation to assist civilians harmed by US actions.
“The US needs to end the mistakes that are killing so many civilians,” said Adams. “The US must also take responsibility, including by providing timely compensation, when its airstrikes kill Afghan civilians. While Taliban shielding is a factor in some civilian deaths, the US shouldn’t use this as an excuse when it could have taken better precautions. It is, after all, its bombs that are doing the killing.”