Wingnut Pastors, Hate-Filled Soldiers, and a Scandal Greater than Abu Ghraib
Both David Dayen and Marcy Wheeler noted the story yesterday of the US pastor whose burning of a Koran inspired a reaction from Afghans in Mazar-i-Sahrif. The UN compound there was overrun by protesters, and at least 10 UN aid workers were killed. As Marcy said, “The hate industry in this country seems to believe they can fear-monger against Muslims here with no repercussions elsewhere.”
But these repercussions elsewhere aren’t just reactions of Muslims against Americans. They also are the actions of Americans who take those attitudes abroad.
Der Spiegel has been all over the story of the atrocities committed by members of a so-called “kill team” from the 5th Stryker Brigade. One pleaded guilty last week, and charges are pending against others.
It is an ugly, ugly story.
Says Der Spiegel:
SPIEGEL and SPIEGEL TV spent five months researching the story of the kill team. The reporters traveled across the United States from Wasilla, Alaska, to Cape Coral, Florida, and also visited Afghanistan. They were given permission to look at investigation records. They talked to relatives and friends of the defendants, and were able to read their letters and e-mails. And they have the pictures and videos that the perpetrators often took themselves.
SPIEGEL decided to only publish a tiny number of the images, three out of approximately 4,000 photographs and videos, namely only those that are absolutely essential for the story that is being told here. It is the story of a war that started with the best intentions — to rid Afghanistan of al-Qaida, for which a United Nations mandate exists — but which long ago turned into a different conflict. It is a war where both sides are no longer certain what they are really fighting for. That’s why the Islamists of the Taliban can justify raising money by selling drugs, or why the Americans’ hatred for those who kill their comrades can be directed against entirely innocent people. It is this war, which has lost sight of its original objectives, that SPIEGEL wishes to document.
(The quote comes from page two of the story.) The still photos are here, and the video documentary is here, which Der Spiegel introduces like this:
For months, the US Army kept the images compiled by the so-called “kill team” under lock and key out of fear it could result in a scandal even greater than Abu Ghraib. SPIEGEL TV spent weeks researching the story behind the men of 5th Stryker Brigade and how things could go so terribly wrong. Warning: The documentary contains extremely graphic content.
Go watch that documentary, but that warning is not a joke. It’s a very well done video, showing nothing for shock value but also refusing to hold back the scope of the offensiveness of these crimes. After watching the video, saying this “could result in a scandal even greater than Abu Ghraib” is not hyperbole in my humble opinion.
Back in October, Spencer Ackerman asked “Did disdain for counterinsurgency breed the ‘kill team’?” Said Ackerman:
Lots of officers and soldiers think counterinsurgency’s focus on protecting civilians has gone too far. And their units haven’t produced “Kill Teams.” So it’s not as if skepticism of counterinsurgency reveals a zest for brutality. And chief counterinsurgent David Petraeus has consistently reminded people that counterinsurgency is a violent undertaking.
But [Colonel Harry D. Tunnell IV] isn’t the first commander to set an aggressive tone and watch his soldiers misapply it in ugly ways. If the “Kill Team” is found guilty, it’ll likely spark a painful debate within the Army about the relationship between his anti-counterinsurgency approach and some of his men’s crimes. Striking the right balance between protecting civilians and fighting an enemy just got harder.
I’ll be blunt. The hate industry at home created the monsters, and the military trained them, gave them weapons and put them in situations to act on their hate. The price for this is being paid for this by Afghan civilians, other US soldiers, UN aid workers, and others.