Human Dignity, Crazy Mike, and Indian Country
reason why Washington is having such a difficult time persuading
of its good faith and its good works in the "war on terror"
was best illustrated Tuesday this week.
President George W. Bush told the UN General Assembly that the U.S.
belief in "human dignity" a phrase he used no less
than 10 times was the main U.S. motivation for pursuing the
war, two articles that appeared in two major U.S. newspapers the
same morning offered an altogether different subtext.
first piece, titled "Indian Country," was written by one
of the administration's geo-strategic gurus, Robert D. Kaplan, and
published on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal.
who is writing a series of books about the U.S. military, extolled
the wonders of U.S. Special Forces operating in small units from
"forward operating bases" (FOBs) without direction from
any "Washington bureaucracy" and outside the scrutiny
of the global media.
like "in the days of fighting the Indians," wrote Kaplan,
"the smaller the tactical unit, the more forward deployed it
is, and the more autonomy it enjoys from the chain of command, the
more that can be accomplished."
to Kaplan and, presumably, to Bush, as well, the Los Angeles
Times that morning was publishing a front-page article that
gave one example of precisely what such a unit could do.
on reports by a UN team, the Washington-based Crimes of War Project,
and the office of the Afghan Armed Forces attorney general, the
Times described how U.S. Special Forces at one FOB in southeastern
Afghanistan last year beat and tortured eight Afghan soldiers over
no less than 17 days, until one of their victims, 18-year-old Jamal
eight were taken to the Special Forces FOB near Gardez on March
1, 2003, after they were seized while manning a security checkpoint
amid suspicions, apparently planted by local faction leaders competing
for US support, that Afghan army units in the area were selling
arms to the Taliban.
to the consistent testimony of the men, they were "pummeled,
kicked, karate-chopped, hung upside down and struck repeatedly with
sticks, rubber hoses and plastic-covered cables," the Times
reported. "Some said they were immersed in cold water, then
made to lie in the snow. Some said they were kept blindfolded for
long periods and subjected to electric shocks to their toes."
their ordeal, they were never given medical help or even provided
with a change of clothes.
Naseer's death, his battered body and the seven survivors were handed
over to local Afghan police by a Special Forces commander who threatened
to kill the police chief if he released any of the prisoners, according
to an official of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA),
who witnessed the warning.
were held there with as many as 13 other inmates in a "secret
detention room" built for five prisoners for the next month
and a half apparently until their wounds had healed. UNAMA
interviewed them during their stay there and found that their injuries
were consistent with their testimony.
were finally transferred to a prison near Kabul and released after
authorities there found no evidence that they had committed any
crimes or had ties to anti-government groups. The prison also referred
the case to the attorney general.
Afghan military has requested an explanation of the incident from
the U.S. military authorities, according to the attorney general's
report, who so far have provided no response. After the Times
began inquiring about the case last weekend, the Pentagon announced
that it has launched a criminal investigation.
as of Tuesday, investigators said they did not know who precisely
was running the Gardez base, other than units from the 20th Special
Forces Group based in Birmingham, Ala.
with Kaplan's notion that the Special Forces should operate as independently
as possible from Washington bureaucrats, however, an Army detective
in Kabul told the Times, "There are no records. . .
. There are no SOPs (standard operating procedures) . . . and each
unit acts differently."
the name used by the commanding officer of the FOB at the time,
is a common pseudonym for intelligence and Special Forces officers
working in Afghanistan, although this particular "Mike"
apparently stood out for his aggressiveness, because at least one
of his fellow soldiers referred to him as "Crazy Mike."
a March 10, 2003 meeting that is, 10 days into the victims'
captivity "Crazy Mike" attended a security meeting
sponsored by UNAMA in Gardez during which he warned local Afghan
commanders that he would kill any of them if they released prisoners
taken by his unit.
unclear whether "Crazy Mike" was also the commander who
threatened the local chief of police with death if he released the
commander of the detained Afghan unit was Naseer's older brother.
He testified that after Naseer's death, there was an argument between
two U.S. officers during which one grabbed the other by the collar
and said that Naseer should have been shot rather than tortured.
One U.S. officer offered condolences and money, which was refused,
according to the brother's account.
death was never officially reported up the chain of command, so
that the Pentagon's recent report in the wake of the Abu Ghraib
scandal that a total of 39 detainees have died in U.S. custody in
Iraq and Afghanistan now appears incomplete.
incomplete is, of course, unknown, and the incident at Gardez may,
indeed, be another case of a "few rotten apples" that
the administration has tried blame for the abuses at Abu Ghraib.
the other hand, this latest incident and particularly the
fact that it was carried out over almost two weeks certainly
adds to the impression that abuses of detainees were indeed far
more pervasive the administration has ever admitted.
whose 2001 best-selling book, Warrior
Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos, extolled
waging war without mercy, has long argued that maintaining global
order is a rough business and that even "successful" wars
like those against the Indians or the U.S. counter-insurgency campaign
in the Philippines a century ago inevitably lead to excesses. The
extent that they can be kept out of the media spotlight which,
of course, is precisely what the Bush administration has tried to
do is all to the good, according to Kaplan's perspective.
Indian country', as one general officer told me, 'you want to whack
bad guys quietly and cover your tracks with humanitarian-aid projects,'"
Kaplan wrote Tuesday.
red Indian metaphor is one with which a liberal policy nomenklatura
may be uncomfortable," he went on, "but Army and Marine
field officers have embraced it because it captures perfectly the
combat challenge of the early 21st century."
that it was the great Victorian leader, William Gladstone, who called
on British troops to protect "the sanctity of life in the hill
villages of Afghanistan," Kaplan stressed that U.S. leaders
must also appeal to the idealism of their citizens in another article
he wrote last year on U.S. supremacy.
are truly idealistic by nature, but even if we weren't, our historical
and geographical circumstances necessitate that U.S. foreign policy
be robed in idealism," Kaplan wrote in the same article. "And
yet security concerns necessarily make our foreign policy more pagan."
Victorian, Think Pagan," he advised U.S. policymakers. And,
thus, while the UN delegates must have heard Bush's rhetoric about
"human dignity," they might have been thinking about "Crazy
Mike" in "Indian Country."
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 Inter Press Service