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Jerome Starkey: Footage of civilian ‘massacre’ forces inquiry into US attack

America’s most senior soldier in Afghanistan has called for the Pentagon to investigate claims that more than 90 civilians were killed in an American airstrike, after harrowing video footage emerged showing the broken bodies of at least 11 children among the dead.

The grim, eight-minute clip, filmed on a mobile phone in the aftermath of the bombing, shows rows of shrouded bodies laid side by side in a make-shift morgue. Among them are at least 11 children, many of them toddlers.

General David McKiernan, the commander of Nato’s International Assistance Force (Isaf), ordered a fresh investigation led by a Pentagon general after footage was released on Sunday night. In a statement he said: “In light of emerging evidence pertaining to civilian casualties … I feel it is prudent to request that US Central Command send a general officer to review the US investigation and its findings.”

The top-level review comes just days after he admitted there were “large discrepancies” among accounts of the death toll. American officials claim there were just seven civilians killed. The United Nations, the Afghan government and human rights groups said that the body count was closer to 90. Locals said most of the dead were women and children.

The damning footage was shot by a doctor who visited the morgue, in a building normally used as a mosque, on the morning after the attack on 22 August.

At one point a blanket is pulled back to show the grey, lifeless face of an infant. The dead child’s head is no bigger than a man’s hand. A large section of skull is missing. Women can be heard wailing in the background. One mourner is heard crying for his mother.

The bombs were called in by American Special Forces after their patrol was ambushed in Azizabad, in Herat province, shortly before dawn on that day. Officials said the American soldiers were trying to arrest a suspected Taliban commander.

Days after the attack, American officials remained adamant that just 30 Taliban insurgents had been killed, including their commander, despite detailed claims by Afghan officials that at least 76 people were killed, including 50 children.

Four days after the airstrike, on 26 August, the UN’s senior official in Kabul, Kai Eide, claimed he had “convincing evidence … that some 90 civilians were killed, including 60 children, 15 women and 15 men”.

Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s President, said relations with the United States had “worsened” in the wake of the raid, which prompted a grovelling phone call from President George Bush.

There has been growing criticism of international troops for failing to curb civilian killings. A report by Human Rights Watch, published yesterday, said civilian deaths as a result of airstrikes by the US and Nato tripled from 2006 to 2007, which have sparked a public backlash.

Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director, said: “Mistakes by the US and Nato have dramatically decreased public support for the Afghan government and the presence of international forces.”

American officials eventually revised their initial body count, on 2 September, but they were still nowhere close to the numbers reported elsewhere. A spokesman said: “The investigation found that 30 to 35 Taliban militants were killed. In addition five to seven civilians were killed, two civilians were injured and subsequently treated.”

Mr Eide, the UN’s Special Representative, summoned General McKiernon to his office in Kabul on Friday last week to see the evidence for himself. General McKiernon was furious that the UN had released such an uncompromising statement condemning the raid. But a source close to the Isaf commander revealed he was almost moved to tears when he finally saw the images for himself. “He was shocked and humbled. He left like a little boy,” the military aide said.

If the 90 dead are confirmed, it would be the worst incident of collateral damage in Afghanistan since US and UK forces invaded in 2001.

Missiles fired by US drones killed 16 people, in an attack launched across the border into Pakistan yesteday. The strike targetted a religious school founded by an old friend of Osama bin Laden, intelligence officials and Pakistani villagers said. The US has increasingly used drones to make cross broder strikes on suspected Taliban targets in recent weeks. The missile killed 16 people, most of them Pakistani and Afghan Taliban fighters, though four women and two children were also killed, according to a senior intelligence officer.

* The Independent

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/footage-of-civilian-massacre-forces-inquiry-into-us-attack-923486.html

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Michael Moore: Open Letter to Caroline Kennedy

Dear Caroline,

We’ve never met, so I hope you don’t find this letter too presumptuous or inappropriate. As its contents involve the public’s business, I am sending this to you via the public on the Internet. I knew your brother John. He was a great guy, and I know he would’ve had a ball during this thrilling and historic election year. We all miss him dearly.

Barack Obama selected you to head up his search for a vice presidential candidate. It appears we may be just days (hours?) away from learning who that choice will be.

The media is reporting that Senator Obama has narrowed his alternatives to three men: Joe Biden, Evan Bayh and Tim Kaine. They’re all decent fellows, but they are far from the core of what the Obama campaign has been about: Change. Real change. Out with the old. And don’t invade countries that pose no threat to us.

Senators Biden and Bayh voted for that invasion and that war, the war Barack ran against, the war Barack reminded us was the big difference between him and Senator Clinton because she voted for the war and he spoke out against it while running for Senate (a brave and bold thing to do back in 2002).

For Obama to place either of these senators on the ticket would be a huge blow to the millions that chose him in the primaries over Hillary. He will undercut one of the strongest advantages he has over the Hundred-Year War senator, Mr. McCain. By anointing a VP who did what McCain did in throwing us into this war, Mr. Obama will lose the moral high ground in the debates.

As for Governor Kaine of Virginia, his big problem is, well, Obama’s big problem — who is he? The toughest thing Barack has had to overcome — and it will continue to be his biggest obstacle — is that too many of the voters simply don’t know him well enough to vote for him. The fact that Obama is new to the scene is both one of his most attractive qualities AND his biggest drawback. Too many Americans, who on the surface seem to like Barack Obama, just don’t feel comfortable voting for someone who hasn’t been on the national scene very long. It’s a comfort level thing, and it may be just what keeps Obama from winning in November (“I’d rather vote for the devil I know than the devil I don’t know”).

What Obama needs is a vice presidential candidate who is NOT a professional politician, but someone who is well-known and beloved by people across the political spectrum; someone who, like Obama, spoke out against the war; someone who has a good and generous heart, who will be cheered by the rest of the world; someone whom we’ve known and loved and admired all our lives and who has dedicated her life to public service and to the greater good for all.

That person, Caroline, is you.

I cannot think of a more winning ticket than one that reads: “OBAMA-KENNEDY.”

Caroline, I know that nominating yourself is the furthest idea from your mind and not consistent with who you are, but there would be some poetic justice to such an action. Just think, eight years after the last head of a vice presidential search team looked far and wide for a VP — and then picked himself (a move topped only by his hubris to then lead the country to near ruin while in office) — along comes Caroline Kennedy to return the favor with far different results, a vice president who helps restore America to its goodness and greatness.

Caroline, you are one of the most beloved and respected women in this country, and you have been so admired throughout your life. You chose a life outside of politics, to work for charities and schools, to write and lecture, to raise a wonderful family. But you did not choose to lead a private life. You have traveled the world and met with its leaders, giving you much experience on the world stage, a stage you have been on since you were a little girl.

The nation has, remarkably (considering our fascination with celebrity), left you alone and let you live your life in peace. (It’s like, long ago, we all collectively agreed that, with her father tragically gone, a man who died because he wanted to serve his country, we would look out for her, we would wish for her to be happy and well, and we would have her back. But we would let her be.)

Now, I am breaking this unwritten code and asking you to come forward and help us in our hour of need. So many families are hurting, losing their homes, going bankrupt with health care bills, seeing their public schools in shambles and living with this war without end. This is a historic year for women, from Hillary’s candidacy to the numerous women running for the House and Senate. This is the year that a woman should be on the Democratic ticket. This is the year that both names on that ticket should be people OUTSIDE the party machine. This is the year millions of independents and, yes, millions of Republicans are looking for something new and fresh and bold (and you are the Kennedy Republicans would vote for!).

This is the moment, Caroline. Seize it! And Barack, if you’re reading this, you probably know that she is far too humble and decent to nominate herself. So step up and surprise us again. Step up and be different than every politician we have witnessed in our lifetime. Keep the passion burning amongst the young people and others who have been energized by your unexpected, unpredicted, against-all-odds candidacy that has ignited and inspired a nation. Do it for all those reasons. Make Caroline Kennedy your VP. “Obama-Kennedy.” Wow, does that sound so cool.

Caroline, thanks for letting me intrude on your life. How wonderful it will be to have a vice president who will respect the Constitution, who will support (instead of control) her president, who will never let her staff out a CIA agent, and who will never tell her country that she is “currently residing in an undisclosed location.”

Say it one more time: “OBAMA-KENNEDY.” A move like that might send a message to the country that the Democrats would actually like to win an election for once.

Yours,
Michael Moore

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Johann Hari: Are there just too many people in the world?

This is a column I don’t want to write. Its subject is ugly; it makes me instinctively recoil. I have chastised people who bring it up at environmentalist meetings. The people who talk about it obsessively have often been callous about human life, and consistently proved wrong throughout history. And yet… there is a grain of insight in what they say.

The subject is overpopulation. Is our planet over-stuffed with human beings? Are we breeding to excess? These questions are increasingly poking into public debate, and from odd directions. Phillip Mountbatten – husband of the British monarch Elizabeth Windsor – said in a documentary screened this week: “The food prices are going up, and everyone thinks it’s to do with not enough food, but it’s really [that there are] too many people. It’s a little embarrassing for everybody, nobody knows how to handle it.” He is not alone. A strange range of people have voiced the same sentiments over the past few months, from the Dalai Lama to Hu Jintao, from Conservative mayor Boris Johnson to Democratic Governor Bill Richardson.

They start by listing the sums, which are indeed startling. Every year, world population grows by 75 million people – equivalent to another Britain and Ireland whooshing fully-populated from the oceans. At the turn of the 18th century, there were 600 million people on earth. At the turn of this century, there were 6.6 billion. By the time I am in my sixties, there will be more than nine billion – at which point there will be more people alive simultaneously than in the first 17 centuries after Christ combined.

The overpopulation lobby say this will inevitably leave more and more people chasing after a diminishing amount of resources on an ecologically-ravaged planet. At their most pessimistic, they say human beings will, in the long sweep of planetary history, look like a big-brained version of a locust cloud. They eat everything in sight and multiply fifty-fold – until they have consumed everything, when they turn in desperation on each other, munch off their siblings’ heads, and then fall out of the sky dead.

They say with a frown that this global swarming is driving global warming. How can you be prepared to cut back on your car emissions and your plane emissions but not on your baby emissions? Can you really celebrate the pitter-patter of tiny carbon-footprints?

Yet this subject seems to leech out all the dark toxins of environmentalism – a movement I believe is the most urgent and important in the world. There has always been an element of green thinking that viewed humans as a parasitic infestation, wrecking the Eden of planet earth. The philosopher John Gray calls our species “homo rapiens”. The founder of Earth First!, Dave Foreman, called us “Humanpox” and wrote: “The Aids epidemic, rather than being a scourge, is a welcome development in the inevitable reduction of human population… If [it] didn’t exist, radical environmentalists would have to invent [it].”

If environmentalism sounds – or is – misanthropic, we will lose the argument. Most human beings will never think the world would be better off without us. Nobody thinks they are the surplus human being who should not have been born. These strident arguments hand a huge gift to the anti-greens, who always said we were anti-human beneath the surface.

It also looks like displacement. The places where population is growing fastest – sub-Saharan Africa, rural China and Bangladesh – have virtually no carbon emissions, and pitiful food consumption rates. The gap is so huge that to be responsible for as many gas emissions as one British person, a Cambodian woman would need to have 262 children. Can we really sit in our nice homes, with a fridge-full of food we will mostly chuck away and an SUV in the drive, and complain that she is the problem?

Once this gut-reaction has kicked in, I then think of the horrible history of overpopulation predictions. Most famously, the 18th century demographer Thomas Malthus said mass starvation was inevitable because population increases geometrically while food production grows arithmetically. He didn’t anticipate the coming of the Industrial Revolution. His successors in the 1960s, like Paul Ehrich and the Club of Rome, similarly didn’t see the Green Revolution that was galloping around the corner of history.

So it is tempting to say now that the overpopulation argument will smack into some new technological development. It’s not quite true to say there is a diminishing amount of resources, because the genius of human beings is to find new ways to use what is there. Two centuries ago, nobody could have conceived that the sun’s rays or the waves in the ocean were a resource to be used – but solar and tidal power make it so.

And yet, and yet … why do my own arguments leave me echoing with doubt? A dark voice in my head says: you would accept that, to pluck an absurd number, 100 billion people would be too many. You don’t think human genius is infinitely expansive; there is a limit to what it can solve. So isn’t the question just where you draw the line? If 100 billion is too much, why not nine billion?

Hmm. You should always take on the best arguments of your opponents, not the worst. There are good people – a world away from the British royals or the human-hating fringes – who are sincerely concerned about population levels: people like Professors Chris Rapley and John Guillebaud. They argue that although the swelling billions are not now emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases, they will see that we are doing it and will (totally understandably) want to join in the carbon bonfire.

But if this is a problem, is there a solution that isn’t abhorrent? Some people seem to reach instinctively for authoritarian answers. The government of China has bragged that its “greatest contribution” to the fight against global warming has been its policy of punishing, imprisoning or sterilising women who have more than one child. Some environmentalists – a small minority – eye this idea jealously.

There is a far better way – and it is something we should be pursuing anyway. It is called feminism. Where women have control over their own bodies – through contraception, abortion and general independence – they choose not to be perpetually pregnant. The UN Fund For Population Activities has calculated that 350 million women in the poorest countries didn’t want their last child, but didn’t have the means to prevent it. We should be helping them by building a global anti-Vatican, distributing the pill and the words of Mary Wollstonecraft.

So after studying the evidence, I am left in a position I didn’t expect. Yes, the argument about overpopulation is distasteful, often discussed inappropriately, and far from being a panacea-solution – but it can’t be dismissed entirely. It will be easier for 6 billion people to cope on a heaving, boiling planet than for nine or 10 billion – and we will only get there by freeing women to make their own reproductive choices. To achieve this green goal, it’s necessary to mix some oestrogen into the environmentalist palette.

* j.hari@independent.co.uk
* The Independent
* http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-are-there-just-too-many-people-in-the-world-828254.html

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