What We Are Not Told About War
We are living in an age of myths. Today, there are numerous sources of quality information for one to rely upon. At the same time, however, these truths are often downplayed by our major media or ignored all together. In this article, I will discuss the ugly truth of our current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The disastrous effects that these wars have on innocent civilians, including scores of women, elderly, and children are severely downplayed and too often ignored by our major media outlets.
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and bestselling author, Chris Hedges fully understands the brutality of war; especially our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has served as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa, and the Balkans and has covered wars in these regions for the New York Times. In his book, Death of the Liberal Class, Hedges talks about how the Liberal Class of the United States failed to stand up against government and corporate corruption. In chapter two of the book, he interviews Malalai Joya, who was expelled from the Afghan parliament for denouncing government corruption and the Western occupation. Here, Joya talks about how the corruption and devastation of the war in Afghanistan:
“We need to tear the mask off of the fundamental warlords who after the tragedy of 9/11 replaced the Taliban. They used the mask of democracy to take power. They continue this deception. These warlords are mentally the same as the Taliban. The only change is physical. These warlords during the civil war on Afghanistan from 1992 to 1996 killed sixty-five thousand innocent people. They have committed human rights violations, like the Taliban, against women and many others. We believe that this is not a war on terror, this is a war on innocent civilians. Look at the massacres carried out by NATO forces in Afghanistan. Look at hat they did in May in the Farah Province, where more than 150 civilians were killed, most of them women and children. They used white phosphorus and cluster bombs. There were two hundred civilians on ninth of September killed in the Kunduz Province, again most of them women and children…The United States and NATO eight years ago occupied my country under the banner of women’s rights and democracy. But they have only pushed us from the frying pan into the fir. They put into power men who are photocopies of the Taliban.”
Hedges also writes about the opium trade which has experienced rampant growth in recent years:
Over the past ten years of occupation, Afghanistan’s boom in the opium trade, used to produce heroin, has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to the Taliban, al-Qaida, local warlords, criminal gangs, kidnappers, private armies, drug triffickers, and many other senior figures in the government of President Hamid Karzai. The New York Times reported that Ahmed Wali Karzai, brother of President Karzai, was collecting money from the CIA although he is a major player in the illegal opium business. Afghanistan produces ninety-two percent of the world’s opium in a trade worth some $65 million, the United Nations estimates. This opium feeds some fifteen million addicts worldwide and kills around one hundred thousand people annually. These fatalities should be added to the list of war dead.
Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), has said that the drug trade has permitted the Taliban to thrive and expand despite the presence of NATO troops: “The Taliban’s direct involvement in the opium trade allows them to fund a war machine that is becoming technologically complex and increasingly widespread”. The UNODC estimates the Taliban earned $90 million to $160 million a year from taxing the production and smuggling of opium and heroin between 2005 and 2009, as much as double the amount it earned annually while it was in power nearly a decade ago. And Costa described the Afghanistan-Pakistan border as “the world’s largest free- trade zone in anything and everything that is illicit,” an area blighted by drugs, weapons, and illegal immigration. The “perfect storm” of drugs and terrorism” may be on the move along drug trafficking routes through Central Asia, he warned. Opium profits are being pumped into militant groups in Central Asia, and “a big part of the region could be engulfed in large-scale terrorism, endangering its massive energy resources.””
Jeremy Scahill is also familiar with the brutality and corruption of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In his international bestseller, Blackwater: The Rise Of The World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, he goes into an in-depth investigation of the private security company, Blackwater and exposes their indifference to laws in Iraq and Afghanistan. Scahill’s exposure clearly reveals that the Iraqi people do not want the United States’ forces invading their country. As a result, violence often breaks out. The violence of U.S. forces towards innocent Iraqis, especially women, the elderly, and children is downplayed by our corporate and government embedded journalists. Instead, Scahill turns to the un-embedded journalists, including Arab media workers to provide honest factual testimony of these brutal events. In one example of Iraqi resistance towards U.S. forces, Scahill tells the story of four Blackwater employees (Scott Halvenston, Jerry Zovco, Wes Batalona, and Mike Teague) who were viscously ambushed while on a mission to provide security for ESS’s catering convoys:
“Their assignment was to escort some trucks to pick up kitchen equipment near Fallujah and drop it off at a military base It was one of the first missions under Blackwater’s new contract to provide security for ESS’s catering convoys. Before the mission, Batalona complained to a friend that the group had never worked together. On top of that, they were sent off that mourning short two men, who were allegedly held back for clerical duties at the Blackwater compound. Then, there were the vehicles. Instead of armored trucks, the men were provided with two jeeps that had been recently equipped with a single improvised steel plate on the back…As it happened, Zovco and Batalona-who had been in the country much longer than Halvenston-led the way, followed by three flatbed trucks, that were stocked up with kitchen equipment on the other side of Fallujah. Taking up the rear, Halvenston and Teague were in the red Pajero. Shortly after they rolled into the city, the convoy began to slow. To their right were shops and markets; to the left, open space. As the vehicles came to a stand-still, witnesses say, a group of four or five boys approached the lead vehicle and began talking to the Blackwater men inside . Before Halvenston or Teague could figure out what was happening, the unmistakable rip of machine- gun fire bellowed out of Fallujah’s streets. Bullets tore through the side of the Pajero like salt through ice.
It was the worst thing that could happen to a Special Forces guy- the realization that you’re trapped. No one knows for sure the last thing Scott Halvenston saw before he breathed his last breath, but there is no doubt it was terrifying. He may have lived long enough to know that he would die a gruesome death. As his fatally wounded body lay in the jeep, blood gushing from him, a mob of men jumped on the hood of the Pajero, unloading cartridges of ammo and pounding there way through the winshield. Next to Halvenston lay Mike Teagus, blood spitting from his neck. Chants of “Allahu Akbar (God is great) filled the air. The attackers moved in swiftly on their fatally wounded prey. Soon, more than a dozen young men who had been hanging around in front of a local kebab house joined in the carnage. According to one eyewitnesses, one of the Blackwater men survived the initial attack after being hit in the chest with gunfire, only to be pulled from his vehicle by the mob, begging for his life. “The people killed him by throwing bricks at him and jumping on him until they killed him,” the eyewitness said. “They cut off his arm and his leg and his head, and they were cheering and dancing.
By the time Halvenston’s jeep was shot up, Jerry Zovco and Wes Batalona realized an ambush was under way. Batalona slammed on the gas, rammed over the median, and tried either to rescue the other two or get the hell out. According to a former private military-company operator, Blackwater trains its men “not to aid the other when one vehicle is hit in an ambush. They are taught to get off the X. Your own survival is the ultimate monkey.” But with little armor on the jeep and only one gunner, Batalona and Zovco were as good as dead. Withen moments, they found themselves in a hail of gunfire as their jeep slammed into another vehicle. Zovco’s head was blown apart. Batalona’s Hawaiian shirt was full of bullet holes, his head slumped over. Down the road, the mob was tearing apart Halvenston’s Pajero. Their weapons and gear had been looted; someone had brought in gasoline and doused the vehicles and the bodies. Soon they were in flames. The eerie soundtrack to the massacre, captured by resistance fighters , was a mix of horns blaring and random screams of “Allahu Akbar!”
In the midst of the carnage, journalists arrived on the scene and captured images that would soon become infamous. The crowd swelled to more than three hundred people, as the original attackers faded into the side streets of Fallujah. The scorched bodies were pulled from the burned-out jeep, and men and boys literally tore them apart limb from limb. Men beat the bodies with the soles of their shoes, while others hacked off burned body parts with metal pipes and shovels. A young man methodically kicked one of the heads until it was severed from the body. In front of the cameras, someone held a small sign emblazoned with a skull and crossbones that declared, “Fallujah is the graveyard of the Americans!” Chanting broke out : “With our blood and our souls, we will sacrifice for Islam!” Soon the mob tied two of the bodies to the back of a dark red Opal sedan and dragged them to the main bridge crossing the Euphrates. Another body was tied to a car with a poster of the assassinated Hamas leader Sheik Yassin. Along the way, someone tied a brick to one of the men’s severed right leg and tossed it over a power line. At the bridge, men climbed the steel beams, hanging the charred, lifeless remains of Halvenston and Teague over the river, forming an eerily iconic image. Their bodies dangled over the Euphrates for almost ten hours-like “slaughtered sheep” in the words of one Fallujan.”
In response to this horrific event, U.S. forces effectively sieged Fallujah, however the violence coming from U.S. forces against the innocent Iraqi civilians did not cease:
“While most of the world came to understand the siege of Fallujah as an earth-moving development in the occupation, the story of the extent of the human suffering endured by Iraqis was downplayed in the “mainstream” U.S. press. Embedded corporate journalists reported exclusively from the vantage point of the invading U.S. forces and relied disproportionately on military spokespeople and their Iraqi proxies. The graphic verbiage that had peppered the media landscape following the ambush and killing of the Blackwater men days earlier was now absent from the reporting on the civilian consequences of the assault… But while the embedded U.S. press focused on the “urban warfare” story, un-embedded Arab journalists-most prominently from the popular Al Jazeera network-were reporting around the clock from inside the besieged city. Their reports painted a vivid picture of the civilian devastation and gave lie to U.S. commanders’ pronouncements about precision strikes. Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya broadcast images of corpses in the streets and destruction of the city’s infrastructure. In fact, when Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmit was doing a phone interview on Al Jazeera, insisting the United States was observing a cease-fire, the network simultaneously aired live images of continued raids by U.S. fighter jets on residential neighborhoods inside Fallujah. The images Al Jazeera’s cameras captured in Fallujah were not only being broadcast widely in the Arab world but also on TV networks across the globe. Veteran Al Jazeera journalist Ahmed Mansour and cameraman Laith Mushtaq had entered Fallujah on April 3 and were the primary source of footage of the civilian devastation inside the city. They regularly filmed scenes of women and children killed by the U.S. offensive-in one case broadcasting a story about an entire family in the al Jolan neighborhood who had allegedly been killed in a U.S. airstrike. “The planes bombed this house, as they did for the whole neighborhood., and they brought the corpses and bodies to the hospital,” Mushtaq recalled. “I went to the hospital. I could not see anything but, like, a sea of corpses of children and women, and mostly children, because peasants and farmers have usually a lot of children. So these were scenes that are unbelievable, unimaginable. I was taking photographs and forcing myself to photograph, while at the same crying.”
Our media portrays the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from the view that America is doing a good service for these nations and their people. Nothing can be further from the truth. Our prolonged presence only leads to prolonged violence. If America wants any possibility of a sustainable future, we must bring an end to these wars now. The Iraqis and Afghanis, for the most part, do not welcome our presence. These wars are destroying love, family values, and human compassion at an amazingly effective rate. They are turning civilians that once were content with their families into raging warriors seeking to destroy any and all U.S forces that get in their ay. We are not making progress by improving the lives of these people. Instead, we are destroying our own lives as well as theirs. Look past our mainstream pro-war talk shows and the blood thirsty desires of our political candidates. Put yourself in the shoes of an Iraqi father who just lost his son due to careless fire by U.S. forces. Listen to the screams of children after they have just been shot. These wars are a disaster and unless we end them, they will put an end to our way of life as we know it.
Copyright © 2011 Joseph Albrecht