Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

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Derrick Crowe

Derrick Crowe is a 5-year veteran of Capitol Hill who left D.C. over his objections to Democrats’ choice in the 2008 presidential campaign to urge escalation in Afghanistan.

April 30th, 2010 7:58 PM

Don’t Tell Me the Afghanistan War Makes Me Safer

There used to be a man who lived in a town called Khataba in Afghanistan who was a good dancer. His name was Mohammed Dawood. If you are an American, Mohammed was your friend. He trained with International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF) Taskforce Gunsmoke in Gardez District and completed a U.S.-run tactical military intelligence course. He was part of the coalition’s vision for the future of Afghanistan. The certificate they gave him said he would “help ensure the stability of [his] country for many years.”

On February 11, 2010, Dawood spent the evening dancing for joy. He had a new infant boy in his family, and that night his relatives gathered at his home to celebrate. The music played late into the night. In the footage we’ve been reviewing over the last week here at Brave New Foundation, he seemed extremely happy.

But Dawood won’t be dancing anymore, and he won’t be helping to rebuild his country. When you shoot someone and let them bleed to death, the dancing stops. And that’s exactly what happened in the early morning hours of February 12. At around 4:30 in the morning, thanks to bad intelligence, U.S. and allied special forces mounted the rooftops of his family complex and shot him in the courtyard. His son was near him and was also badly hurt.

Dawood didn’t die immediately, but I hope he lost consciousness. If he didn’t, the last two hours of his life were a horror show.

After they shot him, the raiders killed his brother, Saranwal Zahir. He died as he tried to stop the raid, yelling, “Don’t shoot! We work for the government!” Zahir was a district prosecutor.

The special forces also shot dead two pregnant women near where Zahir fell. Their names were Bibi Shirin and Bibi Saleha. The late-term sparks in their wombs also winked out. Another girl was mortally wounded. She, too, lingered, though.

If she or Dawood were conscious, they may have been aware of the grotesquery of what happened next. According to witnesses, the special forces team refused to let survivors get immediate medical attention for the wounded. Instead, apparently realizing the public relations disaster they’d mired themselves in, they removed bullets from the walls and dug them from the bodies of the dead women.

Witnesses say that Gululai and Dawood made it to about 6:45 in the morning before they died.

The family didn’t waste any time. Immediately after their relatives died, they began to prepare their bodies for burial. Local custom calls for a binding to be wrapped under the chin and over the crown of the corpse’s head to keep the jaw from opening in death. Bindings are also placed elsewhere on the bodies to prevent decay from contorting them. This was done to each of the bodies very soon after they died.

The raiders seized on these customs unfamiliar to Westerners and concocted a grotesque cover story for their killing of innocent people, especially the women. The original ISAF press release about the raid falsely claimed:

“Insurgents” engaged them in a “fire fight” to excuse their killing of Dawood and Zahir; and that
“When the joint force entered the compound they conducted a thorough search of the area and found the bodies of three women who had been tied up, gagged and killed. The bodies had been hidden in an adjacent room.” Subsequent statements by ISAF spokespeople, including Rear Adm. Greg Smith, indicated the women had been dead for hours when the joint force arrived.

Here’s what Sayid Mohammed Mal, raid survivor and vice chancellor of Gardez University (Khataba is in Gardez District, Paktiya Province, Afghanistan), told us about his reaction to the lie that his family murdered their own kin:

“It is because they could hide their cruel actions from the international attention...When there live music playing in the house, how could we need dead bodies at home?We think that your talks mean that you wish to confuse public opinion and deceive them. ...They changed our happy and joyous event to grief and blood.”

The persistent reporting of The Times' (UK) Jerome Starkey, witness accounts and the results of an Afghan investigation forced McChrystal's personnel to finally admit responsibility for the deaths of all 5 civilians in an April 4 press release. Here’s how ISAF’s P.R. team tries to excuse themselves for their initial false press statements:

The investigation also reviewed the information released by ISAF Joint Command, ISAF and the Afghan Ministry of Interior, and found the releases issued shortly after the operation were based on a lack of cultural understanding by the joint force and the chain of command. The statement noted the women had been bound and gagged, but this information was taken from an initial report by the international members of the joint force who were not familiar with Islamic burial customs.

As I wrote elsewhere:

ISAF's "aw, shucks" explanation ignores the fact that the original release described a non-existent fire fight and claimed that coalition forces discovered the long-dead bodies of the women hidden in a room when they were, in fact, killed during the raid by U.S. and allied forces. By admitting to killing the women, McChrystal's forces have implicitly admitted to conveying multiple flat-out lies to the public. Their inadequate explanation and subsequent deletion of the original offending press releases represent a transparent attempt to extricate themselves from a failing web of propaganda intended to shield the personnel involved from accountability without properly acknowledging their role in deceiving the Afghan and American publics.

Here’s the thing, though: the new, exclusive video we’ve obtained at Brave New Foundation features video of the men’s bodies very soon after their death, before they’d been washed and re-dressed for their burial. (Dan Froomkin writes about this new video in his most recent piece for The Huffington Post.) In the raw footage, the camera audio very clearly picks up the voice of an American just out of the camera frame, recounting to someone a portion of his report on the incident. The bodies of the men right in front of the American personnel already have the jaw bindings on them. That means the U.S. personnel knew that the families placed these bindings on men the raiders killed immediately after their deaths and that they were not gags or restraints put on living people. In other words, even ISAF’s inadequate excuse for their initial untrue statement about the gags, that it was due to a “lack of cultural understanding,” is a lie.

Right now, there is an infant boy in Afghanistan that will never know Mohammed Daoud, Saranwal Zahir, Bibi Shirin, Bibi Saleha or Gululai. But he will hear about them, every year, on his birthday. He will grow up hearing the story about how, on the night of his baby shower, Americans raided his home and killed several members of his family, including his grandfather. He will hear how they desecrated the bodies of the women and then called his family savage butchers in public to hide their crime. And he is only one of far too many young boys his age that will hear a variation of the same story all across his country.

Don’t tell me the Afghanistan war is making us safer.

Sign Rethink Afghanistan’s petition for an independent, U.N.-led investigation into the massacre of Commander Dawood’s familiy and ISAF’s cover-up of their crime.

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