Civilian Deaths and 20 Years of Pentagon Killings: Mistakes – or a Policy Question?


Senior US officials want us to believe that the Pentagon is carefully saving civilian lives while waging war abroad. The idea is nice. And with the high-tech killing far from home, physical and psychological distances made it even easier to believe complaints that the American war has become “human”.

Such pretexts should be terribly laughable for anyone who has read high quality journalism from eyewitnesses like Anand Gopal and Nick Turse. For example, Gopal’s article for The New Yorker in September, “Other Afghan women“, is a deep and devastating play that exposes the massacre and terror systematically inflicted on the inhabitants of rural areas of Afghanistan by the US Air Force.

Turse, incisive author and editor-in-chief at TomDispatch, wrote this autumn: “Over the past 20 years, the United States has carried out more than 93,300 airstrikes – in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen – that have killed between 22,679 and 48,308 civilians, according to figures recently released by air wars, a UK-based air strike monitoring group. The total number of civilians who have died as a result of direct violence in U.S. wars since September 11 peaks at 364,000 in 387,000, according to Brown University’s Costs of War Project. “

These deaths were quite predictable results of the policies of the US government. And in fact, evidence of massive civilian casualties emerged shortly after the “war on terror” began two decades ago. Leaks with abundant documentation began to surface more than 10 years ago, thanks to brutal disclosures by courageous whistleblowers and independent media outlet WikiLeaks.

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The punishment for their truth has been fierce and relentless. WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange is in British prison, facing imminent extradition to the United States, where the chances of a fair trial are virtually nil. Former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning spent seven years in a military prison. Former US Air Force analyst Daniel Hale, who exposed the deadly effects of the US drone warfare, is currently serving a 45-month prison sentence. They had the clarity of mind and the heart to share vital information with the public, revealing not only “mistakes” but patterns of war crimes.

Such realities should be kept in mind when considering how the New York Times crafted its success scoop last weekend, relying on more than 1,300 confidential documents. Under the headline “Hidden Pentagon Files Reveal Patterns of Failure in Deadly Airstrikes,” the Times assessed US bombing raids in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan – and reported that “since 2014, air warfare America has been plagued by deeply flawed, rushed intelligence and imprecise targeting and the deaths of thousands of civilians, many of them children. “

What shouldn’t get lost in all of the bold words like “failure”, “flawed information” and “imprecise targeting” is that virtually none of it was unpredictable. The killings were the result of policies that placed very low priority on preventing civilian deaths.

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The bulk of these policies are continuing. And so does the funding that fuels the nation’s relentless militarism, most recently in the $ 768 billion National Defense Authorization Act that was submitted to Congress this month and landed on the President Biden’s office.

Dollar numbers may appear abstract on a screen, but they indicate the extent of the mania. Biden had “only” asked for $ 12 billion more than Donald Trump’s last NDAA, but that wasn’t enough for the bipartisan House and Senate peddling, which provided a $ 37 billion boost dollars instead.

In fact, taking into account other spending on so-called “defense,” the annual military spending of the United States is close to a trillion dollars. The restraint efforts hit a wall. This fall, in a vote on a bill to cut the Pentagon’s budget by 10%, support came from just a fifth of the house, and not a republican.

In the opposite direction, House support for the increased military budget was overwhelming, with a vote of 363-70. Last week, when it was the Senate’s turn to act on the measure, the vote was 88-11.

Overall, military spending accounts for about half of total federal discretionary spending, while aid instead of killing programs rely on financial support from local, state, and national government agencies. It is a destructive trend of distorted priorities that serves the long-term agendas of neoliberalism, and rightly so. defined like policies that “improve the functioning of free market capitalism and attempt to limit government spending, government regulation and public ownership. “

While the two Capitol Hill parties have major differences on domestic issues, relations are deadly calm beyond the water’s edge. When the NDAA cleared the Senate last week, leaders of the Armed Services Commission were both quick to rejoice. “I am glad that the Senate voted overwhelmingly and bipartisanly to pass this year’s defense bill,” said committee chair Senator Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island. Panel-ranked Republican Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma added, “This bill sends a clear message to our allies – that the United States remains a reliable and credible partner – and to our adversaries – that the US military is prepared and fully capable of defending our interests anywhere in the world.

The bill also sends a clear message to Pentagon contractors as they drool over a new meal in the war party in progress enjoying.

There is a long way between their glassed-in offices and the places where the bombs fall.

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