Monday, September 8, 2008

The dead have no names

Absolutely required reading today is a story on the front page of the New York Times by the superb and dedicated reporter Carlotta Gall, entitled "Trail of Evidence Points to High Civilian Toll in Afghan Raid." I have complained in the past about the back page placement of Gall's stories on the American airstrike against the village of Azizabad, where Afghan officials and the United Nations claim about 90 civilians were killed on August 22, while U.S. military officials have insisted the toll was much lower. But today the Times acquits itself, and what appears to be the emerging truth about this terrible episode, very well.

Gall's story is based on numerous interviews in the village with survivors and eyewitnesses of what happened, as well as visits to the graves of the dead. Her report strongly supports the Afghan version. U.S. military officials have been doing everything possible to cover up this episode, going so far as to accuse the villagers of making up stories to help the Taliban. But this is one of those articles that really needs to be read line by line. Thus, deep in the story, we find out that the American version of things is based on the following in-depth investigation:

American military officials in Afghanistan and Washington have stood by their much lower body count. Capt. Christian Patterson, an American military spokesman at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul, said that an investigating officer, a Special Forces major, visited the village after the airstrikes. Guided by aerial photographs, he visited six burial sites within a six-mile range of the attack; only one had any freshly dug graves, about 18 to 20 in total, Captain Patterson said. The 12-page investigative report does not indicate whether they were the graves of children or women. The officer did not interview villagers, he said.

"The officer did not interview villagers..." What a damning admission. The article suggests that the Americans may have been misled by an informant whose business rival lived in the village. Whatever the case, thanks to courageous reporters like Gall and her colleagues on this story, this is one episode that will not be swept under rug, and the U.S. military's stonewalling campaign appears to be faltering:

For two weeks, the United States military has insisted that only 5 to 7 civilians, and 30 to 35 militants, were killed in what it says was a successful operation against the Taliban: a Special Operations ground mission backed up by American air support. But on Sunday, Gen. David D. McKiernan, the senior American commander in Afghanistan, requested that a general be sent from Central Command to review the American military investigation in light of “emerging evidence.”

“The people of Afghanistan have our commitment to get to the truth,” he said in a statement.

Sure they do, now that the coverup has failed. Fortunately, the Times has the resources, and in this case the good editorial judgement, to send reporters to the scene. And, finally, the good judgement to put the story on the front page.

Photo: A girl injured in a NATO airstrike in Helmand province last year/REUTERS/Abdul Qodus

Panic in Obamaland: I'm seeing a lot of anxiety out there after the Republican Convention. Is it lack of confidence in the candidate or lack of confidence in the American people? Perhaps some of both, but it ain't healthy.


jqb said...

Maybe it's just what the people writing say it is -- a reaction to the facts (such as polling numbers and a jump in attendance at McCain rallies). I usually go with those rather than "confidence", which leads one to be complacent. I'm pretty sure you and Marc have, in the past, railed against people who did that.

Michael Balter said...

It's the nature of the reaction that I am commenting on. Certainly there are grounds for concern, but the kind of panic and anxiety reflected in these posts--and elsewhere--can lead to paralysis. Nobody said it was going to be easy to get Obama elected: It means that his supporters are actually going to have to go out and convince swing voters, and even conservatives, that McCain/Palin would be a disaster (not to mention convince them of Obama's positive attributes.) But to do that, and to be motivated to do that, one needs confidence that Americans are not basically stupid but can be convinced.

Anne Gilbert said...

The first commentator was absolutely right.  I blame the "pundits" who treat this whole election process like it's some sort of spors event(are any of these "pundits" former sportscasters?). There's always some post-convention "bounce"; there was for Obama; now there's some for McCain/Palin.  But I don't think this is going to last, and I also think that a lot of people, perhaps a significant number, are going to see Palin's selection as the cynical ploy it is --- seeking votes from "undecided" women or women who are still upset that Hillary wasn't chosen Vice President, plus pandering to the "red meat"/Religious Right crowd. Sure, this election is the Democrats' to lose, but I think they have better chances of winning, than these "pundits" are letting on(they're apparently too bemused by Palin's speechmaking and demeanor to see beyond it).
Anne G