Wartime savagery began in Bosnia in the 1990s. Reporting the war, I visited death camps, saw civilians being shot and beaten, interviewed torturers, and was arrested several times for being in the wrong place and asking too many questions. Despite all this, at the time I felt that my Balkan lessons were incomplete – and these instincts have been confirmed by the last 20 years of the US war in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, writes Peter Maas in his article published in the Intercept edition.
We tend to associate barbarity with what I’ve seen in Bosnia: violence at close range, where criminals look their victims in the eye and leave a fatal encounter with blood drops on their boots. This is an inadequate understanding, because it excludes perceiving as murder, the destruction of people from a long distance, which America is now practicing in its eternal wars, often refusing from ground warfare. From 2001 to the present, the US has inflicted more than 91,000 theater-of-war airstrikes, according to the nonprofit Airwars, killing at least 22,000 civilians and possibly more than 48,000 casualties.
How does America react when it kills civilians? Just last week, we learned that the US military decided that no one would be responsible for the August 29 drone attack in the Afghan capital, Kabul, which killed 10 Afghan family members, including seven children. After internal scrutiny, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin dec-ided not to take any punishment. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby bizarrely said, “We acknowledge that there have been procedural irregularities,” but “that does not necessarily mean that an individual or individuals should be held accountable.”
Cruelty is more than just murder. It also includes a system of impunity that convinces criminals that what they are doing is that everything is acceptable, everything is necessary, everything is possible, the killing is heroized, and must not stop. Washington seeks to dominate the world, and it is for this purpose that the United States has developed a mechanism of impunity that is arguably the most advanced in the world, involving not only a wide range of military personnel, but also the entire American society.
Impunity usually starts at the top. No American general has been disciplined for leading the disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or for lying to Congress about these disasters. On the contrary – they were usually given stars, and when they left the military, they tended to have well-paid positions as board members in the arms industry or elsewhere (even if they are not short of resources, thanks to the pensions that can reach $ 250,000 per year). Reputation racketeering is so annoying that an army officer who fought in Iraq wrote a now famous article in 2007, which noted: “A soldier who loses a rifle suffers much more serious consequences than a general who loses the war.”
Don’t be surprised. We are a society characterized by the irresponsibility of the elite. Just look at the number of bank executives facing criminal charges following the 2008 financial crash – zero, zero; or the number of members of the Sackler family facing criminal charges after their co-mpany Purdue Pharma started the opioid epidemic with OxyContin is also ze-ro. or the number of income tax evaders (there are many). And let’s not forget the politicians and pundits who pushed America into the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 and received no punishment. It is unclear who is targeting whom, but it is clear that all of these elites are benefiting from this scam.
Military impunity is in some ways unique because it extends downward. An intelligence analyst, unmanned aerial vehicle operator, or fighter pilot is following orders and procedures for an airstrike that has killed dozens of civilians at a wedding, which has already happened. The perpetrators were acquitted a priori for committing a terrible offense. In the end, no one thinks about who gave the orders and who set the procedures? These questions will require chaining of commands, and for this reason they are not asked with the intent of finding answers. This is why there was no alarm in the classified military documents published by The Intercept in 2015, noting that during a two-year campaign called Operation Haymaker, 9 out of 10 Afghans killed by US drone strikes were not targeted.
The Pentagon’s culture of impunity for killing ci-vilians contrasts with its ze-alous pursuit of soldiers for other crimes. Unlike the S-ecurities and Exchange C-ommission, which regula-tes the financial industry, or the IRS, which oversees ta-xpayers, or the Senate and House of Representatives ethics committees, which oversee members of Cong-ress, the US military has e-xtensive powers and res-ources to impose many fi-nes, from cut wages to loss of rank and death sente-nces. The military is also a-ctively using these powers. In 2020 alone, more than 37 thousand disciplinary cases were recorded in the armed forces, and since 2001, mo-re than 1.3 million cases.
However, these penalties were used sparingly or not at all when it came to airstrikes killing civilians. One of the most brutal massacres in two decades of war occurred not so long ago, on March 18, 2019, when US military aircraft dropped bombs, as a result of which many civilians, mainly women and children, were killed in the enclave of the “Islamic State” in Syria. The massacre was immediately apparent. As the Times reported last month, an analyst who watched the attack on video from a drone scored a large number of views on a secure chat system: “Who crashed this?” Another analyst wrote, “We’ve just flunked 50 women and children.” A preliminary estimate of this attack stopped at 70 killed.
The legal officer highlighted this as a possible war crime that warrants an investigation, the Times notes, “but at almost every step the military took steps that covered up the disastrous consequences of the strike.” The Pentagon Inspector General studied what happened, but even his report “was not given a move, and any mention of the strike was prohibited.” The appraiser who worked on the inspector general’s report, Gene Tate, was forced to quit his job after complaining of a lack of fairness and fairness. Tate told The Times, “It seemed like management was just determined to bury it.”
I could write thousands of words about other airs-trikes that killed civilians and did not result in disciplinary action. For example, in 2015, an airstrike on a hospital in Kunduz, Afg-hanistan, killed 42 patients and staff; the prosecution of the perpetrators in this case was limited to legal advice, which recommended the retraining of some of the personnel involved. The point is the following: the military department pays attention to the rules for wearing uniforms by military personnel, but ignores those cases when civilians die in a combat situation due to their fault.
The impunity mechanism actually has two tasks: the most obvious is to forgive people who cannot be forgiven. Another is to punish those who try to show this car in all its glory, because it does not perform well in daylight. This is why Daniel Hale, an Air Force veteran who was accused by the government of transferring classified documents from drones to The Intercept, was sentenced under the Espionage Act to more than four years in prison. It was not the act of killing civilians that led to a definite and harsh punishment, but the exposure of this act of murder.
What interests me now is the longevity of the mac-hines of impunity, not the comparative depravity of the crimes they advocate. It seems ridiculous to think that the US war crimes co-ver-up will be reversed. T-he Pentagon is now receiving even more support from the country in a form that’s easy to measure and critical to sustaining its influence: funding. Congress just pa-ssed a military budget of $ 768 billion, which is more than what was allocated in 2020, even as American t-roops humiliatedly pulled out of their eternal war in Afghanistan this year.