Kandahar Massacre: Their Disregard and Our Hypocrisy

Much have been written and said about the Kandahar massacre. The American soldier Robert Bales has been officially charged with 17 counts of murder, six counts of assault and attempted murder. In an interview to a US radio, the journalist told me Bales’ lawyer wants to visit Panjwai and “investigate” family members of those murdered. He says actions of his “clients” were not premeditated, and Bales has history of brain injury and does not fully understand the allegations against him.

Family members of the victims have been paid ‘assistance’ money of $50,000 for each of the slain, and $11,000 for injured by the US. The Afghan Government had earlier compensated the victims with $2000 for each murdered, and $1000 for those injured. A Government delegation visited the families and offered condolence. They came under a Taliban attack briefly in the area. I happened to see a video of the incident, in which an angry local villager was asking an ANA soldier to give him his weapon to fight with those who had attacked. The delegation included two brothers of President Karzai, Chief of Army Staff and other senior Government officials.

The US military and civilian officials have responded irresponsibly to this tragic incident. Regardless of the controversy that Robert Bales was alone or it was a group of soldiers who went to the houses and killed 16 people, it would have been proper if some senior US officials had joined the Afghan delegation to offer condolence to elders of the area during the funeral. I wonder what the cultural and religious advisors of the US military do. Later a group of area elders and family members of the victims were invited to Kabul by President Karzai. The US military and Embassy officials did not bother to meet them for a formal condolence offering. It might sound ridiculous from an ordinary Western perspective, but it got symbolic and traditional importance in our part of the world, when the guilty side visits the victims during funeral and offer sincere apology.

In contrary, the US officials and media were talking more about reaction and protests across Afghanistan, rather than looking into the human side of this tragic incident. My friend Ahmad Shuja puts it in the following words:

The debate following the Kandahar massacre shows that Americans at home and in Afghanistan still don’t quite understand the meaning of events in that country. Domestically, the calls for a swifter withdrawal is not only divorced from the realities of logistical constraints but also display a reckless disregard for the negative consequences of a hasty pullout on Afghans. In Afghanistan, an instinct of fear pervades the US and ISAF reaction, which leads them to ignore the grief of the victims.

This approach is precisely the wrong one because disregarding the human suffering and concentrating on “Afghan anger” and threat of a “backlash” dehumanizes the people affected by this incident and paints them not as victims but as potential aggressors. From a practical standpoint, it is especially counterproductive that the mission charged with protecting the civilians is taking the fear approach, because it separates them from the population and prevents a more human connection with the population in grief.”

The ignorance is not exclusive to the US military and civilian officials and political elite. Another friend Josh Shahryar has summarized the disregard of the victims of Kandahar by the mainstream US media in following words:

What disgusts me as an Afghan is the degree to which the victims of this massacre have been ignored. Imagine if this was a serial killer who committed this crime in a suburb of Chicago? By now, you’d have pictures of every victim, published in neat collages in every major newspaper in the US. The US mainstream media has people on the ground in Afghanistan. They also have access. Yet they have not documented names or pictures or stories. Afghan tragedies have been left for Afghans to cover, even when that tragedy is caused by an American.”

Josh points to an editorial on the Kandahar massacre published by the National Review Online referring to Afghans as “primitive”, and says:

“An American soldier goes to Afghanistan and massacres 16 civilians inside their homes, then burns their bodies. And we are the ones who are primitive”.

Almost a week after the incident, Wall Street Journal has been the only US media outlet to have interviewed the victims in Panjwai. Seeing the way mainstream US media have covered this massacre, I am not surprised that Robert Bales’ lawyer actually wants to visit Afghanistan and “investigate” family members of the victims for his “client”. There is little doubt Bales’ action were not premeditated. But his lawyer will try best to prove that Bales has mental problems and should go away with 16 murders.

In Afghanistan, people have been patient and there were no riots as feared by US officials and media pundits. But Afghan media should highlight the hypocrisy of our political and religious leadership and ordinary people regarding our reaction on such issues.

Taliban kill civilians every day. A day after the Panjwai massacre, an IED by the Taliban killed 5 women and 4 children in Uruzgan. The next day a blast killed several innocent people in Helmand. Taliban blow up mosques, they are responsible for majority of civilian casualties, but I remember only few cases in which people took to streets chanting against Taliban atrocities. If only President Karzai would have invited victims of any of the daily Taliban atrocities, media had highlighted in the way they reported Panjwai massacre, and people had protested like the riots after Quran burning, Taliban would think twice before sending a suicide bomber and killing civilians. If the US officials and media have shown utter disregard and ignorance, our hypocrisy has not been less in degree. Rather our collective hypocrisy has been more harmful than their disregard.


Filed under US Troops in Afghanistan

4 responses to “Kandahar Massacre: Their Disregard and Our Hypocrisy

  1. Dean

    The author and several contributors to this article lament the fact that no Americans offered condolences to the families of the slain during their funerals. I’m not sure why that was not done, possibly because the presence of Americans in that village could have resulted in violence. But on the other hand, where are the Afghan officials offering condolences to the families of U.S. soliders who are killed defending Afghanistan? Did President Karzai call President Obama and apologize when several soldiers were killed by the Afghans they had been mentoring in retaliation for the Koran burning…I think not. I just returned from a 6-month tour in Afghanistan. For the most part, I was treated as a non-entity by the Afghans I met and there was no mention or or thanks for the sacrifices our country was making for theirs.

    • Dear author, your suggestion that U.S. military and civilian officials responded irresponsibly to the tragic events of March 11 in Panjway district in Kandahar doesn’t account for the facts. Just hours after the news broke, senior U.S. officials from the White House, the State Department, the Department of Defense, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker in Kabul, ISAF Headquarters in Kabul, and the CENTCOM Digital Engagement Team condemned the incident and expressed their condolences. On March 11, President Obama and ISAF Commander General John Allen offered condolences to President Karzai and delivered the message to the victims of the families and to the people of Afghanistan. Also, the U.S. took swift action to compensate the families of the victims. This particular incident was tragic and shocking, and does not represent the character of the U.S. military and the respect that the United States has for the people of Afghanistan. Regarding the status of this rogue soldier, he’s currently in military prison while he awaits trial.

      It is important to note that we all must stay vigilant and not allow radical groups with their own agendas to further exacerbate the situation. Rather, it is important to reconcile our differences through continuous dialogue such as this article.
      The leaders of the United States have repeatedly expressed their regret and share the pain of the victim’s family and the Afghan people. For example, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during a press conference with visiting Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rassoul on March 14 in Washington, stated, “This has personally been painful to me and the President, this does not represent who the United States is, who the American people are and we appreciate the understanding and response of the Afghan government and the Afghan people. We are committed to supporting Afghan reconciliation. Our goal is to open the door for Afghans to sit with other Afghans and to work out the future for their country.”
      Our purpose in Afghanistan is clear: to defeat, dismantle and destroy Al-Qaeda and lay the foundation for a secure and prosperous future for Afghanistan. The Strategic Partnership Agreement between the U.S. and Afghanistan pledges to help strengthen Afghanistan’s economic foundation and support sustainable development and self-sufficiency. The NATO Summit held this week in Chicago reaffirmed the international community’s support for Afghanistan through 2014 and beyond.

      US Centcom Digital Engagement Team

  2. Anthony

    As an American, I don’t feel obliged to apologize for the action of an individual, regardless of the circumstances. I think Afghan’s should get off of their high horse and stop promoting their attitude of entitlement. Let’s not forget this is a war. Just because we are pussy-footing around trying to get out without destroying this country more than Afghans have already destroyed it for themselves doesn’t mean that we owe them anything. And when they want to charge Bales as a criminal, then why do they want Obama to apologize? What did he have to do with it? What did the American people have to do with his actions? What did the US forces have to do with his actions? As Dean mentioned, where are the condolences for the backstabbing Afghan security forces? Where are the condolences for the US deaths that were lost in the effort to keep him in office (placed there by US initially) and keep him alive on a daily basis? After living in Afghanistan and studying this country an it’s policy for over 3 years, one thing I’m certainly not going to do is agree with Karzai’s moronic opinions/statements (or those of his family) in any situation. Why doesn’t Karzai apologize for the heroin that his country produces that plagues nearly every nation on the planet? Better yet, why doesn’t he do something about it, rather than just profit from it and complain how eradication tactics will adversely affect Afghanistan? OK, so if I’ve been killing people my whole life, why stop now? It’s too difficult and doesn’t feel as good (insert some whining and pouting here). I couldn’t even finish reading this thoughtless post. Screw you.

  3. Terry Washington

    Given that Afghanistan has signed and ratified the ICC Convention, it would be intriguing to see what might have happened had Afghans arrested Sergeant Bales and sent him to the Hague to stand trial on war crimes charges/crimes against humanity- the sight of an American soldier being so tried might be an eye opener for not just the US military but the world at large!

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