Where Are This War's Heroes, Military and Journalistic?

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When Charlie Company’s Lt. William Calley ordered and encouraged his men to rape, maim and slaughter over 400 women and children and old people in My Lai in Vietnam back in 1968, there were at least four heroes who tried to stop him or bring him and higher officers to justice. One was helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson Jr., who evacuated some of the wounded victims, and who set his chopper down between a group of Vietnamese and Calley’s men, ordering his door gunner to open fire on the US soldiers if they shot any more people. One was Ron Ridenhour, a soldier who learned of the massacre, and began a private investigation, ultimately reporting the crime to the Pentagon and Congress. One was Michael Bernhardt, a soldier in Charlie Company who witnessed the whole thing, and reported it all to Ridenhour (also confiding that if Ridenhour didn’t succeed in getting prosecutions going he had a hit list of all the officers involved and planned to execute them himself!). And one was journalist Seymour Hersh, who broke the story in the US media.

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Today’s war in Afghanistan also has its My Lai massacres. It has them almost weekly, as US warplanes bomb wedding parties, or homes “suspected” of housing terrorists that turn out to house nothing but civilians. But these My Lais are all conveniently labeled accidents. They get filed away and forgotten as the inevitable “collateral damage” of war. There was, however, a massacre recently that was not a "mistake" – a massacre which, while it only involved fewer than a dozen innocent people, bears the same stench as My Lai. It was the execution-style slaying of eight handcuffed students, aged 11–18, and a 12-year-old neighboring shepherd boy who had been visiting the others, in Kunar Province, on Dec. 26.

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Sadly, no principled soldier with a conscience like pilot Hugh Thompson tried to save these children. No observer had the guts of a Michael Brernhardt to report what he had seen. No Ron Ridenhour among the other serving US troops in Afghanistan has investigated this atrocity or reported it to Congress. And no American reporter has investigated this war crime the way Seymour Hersh investigated My Lai.

There is a Seymour Hersh for the Kunar massacre, but he’s a Brit. While American reporters like the anonymous journalistic drones who wrote CNN’s December 29 report on the incident took the Pentagon’s initial cover story – that the dead were part of a secret bomb-squad – at face value, Jerome Starkey, a dogged reporter in Afghanistan working for the Times of London and the Scotsman, talked to other sources – the dead boys’ headmaster, other townspeople, and Afghan government officials – and found out the real truth about a gruesome war crime – the execution of handcuffed children. And while a few news outlets in the US like the New York Times did mention that there were some claims that the dead were children, not bomb-makers, none, including CNN, which had bought and run the Pentagon’s lies unquestioningly, bothered to print the news update when, on Feb. 24, the US military admitted that in fact the dead were innocent students. Nor has any US corporate news organization mentioned that the dead had been handcuffed when they were shot.

Starkey reported the US government’s damning admission. Yet still the US media remain silent as the grave.

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March 5, 2010

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